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shadowhawk2008
17-09-2011, 12:12
The stories contained here-in are set in Lord Lucan's 60K alternative-universe post-40K setting. They all deal with, as the name suggests, the Sons of Corax and their adventures in the hell-blasted galaxy ten thousand years removed from the one we know so well. You can find the link to LL's 60K stuff here:

http://thebolthole.org/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=231

This post will keep a list of updates and story links.

ACT 1

- Chapter 1

- Chapter 2

- Chapter 3

- Chapter 4

ACT 2

- Chapter 5

- Chapter 6

- Chapter 7

Act 3

- Chapter 8

- Chapter 9 Part 1

- Chapter 9 Part 2

shadowhawk2008
17-09-2011, 12:12
Chapter 1

Stunned silence gripped the bridge of the ancient vessel at Collector Idel’s unexpected words and every single gathered warrior, whether a mortal or an Astartes, stared at him with dumbfounded expressions. Lord Commander Astinon could hardly believe his ears. Was this really true?, he wondered. In the utter madness and turmoil that grips this galaxy can this ember of hope really exist?

‘No old friend, it cannot be true,’ he addressed the diminutive man, his shoulders heavy as he sat down on his battered and chipped black-ivory throne, suddenly feeling light-headed and weak. For one such as him, these weaknesses would have once been completely alien, but not in the terrible times that he now found himself in. ‘There is nothing in this galaxy but horror and terror. Utter damnation has wormed its way into its heart and corrupted it to its very core. Nought but oblivion awaits us.’ To the warriors on the bridge, their general’s pain was all too apparent in his tone and inflection.

The eager and youthful Collector shook his head in disapproval. ‘No my friend, it is very much true. I have seen him and the wonders he has wrought with my own eyes. There is a fire within him that compels all around him to seek out the best in themselves. His words drive them to heights of unimaginable greatness! If only you could see what I have seen brother,’ he mused, his mind still unable let go of the visions he had seen on that blasted world.

Astinon’s stunned expression turned to one of contempt and hate. ‘You lie, Idel. You tell me some fable, thinking that you can dupe me with such grand falsities, but I will not suffer that indignity. I once called you brother and friend, but no more. Your own ambition to take my place as the Master of the Corvians has doomed you. I denounce you!’ The Lord Commander turned to his champion, Sergeant Manov, and pointed at Idel. ‘Arrest this interloper, brother, and throw him in the brig. I will see to him later.’

Manov however, stood helpless next to Astinon’s throne, caught between his loyalty to his commander and his friendship to the Collector. For his part, Idel was as dumbfounded at Astinon’s order as the latter had been at his words only a few moments ago. Rage took hold of Astinon as his order went unheeded and he got up.

‘Sergeant Manov!’ he thundered. ‘You will arrest this traitor and put him in the brig, now!’

Before the Sergeant could respond, a voice full of authority and purpose challenged Astinon. ‘There will be no arresting of this man today or forever, Lord Commander Astinon Dras of the Corvians.’

The furious general turned towards the direction of the voice and was struck speechless for a second time in less than an hour. Stepping onto the bridge was a tall figure, a figure he had never expected to see again, not since the last time they had met on the blood-drenched fields of Gida Prime. In full battle-plate of polished dark emerald, the helmeted warrior’s presence had a distinctive affect on the tense atmosphere of the bridge. Many of the Corvians recognized the armour and its distinctive markings, markings which seem to have become even more complex and ostentatious, as if the wearer of the armour had risen high in rank and recently.

Astinon gazed at the new arrival in complete shock and awe, his senses unable to accept the evidence of his own eyes. One by one, the Corvians on the bridge couldn’t help but kneel before the new arrival; such was the magnificence that radiated from him. A surprised and awestruck Astinon, unable to accept so many changes in his chaotic and turbulent life, collapsed back on his throne.

‘You... you are... you are alive,’ he croaked. ‘But that is impossible! I saw you fall on Gida Prime!’

In a fluid motion and with apparent grace, the warrior removed his helmet, exposing his face to the Corvian officers in front of him. With cropped hair, patrician features, a confident bearing and three gold studs, he was the image of martial perfection as only a warrior of the Adeptus Astartes could be. He walked up to Astinon’s throne and shook the Lord Commander’s gauntleted hands in a warrior’s grip, wrist to wrist.

‘I survived, brother. The drug-crazed Kazan captured me as spoils of war and I was their prisoner for nigh twelve years.’ The warrior’s voice was just as Astinon remembered, strong, clear and, in contrast to his own, full of purpose. His world contracted to encompass just him and the green-armoured warrior in front of him, his fellow Corvians and Idel forgotten for the moment.

‘Twelve years? It has been only a mere twelve years?’ he whispered. ‘The galaxy has gone from one hell to another since I thought you lost, brother.’

‘The past does not matter anymore, Astinon, but what does is that I have returned. Seven years, my oldest friend, seven years I have spent in a holy crusade, bringing hope, truth and justice to a corrupted galaxy. And I bring you the most wondrous news brother, one to uplift even your sorrow.’

‘Hope? Truth? Justice?’ Astinon laughed maniacally. ‘Such concepts are meaningless in these times Sian’me of the once vaunted Salamanders. Meaningless I tell you, for the Emperor’s light has...’

Sian’me, once a sergeant of the Salamanders chapter of the Adeptus Astartes, raised his hand to stop Astinon in mid-sentence. The Lord Commander only looked confused at the interruption.

‘I am no longer Sian’me, Astinon,’ said the warrior gently. ‘I am reborn, and in my rebirth I have a new name. A name bestowed upon me by my new lord. I am now Dalmor, Captain of the Salamanders Commandery, the Lord Nocturne’s Own.’

Astinon’s world shattered at those words, words which wormed their way into his thoughts. Rebirth. New lord. Lord Nocturne’s Own. Thoughts of lost glory, of nobility, of sacrifice, of duty, of purpose came unbidden to him. The dream-haze that had for so long clouded his mind suddenly disappeared in an instant. And with it gone, came clarity, a clarity he had lost all those years ago.

Comprehension flooded his mind, a mind bred for war, for service, for loyalty. His shrunken world expanded and suddenly he became aware of his battle-brothers near him, of the throne he sat upon. He realized where he was and looked to his champion.

In his eyes Manov saw all the pain and guilt his general had carried with him for the last twelve years disappear in a flash. In his poise, he saw the return of unyielding confidence, the surety of purpose. He nodded in approval at Dalmor, who continued to look at his friend.

‘He has returned, Astinon, well and truly returned!’ exclaimed the Salamander, his tone conveying all the emotion he could not express with any action. A sense of wonder filled him, and all could see it, could feel it. ‘Armageddon has been purged in blood and fire, the filth of the Emperor’s Children and their dupes scoured clean from its surface. The Master of Nocturne, the true child of the Emperor has returned to guide us to new beginnings. To unite all the disparate and warring factions of humanity and restore the true ideals of the Imperium, bringing the Emperor’s light to all the corners of this damned galaxy!’

Lord Commander Astinon Dras, general of the Corvians, glanced at his old friend, a friend he had thought long gone, and whom he had mourned in his grief for twelve long years, twelve years of self-chastisement and self-torture. To everyone around him, Astinon appeared remarkably changed from whom he had been just a few moments prior, and they saw their old commander return in his bearing.

‘I need to see him myself Dalmor,’ he addressed the Salamander. ‘I must ask forgiveness for my sins, sins that I have committed against the Emperor and my own lord.’

‘Indeed, my brother,’ Dalmor smiled at his friend’s words. ‘He himself has asked to meet with you on Armageddon, the capital of his new Imperium. It is why I accompanied Collector Idel,’ he said, pointing at the scion of a long-line of those who had once called themselves Rogue Traders.

Astinon looked at his hands, hands that hadn’t wielded a weapon in two years, and bunched them into fists, smashing them down on the arms of his throne. The sound reverberated across the entire bridge of the ancient vessel, the venerable battle-barge Montisgarre, once the fortress-monastery of the infamous Angels of Retribution.
‘I am done hiding,’ he spoke, with absolute conviction in his voice. ‘I am done running away from the bastard dogs that once were as dust beneath my ancestors’ feet. I once had honour and purpose. I was once loyal,’ he whispered.

The Corvians gathered closer and knelt together in fealty before him, acknowledging his authority as their Lord Commander. Dalmor stood where he was, full of pride at the warrior who stood before him, one who had been a broken shell of himself for the last twelve years.

‘We are the Corvians, the truest of all the sons of Kiavahr,’ he continued. ‘We once stood as a bulwark against all the enemies of mankind, from within and without, whether they be traitors most foul or aliens too horrible. And we shall be so once again. Once we were known as the Raven Guard, Raptors, Black Guard, Revilers, Angels of Retribution, Imperial Talons, Knights of the Raven, and by dozens of other names.’ No one interrupted and all listened raptly to his rousing words.

‘In those dark days, we were as islands to each other, like scattered sticks of wood. That is why the Imperium fell for we failed it utterly and completely. We were once the Angels of Death, His own vengeance that would strike all those who would oppose us, but we weren’t united.’ Astinon made eye contact with every single Corvian, even with Dalmor, before continuing.

‘But that changes, now!’ he shouted. ‘We have lived the last ten thousand years as scavengers and opportunists, mercenaries in all but name. This is the Age of Dusk for Mankind and in these terrible times we will rise again from the ashes of our defeat to take our due from this uncaring galaxy.’

Astinon drew his power sword from its scabbard and thrust it high into the air. The silvery-blue surface of the sword caught the light from the bio-lumes aboard the bridge and reflected it to create the illusion that the weapon was radiating an intense, near-blinding light.

‘We will live with honour, fight with honour and die with honour!’ he cried, his voice full of passion in a cause he had long thought he had forsaken but had now rediscovered. ‘FOR THE HONOUR OF CORAX!’

‘WE BRING RETRIBUTION AND DEATH TO OUR FOE!’

shadowhawk2008
17-09-2011, 12:13
Chapter 2

‘Is the fleet ready Sergeant Manov?’ queried Astinon from his throne. The general of the Corvians had polished and repaired his armour himself for the occasion, with his dedication and hard work reflected in the newly painted markings the battle-plate was adorned with.

‘The Silamia is moving into position with the rest of the fleet now, Lord Commander,’ answered Manov. The champion also wore his full armour to mark the turning of events that had started with the arrival of Collector Idel aboard the battle-barge two weeks prior. The heraldry of his former chapter was proudly displayed on the left shoulder pad, a golden raven clutching a black spear.

Gathered on the bridge was the full senior cadre of the Corvians, captains and sergeants of all the disparate warbands that had once belonged to chapters descended from the Great Raven’s own, the Raven Guard. Like Astinon and Manov, they wore the full livery and heraldry that were their legacies, handed down from battle-brother to battle-brother for twenty thousand years. The drab green of the Raptors clashed with the purple of the Hawk Lords, the black of the Raven Guard with the silver of the Knights of the Raven, the grey of the Revilers with the red of the Imperial Talons, and others besides.

They all stood shoulder to shoulder as equals and brothers, facing the Astartes who had given them some of their greatest victories, who had shed blood with them and mourned lost brothers with them at the victory feasts. In his orange and black armour, a long cloak of deep yellow, and the Golden Aquila on his breastplate, Astinon cut an impressive figure compared to his brothers. His power sword Stormblade, a relic of his chapter from the Age of the Imperium, rested bared across his knees and his twin, black-gilded bolt pistols were secured in their holsters. With Manov’s reply, he looked across at the seventeen armoured Space Marines who stood around him in a rough semi-circle.

‘Brothers, this day marks a monumental chapter in the history of the Corvians,’ he began, his voice steady and filled with an infinite calm that he could feel deep inside him. At last he had been able to let go of his burdens of the last twelve years and had changed from his brooding self into the confident and decisive leader he had once been.

‘We stand on the brink of an era, with the confidence and experience of ages honed in countless battles, ready to take the next step into the unknown,’ he continued and spread his hands around to take in the entire bridge. The Corvian officers followed the motion of his hands and looked out into the void where their vessels danced soundlessly into cohesion. In their eyes Astinon could see a fire, a drive to achieve the heights of greatness their forebears would have been proud to acknowledge as worthy of their heritage. He drew strength from their belief in themselves.

‘We all know that our rag-tag fleet of warships and merchantmen makes ready to go to Armageddon, a world that is two months distant through the swirling eddies of the warp. We all know that we go to present ourselves to the judgement of one of the true children of the Emperor, the demi-gods of our past, a Primarch. Vulkan, Lord of Nocturne of old, and now Lord of the true Imperium of Man.’

He paused for a moment to look again at his brothers and pointed to each in turn. ‘He will judge us for our sins, for our loss of faith, for our transgressions and we will accept whatever punishment that he sees fit to reward us with.’ His voice became sadder now as he went on. ‘We have fallen far, my fellow Corvians. Two weeks ago we were scraping by for our continued existence in this faithless galaxy. But today, today we stand ready to begin our lives anew.’

Now his voice hardened, strong as steel. ‘Should the Lord Vulkan accept our oaths of allegiance and loyalty, we shall be as steadfast in his service as the Salamanders themselves. We are the truest of all the sons of Kiavahr, sons of the Great Raven, Corax, one and all. Victorus aut Mortis!’ he cried.

‘Victorus aut Mortis!’ they all thundered in response, even the serfs who served as the bridge crew joining in.
‘Leave for your ships now, my brothers,’ he commanded. ‘From this moment on the reins of our destinies are in our own hands. Let none dispute our legacies or challenge our collective might.’

-][-

The bridge of the battleship Hand of the Emperor was alive with activity as naval ratings ran back and forth between various terminals and consoles, checking and rechecking the vessel’s systems as they feverishly prepared reports for their commanding officer. Admiral Teluga observed the frenetic activity from his command perch at the head of the bridge like a bird of prey observing its target before attacking. A hushed and frantic looking conversation between two of his senior bridge officers near the vox-pit drew his cold, hunting gaze.

‘Lieutenants Lammer and Dequade, approach the throne,’ he commanded in his typical bridge voice, a high-pitched imperious tone which brooked no insubordination.

Their faces visibly paling, the two officers hesitantly approached Teluga’s perch, a vox-print clutched in Dequade’s shaking hands.

‘Do not make me ask what in the name of the Regent is wrong, you blundering buffoons,’ he snapped at them. ‘What does that vox-print say?’

‘Afleethasjustexitedwarpspacenearthemonitoringstat ionmaanheimlordadmiral,’ said Lammer in a rush of words, completely intimidated by the Admiral.

Snarling, Teluga turned to Sergeant-at-arms Veol, the ranking bridge security officer. ‘Sergeant, throw this man in the brig, he is charged with incompetence and gross negligence of duty.’ Veol offered a smart salute to Teluga and then dragged a whimpering Lammer away from the bridge. Before the lieutenant could get hysterical, the beefy sergeant gave him a short tap on the head, knocking him out. Teluga watched the spectacle with some distaste then turned back to Lieutenant Dequade.

‘Well Lieutenant, what do you have to say?’

