The Ancient’s hearts missed a beat as he witnessed the charge of the Banner Guard if through the eyes of another, his body frozen as it was in horrified shock.
The thing that was Guilliman stood before them, colossal and unafraid. Where there should have been rage or hatred or any other glimmer of emotion upon that face so revered, there was none.
The warriors of the Banner Guard fell in silence, scattered like so much flotsam before the storm of the Primarch, his huge sword rising and falling without counter.
He looked on as Guilliman lifted one of the Guard, brother Semion, high above his head and flung him into the burning shell of a Basilisk without effort, the thick metal bending around his armoured form as he slammed into it like a bullet.
His black eyes turned to Ventris and he grew cold, as if he had been sucked bodily into the endless void.
‘Ancient. It is your time.’
Ventris drew the banner pole close to his chest, the ancient cloth above him writhing in the breeze. His scarred face twisted with emotion, a mixture of pain and agonised revulsion.
‘The father of Ultramar is dead, imposter. I see that now. You are an affront, betrayal forged in the Primarch’s likeness, nothing more. I will honour the legacy of Roboute Guilliman by ending your existence.’
Guilliman swept the Sword of Ultramar before him and cut the warrior rising at his feet in two, sending his bisected body rolling away. His advance was one of measured confidence, his stride long and slow as if there were no other living creatures on the surface of Gehenna except him and the Ancient.
‘This galaxy will unify under one banner, traitor. The Ethereals have opened my eyes to the horrors that are to come. You will stand with us or you will fall at my feet. There can be no other way.’
Ventris shook himself and stepped forward, ignoring Guilliman’s corrupt ramblings. To even suggest that the Primarch would serve a xenos master was a crime akin to renouncing the Emperor himself.
‘Enough heresy! This ends now!’
The ground shook beneath the advance of the Titans of Gigas Passus as the two warriors prepared to meet, the Ancient tense and unsure, the Primarch bold and indomitable. Columns of searing fire lit the skies from end to end, the noise rising to unbearable levels.
Above him, not a single inch of the Gehennan skies remained.
‘For the Emperor and for Ultramar.’ He whispered.
The Primarch filled his vision for little more than a fleeting second, growing and growing until all that could be seen was that familiar and revered face, now more alien and unknowable than it had ever been in death.
He raised his arms and lunged, bringing the golden rod forward like a spear.
Guilliman’s expression never once altered as he shifted away from the lunge and grabbed the banner pole, his grip like that of some vengeful god. He threw his sword to the ground and thrust his arm forward. Fingers of adamantium closed around Uriel’s neck and he gasped, unable to draw breath.
‘The crimes of Horus replayed again. A son’s betrayal of his father.’ The Primarch uttered, drawing the struggling warrior closer.
‘I will brook no such treachery from you.’
There was a flash of movement and a lightning strike of fierce pain and he found himself drawn across Guilliman’s knee, falling with all the force of a descending lance strike.
‘As I break you, so will I break the back of your treacherous Imperium.’
He fell to the floor, a mess of splayed limbs. The Primarch appeared, towering over him, an avatar of destruction. He raised the standard and slammed the pole through the Ancient’s chest with such power that it embedded itself in the earth beneath him.
Ancient Ventris stared up into the burning sky, unable to stand or defend himself. The face of the Primarch stared down at him, cold as the grave, an entity of clear, inconceivable malice.
Beyond the Primarch he could see the first of the towering Titans as they drew nearer, each mighty footfall jarring his vision. Beyond that, the innumerable fliers and vast ships of the Unity, blocking out the sun as they descended.
And beyond…only eternity.
Guillman turned as he heard the voice, his expression ever unchanging. Galthor the Champion bounded past him to stand over the fallen Ancient, reaching down to retrieve his commander’s chainsword.
‘Stand down, pretender.’ He growled, activating the blade.
Guilliman regarded the warrior with scornful eyes, the merest flicker of emotion that soon faded to nothing once again.
Galthor’s armour was split and buckled in a dozen places. His left arm hung limp by his side, the bones shattered to fragments beneath his armour. He was swaying, clearly struggling to stay on his feet. He wheezed as he drew breath, his fused ribs smashed.
‘Take him. Take him and go.’
The Primarch opened his mouth to answer and then paused, movement catching his eye. Two of the surviving Banner Guard limped past him and grabbed the fallen Ancient. One pulled the standard from his chest while the other took him beneath the arms and hauled him to his feet.
