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On the Grand Turin, continuous
KLAXONS BLARED as the room filled with assailants. Like termites erupting from a disturbed mound, the frigate’s cargo bay began to fill, softly vibrating as enemy fire doused the ranks of the Astartes in a hail of auto-rounds.
Despite their numbers, the enemy’s initial assault was broken the instant the Astartes returned fire. Bolter rounds neatly punched into enemy flak armour and exploded through meat and bone. Methodically, the five Astartes cleared the cargo bay and surrounding passageway, the entire encounter lasting less than five seconds.
‘Clear,’ came a voice over the thin static of the vox.
‘Clear,’ repeated another.
Brother Rameed, acting sergeant of squad Beta-Six raised a gauntleted hand with fingers pointing outward, followed by a quick chopping motion.
‘The prize is two decks above us. Beta-Six, neutralise all threats, standard tactical dispersal.’
A chorus of affirmatives followed as Beta-Six advanced swiftly down the corridor towards the nearest maintenance ladder, the frigate’s lights casting an eerie red glow in the darkness.
Rameed paused for a moment as he considered the situation. Outside the frigate, he knew, a larger battle raged as the Imperial Munitorum fleet attempted to counter the ambush set by the pirate lords of the Nine-Swords. Imperial forces were quick to respond to the attack, bolstered by a small but entirely capable Inquisitorial task force sent to protect the Munitorum fleet.
Protecting the prize is all that matters, thought Rameed as he finally sprinted towards the nearest maintenance ladder. That, and neutralise the foe as quickly as possible.
THE HATCH SWUNG OPEN and another torrent of auto-rounds whistled through the darkness. In a heartbeat, a small object rocketed out the hatch and detonated on the nearest bulkhead, the resulting blast temporarily blinding the assailants in a flash of white noise. The short break in covering fire was all that the Astartes needed, and with a practised and almost casual efficiency, the members of Beta-Six clambered out of the protection of the man-hole laying down some covering fire of their own.
Two seconds of deafening bolter bursts followed as the brightness began to dissipate, and the last of the enemy collapsed in a bloody heap of limbs and scattered brain tissue.
‘Access cleared,’ said a voice.
Rameed was the last to climb through the hatch. He knelt, like the rest of his squad at the edge of the manhole opening to present a smaller target, and checked his locator.
‘The prize is through that doorway,’ said Rameed, as he indicated to a hatch seal further down the corridor. A series of dots suddenly appeared on the small screen.
‘Scans indicate eight vitals,’ he continued, ‘but there’s something in there that’s interfering with the auspex. Be on guard, switch to assault pattern Geryon.’
Rameed moved towards the hatch in a fast gait, keeping his centre of gravity low. When he reached the doorway, he gestured for the rest of the squad to follow. Once assembled, and seeing no further sign of resistance, Rameed punched in the security protocols into the nearest access console, and hoped they had not been overridden. They weren’t. A small sigh of relief escaped Rameed’s mouth as the hatch opened.
In imitation of the previous encounter, an Astartes of Beta-Six hurled a flash grenade through the opening to disorientate the foe within. Standard room clearance usually employed a frag grenade in such situations, but was this approach was rejected to mitigate damage to the prize in the inevitable fire-fight.
‘For the Emperor!’ roared Rameed as he ran straight into the white noise, helm lenses compensating for the exponential increase in luminescence.
Rameed resolved a series of shapes in the light, moving like phantoms through the white haze. A sudden whirr of a chainsword howling into life was followed by its jawed profile plunging through the brightness straight towards Rameed’s face.
Dropping his boltgun, trans-human reflexes kicked in as the chainsword barely missed, Rameed instinctivlely gripping the armoured gauntlet of its owner, and snapping the sword arm’s wrist just as the Astartes fell onto his back. A low moan left the assailants lips before Rameed’s Baleen-snout helm caved in his skull with a loud crunch.
Behind him, the rest of Beta-Six had also engaged the enemy, discarding boltguns in favour of close combat, lest the bolter rounds damaged the prize.
Momentarily, the white haze vanished, revealing seven figures sprawled out on the decking, dead or mortally wounded. Rameed looked up and saw a figure approach.
‘You -,’ snarled Interrogator Cal Paetor, reaching for a bolt pistol.
With movement too quick for the human eye to register, Rameed rolled into the legs of the Interrogator, just as the deafening bellow of a bolt round pierced ceramite and exploded in Rameed’s shoulder blade. Pain instantaneously flared like a hot poker, and Rameed gnashed his teeth in agony.
However, the momentum of the roll brought Rameed to his knees as the throne agent fell onto his back. Reaching out with his good arm, Rameed’s huge hand enveloped the Interrogator’s head and he twisted quickly, with barely a sound escaping as Cal Paetor flopped back onto the decking like a discarded puppet.
Rising unsteadily, Rameed appraised the situation quickly. Eight deaths, total, no casualties to Beta-Six. Good. Even better, the prize was completely intact.
If the intelligence was correct, which it usually was, a cache of fifty-five new suits of Mark VIII Astartes armour was secured in storage units around the chamber, destined for Chapter deployment, and hidden within the fleet of the Munitorum the Nine-Swords were currently ambushing.