His face nearly white with shock, Dequade nevertheless managed to make his report in the appropriate manner. ‘A fleet of ships exited warp space near Monitoring Station Mannheim II approximately thirty minutes ago, Lord Admiral. It is comprised of 7 warships of varying size, two transports and as best as we can estimate, five merchantmen.’

The Admiral’s only expression was a raised left eyebrow as he considered Dequade’s report.

‘Identification?’ he asked tersely.

‘The fleet claims to be the entire force of the Corvians, a warband of renegade Space Marines and unprofessional soldiers, sir. The Steel Legion has had some dealings with them in the past,’ Dequade pointed out calmly, now slightly recovered from Teluga’s initial outburst.

‘Corvians,’ spat Teluga and continued with contempt in his voice. ‘They are nothing more than a band of petty mercenaries. Have they stated their intentions?’

‘They claim that they have come to parley with the Lord Regent, Admiral. They also claim that they have authority to pass through the blockade from Captain Dalmor himself!’ responded an incredulous Dequade.

Too fast for Dequade or anyone else to have noticed, a calculating look flitted like a shadow through Teluga’s eyes at the mention of the senior-most officer of the First Commandery, the Salamanders. Before he could say anything however, a serf from the vox-pit hurried over to him.

‘Apologies, Lord Admiral. But we are being hailed by the Promethean Sun. Lord Captain Dalmor himself wishes to speak with you.’

Cursing under his breath at the unfortunate interruption, Teluga tapped a series of buttons on the arms of his command throne.

‘What seems to be the problem, Captain Dalmor?’ he asked, his voice betraying no emotion.

‘Why has the Corvian fleet not been given safe passage to Armageddon, Lord Admiral?’ the Salamander’s clear voice came across as a blunt hammer to Teluga’s ears. ‘Escort them with a full honour guard to the planet; this is an order from the Lord Nocturne himself.’

Cursing once more at Dalmor’s impertinent tone, Teluga forced himself to respond as politely as he could. Space Marines had brought the ruin of the Imperium upon the galaxy and now they were running things once again like in the olden days. Shadows of what they once were, yet seemingly powerful enough for one of them to order him, Admiral of the Armageddon Defense Fleet, around. He would teach the upstart captain a lesson someday, he promised to himself.

‘Very well, Captain. We were just about to clear them through to Armageddon. Dalmor out.’ Teluga cut the connection and looked up to see Dequade still standing nearby.

‘Order the Steel Force and the Legion’s Wrath to escort the Corvians to Armageddon. The Hand of the Emperor is to maintain position here in high orbit.’ He looked through the viewports out at the void and then muttered to himself as Dequade went over to the vox-pit once more. ‘More damned Space Marines, as if the hundreds already flocking to the homeworld were not enough, now we have a full fleet of those bastards coming to play.’

shadowhawk2008
17-09-2011, 12:13
Chapter 3

‘Lord Admiral Teluga is an unsubtle man,’ remarked Astinon as he took in the display on his hololith screen and smiled at his champion. ‘He sends two battleships with seven escorts to escort our pitiful fleet to Armageddon. Our reputation precedes us, brother.’

‘He is arrogant and foolish in addition,’ said Manov with distaste. ‘We come at the request of Captain Dalmor and should be given an honour guard, not an armed escort.’

‘Given our past dealings with the Steel Legion, the Admiral’s actions are perhaps, appropriate,’ Astinon’s light tone conveyed to his champion all he needed to know about his general’s feelings on the matter. Not that they were any secret to him.

‘At least they have granted us passage through to the planet without any fuss,’ was the dry comment from Captain Adrastos, who stood next to the Lord Commander’s throne in full armour.

‘Quite true, my friend and brother. The chaplains always told of the glorious days of the past when the Primarchs walked among the chapters and kept us united together in common purpose.’ Astinon’s expression turned thoughtful as he continued. ‘Never for a moment did I ever imagine that I would have the chance to see one in the flesh myself. I recall old Svydro’s sermons well where he told of how they had all either disappeared or died He always said they would return one day, that it was foretold in the sealed records of the Reclusiam only the chaplains could read.’

‘And here we are today,’ said Adrastos, finishing Astinon’s thought. ‘Our surviving records tell of how the Great Raven counted Lord Vulkan as one of his closest friends and confidants. By serving Vulkan we serve Corax, brother. I dare keep alive a glimmer of hope that perhaps he can tell us of Lord Corax and his whereabouts since his disappearance. The Raven Guard sought long for the Primarch in the old days but all we found was dust.’

‘Don’t be so bitter Adrastos,’ said the Corvian general and then turned to his champion. ‘Have the fleet proceed to Armageddon. We go to finally meet the Regent of the New Imperium.’

-][-

With the authority of the new master of the Salamanders freely given, the Corvian fleet was finally escorted to Armageddon high orbit and assigned anchor stations. Admiral Teluga’s thoroughness however insured that the fleet was not stationed above any vital facilities and that the defence fleet’s escorts were also stationed nearby in case of any unpleasantness that might erupt. The Corvians did not object to the arrangement and gladly accepted any limitations imposed upon them. They had come to meet with and submit to the authority of the ruler of the New Imperium and give fealty to him.

Once their ships were in orbit, the Corvians made for the surface however they could. The Astartes used their few precious Thunderhawks and captured landers while their fellow human soldiers used aging shuttles for transport. Some of them would have used teleporters if the ancient systems had still worked, and they all knew painfully well how close to the breaking point they had come with little in the way of supplies remaining to them. Teluga’s comparison of the Corvians to mercenaries was far closer to the truth than even many of the Corvians themselves would willingly acknowledge.

The descending Corvian transports were escorted to one of the spaceports in Hades Hive by several flights of atmospheric fighters along a strict route that avoided passing close to any vital military locations. Astinon and his fellow officers were surprised to notice that the aircraft were all newly-manufactured, their paint still fresh and their surfaces still gleaming. This however was just one of the many surprises awaiting them.

As Astinon and his officers stepped off the ramps of their Thunderhawks, the unmistakable smells and sounds of a hive being rebuilt after a war assailed them and they looked around in wonder. The actinic tang and the grinding, reverberating sounds of promethium-powered drills were all around them. The smell of liquid rockcrete being laid on the streets and thoroughfares below rose up to greet them as sweating labourers worked under the harsh guidance of their overseers. In the distance, they could hear and see the engine backwash of gunships as they patrolled the hive sky. And in the midst of it all, they could hear the cries of traders hawking their wares as hivers bickered with them over prices, soldiers talking idly as they manned their watch-posts, people praying to the Emperor and singing the praises of the Regent.

The last time any of them had set foot on the planet, Hades Hive had been a scene of rampant destruction and neglect, a shadow of its former glory from before the Second Strife. It had changed since then however, and they could see the hand of a master at work. As they looked out from the landing pad towards the rest of the hive, they saw miles-high towers and masses of bulky hab-blocks stretch out to the ends of the horizon.

Twice Hades Hive had been destroyed utterly and twice it had been rebuilt, and now it looked like it had surpassed even its own splendour from the Age of the Imperium. The Corvians were still looking around in wonder when they finally spotted their welcoming committee.

Standing across from them was a fifty-strong contingent of Astartes wearing dark emerald armour, the same colour as Captain Dalmor’s when he had come to meet with them aboard the Montisgarre. If Salamanders had been wearing newly-made power armour, Astinon’s party would not have been as startled as they were at that moment, for the Salamanders in front of them all wore Terminator Armour, armour that appeared for all intents and purposes to be fresh from the forges. It was devoid of any battle-scars and the snarling drakes gilded on the warriors’ pauldrons shone as brightly as the Aquilas and winged hammers on their breastplate. The Corvians continued to stare in shock as one of the Terminators stepped forwards and extended his hand to Astinon.

‘Welcome to Armageddon, Lord Commander Dras. We have been sent by Captain Dalmor to escort you to Lord Vulkan’s tower.’ The voice that issued from the vox-grilles of the armour was full of respect and authority in equal measure. Astinon stared at the hulking warrior in front of him and had to tilt his head up to look him in his helmeted eyes.

‘And who are you, warrior?’ he asked, confused and still in shock. ‘Your voice and bearing are familiar to me, yet I cannot recall if I have met you before.’

The warrior’s rich laugh surprised the Corvians once again and they looked at one another in puzzlement. The Salamander gently removed his helmet, revealing his face to the harsh winds of the hive.

‘Tel’maon!’ gasped Manov and moved forwards. ‘It has been years, brother!’

‘Aye, Lakos, it has indeed,’ said the warrior. ‘I believe we have a lot of history to catch up on, but as you can see, I now serve the Primarch himself as one of his elite Firedrakes.’

‘You have indeed risen high in the ranks since we last met, Sergeant Tel’maon,’ Astinon grinned, finally placing the warrior’s name in his memories and shaking his head in wonder.

Tel’maon gave him a salute as he continued. ‘Captain Dalmor and Lord Vulkan await you in the Primarch’s tower, general. The Captain has just arrived from the Promethean Sun in orbit himself and is anxious to meet you.’
‘How far is it to our destination then, Brother Tel’maon?’ asked Adrastos.

The Salamander smiled conspiratorially at the Raven Guard’s question. ‘Tell me Captain, when was the last time you used a teleporter?’

Adrastos was momentarily wrong-footed at the question and looked to Astinon and Manov in confusion before answering. ‘The array aboard the Deliverance has not worked for years, why do you ask?’

‘This is Sergeant Tel’maon, initiate teleport.’ Those were the last words the Corvians heard before their world dissolved into utter blackness.

-][-

‘That was unpleasant,’ remarked Astinon as he picked himself up from the floor of the massive teleportarium. The expressions on his brothers’ faces told him they agreed. With the breakdown of their last functioning array nine years ago, the Corvians had become unaccustomed to the feeling of being teleported. This will take some getting used to, he thought to himself.

‘Perhaps a warning next time, Sergeant Tel’maon?’ asked Adrastos. ‘I admit I was quite unprepared for being hurtled through the warp like that.’

The teleportarium, according to Astinon’s estimate, was as large as the Reclusiam aboard the Montisgarre, and that could hold up to fifteen hundred fully armoured Space Marines. Everywhere around them, serfs, Tech-priests and servitors rushed about, performing system checks and other tasks that all looked meaningless to him. A soft, continuous hum invaded his enhanced senses, a sign of the massive teleporter array working at full power.

‘Apologies, captains,’ said the Salamander in a conciliatory voice. ‘But it was quite necessary under the circumstances. The population of the hive still bears some ill-feeling towards all Astartes since the Emperor’s Children and their armies invaded a decade ago. The Steel Legion is loyal to Lord Vulkan and could be trusted to escort you down to the surface but to have you all walk through the hive’s concourses would have been a mistake. I bow down to the Primarch’s wisdom in this.’

‘And when do we get to meet with the Primarch, brother?’ annoyance flickered on Astinon’s face at the endless array of surprises he was being subjected to. ‘It seems that the forges and manufactora of Armageddon are producing a massive quantity of war material, if the aircraft that escorted us and your armour are anything to go by.’

The Firedrake nodded knowingly. ‘Lord Vulkan has always been a smith and a crafter, Lord Commander. Under his leadership several technologies have been recovered and discovered in equal measures. The armies of the New Imperium are growing by the day and they must be supplied of course.’

‘Discovered?’ asked Manov incredulously.

‘There are many things about the New Imperium that will surprise you, brothers. Do try to keep up with the revelations.’ With that Tel’maon made to leave the teleportarium, beckoning to the Corvians to follow him as the rest of the Firedrakes assumed positions around the sons of Corax as the honour guard they were intended.

-][-

The audience hall was gripped by an uncomfortable silence as Tel’maon and his Firedrakes led Astinon’s Corvians inside. Every face looked upon the power-armoured warriors, and to Astinon, it appeared that they all judged him and his warriors. The cold, harsh and stern appraising glances cast their way unsettled him as he walked behind Tel’maon, unable to meet the questioning looks. The room was full of all manner of people, from clerks to servants, from Space Marines in a dozen different liveries to mortal soldiers and naval armsmen, from lords of the Armageddon hives to Tech-priests and their servitors.

‘Astinon!’ The Lord Commander looked up to see Dalmor approaching him, his hands spread out to embrace his honour-brother. ‘Welcome to Hades Hive, brother.’

‘Is this some kind of a court of judgement, Dalmor?’ whispered Astinon in an accusing tone.

The Salamander looked confused. ‘No it is not Astinon, you doubt others too much. Come, meet the Primarch.’
Up until then, the Corvian general had not been sure of what to expect from the Primarch. He had given it little thought; his thoughts had been focused elsewhere on finally being granted the redemption and absolution he sought.

But as he looked past Dalmor and Tel’maon to the figure seated on the throne at the far end of the hall, uncontrollable fear took hold of him. Ages ago, when the Space Marines had first been created, it was rumoured that one of the Emperor’s first command to them had been ‘And They Shall Know No Fear’. It was said that all fear had been bred out of them and they were immune to its effects. That was not how Astinon felt at that moment as he and his warriors slowly and consciously approached the throne.

A squad of yet more Terminators stood guard around the throne, their armour more ornate than that of Tel’maon and his Firedrakes. The significance was not lost on the Corvians; these were the Primarch’s own personal guard, elites among even the Firedrakes.

Beyond the tall forms of the Terminators, a towering figure, his armour the most ostentatious and finely-crafted of its kind that the Corvians had ever seen or had even imagined, sat in the throne, which itself was the colour of the deepest emerald. The figure’s gauntleted hands rested on the throne’s arms which were sculpted into the likeness of claws. The throne’s back itself was sculpted in the likeness of a ferocious drake, its jaw framing the head of the armoured warrior.

On his breastplate was a single-headed eagle, so unlike the Aquilas that Astinon and his warriors knew well. More sculpted drake-heads adorned his pauldrons, a rich gold in colour and looking closely Astinon could see finely-detailed script etched on the drake-heads. A cloak of glistening, green drake-scale hung from these shoulders, and the Corvians could hear the faint rustle of armoured plates clashing as the warrior rose.

In his hands, the figure held the largest glaive Astinon had ever seen, its haft as thick as his own arms and its blade wickedly-sharp like the throne’s own sculpted claws. It was a fearsome and impressive sight. With great effort, Astinon raised his eyes from the warrior’s breastplate to his face and his reaction was automatic and uncontrollable.

The forty-three Corvian officers all knelt before the seated figure, their eyes locked with that of his own, their reaction ingrained in their very genes. To look upon a Primarch was to look upon unrestrained perfection and beauty of form, to glimpse a glory that promised much yet could terrify the most strong-hearted. The radiance that emanated from the figure on the throne was compounded with his finely-wrought armour and his glaive.

The figure rose from the throne and addressed the sons of Corax, his face youthful beyond measure yet marked with age, a face filled with infinite nobility. A warm, comforting smile graced the warrior’s patrician features as he addressed the Astartes before him.

‘Welcome proud Sons of Corax, welcome to the heart of the New Imperium,’ said Vulkan, once Lord of Nocturne and Master of the XVIIIth Legiones Astartes, now Imperial Regent.

shadowhawk2008
17-09-2011, 12:14
Chapter 4

‘Rise, Lord Commander Dras, and stand as the proud warrior and general you are,’ said the crystal clear, perfectly-accented voice. ‘No warrior, no matter how high or low his station, shall ever have to kneel before me.’

