Finally I can publish this here. It won 3rd in the Heresy Fiction Competition, and is part of the "Vae Victis" series that I'm writing.
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“Not Ashamed”

There had been no warning.

The foul Orks had struck like a lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky, crashing dozens of their Roks into the planet’s surface. Imperial defenders on the ground were caught completely by surprise, and at least eleven million people died on the first day alone.

It was now the seventy-fifth day of the Second Battle for Hydronis Majoris, and Lord Admiral Alcuin Troubridge chaffed at becoming little more than a spectator. The world was Battlefleet Cuxehaven’s main naval base, but its warships had failed miserably to prevent the Xenos invasion. Now they could only watch from above as the greenskins won victory after victory, while the fleet’s mighty guns were rendered impotent by the risk of friendly fire.

The Lord Admiral knew that it was not the first time that Battlefleet Cuxehaven faced the shame of defeat. It had been nearly annihilated late in M38 – over this very same world – after a quarter of the fleet turned traitor and inflicted devastating losses on the loyalists.

But the scum of the First Battle of Hydronis Majoris were eventually defeated, thanks to the arrival of a mysterious Chapter of Space Marines from the outer rim. Identifying themselves as the Steel Wardens, these Astartes had remained in the Cuxehaven Cluster ever since, ushering in an era of stability and prosperity unlike any before.

Troubridge was counting on them now to ensure the continuance of this golden age. Their Chapter Master, Regent Augustus, had readily agreed to send every Warden under his command to aid the defense of Hydronis Majoris. They were supposed to arrive on the sixty-fifth day.

No one outside of Forge World Cuxehaven could imagine the real reason why they were late.

===

Brother-Captain Pontius had seen worlds die before. He had served the Steel Wardens long enough to know first-hand that the local synod of the Inquisition rarely balked at destroying worlds that had been overrun by the enemy.

But he had never seen a world die up close like this. It was different from watching a world die from high orbit, seeing the lights of an entire civilization flicker out for the last time. The fact that the world in question was his home of Cuxehaven added little to the novelty of the experience.

Pontius was witnessing the end from aboard a Thunderhawk, flying low to avoid detection by enemy fighters that now ruled the skies. His pilot, a very brave Adept who was just a trainee hours before, was weaving his way through several massive Hive spires that were hundreds of stories tall. The reckless flight path was undoubtedly already terrifying for the unaugmented pilot, but there was an added macabre twist.

The spires were all on fire, blazing from base to tip, victims of the enemy’s sustained incendiary bombing. Hundreds of people - now little more than living torches - were jumping out of windows every second and fell screaming to their deaths.

"The Emperor Protects, and the Omnissiah watches over us..." breathed a small figure beside Pontius, his eyes also glued to the ongoing holocaust outside. It was Adept Cyprian Eligus, another unaugmented candidate, who was a last-minute addition to Pontius’ ad-hoc assault team. He was a replacement for Veteran-Brother Demetrius, who had died defending the Thunderhawk as it struggled to take off from the ground.

Pontius doubted that Eligus would survive. The Adept was young and inexperienced, still more worried about his mother than the fight ahead. But Pontius nonetheless tried to mentor the young man, acting as though it was just a training exercise instead of the end of all things.

“Focus, Adept. You must learn to master your fear before you can become one of us.”

"Yes... yes sir," Eligus managed to respond, just before the craft shook from what sounded like a direct hit, "By the Cog, have the enemy fighters found us?!"

Pontius knew better. His supernatural hearing had recognized the subtle difference. It was not a munitions impact. It was simply a chunk of steel falling from one of the Hives, one that was about to lose its battle with gravity.

The pilot confirmed that fact over the vox an instant later, "Blessed Omnissiah, hold on! It's falling right on top of us!"

Without fear, Pontius looked out the window even as he signaled his squad to brace themselves. His ears were already registering the popping and groaning of steel, but Pontius felt compelled to witness the destruction. Centuries before, he may have been born in that dying Hive. Pontius could recognize the irony if he was slain by the place of his birth.

