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The Ghost and the Storm (Warhammer 40,000 fan fiction)

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  • The Ghost and the Storm (Warhammer 40,000 fan fiction)

    This is another old fan-fiction story set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, or, more specifically, during that universe's Great Crusade. It is based on considerably dated background (most notably having to do with Legions being roughly ten thousand strong rather than hundred thousand, or the timing and sequence of events leading to canon Horus Heresy), and as such it does not conform to the current canon even before considering that it deals with the two "lost" primarchs, a topic that Games Workshop is unlikely to ever elaborate on. As such, the idea behind this story was to describe who those primarchs might have been, what kind of Legions they might have led, and why the two of them might have vanished from records.

    Naturally, this is purely a work of fan fiction, not official canon, and is not in any way endorsed or affiliated with Games Workshop (who are, of course, the owners of Warhammer 40,000 and associated intellectual property).

    Then - Byzantion Tertius

    The boy was different, of that there was no doubt. He was taller and stronger than just about any youth his age on Byzantion Tertius, but that was not the reason for the difference; he grasped most subjects his tutors attempted to educate him with utmost ease, but it was not what made him different either. Just by looking at him, one would have guessed that he had a bright future in front of him in the halls of the academia or on the scrumball pitch, a heartthrob stealing affections of women the system over with a strong, well proportioned face the color of healthy, blushing bronze and the eyes of deep emerald green, framed with long raven black hair, sat upon the body that seemed to be as close to human perfection as any sculptor was able to conceive. Just by looking at him, anyone observant enough would have seen the face of a hero, a leader, a prodigal son of his world, admired and respected by all in his path.

    Adrian Octavius was anything but. On the world that prided itself in its enlightenment and tranquility, with few distinctions between its people, safe and secure in its wealth and power, on the world that needed little, keeping much of the knowledge and the attitudes of a golden age long past, on the temperate, technologically advanced and seemingly happy planet of Byzantion Tertius, he was a loner, finding little outlet for his ambitions and desires. In a distant, progressive paradise, there was no place for the likes of him.

    Adrian knew that much of the galaxy was inaccessible; the only other planets that could be easily reached were but few in number, and were more often than not either poorly populated mining outposts, or death worlds where only the hardiest of prospectors set foot. Beyond them were the aliens, some almost too strange to comprehend, some others not so - like, perhaps, the Eldar who traded for much of the mineral wealth of the Byzantion system with various technological trinkets, or the Al’gart, the natives of the system‘s second planet, who were a common sight here as laborers and traders. Truly, this corner of the universe was an idyll made for those who decided to spend their lives in a manner of leisurely safety - and hell for those who hoped to change the world, to save the world that did not believe it needed being saved.

    And so, Adrian Octavius hated it. He hated this planet, its self-absorbed, fat, tranquil inhabitants, its pleasant climate, its society that seemed to put most value on how many people one could entice into some kind of social engagement at once. He spent enough time reading about history, philosophy, and religion to know this was not always the case; even this system was once but distant frontier, settled tens of thousands of years ago for its mineral wealth by one of the empires that made up the human race at the time, its name or origin by now well and truly forgotten. Then, Byzantion Tertius was a place of great conflict, of great danger, fighting to contain the overwhelming hordes of green skinned Orks and other, more dangerous beasts. There were stories, records of the times when the planet was on the very brink of annihilation, and of the mighty heroes that saved it, driving back the Orks and their confederates, extinguishing them altogether, it seemed.

    As it was, Adrian had only a vague idea of even what an Ork looked like.

    Adrian did not even know for sure how old he was; all he knew was that he was found and taken in by a couple of moderately well-off, if unremarkable civil servants, who raised him on their own, with all the expectations and prejudices one might have expected from the people of their background. They gave him his name, cared for him, and attended to his needs and education, but still they were as different from him as they could have been. They were good people, he realized, but limited; all they could think about was how to get their adopted son into the most prestigious school they could afford, or how to turn his aptitude on the scrumball pitch into some sort of an advantage.

    True, he was far stronger and faster than any of the players on the Argos City junior team, the Storm; already the upper league scouts were seeking him out, promising him glory, wealth, and fame. But still it was not what he wanted.

    Adrian wanted to change the world - not to be another one of the fat, lazy, happy inhabitants of a fat, lazy, happy planet on the distant fringe of the galaxy, ordered and prosperous, but also stagnant and safe in the knowledge that it would rather keep it that way. Perhaps someone more unscrupulous or sociable would have worked towards taking over the planet, in some distant future, or attempting to stir up trouble, but he thought himself better than that. Try as he might, Adrian could not think of how to make this planet better than it was for everyone on it, not just for himself. And that went against his sense of Honor.

    Not just any honor, but the kind with the capital letter in the beginning. This, he felt, was one of the things that created an impossible gulf between him and the rest of the humans on this world. The Al’gart were little different; after the initial encounter with them and some minor unpleasantries, thousands of years ago, they adapted quite well to both the human technology and the human way of life. If not for their distinctive shapes of trilateral symmetry, deep burgundy red skin, and strange way of pronouncing the words of the Gothic language, their lives and aspirations were almost indistinguishable from those of the human population of Byzantion Tertius.

    The Eldar, however, they were a mystery. Adrian rarely managed to converse with any of them; the tall, graceful looking elfin aliens rarely wandered outside of the trading districts. There was something different about them, some kind of strange self-control that he did not entirely understand; many of them bore weapons even in the safe, secure streets of this planet. And though those weapons seemed decorative and overly artistic to the untrained eye, Adrian thought he could sense their hidden workings, their elegance but a veneer for their deadly and awesome power.

    He knew that the Eldar were unlike many of his fellow humans; these were the true warriors whose soft steps and dance-like movement betrayed trained senses and instincts honed in hundreds of unknown battles. What foes did they face and vanquish? What worlds did they conquer and subdue? He did not know, and none of the Eldar he ever met answered his questions.

    There was, however, something strange about their conduct around him. Though he could not fathom what possibly could have alarmed them about a single human with no ostensible political or military sway, Adrian saw them shy away from him, as if they sensed something in him that no one else could. He recalled asking one of the creatures he met near his school some time ago, what was it that made them act different around him.

    The Eldar, a tall, statuesque female that looked just a little too thin, a little too perfect to have been an unaltered human woman, gave him a nervous smile.

    “You do not know it, then?” she said in a voice that somehow made Adrian’s skin crawl with the sheer alienness of it.

    “Know… what?” he managed to squeeze out, curious at the alien’s strange manner.

    “Pray that you never be forced to find out,” the Eldar said, hurrying to take her leave of him.

    The cryptic answer never satisfied Adrian; no one else seemed to know. At one point he tried to find out who his birth parents might have been, covertly, without his adoptive parents ever finding out, but he had no luck. All he could learn was that he was found crawling through the dirt on the outskirts of the city, not long after the weather stations logged a routine meteor crashing into the ground roughly fifteen or so miles away. There was no indication if the two things were anyhow connected, nothing at all.

    He tried to imagine the significance of it, to learn just what it was that made him different - born under the falling star; it led nowhere. As much as Adrian Octavius knew he was not like those around him, he could still find no explanation, not even a mystic prophecy in a world that long accepted the rational, scientific way of explaining the universe around it.

    And there was something about all those others that never felt right to him. He could never make friends easily; the shallow pursuits of the other youths of this planet were of little interest to him, as much as some of them tried to cajole him into joining them in their mindless games, random festivities, intoxicated nights and aimless days. All the women that threw themselves at the rising scrumball star left him unsatisfied, providing moments of physical ecstasy but no companionship beyond that; eventually, the others learned to leave him alone. In truth, he almost liked it better this way; better no company at all, he thought then, than the company of the shallow minded.

    But now, he almost regretted it. Adrian wished at times that he could be just like the others, partaking in their simple pleasures, enjoying the same things they enjoyed as his life slowly withered away, just like theirs. But this was not to be. And time and again he wondered if he would ever find out whatever it was that made the Eldar woman anxious to get as far away from him as she could.

    Adrian Octavius spent much of his life hoping for a change, knowing that it would never come, and that he should instead attempt to make the best of his life on Byzantion Tertius, this civilized and aimless existence amongst the others that were almost, but not quite his kind. Almost anything was better than this to him - a life of strife and conflict would have been preferable to this… existence, which he refused to even call life.

    And the most troubling part was, he did not truly know what he wanted. Was it adventure, a chance to be someone’s savior and protector? Was it simply something that would challenge him intellectually and emotionally, far more so than anything on Byzantion Tertius? Was it a chance to finally learn who or what he was, and why he was here?

    The civilized part of him shuddered at the thought, but there was something else there, too, something wild, feral, primal that begged to be released, unleashed upon the universe if there was only a chance for him to show himself, prove himself. It was not the glory that he sought; he could have had glory, after a fashion, even here. It was something else - a desire to belong, to know that his own ideals were not wasted on the world that did not want them and did not care for them.

    In a way, Adrian was as afraid of a chance as he hoped for it. What if I prove myself unworthy, he asked himself as he strode onto the scrumball pitch, straightening his yellow and black uniform with the thunderbolt symbol of the Argos City Storm. What if once the chance came, I falter, not know what to do? What if my ideals are but useless fantasies? Do I even truly know what my ideals really are?

    And because of this, Adrian was more afraid than he had ever been in his life.

    He stood in one of the Argos City parks, a green, pleasant stretch of land covered with inoffensive, healthy flora. The system’s twin suns were nearing their zenith, showering the planet with light and heat; there were sounds of birds and small animals all around him, some descendants of the Terran fauna brought to this world by the early colonists, some indigenous species. In the distance, groups of both humans and aliens mixed, enjoying the warm, clear weather and each other’s company.

    There was a man in front of Adrian Octavius, and he was the reason he felt both hopeful and terrified of what was about to come. He was tall, even taller than Adrian himself, with the same bronze skin and long, raven black hair; unlike Adrian’s own classical features, the man’s face was sharp and aquiline, though still handsome in a rugged, mature kind of way. There was an unusual similarity between the two - almost like… family resemblance, Adrian thought. Was it, then, possible that this tall, aquiline faced man was some kind of lost kin? The stranger seemed to be almost supernaturally alert of everything that occurred around him, even as the other park visitors paid him little attention other than some gawking at his apparent size and strength.

    “You have proven… disappointing,” the man said with a slight frown on his face. “I would have expected to see some real achievements in the time you have been away.”

    “Would you please explain to me what is going on?” Adrian inquired, in an unusually meek tone, growing back into impatience. “I have answered a message that promised to tell me the truth about who I am. Who are you, and what do you know?”

    “At least, I see,” the stranger mused, “you have the temper. In that you are quite the same as the rest.”

    “The rest of whom? You speak in riddles,” Adrian said, his patience giving way to anger. “What is it that you know that you wanted to meet with me for?”

    “I am still not entirely convinced you are who I was looking for,” the stranger said. “The others have done great deeds. One forged an empire in the Outer Worlds. Another one was worshipped as a god on Fenris. Yet another grew so powerful in psyker arts that it was him who found me, not the other way around. You, on the other hand… a scrumball player?”

    Adrian did not know who the others the stranger spoke of were, but the pangs of disappointment and… (guilt?) were strong within him.

    “Look around you,” he said, looking the stranger straight in the eyes. “If there is a more tranquil place in all of the galaxy, I’ve yet to hear of it. This is a world that is happy, content with what it is, desiring little and possessing everything. This is no place for heroes - only for the bookkeepers, merchants, and scrumball players.”

    “And the xenos,” the stranger said with barely concealed disgust. “These people consort with the xenos freely.”

    Adrian looked at the man quizzically; this was a strange attitude on Byzantion Tertius. The stranger was, perhaps, the first person he ever met that had such a strong, negative opinion of the alien presence here.

    “These here are harmless,” Adrian finally said. “The Al’gart might as well wish they were human. And the Eldar, they have never bothered this world. They come to trade, nothing else.”

    “How… naïve,” the man mused. “The Eldar are not to be trusted, no matter what they say, or how much like us they look. They will destroy this world, and thousands like it for no reasons we could possibly fathom, if it pleases them.”

    “But they have not done anything like that here!” Adrian protested. “They have visited Byzantion Tertius for thousands of years, and have always behaved themselves!”

    “Just because an alien may look like a human, may talk like a human, and may sheathe his weapons,” the stranger said wearily, “does not mean he thinks like a human. They are alien by their very definition.”

    “They are… different,” Adrian admitted grudgingly. “The Eldar always seem to act strange any time they are close to me.”

    “As they should,” said the man. “There are things that frighten even them.”

    “You suggest that I… scare them?” the look on Adrian’s face was that of barely concealed confusion. “How so?”

    “Not what you are,” the stranger answered, “but what you may one day become.”

    “You sound like the one Eldar I asked this question.”

    “Perhaps…” the man’s voice trailed off for the moment. He appeared to be in deep contemplation.

    “What do you know about yourself, Adrian?” he finally spoke, with an air of finality to the sentence. The warm, otherwise wind seemed to blow just a bit stronger, just a bit colder; was it just Adrian’s imagination, or was there truly a sense of some force, some energy at play here?

    “All I know,” the young man said, “is that some time around twenty years ago, I was found as an infant in the suburbs of the city. Someone told me that the night before, there was a meteor impact just a few miles away from it, but that was the only hint that something unusual might have happened. Other than that, I was taken in by the Octavius family, and, well…” his voice trailed off, “you probably already know the rest, whoever you are. Is there something you can tell me?” Adrian looked at the stranger pointedly. “Or will this prove to be just as much of a waste of my time as when I tried to figure it out before?”

    “The capsule impact,” the older man mused. “It seems to fit the pattern.” He shrugged, flexing his massive shoulders. “Your life here seems to have been anything but spectacular, but otherwise, I am certain now that you are the one I have been looking for.”

    “Meaning?” Adrian felt on the edge; it felt like a moment when some great, terrible truth would be told, that would change his life from this moment and forever after.

    “If you ever thought that you might be made for greater things, you have just gotten your wish,” the stranger said, then added, quietly, almost imperceptibly so, “son.”

  • #2
    Now - Marshad IV

    The Fourth Company advanced over the broken, battered ground, laying down a withering hail of plasma and bolter fire that tore pieces of walls and chunks of rockrete from the few buildings still standing, where the surviving Marshadi took refuge. The light of the bloated red sun was barely able to penetrate the thick smoke, where the once great city burned, towers of fire rising into the sickly crimson of the sky. Here and there, an occasional las-shot crackled towards their black and yellow power armored forms, most deflected harmlessly and retaliated in kind until the shooter’s hiding place was reduced to rubble, alongside with anyone who might have been hiding within it.

    Marshad IV was a warm planet, and the humid wind carried forward the smells of decaying vegetation and sickly air from the nearby swamps, still giving their distinct undertones to the scents of burning buildings and discharged artillery shells. The world was settled some time during the Dark Age of Technology, and was cut off from the rest of the galaxy for at least several thousand years. It did its inhabitants much credit that they managed to keep a reasonable level of technology intact, despite the relative lack of advanced materials. It did them far less credit that when the Eighty Third Expedition finally arrived in orbit of their world, they opened fire within minutes.

    Captain Isaac Varus swore as he disintegrated the low-lying building with a shot from his modified plasma gun, thinking of a few anatomically impossible things the heretic that fired at him only moments ago probably did in his spare time, including his closest kin, farm animals, and inanimate objects of no hygienic value. The Marshadi’s shot came a little too close to the Captain’s bare head for comfort; such was the price of using his genetically enhanced Astartes senses on a living world, where smell and taste were just as important as sight and hearing when it came to finding and exterminating the living enemies.

    It was the Fourth Company’s unenviable role to push into the city, soaking up the enemy fire and forcing the Marshadi to shift much of their reinforcements to that front until the moment was right, and the heavily armored Terminators could be teleported into the central hub of resistance from the battle barge in orbit. In theory, this was supposed to be a relatively simple task; the Marshadi relied mostly on stubber based weaponry, which was not very effective against the heavily armored Astartes warriors. In practice, however, they were a dangerous enough adversary, using wheeled armored vehicles and even simple walkers to great effect as the Space Marines fought for the suburbs of Marshad IV’s capital city, taking it inch by inch, but still too slowly.

    “Over there,” Captain Varus pointed at a surviving building, almost half a mile away, enhanced by the implants in his eyes - perhaps a water tower by the looks of it, bruised and battered from the artillery bombardment but mostly still in one piece. “There is a walker hiding behind this.”

    The Marshadi walkers were bad news; though their arc of fire was limited to be of most effect supporting infantry from the distance, they were fast and agile, armored just enough to withstand the effects of small arms fire short of plasma or melta guns. When supported by armor and screened by troopers, they were lethal even to the armored Space Marines.

    Or, rather, they would have been lethal to the Space Marines of any other Legion.

    The II Legion, the Storm Bringers were perhaps unique in their treatment of technological problems, applying such solutions to weapons, armor, and tactics far beyond their brother Marines. Some of the equipment they used was so far outside standard that the other Legions cast disapproving eyes at them, while some wondered if some of the Storm Bringers gear was even of human origin. But those murmurs were often silenced by the sheer efficiency with which the II Legion, though still young and rather low in numbers, took dozens of worlds from their inhabitants into the welcoming arms of the Imperium of Man.

    As Captain Varus watched, two Space Marines quickly assembled a portable, long distance heavy cannon designed specifically to deal with armored threats from the distance. The heavy, snub-nosed weapon was set upon a tall tripod, too unwieldy to be used effectively by a single Marine, but perfect in stationary position – a design discovered and adapted on one of the more advanced worlds the Storm Bringers brought into the fold early in their crusade. Primarch Adrian Octavius himself did not like needless casualties, knocking the message into the heads of every single one of his captains, who by now preferred to engage at distance if possible, going into close combat only when absolutely necessary. The Storm Bringers were not an assault Legion if they could help it any.

    The long distance attack took the Marshadi walker unaware as bright blue ball of plasma crashed into it, burning through the framing of the water tower as if it was not there. A faint sound of something crashing in the distance reached Captain Varus’ enhanced hearing. He allowed himself a moment of satisfaction, then cursed and slid towards the nearest pile of rubble, taking cover.

    There were lines of the Marshadi infantry advancing on the Storm Bringers’ position, garbed in the utilitarian grey uniforms with very few, if any signs of distinction, holding their stubber rifles with trained military precision. They were supported by several walkers and at least five or six wheeled armored vehicles that passed for tanks on this world. Now this was serious opposition.

    “Defense pattern Gamma,” Captain Varus transmitted into his vox unit. All around him, the men of the Fourth Company spread out, taking cover wherever possible, setting up overlapping lines of fire and installing heavier weapons at the strategic points. Though being caught in the ruins of the torn city was far from an ideal defensive position, the Storm Bringers took advantage of every little bit of protection the ruins were going to give them, while ready to turn the field before them into the massive killing ground. The Primarch’s plan has worked; the Marshadi have critically weakened the heart of their operations, believing themselves secure from any assault.

    This, however, meant fairly little for Varus and the Fourth Company if they could not weather the assault. The numbers were clearly on the Marshadi side, the armor and the walkers giving them an additional edge. Varus wished for the Predators and the Land Raiders here, even though he knew the wish was futile; the armor was deployed in an assault on the other part of the city. It was a calculated decision to make the advance of the Fourth appear weaker than it actually was, unsupported by heavier weaponry, and playing to the strengths of the Storm Bringers rather than the more tradition minded Legions that oversaw the other attacks. It was hoped that their… experimental weaponry was going to provide sufficient boost to their already formidable fighting capabilities to withstand whatever the Marshadi threw at them, even if right now, Varus was not sure if it was going to work as intended.

    Here, the remains of a reasonably wide paved road were still passable, surrounded on both sides by gutted buildings with walls peppered with gunfire holes and small caliber plasma burns. The Captain thought that at one point, the buildings must have been much taller; as of now, only the ground floor still remained, in one case exposing a long, winding basement. It seemed that the Marshadi preferred to build their houses next to one another, leaving no space between the walls of one house and the walls of the next. The architecture, or whatever little of it still remained, was once decorated with natural and mythological motifs; even now, sightless eyes of some nymph stared aimlessly at the battlefield, while stone birds, scarred by shrapnel, still rose their wings towards the bloated red sun. Of its original colors little remained, buried under soot, grime, and burns.

    It was almost certainly the main street leading to the center of the city in times before the invasion; Isaac could imagine it as it once was, covered with flowers, banners, portraits and statues of ancient leaders and heroes of this planet… Now, it was to be no more; a wreck of the defiant past that had to give way to the future the Emperor and the Primarch intended for Marshad IV.

    There was only one approach towards the Storm Bringers’ current position, and the enemy appeared to be heading straight for it, giving no time to flanking tactics, or, for that matter, anything else. The throng of the Marshadi soldiers ran down the straight, wide passageway, aiming their stubber guns with bayonets attached to their ends in the direction of the Storm Bringers.

    “Heavy weapons squads, target the vehicles,” Varus ordered to the gruff acknowledgements of assent from his battle brothers. It was not a moment too soon; the Marshadi armor opened fire.

    The enemy vehicles were armed with large caliber cannon, more than sufficient to tear through the ranks of the Space Marines if given a chance; even now, the bombardment dislodged several battle brothers from their cover, sending bits and pieces of them fly when a lucky shot hit directly near the emplaced warriors. Again, Varus thought of all the things the tank captain was probably completely oblivious to, starting with the Marshadi’s mother and continuing on through the rest of his kin. “Get the bastards, now,” the Captain growled even as he pointed his bolter in the direction of the oncoming infantry. As powerful as his modified plasma gun was in close quarters, it was essentially a close range weapon; its shots dissipated quickly, and would have been practically useless at the distance the tanks were still at, almost half a mile.

    The first shots of the return fire went wide and over the heads of the attackers, but the Space Marines’ aim improved as they got more used to their new position. Even accounting for a slightly higher than normal gravity of Marshad IV, the bolter shots started impacting in the ranks of the infantrymen, aided by the targeting visors in the Space Marines’ helmets and the Astartes decades long training and genetically enhanced skill. The sounds of heavy weapons firing at the distant vehicles filled the air with the symphonies of mass destruction, the serenades of long distance death.

    Still, the Marshadi came on, firing wildly at the Storm Bringers position, raining a hail of small caliber rounds at the Space Marines under the thundering sounds of the tanks and their walker escorts advancing through the rubble. Isaac’s bolter began firing, still too far to do appreciable damage to the vehicles looming over the numerous silhouettes of the troopers, but close enough for the self-propelled explosive rounds to begin ripping the Marshadi soldiers to pieces.

    There were clearly at least five, maybe even six thousand Marshadi soldiers bent on overcoming the Fourth Company’s advance, pitted against two hundred Storm Bringers; on paper, this would have seemed like insurmountable odds for the Marines of the II Legion. In reality, this was far from decided.