Hesitantly, Astinon and his Space Marines got up from their kneeling positions, standing tall before their new master. His aura, if it could be called that, held their eyes captive and they were unable to look away from his face.

‘Once I was the lord of an entire legion of warriors, eighty thousand Astartes at the height of its power,’ began Vulkan, addressing the entire chamber. ‘I was an unwilling general in those times, commanding the finest and most brutal armies in the history of our race. The last twenty thousand years have changed much. I came back from my exile to find my father’s realm torn asunder, more potently than even my most twisted brothers could have ever planned.’ The Primarch paced in front of his throne like a caged lion, as if struggling to break free of invisible chains that held him down.

Astinon could hear the pain in Vulkan’s heartfelt speech, aware of how monstrous the Great Betrayal had been for the demi-god. He could even see the faint shadow of the anguish in the Primarch’s eyes, eyes that silently and forcefully promised vengeance for millennia of suffering.

‘And my heart soared to find that my sons and the sons of my brothers still survive, that they still hold true to ideals that the rest of the galaxy has forgotten. They, like you, have sacrificed much over the centuries and the millennia since the Fall of Terra. Many of them were forced to become savages while others kept their nobility of purpose and duty alive. And it is they who will carry aloft the torch of our new future.’ Vulkan now stopped and pointed at the Corvians.

‘These warriors, the sons of Corax, Corvians as they call themselves, are one of the many that have joined our new beginning, like the Fire Beasts and the Dorn Revenants. There will be others as well, mark my words, my friends. Lord Commander Dras?’

‘Yes, my lord,’ croaked Astinon.

‘Dalmor has told me much about you and your battle-brothers. And in my exile I have heard much of your predecessors as well. Corax was my closest brother in the Golden Days, together with Ferrus Gorgon and Rogal Dorn. I would be honoured to accept your service until the time when Corax himself calls upon you.’

Tears came unbidden to Astinon’s eyes at the Primarch’s words, and he managed to nod, answering for his brothers as well. Vulkan smiled at him once more and sat back down in his throne.

‘Very well, then. Astinon Dras of the former Angels of Retribution chapter, I hereby give you command of the Nineteenth Commandery, the Sons of Corax. Your warriors shall ever be your own. Sergeant Tel’maon, take the Captain of the Nineteenth and his officers to their quarters.’

‘Yes, my liege,’ Tel’maon saluted, forming the Aquila over his chest.

‘Captain Dras,’ Vulkan called out to the former general as he began to leave. ‘Remember always that what we do, we do in the name of the True Emperor of Mankind, not the bloated, bastardized mockery that is the Star-Father.’

‘Yes, my lord,’ Astinon bowed and left with Tel’maon.

-][-

‘We are still in the Primarch’s tower, are we not, Brother Tel’maon?’ asked Adrastos as they all walked towards the quarters assigned to the Corvian officers.

‘Indeed, Captain. The Emerald Tower lies at the heart of Hades Hive, just as Armageddon is the heart of the New Imperium. It serves as the Primarch’s base of operations, his sanctum, his refuge, and his court.’

Tel’maon and a squad of his Firedrakes led them via power-lifts down to the deep sub-levels of the tower, where access was carefully restricted and entire squads of Astartes in emerald power armour stood as sentries. Astinon could see that their armour was the same as that of his escorts, recently forged and shining with its own newness. In comparison, the armour worn by him and his warriors was a patchwork of armour-plates salvaged and repaired times beyond count and in the early stages of becoming obsolete in their functionality.

The Firedrake Sergeant stopped as he came to stand before a large, armoured door of Adamantium and strengthened ceramite. Astinon looked on as Tel’maon typed in an access code and the door opened, soundlessly and with such a grace that he could not have imagined of Imperial technology. Curious as to what the chamber beyond could hold, the Corvians followed the Salamanders inside.

As Tel’maon switched on the chamber’s bio-lumes, bathing the entire chamber in a soft golden light, the Corvians were stunned at the incredible bounty that lay before them.

The walls of the entire chamber were covered in various weapon racks and storage boxes full of a multitude of varying ammunitions. There were chainswords, chain-axes, power swords, thunder hammers, lightning claws, power-axes, boltguns, plasma pistols, heavy bolters, multi-meltas and more besides, resting snugly in their casings and giving off the sheen of newness that was the norm throughout Hades Hive. The chamber was a repository of technological wonders.

Grinning, Tel’maon watched their shocked expressions with some amusement. ‘This is to be your armoury, Captain Dras. It will fall under the jurisdiction of the Nineteenth Commandery and serfs and artificers will be provided to you in due course.’

‘This is extraordinary,’ whispered Manov, finding his voice.

‘The entire chamber is to be given over to us?’ asked an incredulous Adrastos.

‘These are wonders beyond measure,’ remarked Astinon in an awed tone.

‘This is not the entirety of the Primarch’s gift to you, lords.’ Tel’maon turned to the wall behind him and activated a control panel next to the light-box. Astinon and the others could hear a soft, whirring noise as six perfectly circular recesses some fifty feet in diameter opened up in the floor of the armoury and a platform arose from within each recess. The Corvians gaped dumbfounded at the new sight before them.

Suits of newly-forged, unpainted power armour were stacked neatly together on five of the platforms, thirty on each, their surfaces unblemished and unmarked. On the central platform were ten suits of Terminator armour, finely wrought and unpainted just like their smaller versions.

‘These suits of armour have been forged for you and your warriors, Captain Dras. More will be provided in due time as your Commandery grow in number. I suggest you and your warriors take charge immediately, for if I have read the Primarch right, you will be given a vital mission of great import soon enough. That is how it has been for all the Astartes warbands and mortal soldiers that have so far come to Armageddon. Lord Vulkan does not delay in making appropriate use of the forces under his command.’

‘Understood brother,’ said Astinon and turned to Captains Adrastos and Dheimmel and his champion Manov. ‘Assemble the rest of the Corvians. Distribute the suits of power armour and the weapons equally between all. I will make a decision later about the suits of Terminator armour.’

Taking a final look at the chamber and its contents, Astinon continued. 'The night is darkest just before the dawn, my brothers. We have begun to step out of the darkness of our conflicted past and it looks like the sun has now begun to rise on our destiny as well, a new dawn full of hope and promise heralds our future.’

shadowhawk2008
17-09-2011, 12:15
Chapter 5

‘To battle, brothers! For Corax and the New Imperium!’ cried Astinon as he leaped out from the front access hatch of his Thunderhawk, followed swiftly by twenty-nine of his warriors, their jump-packs roaring in the quiet of Medan’s morning sky. The Space Marines soon left their gunship behind, which used its boosters to head back out into space where the warships assigned to the task force held position.

At some distance from Astinon and his three squads, other Thunderhawks also unleashed their deadly superhuman cargo and two hundred Corvians descended together through the white clouds on wings of fire, headed straight for the sprawling manufactora complex below them. Their helmets protected them from any air drag during their descent and they busied themselves with identifying landmarks and calculating flight trajectories to their intended destination.

+Approaching drop zone, execute maximum dispersal pattern, you know your targets, Corvians.+ voxed the Commander of the Sons of Corax to his strike force. On his helmet display, a series of green runes flashed by in quick succession, indicating the acknowledgement of the orders by his warriors.

The descending Corvians broke up into four separate groups as they approached the manufactora complex from above, each group spreading out in a loose formation over its respective drop zone. . No cannon-fire reached out to halt their controlled, speeding descent, which was to be expected. The bombardment cannons of the fleet’s two battle-barges had relentlessly pummelled the target for several minutes prior to the assault.

They all landed as one in the slagged and crumbling ruins of the manufactora, the impact shock of their fiery descent kicking up dust and rubble which spattered harmlessly off their new-forged armour. Around them, kilometre-thick, black-coloured spires rose towards the heavens, each linked together by gigantic causeways and ramps wide enough to accommodate three Land Raiders at once.

The pungent smell of rusting metal and rotting bio-waste permeated the air around them, so potent that it caused Astinon’s helmet purifiers to work overtime in order to filter them out. The stench was just about strong enough to make any lesser man gag but he ignored it and accessed the primary command channel on the strike force’s secure comm-net.

+Secure your drop sites, brothers, and standby for further instructions.+ Astinon’s twin bolt-pistols were already in his hands as he issued his orders, tracking back and forth over the surrounding ruins as he searched for any sign of the hostile forces that he had been told infested the long-abandoned complex like vermin. His own squads spread out away from him like the spokes of a wheel, each battle-brother covering the other as they patiently awaited contact with the enemy.

+Move out to your targets and remain in vox-contact. Secondary mission is a go for search and destroy. Once inside, I want confirmation of the primary objective.+ A chorus of affirmatives on the command channel confirmed his terse orders as his battle-brothers proceeded to their own individual objectives, scattered throughout the manufactora.

A buzz in his helmet’s audio feed alerted Astinon to an incoming message from the Montisgarre, and he blink-clicked a glowing yellow rune on his display to accept the audio link.

‘Force Commander,’ said Kostar, his senior-most bridge officer aboard the battle-barge, a man assigned to him by Faress Teluga himself and was said to be one of the Admiral’s protégés. ‘The venerable vessel’s sensors are picking up multiple life-signs in the ruins. Clusters of them seem to be converging on the locations of the strike teams under Captains Adrastos, Dheimmel and Salsax.’

‘Identification?’ asked Astinon, still tracking his bolt pistols across the ruins as his kill-team secured their landing site.

‘Indeterminable, Force Commander,’ answered Kostar. ‘We are unable to get clear sensor readings, most likely due to the massive quantities of metallic substances within the complex.’

‘Keep me informed of any further developments, Astinon out.’

Astinon cut the link to his flagship and accessed a secondary command channel on the comm-net that connected him with his fellow officers. +You heard Lieutenant Kostar, brothers. Be wary, the beast has awoken.+

+My strike force is already establishing a defence perimeter at Zone Kappa, Astinon, we will be ready.+ said Adrastos, all matter-of-fact and focused on the task at hand. +I am about to send four squads through the north-east entrance.+

+Let them come, Force Commander, it has been far too long since I had a good fight on my hands.+ joked Salsax as usual, the Raptor’s excitement about the prospect of a close combat evident in his voice.

As was customary for him, Dheimmel remained silent, acknowledging Astinon’s warning with only a brief click on the comm-net. Astinon paid his Second Captain’s reticence no heed, the Reviler’s taciturn attitude something he had gotten used to long ago. Instead, he turned to his champion.

‘Manov, status of the kill-team?’ he asked, his voice sounding flat and mechanical through his helmet’s speakers.

‘We are ready to proceed into the complex, Force Commander,’ came back the answer.

Astinon nodded slightly in return, and blink-clicked a faint yellow rune on his helmet display to re-establish a two-way audio link with his flagship. ‘Mr. Kostar, we are proceeding into the complex proper, be advised we may not be able to communicate with you further until we exit back.’

-][-

Within minutes of Astinon and his own squads entering the complex through the south-west entrance, the comm-net came alive with curses, oaths and warnings. The enemy had finally attacked them, and in overwhelming numbers. The Commander brought his small kill-team to a halt with a silent gesture and accessed the secondary command channel.

+Adrastos, Salsax, Dheimmel, report!’ Astinon yelled into the comm-net.

+This is Salsax from the north-west end of the complex, Force Commander.+ The Raptor Captain’s relish was clear, even on the comm-net. +We are under heavy attack by some two hundred of the enemy. We should be able to hold on.+

+This... Adrastos... light resistance... holding... north-east... will... vox-contact...+ Background noise filtered through the Raven Guard’s end of the command channel, and Astinon could barely hear him or make sense of what his First Captain was telling him.

+Enemy warband numbering approximately one hundred encountered, proceeding to eliminate all targets.+ Dheimmel’s terse report convinced Astinon that his fellow officer and his warriors could hold their own.

Ultimately, it was his own small kill-team that he had to worry about. They had not yet run into the enemy themselves and he knew that his warriors were itching for a just fight that would somehow vindicate their years of unyielding resolve through the last few decades. He was about to order his team to move forwards when he was halted once again.

‘Contacts ahead!’ yelled Leven, the auspex in his hands suddenly emitting a constant beep, beep as it warned of a horde of approaching enemies. ‘The auspex is having trouble estimating the size of the enemy, Force Commander, they are clustered too tightly. It is currently approximating three hundred enemy combatants.’

‘Those are good odds, brother,’ Manov laughed in the grim, oppressing darkness of the tunnels they were in.

‘Hold position,’ ordered Astinon, his voice as calm and confident as his champion remembered from the old days.

‘Leven, your squad will be the rearguard. Rosto, your squad will be in the vanguard with me. Manov, hold the centre. For the honour of Corax!’

‘We bring retribution to death to our foe!’ intoned his warriors in unison and split off to their assigned positions in the narrow and cramped tunnel.

Within seconds, the enemy horde was upon them and the tunnel rang with the whirring of wildly-swung chainswords and the staccato reports of inaccurate bolter-fire. The steel-grey armour of the enemy was a patchwork collection of armour plates covered with dried, crusty blood all over.

Astinon could pick out no distinctive markings on their armour but he still easily recognized who they were from the mission briefs given to him by Vulkan when he and his warriors had been assigned this mission. These charging berserkers were his lost cousins who had long ago given up even the semblance of their humanity, succumbing to their base, primal urges in a galaxy full of damnation and heresy.

They were long-lost sons of Corax; as much a part of the genetic lineage of the Great Raven as he was, and he had been charged with their absolution and redemption. But those would have to wait until he was finished here. Right now, he had twenty-nine battle-brothers to protect from the insane killing rages of his cousins.

‘Weapons free, fire at will!’ he cried and his warriors opened fire at the onrushing renegades, whose bestial screams of hate and murder matched tone for tone and pitch for pitch by the Corvians’ battle-cries of revenge and judgement.

Effortlessly contracting his surroundings to just his outstretched arm and the bolt-pistol held in his black gauntlet, Astinon took careful aim at one of the incoming enemy warriors, his helmet display providing him with a wealth of targeting data. He muttered a single word as he fired, the bolt pistol slightly bucking in his hands as he was still unused to the new weapon.

‘Carcharadons.’

The shot hit the renegade square in his forehead and he dropped like a puppet with its strings cut, only to be trampled underneath the booted feet of dozens more of its kind as they charged in at Astinon and his vanguard.
Rosto’s squad was not equipped with any heavy weapons but they still answered the incoming hail of bolter-fire in kind with their own combi-plasmas and bolt pistols. Streaks of heated plasma and bolt shells whizzed past Astinon at the renegades, killing some outright while others barely faltered in their advance. In return, two of Rosto’s squad went down, concentrated fire leaving big gaping holes in their plastrons and helmets.

Astinon had been prepared to fight toe-to-toe against Space Marines who could exhibit a modicum of rational thought and a grasp of simple infantry tactics. He wasn’t prepared for the berserkers that were charging at his squads, heedless of their own safety. Most of them were without their helmets, their faces twisted into a rictus of varying bestial expressions. If they had not been wearing power armour, he would have barely recognized them as Space Marines even with their height.