The Hive was certainly trying its best. Gigantic buildings usually collapsed straight downwards, with level after level pancaking on top of one another. But a structural fault was causing the kilometer-high structure to tilt over, and its long shadow had already engulfed the Thunderhawk.

The pilot began shouting incomprehensibly, as he tried to avoid thousands of objects that were spilling out of the Hive like trash thrown out of a bin. The debris pelted the armored craft, some of which struck with the terrible crunch of meat and bone falling apart.

But luck was with them, and the Thunderhawk managed to claw its way clear, its engines on full burn. It would not be consumed by the final, climactic dust cloud created by the crashing spire.

"How many people were in that Hive, sir?" Adept Eligus suddenly asked. Pontius now noticed that the young Adept had also watched the entire spectacle.

"It is not relevant information," Pontius chastised, "Take heart that they met a swifter end than slow death by fire."

Eligus opened his mouth again, but thought better of it and remained silent. For this, Pontius was glad. In truth, he had no clue where the death count stood anymore.

It was already the thirteenth day of the Battle for Cuxehaven, and no official casualty reports had been issued since the second day.

===

Regent Augustus, Chapter Master of the Steel Wardens, knew the best Estimate of where the death toll stood. He did not want to dwell on it. Even beings who knew no fear could still feel pain.

His command center was the worst in the Chapter's entire history, being little more than an apartment requisitioned from a low-ranking noble and stuffed with every surviving vox set and cogitator that the Logis could muster. Contact with other surviving loyalist forces remained intermittent at best, but Augustus was a true son of Guilliman and could piece together the grim picture.

They were losing. And they were losing badly.

Two week before, as Augustus was still marshaling his forces for the Hydronis Majoris campaign, Cuxehaven was suddenly and ruthlessly attacked by a massive Archenemy fleet. The Warden’s great Battle-Barges were caught defenseless at high anchor thanks to the foulest of treacheries, and all were destroyed along with most of the Wardens aboard them.

The enemy then began a merciless orbital bombardment, obliterating entire PDF and skitarii armies along with many Titans of Legio Cux. What little survived had now rallied around the few Wardens who had escaped the massacre in the void, but most of these centers of resistance were still isolated and unable to support one another. Central control had to be re-established if the defense was to have any chance of prevailing.

And even then, Augustus knew that it might already be too late.

"Brother-Captain Pontius and his team are approaching the target," reported Brother-Logis Tacitus, "I have also found sufficient forces for the diversionary effort. Two active skitarii artillery batteries, a Warlord Titan, and a column of PDF armor under the command of Brother-Sergeant Marcus."

"My Estimates also indicate that we only have a 1.65% chance of succeeding,” added Magos Agrippina, who served as liaison between the Wardens and the Forge World’s leaders, "Excellent odds for such a large expenditure of resources.”

Augustus recognized sarcasm despite the lack of emotion in Agrippina’s voice, “We have no choice. Warp interference is preventing us from coordinating our forces. This same interference is preventing our Astropaths from calling for help. We must destroy the source before it is too late.”

“And you believe this Captain Pontius can succeed?” Agrippina doubted.

“When Brother-Captain Pontius makes a promise, it is a Certainty, not an Estimate,” Augustus assured.

“Very well,” the Magos conceded, “I hope you are right, for this is a foe literally greater than anything he has faced before.”

The room suddenly shook violently. Vox-sets and cogitators shorted out, disrupting the precious flow of information between the ragged forces still fighting to save Forge World Cuxehaven. One of the younger Tech-Priests dropped to the floor, dead, as an inaudible code-scream overwhelmed him.

Augustus was not modified. He could not hear the code like Agrippina and the others. But he had been told what words were said whenever the great monster said its name.
Cuxehaven Mortis.

Death to Cuxehaven.