    Autocannon fire joined the fray, cutting down the advancing soldiers with no regard for the pitiful armor they wore; there were distinctive sounds of heavy plasma guns being fired from cover now that the enemy troopers were close enough. At this distance, heavy plasma guns would have given pause to even heavily armored tanks, not to mention the much lighter walkers, and the Marshadi apparently decided to keep their vehicles at distance. Stink of burnt fuel and scorched flesh joined the olfactory cacophony over the battlefield as the remaining buildings were now under barrage from both sides, giving little chance of safety to the surviving civilians that hid within.

    By Isaac’s estimate, the initial wave of attack lost at least several hundred soldiers dead or wounded before it even came into the close quarters weapons range; it would likely lose even more to the Storm Bringers’ grenades and anti-personnel weapons fire before time would come to enter the hand to hand battle. Captain Varus did not relish the prospect; though the Storm Bringers were just as well trained and augmented as the rest of the Astartes Legions, he, just like many of his brethren, thought close combat to be something that every other legion did well; it was not what made them distinct from their brethren. But it was often a viable part of the overall strategy, and at times there was no escaping of it.

    He counted seconds until the enemy got close, firing bolter shells at them automatically, then switching to his plasma gun without thinking. The space within his sights became a swirling inferno as the superheated molecules escaped, flaying flesh from the bones, melting armor and weapons, leaving no trace of identity of those unfortunate enough to be hit by such a powerful, primal force. Captain Varus could see the enemy troopers avoid his position as much as they could, taking pains to veer to his sides only to wander into the similarly armed Space Marines. Now, the enemy had no choice but to either bring in the armor, or abort the attack.

    As Isaac saw the Marshadi tanks and walkers advance towards him, he realized that it was time to shift position. In a way, the Space Marines were uniquely equipped to deal with armored threats up close, but the enemy was unlikely to give them anything easily; before the enemy armor got close enough for the melta guns and the krak grenades and missiles to do their job, there was going to be an uncomfortable pause while the enemy was still pressing on, their heavy hitters still out of the effective range of the portable anti-tank weapons. At the very least, this was what he wanted the enemy to think.

    The heavy cannons of a kind that burned through the walker waiting in ambush earlier were going to become useful against the tanks much earlier than the enemy commander thought; safe in his knowledge, the Marshadi leader would advance right until he was in the killing ground with no chance to withdraw. And every moment the enemy armor was delayed was yet another moment for the Terminators to wreak havoc on the enemy’s command and logistical capabilities.

    Three, two, one, the countdown raced within Isaac’s head, estimating the range of the enemy armor. Already the tanks began shooting at the positions of the Storm Bringers, causing minor casualties and forcing some of the battle brothers to relocate, giving another lease on life to the thousands of the Marshadi infantry in the crossfires of the Fourth Company warriors.

    Captain Varus thought that the enemy commander made a critical mistake. A smart leader would have supported his infantry with the mechanized component of his force right away; whoever led the Marshadi let the soldiers advance on the Storm Bringers positions while hesitating, keeping his walkers and tanks safe for the moment but also only marginally useful in battle. This created an opening for the Fourth Company to engage the infantry without risking anything more than casual damage from the enemy heavy weapons, and Varus intended to take full advantage of this.

    “Melta teams, cut through those buildings,” he ordered on his vox-comm unit even as he fired at the unlucky congregation of the Marshadi soldiers, engulfing them in flames. “Engage the tanks from the flank. Second squad, third squad, lay down the suppressing fire. Fifth, sixth, and seventh squads, engage the enemy up close. First and fourth squads, be ready.”

    Isaac could see that the Marshadi were thrown into utter confusion. They expected the human wave tactic to put the Storm Bringers on the defensive instead of sixty Astartes charging suddenly into their ranks, power swords ablaze with lethal energy. And still the withering fire continued, slaying even more of the planet’s soldiers – but now, another element was introduced into the battle. With the Storm Bringers Assault Marines in the midst of the Marshadi host, the enemy tanks could not attempt to fire at them without hitting their own men.

    “First and fourth squads, advance on the tanks,” Captain Varus commanded. In the general chaos of the melee, with the Marshadi soldiers still disoriented and dying in droves, the lightly armored troopers presented perfect human shields to distract the tanks and the walkers, goading them into a position where they could take a clear shot… and be just within the range of the second and third squads’ melta guns.

    The Captain set aside the plasma gun, now too close to his own men to use it, and draw a simplistic, elegant looking yet well maintained power sword of Eldar design. The Fourth Company might not be able to truly eradicate the force almost thirty times their size in a simple engagement, but they did not need to; all they had to do was to destroy their heavy weapons platforms, and to inflict enough casualties to completely break the enemy morale. In spite of his logical self telling him that the running enemies were going to regroup and come back, Isaac Varus felt like the Space Marines may not only carry the fight, but also destroy their enemy thoroughly. “Ninth and tenth squads, engage at my signal.”

    “We are the Storm!” he screamed the Legion’s battle cry, charging into combat; across the broken cityscape, one hundred and sixty throats repeated it, except for the Space Marines of the second and third companies, sneaking in silence behind the rubble to strike at the Marshadi armor. Now even the heavy weapons teams joined the fray, unleashing their melee attacks with calculating precision that was long the hallmark of the Legion; one hundred and sixty Storm Bringers cut their way through many times their number of mere human soldiers like a scythe through the fields of ripe wheat.

    For a few seconds, the Marshadi stood and fought, desperately trying to inflict at least some damage upon the inhuman monsters from the stars; then, they broke. Finding no safety in numbers, the Marshadi soldiers ran, attempting to escape with their lives… and blocking any remaining openings for their heavy vehicles to fire. They were stampeding towards their tanks, crushing the unwary amongst them, the ranks who were still pushing on, unable to see what was happening where the fighting was the hardest.

    The sense of panic was contagious; even those Marshadi warriors who were far away from any actual fighting began to turn, often finding the bayonets of the confused soldiers behind them instead of any escape. Even as the Marshadi pushed against their own in their urge to escape with their lives, the Storm Bringers Space Marines kept on cutting into them, slaughtering the terrified soldiers who by now lost any semblance of order.

    Here and there sergeants and junior officers attempted to rectify the situation, rally the troops, but more often than not their cries for order went unheeded, as they were trampled under the feet of the uncontrollable mass of people. There was no chance at all for the Marshadi to regroup; the chaos was complete.

    Even now Isaac Varus was thoroughly surprised at the utter incompetence of the enemy commander. For all intents and purposes, he just threw away most of his assets, making his advantage in numbers and armor completely useless; Varus was certain that if the Marshadi commander somehow managed to survive the battle, he would have been shot by his own men.

    The tank cannons resumed firing; the Captain could barely believe his ears. The Marshadi were firing on their own, either in a vain attempt to stop the rout, or in utter disregard for how many of their infantry they were going to lose to bring down but a few Storm Bringers. The screams of the terrified men now became unbearable; some began fighting amongst themselves to make it out of the death trap between the Astartes and their own support vehicles. It was utter pandemonium out there, the masses of the Marshadi not even realizing that they were still outnumbering their foe many times over in a primal urge to save their own lives.

    Captain Varus felt the battle rage leave him; this here was no battle, but slaughter, in which there was no honor, no purpose but death itself. It was as if the human part of him finally took over from the feral, battle crazed beast within; the beast only urged to kill, feeding upon the rage and the hate of everything that was not of its kind – but the man within asked why, how, for what advantage? The man was a thinking, solemn being that did not relish the devastation his other, bestial half wrought, horrified at what his hands have done even as the beast let out a howl of martial triumph.

    By now, only the most desperate of the enemy soldiers still attempted to assault the Storm Bringers; most others tried as hard as possible to get away from them. The dead bodies formed virtual barricades in some parts of the street, making some of it utterly impassable; the stampede rolled on.

    In the distance, flashes of bright light told Isaac that the meltas did their job; the Marshadi armored contingent was now as good as gone in a matter of few seconds. “Second squad, requesting permission to engage,” a voice rang in his comm-bead.

    “Permission denied,” Varus said. “Second and third squads, take positions in the buildings, and keep on shooting at them.” The Captain did not want to leave the men in the path of the maddened stampeding horde, where they were at risk of being crushed by the sheer weight of the Marshadi. At the same time, it was important to reduce the enemy’s fighting strength, leaving very little that could threaten the Terminators teleport assault on the enemy headquarters.

    “Acknowledged.” There was a bitter note in the voice of the second squad’s sergeant; Varus remembered his face. Domitius was a brash man, far more so than was typical for the Storm Bringers recruits; unlike the most, he lived for close combat, and resented being assigned to the heavy weapons Devastator squad. Varus resolved to himself to bring up the question of transferring Domitius in the meeting of squad leaders as soon as it was humanly possible.

    “You’ll get your chance soon enough, Domitius,” the Captain said, in a somewhat conciliatory manner.

    On the battleground, things still looked as grim as ever. Some of the Marshadi tried to surrender; they were cut down where they knelt. The Storm Bringers had clear orders – anyone who fought against them was an enemy, and no provisions for prisoners were allowed. The Astartes force was simply too small to effectively oversee the captives without being bogged down by them. Some part of Isaac’s human nature revolted at the thought; the beast only licked its lips in anticipation of slaughter.

    His comm-bead came to life again, whispering static into his ear. “Varus,” he said, sensing anticipation. There were not many with the clearance enough to use this frequency.

    “Isaac,” the voice on the other end of the link was faint, distorted by the electromagnetic interference of pulse weapons fired from orbit, but it was hard to mistake it for anyone else. There was something to the voice of his Primarch that defied explanations – a unique timbre, a strange way of speaking that told Captain Varus instantly who that was.

    “How goes the plan?” Varus asked, not wanting to reveal the details where the enemy might be listening. There was little chance that the Marshadi had any way of linking into the Storm Bringers communications network, let alone breaking the encryption code, but it paid well to be cautious.

    “You mean, how it went?” Adrian Octavius laughed. “The ones that still live are clamoring on their knees trying to come up with every excuse under the Emperor.”

    “Then, it’s time to pack this thing up?” Most of the Astartes in the other Legions would have been horrified to hear the easy familiarity between the Primarch and his Captains, but the Storm Bringers were quite… different in that respect. Though just as disciplined as their battle brothers on the field of war, they took significant liberties with protocol outside of it. As it was the Primarch’s good mood seemed to somehow rub off on Varus, despite the grim nature of the battle he was still fighting in.

    “You know it,” the Primarch said. “The survivors should be signaling surrender any minute now.” The comm bead grew silent, again.

    “You can all stop now,” the Captain signaled to his men, who disengaged from the carnage with admirable speed and discipline; he saw that only a few of them were fallen. The Storm Bringers have easily slaughtered at least a thousand of their enemies, with even more perishing by stampede and tank fire, while losing perhaps fifteen of their own number in return, if that. “The Primarch and his guard have succeeded.”


    • #3
      Then - Karelius Majoris

      Damial felt the excitement of battle overtake him as he moved almost too fast for the naked eye, slamming the massive power maul into the head of the metal monstrosity arrayed before him. The weapon connected, sending pieces of metal fly across the dark hall, lit only by momentous flashes of sickly green light from the weapons of the skeletal machines as they tried, and failed to score a hit upon him.

      The Hell Riders guard was by now long gone, either slaughtered by the machines, or fleeing for their lives; Damial swore to himself that there would be reckoning with the cowards once he got out of this mess. No, he mentally corrected himself - if he got out of this alive and unscathed.

      There was damp condensation on the floor, littered with the remains of machinery long destroyed, worn out and useless. In this part of the catacombs, the worn plasteel that made up most of the Forge World’s constructions gave way to some kind of black stone, with strange, incomprehensible inscriptions carved into it in a language that Damial suspected was not even remotely human. There was a feeling of awesome, sleeping power here that he could not describe, feeling it seep in his exposed skin, sweeping him onto the tides of primordial, unknown terror.

      No, he reminded himself, you cannot succumb to this. You are Damial, the Tyrant Lord of Karelius Majoris. Fear is what the others do when they see you, when they hear your name. Fear is what you make of others, not what anyone or anything could make of you.

      The vast manufactoria of Karelius Majoris ran deep into the planet’s crust, where mechanized servitors and chained tech slaves mined for rare minerals, necessary to keep the production quotas of its former masters in the Techno Magos cult; all sorts of strange things could be found here, if one looked deep enough. Once upon the time, the Magi in their thick, insulated robes wandered through these halls, looking for the remnants of the ancient technology, or for a chance to perform their various experiments undisturbed. Now, the few surviving Magi served Damial, who was only interested in technology as far as it furthered his own rule, their power broken and scattered. Still, even now some of them dared to defy their new master, and lost themselves in the hallways below, in their fanatical dedication to the pursuit of lost knowledge, oblivious to the very real threat of punishment that waited for them upon their return to the higher levels of the Forge World, where the Tyrant Lord of Karelius Majoris made his seat.

      Damial was many things since he was first found, a child wandering through the topside levels of the Forge World where the acid rain and poisoned, toxic atmosphere made life nearly impossible for those who were not as heavily augmented as the techpriests themselves. He was a subject to the Magi’s many experiments on how much his powerful, well muscled body could endure; he was a tech slave, toiling in the mines and the factories below the planet’s surface once his erstwhile masters lost interest in him; he was the terror of the underhive, fighting the minor gangs of mutants and escaped slaves until they prostrated themselves before his superior strength and fighting skill, finally accepting him as the strongest, the fastest, the most ruthless of them all, a leader.

      Life in the underhive was hard and short, pointless and cruel; not many lived past their thirtieth birthday outside of the dubious protection offered by the Magi and their imposed order. But Damial persevered; step by step, his gang, the Hell Riders took over the hab blocks one by one, staying just outside the reach of the Techno Mages until he could finally make his move, and challenge them in the open. Battles followed, casting the planet in flames as the Forge World’s former masters took notice, sending squads of the heavily armed combat servitors into the underhive, only to lose all contact with them. By the time the Magi finally realized the extent of the problem, it was already too late.

      Damial led his ragtag armies into the upper levels of the hive, slaughtering everything that dared as much as look at him the wrong way, and laying waste to everything the increasingly more desperate Techno Mages threw at him. Thousands died throwing themselves at the heavily armed combat servitors and their techpriest masters, but if there was one thing Karelius Majoris did not lack it was people, and there were many more willing to die for their new master. More like being prodded upon the heavy weapons of the enemy, Damial reflected, but it still did the job.

      He was never liked; most people felt profound unease in his presence, while the rare few seemed to have been struck with panic attacks ending in spasms and sudden convulsions. No, Damial’s secret weapon was always the fear he inspired in them; the moment they started to fear him more than they feared the Techno Mages was the moment he felt himself become truly the master of Karelius Majoris. After that, the rest was but a mere formality.

      For the last battle, the Techno Mages brought forth their entire strength. Combat servitors marched through the plazas and the manufactoria of the Forge World side by side with the augmented skitarii warriors; robots marched in impossibly precise lines alongside the deadly weapons platforms of the Adeptus Mechanicus. And still they fell to the waves of poor, desperate people thrown at them by the Hell Riders, until the final attack led by Damial himself broke through the lines of the mechanized army, penetrating into the inner sanctum where the former masters of the planet pleaded in vain for mercy; there was precious little mercy given that day.

      It was that day that Damial learned an important lesson. His subjects might have hated and feared him, but they hated the techpriests more. Therefore, he resolved, it was important that they feared him more than the enemy, but hated the enemy more than they hated their master. Damial left only as many techpriests alive as was necessary to keep the Forge World functioning, and assumed the seat upon the Fabricator General’s throne, now as the Tyrant Lord of Karelius Majoris.

      The reminiscing almost cost him dearly as another automaton swung its cumbersome looking weapon at him, missing only due to the last second movement that carried Damial out of the machine’s immediate range. The creatures were something the Tyrant Lord had never encountered before; they were far tougher and faster than anything the Adeptus Mechanicus threw at him during his revolt. Damial wondered if they were something created in secret by the techpriests whom he and his retinue of Hell Riders pursued into the forbidden depths.

      There were six of them still left out of the original ten, one much larger than the others and holding a massive staff with a round glowing symbol on one tip, that it wielded as some sort of weapon; the machines moved in eerie silence, with only the glow of their dull green eyes giving away their presence to the senses of any but the Tyrant Lord himself. The Hell Riders, though all of them handpicked veterans of the rebellion, managed to dispatch two while losing almost all of their own number; Damial destroyed two more, noticing with some concern that the destroyed machines seemed to simply disappear after they fell instead of leaving bodies, or, indeed, any traces of their presence.

      Now, he danced between the shots of green light from the machines’ guns and the blades of the enemy warriors, trying to think of how to survive and, if possible, win. Up close, the machines had uncanny resemblance to unearthed skeletons, bringing to mind the legends of the undead shades that haunted the lowest, most remote levels of the underhive where even the bravest of the gangers did not dare to venture. There was something ragged to their appearance, as if they spent extreme lengths of time in dormancy, and only now returned back to the land of the living. Still, it did little to diminish their speed, their inhuman strength, the precision with which they moved and landed their mighty blows.

      Damial finally managed to blow the legs off one of the metal constructs, and grabbed the machine with one hand, holding the power maul with the other. Using the creature as a shield, he made his weapon connect with the torso of another, effectively separating it in two. Even as two of the remaining machines lunged at him, Damial threw the legless automaton at one of them, and crushed the skull of the other with his weapon, only to pirouette in a circular motion, continuing his momentum to slam the power maul into the machine still trying to free itself from its thrashing compatriot. With a quick swing of his arm, he finished off the legless machine, and faced the remaining two creatures.

      The smaller of the two black metal constructs attempted to fire its weapon at Damial even as the Tyrant Lord of Karelius Majoris proved too fast, too strong for it, striking the machine’s weapon before it could be aimed properly, and removing the arms of the automaton into the bargain. An upward thrust destroyed the machine, leaving Damial alone against the sole remaining deathlike creature.

      The Tyrant Lord swung his hammer, only, surprisingly, to find it blocked by the machine’s tall staff, apparently made of some material that could withstand the power weapon. They were almost close enough to be face to face with one another, and Damial could almost smell the scent that he associated with an abandoned burial ground, insomuch as such things existed on Karelius Majoris.

      Whereas the other creatures were rather easy for him to dispatch of, this opponent seemed to be almost as fast as Damial himself, and undoubtedly skilled with his weapon of choice. They sparred, and each time the Tyrant Lord of Karelius Majoris only barely evaded the machine’s swings and blows, being driven back with each step. He felt the wall at his back; there was not going to be much space left to retreat. White hot fury raged within Damial; this creature was about to best him, the toughest, the strongest of all of this planet’s inhabitants.

      All sense of sanity, all veneer of civilization was gone from the savage grin on Damial’s long, pale face as he attacked the machine creature, landing a flurry of blows that the automaton could only barely block. Now, the Tyrant Lord was driving his opponent back, and his fury was only growing. He thought of every single thing that ever went wrong through the years, every face that gave him the look of unbridled disgust and loathing, the machinery of the techpriests this creature reminded him of so much…

      “This is for your Omnissiah,” Damial screamed, forcing himself upon the creature with the full strength of his body, with the full force of the momentum. “This is for the mines, you son of a whore.”

      Every step became a pointed arrow, striking at the heart of the creature’s defenses. “This is for the meddling of your kind,” the Tyrant Lord hissed, landing a blow upon the creature’s fingers holding the staff, and making it lose its grip on the device for a brief moment.

      This moment was all Damial needed. He grabbed the staff with both hands, letting go of the power maul, and wrestling it out of the monstrous construct’s damaged hands that even now seemed to reform, as if the creature’s body was made of some kind of liquid metal, remembering its previous shape. With one momentous effort, Damial pulled the staff from the machine’s hands, using the far end of it to pin it down against the nearby pile of debris.

      As the disc at the end of the staff collided with the machine’s bulk, it was suddenly awash in sickly green light, the same that emanated from its now fallen and vanished compatriots. The machine’s skull face seemed to distort, as if it somehow experienced a sensation reserved only for the living flesh. And then, it simply vanished; the energies unleashed from the staff seemed to have utterly disintegrated the construct, as if nothing had happened.

      Was it all some sort of an illusion, Damial wondered? There were no traces of the killer machines that he could see; all that was left was his own aching body, the dull green glow of the metal walls, the dead bodies of the fallen Hell Riders… and the monster’s staff weapon in his hands.


      • #4
        Now – Marshad IV

        The victory celebration started late in the local evening as the II Legion requisitioned the former seat of the planetary government of the world that was now to be known as Eighty Three Eleven – that is, the eleventh planet subdued by the Eighty Third Expedition. It was an expansive building, easily large enough to fit in the entire Legion and then some, framed with marble and granite to give it a curiously minimalistic appearance from the outside. The building was built on a square base, with a huge dome rising up into the night sky, covered with gold and precious stones, with the engravings upon it being almost impossible to see with the naked eye from the ground.

        Inside, it was spacious, still filled with the statues and paintings of the planet’s long history; throngs of past leaders stared accusingly from the numerous alcoves as the luxurious furnishings were removed from the main hall, taking up most of the structure’s innards, to make space for two thousand Space Marines and their Primarch. There were still numerous draperies and expensive looking carpets in the room, mostly in various shades of bright red and deep forest green, even as they clashed with the image of warriors clad in black and yellow power armor cajoling about, congregating in smaller groups over food and alcohol.

        “I can’t say I don’t envy the poor fools on patrol,” Isaac Varus said, taking a swing of the pungent alcoholic liquid from an ornate chalice that was until recently in the possession of Marshad IV’s government for use in their frequent banquets and ceremonies. “This place is so ugly on the inside it hurts the eye to even look at it.”

        “Not everyone has your fine sense of aesthetics, Isaac,” his companion replied, sipping some quality of locally produced amasec slowly from a simple crystal goblet. “I can presume that the men of the Reserve Companies are not particularly pleased at being denied all the glory.”

        He was a tall man, towering even above his fellow Space Marines, clad in armor that seemed a bit more utilitarian than the most; there were but few ornaments of any kind on it, outside of the simple engraving of the names of the worlds the Legion subdued. Like many of the assembled warriors, his face was the color of healthy bronze, with no blemishes or scars upon it; there was an elegant looking power sword at his hip, with a holstered plasma pistol on his other side. Indeed, there was little indication that only a day ago, Primarch Adrian Octavius of the Storm Bringers, the II Legion was in the very midst of battle for this very city.

        “Not much glory in butchering these poor excuses for soldiers,” Isaac remarked. “Had they been led even remotely competently, they would have been dangerous.”

        “That’s what you get when you have a few inbred families running the planet for longer than anyone could have remembered,” said the Primarch. “They have always promoted their own over the people who had any actual skills, and it showed in the way their soldiers conducted themselves. As long as they feared their masters more than they feared us, they fought. When they realized we were far scarier than the local royals… you were there, I shouldn’t be even telling you that.”