One of the renegades charged straight at Astinon who was forced to quickly holster his pistols and unsheathe the Stormblade, which was bathed in silver lightning once he switched on the sword’s power field. The unhelmeted Carcharadon brought his chain-axe down in an overhead swing at his head but Astinon blocked it with the sharp, thin edge of his sword, its energy field cutting through the haft of the chain-axe with as much ease as a bolter shell through unarmoured skin.

Ignoring the Carcharadon’s inarticulate cries of hate as the renegade came back at him with his fists, Astinon simply grabbed the renegade around his gorget with one hand and ran him through the breastplate, and the primary heart inside. As the sword emerged out through the warrior’s back and into his backpack, the Force Commander drew it back before it could rupture the armour’s power generator. The renegade’s challenge died on his lips as blood poured out in a fountain from the fatal wound; he was dead before he hit the tunnel floor.

There was no respite for Astinon however as he became surrounded on all sides by more Carcharadons, their brutal weapon-swings chipping off his armour-plates piece by piece. He stepped back towards Sergeant Rosto’s squad and sub-vocalized an order on the comm-net.

+Kasten, burn them with the purifying fire of your flamer!+

+In His name, Force Commander+ Kasten hefted his battle-worn flamer and re-igniting the pilot, hosed down the enemy with flames almost hot enough to cook them inside their armour. Or so Kasten and Astinon had thought.

The Carcharadons came on, heedless of the intense fire that burned the very air around them. Their self-contained armour, so like that of the Corvians, kept most of them safe and alive. They resembled angels walking on a carpet of flames as they came at the kill-team. Angels of Death, thought Astinon, what an ironic situation we find ourselves in.

The Commander was busy duelling against a Carcharadon renegade with his power sword when his opponent was roughly shoved to the side, his place taken by a hulking form in Terminator armour bearing a pair of crackling lightning claws. The shoved warrior snarled at the newcomer but before he could say anything, the Terminator swept his gauntlets down in a blinding, murderous arc which shredded the renegade’s head to pieces. Astinon slowly backed away from the giant, the Stormblade held en garde before him.

‘Fall back! We cannot hold this tunnel. Retreat to the entrance chamber,’ he ordered in a voice still as calm and confident as before.

‘Fall back to the entrance!’ Manov echoed his Commander’s order, directing the remaining twenty-one Corvians as they retreated from the cramped tunnel, nearly made claustrophobic by the advancing Terminator.

More renegades followed their leader, their thirst for the Corvians’ blood evident in their fell battle-cries. They had abandoned their ranged weapons and all brandished close combat weapons of one type or another which, although looking aged and ill-repaired, appeared to be in frequent use. The Terminator roared a shrill battle-cry that brought Astinon to a halt as he retreated with his warriors. He turned to look back at the warlord and was horrified at what he saw.

The Terminator held one of Astinon’s battle-brothers in his oversized gauntlets. The Knight of the Raven had been gored through his stomach by the renegade’s lightning claws, which were dripping steadily with the Corvian’s blood. The Carcharadon lord put the warrior down on the ground; none too gently, and with the shocked Astinon still watching, brought his enormous sabatons down on the hapless Space Marine’s head.

A sharp, meaty crunch announced the death of Brother Lykasz, formerly of the Knights of the Raven chapter and Astinon’s battle-brother for the last eighteen years.

shadowhawk2008
17-09-2011, 12:15
Chapter 6

A grim-faced Astinon stared at what was left of Brother Lykasz, one of his oldest comrades. Under the crushing, armoured boots of the renegade Terminator, only a headless corpse remained, with splattered blood and brain-matter coating the tunnel floor. The Corvian Commander was in shock at witnessing such a brutal execution of his friend and battle-brother.

The berserker renegades postured like caged beasts behind their leader, who himself stood so calm and assured that he might well have been anywhere but in the thick of battle. He was crouched low, ready to charge at a moment’s notice like a predator that has the scent of its prey and is waiting for the right moment to strike.

For a moment, time seemed to stop for Astinon and he was unable to move. It was as if his body was refusing to do what he asked of it. He was rooted where he stood just before the entrance to the tunnel and the large chamber beyond. His entire body was as taut as a stretched string and he shuddered slightly. His eyes were fixed on the bloody spectacle before him and he was able to see every crack and fracture on his dead brother’s armour.

The clamour of battle around him faded into the background and to him it was as if he existed between two moments. The challenges of the enemy and the battle-cries of his strike team alike faded out as if they were being shouted from a great distance. He could hear none of that. He heard only the twin, rhythmic beatings of his own two hearts.

None of the smells of the tunnel-fight existed for him, both the sweat and blood of the superhuman warriors within or the smoke from their gun barrels. He could smell only the blood of his battle-brother, still steaming off the Carcharadon’s lightning claws.

This is not an end worthy of remembrance, he thought to himself. We have braved despair, desolation, defeat, even death itself for this? To be killed as an afterthought by mindless barbarians who are not even aware of their own glorious heritage? I shall not stand for this. He clenched his fists at the last thought, the tiny gesture breaking the spell on him, and he was aware of his surroundings again. Knowing what he had to do, he sub-vocalized an order on the comm-net.

+Corvians, halt.+ His voice as he accessed his strike team comm-channel was as cold and harsh as the fierce snowstorms of the near-mythical world of Fenris. It was so unlike his usual calm and assertive self, but his brothers did not pause at this change. They obeyed his order instantly, their discipline to their credit as they moved back to stand with their general, knowing well how he would respond to such an insult.

The Terminator lord’s posture faltered as Astinon and his warriors rallied, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with each other. The growl that issued through the Carcharadon’s helmet speakers was bestial enough to chill the Corvian general’s soul, a scream deeply primal in nature. But Astinon ignored the animalistic challenge.

+Prime krak grenades, three-second timers.+ His second terse order resulted in a slight shuffle behind him as the surviving nineteen Sons of Corax took out several small metal eggs from their belt pouches and triggered the explosives for a set countdown.

The renegade lord took a threatening step towards the Corvians and clashed his lightning claws together, bright blue sparks flying off them as the weapons’ energy fields came into contact. Roaring again, the Carcharadon waved his warriors forwards and broke into a run straight towards Astinon, their ponderous, heavy boot-steps ringing on the metallic floor of the tunnel. Once again, the renegade Astartes forsook their bolters, preferring the savagery of their close combat weapons and their fists.

+One, two, three, now!+ As one, the twenty Corvians lobbed the deadly hi-explosive grenades at the mob of charging renegades and drew their ranged weapons. They died in droves as the krak grenades went off in their midst, many of the renegades torn limb from limb and died screaming hateful curses at the loyalist Astartes. Others came on regardless of missing limbs and bleeding wounds.

+Fire!+ The roar of bolter shells that followed Astinon’s order was enough to drown out almost all other noise in the tunnel, the echoes endlessly feeding back on themselves. But the wayward progeny of the Primarch Corax did not falter in their reckless advance, as heedless of the dense fusillade as they had been off the concussive grenade explosions.

The renegade Terminator lord alone was unharmed, his armour systems potent enough to protect him from the waves of incendiary shrapnel washing over him. The cast of his helmet and the amber light of its optic-lenses along with his immense size lent him an even more terrifying visage than before as he ran the length of the burning tunnel to get to the Corvians.

Disgust filled Astinon at this fearsome mockery of his own self. Where the Corvians were noble warriors and represented the highest ideals of the Adeptus Astartes, the Carcharadons were base savages who were nothing but twisted, fallen parodies of everything it meant to be a true Space Marine. To him, these renegades were an abomination and would need to be purged to their very core, Vulkan’s orders be damned.

Holstering his pistols, he removed his helm, wanting to look at his enemy with his own eyes. He gazed straight into the renegade lord’s optic lenses, trying to divine something of his nature through the soulless ceramite. Astinon snarled at the Terminator and drew the Stormblade, making a chopping gesture with it at the enemy in an effort to goad him.

The Carcharadons just came on and the Corvians braced themselves for the impact.

-][-

‘What word of Captain Astinon’s task force, Dalmor?’ The Captain of the First Commandery turned at the soft voice behind him to see his Primarch entering the command sanctum. He immediately kneeled before his liege, who wore only a simple, knee-length robe of emerald and gold.

‘My lord,’ answered Dalmor, his voice slightly inflected with concern for his honour-brother and the warriors he had often fought beside years ago. ‘We received word from Lieutenant Kostar less than three hours ago that the Corvians had begun their deployment on Medan in full force. Astinon’s teams are last known to have walked into the ruins in strength; we have not received any updates since. The good Lieutenant has advised that the high metallic content of the abandoned manufactora may be blocking any transmissions from the Corvian strike force.’

‘Just as we predicted might be the case,’ said Vulkan softly as he came to stand next to his First Commander. The Primarch went without his usual panoply of armour and weapons that he always wore when he held his court or when he attended battle briefings. Even in his simple robe, Vulkan exuded his warrior heritage and his manner was anything other combat-readiness.

‘Contact Lieutenant Kostar again and request an update of the situation. Astinon and his warriors will be facing an opposition they are not likely to have faced in years and their faith in the true ideals of the New Imperium will be tested to the limit.’ Vulkan frowned for a brief moment as he continued. ‘It is also vital that they succeed in their mission for the riches of Medan will accelerate my plans considerably. And rescue the Corvians at the same time from their degeneration’

‘If they are still intact, my lord,’ offered Dalmor. ‘We take a great risk in this mission. The Corvians are nowhere near optimal strength for this mission. We should have sent reinforcements from the other Commanderies currently on Armageddon.’

The Primarch waved away his captain’s concerns with a simple shake of his head. ‘No, my friend, this is a task for the Corvians alone. Loathe as I am to put Corax’s surviving sons through such an ordeal, only they can complete this mission. They, and they alone have it in them to see it through and numbers do not matter.’

‘I have faith in my honour-brother and his warriors, Lord Vulkan, but I still fear the worst. Medan is going to change the Corvians, for better or for worse,’ said Dalmor.

‘Then it is a good thing we are here to guide them, are we not, First Commander?’ asked Vulkan, winking at the Space Marine and smiling for the first time since he had entered. ‘I want an updated report on Medan within the half-hour, Dalmor. I am very much interested in Astinon and how he handles this mission. He reminds me of Corax’s captains from the glorious days of the Great Crusade.’ With that, the Primarch began to leave the command sanctum.

‘Where will you be, father?’ asked Dalmor.

Vulkan thought for a moment before answering the Commander’s question. ‘I will be with He’stan in my private sanctum. He and I still have much to talk about.’

-][-

Thanks to his superhuman constitution, Adrastos was rarely out of breath, if ever, but this was definitely one of those times when he was. Smoke and ash filled the air, making it nearly impossible to breathe as he stood in the dilapidated ruins of the vast manufactorum. Around him, his battle-brothers helped each other recover from the furious battle they had just fought against a horde of renegade Astartes, the Carcharadons. The Corvians had taken little damage, since the enemy had numbered far less than them, but both sides had been equally matched in their savagery.

Adrastos muttered an oath of appeasement to his power armour’s machine spirit as he knelt besides one of his dying battle-brothers, Sergeant Samer, a Raven Guard like himself. The Hawk Lord Apothecary assigned to his strike force, Romio, shook his head at his captain, indicating that Samer was beyond his arts to save. Adrastos nodded faintly and looked at his sergeant.

‘You fought honourably, brother,’ he said, not without a little anguish. There were few enough of the Corvians left alive after ten thousand years of bitter fighting, and the Raven Guard themselves numbered fewer than ever, barely more than three squads’ worth. Samer’s loss was a hard blow.

Samer tried to speak but only blood poured out of his mouth. He had taken four bolter rounds straight to the chest during the fire-fight and an enemy warrior had hacked off his right arm at the shoulder with a lucky blow. His wounds were too severe, his genetically-enhanced body struggling to repair the damage but failing miserably. The Space Marine was dead within seconds.

Romio hung his head in sorrow and began to extract the warrior’s gene-seed, the reductor drill mounted on the apothecary’s left-arm punching through the sergeant’s chest plate and neck in quick succession.

Adrastos got up and looked around for his second-in-command, Sergeant Decra. He spotted the Storm Hawk Space Marine across the chamber, wiping his chainsword of the blood of the enemies he had killed in the fire-fight. A pair of long, fresh scars bisected the left side of his face, giving him a savage look, more so than was usual even for him.

Decra was one of the best close combat fighters among the Corvians, due in no small amount to the ancient traditions of his nearly extinct chapter, and his wounds indicated how close the battle against the feral Carcharadons had been. He was also of the old stock, recruited from Zephyr itself forty years ago during a dangerous recruitment mission undertaken by Astinon’s predecessor, Tomar Rao. Adrastos walked over to him, passing some of his other battle-brothers who were piling up the dead in one corner of the room.

‘Brother-Sergeant, any luck getting through to Commander Astinon or the other strike teams?’ he asked as he approached.

The Storm Hawk looked up at his Captain, his blood-shot scars twitching as he spoke in his heavy, rumbling voice. ‘We have had no further word from the others, Captain. The comm-net signals simply cannot penetrate the thick adamantium walls and the ferrocrete that is part of the manufactorum’s structure. We will need to find some sort of a booster relay or a hardwired vox-caster unit to be able to communicate with the Commander or the other Captains.’

Adrastos cursed under his breath at the Sergeant’s response. Without the ability to contact the other strike teams, it would be that much harder to coordinate their progress through the manufactora. Or know if the primary objective had been accomplished in case any of the other strike teams found the prize the Corvians had come to Medan for. He made a quick decision about what to do next.

‘Sergeant, assemble the strike-team within two minutes to proceed further into the manufactorum and send out a squad to recon ahead of us. I do not want any more surprises.’

‘As ordered, First Captain,’ acknowledged Decra and began issuing commands to the remaining fifty-four warriors of Adrastos’ strike-team.

-][-

Astinon ducked to avoid a murderous sweep of the renegade lord’s lightning claws, rolling backwards into a crouch just beyond the reach of the power weapons. He glanced up at the Carcharadon who snarled as the Commander once again evaded his murderous swings.

The Corvian general’s armour was pitted and scarred with damage from the renegade’s blows that he had not been able to avoid. His left pauldron, with its gilded chapter iconography, was a ruin and a significant chunk of his breastplate was also missing. Quick as he was, against the Terminator’s relentless onslaught he was quickly tiring.

In contrast, the Carcharadon’s armour was still unblemished by anything more than light scorch marks, its potent defences keeping him safe from any attack. He had somehow managed to block the Stormblade again and again with his twin lightning claws and Astinon was unable to find any weaknesses in his opponent’s defence.

He glanced briefly to his right to see Manov skewer a Carcharadon on the adamantium-reinforced chainsword the champion preferred for close combat, the whirring jagged teeth of the weapon turning the renegade’s innards to a bloody, chewed pulp. Manov nodded at his commander and engaged another Carcharadon, this one wielding a morning-star of unknown design.

Around them, the swirling combat between their battle-brothers continued, with neither side able to gain any advantage over the other. The berserker fury of the Carcharadon renegades was matched by the cold discipline and training of the Corvians. More Astartes had died on both sides and the Corvians were still outnumbered three to one, but it was essentially a stalemate. Both groups of warriors drew heart from the presence of their duelling war-leaders and the outcome of this tunnel-fight rested on them.