Rameed smiled. It was actually trooper Mau who had correctly deduced that the Imperial Sword Class Frigate designated the Grand Turin was the most likely to contain the precious armour.
The Nine-Swords had performed spectacularly as the perfect cover for the inter-ship heist, the combined materiel of the Munitorum fleet a worthy prize for the pirate lords should they destroy the Imperial host.
Keying in a cipher with his remaining good arm on the nearest keypad, Rameed stepped back as one of the storage units opened to reveal a suit armour within, freshly wrought and rendered in the dull grey of the Mechanicum’s forgeworlds. Running a rich indigo gauntleted hand over the contours of the new armour, Rameed glanced back at the rest of Beta-Six.
‘Objective completed, the prize is ours. Signal legion command to beg-’
A powerful blast ripped through the room as the Astartes of Beta-Six were rocked backward by a concussive force. Before they could rise, ten blurs of bronze had disarmed them.
Stymphalids Astartes! Imperial vengeance made flesh and encased in ceramite, the promise of certain death made incarnate.
Gasping slightly through the pain of his injury, and more amazed that he still lived, Rameed was ordered with the rest of Beta-Six to stand. Just as Rameed began to launch a disarming punch at the nearest Stymphalid Astartes, consciousness faded from him.
‘Rameed of squad Beta-Six’ said a voice.
Rameed jerked back into consciousness, a sharp pain wracking the entirety of his trans-human bulk. He couldn’t move.
‘Rameed of squad Beta-Six,’ repeated the voice.
‘Wh-What have you done to me?’ Rameed whispered. A dusting of frost coated his rich purple armour, obscuring the heraldry and pinning Rameed in place, mid-swing.
‘Your internal alchemy has been rewired by the power of the Great Ocean,’ replied a second voice, considerably higher in pitch than the first. The voice continued, ‘the ancient cults of Prospero employed such means to subdue the greatest of foes in battle.’
A small and wiry man stepped out from behind the bronze warriors of the Stymphalids, long jet black hair neatly combed backwards, spilling over a long coat of stippled grox hide.
‘I am a mere student of the Prosperine arts, but as you can well see, even at my level, the abilities of the Pavoni are effective.’
Rameed struggled aimlessly, his blurred vision obscuring the small man before him, interspersed with a excruciating pain that splintered through his paralysed mass. Just when he thought he would pass out again, the sharp pain receded once more, replaced by a dull ache.
‘...nough Hoshyang. Sometimes I despair at your showboating,’ said the first voice.
The man called Hoshyang nodded curtly, and clenched his oustretched hands into fists, drawing them in back to his chest and then slowly towards the floor as he exhaled. Rameed gulped as he felt bodily functions return to him. With his vision rapidly aligning back into sharp focus, Rameed perceived the Astartes to whom the first voice belonged address him again through the flat monotone of the vox caster.
‘Cowards,’ started Rameed, ‘release me from this sorcery and I will grant you a clean death!’
‘Death to those who fight for the Imperium, perhaps,’ came the reply. A click, followed by short hiss sounded as the helm was unsealed by the bronze warrior standing in front of Rameed. Rameed tried to keep his face impassive as he instantly recognised the figure in front of him.
‘As you can see, acting sergeant,’ continued the figure, ‘not everything is as they seem, and we do value our secrets.’ Captain Logan Hex, Geryon Stealth Squad of the Alpha Legion grinned as he brushed a bronze hand over Rameed’s shoulder pad to reveal a stylised hydra’s head under the coating of psy-frost.
‘Congratulations, legionnaires of Beta-Six,’ Hex pressed on, ‘you have beaten seven other squads to successfully locate and contain the objective.’ Five boltguns snapped up as the bronze warriors stood to attention like statues, no longer aiming at Rameed nor the other members of Beta-Six.
A visibly relieved Rameed bowed his head towards his captain, and immediately clicked his heels to attention.
Hex’s grin faded, and his voice hardened, ‘Yes brothers, you have succeeded, and yet you have failed. You looked and yet you did not see, such was your rashness to achieve the objective.’ Hex pointed at the Interrogator’s body. Rameed groaned as his enhanced eyesight picked out a small stylised hydra’s head, branded on the inside of the dead Interrogator’s right arm.
‘Beta-Six’, began Hex, ‘the Interrogator running this show was friend to the Alpha Legion, and our link to securing further assets through falsifying chapter materiel requests from the Mechanicum has now been severely compromised. Your orders were to secure the mission objective and neutralise the foe, not kill everything in sight.’
Shame-faced, Rameed looked down at the floor and said nothing.
‘Twenty lashes each,’ continued Hex, ‘and consider yourself suitably chastised Rameed, with that bolt round in your shoulder. We will make legionnaires of you yet, but remember to use your heads. We are pragmatic and we are Legion.’
Rameed glanced up at the captain.
‘I am chastised,’ said Rameed with a remorseful look, bowing to his captain, ‘so what now?’
‘We leave, acting sergeant.’ replied Hex. Hex looked over to one of the bronze warriors. A small nod, almost impossible to discern passed between the warrior and Hex.
‘No traces,’ began Hex, ‘we must destroy this vessel to disassociate Legion involvement and leave the Swords to plunder what’s left. Full extraction with the objective, standard reconstitution policy. Initiate protocol Omega.’