        “It will be one case where a new Imperial governor might actually improve things,” Isaac chuckled. It was an unspoken practice to leave the local government in charge as long as they adhered to the Imperial policy and the official line, however, the rebellious worlds were usually assigned new governors from the pool of such individuals produced in great numbers at Terra, or raised to the title from one of the heroes of the conquering expedition. As often as not, the new governors found themselves thrust into the viper’s nest of politics that existed on any developed world; many found out to their own chagrin that ruling the planet in the name of the Emperor was much harder than it seemed at the first glance. Many more utilized force and military rule to keep their charges under the aquila; some went to the extremes that caused them to be even more hated than some of the governments they have replaced.

        “Got to be careful what you say when any of the boy scouts are around,” the Primarch replied. “Guilliman’s boys seem to think the Imperium cannot do wrong.”

        “Guilliman’s not here, Adrian,” said Isaac. “Neither are Dorn nor Lorgar.”

        “For once, I am glad that we got our own operation going,” Adrian remarked dryly. “I always feel like a freak on display in those war councils.”

        “Everyone trying to outdo one another with pomp. I can very much see that,” Isaac mused. “Or with sheer bravado.”

        “It just goes to show something,” Adrian said, taking another sip of his drink. “I swear, more often than not they act like little boys parading their latest toys in front of one another.”

        “Can’t really blame them though,” Isaac’s face grew contemplative. “Just about all of them came from the worlds where surviving to the next day was an achievement. They did not exactly have much time for sophistication, learning, or anything else.”

        “You might be right, old friend,” said the Primarch. “But sometimes I wonder what would have happened had I been discovered on one of those worlds. Would I have been like them? Would I have had my pet obsessions, like Guilliman with his rules and tactics, or Fulgrim with his perfectionism, or even Magnus and his psyker research?” Truth be told, Adrian liked Magnus, perhaps more so than the others; the two of them were probably the closest thing to kindred souls amongst the twenty Primarchs. What Adrian tried to understand with logic, reason, and science, Magnus attempted to uncover through the use of psychic and sorcerous powers, drawing ire and condemnation from the more traditionally minded amongst the Primarchs. Such doubts were alien to the Primarch of the Storm Bringers; everything in the universe could have been explained by proper application of logic and reasoning – even things that defied logic and reasoning at first, such as the psychic phenomena.

        And, unlike many of the others, Magnus was a civilized man, a true intellectual, more inclined towards intelligent discourse than blindly jumping into the fray at the earliest opportunity. In that, he was only matched perhaps by Fulgrim and Horus, and even then only partially; though the other Primarchs have adapted to civilized life with varying degrees of difficulty, they were the men who ultimately lived for conquest and slaughter, for heroic deeds and posturing. Even Rogal Dorn and Roboute Guilliman, both of whom spent their formative years on somewhat civilized worlds in positions of privilege and power, were still men of war first and foremost, before anything else.

        “Well, you were not,” Isaac said. “No use of wondering of what might have been.”

        “Perhaps you are right, old friend,” replied Adrian. The alcohol in the amasec did very little to his enhanced physique; it would have taken much more than that to make any Space Marine, let alone a Primarch, feel more than very slight intoxication. “All that should matter is that the Legion proved victorious today.”

        “You still have thoughts of your father, don’t you?” Isaac said, noticing a slight curving frown on Adrian’s lips, a squint in the eyes that could have been the beginnings of bitterness.

        “Isaac,” the Primarch said, sighing, “you know me all too well. It seems like there is never enough for him.”

        “Is it Horus?”

        “Not even that,” said Adrian. “It is as if he feels that I must prove myself just a bit harder than everyone else. He seems to accept the uncouth barbarian Russ, or the butcher Curze, or even Magnus, the mutant, much more than he ever seems to notice anything the Storm Bringers or, by extension, I do. And every planet we get sent to somehow seems to be unworthy of an Astartes Legion. It is as if he does not trust us to accomplish any harder task.”

        “Come with me,” Adrian said, pointing at the distant end of the hall, where a winding stairway led towards the tall, classical balcony. All around them the Storm Bringers toasted to one another, talking, discussing, partaking heavily in the food and the drink. There was a feeling of contentment in the air; the warriors of the II Legion were finally getting their due respite after the week of fighting that subdued Marshad IV for the Emperor and the Imperium, for the humanity.

        They were walking towards a balcony, where no other Space Marines could overhear their conversation. The view that it offered was either majestic or sad, depending on one’s point of view; there were still few fires rising into the night sky like the pillars of fire throughout the capital city of Marshad IV, although most of them were by now put out by the firefighters that came out following the surrender of the local rulers. Much of the city was still without power, and only several districts had their lights on, as if oblivious to the war that was just concluded less than a day ago; instead, the orange glow of the remaining fires gave much of the skyline a sinister, yellowish brown illumination.

        It was a fairly large city by this planet’s standards, containing perhaps a million or so inhabitants – Marshad IV was not a very populous world, containing less than half a billion humans in total. It was rediscovered only recently as the Great Crusade slowly crawled towards the Eastern Fringe, an unremarkable planet whose sole valuable commodity was its strategic location. From here, an aspiring general could lead his armies on the conquest of the entire sector, supplying his forces with ordnance and provisions from the rich resources of Marshad system, while using its massive gas giants as a makeshift refueling station for the Legion’s battle fleet.

        “You know that I trust you, Isaac,” Adrian said, leaning against the marble and plasteel railing. “We have talked about things that no one in the other Legions even suspects; to any of my brothers, even Magnus, they border on heresy. But have you ever wondered why we do this?”

        “To unite the disparate realms of man, to make them rule the galaxy, safe from the depredations of the aliens and the heretics, right?” There was a noticeable sneer in Captain Varus’ voice. “At least that is the official line. But I doubt you dragged me all the way here to discuss the official line.”

        “You see,” Adrian said pensively, “I am of two minds on this entire enterprise. I can sense the need for it, understand it intellectually, but at the same time, it feels as if something is missing from the whole picture. We may bring humanity together, but at what cost? And what will humanity become once it has been united?”

        “You are thinking that it will usher in another Dark Age of Technology,” replied Isaac. “What was it that the philosopher said, the future is but poorly remembered past?”

        “I don’t know,” the Primarch sighed. “I really don’t know. Perhaps this is why father does not seem to have much faith in the Storm Bringers. It is as if he can sense the doubts.”

        “There is no denying that he seems to favor Horus over all,” the Captain said. “And if there is anyone with no doubts at all, it would be him.”

        “I guess I am just not entirely convinced that his is the right cause. Do not get me wrong, I am grateful for him taking me from Byzantion Tertius, and giving me a chance to do something more… worthwhile. But am I making the universe a better place, or am I slowly reducing it to something less than it once was?”

        “These are not the thoughts of a Space Marines Primarch,” Isaac said. For all that Adrian would occasionally discuss with his closest friend in the Legion, this was a revelation. No other Primarch seemed to have much doubt over the need for their mission, or its methods; most of their squabbles were over who got to satisfy his instinct for conquest and domination first, and whose methods were more effective at it. Even if they did not care much for the goals of the Great Crusade, they have certainly accepted and embraced its means.

        “You are right, they are not,” Adrian answered. “There is little doubt that this is exactly what I am, and yet I keep on wondering. I do not care much for all of the things that we have to do. The Storm Bringers are not mindless ravening fanatics that some of my brothers’ Legions turned out to be. We approach things far more critically, with things other than blind extermination in mind. What I do not understand is what we are truly building – what will come after.”

        “There is only so much we can do now,” said the Captain. “You are talking like you have already despaired of the battle that did not even begin yet.”

        Truth be told, there was a fine edge between the desire for acceptance and the desire for purpose within Adrian. Most of the worlds the Storm Bringers have subdued were wayward human colonies; a few of them were brought into the fold quickly and by mostly peaceful terms, while some others, like Marshad IV, resisted fiercely at first before being subjugated. The II Legion did what it was asked to do, without outward complaining or hesitation, but it was now clear to the Primarch that they were seemingly thrown against the weaker targets, as if their loyalty or fighting capability was suspect.

        He thought of the way the Legion replenished its ranks. Perhaps uniquely amongst the other Legions outside of Rogal Dorn’s Imperial Fists, the Storm Bringers did not have a permanent home world, residing instead aboard the fleet of battleships that took them from one war zone to the next. When they did recruit new Marines, they did not go seeking the harsh, feral worlds that were filled to the brim with strong, tough, martial men of little education outside of the field of battle. Instead, the Storm Bringers sought civilized worlds, taking in the best recruits from the military academies on those planets, already trained in the conventional battle techniques, but also educated, knowledgeable, intelligent. Perhaps this was why the Legion’s character turned out differently from its brother Legions; perhaps this was also why the Space Marines of the Storm Bringers thought in terms that were often almost seditious to their more tradition-bound brethren.

        It was an unorthodox method, and the Emperor did not seem particularly approving of it, even if it did result in a Legion that was more comfortable utilizing technological artifacts and inventing new battle doctrines than the rest; it also resulted in a Legion that preferred to engage at the distance if at all possible, while relying more on technology and superior genetic modifications of its Astartes warriors up close than on any particular kind of aptitude. The Assault squads amongst the Storm Bringers were perhaps less adept than their equivalents elsewhere; it was through the extended Devastator training for their tactical and other units that the II Legion obtained some of its more difficult victories.

        Still, the Storm Bringers were a relatively young Legion, it only made sense that their victories were still few… but the quality of the opposition they were presented with was unsatisfactory at best. Despite his doubts at the final purpose of his mission, Adrian longed to be faced with a world that would allow him to show the Storm Bringers’ best qualities – to gain acceptance from his father for the unorthodox strategies and methods they often employed. A chance that seemed to be just around the corner.

        “I didn’t think you have brought me here to share some of your doubts,” Isaac said, breaking the momentary silence.

        “I did not,” the Primarch answered. “There is something else.”


        “I got the news of our next deployment,” Adrian spoke, then elaborated. “It seems that the Ultramarines encountered something they could not handle on their own, and they are calling in the reinforcements.”

        “Where would that be?” asked the Captain.

        “Viridian Primaris,” Adrian said. “Technically they controlled several systems around it, but those fell to Guilliman’s boys with little trouble. It was the capital world that the Ultramarines stumbled on.”

        Captain Varus chuckled. After Horus, Roboute Guilliman was probably the closest thing to a model of what a Space Marines Primarch should have been; for a Legion that already endured sideward glances for its lack of adherence to the established doctrine and modes of thinking, being called upon when the more poster boys faltered was as close to a compliment as they could get. “I guess Horus does not think us so useless after all now, does he?” Isaac said.

        “Apparently not,” the Primarch agreed. “But then, the mind of Horus Lupercal works in strange ways.”

        “If I may guess,” said Isaac, “those ‘strange ways’ are Angron’s psychotic mob, and perhaps Perturabo and his Legion.”

        “Horus is not that obvious,” Adrian smiled, in spite of himself. “We are to join the Ultramarines, the Raven Guard, the White Scars, and…” he paused, and his face acquired an expression of somewhere between puzzlement and disgust, “the Ghost Riders.”

        “The Ghost Riders?” Captain Varus asked. “They are the newest Legion, right?”

        “Not exactly,” Adrian replied. “The Alpha Legion is younger, but only by a few years, if that. They have reputation as dealing with… weird things”.

        “You mean, they are like Magnus and his Thousand Sons?”

        “I think there is something more to them,” the Primarch said. “There is not much known about who they really are, or what they do. Or, for that matter, why they are on that campaign.”

        Usually, Adrian Octavius could tell from the nature of the forces gathered what kind of opposition they were likely to face. If Angron’s Legion was involved, then it was almost certainly going to involve close combat. If the Thousand Sons were requisitioned to join the fray, the enemy was likely to fall easily to the psyker powers. If the enemy was relentless, and a battle of attrition was expected, Mortarion’s Death Guard was often chosen by Horus, the supreme strategist of the Great Crusade. But this was somewhat unexpected.

        The White Scars specialized in fast strike tactics, with their jetbike riding Marines and rapid deployment skills; the Raven Guard were adept at infiltration and sabotage, while the Ultramarines were about as close to a balanced Legion with no special skills or weaknesses as any Legion outside of the Luna Wolves came. With the technological and the ranged combat skills of the Storm Bringers, the final mixture of the Legions ordered to gather for an assault on Viridian Primaris spoke little of the strategy employed by Horus.

        And then, there were the Ghost Riders, the unknown, the XI Legion. It simply did not add up.

        “When do you intend to tell the men?” Isaac asked. “They deserve to know.”

        “Soon,” said the Primarch. “They have deserved their rest before we’re off to another war zone.”


        • #5
          Then - Karelius Majoris

          Damial felt a shift in the air almost the very instant he banished the automaton, still clinging on to the fallen creature’s staff weapon. It felt unnaturally light in his arms; the feeling of its power coursed through his veins. Somehow the Tyrant Lord of Karelius Majoris felt the weapon become a part of him, as if it was forged just for his sole use. It was natural, as if the staff was an extension of himself.

          He caught his breath, feeling his pulse slow down. Still, the unnatural energies in this room did not abate, even if the feeling largely avoided him; it was as if there was a zone around Damial where utter calm prevailed, with only the far edges of the hall exhibiting strange phenomena. He let a low, feral growl come from his lips; there was something amiss here, and it was almost certain to be hostile.

          Damial saw the figures appear from the hallway, running at full speed in their white armor towards him, human-like, yet somehow different, fast, sleek, graceful. Their helmets were long, almost egg-like, covering the entirety of their faces; there were weapons in their hands, both strange looking guns and what seemed like some kind of spears. The Tyrant Lord has never seen anything like them in flesh, but he knew what they were, from the assorted holopicts in the vaults of the techpriests. The Eldar; he cursed under his breath, readying himself for these new arrivals.

          “This world is mine, you hear it?” he screamed at the top of his lungs, standing with the massive staff in both hands and assuming a combat ready stance. Every muscle in his body cried out to crush, destroy them, rip out their throats in a fit of battle rage. This was his world; the aliens had no business meddling here.

          All of a sudden, the charging Eldar just… stopped. It was as if they hit the wall, so sudden and rapid was the halt in their movement. Several of them just… fell down, as if struck down by some invisible force. There were about twenty of them, and now some of the Eldar started to fire, almost blindly. Their shots were off the mark wildly; it was nothing like what Damial expected the alien warriors to be like.

          With a roar of bloodlust, the Tyrant Lord of Karelius Majoris charged at the mass of the Eldar, clearly disoriented, before they could gather their wits and bring their full force at him. Some of their shots almost hit him, but the closer he got to them, the less accurate their fire became; at least a quarter of the Eldar were curled up in the fetal positions on the floor, their inhuman, normally graceful bodies twitching and seemingly wracked with pain. The remaining warriors charged him with their strange blades, twisting with nearly impossible speed to avoid Damial’s first swing.

          The Tyrant Lord felt a unique connection with his weapon, forgetting instantly about the power maul that lay somewhere on the littered floor. The staff was an extension of his arms, an extension of his will, and he now desired the death of all that opposed him. It was as if something within him clicked, arranging his mind into a new configuration that was at once sleek and deadly. Damial felt like he was the living incarnation of death itself; his will was destruction made manifest.

          All of a sudden, the staff lit up with the brighter shade of the green flame; the Eldar, as much as could be told from their bodies, inhuman and obscured by helmets and armor, seemed to jerk away from him, as if terrified. There was a flash of light, and within an instant, three of the Eldar warriors appeared to have vanished, disintegrated by Damial’s weapon. This was power beyond that which he thought possible with the meager tools of destruction he used before; he cried out in exultation, and drove on into the aliens.

          A single swing of the staff caught two unwary, panicked Eldar warriors, driving through their bodies as if they were made of fluid goo. Even as he killed the aliens, another one of the Eldar seemed to have overcome the panicked terror of the others, and attempted to cut at Damial’s back. The Tyrant Lord swirled with the speed that matched the alien warrior, backhanding him before the blow could connect. The Eldar flew back from the force of Damial’s strike; curiously, the human found the alien to be almost weightless. There was no time to celebrate, however, as those of the aliens that were not on the ground came upon him again, their blades painting arcs of metal fire across his vision.

          The Tyrant Lord ducked under one of the blows, stabbing the warrior with his weapon. There was a satisfying scream emerging from the alien, pained, tortured, and somehow thoroughly inhuman. With no time to waste, Damial swung his staff like a polearm, cutting off limbs and cleaving the bodies as the weapon met almost no resistance when passing through the Eldar armor. Again he marveled at its power - such precision, such strength, such awesome potential for destruction.

          By now fully half of the Eldar that attacked him were gone, dead, broken; the rest were fighting a losing battle, as if something was sapping away their strength the closer they got to him. Was it yet another one of the weapon’s effects?

          Damial lifted one of the Eldar from the ground with his left hand, wielding the weapon in his right to stave off another attacker; a quick squeeze broke the alien’s neck, leaving its body slumped and useless on the floor. The other Eldar attempted to block the staff with his own pole arm-like blade, only to see it cleaved in two with seemingly no effort. The next thrust of Damial’s weapon struck the alien straight in his face; bright red colored blood splurted out of the broken helmet, crystallizing within moments of contact with air.

          By now he lost count of how many aliens he slew; they were a far cry from their fearsome reputation, falling to him like children fighting a well trained killer. The closest the remainder came to hurting him was when the last three Eldar still standing launched themselves at him from all sides, losing all semblance of coherence or discipline, and attempting to smother him with the blades attached to their hands and elbows. Even then, Damial was barely delayed.

          He twisted out of the way of one, head butting another, and using the staff to dismember the last of the aliens. The Eldar stunned by a hit from the Tyrant Lord’s head appeared to be writhing in pain on the floor, and all it took for Damial to finish him off was but a short leap, a step upon the creature’s throat, where the human’s massive weight crushed the life out of the alien. The final Eldar still standing had no chance, caught by Damial’s jump back into the fray, and disemboweled by the staff before two seconds have passed.

          Only now, that the Eldar warriors were dispatched of, the Tyrant Lord of Karelius Majoris turned his attention to the aliens shaking in panicked convulsions on the ground. There were four of them; two were the helmeted warriors similar to those he just slew, and quick swings of the staff ended their lives before they had a chance to even beg for mercy. The other two were bare headed; one looked superficially like a human male in his late middle age with sharp, cruel features upon his smooth skinned face, now distorted with anguish. He tried to move as Damial got closer, but was unable to even lift himself up as the Tyrant Lord slew him, planting the staff deep in the alien’s chest.

          The last of the Eldar was a female of exquisite, elfin beauty; had she been human, her features could have been described as classical. Only the pointed ears and the eyes of strange color betrayed the fact that she was not human; there was a splattering of crystallized alien blood on the face, contorted into powerless rage or sheer terror. Her long auburn colored hair, previously tied in a knot on the top of her head, was now in utter disarray. Every moment there were muscles twitching on her face and body, as if she was in a great deal of physical pain and struggled to control it. Surprisingly, though the alien looked to be near death, her lips moved, like she was trying to say something.

          “A..a…abomination,” a faint whisper escaped her lips in strangely accented Low Gothic. “Soulless abomination,” she pushed out despite her obvious pain and terror. Damial was going to kill her too, but for the moment, he was intrigued. He reached out and grabbed the Eldar woman, lifting her face to his own.

          As he did so, the alien let out a pained screech, as if his very touch was molten iron, burning and scarring her for life. With a surprising burst of strength, the Eldar woman tried to wrestle out of his grasp, but was no match for the Tyrant Lord.

          “I am the Tyrant Lord of Karelius Majoris,” Damial hissed at her, “and you will treat me with the due respect, alien.”

          “You are a mon-keigh abomination,” the alien whispered, struggling to push even these words out. “The likes of you should not exist!”

          “What are you doing on my world,” the human growled menacingly.

          “Now the Ancient Enemy will wake, and devour all of you,” said the Eldar woman. It seemed as if speaking took an immense toll on her, even though Damial could see no obvious physical injuries. “Even a soulless creature like you will not be safe from them. Even their weapon you bear will not save you and your accursed kind.”

          Pieces began to connect in Damial’s mind. The machine creatures he fought… they must have been the Ancient Enemy the Eldar spoke of.

          “Your Ancient Enemy fell by my hand, alien,” the Tyrant Lord said, mockingly. “And you will join them soon.”

          “Stupid mon-keigh,” the Eldar squeezed out. “When they wake, they will be without number. You think that a mere resurrection cell was all of the Ancient Enemy? They will be back before you know it, and nothing you do will stop them.”

          “And nothing you will do will stop this,” Damial replied, twisting the alien’s neck and almost tearing off her head from her shoulders. There was a movement in the air, as if something was displacing it, moving incredibly fast; within a fraction of a second, the Tyrant Lord was on his feet, staff in his hand and ready to meet the next challenge.

          “I am not your enemy,” he heard a loud baritone voice call out from some distance into the hall, at least fifty or so feet away from him. Cursing at himself for letting someone sneak up on him, Damial turned to face the speaker.

          The voice came from an incredibly tall man clad in golden power armor with the symbols of the double-headed eagle emblazoned upon it, holding a glowing power sword in his hands. The stranger was clearly an off-worlder, bronze skinned, with a mane of long black hair falling upon his shoulders and framing the sharp, predatory, aquiline face - a sharp contrast to extremely pale, white haired Tyrant Lord, the only color in whose face was in the eyes of red so deep that they might as well have been the color of blood itself in the sickly illumination of the Forge World’s catacombs. Damial have not seen natural sunlight in years, having lived in the tunnels below the top levels of the planet until he could topple its former overlords - and even then, Karelius Majoris was covered in perpetual gloom of smog and polluted clouds; even from outside the hive, illumination was minimal, and natural tan was unheard of. Albinism was common in the lack of vitamins and healthy foods for most of the planet’s population; not many could afford to remain well nourished on the subsidence foodstuffs grown in the massive vats, and as a consequence, most of the world’s people were undernourished, thin, and wiry.

          “What do you want?” Damial asked. “What are you doing on my world?”

          “You are truly formidable, Tyrant Lord,” the stranger said. “Not many men could boast of dispatching the entire Eldar strike team all by themselves.”

          “You will find out just how formidable I truly am if you do not tell me your business,” Damial said. He had little patience left after the two exhausting fights one after another, and the feral rage within him still did not subside, waiting but for another chance to fight, to kill again.

          “I have no doubt now,” said the offworlder. “You are truly one of the Twenty.”

          “Twenty of whom?” The stranger now seemed uncomfortable as Damial made several steps towards him.

          “There are at least two hundred Eldar nearby,” the newcomer said. “They will be here soon, and not even you will be able to stand them off all by yourself.”