In his anger, Astinon spat at the Carcharadon. ‘You are utter filth, a hideous mockery of all the nobility of an Adeptus Astartes and the ideals of the Great Raven. You are undeserving of the legacy that you bear and I shall remind you of that when I take your head, you honourless, misbegotten insect!’

The renegade stopped in mid-swing at Astinon’s outburst, his surprise at the Corvian general’s words evident in his posture. Astinon drew in a ragged breath, for this gave him a moment’s respite to recover from the renegade’s relentless attacks. His chest heaved with the exertion of the close-fought duel. Around the two leaders, their battle-brothers also ceased their fight and looked on, anticipating something momentous about to happen.

Without ceremony, the Carcharadon removed his own helmet, revealing a surprisingly handsome and sharply-visaged patrician face, though scarred heavily. Astinon stared in shock, for he had assumed that these were mutated and degenerate warriors, but that was obviously not the case with the towering Terminator-armoured warrior before him.

The Carcharadon’s expression twisted into a feral snarl as looked at Astinon with murder in his eyes, which were a disconcerting all-black, fathomless and pitiless as the void between the stars. ‘And what would you know of honour, Angel of Retribution?’ he asked and the rich, calm voice that addressed him shocked Astinon once again. What in the name of the True Emperor was going on here, he thought. I was told to expect barbaric savages, not warriors who speak as if they are standing in an Imperial Royal Court!

Noticing Astinon’s confusion, the Carcharadon laughed a grim, toothy smile. ‘I am not what you expected is it, Angel of Retribution? You have not seen the half of it I am sure.’ He motioned to his remaining warriors and as one they all removed their helmets, revealing their faces to the Corvians.

Each and every one of them was unmarked and unblemished by mutation, their features as noble as that of Astinon and his own warriors; even the colour of their skin, whether Corvian or Carcharadon was the same waxen, deathly white. The only difference between the two forces was the armour they all wore, the grey of the Carcharadons against the multitude of colours among the Corvians.

‘Who are you?’ Astinon whispered with a rising dread in his voice. He was completely off-balanced by the normalcy of the renegades before him.

The Carcharadons all laughed at the question, as if the Corvian general was stupid to have asked it at all. The lone Terminator joined in his brethren’s mocking laughter.

‘Who am I? Ten thousand years must have dulled the memory of you and your forebears, proud son of Corax, if you cannot recognize me,’ he said. ‘Do you at least recognize these markings on my armour?’

It was only now that Astinon could make out the faint lettering on the armour. It was an old sub-dialect of High Gothic, old even before the fall of Imperium of Man. As he deciphered the armorial wording, he gasped in horror.
‘It cannot be!’ he cried out. ‘No Astartes can survive this long, it is impossible!’

‘Nothing is ever impossible, son of Corax,’ the Carcharadon lord responded. ‘I am living proof of the longevity of our kind. Your expression tells me that you know full well who I am, what I am.’

‘You lie,’ said Astinon hotly. ‘You wear the armour of another, undoubtedly like many others before you. You cannot be the same hero whose name was once spoken of with respect and admiration among all the chapters of the Adeptus Astartes ages ago, before the Imperium fell for a second time. It is impossible. The victor of Endymion cannot have fallen so far from those glorious days.’

‘Do not convince yourself that all you have been led to believe is right, brother,’ snarled the Carcharadon. ‘I am he whose name is scrimshawed on this armour; the very same victor of Endymion that you believe was one of the greatest heroes of the Imperium of old.’

‘No it cannot be,’ Astinon managed to say, his voice hoarse. ‘You cannot be Tyberos of the Red Wake!’

‘Ave Imperator Verimus,’ whispered the Carcharadon through rows of sharp ivory teeth.

shadowhawk2008
17-09-2011, 12:16
Chapter 7

Hail, in the name of the True Emperor. Astinon and the others were stunned to hear the battle-cry of the New Imperium under Primarch Vulkan from the mouth of a renegade. This made no sense. How could the Carcharadons know it, isolated and cut-off as they were on Medan?

‘You have no right to speak those words, renegade,’ Astinon said through clenched teeth and balled up his gauntleted fists. ‘You will -’

Tyberos cut off the Corvian general before he could continue, moving forwards to stand face-to-face with Astinon as much as their difference in height would allow. ‘On the contrary, brother, I have every right to utter those words. Do you foolishly believe that we, the Carcharadon Astra, have given up on all our sworn oaths of ages past?’

Anger streaked Astinon’s face, a sudden rage boiling up within him at Tyberos’ question. He edged closer to the Terminator until there was barely any room for air between the two. ‘Then tell me Tyberos of the mighty Carcharadons, what the frakking, bloody hell have you and your brothers been doing in the last ten thousand years? The Imperium fell, the Adeptus Astartes were scattered like chaff all across the galaxy, a million abominations were spawned, the greatest heroes of Mankind were struck down and yet there was no word of your chapter!’ Moving with sudden speed, and with all his strength, Astinon struck Tyberos across the face with a resounding slap.

Behind the renegade lord, his warriors all stiffened and pointed their chain-weapons and guns at the Corvians, who did likewise in a tense stand-off. They all watched their leaders with concern, unsure what would happen next and unwilling to break the tense peace themselves.

Bleeding from a torn lip, Tyberos snarled and bared his sharpened incisors at the Corvian general. Belying his great bulk and his cumbersome armour, the Terminator seized Astinon’s neck in a vice-like grip and lifted him up a full four inches from the tunnel floor.

‘Never, ever do that again, Angel of Retribution, if you truly value your life,’ he bellowed and pushed Astinon’s head through the nearest wall and held him there. The Corvian general was desperately gasping for breath in Tyberos’ choking grip and bleeding heavily from a deep cut on his forehead.

‘You will let the Lord Commander go, renegade,’ warned a strong, clear voice behind Tyberos and the Carcharadon turned to see who dared to interfere. He found himself looking into the barrel of a plasma pistol levelled at him by Sergeant Manov, the gun’s brightly flaring blue-white energy coils evidence that Astinon’s champion would blast off the Carcharadon’s head without preamble and without so much as a second thought if his warning was not obeyed instantly.

Tyberos grinned savagely at Manov and let Astinon go, the Corvian general falling to the floor in a heap and short on breath. Leven and Rosto moved to assist Astinon while Manov kept Tyberos away from the Commander on gunpoint. The Carcharadon warlord kept his eyes squarely on the champion, his tongue smacking his lips in apparent relish.

‘Admit it Tyberos of the Red Wake,’ Astinon stammered, drawing in big gulps of air. ‘You and your chapter forswore your oaths to the Emperor and the Imperium long ago in order to descend into wanton anarchy and an orgy of slaughter and mindless carnage.’

‘We did no such thing!’ Tyberos rebutted hotly, almost frothing at the mouth in anger. ‘The Imperium abandoned us! Those bastards who call themselves the true heirs of the Imperium, the Theologian Union, they attacked our ships, our worlds. They left the remnants of my once-proud chapter to rot through the ages on this desolate rock, a fate worse than death!’

‘And what of it, traitor?’ asked Astinon, using the damning epithet for the first time. ‘The loyal sons of Lord Corax did all we could to stem the tide. We fought the New Devourer, the Silver Hordes, the damnable forces of the twin Chaos empires and the thousand other false Imperiums to keep the values of the Emperor and the Great Raven alive. Where were you? We sold our lives dearly because we truly believed in the Emperor, may His glory be everlasting. You,’ Astinon pointed an accusing finger at Tyberos. ‘You disappeared, never to return, while the entire galaxy slipped into damnation and heresy. Do not talk to me of abandonment.’

‘Enough!’ Tyberos roared. But Astinon went on regardless.

‘You think I do not know about the deals you made during the Second Strife, how you consorted with the most foul alien races in return for heretical technologies and knowledge you were never meant to have or know?’ The renegade lord glared furiously as Astinon said those words. There was no backing down now between them. ‘Tell me, Victor of Endymion, what was the price you and your brothers paid for such knowledge, for more power? Did you sell your souls to the warp?’

‘You know nothing of us, Angel of Retribution! Nothing!’

‘I know all I need to know, heretic,’ said Astinon calmly as he finally stood up and waved away his sergeants However, he purposely did not ask his champion to lower his plasma pistol. ‘My lord Vulkan, who now rules the New Imperium as its Regent, told me that I was to make every effort to redeem you and absolve you of your sins. He told me everything about your chapter’s despicable dealings and still he told me to bring you into the fold. But now I know that cannot be. You attacked my brothers without provocation, brutally killed warriors I have fought alongside in countless battles and you dare to say you are blameless in everything, a victim of circumstance?’ The Corvian general shook his head incredulously.

‘No. Redemption is not for the likes of you heretics. Your absolution will only come in a conflagration of death. When you lie dying on this very cold tunnel floor, and your life bleeds out of you, you will know the full cost of your uncountable sins, if that still be your fate. Pray the True Emperor have mercy on your souls Carcharadon for I have none.’

Tyberos, in his turn to be surprised, stared at Astinon as if he was dumbstruck. ‘Lord Vulkan?’

Astinon’s anger and rage returned. ‘Do not dare to speak that name, Carcharadon! The Eighteenth Primarch’s name is too hallowed and pure to be uttered from your poisoned lips! Now prepare to meet your doom traitor!’

‘I know now what you came here to find, son of Corax, I can divine at least that much of your intentions now that you have mentioned the name of a Primarch,’ Tyberos responded, his soulless black eyes seemingly shot with a blazing anger. ‘My psykers had told me already that a son of the Emperor had returned but I had dared not put any trust in something so fantastical. Your confirmation shall have to suffice. I will deny you your prize, even if it costs me my life. You will not take our future from us! The Carcharadon Astra shall live again!’

Inconsolable grief marked Astinon’s face as he ordered his warriors to attack. ‘For the honour of Corax! Victorus aut Mortis!’ he chanted.

‘We bring retribution and death to our foe!’ was the reply of the Corvians, the battle-cry reverberating around the length and breadth of the tunnel, driving the Carcharadons into a fury.

As Astinon and Tyberos squared off once more, the Carcharadon warlord raised his power gauntlets high in the air and muttered two distinct words that the Corvian Commander just barely heard.

‘Hunger. Slake.’ As he uttered those two words, there was a short click and two thick slits opened up in his gauntlets. A loud, whirring sound followed and a small, revving chainblade extended out of each slit. His footfalls heavy, Tyberos charged at Astinon yelling an incoherent war-cry that was echoed by his warriors.

Astinon brought up the Stormblade to deflect the first swing of the murderous combi-fists. This was another unexpected development in the Medan mission and he wondered at it. What the damn frak is going on in this accursed galaxy? Is there no end to such random changes?

Again and again he parried Tyberos’ strikes, barely holding onto his own weapon. Enhanced by his Terminator armour, Tyberos’ strength was prodigious and Astinon was far out of his league here. He couldn’t even spare a glance around him to see how his brothers were faring, only fifteen of them left. The ident runes on his helmet’s heads-up-display winked out one by one as his strike team began to take casualties, but he was unable to spare even a thought to their defence.

Parrying yet again, he yelled into the comm-net on an open frequency. +Dheimmel, Salsax, Adrastos! I need backup now! My strike team is being slaughtered in the tunnels below the south-east manufactorum.+

He received an immediate reply. +This is Salsax, Commander Dras; I am on my way as we speak. I shall be there shortly.+

+You had better hurry, Raptor. There may not be any of us left alive to save if you are too late!+ The only reply Astinon got was a furious battle-cry before Salsax cut the audio-link. He knew he could trust the Raptor Captain, one of the most self-assured and dependable warriors he had ever met in his long years.

Facing off against thirty-nine Carcharadons, the remaining eight Corvians, including Astinon, slowly backed up into the large chamber from where they had entered the tunnel. Gigantic machinery rose all around them, the air stinking of corroded metal, freshly-spilled blood and the actinic tang of the discharge from the power weapons used by some of the warriors. Oppressiveness hung in the air of the fifty-foot high darkly gothic chamber, threatening to drown Astinon and his brothers in overwhelming desperation.

Each of his brothers that fell was a huge blow to Astinon, to his pride and to his combat record. Never before had he suffered such terrible casualties as he did now, and the number was only going to increase. As far as he knew, Adrastos and Dheimmel were still tied up in battle elsewhere, with only Salsax coming to support him. And this was not looking good.

‘Stop running away you coward and face me like the proud Space Marine you espouse yourself to be!’ yelled Tyberos in frustration at a retreating Astinon. Astinon however only smiled. The longer he kept the Carcharadon warlord at bay, the sooner Salsax would arrive with reinforcements.

One of Astinon’s warriors, Kasten, stepped in front of the Terminator to delay him, buying time for his Commander to retreat safely. Tyberos simply kicked the Space Marine in the knees and punched him in the face, his chain-blades making short work of Kasten’s head.

Astinon cursed at himself. He was simply delaying the inevitable it seemed. Only five of his strike team now remained, Manov his champion, Rosto and Leven his sergeants along with Barr and Lamik. Of the Carcharadons, thirty-one blood-crazed warriors still remained. The six Corvians stopped retreating and moved to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to each other, as if forming a firing line, still surrounded by towering data stacks and machinery they had no clue served what purpose.

‘This it brothers,’ said Astinon evenly, his voice hard as roughened adamantium. ‘We now sell our lives dearly. Pray the Emperor and the Great Raven judge us favourably in death.’

‘For the Imperium,’ they said in unison.

Tyberos was the first to reach them and the others left him to Astinon to deal with while they engaged the berserkers coming up behind the warlord. Tyberos thrust his lightning claws at Astinon, who ducked to avoid them, and then nimbly swerved behind the Terminator lord, bringing up the Stormblade in a flashing upward arc.

Tyberos screamed in pain, a scream that grated on Astinon’s ears like the howling of the Eldar warrior-maidens he had read of. Astinon’s blow had cut open the back of Tyberos’ armour, exposing the dense power cables and complex machinery within. Tyberos whirled around, swinging his fist around to smack away at Astinon. But the Commander once again brought up his power sword, uttering an oath to the Emperor as he did so.

The next sound that came from Tyberos’ throat was the most horrifying yet, and it brought the Corvians to their feet. Astinon had cut off the warlord’s left hand at the wrist, his sword having cut cleanly through the thick armour and bone underneath.

Twenty-five remaining Carcharadons gathered around the kneeling Corvians, chain-axes and chainswords trained forwards at their heads. Outright hate was written on their blood-shot and blood-drenched faces. Tyberos, clutching his severed hand, looked around at Astinon and his five warriors, his once-handsome though scarred features now twisted into a rictus of bestial savagery. The Victor of Endymion was truly dead. He got up and approached the captive Corvians.

‘You will pay for these affronts, you whoresons!’ he roared and motioned to his warriors. ‘Cut their heads from their bodies and be done with them! This has gone on long enough!’ The Carcharadons raised their weapons high, ready to bring them down and decapitate the proud Sons of Corax.