Seeing this, Guilliman smiled.
‘Pathetic to the end. It sickens me to see you wearing the armour of the Astartes. I see before me the sickness that has taken hold of the Imperium in my absence. A sickness that can only be purged by the guidance of the Unity.’
Galthor did not answer.
‘No!’ Ventris roared, watching as the Champion lunged, his own screaming sword held aloft. He struggled to free himself from the grip of his two wards in vain.
‘Let go of me! I command you to release me! It should be me! It should be me!’
There was a scream of engines and he fell silent, the two warriors carrying him slowing. Shadows began to descend all around him, the dry earth swirling beneath the downdrafts of more than a dozen craft.
Land Speeders bearing the insignia of both the White Scars and the Ravenwing came to rest around him, their collective roar drowning out the sounds of the war for a fleeting moment. Marines disembarked in silent, practised formation, quickly flooding the space around him.
Around the vehicles a rain of silver armour fell to earth on wings of fire, warrior women of the Adepta Sororitas.
‘Lord Ventris.’ One of the Marines began, leaping down from the ornate speeder before him. The Marine’s armour was a deep black tinged with green and partially covered with long ivory robes. On one shoulder he bore the insignia of the Alliance Imperialis Solar, the other an ivory wing struck through with a sword.
‘Captain Ornion. I must be released…’
The warrior shook his head slowly, his eyes regarding the scene before him with a grim apprehension.
‘No, Ancient. The orders are from the Warmaster himself. We are to bring you back.’
He was about to argue when he felt a hand against his shoulder, soft and yet alive with underlying power.
He lifted his face to see the gaze of the Endymion, her porcelain features softly glowing with an ethereal light.
‘Return.’ She uttered, her soft voice filling his mind. ‘For you, this battle is over, brave warrior. Rest now.’
These were the last two words Ventris heard on Gehenna.
Galthor attacked, bringing the chainsword down at an angle towards the Primarch’s head. Guilliman tuned the blade away with ease and countered, returning with a blow that would have cleaved the Champion in two had he not thrown himself back. The Sword of Ultramar swept by his waist and then rose, coming down at his head almost faster than he could follow.
He lifted the chainsword and deflected the strike, spinning to attack again. Guilliman blocked the swing and lashed out with his boot, kicking the warrior off his feet.
The Champion lurched back, rolling onto his feet once again, almost torn in two by the strike.
‘Forgive me, Primarch.’ He whispered, stepping forward, the blade in his hand screaming.
‘Only in death.’ Guilliman answered, decapitating the warrior with a single swing.
The Champion fell forward onto the floor, his defiant challenge ended. The Primarch stepped forward and raised his eyes of the carnage about him, the shadow of the Imperial Titans falling over him.
‘Heretic! B-----d son!’
He reeled, countering the blow at the very last second. The flaming sword rang as it deflected off the blade of his own, flames washing over his armour.
Wings of pure white filled his vision as the Endymion landed before him, her silvered form mirroring the flames surrounding them. Two shining eyes regarded him with utter hatred as the Seraphim landed all around him, weapons ready.
‘Sororitas.’ He hissed, taking on an aggressive stance. ‘So, there is truly no end to the treachery of the new Imperium. I see now how far my father’s realm has fallen from His grasp. I will scourge and remake this kingdom one world at a time if I have to.’
Saint Cloelia did not answer at first. Her blazing eyes regarded the fallen Primarch with a knowing sadness, a realisation only she could truly understand.
‘For a true son to have fallen so far to corruption is a tragedy, firstborn one. You of all the Emperor’s sons should have learned from the mistakes of the past. I see the truth behind the lie of your existence, for my eyes shine with the light of the Emperor. I cannot allow another Horus to leave this planet alive.’
Guilliman froze. A terrible rage burned in his obsidian eyes, an anger so deep and all-consuming the Saint herself shuddered to look upon it.
‘Horus.’ He whispered, his voice deepening, changing beyond all recognition. ‘You will burn for that insult, gue’la kre. You will all burn.’
With that he turned his eyes to the sky and lifted his arms, his face shaking with an indomitable rage.
‘Execute the Mont’ka! Kill them all! Wipe this planet clean!’
Overhead, the darkening skies rumbled.