          “This is the last time I will ask, who the warp are you?” Damial growled.

          “I have come to return you to your birthright, Damial,” said the stranger. “But it will only be so if we leave before the Eldar reinforcements arrive. Come with me.”

          There was a strange power in his words that made the Tyrant Lord follow. Somehow, Damial’s hands still held the alien weapon, his power maul lost and forgotten on the catacombs floor. The closer Damial got to the offworlder, the more uncomfortable the other man seemed. It was as if the Tyrant Lord’s presence held some strange sway over the stranger, causing him a very real degree of physical discomfort and pain. Still, the stranger appeared to be handling himself well; only the unnatural stillness of his face hinted that something was not entirely to his liking.

          “Amusing,” the stranger said. “So this is why I could not sense you in the Warp.”

          This was almost too much; first, the Eldar woman, now this offworlder. “Explain,” said Damial curtly. “Now. Or you will find me to be much more dangerous than the Eldar.”

          Surprisingly, the stranger laughed. It was a nervous sound, but laughter nevertheless.

          “You really have no idea, do you?” he said, looking at Damian as if he saw something that he did not notice before. “Then, no one on a world such as this one would know a blank if they saw one.”

          “A blank?” puzzlement appeared in the Tyrant Lord’s voice. “What is it?”

          “I will explain later,” the stranger said. “But it is what makes you unique amongst all the others. For all intents and purposes, you nullify the psychic energy around you, making you immune to the powers of the psykers. It hurts psykers to even be near you, like the Eldar Farseer you just slew. When they are near you, they cannot use any of their powers.”

          Now, Damial felt some disappointment; had he known, he would have attempted to keep the Eldar woman alive for as long as it would take him to torture her with his presence; the alien’s suffering was quite fascinating to him. What the stranger told him made sense - perhaps even too much sense.

          “The alien called me a soulless abomination,” he said coldly, letting just a little bit of the feral rage slip into his voice. Before he even noticed it, both of them were already walking through the winding corridors, retracing the steps of the Hell Riders search party back towards the upper levels of the hive.

          “It is an overly simplistic way of putting it,” the stranger replied, keeping some distance between himself and Damial. “The Eldar have many strange beliefs; a race as old as them is bound to think in very… different terms.”

          “What do you want with me?” the Tyrant Lord asked. It occurred to him that he knew nothing about the other man - not even his name, while the offworlder seemed to be strangely informed about him. It was an unsettling thought, reminding him of the techpriests’ experiments on him and other unfortunates, many years before this day. Yet there was something about the other man that did not give off the impression of malevolence or indifference; though the stranger appeared to be discomforted by Damial’s presence, he showed no signs of uncontrollable terror. The other man met the Tyrant Lord’s eyes with his own, and his gaze was strong, indomitable. It was the kind of strength Damial himself possessed, and respected in others.

          “I have something to give you, something that is yours by birthright,” the offworlder said. “A Legion of Space Marines to mold in your image as you see fit. A galaxy of worlds to conquer in the name of humanity. All the glory and honor you could possibly wish for, as a demigod amidst the mortals. A place by the side of your brothers in the Imperium of Man.”

          “And who are you, a messenger? You don‘t strike me as a kind of a man that would take orders from the others.” For all of Damial’s amazement, this sounded almost too good to be true - an escape from the blighted world of Karelius Majoris into the universe where he would no longer have to struggle merely to survive, where his skills in the art of battle were welcomed and admired, not feared.

          “Me?” the stranger seemed amused by a question. “Damial, I have created you and the others before you were stolen from me. I have created the XI Legion - your genetic sons, from your genetic material; even now they wait for you to join them and lead them on to victory. I am the Emperor - and I am your father.”


          • #6
            Now - High Orbit Over Viridian Primaris

            The massive fleet gathered over the steel grey globe of Viridian Primaris below looked like a swarm of wasps ready to take down their prey, seemingly surrounded and helpless against the multitude of enemies. Fully five Space Marine Legions sent detachments here - the Ultramarines, masters of every weapon and tactic under the stars; the White Scars, the terror flying on their speedy jet bikes to bring destruction to the enemy before the enemy could retaliate; the Raven Guard, masters of subterfuge and sabotage, striking behind the enemy lines; the technologically savvy Storm Bringers - and the XI Legion, the Ghost Riders. As he prepared himself for the strategy meeting with the other Primarchs, Adrian Octavius of the Storm Bringers could not help but feel some anticipation at meeting the leader of the XI Legion; the two of them have never met face to face, having only known each other’s names, and little more.

            Adrian tried to remember everything he knew about the Primarch of the Ghost Riders, and found out that for the most part, he was drawing a blank. Damial, frequently known as Damial the White, or the White Ghost, was an enigmatic figure; found on a fallen Forge World of Karelius Majoris, he was known to have led an uprising that placed him in charge of the planet, wrestling control of it from the Techno Magi that ruled it - but beyond that, preciously little was known about how he accomplished, how he was found, or even what he was like. The only Primarch that kept more secrets was the youngest, Alpharius, and Adrian have only met him once, getting a distinct impression that there was more about the Alpha Legion’s master than met the eye, and that he was unlikely to ever find out.

            The meeting was held upon the Ultramarines Battle Barge, the Wrath Of Macragge, which even now held geostationary orbit above the main groundside operations site. It was a massive vessel, housing at least twenty full companies and their equipment at full capacity, although now it has been relatively empty, with most of the Ultramarines dug in on the planet below. Roboute Guilliman set aside a large hall for the meeting with his brother Primarchs, attended to only by the mind wiped servitors and small numbers of honor guard; the real deliberation would begin once the honor guard stood outside the hall’s double armor plated doors, and the tactical situation groundside could be accessed.

            Adrian left the small group of trusted Captains at the doors as he walked into the meeting room, squinting his eyes at the simulated sunlight coming from the ceiling; had he not known he was on board a spaceship in high orbit, he could have thought the meeting took place on some sunny, pleasant planet during the late morning. He noticed Guilliman, Corax, and Jaghatai Khan were already there, towering over the servitors and casting glances at him.

            The three men were all equally large and powerful, but that was where the similarity ended. Guilliman looked the very picture of a professional warrior from a semi-civilized world, his blond hair cropped short atop the angular, strong tanned face that held on to a serious, humorless expression; his armor was largely blue with white highlights, decorated with the numerous aquilas, skulls, and the inverted omega symbol of the Ultramarines. Pale, black eyed and black haired Corax had a somewhat haunted look about him; there was a jerky quality to his movements, as if he was uncomfortable being in the open, preferring the closer confines. The armor of the Raven Guard Primarch was almost completely black, with the aquila and the Legion symbol displayed somewhat prominently in white. Jaghatai Khan had a very different complexion from his brothers, being somewhat darker skinned, with the long mustache and the facial features that reminded Adrian of nothing as much as a savage, sleek, and strong predator in white and red of his Legion; there were twin scars upon his cheeks, the mark from which the Legion took their name, and inflicted upon all of its Space Marines as a part of their initiation ritual. The Storm Bringers Primarch recalled that Jaghatai Khan came from a feral world where the life was short, hard, and brutal; he looked like a man shaped by merciless environment into an unstoppable force of nature, like an unmovable giant of rock, sleek and graceful when he had to be, yet indomitable in his strength.

            “Brother Adrian,” Guilliman greeted him with little trace of any emotion, positive or negative. “It is good to have you and the Storm Bringers with us.” The other Primarchs nodded their agreement.

            “Roboute, Corax, Jaghatai, we are honored to be here. I trust all is well with you?” Adrian said formally. He was not particularly close with any of them; all of the others have led hard lives of warfare and conflict even before the Emperor discovered them, and always seemed to look down on someone like the Primarch of the Storm Bringers, whose first participation in any major conflicts was the Great Crusade itself.

            “All would be well, if not for the pesky bastards down there,” Jaghatai Khan said, some annoyance creeping into his voice, casting a sidelong glance at Guilliman. “They are dug in well enough that even orbital bombardment does not seem to dislodge them.”

            “Any word on when our younger brother arrives?” Corax said, injecting some sardonic undertone into his words.

            “His fleet just emerged from the Warp about two hours ago,” Guilliman answered. “Beyond that, who knows? Dear Damial is an enigma at best.”

            Somehow, Adrian got a distinct feeling that the other Primarch did not particularly care for Damial the White.

            “Not just to you,” Corax said. “I still don’t really understand what it is about him, but any time he is in the room, it makes my skin crawl. If Horus did not want him here, I could have done just as well without him and his creeps around.” Jaghatai Khan said nothing, but there was something about his posture that suggested he did not entirely agree with the other two.

            As soon as Corax grew silent, the doors opened again, and the Primarch of the Ghost Riders walked - no, it was more like creeped - into the meeting room, and Adrian had to stop himself from gasping. Intellectually he knew what the man was supposed to look like, but seeing the pictures and witnessing the living, breathing reality were two very different things.

            Damial was tall and broad shouldered just like his brother Primarchs, walking with a strange gait that seemed as if he was more used to the confined spaces; there was some similarity in the way he moved to that of Corax. His long, disheveled looking fine hair was pure white, just like his skin; where Corax was merely very pale, Damial was actually completely devoid of any pigmentation; for all intents and purposes, he was a true albino. The Ghost Riders Primarchs’ eyes were crimson red, casting a sinister stare over all others gathered; his armor was dark grey and black, with only the symbol of his legion - a curving scythe with the jagged blade.

            “Brothers,” he said in a slightly hoarse voice. There was something entirely unpleasant about him being in this room, even if Adrian could not put a finger on it; it was like the entire meeting location grew suddenly more chill with Damial’s arrival. “I am honored to meet you for the first time, brother Adrian Octavius of the Storm Bringers,” he said, tone formal and calm. “The word of your victory on Marshad has carried far and wide.”

            “It will be an honor to fight by your side, brother Damial of the Ghost Riders,” Adrian replied in a similarly formal and neutral voice. There was something about the newcomer that was unnerving in the least, even though his demeanor was perfectly civil. For some reason, Adrian felt an intense dislike for the man.

            “It is great for you to finally join us, Damial,” Guilliman said with a hint of disapproval in his voice. “I trust you have brought a sufficient force of your warriors?”

            “I have three companies finishing the pacification of Arais, and another seven tied up in the operations against the Eldar pirates in the sector; another ten companies are occupied elsewhere, but forty more companies are here and ready to join in the assault,” he said. “Four thousand Space Marines, fully equipped and eager for the fight.”

            It was a force at least one and a half times of Adrian’s entire Legion; the Storm Bringers were, perhaps one of the smallest Legions in all of the Adeptus Astartes outside of the Thousand Sons. It was almost surprising how Damial managed to obtain such a force within less than thirty years since his discovery; he had to have had a large reserve of possible recruits to augment the original warriors brought from Terra.

            “Then, the plan should be relatively simple,” Guilliman said. “Brother Adrian, what is the size of the Storm Bringers contingent?”

            “Ten companies - two thousand Space Marines,” he replied, then, noticing curious glances, elaborated. “Our companies are organized in larger units than the most. It is a part of our tactical doctrine to have each company as a potentially self-sustaining unit with the full range of access to all styles of combat, and all types of weaponry.”

            Guilliman frowned, but nodded nevertheless. “This force should be adequate for our purposes,” he said. “I have the word from Horus that I am to have operational authority here.” Neither Corax nor Jaghatai Khan seemed to protest; Damial’s jaw hardened, but he said nothing. Adrian expected little else; Guilliman was perhaps the most experienced of them all in the conventional warfare tactics, and had the largest proportion of forces on the ground.

            “I have seven thousand of my Ultramarines on the ground,” Guilliman said, “currently dug around the citadel that is supposed to house the enemy government. There are three thousand of the Raven Guard Marines here, and five thousand of the White Scars. With the Ghost Riders and the Storm Bringers, we have a total of twenty one thousand Astartes on the ground, not including the supporting forces.”

            “No Imperial Army units in support?” Damial asked, somewhat incredulous.

            “Just us,” said Guilliman. “Should be more than enough, even with much of our Legions deployed elsewhere.”

            “What’s the tactical situation on the ground?” Adrian queried. “I cannot imagine that it takes the forces of five Astartes Legions to subdue one miserly planet.”

            “The rulers of Viridian Primaris are using something… strange,” Corax raised his voice. It was almost a whisper, but somehow loud enough to resonate through the room. “Their soldiers keep on fighting even long after they should have been long dead. And it seems they are raising their fallen to fight again, and to march into battle with the repulsive creatures of unnatural origin by their side.”

            “They have the numbers,” Guilliman said, “but there is nothing new about that. It is the use of whatever it is they throw at us that gave my Legion a pause.”

            “Do they bleed?” Damial asked, to the looks of no comprehension whatsoever from his fellow Primarchs.

            “What?” Jaghatai Khan said, incredulous.

            “If they bleed, they can be killed,” the Ghost Riders Primarch said. “This is what it really boils down to.”

            “Good luck making those pus-ridden filth bags bleed, then,” Guilliman said. “The plan is to have my Ultramarines hold the line here,” he motioned to the map that spun to life obediently on the screen of the holo-projector. “Jaghatai’s White Scars will perform hit and run attacks across the entire enemy line to try and lure them out. Corax and his Legion will attempt to use the confusion to infiltrate behind the enemy lines, and to strike at the critical points in the fortifications, and disable the anti-air and anti-space weaponry.”

            “That is still only three Legions out of five,” Adrian said. He had a feeling that whatever he was about to hear now, he was not going to like very much.

            “I did not finish yet,” Guilliman replied, with a barely suppressed growl of frustration. “Perhaps your acute observations can be put to use in the next part of the battle plan, Adrian.”

            “Your tactics on Marshad IV, however, were quite inspirational for the next phase,” Guilliman conceded. “Once much of the enemy battle line is drawn towards the Ultramarines, and the anti-air and the anti-space defenses have been neutralized, the Ghost Riders and the Storm Bringers will conduct either an orbital drop or a teleport straight into the city. Which it will be, I leave it to your discretion.”

            “Once there, your goals are to decapitate the enemy power structure and leadership, and to stop whoever or whatever is sending these rotting pus bags at us. The Storm Bringers will provide the fire support, while the Ghost Riders will take care of the assault operations.”

            So this was what the Ghost Riders did - they specialized in assaults. But why them? Why not the World Eaters, or the Blood Angels? Why not the Night Lords, already infamous from the terrors they have wrought upon the galaxy, inspiring fear on thousands worlds with their mere mention?

            As if reading his mind, though he had no known psyker skills, Guilliman answered. “In addition, Damial’s Legion has some… other abilities that should prove very useful if the kind of enemy we are fighting is what I think they are.”

            “And what do you think they are, brother?” Adrian said, feeling uneasy.

            “Sorcerers,” said Guilliman. “Some kind of foul sorcery was used against us on Viridian Primaris.”

            “Then why not call Magnus?” Adrian asked quizzically. “There is no one outside of the Emperor himself that knows more of sorcery and everything to do with it, how to fight it.”

            “Magnus is… otherwise occupied,” Corax said. “It is going to be just us, and it should be more than enough.”

            “I have planned the assault for two days from now,” said Guilliman. “It should give us all enough time to work our individual strategies and get the Legions ready.”

            Two days, Adrian thought. This meant the front lines were stable, at least for the moment. “I presume this means that we are under no threat of a counter attack?”

            “It’s a stalemate down there,” Jaghatai Khan intervened. “Roboute’s Legion holds them from breaking out, but the Viridians seem to suffer no ill effects from starvation or lack of ammunition. And the Ultramarines alone could not break through.”

            “That gives us a plenty of time to work out the exact specifics,” said Guilliman. “I presume everyone,” he looked most pointedly at Adrian and Damial, “understands their parts in the operation?”

            The Primarchs nodded their assent, then started to leave. Jaghatai Khan and Corax were the first to leave, followed by Guilliman; for a moment, Adrian noticed that he was left alone in the room with Damial, the strange albino Primarch of the Ghost Riders. For a second, the eyes of the two Primarchs examined each other warily, as if unsure if they were friends or mortal foes.

            Adrian spoke first. “Brother Damial, it is a pleasure to finally meet you face to face.” It might not have been as much a pleasure as he tried to make it sound as such, due to the peculiar way Damial’s presence affected him, but at the very least, it paid to make some kind of respect to his equals.

            “So they got you here too?” Damial said. The question seemed to have been entirely rhetorical, and did not make Adrian like his brother Primarch any more. “Looks like it is going to be a meat grinder.”

            “It sounds like it already is,” Adrian answered. “So, our Legions are going to be working together on the city assault, I take it.” It came out really awkward sounding.

            “Your boys shoot them, my boys mash them up point blank,” said the albino. A note of bitterness creeped into his voice. “This is how it always ends up being.” There was something about him that suggested he was not necessarily thrilled with the idea, and Adrian caught on to this quickly.

            “It does not mean it always has to be this way,” the Storm Bringers Primarch said cautiously. “There are always ways to make something out of even the most unenviable situations.”

            “This down there doesn’t look too enviable, if you ask me. More like another slaughter zone for Horus to throw the Ghost Riders into.”

            Another slaughter zone? Doesn‘t just about everything we do qualify?”

            “There are slaughter zones,” Damial said, “and then there are slaughter zones. The ordinary pacification missions, repulsing wayward Orks, dealing with a few Eldar pirates, that is nothing special. But then there are the real meat grinders out there. And my boys find themselves in too many of those.”

            “You don’t sound like how I thought you would,” Adrian raised a brow. “I thought that the Legions like the Ghost Riders, or the Blood Angels, or the World Eaters were eager to get into combat up close and personal.”

            “No one bothered to ask what we think of this,” the albino Primarch said bitterly. “I mean, we all have our duties. I do not shirk away from those, and none of my boys would refuse the Emperor‘s call. But there is something about it all that just does not feel right.”

            Momentarily, a decision was made. Adrian approached the other man, seeing him as if for the first time, minor scars on Damial’s face, result of a hundred battles where the man was in the thick of the fighting, taking on the alien, the mutant, the rebel where he could see their faces, feel the fear emanating from his enemies, striking in the very heart of those who stood against the might of the Imperium. Adrian himself had more than a few close engagements, the most recent being the assault on Marshad IV, but though he was at least as old as Damial, he felt the other Primarch had much more experience in real fights against the worthy enemies.

            “Say, brother Damial, would you like to discuss our tactics and coordination over a banquet aboard the Hammer Of Dawn later in the evening?” Adrian said.

            The albino seemed dazzled, as if such an invitation was an uncommon occurrence, but nodded his assent almost instantly. “I shall be there with my most trusted Captains,” said Damial. “No need to make this mess of a campaign any worse than it already is.”


            • #7
              Aboard the Hammer Of Dawn, High Orbit Over Viridian Primaris

              Even as he worked his way through the plates of rather exquisite food, Adrian could not help but keep a curious eye on the albino Primarch. Damial arrived with three of his Captains, all of the silent, humorless type; interestingly, one of them was an albino, like his Primarch. All had somewhat of an unpleasant aura about them, despite remaining completely civil in their manners and conversations; Adrian wondered if there was some deeper meaning to it, if it simply hid something else. They looked less like psykers and more like the warriors who were more comfortable in the thick of face to face combat.

              Damial introduced his companions as Cannon, Bolt, and Maroon, with Maroon being predictably the albino; these were strange names for the Space Marines, more fitting as nicknames for some underhive gang hands than for the warriors of the Emperor. They were about as no-nonsense as they came; Cannon and Maroon set about indulging their appetites with total abandon for everything else, while Bolt stared at everyone suspiciously, casting occasional sidelong glances at Adrian’s own retinue.

              The Primarch of the Storm Bringers had three others with him, and only two of them were Space Marines. Captain Isaac Varus sat at the right hand of the Primarch, digging into an enormous side of grox with much gusto while chasing it down with judicious swings of red wine from the Legion’s cellars; his bulky frame and wide, open face made him seem just one of the troopers rather than the leader of one of the Legion’s twelve companies, only ten of which were present here. The other Storm Bringer present was Chaplain Marcus Aurelian, a youthful looking man of fine, delicate facial features with shoulder length red hair, looking as if he was almost too small for a Space Marine, and yet as deadly as any on the battlefield. Yet the glances of the Ghost Riders cast more often than not landed at the third member of Adrian’s retinue, who was even now helping himself to some unwieldy looking dish common to Terra.

              Mvua Mvua was a Remembrancer, one of the few that were assigned to the Storm Bringers, and looked about as different from a Space Marine as it was humanly possible. The Remembrancer was a short and stout man somewhere in the middle age, with the skin so dark that looked almost completely black, he wore the dark red robes that did little to hide his somewhat excessive bulk despite being emblazoned with just about every kind of ornament known to man, gold, silver, and jade all over. He did not seem particularly uncomfortable here, as most humans would have been in the company of the Astartes, stopping his feast only occasionally to examine the almost nonexistent symbols on the Ghost Riders armor.

              It was Mvua Mvua that broke the uncomfortable silence. “Say, lord Damial, I find the origins of your Legion’s symbol to be curious. In most cultures, the scythe seems to be symbolic with either harvest of crops, or inevitability of death, and yet I am quite unfamiliar with the reasoning behind it on Karelius Majoris. Would you mind enlightening us as to the meaning of it?”

              At Damial’s pointed stare, Adrian explained. “Mvua Mvua here is a master historian, with an additional specialty in linguistics and cultural symbolism. Consider it a matter of professional interest, brother.”

              “Very well,” Damial said, with a hint of reluctance. “The scythe is a symbol from my own youth that represented the first warriors I have lead on Karelius Majoris. As more battles were won, the others began to see it as a symbol of luck, and as that with which those who oppressed us before may be cut off and scorched, forced to serve us like the grain from the crop serves the man that harvests it.”

              “An interesting interpretation, my lord Primarch,” Mvua Mvua said. “It seems like it would have been derived at a more agricultural planet than Karelius Majoris, which is somewhat surprising given its known history.”

              “These are not the matters I have given much thought to,” said Damial. “Our people rarely had the leisure to consider such trivial matters.”

              “But there is nothing trivial about the pursuit of knowledge!” Mvua Mvua protested. “If you know a culture, you can always anticipate its moves, see how they may react to you, see how they may fight on the battlefield!”

              “You have made an interesting choice of retinue, brother Adrian,” Damial said, his face unreadable; it could have been anger, frustration, or even genuine amusement that surfaced in the slight movement of the corners of his mouth. “I am not aware of many of our brothers that listen to the counsel of non-Astartes.”

              “It only pays to see any issue from several different sides before approaching it. Anything less locks you into a single frame of thinking, overt specialization, which will ultimately bring you to face a force specifically designed to counter that extreme skill,” Adrian replied. “Just because Mvua Mvua might not have ever fired a weapon in his life, and is unlikely to ever have to do so, does not mean his mind is not every bit as sharp as the best and the brightest in my, or any other Legion, for that matter. His counsel, and that of Captain Varus, and that of Chaplain Aurelian, are all important to me.”