Astinon looked Tyberos straight in his eyes, helpless to give an outlet to his pent-up rage. ‘You are pure filth Tyberos, a warrior so unworthy of his genetic heritage that he should take the honourable way out and kill himself!’

‘Shut up, you frakking grox-****!’ Tyberos roared again.

Astinon and the others laughed in response. ‘We are ready to meet our deaths, renegade, are you?’ asked Manov, grinning from ear-to-ear.

Tyberos looked on in confusion until he heard a chorus of echoing battle-cries behind him. Salsax had arrived with his reinforcements, and he was but twenty paces behind the warlord.

‘Kill them now!’ screamed Tyberos but it was in vain. A fusillade of bolter shells and plasma discharges riddled his warriors as Salsax’s strike-team unleashed their guns as one. The Raptor Captain himself jumped at Tyberos, his jump-pack providing a slight boost and his massive thunderhammer crackling with cerulean energies as he swung it at the warlord.

Astinon and his five warriors launched themselves at their guards, knocking them down and bent to pick up their own weapons. Just as Astinon’s right hand closed on the hilt of the Stormblade, Salsax’s thunderhammer came down on Tyberos’ head. The weapon’s power field, stronger than that of any normal power weapon, completely crushed the warlord’s head, which burst in an explosion of steaming blood, fried brain matter and chips of broken skull.

His now headless corpse simply collapsed unceremoniously, arms flailing about in uselessness. Astinon heaved a sigh of relief as he appraised his Third Captain. ‘A fine kill at the end, Salsax, good work.’

The Raptor bowed in response. ‘My apologies Commander, at not having made it here sooner, but we had to secure our prize first.’

Astinon’s face lit up with joy at that. ‘The primary objective, you have it, my friend?’ he asked with great excitement.

Salsax nodded solemnly. ‘Seven hundred and seventy-two perfectly stored stasis tubes, my lord. Apothecary Vex confirmed the contents are in prime condition.’

The Commander rested his hands on his Captain’s shoulders. ‘You have made me proud today, Salsax. Admirably done, my friend.’ His face then turned into an expression of concern and he asked. ‘What of Dheimmel and Adrastos though, are they alright?’

‘Captain Dheimmel is presently busy extracting his strike team to his warship, Commander. His team took the least casualties since they were never under any serious attack by the enemy. Captain Adrastos also succeeded in his battle in the north-east manufactorum and emerged victorious. It seemed the enemy strength was concentrated on you and me.’

‘Very well, brother,’ acknowledged Astinon. ‘Signal the Montisgarre and prepare to extract the entire force from this cursed planet.’

‘By your word, Commander,’ Salsax saluted and then left. Astinon took one last glance at the corpse of Tyberos of the Red Wake, the Victor of Endymion and then followed Salsax out of the manufactorum, muttering to himself.

‘Medan will be destroyed, Tyberos. A storm of fire and ash will sweep the entire planet and purge it of its heresy.’

shadowhawk2008
17-09-2011, 12:16
Chapter 8

As his ship streaked through the roiling and unpredictable eddies of the warp towards its imminent destination, he dreamed. Dreams, he had not had them for years now. Not since the bitter bloodletting on Adenar ten years ago. He had been unable to dream after losing over four hundred warriors under his command to the thrice-damned Silver Hordes. The great manufactorums of Adenar, once the jewels of the Brassos subsector, had fallen that day after ten thousand years of bitter sieges and skirmishes. His guilt over his failings in the disastrous campaign had hounded him day and night, taking root in his psyche like a cancer refusing to be excised.

The nightmare that held him in its grip now was somehow seemed even more terrible than that fateful day on Adenar, as real as the twin hearts that beat in his chest. He was back in the processing chamber on the dead world he had just recently left behind, a ruined husk of a planet scorched by cataclysmic fires that had eradicated all life on it on his own order. He was once again surrounded by towering gargantuan machinery on all sides, with only a mere handful of his battle-brothers around him.

They were kneeling together, but not in supplication. The cold, hard muzzles of boltguns held in steady grey gauntlets were trained on their temples, faint heat radiating from the weapons as their wielders prepared to fire point-blank. A psychotic, cackling laughter surrounded them, deadly malice inherent in its tone, and he shuddered as the chamber’s alien acoustics took the laughter and echoed it at him in waves of grinding noise that grated on his ears. He looked around in confusion to see where the sound came from but he was unable to discern its direction.

Suddenly the laughter ceased completely, and as its echoes died down, a harsh voice laced with utter antipathy and malevolence called out. ‘Kill them and be done with it. The execution of these dogs is not as enjoyable as I thought it would be. KILL THEM NOW!’ He shuddered with dread at the vehemence of the order, the hatred evident in those words utterly alien to him. Somehow he knew that if he attempted to understand even a part of that hatred, he would be driven mad in the process.

With painful clarity, he heard the triggers on the weapons being pushed back and in that one helpless moment, he offered a prayer to his lord and liege but it was if his lips were sealed. With grim finality, he closed his eyes, a beatific expression on his face as the weapons fired, plunging his world into an overwhelming darkness and...

... he woke up. His entire body was covered in the stink of his own sweat, and without the aid of his suit of power armour, it unceremoniously invaded his nostrils. Nightmare, it had all been just a nightmare, a freakish mockery of how events had really transpired. Through the dark gloom of his quarters, he could make out that his body was still in intact, unblemished by any wound save the scars that bore witness to his decades-long struggle in a damned and hostile galaxy.

He got up from his wooden cot and shook his head, shrugging off the after-effects of the nightmarish dream. Ten steps away, his armour was stowed in its habitual plastacrete stand, still covered in wide cracks and deep fractures that marked the damage it suffered in the recent battle on the now-dead world. The left pauldron was an obvious ruin, its gilded golden-black iconography marred with damage that would take a gifted artificer a significant amount of time to restore. When he returned to his new homeworld, he would take up his Forgemaster on his offer of a new suit of artificer armour, he decided. That would be best for him. There were simply too many disturbing and harrowing memories attached to his armour, experiences he would like to forget if not for his eidetic memory. It was distracting to say the least. And in these harshly chaotic times, he could ill-afford such unfortunate distractions.

A lot depended on him, and Astinon Dras had vowed to the Imperial Regent that he would never fail him, in life or in death.

-][-

‘Status of the Montisgarre, Leiutenant Kostar?’ asked Astinon as he entered the battle-barge’s bridge, his tone as crisp as usual when addressing Admiral Teluga’s watchdog aboard his flagship.

‘We are holding position starboard of Romer Station as ordered, Commander,’ answered the career naval officer, his tone matching that of Astinon and entirely professional. Astinon however did not fail to notice the faint indignant and annoyed smirk that flashed on the Lieutenant’s face for a brief moment at his entry.

Astinon gazed out at the hulking behemoth was the orbital defence station Romer, a massive star fortress and one of seven such that protected Armageddon against any and all attack from without. The station bore heavily-crenellated and interconnected towers in the traditional Imperial architecture from which protruded countless batteries of lasers, mass-driver weapons and lance cannons. The space station’s design had been based off the blueprints of the Phalanx, the ancient warship-fortress that was home to the Dorn Revenant, a Commandery of Astartes of the lineage of the Imperial Fists. Vulkan and his cohort of Tech-priests had designed smaller versions of the Phalanx that could serve as the first line of defence against any planetary attack, and their efforts had resulted in the Kostophos-class Star-Forts. Even now they were in continuous production upon Armageddon and were being shipped out to the various worlds of the New Imperium.

As the Montisgarre’s orbit around Armageddon brought it sunward of Romer, the massive space station cast a long shadow upon the battle-barge. Faint flashes of plasma fire in the distance marked out the engines of varying classes of vessels as they powered on after leaving Romer, headed for destinations only the crew aboard knew of. Astinon watched them with disinterest, his thoughts occupied with the nightmarish dream he had had on the return trip from Medan. He was still struggling to shrug off a lingering dread and it bothered him for it was a truly alien feeling for one such as him, an Astartes.

He was broken out of his reverie by a gentle coughing sound and he turned his head to look who had interrupted him. Lieutenant Kostar stood a few paces behind him, with several vox-prints in his hand. ‘Yes, Lieutenant, what is it?’ he asked gruffly, his mood a little sour.

The bridge officer indicated the thin sheaf of vox-prints he held. ‘Orders from the Regent’s tower have just come in, Commander. Lord Vulkan himself wishes to speak with you and your senior command cadre at once. Shall I have a transport prepared?’ he asked.

Astinon considered for a moment before he said anything. ‘Have my personal Thunderhawk prepped and ready for immediate departure to the planet and inform the Regent’s tower that we are inbound.’

‘Sir,’ saluted Kostar and motioned to the crewman in the vox-pit to send off Astinon’s reply.

Astinon turned to walk out of the bridge, his steps hurried as he rushed towards the main docking bay. As he left the bridge behind, he sub-vocalized an order on the comm-net.

+This is Astinon. Adrastos, Dheimmel, Salsax report at once to docking bay one for immediate descent to Armageddon. Manov, I am leaving you in command of the fleet so don’t go starting a war with the good Admiral’s navy. And prep a squad along with Apothecary Romio and our prize from Medan to accompany us.+

A chorus of affirmatives and a chuckle from his four advisors answered him, his mood lightening at his own quip. He was returning to the Regent from a successful mission, his doubts and nightmares be damned.

-][-

‘I am not sure whether I should congratulate you or not, Astinon,’ said Vulkan in his perfectly pitched and accented voice that was tinged by a sadness and regret that confused the Corvian general.

‘My lord, I do not understand,’ replied Astinon. ‘I completed the mission to Medan successfully and brought back a wealth of gene-seed. How have I displeased you?’

‘Commander, you obeyed the letter of my orders perfectly,’ began the Primarch. ‘But you failed to obey its spirit and that single fact disappoints me greatly. I would have expected this from a scion of Guilliman, not a son of Corax.’

Astinon’s expression was crestfallen at Vulkan’s harsh words. The sweet taste of his victory at Medan was now like ashes in his throat and he hung his head in shame. Behind him, his three captains stood equally dispirited. They had all expected high praise and recognition; instead, they had been censured. The Primarch however was not finished.

‘I tasked you to bring me back the riches of the gene-seed repository on Medan and to absolve any and all of your kinsmen you found there,’ continued the lord of the New Imperium. ‘I had wished to repatriate the Carcharadons to our cause, for a force such as them will be invaluable to us in the grim darkness of the far future.’ Vulkan rose up from where he had been sitting on an iron throne in his private sanctum and began pacing back and forth.

‘The loss of the Carcharadons is a severe blow to my plans, Astinon,’ he said darkly, his voice harsh as naked steel and without mercy. ‘You made a grave error in judgement and it is a failure that I will not forget easily.’

Astinon and his warriors kneeled in front of the Primarch, the sound of their armoured knees striking the floor ringing across Vulkan’s sanctum, and hung their heads in a shameful bow. It was the Corvian general who responded to the Regent’s charge, his voice unwavering and confident.

‘Then tell me how I may redeem myself of such a failure, Lord Regent. I will do anything to remove this stain on the honour of the Sons of Corax, no matter the cost to me or my brothers.’

Vulkan’s sombre expression now gave way to one of calculated interest as he considered Astinon’s vow. He motioned for the four Corvians to rise and then spoke.

‘Then, here and now, I give you another mission, Commander,’ said Vulkan, his tone betraying his excitement at the prospect of revealing the next stage of his plans as the four Corvians looked on expectantly. ‘You will head with your entire force to the distant world of Kiavahr and its barren, airless moon, Lycaeus. Your objective will be to obtain any and all information from the archives of the Kiavahri lords and to dismantle the great fortress-monastery of the former XIXth legion, if that be possible.’

As the Primarch paused for a moment, Astinon’s face betrayed his astonishment at his new orders. He glanced behind him and his three captains wore similar expressions to his own, they were equally wrong-footed. It seemed the Lord Regent had a surplus of surprises to bewilder them with. He shook his head to gain some clarity of thought and looked back at the Primarch.

‘This is going to be no easy task, Astinon,’ continued Vulkan, slowly and thoughtfully as he addressed the Corvian general. ‘I am in the middle of re-building an Empire and that is quite a challenge on its own without also having to coordinate millions of soldiers, hundreds of warships, thousands of other men and women, all to a great plan that I cannot share yet with anyone. Not even with He’stan and he understands me and my thoughts best of all my sons.’ A sad, faraway look came into his eyes as he mentioned his most honoured son, Kaivi He’stan, the only surviving Salamander from the last days of the Age of the Imperium. Lord He’stan, as he was now known, served as the Regent’s adjutant in all matters and led his company of honour guard, the warrior-elite known as the Pyre Guard.

‘And when do we find out what this great plan of yours is, Lord Vulkan?’ asked Adrastos in a jovial tone, making Vulkan smile briefly.

‘If you and your brothers successfully complete this mission, Captain Adrastos, then perhaps I may yet reveal my greater designs with you,’ Vulkan responded. ‘As I said, the Ravenspire is to be completely dismantled and brought back to Armageddon. I have already asked Quartermaster Soth to prepare a suitable location for your new base of operations and the Ravenspire will be at the heart of this new complex.’

If Astinon had been a mortal human, he would have shed tears of joy at this pronouncement. He managed to display his gratitude by a deep bow to Vulkan and performing a salute he had recently been taught by Captain Dalmor, thumping his breastplate loudly with both fists clenched tightly. Dalmor had told him that this salute had been commonly used in the halcyon days of the Imperium, when the Emperor had still walked among the Legiones Astartes. Lord Vulkan, it seemed, had revived the tradition.

Vulkan accepted the salute with a slight nod of his head and continued. ‘So that this task is completed within time, I am sending along Captain Nicodemus and the Seventh Company of the Dorn Revenant with you. You will be further accompanied by Adept Zethsemene and her cohort who will assist you with the Ravenspire. You are to afford all due courtesy to both of them, make no mistake, Commander. They are highly respected members of my advisory council and frankly, quite important to my overall designs as well. Do not fail me again Astinon.’
‘In the name of my gene-father, I will not fail you, Lord Regent,’ replied Astinon, his face set in a hard mask of determination and confidence.

‘See that you do not,’ warned Vulkan. ‘I do not suffer fools gladly, and should you somehow fail in this mission, your status as the son of my closest brother will not save you from my wrath. Now leave me and prepare for your departure. You are to head out in two weeks, once the currents of the Warp have sufficiently quietened down in that direction and your passage to the Kiavahr system is unimpeded.’

‘In your name, Lord Vulkan, by the grace of Lord Corax, and the will of the True Emperor, we will not return until we have obeyed both the spirit and the letter of your orders,’ said Astinon.

‘Ave Imperator Verimus, Lord Commander.’

shadowhawk2008
17-09-2011, 12:18
Chapter 9 Part 1

‘Brother Lannis, a moment of your time if you will,’ said Astinon as he entered the large, dimly-lit chamber. This was the heart of the armourium assigned to his Commandery, the great forge itself, and as the commander stepped in, he was momentarily disoriented by the smoke and the fiery-red afterglow from the furnaces that dominated the air inside.

Across from him, in the far corner that was bathed in muted grey shadows, an armoured figure looked up from the work-bench where he had been pouring over some schematic-prints. The warrior raised his eyes questioningly, his eyebrows furrowed in annoyance at having been interrupted from an apparently delicate task. Having spent a considerable time fighting alongside Dalmor’s Salamanders, the red-armoured giant’s blood-red eyes and his jet-black skin did not faze Astinon.

‘It is a matter of my armour, brother,’ continued Astinon haltingly, wary of the warrior’s silent mien. He was himself bare-headed, his helmet mag-locked to his belt. The physical contrast between the two warriors could not be greater, for stocky Astinon’s own eyes were deep pools of black and his skin was pale to the point of being deathly-white.

The Forgemaster barked a gruff order in binary and from the darker shadows to either side of Astinon, a quartet of servitors promptly appeared, their mechanical limbs twitching in anticipation of being put to work. As they approached him, the commander waved them away in irritation and addressed his master of the forge.

‘Brother Lannis, I am not here for repairs or any other ministrations to my armour. I am here to request a favour of you, something quite within your purview.’

The red-armoured figure now gave Astinon his full attention and, with a sweep of his rust-red gauntlets, indicated that the commander should approach closer. He barked another terse order in binary and the servitors vanished back into the shadows they had come from, the twittering of their mechanical limbs fading out instantly.
‘How may I be of service, Lord Commander?’ The Forgemaster’s voice was surprisingly soft and thinly-accented, at odds with Astinon’s own rough and heavily-accented tone.

Lannis Tyrio had been assigned to him by Dalmor himself, who had informed him that the Techmarine Suprema was one of the best who served in Vulkan’s personal cadre of specialists. Impressed by the Space Marine’s high credentials, Astinon had given him the rank of Forgemaster, a position that had been vacant among the Corvians for several years now.

This was the first time that he had conversed with Tyrio while the other was not wearing a helmet.

As Astinon sat down in the chair offered to him, the Forgemaster motioned for him to continue.

‘I wish to take you up on your offer of forging a new suit of power armour for me, brother,’ he said to the Suprema. ‘The armour I currently wear has become obsolete to me, in form, function, and in the extent of the experiences we have shared together. I wish to distance myself from my past in full, and this armour is the last thing that is tying me to it, marking the final stage of my transition to Lord Vulkan’s service in the process. That is all.’

Lannis Tyrio was silent for several minutes, minutes that passed uncomfortably slowly for Astinon. The drumming of his fingers on the work-bench betrayed his impatience. For his part, the Forgemaster’s face was devoid of expression, appearing to have been carved out of some featureless piece of rock.

‘It shall be done as you ask, brother-commander,’ rumbled Tyrio after some time, his stony expression still in place. ‘Do you wish me to forge a completely new suit of armour or would you prefer that I re-fashion your current suit of armour?’

Astinon’s reply was immediate. ‘No brother, a new suit of armour is what I want. Do away with the old armour as you wish, I leave that to your discretion. Our time together is at an end I am afraid, for this armour is party to many shameful experiences and disturbing memories that I am constantly reminded of, day and night. It is time that I left this piece of my turbulent past behind.’

Lannis Tyrio nodded in mild surprise at Astinon’s words, although they were not that unexpected, considering what he knew of the Corvian commander and what he had observed in the short time of his service.

‘If that is what you wish, then that is how it shall be, Commander. I have several suitable designs I have considered already, so the forging of your armour should not take too long. However, I require access to your current armour to tailor your new one to your specific needs. And I will need you to come in for some suitability tests.’

Astinon rose up and offered a short bow to Tyrio. ‘Then that is settled, brother. Summon your helots so that they may begin their work.’

Tyrio nodded again and rose from the work-bench, gathering his schematic-prints. He clapped his gauntleted hands together loudly as he barked a third order in the secret tongue of the Mechanicus. The four servitors reappeared from their alcoves in the shadows of the forge and approached Astinon.

This time, Astinon did not wave away the lobotomized servitors. He stood unflinching as they removed his wargear piece by piece, and disconnected the thin power cables that bound his armour and his gene-enhanced body together as a single entity.

-][-

In a pensive mood, Astinon gazed out at the vista before him, lost in his own thoughts as he planned for the future. From where he stood, the walkway of the highest platform in the Regent’s Tower, he could see most of Hades Hive as it spread out around him, but he was unable to hear any of the sounds of the hive other than the fierce winds that blew at this altitude. Clad as he was in a simple orange-black chiton, the harsh bite of the wind would have frozen any mortal human, but he ignored it easily.

To any common observer, he would have appeared a solitary and forlorn figure but that was far from the truth. He had the comfort of his thoughts, which were not weighing heavily on him for the first time in over fifteen years. Anyone else in his position would have broken down after his censure from the Primarch, but to Astinon, it was an unasked-for vindication that he had taken in his stride. Whatever his failure on Medan, he had been offered a singular chance to redeem himself. And now he was being sent to the genesis world of his forebears, a world he had never visited before. The opportunity excited him.

Busy as he was with his thoughts, he did not notice someone else climb to the platform and approach him. Not even the heavy footfalls of armoured feet on the rockcrete broke his train of thoughts until the figure coughed gently.

‘Lord Commander Dras, I hope I have not disturbed you,’ said the figure tentatively from behind him, making the Corvian general turn around to see who had addressed him so formally.

Confusion was plain on his face as Astinon regarded the Space Marine. The warrior’s golden-yellow livery with its chrome edging and the iconography of a black mailed fist on a field of grey was unfamiliar to him as well. ‘Do I know you brother?’ he asked, perplexed.

‘This is our first meeting, Commander,’ said the warrior, his tone firm and respectful. His voice through the vox-grilles of his red-striped helmet was hard and unyielding, making Astinon think of a warship relentlessly ploughing on through a warp tempest. ‘I am Torro Nicodemus, Brother-Captain of the Dorn Revenant Seventh Company. According to the orders I received a short while ago from Lord Commander Valcaor, my company will be accompanying you to the Kiavahr system.’

‘Ah yes,’ said Astinon in understanding, leaning back on the adamantium railing and folding his arms across his chest, a smile on his weather-beaten and scarred face. ‘Lord Vulkan mentioned your name to me, as well as that of Adept Zethsemene, when he gave me my mission orders. What can I do for you, Captain Nicodemus?’

The Revenant came to stand next to Astinon, looking out at the view that the other had only moments before been staring at without interest. He leaned forwards and rested his hands on the railing, not looking at the commander.
Astinon was unconcerned at the Revenant’s lack of response and his attitude. He was not worried about whatever the captain wished to talk with him about and just lazed against the railing, staring off into the distance while the Revenant Captain took his time to begin the conversation. He may try to appear relaxed and at ease, but inwardly he has a lot on his mind, he thought. His poise and bearing betray the fact that he is unsettled.

After several lengthy minutes, Nicodemus began. ‘The Dorn Revenants, as we have been known for the last eight thousand years, were one of the first of the Free Companies to accept Lord Vulkan as our lord and liege, second only to the Salamanders. As such, our service to the New Imperium has been quite extensive and distinguished, for we have fought some of the bloodiest battles yet fought to secure our borders. We –‘

Astinon shook his head, aggravation evident on his face as he interrupted Nicodemus. ‘Without any disrespect Captain, what the frak does this history lesson have to do with the Corvians or the mission to Kiavahr?’

‘I am getting to that, Commander, if you would let me continue,’ said Nicodemus, his tone acrimonious and hostile.

‘Then get to the point, Captain, for patience is not one of my virtues,’ said Astinon in a low, warning tone, staring straight at the other Astartes, who still wore his helmet.

‘The point, Commander Dras, is quite simple,’ continued Nicodemus, his tone even more aggressive and antagonistic than that of Astinon. ‘The Dorn Revenants have an unblemished record in our service to the New Imperium. Every mission we have undertaken in the last decade has been a qualified success, and our objectives have been achieved with a minimal amount of losses.’ The Revenant paused in his tirade to raise his ceramite-covered fingers in an accusatory gesture at Astinon. ‘I will be damned if I let a pirate, an opportunist and a failure like yourself tarnish that record or the honour of my brothers.’

‘If we were anywhere but in this tower, Captain Nicodemus, I would strike you down where you stand,’ roared Astinon, anger and consternation marring his features. Nicodemus faltered slightly as Astinon’s coal-black eyes looked balefully at him. Bluish veins stood out on the commander’s arms as he clenched his fists tightly, his entire body stiffening at the other’s insulting condemnation. He was clearly struggling to contain his temper, a fact that was obvious to his opponent. ‘You have no idea about what my warriors and I have been through and you are beyond your remit to offer any judgement of my personality.’

‘I beg to differ, Commander,’ replied Nicodemus in a scathing tone, the emphasis he put on Astinon’s formal rank leaving no doubt what he thought of how deserving Astinon was of it. ‘I know all I need to know about you and your so-called Sons of Corax. You are all honourless pirates, beyond any sort of pity, and undeserving of the high station you now hold. Admiral Teluga also agrees with me and he has even more cause for apathy against you and your kind.’

Astinon took a menacing step towards the other, heedless that compared to the Revenant Captain, he was unarmoured and any advantage in a fist-fight would rest solely with Nicodemus. ‘Mind your words, Revenant. Irrespective of whatever glorious record your brothers have as warriors of the New Imperium, you are a young and insolent Space Marine. I am your superior in both rank and experience. Do not mistake me for a simpleton who you can scare with baseless accusations. Even without my armour I can give you a good, solid thrashing that you will not forget, even till the opportune moment of your death.’

‘I see that making ridiculous jokes is one of your less-admirable qualities, Dras,’ laughed Nicodemus, his laughter carrying with the wind.

‘You had better leave before my temper gets the best of me, Revenant,’ warned Astinon, his tone brooking no disobedience. ‘More than the honour of the Dorn Revenants will be at risk if you stay in my presence for a moment longer.’

Nicodemus however chose to ignore Astinon’s warning. ‘I sit on the Primarch’s advisory council, Dras; do not forget that simple detail,’ he snapped. ‘With but a word to him, I can have you declared traitor and thrown to the dogs. Your petty threats are as meaningless as so much chaff in the wind.’ The captain finally took off his helmet and spat at Astinon’s feet.

Rage. Fury. Hatred. Indignation. Aggravation. Astinon’s temper finally got the best of him at the Revenant’s continued insults. ‘Enough is enough, Captain Nicodemus,’ he said in a slow and careful tone, drawing himself up to his full height. ‘You just crossed a very, very thin line. Now, I make you pay.’

With that, Astinon struck at the Revenant’s face with a fast and brutal uppercut that the latter was unable to block in time. Spitting blood and a broken tooth, Nicodemus roared a furious battle-cry to his Primarch and dove at Astinon, intending to bring the other down through his sheer armoured bulk.

The two combatants went down together in a heap, punching and stabbing at each other with their fists. The Revenant’s punishing blows pounded Astinon’s face, making him rock his head back on the rockcrete floor.
The back of his head was quickly covered in matted blood as his body sought to repair the damage and heal the wounds.

Astinon tried to throw the Revenant Captain off him but his legs were pinned under his opponent’s armoured form. Changing tactics, he brought the flat of his hands together on Nicodemus’ ears, making them ring painfully.

As his opponent cried out in agony, Astinon jabbed his fingers into the Revenant’s eyes, making him back up and get off Astinon. He then gave Nicodemus a rough shove backwards, causing the other to fall back down on the floor. The Corvian heard a low whining sound as the Revenant Captain’s backpack grazed against the rockcrete.

As Astinon got up shakily from under the Revenant’s ceramite-covered bulk, he let out a sigh of relief and drew in a ragged breath in order to steady himself. In addition to a broken nose, his face was a mess of bloody cuts and lacerations, and his normally pale-white skin was blackened all over.

Nicodemus also drew himself up, his armour having easily protected him from the worst of Astinon’s blows but still insufficient to prevent him from getting hurt. The skin under his eyes was swollen and black, with a long, bleeding cut around his left eye and a split lip. ‘You are a weakling Astinon, unworthy of being either a Space Marine or a leader of men.’

Before Astinon could answer the Revenant Captain in kind, a third voice intruded on the spectacle. ‘I believe that is quite enough, Brother-Captain Torro Nicodemus. You have made your feelings about the good Lord Commander quite clear.’

A startled Nicodemus dumbly blinked in surprise at being addressed so and turned around to see who had spoken.

Behind him stood a warrior in a baroque suit of emerald and gold power armour, covered in the various sigils of Nocturnean mythology, snarling drakes carved on both his pauldrons, and wearing a long, flowing cape of drake-scales. He was unhooded and his grim, cheerless face was enough to bring the Revenant Captain to his knees in shock. The warrior’s skin was jet-black in colour, so weathered and pallid that it appeared the warrior was close to death. But his features were hawkish and imperious and the gaze he turned on Torro Nicodemus made the captain twitch and wince uncomfortably despite himself.

It was a face that he had seen only a handful of times in his nine years on Armageddon but knew as well as his own. This was no simple warrior of the Salamander Commandery but someone who enjoyed the most intimate access to the Imperial Regent. He was also the commander of a company of the most elite warriors in the New Imperium, warriors who formed the honour guard of the Primarch Vulkan, the Pyre Guard.

He was the oldest loyalist Space Marine still alive in the galaxy, personal adjutant of Lord Vulkan himself and commander-in-chief of the entirety of the New Imperium’s military might.

He was High Commander Kaivi He’stan.

shadowhawk2008
17-09-2011, 12:19
Chapter 9 Part 2

He’stan strode towards the kneeling Nicodemus, his footfalls heavy and ominous. ‘The Primarch expects better of all his advisors, Captain Nicodemus. You have proven yourself an extreme disappointment and a liability to the Primarch’s goals. As of this moment, you are hereby relieved of all your duties within your Commandery.’

Nicodemus raised his head and tried to say something in retaliation, but He’stan hushed him wish a stern look that chilled his soul. ‘No, Captain, there is nothing you can say in your defence that will make me change my decision,’ he continued sharply, his tone menacing and dismissive in equal measure. ‘Say another word and you will be supervising the civilian rehabilitation projects for a month. Now get out of my sight before I rip apart that pretty face of yours.’

The Revenant hissed in response, his outrage at He’stan sharp rebuke written plainly on his face. Glancing angrily at Astinon, Torro Nicodemus gathered his fallen helmet and left the platform as He’stan watched him with distinct displeasure. Then the Regent’s confidante turned to address Astinon.

‘I expected you to display better judgement, Brother-Commander,’ he said. ‘I do not care for any excuses or retorts or explanations, Astinon, and to say that I am severely disappointed in you is an understatement.’

The Corvian general simply shook his head mirthfully, laughing at the other’s serious tone. ‘Disappointment is something I am used to, Lord He’stan. Some people cling far too tightly to their dated perceptions of honour and seek to foist their misguided beliefs on others. I have met many such fools like Captain Nicodemus before and they are all cut from the same cloth of ignorance and bias. He is not the first to condemn me so and I know well that he will not be the last either.’

‘Do not take this lightly, brother,’ admonished He’stan in a severe tone, his lips curling in irritation. ‘There are many on Armageddon and beyond that have little respect for you or for the warriors you command. And some of them are quite vocal in their opposition and denouncement of you. Tread cautiously my friend, for you are not so privileged yet, that you can ignore even the grudging respect of your greatest detractors.’