              “But what of the strength of a leader who spends much time listening to others?” Damian retorted back. “If a leader listens too much to those around him, he may never learn what it is like to truly lead - indeed, he may not be necessary at all if the others do all the thinking and all the planning.”

              “Their thinking and planning are to supplement my own, not to compete with it. Say, do you send an assault squad to deal with a well entrenched strongpoint, or do you send in the Devastators with the heavy weapons?”

              “The Devastators, naturally,” the Ghost Riders Primarch said, visibly confused as if whatever Adrian was hinting at was almost an alien concept to him.

              “No matter how great the commander is,” the Storm Bringers Primarch continued, “if he equips melee weapons against a Titan, he will not live to see the end of battle. It is a great leader’s job to know when to listen, when to speak, and to make a decision that will matter in the end.”

              “Not all of my counsel agree on the actions I choose to take,” Adrian said, “but they are the Devastators I send in to deal with the strongpoints, or the Assault squads I send into the breach in the walls of whatever fortress we take. And they are there to stop me from making idiotic mistakes if I ever succumb to that.”

              “Even the non-Astartes?”

              “Even the non-Astartes,” said the Storm Bringers Primarch. “It is important to keep in mind that even we were raised by the people like them; we are the reason the people like them go to sleep at night knowing they are safe. The people like them are the reason we were made what we are.”

              “You take a curious view of things, brother,” Damial mused, as if ignoring Mvua Mvua’s presence altogether.

              “It is only a realistic view,” Adrian replied. “The Storm Bringers are not built around the numbers. We make up for the numbers with the clear heads, and the bigger guns.”

              “Now that is something I can entirely relate to. Perhaps this is why they assigned you to provide support to my Ghost Riders.”

              “You still did not tell me what it is about the Ghost Riders that makes Guilliman think you are going to handle sorcery easily,” said Adrian. “Somehow you don’t look like a Legion of psykers.”

              “Oh, but we are not,” Damial laughed, reveling in his moment of knowledge. “We are something… entirely opposite.”

              “An opposite of a psyker?” Adrian was beyond intrigued. “What would that be?”

              “I see neither the father nor any of our brothers told you yet,” Damial said. “I guess it is only reasonable if I told you. Blanks.”

              “You are… blanks?” the Storm Bringers Primarch said incredulously. “What does this mean?”

              “This means that any psyker or sorcerer that gets near us is as good as dead,” Damial elaborated helpfully. “The only things that can get near us and actually do any damage are those that have no affinity for the Warp - and this is where we can cut them up into ever smaller pieces.” A chuckle arising from his lips was seconded by his captains.

              “I see,” Adrian said. This all of a sudden started making sense. He did not know what a blank was until now, but it started forming into a pattern. If they were going to face the Warp worshippers, it paid to have a Legion that was uniquely suited to deal with them at their side.

              This, however, still left a question in his mind that Damial did not entirely answer.

              “What do you suppose Guilliman wanted us there for?” Adrian asked uneasily.

              “If my guess is any good,” Damial started, then paused. “It may be a subject better discussed in private,” he said hastily, as if catching himself before he said something potentially incriminating.

              “Anything fit for my ears is also fit for the ears of my counselors,” the Storm Bringers Primarch said, to incredulous looks and raised eyebrows from the Ghost Riders.

              “Not many of our brothers would even consider something like this,” said Damial slowly. “You are, then, truly different from them.”

              “Loyalty goes both ways,” Adrian replied. “How can I ask for my Legion’s loyalty and trust if I give them neither?”

              “On Karelius Majoris, until my ascension, you could only trust someone as far as they could stay in your sight,” the albino Primarch said. “If you turned your back to anyone else, you were either suicidal and stupid, or planning for something like forcing the other’s hand.”

              “This was why the Techno Magi kept the entire world in their grabby metal hands,” he continued. “It took years before my Hell Riders could trust one another sufficiently to fight the enemy instead of each other. How did you manage this?”

              “We sought out those with duty and honor already in their hearts,” Adrian answered. “We sought understanding over conflict, and though we prefer the former, we do not shy away from the latter. On the world where I was raised, I was taught of what we are supposed to become, not just how we get there. This is what made the Storm Bringers what we are.”

              “I like to think of the II Legion as the one that thinks first, and shoots later,” Captain Isaac Varus raised his voice. “We are a Space Marines Legion, not a cult or a group of psychotics with shared delusions.”

              “Being Space Marines is simply a continuation of what we are,” Chaplain Aurelian raised his voice, speaking for the first time since the initial introductions. “We are the same men we were before we were chosen. Those who have no honor or duty would have never been selected to begin with.”

              “You mean, you did not go for the strongest, the toughest recruits your home planet could provide?” Damial asked, surprised.

              “Byzantion Tertius is not the world known for breeding strong, tough warriors,” Chaplain Aurelian said. “So, when Adrian assumed command, one of his first directives was to look for the recruits that fit the ideal of what the Legion was supposed to be.”

              “You see, brother Damial, you can teach anyone properly augmented and motivated how to shoot and fight well. You can take their bodies and make them powerful, strong, fast, tough. But if they are in good enough shape, and smart enough, they can figure it out on their own. What they cannot learn,” Adrian said, “is the inherent idea behind what a Space Marine truly is.”

              “What is a Space Marine to you, then?” Maroon, the albino warrior from the Ghost Riders retinue, said all of a sudden. There was unusual strength in his voice; whatever his brutish, exotic appearance might have suggested, he seemed to be possessed of a sharp, critical mind.

              “A Space Marine must be stronger than the ordinary men, not only in body, but also in mind, and in spirit. We must be that which ordinary citizens aspire to become. We must not only draw a distinction between the good and the evil, not only fight the evil, but also live what is good and right.”

              “You sound like you spent too much time in Lorgar’s company,” Damial chuckled. “That one would turn anything into a sermon, if given half a chance. To think about it, some would actually seek him out to listen to all that drivel about how father is some kind of a god.”

              “We are not angels, brother,” said Adrian. “It is less about trying to stick to every little detail of the dogma, like the Word Bearers are prone to do, and more about recognizing that there are certain very basic, fundamental principles of being human. The underlying philosophy of the Legion is not about leading lives of asphyxiating piety - if we did that, being a part of this Legion would have been a nightmare.”

              “Then what is it?” Maroon said. “If you are talking about living a life of good, lord Primarch, and then talking about denying the outward forms of that good, then you are forming a contradiction. How do you know what good truly is if you limit its interpretation to a very narrow valley, like an absolute? Then, your interpretation of good is limited by your own ethical horizons and your own failures.”

              Adrian wondered why it was the albino Space Marine and not the Primarch asking these things, displaying more erudition and logic in the presence of his master than most other warriors would have in his place; there were many questions about the organization of the Ghost Riders still left unanswered. Could it be that the two Legions had much more in common than it seemed?

              “Unlike Fulgrim and his Legion,” Adrian said, “we do not seek perfection. What we DO seek is the same view of right and wrong in all of our recruits. The knowledge of right and wrong is an essential quality of humanity within all of us. To lose sight of it, to believe ourselves far above the rest of our species is to deny the fact that all of us were still little, mewling babes at some point, and all of us will return to the ground some day.”

              “Unless you manage to get yourselves blown to atoms in some other, no doubt unimaginably painful and otherwise unpleasant way,” Mvua Mvua said.

              “You have a way of putting a bright shiny coat of paint on all things,” Captain Varus spoke, somewhat sardonically.

              “It is a single thread that ties everything that is human in us together,” Adrian Octavius continued. “As long as everything else is intact, we are whole, no matter the tools we have to use to get there. Our inherent humanity is what makes us see the very basic difference between right and wrong, the very foundation of it. Respect, loyalty, honor, courage - all these things are neither good nor bad by themselves, but their application could be both. Is not a fanatic seeking to defend his world from us courageous? Are the xenos standing by their own kind even in the times of darkest peril loyal? This is why knowing the right from the wrong becomes more of an instinctive concept. And that instinct is what keeps on telling us why we do what we do, in hopes that eventually it will lead to a greater right than before.”

              “I think I can see why Horus and Guilliman keep on assigning the Storm Bringers to the lesser battlefields,” Damial said. “Neither of these two thinks of why we fight, only how to get that next victory. Anything more than that, to them, is a sure sign of weakness.”

              “Sometimes I shudder to think what would happen if Horus actually started thinking about it,” said Adrian.

              “He’s certainly the type to eventually arrive at that point,” Damial noted.

              “So what about your Legion, brother Damial,” Adrian asked. “You have mentioned being sent to many battlefields as of recent.”

              “Had I not known better, I would have thought that someone out there is trying to see how much the Ghost Riders can endure before breaking,” the albino Primarch answered. “Either that, or the bastard is trying to put us in situations where we have to take larger and larger losses. This far from Karelius Majoris, timely reinforcements are difficult. Especially when you consider some… special considerations.”

              “Special considerations?” Adrian asked, looking straight at his brother Primarch.

              “The blanks are very rare,” said the Ghost Riders leader. “Even partial blanks are uncommon at best.”

              “I guess you can say we have a smaller pool of potential recruits than most,” Maroon concluded. “At least, for the assault groups - Hell Riders.”

              The implications were anything but pleasant. A Legion with perhaps the most narrow specialty of all, and a Legion that was not only the least numerous of them, but also considerably less decorated than many of the others, both thrusted into the middle of fortifications that frustrated the Ultramarines, while the better known Legions were to continue what they have already been doing. And there was Damial’s apparent suspicion that someone or something was apparently conspiring against the Ghost Riders… and Adrian’s own guesses at the likely hidden reasons for why the Storm Bringers were suddenly brought from a war zone of secondary importance at best straight towards the choke point.

              “Brother Damial,” Adrian said. “Perhaps, it may be a good time to discuss some of the specific plans? Especially the contingencies for whatever they have down there. Something about this whole campaign feels… odd at best.”

              “Indeed,” replied the albino Primarch, as if thinking the same thing. “I, for one, have no desire to see my Legion decimated while once again Guilliman steals all the credit.”


              • #8
                Then - Cyrexis Secundus

                The sounds and the smells of the jungle assailed him from all sides even as he fought to stay in cover, trying to keep his position hidden from the onslaught of greenskins. Around him, fifty Astartes in the black and yellow armor of the II Legion were still, holding their weapons like statues of immobile giants laying in ambush. Adrian felt a pang of anticipation, and a sense of fear tucking at him from within, both competing for the primacy within his mind. The feeling was strange; this here was perhaps the closest he had been to real physical danger in his life.

                As he waited, observing the scenery of lush tropical canopy of trees, bushes, and vines, the first greenskins came into his sight. They were the huge, hulking brutes, easily as large as the Astartes, walking with some kind of an unseemly gait; their over muscled hands nearly reached all the way down to the wet, mushy ground, giving the creatures a simian appearance. Adrian remembered reading about them on Byzantion Tertius, and over the course of his studies with the Emperor, but seeing them in person - knowing that they were a real threat, and not just something from the history books was a wholly different experience.

                There were at least two hundred Orks in the opening between the huge trunks of fallen trees, bloodlust apparent in their crimson eyes, moisture gathering on their crude armor and primitive, yet deadly weapons. The one that was bigger than the rest seemed to have numerous cybernetic enhancements, if such a term could be applied to the crude machinery wrapped around him, replacing one of his arms with what seemed like an alien version of a power claw. As Adrian watched, the creature barked some sort of command in a guttural, harsh voice, accompanying it by a mighty slap in the head of one of the lesser greenskins. This was the time, then.

                “Now,” the Primarch focused all of his anxiety, anger, and rage into one command.

                All around him the Space Marines sprung up to life, soaking the ground in bolter fire and ripping the Orks to pieces where they stood. The greenskins attempted to shoot back, but their return fire was ineffective, inaccurate in the best of times and downright useless when faced with a planned ambush. Confused, only now realizing where the enemy was, all the Orks could do was die where they stood.

                A battle should be won before it begins, Adrian thought as he took apart an Ork Nob with a plasma gun, doing with one shot what took volleys of bolter fire from the Space Marines. “Use your plasma weapons,” he barked, seeing the Astartes follow order.

                Somehow it did not feel any different. For all intents and purposes, Adrian Octavius just killed a living being, and though the Ork did not look human, could not have even passed for a human under bad lightning conditions, it was still killing, still murder in cold blood, even if the Ork would have done the same to him given half a chance. From all his years on Byzantion Tertius, Adrian was taught that killing was an uncivilized thing to do, that there was little difference between killing a human and an alien - that sentience in itself was the moral boundary of what constituted a crime against anything good and decent.

                True, in his childhood and teenage years he often dreamed of being in a midst of a true battle, fighting for some kind of a worthy cause, making a heroic push through the lines of the enemies that often looked suspiciously like the Ork he had slain, but he never expected to actually come face to face with something like this in reality. Even accepting the command of the II Legion, even all the months of simulation and training did not prepare him for this. One moment there was a living, thinking being with its own ideals, dreams, aspirations - and the next moment there was nothing but burnt and charred mess on the ground.

                But the fact of killing did not scare or deter Adrian. What was worse was the curious and surprising lack of emotion within him. It was as if he was specifically born and bred for it, created to kill with no remorse, no conscience, no regret. Intellectually he could understand the moral dilemma, but deep in his hearts he knew that he could not truly comprehend the ethical magnitude of what just happened. His body simply told him to continue killing.

                A surge of memories attacked him even as he disintegrated another Ork that ventured too close to the Astartes with another shot. There he was, upon the scrumball pitch in something that seemed like a completely another life, his team mates gathering around him in the final huddle before the game. A team motto, a catchphrase, a rallying cry they needed to beat the Zvezdograd Reavers.

                “We are the Storm!” a cry jumped from his lips and into the fray as a sense of bloodlust overcame him. His mind mechanically registered the other Astartes warriors catching on to the battlecry, seconding it now that the Orks were too close for the massed weapons fire to be effective. “We are the Storm,” fifty throats screamed, switching to their chainswords and jumping at the Orks, who now seemed to have overcome some of their earlier confusion to charge at the Space Marines.

                The Orks still had numerical advantage, despite no less than half of them being cut down by the bolter and plasma fire, but any semblance of organization they might have had was by now broken and tattered. They fought as a disorganized mass, as individual berserkers with no regard for tactics or strategy. In contrast, the Space Marines formed up with their squads, following their sergeants and taking positions where the terrain did not allow the Orks to bring their greater numbers forth.

                In truth, this was but a splinter from the main force of greenskins that was even now being dealt with by the Luna Wolves and the Thousand Sons elsewhere on the planet, relieving the beleaguered Imperial Army and Planetary Defense Forces troops holding the line near the world’s main cities. In this, Adrian differed greatly from most of his brother Primarchs; they were used to command, some of them having carved empires of their own before being discovered, and having no reservations about being on the battlefield. He, on the other hand, was not a warrior in his previous life.

                True, Adrian understood the tactics and the strategies as well as one could academically understand the art and the science of war, but it was very different to actually see these tactics and strategies in action rather than read about them, or attempt them in training. It was a very different thing to look into the eyes of the enemy you are going to try your best killing than it was to order an artillery strike while a thousand miles away, safe in a distant bunker. And if he were to lead his Legion into battle, to take his part in the Great Crusade, he had to learn how to command from the front in the only way that was at all feasible.

                What was somewhat frustrating and even intimidating to Adrian was that the Legion has already taken part in a number of campaigns prior to his discovery; most of the warriors under his command were hardened veterans. He did not know how he felt about taking charge of a Legion where even the newest recruit had more experience in real combat than their Primarch.

                Still, the Astartes warriors have taken to him much better than he expected; it was as if someone had prepared them for the knowledge that some day, their Primarch would be found, and any leadership until that point had the role of caretakers more than anything else. Most of the Space Marines in the Legion seemed to be quite intelligent, if often limited in their education to what science, ideology, and culture the Imperium possessed and spread; almost all were the natives of Terra itself.

                The fact that for all intents and purposes, these men were his genetic sons was but an icing on the cake, as far as Adrian was concerned.

                “Grenades!” Adrian commanded, and the few Marines who were not engaged in hand to hand fighting threw their explosives at the back of the Ork mass, thinning it some but not doing as much damage as they would have done to a regular human force. The greenskins were tough; the blasts that would have torn other creatures limb from limb only slowed them down some. Something had to be done; though the Astartes were better organized and armored than their enemies, there were still more than twice their number of Orks, now frothing at their slavering mouths with unholy, barbaric fury.

                The Primarch frowned as he disemboweled a particularly suicidal Ork fighter with his power sword. The green skinned aliens were as formidable in close combat as they were inept with their ranged weapons fire; one for one, they were a close match for the Astartes. Brute might would not win the day here; it was going to be a matter of tactics.

                “Form up on me,” he screamed. “Form a wedge.” This was a tactic he recalled reading of in history texts on his homeworld, not used anywhere outside of the barbaric worlds that still utilized cavalry as a decisive force upon a battlefield, untested in the realm of modern warfare, but there were significant parallels. The only reason a heavy cavalry charge in a wedge formation was as effective as it seemed was that the heavy mass of the warrior and his steed added to the momentum, cutting through the enemy ranks like a sharp pointed spear would through paper.

                The Astartes warriors managed to make their way through the fray, forming a wedge-like formation with Adrian himself at the tip. “We are the Storm!” the Primarch screamed at the top of his lungs, pointing at the center of the Ork mass.

                This was all the signal the Space Marines needed. With the enhanced servo-musculature of their power suits, fifty Astartes slammed into the Orks, their sheer mass and momentum brushing away the alien brutes, trampling them under the ceramite as chainswords and power weapons began to sing the lamentations of doom to all who stood against them.

                It was a tactic that could only be used once, before the momentum was expended and there would not be enough space to even attempt a small version of it, but it did what it was supposed to do. The aliens scattered, separating into two groups while dozens of them died in a rash attempt to stop the charge of the II Legion. In under ten seconds, the odds were closer to being even than before as the Space Marines continued to fight as a single coherent group, facing their enemies face to face.

                Adrian found himself facing off two Orks at once, both brutes easily the size of a Space Marine, but still somewhat smaller than the Primarch. He killed the first one as the power sword cleaved through the alien’s pitiful attempt to block it with his axe-like weapon, decapitating the greenskin as the momentum carried the power sword forward. The second one was either dumber or more suicidal, managing to avoid the Primarch’s blow and leaping forward, trying to wrestle Adrian to the ground.

                The creature was inhumanly strong, but still no match for the full might of the Primarch in power armor. With a simple bringing of his arms together, Adrian managed to crush the Ork’s body, making the alien slump to the ground. Incredibly, the greenskin still lived, if only just so; the Primarch put it out of its misery by stomping upon the creature’s head with his armored foot.

                There was a sudden commotion in the Ork ranks, and Adrian saw the alien about to face him literally thrown over the heads of its comrades. What was the most disturbing, however, was that the blow came not from one of the Space Marines fighting in close formation, but instead, it came from behind, revealing a huge monstrosity of green muscle and rusty looking metal growling something incoherent at the Primarch.

                It took Adrian a moment to realize that the thing was speaking Gothic, if badly accented and almost incomprehensible. “Humiez! None stop Grukhul da ‘edsplita!” With a cry of “waaagh!” the creature swung its power claw at the Primarch, who only avoided it by the tiniest of margins while trying desperately to block the Ork’s huge power axe with his own weapon.

                Around them, the battle raged on, although neither side seemed to gain an upper hand. The Space Marines’ charge broke the Orks, but even now the greenskins were still more than a match for the Astartes, now more closely aligned in terms of numbers, but still dangerous. Even as Adrian watched out of the corner of his eye, one of his Space Marines was cut down by a greenskin, only for the victorious savage to be shot at nearly point blank range by another one of the Legion’s warriors. All over the jungle clearing, similar scenes played out, with little indication on who might be gaining an upper hand.

                He swung wildly at the giant Ork’s power claw, while kicking at the creature’s knee. The greenskin stumbled, losing his concentration for just enough time. This brief instant was all Adrian needed; the Primarch swiftly disengaged the sword and slid it up to the creature’s arm, suddenly bringing it down to amputate the Ork’s limb just below the shoulder. Still the alien came on to him, swinging the axe with his remaining hand, and Adrian had to duck to avoid a broad swipe of the barbaric weapon.

                The next movement of the Primarch’s power sword cut into the Ork’s gut, piercing the alien’s crude armor and causing the creature to back off in sudden pain, as its feral brain suddenly realized that it might have been outmatched. “Dez humiez cant do zet!” the alien exclaimed, obviously in shock.

                “Yes we can,” Adrian retorted coldly, imparting his power sword in the creature’s thick, short neck and twisting it instinctively, then making an upward thrust that practically cut the Ork’s head in two vertically. Before the Ork’s body hit the ground, the Primarch was already amidst the alien grunts, hacking and slashing at them, fury of close combat overtaking him. There was ferocity in his movements that he never knew was there, sowing the seeds of death in the alien mob, and as he moved on and killed, the Space Marines under his command seemed to take heart in their commander’s victory, going into an overdrive of slaughter until the Orks were no more.

                In less than five minutes from the beginning of an ambush, it was over; greenskin corpses looked like they were a natural part of the lush jungle environment, covering the relatively confined space akin to lichen-covered boulders. Adrian stood over the corpse of the large Ork he slew, examining his fallen enemy up close now that he could concentrate on things other than immediate survival.

                The creature looked as if it did not pay much heed to personal hygiene in life; there were warts and old infected wounds all over its exposed skin, while the smell of it was thoroughly noxious to Adrian’s enhanced senses. This was one of the fabled Orks, the ancient danger that the people of Byzantion Tertius fought for their very survival against thousands of years ago? Somehow Adrian had a hard time believing that such obviously crude species could present much threat to a sophisticated society.

                And it did not help that his own leadership of the squad still resulted in six Marines dead, and at least a dozen wounded with various degrees of severity.

                Adrian now understood why Horus wanted him to use only a small squad here, cutting off an escaping marauding band of the greenskins for his first real combat mission. There were lessons to be learned here, hard, brutal lessons of commanding a real force in the real war. Before he could bring the entire might of his Legion forth, it was necessary for him to learn command on the ground, to experience first hand what his sergeants and captains would experience as they took his orders.

                Moreover, it was important for him to understand that even he was not infallible, and that being a Primarch was not a blank pass for doing anything he wanted. Already Adrian was thinking of the things he could have done differently, and a kind of silent rage rose up within him. There were alternate ways of placement for the ambushers; it took too long for the Space Marines to switch to plasma weapons in ranged combat, thus losing precious time before they went hand to hand with the Orks, thus giving the creatures much more of a fighting chance than they should have had. Because of these command decisions, the II Legion suffered much greater losses than they should have, and Adrian knew that much of the blame lay with him.

                It was never easy to know that lives of the others depend on the decisions you make, and it made the Primarch feel the weight of those deaths at his conscience. They died because of a decision he made - and yet, somehow, the Space Marines did not seem resentful as they stood amongst the corpses of the vanquished enemy, finishing off the few alien wounded and surveying their recent kills with an appearance of grim satisfaction.

                There was a lesson to be learned here, too. It was war, and in war, there were casualties. No matter how bad his command mistakes might have been, he could not go back and change them - only learn from them so that he never made those mistakes again. It was a cold hard truth, and Adrian accepted it as readily as his Space Marines accepted it.

                And there was another factor gnawing at him. He remembered the intricate weapons of the Eldar from Byzantion Tertius, he recalled reading about the more devastating technologies they supposedly wielded in their wars. Adrian compared it to the bolters and the chainswords, and found himself envious of the ancient, technologically advanced aliens. If he only had the easy supply of plasma weapons in large enough numbers to outfit the entire unit… if he only had enough power weapons to replace the standard chainswords the II Legion was outfitted with for the most part… the battle would have been much easier.

                The lessons sunk in; there was going to be another day, there was going to be another battle, and he would not be leading fifty men into it. No, he would face his next opponents at the head of the entire Legion - and this time, he was not going to make the same mistakes. He would take full advantage of attacking the enemy from the distance, cutting them down before they had a chance at getting into a close fight.

                His old self from Byzantion Tertius might have protested that it was not fair, that the enemy deserved a fighting chance, that it went against the very concept of martial honor. But that line of thinking led to the unnecessary deaths of Space Marines under his command. It led towards something that could have interfered with the success of his mission.

                Martial honor had sense when he was faced with the enemy that was not only courageous, but honorable, and not intent on simply smashing his way through everything in his path just because he found destruction and carnage appealing. These men under his command were like his team, all this time ago; he should not have had any of them take a hard hit unless there was a need for them to take a hard hit, regardless of whether or not they could take it without flinching. And unlike the scrumball pitch, war had no rules that could be exploited or had to be adhered to.

                These were all the lessons Adrian Octavius was going to take deep to his hearts if he were to survive and prosper. And these were the mistakes he swore to never make again - whatever it took not to make them. Even if it took looking at the tactics and the technologies that the Imperium did not create.


                • #9
                  Now - Viridian Primaris

                  Down on the planet, the battle was joined by the strike squads of the White Scars, luring the enemy to become entangled with the spread out line of the Ultramarines converging on the world’s capital city. The bright white star that Viridian Primaris orbited just began to rise from the horizon, casting the shadows of impenetrable black from the towers and the spires of the hive so that some parts of the battlefield were still almost as dark as the night itself. This suited the Raven Guard, and their style of combat just fine; even as the warriors of Viridian advanced, they fell between the hammer of the White Scars hit and run assaults, and the anvil of Raven Guard Astartes hitting them back with perfect coordination.

                  From the Hammer of Dawn, Adrian could only watch the battle unfold on his tactical screens; the assault on the city itself was going to begin only once the main mass of its defenders was drawn away into the killing ground where the three Astartes Legions already on the ground could pin the enemy down with no chance of escaping in time. Almost the entire Legion was going to join in the assault when the time came, and the Space Marines were already massed near the launch bays of the great battleship and its escorts. This was the part Adrian expected to go as planned… as long as he and his squad of hand-picked Terminator armor clad soldiers succeeded in their mission to teleport down to the surface, and take out the air defenses if the Legions already on the planet did not do it before them.

                  The Storm Bringers were never an assault oriented Legion, a lesson Adrian learned a long time ago, on Cyrexis Secundus, but even they had a number of warriors who excelled at close quarters combat; the Legion’s experience in city fighting paid to train at least some of its Space Marines to be capable of handling themselves in hand to hand combat. From the discussions he had with Damial little over a day before, the two Legions were going to send their strike forces down to the surface in two waves - assault squads, led by their Primarchs, would be teleported down to the same location, secure the landing ground, and then be followed by the bulk of the Legions.

                  Adrian still did not know what to think of Damial. The Primarch of the Ghost Riders was a curious man, not entirely sympathetic to the outsiders and more prone to resolve the problems with brute force than with charisma, but there was no denial of a certain kind of cold, calculating intelligence behind the apparent mask of savagery. Adrian still did not feel much affection towards the albino, but at the very least, he thought he might have understood the other man somewhat.

                  There were things about Damial that were far beyond anything Adrian himself experienced or could truly comprehend, the things that bred a hard, rugged man of the same mold that many of their brother Primarchs were, but at the same time, he did not seem completely resigned to his fate. “On my home world,” Damial said once over the course of their conversations, “loyalty is the most prized treasure of all. But even once it was shown to them that loyalty is more important than trying to gain whatever little scraps they could gain from stabbing each other in the back, the people did not just throw away all of their mistrust.”

                  “No,” the albino Primarch said, “it took fear. They stayed in line because they feared me more than they feared their enemies, and because they hated their enemies more than they hated me. This reminds me of something here, too.”

                  “How so?” Adrian asked. “I don’t see myself, you, or any of our brothers in mortal terror of father or each other.”

                  “Not us,” the Ghost Rider replied. “These people down there, and elsewhere. Those that choose to join in without a fight do so because they are afraid we will bombard their planets to Warp. Those that fight, and lose, well, they will not love us for what we bring to them. They will stand the line for as long as they fear what we can - and will do to them if they ever look at us wrong.”

                  “There is more to it than fear,” Adrian said. “Some of our brothers look at the Great Crusade as only the means by which they accomplish the ever more glorious victories. But I don’t know how many of them really understand what we are fighting for.”

                  “Then what are you fighting for, brother? Is it not for a chance to prove yourself in the eyes of our brothers and our father the Emperor?”

                  “I ask myself this question… often,” admitted Adrian. “I can understand the need for humanity to be brought together, but I can also understand the desire of humans to choose their own path instead of having it brought upon them.”

                  “You know of Byzantion Tertius,” he continued. “It ran itself quite efficiently, with very few needing for much. It had large enough population to be advanced and civilized, but not so large to where living space was limited, and struggle for the resources ensued. It had no enemies that could pose it a threat, and all aliens it dealt with were more inclined to trade than to shoot at it. It was perhaps the most boring world one could imagine, but also one of the safest. And if you give most humans in the galaxy a chance at living in a hellhole like Viridian Primaris, a petty dictatorship like Marshad IV, some death world, or a planet like Byzantion Tertius, I think almost all would choose a tranquil, peaceful, safe world.”

                  “So, you are saying it is in human nature to seek something safe and predictable?” Damial said incredulously. “It makes no sense. If it was the case, humanity would have never left Terra to begin with.”

                  “I did not say that all would choose safety and security,” Adrian said slowly. “Most would. The rest… the rest are the people like us. But what it does make me wonder is if we truly know what the desires of humanity are, and if we are giving them that which they need.”

                  “Perhaps not what they want…” Damial mused. “But maybe we are giving them what they need. Even if they don‘t want to admit it.”

                  “And what they need is… orbital bombardment and mass slaughter? Somehow I don’t think anyone would choose to be on the receiving end of that.”

                  “Not everyone or anything can be reasoned with, brother Adrian. Not everyone can be left alone to his own devices. The Techno Magi certainly did not want to let anyone live without their rule. The Orks care not for what you think, as long as they get to smash your skull and add it to their pile. Who knows what the Eldar want, anyway? They stop at nothing to get it, provocation or not, and if it means the deaths of millions of ours, they would never even think twice about it.” Damial had a look of smug superiority on his fine featured, snow white face.

                  “The point is, brother,” he continued, “the universe is not a nice place. I did not have to lead the Hell Riders in overtaking all the other gangs on Karelius Majoris, but I did it, and it was the only reason I could take down the damn techpriests. Father did not have to unify all of Terra and set out on the Great Crusade, but he did. I can just assume that there is something out there that warranted it, whatever it is. With as many worlds as both of us took down and over, is it unreasonable to expect that it would only have been too easy to do the same to humanity, if someone else out there had the same idea?”

                  “Perhaps, you do have a point,” Adrian admitted. “But this argument still does not answer your thoughts on fear that binds the Imperium together.”

                  “Then perhaps this is why the Imperium needs both of us,” Damial said. “It needs people like me to keep the fear strong, and the people like you to try and find a better way to keep it, beyond fear.”

                  Now, Adrian peeked over his shoulder to notice the presence of a Ghost Riders Captain lent to his force by his brother Primarch as a liaison. The Ghost Rider was an albino - apparently a common trait in the Legion that was raised on a polluted planet where only the very foolish ever exposed themselves to natural sunlight, and had an almost uncanny similarity to Damial in his facial appearance; he was also a bit taller than most of the other Space Marines in the Legion. Apparently, there were some rumors that he might have been Damial’s actual son, accepted into the Legion when the Emperor discovered the albino Primarch, although the man himself neither confirmed nor denied it.

                  The Ghost Rider’s name was Vailax Thumradin, although his comrades seemed to call him Inferno; it seemed somewhat of a custom amongst the XI Legion to use the nicknames much more often than the Space Marines’ given names. Despite the name, Captain Thumradin appeared to favor standard bolters and chainaxes instead of flamers or melta weaponry that the name implied; it made Adrian wonder what exactly gave the Ghost Rider his name.

                  In the time since Inferno arrived on the Storm Bringers’ flagship, he barely said three words in succession, spending most of his time alone when his presence was not requested by the Primarch. The other Storm Bringers seemed to resent his presence somewhat, as was often the case with the blanks, Adrian came to learn. There was a good chance this was the reason for some antipathy the XI Legion faced from the other, more traditional Astartes forces; it seemed that some, in particular Magnus and his Thousand Sons, did their best to avoid the Ghost Riders under any circumstances, limiting their contact when avoiding it altogether was impossible.

                  “The Ghost Riders are ready,” said Inferno. “All we need is a signal.”

                  On the tactical display, icons flashed and converged; it appeared as if the Ultramarines main battle line shifted somewhat, retreating to the second set of the fortifications they have prepared beforehand. Though the White Scars and the Raven Guard continued to sow chaos and confusion in the Viridians’ ranks, their attacks became less frequent. Adrian could see what they were doing; Jaghatai Khan’s Space Marines attempted to goad the enemy towards where the Ultramarines line was strongest, while the Raven Guard slowly worked their way towards the hive city’s fortifications.

                  And still the city’s defenders came on, throwing human wave after human wave at the Ultramarines. It was as if they were completely unconcerned with the casualties; their numbers alone were staggering. Adrian tapped on his communication device.

                  “Brother Roboute,” he called out to the Ultramarines Primarch, leading his forces from the ground.

                  “One moment,” the voice on the other end of the communications line was replaced by heavy breathing, and a sound of a power sword being ignited and used to cut someone - or something down. “Talk,” Roboute Guilliman’s voice reappeared, as if nothing out of ordinary just happened.

                  “What is the situation down there?” Adrian asked, not feeling particularly anxious. If the Primarch himself was engaged in combat, there was a good chance the bulk of the Viridians’ army was where they were supposed to be, pinned down between the Ultramarines and the White Scars raiders.

                  “You can find out for yourself, brother,” Guilliman’s harsh voice replied. “The locals are about as committed as I think they are going to be.”

                  “I presume this is an authorization?”

                  “Yes, if you excuse me now,” there was a sound of the power sword cutting through something big, bulky, and surprisingly soft, “I got some more pus bags to gut.”

                  The communication channel cut out; this was it. Adrian nodded to Inferno. “Five minutes before the first wave of deployments,” he said. “Looks like things are about to get interesting.”

                  “That they are,” the albino Space Marine said. “That they certainly are.”


                  • #10
                    Viridian Primaris – Ground

                    The first thing that came to Adrian’s mind upon seeing Viridian Primaris up close and personal was that of a musky, fetid swamp, despite the location that he and his Terminators teleported to being in the middle of a large, bustling metropolis. Something was in the air, something wild, putrid, obscene and unpleasant. It was hot and humid, and multitude of insects chirped away happily at the local vegetation, which grew from the unattended to cracks in the crumbling towers of metal, plasteel, and stone.

                    These were the people that threatened Roboute Guilliman himself? Adrian could not believe his eyes.

                    “Defensive pattern diamond, move,” he ordered his Terminators. There were but sixty of them here, a much less flexible formation than the Storm Bringers normally employed, but this time Adrian had little choice. They were to capture the local section of anti-space defenses, with the help of the Ghost Riders Assault Marines, so that the rest of the Legion could make their landing.

                    He felt noxious and weak for a brief second; there was a reason teleportation was not used more often as the means to spearhead an assault. As if an idea to travel through the Warp without the protection afforded by the Gellar Fields was not terrifying in and of itself to any mere mortals, there was always a chance that something poorly understood, such as natural phenomena, powerful psykers, or even sorcerers could disrupt the teleportation, causing the results that were as unseemly as they were lethal to the men who suddenly found themselves within solid matter, or, worse yet, fused with one another. It was only the knowledge of the Ghost Riders rather peculiar ability that made Adrian decide on risking teleportation into the middle of a war zone, where at least some kind of foul sorcery was at play.

                    They were in a middle of a large plaza, once crowded and filled with life, but now almost completely ruined. The buildings around them showed the signs of once having been built in a sharp, angular, gothic style, with stained glass windows now broken, staring back at the Storm Bringers like sightless eye sockets of skulls of some ancient giants. Everything was pocket marked grey, sickly fungal green, and stained bone white; the black and yellow armor of the II Legion seemed to be somehow more living, more vivid than ever before.

                    With a cracking sound of displaced air, the Ghost Riders appeared, around two hundred in number, led by their Primarch. There was a look of unbridled savagery to them; many of those who did not wear their helmets had bands of multicolored cloth wrapped around their heads. For all their savage battle lust, they were still as professional and disciplined a combat force as Adrian ever saw, moving in almost complete silence to secure the perimeter, leaving the Storm Bringers in the center of the formation. Damial strode towards Adrian as soon as he found his own bearings, saluting his brother Primarch with a strange motion of a hand to the head, perhaps something of a custom from Karelius Majoris.

                    “I don’t understand it,” Damial said without much more of a greeting, looking confused. “Where are the enemies?”

                    “Apparently throwing themselves at Roboute and his boys,” Adrian replied. “But that still does not make sense. You would think there would be at least some crazed civilians running around and calling the troops here.”

                    “Good for us they don’t, eh?”

                    “Unless they are planning an ambush,” said the Storm Bringers Primarch. “If I were them I would do exactly that.”

                    “The auspex shows nothing human anywhere in the vicinity,” Damial said. He looked as if he had an uneasy feeling about it.

                    “Nothing human,” Inferno said. He was accompanying the Storm Bringers from the moment they teleported down there, and stood by the Primarch’s side while surveying the scenery with his crimson eyes. Now that Adrian could see a large concentration of the Ghost Riders in one place, he noticed that albinism appeared to be quite common; at least a third of those who did not have helmets on were white skinned with silky white hair of no pigment, their eyes almost glowing dull red.

                    “Shit,” the word escaped Damial’s lips. Their primary objective was less than a mile away, a network node that appeared to control a large portion of the city’s aerial and space defense systems; neither him nor Adrian expected it to be easy, but this here seemed… as if the enemy knew what they were doing.

                    “We’ve got to move on the clock,” said Adrian. “Storm Bringers, marching pattern Phi.”

                    The warriors of the II Legion formed up quickly, ensuring proper fire coverage for their comrades while being sufficiently spread out not to fall prey to a lucky heavy artillery hit. The Ghost Riders followed their stead, taking positions on the sides of the formation, just enough to provide screening to their comrades and to charge into assault on a second’s notice if at all possible.

                    “My place is at the front with my warriors,” said Damial and quickly retired, mixing with his men, shouting encouragements, and ensuring their weapons and their spirits were up to task. This left Adrian almost alone, with only Chaplain Aurelian and Inferno for immediate company.

                    “Let’s pray this is not a trap,” the Chaplain said as he and Inferno scanned the area for any immediate threats, their heavy bolters - or, a standard bolter in Inferno’s case moving in cautious arcs, tracing every nook and cranny in the broken surface.

                    Adrian motioned, and the Space Marines started moving through the grime covered streets, all too aware that many of the buildings would have provided perfect hiding places for the snipers. Faith in the reliability of their auspex was the only thing that kept them moving at the relatively normal speed, and even then, the Astartes kept on looking warily at the empty, dark windows, time ravaged doors, some staring nervously at even the slightest indications of movement coming from the overly abundant vermin.

                    They were passing by what seemed like an abandoned, decayed gothic cathedral when the attack finally came. Throngs of things that once were people, but now were something entirely else charged at the front of the formation, with no regard for strategy, tactics, or self preservation, covered in filth, grime, and noxious substances that looked suspiciously like solidified vomit, pus, blood, urine, and feces. Their clothing, or what remained of it, was ragged and torn to the point of it being impossible to tell what it was originally; scabs, pustules, and cancerous growths adorned their mutilated bodies, crippled beyond ability to fight, and yet still they came on.

                    The Astartes warriors opened fire, cutting many where they charged, but, impossibly, the mangled creatures got up, or, if their legs were blown from underneath them, crawled on, swinging their crude instruments of destruction - anything from primitive handguns, to occasional bolters, to the simple yet sinister looking, rusted cleavers. For a second, Adrian wondered what the cleavers could do against the Astartes armor - and then, he saw the blades cut through hardened ceramite, taking the life of a Ghost Rider on the front lines. This was impossible… and yet it was happening.

                    “Support the front line,” he screamed over the noise of the battle, as he charged at the vile, disgusting forms of the enemy. Two hundred and fifty Astartes stood their ground, weathering the unholy assault and slaughtering everything they could; Adrian saw the familiar whoosh sounds of plasma weapons give birth to the blindingly bright fire of the stars themselves, burning the abominations to a crisp.

                    All of a sudden, the killing stopped; the remainder of the diseased horde simply dispersed even as the vanguard of their force lay mangled beyond even their unnatural ability to move. The creatures struck, and fled, and while the parting shots of the Astartes managed to bring a few more of them down, it did not feel like a victory - merely weathering an assault intended, perhaps, to slow them down, but not capable of independently defeating them.

                    “They will be back,” Inferno said, breathing somewhat heavily after having jumped to the front line, where his chainsword slew dozens of the creatures; the albino showed himself to be a fearsome combatant up close, even against such an unworthy enemy. “Probably backed by something bigger and stronger.”

                    “I wish I could disagree with that,” Adrian sighed. Now, Damial joined them after a customary making of rounds amidst his men, cheering up the wounded, and reinforcing the fighting spirit of the rest.

                    “This can only mean they know we are here,” the Ghost Riders’ Primarch said grimly. “Either they don’t have the numbers to truly deter us, or they are simply trying to delay us for some reason.”

                    “The objective is still around seven hundred meters ahead,” Chaplain Aurelian consulted his auspex. “Shall we move out?”

                    Think, Adrian, think, the Storm Bringers’ Primarch mouthed off to himself. A straightforward approach would not work here, if the earlier assault was any indication. With the might of the entire Legion behind him, he would have taken that option; not many things could stand against a mass of Space Marines supported by Dreadnaughts and armor. With only two hundred fifty Marines, the prospects did not look that enticing; Adrian cursed the occasionally unreliable teleportation technology that did not allow him to put a large force on the ground without the risk of an unfortunate incident.

                    “What is an estimate of our casualties?” Adrian asked.

                    “Four battle brothers down, seven walking wounded, all but one the Ghost Riders,” Aurelian said. It was nothing like the grievous losses, and it spoke little of the enemy’s effectiveness in battle, but just the fact that the Astartes managed to reach something like a hundred to one kill ratio was a cause for concern; these creatures held off Guilliman - why did they seem to die so easily, so pointlessly against a much smaller force.

                    And yet, speed was of the essence. The one thing the sudden assault was good for was to force the Astartes to reform their ranks, to spend some time retrieving the gene-seed of their fallen battle brothers.

                    Frak the subtlety, Adrian thought. This was clearly a mere delaying action.

                    “We have to press on, quickly, before they manage to bring whatever it is they are trying to bring against us.”

                    There were no arguments from either Damial, Inferno, or Aurelian. The Ghost Riders’ Primarch shouted the orders to his men, while Adrian did the same for the Storm Bringers. Grimly, they advanced through the streets, weapons at the ready.

                    They faced two more assaults, both beaten back as quickly as the first, this time losing only three battle brothers to lucky bolter shots. “They are not much of a challenge,” Damial roared, putting his strange, staff-like weapon through the head of a fallen enemy to cast the creature forever into the darkness.

                    “Then let us not drop our guard for the true challenge that must wait for us ahead,” the Chaplain said. There was an uneasy feeling in the air, and this time, it was not due to the presence of the Ghost Riders in large numbers.

                    The Space Marines were now in front of a large compound, seemingly in a state of utter decay and disrepair. The compound stood at the dead end of an enormous plaza, easily big enough to fit thousands of people in relative comfort where now there were only corpses and vermin feasting on them. Adrian saw rats size of small dogs scuttling about, their fur matted and dull, open sores on their predatory faces; the rats hissed at the Space Marines who got too close, clearly unconcerned with the disparity in sizes between them and the Astartes.

                    The sky above was the color of dull grey, as if life itself was somehow sucked out of it; most of the sunlight did not reach here, deep within the city of towering, crumbling spires and vermin that dwelled within. Sickly, twisted vegetation sprung up where once was a pleasant garden in front of the compound. A small lake in the center of the gigantic plaza was now little more than a bogged, murky swamp, with flies and other, less pleasant creatures swarming about the rotten carcasses swimming in it.

                    “What the warp was that?” Inferno asked, suddenly. He turned his head towards the source of the sound, coming from one of the deserted streets leading to the compound.

                    Now, the others could hear it too, the sound of something slushy moving on the decayed rockrete of the street as if it had hundreds of fat, deformed feet that splashed against the ground with a sickening wet sound. Instantly, every weapon in the Astartes’ formidable arsenal was pointed in the direction the sound was coming from. “Whatever it is, it is not one of ours,” Damial said. “Adrian, got some of that long distance plasma fire?”

                    “Blow up some of their cover,” the Storm Bringers Primarch ordered, and his warriors obeyed. Within seconds, large sections of the buildings on both sides of the offending presence were vaporized, causing rubble to fall down, almost blocking the view. “Did we get it?”

                    Inferno listened in, his senses apparently a bit more acute than those of his brother Marines. “Something is still coming.”

                    “There is nothing on the auspex!” Aurelian protested.

                    “Nothing human you said, right?” Adrian turned to Inferno, who nodded. For the first time, there was some trepidation in the Ghost Rider’s crimson eyes. The word that escaped from the albino’s mouth was incomprehensible to Adrian, clearly in a tongue other than Imperial Gothic, but its intent was unmistakable.