Astinon inclined his head respectfully at He’stan. ‘I will keep it in mind, Lord Commander.’

‘See that you do, Son of Corax,’ replied the Salamander, his tone lightening. ‘Also remember that Lord Vulkan, despite all appearances, values each and every man and woman under his command equally. Whether or not they occasionally disappoint him is irrelevant, for he sees into our very souls, brother, and knows the truth of us. He is a child of the True Emperor, and just like his father, the survival of humanity is his greater goal.’

Astinon saluted He’stan in the manner of the New Imperium, and bowed. ‘I thank you for your wisdom, Lord Commander. Your insight has been most valuable.’

‘Do not mistake me for a silent, coddled food, Astinon,’ said He’stan, his eyes twinkling. ‘I have survived the last ten thousand years on far more than just my unnatural strength and the safety afforded me by my armour. I am no relic of past times, a warrior from a bygone age. We all have a purpose, even you and I, different though we are. Even Torro Nicodemus has his place in the greater scheme of things. And as long as you truly believe in the Primarch’s vision and faithfully serve the New Imperium, you will always be welcome to my company and to my wisdom.’

‘You are gracious beyond measure, Lord Commander,’ said Astinon, slightly awed at the attention he was receiving from the venerable warrior.

‘Come, brother,’ replied He’stan jovially. ‘You must prepare for your new mission. After all, you have a Commandery to rebuild.’

As Astinon left the platform with He’stan, he started as a sudden thought came to him. Why did the Lord Commander come seek me out here?

-][-

Laughter echoed across the bridge of the Montisgarre as Astinon relayed what had transpired atop the summit of the Regent’s Tower. Adrastos and Manov were almost bent-up double as they heard how the upstart Nicodemus had been humbled by Lord He’stan. Salsax raised another tankard of ale in toast at the Revenant’s humiliation while Dheimmel watched impassively, only the hint of a smile betraying his enjoyment of the tale. Astinon grinned at his warriors’ laughter, his own tankard still nearly full. ‘Admittedly, I have not had quite so much fun in a long time.’

This time even the usually taciturn Dheimmel laughed out loud. Some of the bridge ratings were startled to hear the Reviler Captain’s laughter, given that he rarely even spoke, if ever. They shook their heads in amazement however, and went back to work, making sure the enormous battle-barge maintained its stable orbit above Hades Hive.

‘Still,’ began Adrastos with a hint of regret in his tone. ‘We should be more cautious in our dealings with the warriors of the other Commanderies. I did not expect a son of Dorn to be quite so foolish as to attack you without any real provocation and all on the basis of mistruths and false perceptions,’ he said, pointing at Astinon with his tankard.

‘Truer words were never said, brother,’ said Salsax, chuckling despite himself as he emptied out his tankard, refilling it almost immediately.

‘Captain Adrastos is correct in his assessment,’ offered Dheimmel, all calm and serious once again. ‘Do we know who is to act as the replacement for Captain Nicodemus?’

‘Yes,’ replied Astinon evenly. ‘Lord He’stan has assigned us a Captain Saigun of the Dorn Revenant Eleventh Company. He comes even more highly recommended than the firebrand Nicodemus, who it appears, solves all his problems with heavy-handed military solutions. The High Commander has assured me that Saigun will be far more cooperative in his interactions with us. It seems that the Captain’s lack of political ambitions serves him ably both on the battlefield and off it.’

‘Aye, I have heard of this Saigun from the warriors of some of the other Commanderies, even a few Dorn Revenants,’ commented Manov, sipping slowly from his half-full tankard. ‘He is as decorated an officer as Nicodemus, with a higher tally of victories and his warriors are fiercely loyal to him. He is said to be a very capable general in the field as well, and is often compared to the long-deceased heroes of Dorn’s lineage from the Age of Imperium.’

‘High praise indeed,’ Salsax noted, his tone betraying his surprise. ‘The sons of Dorn have never been known to be quite so praise-worthy. This Captain Saigun must be truly something if he is thought of so highly.’

‘And yet Lord Vulkan gave a seat on his council to that idiot Nicodemus,’ said Adrastos dryly, struggling to contain his mirth. ‘I confess that the Primarch’s decisions are all very mysterious to me. I can never understand quite why he does what he does.’

‘He is a son of the True Emperor,’ said Astinon, shrugging his shoulders in response. ‘Whatever his plans, we are sworn to abide by his decisions, even until death.’

‘Only in death does duty end, eh?’ quipped Salsax in a deadpan voice.

‘Exactly, brother,’ replied Astinon, grinning again.

‘Come on, Astinon, what you think the Primarch really expects of us with these missions he has us running?’ inquired Adrastos, curbing his jovial mood. ‘First we have to retrieve some gene-seed from a forgotten Mechanicus world. Then, we now have to head over to my chapter’s once-homeworld and take apart the fortress-monastery there.’

‘If I were to hazard a guess, brother, Lord Vulkan intends to dramatically increase the size of the Commanderies in as short a time as possible,’ said Astinon. ‘That is the only logical conclusion. We ourselves severely lack the numbers for any of the bigger operations that he has the Avengers, the Dorn Revenant, Salamanders and the others handle.’

‘We can just about field a hundred and thirty able warriors,’ said Manov bitterly. ‘Our losses on Medan were considerable, almost as worse as the Adenar Campaign.’

‘Adenar was a mistake,’ replied Salsax vehemently, the sudden change in his manner and tone surprising the others. ‘We gained absolutely nothing and lost nearly everything. Too many of our number were lost and whatever semblance of respect we once commanded from the other Free Companies is now a bitter memory.’

Dheimmel glared at Salsax as his fellow Captain finished his tirade. ‘Adenar was a battle we fought out of necessity, Raptor,’ he said coldly. ‘We had to make a stand there or we would have spent the last decade in even worse conditions than we already have. Honour demanded we fight the Silver Horde, and that is what we did. Honour is all we have left, brother.’

‘The bickering between the two of you will never stop will it?’ asked Astinon in a tired and heavy voice. ‘What was done was done. We lost the Adenar Campaign and no matter what we say now, we cannot change that disastrous outcome. We fought with honour and bravery alongside our brothers from the other warbands and that is what matters most. Now cease this pointless argument or I will bash your heads together to knock some sense into the two of you.’

Salsax just shrugged at Astinon’s words and offered no comment. Dheimmel did likewise, not wishing to provoke Astinon further.

‘Regardless, we still have a problem, Commander,’ said Adrastos. ‘We simply lack the numbers to be an independent force. It is no wonder that Lord Vulkan assigned us a company of warriors from the Dorn Revenant. Saigun’s company numbers some two hundred Astartes, nearly double of what we can ourselves put in the field.’

‘That is a fact I am painfully aware of already, Adrastos,’ Astinon shot back, the sarcasm heavy in his voice. ‘But we cannot do anything about it yet. At least not until Vex and Drome finish their task on Armageddon.’

‘Any progress on that yet, Sergeant?’ asked Salsax, turning to address Manov, steering the conversation in another direction.

‘Apothecary Vex and Sergeant Drome checked in from Hive Tartarus roughly an hour ago, Captain,’ answered the stoic champion. ‘They reported that they expected mission completion within another three days.’

‘Excellent, that gives us ample time before we have to leave for Kiavahr, although, truth be told, we will have to leave Vex behind with Drome and his squad,’ mused Dheimmel, his expression thoughtful.

‘Indeed. It is a necessary step we have to take to safeguard our future,’ said Astinon. ‘The work those two are doing is as vital as our mission from Lord Vulkan, if not more so, and quite delicate. It cannot be rushed.’

‘If Deliverance did survive through the years, I wonder if the other homeworlds of our brothers endured as well,’ said Manov thoughtfully as he paced back and forth.

‘Coralax and Talon are lost to us completely,’ replied Adrastos with resentment. ‘And we know that Pranagar, the Preyspire, the Eyrie and Raikan made it through the Second Strife, although they are only shadows of themselves.’ The Captain’s voice hardened as he continued. ‘Once the Raven Guard had to abandon Deliverance, we have never had an opportunity to go back and reclaim the fortress-monastery. The wave of uprisings in the Kiavahri hives left us with little choice.’

‘And of the others we have no information,’ finished Dheimmel, his expression wistful and distant. ‘My brothers and I do not even know anymore which world is our true home; its name is lost to us forever.’

‘We too had to flee our homeworld when Terra fell,’ said Salsax passionately. ‘The archives aboard the War-Talon and the Orelius make only a passing mention of its location and lack any concrete details, which is highly infuriating to say the least.’

‘To not know of the fate of your chapter’s homeworld is vexing indeed,’ agreed Adrastos. ‘Perhaps once the Corvians are at full strength, we can begin to reclaim our lost worlds.’

‘May that day dawn sooner than we all hope it will,’ intoned Manov and the others raised their tankards in agreement.

As Astinon finished his tankard of ale in a long, single gulp, he noticed from the corner of his left eye that one of the deck ratings was approaching his command throne with some urgency. He handed his empty tankard to Manov and addressed the rating. ‘What is it, Kales?’

‘Commander,’ saluted the rating respectfully. ‘We have just received word from the surface that Forgemaster Lannis requests your presence immediately.’

-][-

‘Brother Lannis?’ asked Astinon enquiringly as he once again stepped inside the great forge. This time, the stark interior of the chamber was brilliantly lit, multiple bio-lumes bathing it in a soft amber light that seemed to make the very air glint. He could make out all the details of the forge, from the red-hot anvils on which teams of tech-priests crafted bolt pistols, to the small foundry where a pair of servitors melted down the raw ingredients necessary in the forging of new suits of power armour.

He glanced about the room, looking for the Forgemaster, spotting him easily in a far corner where the warrior stood looking thoughtfully at a finished suit of power armour. The figure turned at the sound of Astinon’s voice from the doorway and waved him inside.

‘Your artificer armour is ready, Lord Commander,’ said Lannis, indicating the armour before him with a sweep of his hands. ‘The servitors have just finished the final touches.’

Astinon took in the entire armour, coloured in a halved scheme of orange and black, in a single glance and his expression turned from one of simple interest to one of amazement. He was well and truly speechless at what he saw before him.

The helmet bore a sculpted green laurel wreath with a grey-coloured skull affixed just above and between the eyes. One of the green eye-lenses was obscured by a bionic enhancer that could interface with the armour’s systems and give him more detail on anything he saw through it.

The armour’s studded gorget was taller than usual, partially covering the helmet’s vox-grille, which gave him an added measure of protection against enemy fire.

The breastplate was a thing of beauty, adorned with an exquisitely sculpted, raven-headed golden Aquila in the centre, and Astinon’s name written in silver lettering just above it. Its power cables were also covered with an extra layer of ceramite plating on which were written ancient Imperial litanies in fine, white lettering.

The left pauldron, also covered in litanies, bore an ornate, gilded raven head of white-gold. The shoulder pad’s trims were a bright red in colour, in homage to Astinon’s pedigree, for his old armour had once been worn by Captains of the Angels of Retribution’s second company.

The right pauldron, covered in yet more ancient litanies, bore a gilded white skull which denoted Astinon’s rank as a Commander in the New Imperium. Beneath the skull was carved the name of his Commandery, Corvian, in silver lettering. Its trims were painted a bright red as well, the same as the left pauldron.

A gilded Aquila of white-gold was carved on both greaves of the leg armour, with the gothic numeral ‘19’ below them in alternate colours of orange and black signifying the identification number of the Corvian Commandery.

‘This is truly stunning work, Forgemaster,’ said Astinon in an awed tone. ‘It is a masterpiece without equal.’
‘One of the finest suits of armour I have ever forged, Commander,’ replied Lannis, his pride showing easily on his scarred face.

‘It seems that Lord Commander Dalmor’s high praise of your worthy skills was not in vain, brother Lannis,’ continued Astinon appreciatively. ‘Summon your coterie helots so that I may now wear it.’

Lannis Tyrio bowed in acknowledgement of Astinon’s command, and clapped his hands twice in quick succession. From across the forge, three servitors walked over in response and began to assist Astinon in donning his armour.

‘Look to your battle-gear and it will protect you,’ said the Forgemaster formally as a servitor removed Astinon’s chiton and attached his breastplate with the help of another, thin whip-like cables connecting the wargear’s systems to the contact points of the plasteel nodes in his black carapace.

‘I will guard it with my life,’ Astinon said, the ingrained response he had been taught as a novice, coming to him easily.

‘As your armour guards your life,’ continued Lannis as the servitors assisted Astinon in wearing his vambraces and gauntlets.

‘As it will till the day I die and beyond, when another warrior calls it his own,’ answered Astinon. He clenched his fists tightly once the gauntlets were connected to his vambraces, satisfied with their flexibility and sensitivity.

‘Your armour is your soul, and your soul’s dedication it’s armour.’ Two of the servitors now assisted Astinon in getting into his sabatons while the third connected his cuisses and his greaves, tightening the joints with power wrenches that had replaced their hands in the process of the helots’ creation.

‘The soul of a warrior is the shield of humanity.’ Once the ceramite plates of his leg armour were connected to the rest of his armour, a servitor attached his belt buckle and his groin guard.

‘Honour the craft of death.’ Astinon now knelt on one knee to allow the servitors to affix the two pauldrons to his wide shoulders. The twin pieces of wargear rose up from both sides to be level with his jaw line, but did not impede his vision in the slightest. He twisted slightly, testing the response of the pauldrons, which moved smoothly, their weight light on his shoulders.

‘I serve only the True Emperor of Mankind, who is highest in my devotion.’ One of the servitors moved behind Astinon and assisted him in putting on his backpack. As the wargear’s power cables interfaced with the rest of his armour, Astinon felt a slight tingle course through him as its power plant came online, emitting a low humming sound. The weight of his armour, already light on his stocky frame, lightened even further.

‘Honour the battle-gear of the dead.’ Lannis himself now presented Astinon with his helmet, slowing lowering it on the Corvian’s head as if he was crowning a king.

‘I ask only to serve.’ Once the helmet’s armour seals were in place, a wealth of information flooded its vid-display, cycling through the entirety of his armour systems and giving him technical readouts and performance data.

‘Rise, Lord Commander Astinon Dras of the Corvians.’ He ignored the scrolling readouts on his helmet display and rose from his kneeling position, looking the tall Forgemaster in the eye.

‘Blessed are the warriors of the True Emperor, forged in fire and baptized in blood, for they are armoured in the cold embrace of their faith and their devotion,’ intoned Lannis sombrely, his eyes closed as he recited the Litany of First Dedication. ‘May the holy machine-spirit of your armour look after your safety, while you look to its safety both on and off the field of battle,’ he continued. ‘Your two souls are now one, a single entity that will strike fear in the hearts of your enemies and may your righteousness prevail over all. Angel of Death, defender of Mankind, do you accept the stewardship of this suit of artificer armour?’

‘I accept my charge,’ said Astinon with conviction, the ritual and the litany focusing his mind and giving him the clarity of thought that he had not truly experienced in his old armour. He felt well and truly alive now.

‘Then go forth, brother, and kill in His name. May the Omnissiah watch over you and protect you, brother.’