                    And then, suddenly, without warning, a huge block of rubble flew at the Space Marines, almost managing to catch one of the unwary Storm Bringers before coming to rest in the middle of the plaza. “It’s getting through!” Inferno yelled, with an anxious look to him. He looked like he was about to charge the oncoming enemy with nothing but his bolter and chainsword, impetuous, tense energy filling him.

                    “Vailax,” Damial spoke firmly, calling Inferno by his given name. “Captain Vailax Thuraddin, I need you to be ready to meet whatever horror the pus bags are throwing at us. Are you with me?” Slowly, tension left the Space Marine, and understanding came to his eyes.

                    “I will not shame Karelius Majoris and the Ghost Riders,” Inferno said, with a look of clarity about him, reciting a mantra. “We are the Ghost Riders, and we are the terror incarnate. The things that prowl the darkness shriek in fear at the mention of our name. We shall stand as one, and destroy all who stand against His design. We are the Emperor’s Chosen, and we SHALL NOT FAIL!”

                    Before Inferno’s reaffirmation of his faith finished echoing through the decaying metropolis, more of the rubble was flung out of the way, and the Astartes could finally see some of the shape of the assailant. As far as the creatures they had to face over the years of their service to the Emperor, it was by far one of the ugliest, most sickening looking. “By the Emperor, this thing is huge,” Aurelian muttered under his breath, staring incredulously at the monster.

                    The creature was an enormous blob of warts, tumors, and necrotic flesh the color of slime and mucus, with internal organs actually exposed, some of them dragging on the ground beneath it, which did not seem to bother the monster in the slightest bit. It had two massive, fat and bulky arms that ended in deadly talons, themselves encrusted with filth, grime, and other substances that defied immediate identification. One of the monster’s hands grasped a gigantic cleaver, easily the size of a small building, rusted and dripping something thick, oily, and foul smelling from it. On top of the bulbous body sat a roughly triangular head, most of which was filled by an impossibly wide mouth, full of rotting yellow and black teeth, with a sinuous tongue licking them in greedy anticipation; the abomination’s eyes were partially hidden behind the cataracts, but what could be seen was bloodshot, deformed, diseased. The newly arrived monstrosity seemed to be an embodiment of everything that was filthy, everything that was diseased, everything that was unclean - everything that had to be purged.

                    The most disturbing thing about the monster, however, was not even its putrid appearance. Around it, things that were once human stood, holding the same ramshackle weapons in their decaying hands, surrounded by many smaller versions of the creature, the tallest reaching to about a half of a man’s height. The small monsters appeared to be carrying forth a thoroughly rotten through palanquin covered by filthy fabrics and blasphemous flags, bearing the giant creature forth by the sheer weight of their numbers. Even as Adrian watched, a few of the little abominations were squashed by a sharp turn, only to be replaced by more of their kind, which appeared to have hatched from the giant monster only to take the place of their destroyed brethren.

                    The unholy host stood, paused, staring at the Space Marines with their infected and rotting eyes, as if waiting for the order to charge from their bloated, obscene master; the Astartes took this chance to spread out, taking cover behind the pieces of rubble scattered across the plaza. Then, with the voice that sounded surprisingly cultured and at odds with its morbid appearance, the monster spoke.

                    “You know, your kind is the most troublesome,” the creature said. “It has become nearly impossible to enjoy a little festivity amidst close friends without you showing up and ruining the party. You are certainly most troublesome guests.”

                    “You are responsible for all this?” Damial raised his voice, proud and defiant against the abomination.

                    “I am merely passing by,” the monster replied. “What can I do if the mortals suddenly see the allures of Papa Nurgle? All I can do is gladly oblige, and entertain them. They, so far,” the creature grimaced, as if in displeasure, “have proven to be much better company than you have.”

                    “I’ve heard enough,” Damial yelled back. “Ghost Riders, purge this filth!”

                    In that very instant, the chattering of the Astartes bolters was joined by the hissing roar of the creatures, who charged at the Space Marines defensive line. Immediately, Adrian turned to order his troops to attack, but they needed no such encouragement, already saturating the shambling masses of the enemy with plasma fire. The Primarch frowned; while the enemy soldiers, if such word could be applied to these pitiful wrecks, and the smaller creatures died in prodigious numbers, the larger monster seemed to be completely unaffected. It rolled its head to the side, looking at the Astartes with an appearance of bemused curiosity.

                    “Please, please,” it said, surprisingly calm in the midst of the raging battle. “This is really annoying.” The monster swung its giant cleaver, now borne by its servants almost towards the Space Marines line. As the weapon touched the Astartes warriors, their very armor appeared to rust and decay, their noble and proud forms withered before the eyes of their comrades. In one attack, the monster caused more fatalities than all the previous assaults by its minions combined managed.

                    “Brother, are you with me?” Adrian heard Damial scream, then realized that it was directed at him as the albino Primarch charged into the fray, attempting to reach the abomination and force it to fight hand to hand. Surprised at this audacious charge, Adrian followed, swinging his power sword to dispatch of any enemies that attempted to block his way and force combat.

                    “So you would like to get more closely acquainted?” the monster mocked, bringing its cleaver for another attack, when all of a sudden it stopped, eyes focusing on Damial. “Inconceivable!” the creature exclaimed. “A soulless wretch!”

                    “You do not insult the noble Primarch thus!” Inferno screamed, somehow right at the side of the two Primarchs. “Foul abomination!” With these words, the albino Marine fired a volley of shots at the creature. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so due to their proximity to the monster, the bolter rounds made it wince, as if in pain.

                    By now, Adrian and Damial were surrounded by a motley crew of Astartes from both Legions, perhaps ten in total, although only two of them were from the Storm Bringers - the ever-present Chaplain Aurelian, and a Marine whom Adrian surprisingly recognized as Ian Mont, one of the impetuous few that were recruited from the otherwise rather pleasant and almost overly civilized world of Gomerie. The Marines fought with determined fury, covering the Primarchs flanks amidst the shambling hordes of the enemy.

                    Damial raised his strange staff-like weapon, and all of a sudden it started to glow a dull, sickly green, similar to and yet so much different from the aura of pestilential rot around the monster. There was a flash of light coming from the spiked sigil at the end of the device, and a ball of green fire flew from it at the abomination. The creature shrieked like a tortured beast, completely unlike the cultured voice it used up until only a few moments ago.

                    “This HURT!” it screamed. “Kill the soulless!”

                    As if at once, the monster’s guardians attempted to swarm the Primarchs and their coterie, but this also gave a chance to the Space Marines still fighting from cover, who took this opportunity to rip into the enemy with a withering hail of suppressive fire, shredding any who came even close to Damial, Adrian, and their group. Damial raised his weapon; again, another ball of green fire shot towards the shrieking monstrosity.

                    Clearly in pain or at least in much discomfort, the creature squeezed an unholy screech out through its teeth, then resumed its unbelievably civilized voice. “As much fun as this little rendezvous has been, I am afraid I have commitments elsewhere,” it said, slithering away from the palanquin and somehow managing to stand on its two chubby, atrophied legs that seemed to grow straight out of its obese bosom. “A little parting gift, perchance?”

                    With these words, the monster lunged away from the Primarchs with the speed and agility surprising for the one of its size and disposition, just as several blobs of what seemed like slime flew away from it, like projectiles. Adrian managed to avoid his, if only barely, while he saw the others follow his example, letting the slime impact harmlessly upon the rubble.

                    One of the warriors, however, was not so lucky; as Ian Mont charged the enemy with a raised chainsword, a rancid mass of slime landed itself on the Space Marine’s face, and even now Mont was spitting out the foul remains from his mouth, cursing judiciously. “Was it some sick joke?” the Storm Bringer said, in between the cursing and the spitting. “This tastes worse than the survival rations.”

                    “Just hope you didn’t swallow any of that,” Inferno said, not entirely helpfully, with a chuckle. “Swallowing is not good for complexion.”

                    “Frak you,” Mont replied angrily. Otherwise unperturbed, he continued firing and slashing at the departed creature’s allies, even as the monster just vanished into thin air, impossibly so for something so massive. But that was going to be a matter for later; for now the Astartes had a battle to win.

                    It did not take them long to dispose of the surviving locals; after their massive protector vanished, they proved to be of little challenge to the Ghost Riders Assault Marines, supported by the massive, overwhelming plasma fire from the Storm Bringers. The bodies littered the plaza, and only a few of those bodies wore the Astartes power armor.

                    “I swear they smell better dead than alive,” Inferno commented, plunging his chainsword through the neck of a particularly tenacious specimen, a creature so covered in boils and warts that its initial appearance, let alone its gender, were impossible to discern. He spat at the fallen wretch. “Why would anyone choose to be… this?”

                    Even before he finished, a mighty groan emerged from the lips of Ian Mont. His normally tanned face grew pale, as if almost all blood flow to it was suddenly cut. The Space Marine fell down on his knees, struggling against gravity and attempting to hold himself upright with his chainsword planted in the rubble.

                    “Told you swallowing was bad for you,” Inferno remarked, in a somewhat acidic voice. The Ghost Rider seemed to come to life in the presence of his Primarch, whereas previously he barely spoke three coherent words one after another.

                    “This is no time for fooling around, Vailax,” Damial said, serious and ascetic expression appearing on his face. “We still have an objective to take.” The Primarch did not appear to pay much attention to the Storm Bringer, who was by now starting to convulse on the ground.

                    “Brother Ian, are you all right?” Adrian said, concerned for what might have happened to a warrior of his Legion. “Are you wounded?”

                    “Something… is… tearing… me… apart from the… inside,” the Space Marine squeezed through his teeth. He was now laying on the ground face down; his limbs began convulsing, as if not entirely under his own control. His armor began to bulge, as if something from the inside was hammering it, trying to find a way out.

                    Mont let out a terrifying scream; his eyes looked like they were about to bulge from his pockets, and his face was all of a sudden red with exertion. All eyes were now on the writhing Space Marine, and not a few bolters were pointed in his direction. Whatever it was, it seemed like it was about ready to burst; the native of Gomerie was clearly in excruciating pain. And then…

                    “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Inferno said, looking at where the Storm Bringer’s armor was bulging the most. With a screech of ceramite and metal parting in a sudden and unexpected way, something burst out of the Space Marine’s posterior plating, flying by inertia for a few feet in the air, covered in blood, gore, and feces before the bolter rounds tore the thing apart, spreading those unwelcome substances which - as Adrian was careful to note, did not find their way to the unprotected skin of any of the Astartes.

                    Amazingly, the Storm Bringer was still alive, if only barely so; his fabled Astartes physique was pushed to its limits by this. An apothecary knelt down by Ian Mont, examining him for a brief moment even as the unreality of the situation settled in amongst the other warriors.

                    “He’ll live,” the apothecary finally said. “I recommend quarantine… make it extended quarantine.” The rest of the Space Marines seemed to shudder.

                    “Come on,” Damial called. “We still have an objective to take.” Sullen and horrified, Adrian followed, even as Inferno said something about swallowing being bad for one’s health.

                    This was not going to be an easy war.


                    • #11
                      Viridian Primaris – Planetary Capital

                      In the end, it was much easier than Adrian had suspected. Once the monstrous guardian was destroyed, banished, or otherwise forced to flee – he was not entirely sure which it was – the capture of the network node responsible for the aerial and the space defenses of the city was but a matter of sweeping the compound for any diseased stragglers, who proved to be of almost no challenge to the battle hardened Ghost Riders, while the Storm Bringers fortified the building entrance to keep any possible counterattacks at bay. Surprisingly, the city’s decrepit defenders did not take advantage of an excellent defensive position offered by the compound, choosing to meet the Space Marines in open battle instead of doing a tactically sensible thing and holing themselves up inside its reinforced walls; while this worked to the Astartes’ advantage, it made nearly no sense to Adrian and Damial, and that in itself was a matter of some concern.

                      Still, the Viridians made no effort to interfere with them, and did not even attempt to take back the structure as the full might of the two Legions descended from orbit in their drop pods, completely covering the entire expanse of the plaza and Thunderhawks leveled the buildings standing in the way to provide more space for the landing capsules. There was now a large, unstoppable force in the middle of their city, and the enemy did not even attempt as much as a half-hearted counterattack.

                      Adrian got a word from Guilliman almost within seconds of the compound’s capture; the Ultramarines Primarch was clearly happy. “Whatever you two did out there,” Guilliman said, practically beaming as much as it could be discerned from his voice, “it worked. The enemy is in complete disarray, and the White Scars are having little trouble picking them off one by one. At this pace, we should be able to resume our advance within an hour, and be there to meet up with you before nightfall. Anything unusual in the pus bags’ city?”

                      Adrian’s thoughts returned to the monstrosity they faced and drove back. Whatever it was, it was clearly not natural, completely unharmed by conventional weaponry until the moment Damial was close enough to it to unleash his black staff weapon, which he called his War Scythe. The Storm Bringers Primarch still did not know whether it was the albino’s strange, alien weapon, or if it was Damial’s unique ability that somehow caused the monster to suddenly become susceptible to damage, but either way, the implications were unpleasant and highly disturbing.

                      There were no such thing as gods. There were no such things as daemons. Even sorcery was at best simply a way to focus the psyker abilities and to give them a better, more effective form. Everything in the universe could be explained with cold, hard logic, reason, and science.

                      Everything but the abomination the Primarchs fought.

                      “There was… something here,” Adrian said with a tinge of trepidation in his voice. “Huge, green, and morbidly obese. Not to mention seemingly afflicted with every kind of disease you could possibly think of.”

                      “A fat Ork?” Guilliman sounded amused. The Ultramarines’ Primarch chuckled, as if he just made a witty comment.

                      “If this was an Ork, then we should better pray we never meet another one of its kind,” Damial said. “This thing was the size of a small Titan. That is, until it vanished into thin air.”

                      “If I didn’t know any better,” Guilliman said, “I would have said that the enemy pulled some kind of a particularly powerful illusion on you. I am certain that whatever it is that you fought had a perfectly reasonable explanation behind it.”

                      “I doubt what happened with brother Ian Mont was particularly reasonable,” Adrian said. “The thing threw something like, well, slime at him while it was escaping… and before long, something that looked like a miniature copy of that abomination practically tore itself out of brother Ian’s body.”

                      “Then it is clear,” Guilliman said. “The Viridians have been consorting with foul xenos or mutants, and allowed the alien corruption to take root. No wonder that corruption is now showing itself on their faces and bodies, like it should for all traitors to humanity.” His tone clearly brook no disagreement. “I trust you have dealt with the compromised Marine?”

                      “He is in strict quarantine for the foreseeable future,” Adrian said. “All of the units here will go through a very thorough decontamination process before returning.”

                      There was something like a sigh coming from Guilliman. “You have to ensure that the overall risk factor to the Legions remains minimal.”

                      Ah, Adrian thought, more of the patronizing statements. It really seemed like Roboute Guilliman was the very example of a by the book leader; there was always a standard, researched response to everything in his vocabulary. That, of course, simply meant that the book he went by was sufficiently expansive to cover most of everything they were going to encounter, but…

                      “Whatever it was that you faced,” the Ultramarines Primarch said, “you have clearly eliminated the thread. This is all that is important. If you made it run, it means it was afraid of you, as it should. And if it was simply some kind of an advanced projection, then you still managed to destroy it, and do what any good Astartes should do. Guilliman out.”

                      “Well, he was certainly of much help,” Inferno said as the communications link was cut, to the nods from both of the assembled Primarchs. The albino Ghost Rider grimaced, as if showing exactly what he thought of Roboute Guilliman and his ideas.

                      “That man is inflexible and hidebound enough to make one of those cogboys of Mars look like a pinnacle of innovation,” said Adrian.

                      “Or maybe there is something in it we are not supposed to know,” Damial replied. “Guilliman might have a severe case of tunnel vision, but even he can recognize an unforeseen threat when it comes up. He did not win all those victories by being an idiot.”

                      This left an uneasy weight on Adrian’s mind as he hurried about organizing his recently arrived Legion, assigning them to positions, and discussing the ground situation with his Captains. For now, the Storm Bringers and the Ghost Riders were going to separate, each going to their assigned areas of the city even as the elements from both Legions were going to link up with the advancing Ultramarines, Raven Guard, and White Scars. Worse yet, Adrian could not understand what could the Imperium possibly want with a planet like this, crumbling, rusting, full of plague stricken living corpses that somehow not only lived, but actually thrived in their monstrous condition. Were they insane, he wondered?

                      There was almost no resistance left in the remainder of the city; it seemed as if whatever sickness plagued the inhabitants, it finally overcame even their unnatural immunity to it. The few areas where the Viridians decided to put up some sort of a fight were quickly cleansed by the combined forces from five Space Marine Legions – it seemed that with the expulsion of their loathsome leader, the city’s original defenders lost all of their fighting spirit, and fell easy prey to the heavily armed, heavily armored Astartes. And though the cleanup operations were going to last for at least another week or so, by nightfall Adrian was feeling much more secure on the ground of this blighted world, even if it did little to raise his spirits.

                      Guilliman, Corax, and Jaghatain Khan joined him and Damial in the first compound the Storm Bringers and the Ghost Riders have captured, now outfitted with all the necessities of a forward command center once the enemy defensive lines were broken for good. Despite the apparent victory, the mood was anything but festive; the gloom of the Viridian Primaris night felt like the steel curtain of utter, primal darkness shutting out all sources of light beneath the planet’s polluted, toxic clouds. Only a few stars managed to shine brightly enough to cut through the primordial haze, and even those had their light twisted and distorted by the planet’s atmosphere. Though the surface of this world was still near paradise by the standards of Karelius Majoris, it still weighted down heavily on those used to more natural climates.

                      “So?” Jaghatai Khan broke the silence, somewhat impatiently. “What now?” As much as the Astartes warriors scrounged through the city high and low, there was little in a way of authority here, no one who would offer surrender. Much of the city, whose local name Adrian still did not know, but which was simply designated as Target Prime, seemed almost completely devoid of life, and the wretches that the Space Marines found almost made even their strengthened stomachs turn.

                      Truly, Viridian Prime was the world of plague. Even its healthiest residents would still have been considered seriously sick elsewhere, feverish and nearly incomprehensible; most of the rest were little more than walking corpses, embers of life still somehow burning in their withered, pus ridden frames. Only the Space Marines’ genetically enhanced bodies kept them from catching the contagion that devastated the planet so.

                      And yet, those of the residents who still had the ability to do so seemed happy. They smiled even as the sores opened on their faces and torsos; they cried the tears of milky yellow pus as pain wracked their bodies beyond all recognition. They did not seem to ask for a cure – no, instead the planet’s residents appeared to have completely embraced their suffering. Even the experienced, weathered warriors cringed at the thought.

                      “This planet is as good as gone,” said Corax, accentuating the conclusion of his thoughts. “These pathetic wretches are useless to the Imperium. They are beyond help.”

                      “Who is to say they want to be helped?” Adrian surprised even himself by speaking up.

                      “Listen, brother,” Jaghatai Khan walked to Adrian, placing a hand on the Storm Bringers’ Primarch’s shoulder. There was a surprisingly sympathetic expression on his otherwise dark and grim face. “I understand your civilized upbringing made much emphasis on living and letting live, but it is not how the galaxy works. The galaxy is a place where if you don’t let your survival instinct guide you, it will be only a matter of time before someone else’s survival instinct dictates that you stand in their way. And letting an enemy live is a sure way to sow the seeds for your own destruction.”

                      “I don’t like it, you don’t like it, none of us likes it,” the White Scars Primarch said, “but it is simply the way it is. This is why we are going through a thousand warp forsaken mud balls and bringing the Imperium upon them all. Because if we do not, then someone else would stab us in the back while we are letting everything go its own way.”

                      “This is not what I meant, Jaghatai, though I truly appreciate your concern,” Adrian replied, and all of a sudden the eyes of all Primarchs were on him. There was a disturbing glint in his eyes, almost maddened. “It is only natural for the humans who suffer to seek salvation, and to ask for help if they are helpless and powerless. A few madmen may find pleasure in pain, or solace in suffering, but those are not going to be enough to turn an entire world into one big cult of the most disgusting way to die imaginable.”

                      “Therefore,” he said, “we must ask ourselves a question – why is Viridian Primaris thus infected, and accepting it? Why were they spending all of their efforts on fighting us off instead of trying to cure whatever plague afflicted their world?”

                      There was silence in place of any answer; the gathered Primarchs had nothing to say to Adrian’s sudden vivacity.

                      “More importantly, I believe this plague was of no normal origin,” the Storm Bringers leader said. “While I and my Legion prefer the definite knowledge that only hard data can provide, there are clearly things out there that cannot be understood by it, and I think our plague here is one of those things. The plague, and whoever or whatever caused it.”

                      “You believe that it was… artificially induced?” Corax said incredulously. “Why would anyone do that, unless they intend to attack this world and take it for their own once the population dies?”

                      “It is worse than you think,” said Adrian. “The enemy soldiers died gladly, but not because our bolter shells and chainswords put them out of their misery. They died gladly while cherishing all of their unseemly afflictions. They threw themselves at us even when any sane people would have long given up and died. What do you make of this? What do you make of the creature Damial slew in the very plaza below this building?”

                      “Just what was that thing, anyway?” Damial asked warily. “I hope there are no more of its kind running around, because one of them was bad enough.”

                      Guilliman stared at both him and Adrian, as if mentally boring a drill into their faces with his very sight. “Brothers,” he said in a commanding voice reminiscent more of a stern old abbot than anything else. “You both are still young, and still have much of the galaxy to see. Some day, you will encounter things that are beyond your comprehension, or the things the knowledge of which can bring you to your doom. Heed my words now, before it is too late.”

                      “There are things out there that man was never meant to know, for to know with them can lead one on a dangerous path to consort with them. Such are the guises used by the vile alien, foul mutant, or sweet talking insurgent. You shall not question the nature of some things, for they simply are. To know to much is to become vulnerable.”

                      “Did I hear it right?” Adrian said somewhat incredulously. “The great Roboute Guilliman, the Primarch the number of whose victories is only second to Horus himself, is making a case for ignorance? Brother, this sounds nothing like you.”

                      “Just trust me,” Guilliman said, all color gone from his face, although it was impossible to tell whether it was from rage or terror. “All I know is that there are some paths we are not meant to walk, and I shall not set another one upon them.”

                      Another one. That was a strange thing for the Ultramarines’ Primarch to say.

                      “You know something about what we faced, Roboute,” Adrian said. “You owe it to us to tell us what it is that we are up against, so that we can stop it for good.”

                      “Brother, this is a force that will require only the strongest faith, the strongest arm, and the most supreme effort of determination to defeat,” Guilliman replied. “Know this - once you learn of them, you can never go back into the safe, secure ignorance.”

                      “Are you prepared for this?” asked the Ultramarines’ Primarch, his finger pointing straight at, and through Adrian.

                      “Are you implying that I am in some way incapable of dealing with it?” Adrian said, annoyed. “Roboute, I have seen this thing with my own eyes. Damial drove it off by his own hands. I don’t think ignorance is any longer an option.”

                      “Very well,” said Guilliman. There was an air of resignation about him, incompatible with his strong, confident manner at any other moment in time. “There are things out in the Warp, bad things. Malicious things. All they desire is to wreak havoc upon the Materium. I do not know why, or how, but sometimes they are able to cross the threshold into our world.”

                      “You mean, like ghosts?” Damial asked incredulously. “That was no ghost that I fought. If anything, it was as real as you or me here.”

                      “Trust not in the spawn of the Warp,” Guilliman spat out. “They exist only to deceive, to destroy. They are here to wreak everything we have created. They cannot be reasoned with, unlike the Eldar or even the Orks. They desire only to bring damnation upon us all.”

                      “Do you have anything more concrete?” Adrian asked. “I need to know how to fight them, how I can turn their strength against themselves, and banish them forever from our worlds. If one of them could bring such devastation upon Viridian Primaris, they must not be allowed to do so ever again!”

                      There were strange looks from both Corax and Jaghatai Khan. Only now Adrian realized that whatever Guilliman was talking about, they had at least some inkling of it. Yet it seemed that Damial was as ignorant of the Warp entities as Adrian himself; there was something strange here. Why would only three of the Primarchs know something of such vital importance, but not the other two?

                      “You cannot turn it upon itself, don’t you understand?” Guilliman almost screamed. In the thin confines of the makeshift command center, his loud, booming voice echoed prodigiously. “When I first set my foot upon this world, I thought that the corruption was only limited to some of them. That there was still something to be saved. Look around you,” he waved his arm at nothing in particular. “This is the nature of the forces from beyond. This is what they do. There is nothing left for us now, not anymore. No souls to save. This world is gone, and you have to simply accept it and move on.”

                      “All you can do with them,” said Jaghatai Khan with a wisened, sad smile, “is destroy them with your bolters, your swords, and your faith. You cannot redeem those who have fallen beyond redemption.” He extended the knowing expression to include Damial. “This is the reason why we fight. So that the rest of the galaxy does not fall to the horrors such as these, or worse.”

                      “There are worse things than that?” exclaimed Damial, eyes wide in shock. “I can imagine no worse fate for a warrior than to die of some wasting disease, powerless to even cut one last enemy down! This is… just wrong.”

                      “When you have lived as long as I have, you will have encountered worse things than this, brother,” said Guilliman, for the first time extending something that looked like an expression of sympathy to the albino Primarch. “Just trust me on this, you don’t want to face them up close. And it is even worse when you hear them whisper in your ear. They will promise you everything under the heavens. And then… you will end up like them.”

                      All of a sudden, Roboute Guilliman straightened up, the old mask of imperturbable competence and fearlessness coming back to cover his face as if it were armor. “This is all you need to know. Face the Warp spawn with your faith first, and your weapons second, and you will triumph. Falter in your faith, and no amount of weapons or armor will save you.”

                      “Gather all of the Marines for transport back to orbit,” Guilliman ordered. “There is nothing left for us here on Viridian Primaris. Once we are in orbit,” he explained, “I will initiate Exterminatus.”

                      Adrian frowned. Guilliman’s words were not of much help. He needed concrete, specific ways to fight the creatures from the Warp, a certain way to send them back to whatever plane they came from. Merely wiping out everything they touched with virus bombs was not the answer; it simply helped the malevolent entities accomplish their goal of ruination. Guilliman only acknowledged that which Adrian already realized, but gave him little useful information; there was no chance of learning more here.

                      Fortunately, Adrian Octavius knew just where to get this kind of information.


                      • #12
                        Then – Byzantion Tertius

                        Byzantion Tertius was burning as far as the eye could see; the flames jumped over the skyline of Argos City, licking the soot-covered sky like tongues of some primeval beasts. Some of the fires were large enough that they could be seen from orbit even as the Hammer Of Dawn stood sentinel over the wounded world, surveying the damage with dismay.

                        This was not meant to be. This was not how it was supposed to be.

                        Byzantion Tertius was not particularly happy to accept the rule of the Imperium, but the planet’s rather unassuming and civilized nature meant it had not resisted in any meaningful manner, and though there were muffled whispers at the prospect of having an Imperial governor take over the actual control of the planet, most of the people simply shrugged and continued on as before. The Al’Gart, the system’s indigenous species, were not as lucky; though they managed to keep their lives for the time being, they were all of a sudden barred from leaving their homeworld, the system’s second planet. And the Eldar…

                        The Eldar were the direct cause of the carnage happening on the planet’s surface.

                        Adrian swore as he waited for the storm bolter mounted on his Terminator armor to reload, then let out a volley of shots at the dancing shadows in the distance, with little effect. Unlike the Orks, whose battlefield strategy, if it could be called that, consisted of swarming the enemy with the masses of greenskin infantry eager to get into close combat, the Eldar took the art of war to a completely different extreme – with an emphasis on the art part of it. They were fast, sleek, graceful, and their movements in combat were not unlike the way they moved outside of it, only this time, the weapons that were once kept at their sides in peaceful display of power were brought to bear, shredding the unlucky few who attempted to stop them with the flurries of monomolecular blades shot out at an impossibly high speed.

                        And all over it, Adrian still wondered why. What happened here to make the Eldar, who traded with Byzantion Tertius for thousands of years with nary an incident, all of a sudden take a completely different kind of interest in the planet, raiding it, attacking it, burning it down to the ground? The civilized man in him longed to know the answer, but some other part of him already knew.

                        “Just because an alien may look like a human, may talk like a human, and may sheathe his weapons does not mean he thinks like a human. They are alien by their very definition.”

                        The Emperor was right, as much as Adrian hated to even admit the possibility. For all that they were a fixture of his life on Byzantion Tertius, for all their seemingly ancient benevolence and pragmatic, peaceful intent, the Eldar were just as alien as the non-humanoid Al’gart – and perhaps even more so, despite of, and maybe even because of how human they looked. The reasons behind their actions were worse than obscure – their very reasoning was alien. Who could possibly know what went on inside their heads, what sense of morals was instilled in them, if they even knew what the morals and the ethics were to begin with?

                        The Eldar attacked Byzantion Tertius without warning, and without provocation, forcing Adrian to take as many of his available Marines as he could, and rush to the planet’s rescue from his most recent deployment. To be the only Primarch who lost his own homeworld was a shame he was determined to avoid; it was already bad enough that his brothers looked down on him for his apparent lack of military accomplishments.

                        The Storm Bringers were down in full force, one thousand Space Marines, some of whom were even the natives of Byzantion Tertius, blooded by their participation in their first off-world battles, and led by their Primarch. Somehow, this seemed like a drop in the ocean – one thousand men and their weapons to protect and hold an entire planet against Warp only knew how many Eldar.

                        Almost automatically, Adrian discounted the Planetary Garrison as a viable military force. They were almost all locally recruited, and though the officers usually tended to be knowledgeable and competent, training and discipline were somewhat lax amidst the lower ranks. This was an army that did not see true conflict in thousands of years, kept mainly as a force intended to calm down any dissent with its mere presence, to assist the local Arbites in upholding the law – they have never expected to come under serious, concerned attack.

                        When the Eldar hit, the Planetary Garrison compounds and bases were the first targets, and proved themselves woefully inadequate as a real deterrent to this determined aggressor. The soldiers of Byzantion Tertius were cut down with shuriken catapults and Fire Prism tanks long before they stood any chance at regrouping, or even attempting to retaliate, with the survivors pinned down hopelessly by the enemy fire. Wherever the Eldar struck, chaos and panic followed; very soon, reliable intelligence was almost impossible to obtain, and all large scale civilian authority on the planet began to break down in the wake of a surprise attack that slew the Imperial Governor and his entire advisory body. As the local leaders battled one another to assume the position of power in the absence of stronger authority, the Eldar struck again and again, until the planet was in complete disarray.

                        Adrian was on the planet for two days, and only now managed to restore some sense of authority, as much by threats as by anything else. He organized convoys to evacuate civilians under the escort of Storm Bringers companies; set up fortifications wherever evacuation was impossible, planned attacks and counterattacks that were now beginning to bear fruit. Adrian’s presence did not force the Eldar to abandon their foolish assault, but it did make them more cautious, now using pincer hit and run strikes whereas previously the full might of their squadrons set upon the human settlements.

                        And still there was no sign just what the Eldar could possibly want on this planet, why all of a sudden they attacked with no provocation.

                        Right now, Adrian led his forces on a sweep of an outlying suburb, where Eldar raiders were previously spotted, and where, it was believed, a major enemy offensive was gathering for a push on to the capital. It was previously a peaceful, tranquil community, the kind where people raised families while working in the more developed city, with nary an object of military or strategic value to its name. Green and yellow grass still grew vigorously on the abandoned lawns, even as the houses that previously housed families of the citizens were now strewn through with burns and holes where the ammunition impacted during the earlier firefights.

                        And then, there were the bodies. The Eldar cared little for who or what they killed, be it grown men and women trying to protect their homes, children, or even house pets. There was nothing left alive here other than the Storm Bringers and their alien assailants. Adrian felt hot, bloody rage roar at the sights of this senseless devastation.

                        The Storm Bringers around him, two companies strong, took cover in the ravaged shells of the houses, popping their heads out only for the briefest moments to take shots at the Eldar lurking outside. It was still not even the local noon, and yet the smoke from all the fires blanketed the sky to where it looked otherworldly, infernal, even unholy in its cracked red glow.

                        The Eldar force apparently consisted of a large number of warriors armed with shuriken cannons, as well as some incredibly fast, agile ones that preferred to strike up close, attacking with inhuman speed and twirling their curved monomolecular blades into a deadly dance that usually ended up with the surprised Marine falling before he had much of a chance to realize what was attacking him, only as the aliens disappeared back, either due to their inhuman speed, or, more likely, to some trick of ancient technology. Staying put was not going to win it, Adrian thought; the Eldar warriors were clearly hit and run raiders, and this battle favored their fighting style.

                        Hit them where it hurts, hit them fast, hit them hard. This was the maxim of Jaghatai Khan – and now, it was going to serve Adrian Octavius just as well.

                        “All squads, move out,” he said to the incredulous murmurs from the Storm Bringers. They thought that it was the very height of insanity to leave even the relative safety of cover for a headlong charge – especially given the emphasis on ranged combat in their early campaigns. Still, they obeyed; he was their leader, their Primarch, and obedience was infused in them on almost genetic level. He led them to victory before – he could do it again. Could he?

                        There was no time for doubt.

                        The Storm Bringers went out in force, laying down heavy suppressive fire to make even the acrobatic and agile Eldar scatter due to the sheer mass of heavy ordnance coming at them. If Adrian had guessed correctly, the enemy gathering ground, and most of the Eldar heavy weapons platforms and armor were in a plaza where, before the invasion, the local authorities attempted without much success to cultivate a bustling merchant market. It was relatively open, with enough space for the enemy commander to gather his (or, as the case with the Eldar often was, her) warriors and war machines to begin a concerned push against the human defenses.

                        Here and there the Eldar raiders managed a few pot shots at the advancing Space Marines, but it was futile. The Eldar were made for and trained for lightning fast raids, quick attacks, luring the enemy into ambush and taking advantage of the ground. Here, the Eldar raid was caught in its middle, where the aliens did not expect to meet serious resistance – and therefore, they were if not caught by surprise, then at the very least disheartened, not having had a chance to find adequate cover that would protect them against the heavy bolter and plasma fire.

                        “Die… you… bastard… whoreson,” Adrian heard a Space Marine yell as he let out a burst of rounds on full auto at a particularly brave – or particularly stupid Eldar warrior attempting to charge the Storm Bringers atop some kind of an insanely fast grav bike. At first it seemed like the alien managed to avoid the shots, swerving back and forth with incredible speed and control, but it did not take much; a single bolter round sent the Eldar toppling from his now uncontrollable vehicle, body armor torn and tattered, a hole ripped in the alien’s torso. All around the Primarch, the scene repeated itself several times, costing the Eldar dearly.

                        The teleporting alien warriors appeared again, trying to sow destruction in the ranks of the Storm Bringers, but this time, the Astartes were ready. The Eldar still managed to slay several Space Marines, but only to be slain in turn by the human warriors’ surviving comrades. Adrian felt the tide of the battle turning.

                        They were finally at the plaza, where the aliens decided to make a stand, crawling behind the rubble for the meager cover it provided even as Adrian’s Thunderhawks obliterated the buildings still standing from the air, coincidentally cutting off the escape routes for the thin, frail looking aliens. There were perhaps a hundred or so Eldar still alive, huddled by the Fire Prism and Falcon tanks, whose sleek forms were curiously undamaged in the battle so far. Perhaps, the alien commander realized that the only chance he or she now stood against the Space Marines was to use the heavy weapons of the armored vehicles for cover and protection; the force Adrian led to reclaim the suburb consisted of two full companies, four hundred Marines – an overkill by all means, but important nevertheless. This force was meant to score a victory, something to rally the panicked citizenry to the Imperial cause, something to show them that the Eldar, their trading partners for the past thousand plus years that betrayed them on a whim, were neither noble and powerful, nor invincible.

                        And then… it could not be. Adrian had to hold himself from yelling in surprise. He assumed the alien army to most likely be composed of various raiders, pirates, mercenaries with little organization beyond wherever they could cause carnage – but now that the extent of the aliens’ raiding party was in front of him, he realized with some shock that this here was clearly a proper Craftworld force, equipped with vehicles, armor, and advanced weaponry… and led by a Farseer. His knowledge of the Eldar beyond the basics was still somewhat sketchy, but his education to the nature of the galaxy at large at the hands of the Emperor was sufficient for him to recognize one of the witch leaders of the aliens, whose presence on the battlefield always indicated plots, plans, wheels within wheels, and worse. Adrian felt as if several buckets of ice cold water were suddenly dumped on his head with no warning.

                        There was a sinister purpose at work here. The Imperial citizens – his people – were slain in cold blood, and for what? There was a good chance that the witch commander of the Eldar was somehow responsible – and thus, she would pay. Adrian was going to make sure of that.

                        “Witch,” he yelled, pointing his power sword directly at her lithe figure. “I am coming for you. I am Adrian Octavius, and I… will… destroy… you!” He screamed the last words even as he charged, ignoring the shots from the Eldar vehicles that came close enough to scorch the paint off his Terminator armor, but still failed to delay him. The bulk of the Primarch wearing the heaviest armor available to the Space Marines slammed into the defending Eldar warriors, who tried to shoot him with little success, finally trying to cover their faces in terror, a surprisingly human gesture when Adrian’s body leveled the much lighter aliens with the sheer strength of its impact, crushing their frail bones even despite the superior technology of their ancient species protecting them. The wails of pain from the Eldar were almost human as the Primarch’s power sword finished them off.

                        “Do your worst, mon-keigh,” the Farseer said, moving to engage him face to face. There was something strange in her voice to Adrian’s ears, just like in the voices of most Eldar, as if it was ran through some amplifier that distorted it slightly. The overall effect was almost haunting, sounding like a human speaking through a voxcoder that just did not function properly, and echoed everything spoken in some unseemly robotic sound.

                        The alien did not wear a helmet typical of her species, revealing an intense face that was somehow ageless, even if its features were not unlike those of a young human female. Only the somewhat ethereal features, strange colored eyes, and the pointed shape of ears betrayed the fact that the creature in front of Adrian was not human, and would not hesitate to kill him despite looking so much alike. Her shoulder length hair was now a tangled mess, brands of different colors from pure black to fiery red competed for a place in the sun. The Farseer held a long, curved sword not unlike those used by the teleporting alien warriors, with curious and clandestine runes carved upon the blade in the inscrutable language of the Eldar.

                        As Adrian attacked the alien with all his speed and strength, the only word on his lips was, “why?” Was there a reason for it all? Was this just a subtle manifestation of a mind too alien to truly comprehend?

                        “You mon-keigh can never understand,” the Farseer replied, in strangely accented Low Gothic even as she parried his wild blow. “Such is the fate of the species that cannot fathom the long picture, and see what lies beyond the next decade, or a century at most.”

                        “Understand this, witch,” Adrian screamed, incensed, plunging his power sword towards the elfin alien. The Eldar barely got out of the way, her speed still more than a match for the Primarch. “Your plans are laid barren.”

                        Around them, the battle raged, the fabled Eldar speed and grace proving to be less of a match to the Storm Bringers’ numbers and brute strength. One by one, the aliens’ heavy guns went silent to the Astartes plasma guns, and even the standard bolters sowed the seeds of death amongst the Eldar. Though the elfin aliens gave as good as they received, this raid was doomed from the beginning; though they might have been free to sow disorder on Byzantion Tertius and subvert it to their needs before the Astartes arrived, the Storm Bringers changed the entire strategic picture on the ground.

                        “Who is to say that my plans did not involve bringing you here, mon-keigh?” the Farseer retorted, now pressing with an attack of her own. The other warriors on both sides gave the wide berth; despite the raging combat around them, no one interfered with the duel.

                        “Then what did you hope to gain by it, your death? If it is so, I can oblige for all the suffering you have caused to my people,” Adrian growled. His power sword connected with the Farseer’s weapon, forcing the Eldar to strain; her strength, though formidable and probably augmented by her armor, was no match for the Space Marine Primarch. It was only the alien’s agility that still kept her alive, combined with the relative bulk of Adrian’s Terminator armor.

                        “There are worse things than the deaths of mon-keigh. Your front line is now weakened without your warriors,” the Farseer said, panting heavily from the effort of having to keep constantly on the move.

                        “My brothers will manage, witch,” Adrian suddenly kicked at her legs. Had he been wearing more standard armor, the kick would have succeeded, but the sheer weight of Terminator plate made his movement too slow, too sluggish. The alien jumped out of the way before the kick was through, and now the Farseer was on the offensive again, landing several blows against the heavy armor while the Primarch was off-balance.

                        “It is irrelevant,” said the Farseer, perhaps only now realizing that the number of her defenders was rapidly dwindling. “Even if you slay me, it is irrelevant.”

                        “You value your life so little?” Their blades locked, Adrian’s superior strength pushing them down towards the alien. The Eldar woman could not have hoped to match the Primarch; it was a losing battle for her, unless something unexpected intervened.

                        “Ten thousand Eldar shall live because of what happens here. Ten thousand Eldar that would have been slaughtered by the Orks that will now descend upon this pathetic world and towards your mon-keigh Imperium instead of preying on my kind. It is a worthy sacrifice if I do not live to see it.”

                        The Farseer twitched, backwheeling away from the Primarch in just a nick of time before her guard was completely overcome. There she stood now, holding the eldritch blade in both arms, battered yet resolute.

                        “Do you have a name, so that I can curse it as I cut out your heart, witch?” Adrian spat out, anger at such utter callousness for human life boiling hot within him. They were his people! What right did an alien have to dispense with them for the sake of her own fallen, misbegotten kind?

                        “I am Farseer Caeryel of Craftworld Ulthanash Shelwe, known as Ulthwe to your barbarous kind, and I shall not be judged by a jumped up beast such as yourself!”

                        “Your kind has been judged, and found wanting,” Adrian said, getting ready for a decisive blow. “The galaxy is no longer yours.”

                        “And is it yours, young mon-keigh?” the Eldar mocked, dancing around the Storm Bringers’ Primarch and probing his defenses with sharp stabs and slashes that he was hard pressed to block or evade. All of a sudden, it seemed as if the Farseer settled into a pace of combat more comfortable to her, a pace that the Primarch had much harder time keeping up with. She was still not capable of breaching his defenses, but now Caeryel was doing much better job at evading deadly entanglement, staying at least at arm’s length or more from him, just barely within the reach of his power sword.

                        “The galaxy is ours, witch,” Adrian squeezed through his teeth. “You had your chance and failed. Now all you and your wretched kind are capable of is scavenging the remains. We are strong, vigorous, and full of life - much more so than any of your kind.”

                        “So little you know,” the Farseer’s voice was almost pitying him, if such an emotion could be discerned from a creature this alien. “This very life will be your undoing.”

                        “It’s better to go into the night while burning brighter than a supernova, than to fade into history like your species will,” the Primarch retorted. They exchanged yet another flurry of blows, counterblows, and parries, neither one gaining an advantage.

                        “We might have birthed a great evil into this universe,” said the Eldar, “but it is your kind that will give it its greatest tools. And you alone, Primarch Adrian Octavius, may determine if it wins and dooms us all.”

                        Adrian was shocked; this creature, this alien witch knew exactly who he was, despite there being very few insignia on his armor, and his face still being relatively unknown, overshadowed by the more famous Primarchs - Horus, Roboute Guilliman, Magnus the Red, Leman Russ, all of them older, more established, with countless victories to their names. How was it possible?

                        Without pause, the alien unleashed a series of attacks, each taking advantage of the Primarch’s moment of slight confusion. One slash managed to penetrate even the massive armor, drawing blood upon his torso, driving him into a manic burst of activity.

                        “You cannot possibly hope to fool me with such simple tricks, witch,” he panted, regaining his composure and stabilizing the rhythm of battle. He saw that the Eldar woman was starting to get tired, sluggish in her movements. This was one advantage of the Space Marines, let alone the Primarchs - they might not have been the most agile fighters, even if still far above the human norm, but where sheer endurance came into play, they could maintain their fighting form for far longer than the warriors of most other known species. Adrian was still capable of fighting for hours, while the Farseer was nearly spent from the effort it took her to keep up with him.

                        “It is the truth,” the Eldar shrieked. “Your allegiance will determine the victory. And either way lies doom.” The expression on her face was curiously human, exasperated and horrified as if she just saw something in Adrian that terrified her out of her mind. “Either way you go, you shall bring doom!”

                        As she lost her bearing for a brief fraction of a second, Adrian saw an opening, and immediately pressed on with his attack. This time, the Farseer was not fast enough; the Primarch’s power sword hit her blade just at the pommel, shattering it with a single burst of energy, channeled by Adrian’s hate, rage, and concentration. With shock, Caeryel stared at the remains of the sword in her hand, now useless for anything, even as the Primarch of the Storm Bringers advanced on her motionless form.

                        She looked at him, facing the Primarch; their eyes crossed, emerald green facing off against the inscrutable, unnatural alien color. “Kill me, mon-keigh,” she said, contemptuously. “You bear the mark of doom upon you. It shall not matter, for I have already succeeded in my task.” The Farseer knelt down, opening her neck to Adrian’s final blow, still defiant even in the presence of her impending death.

                        The Primarch had his weapon at the back of the Eldar’s head, holding it there, and yet… hesitating. It was not that his rage has abated any - on the contrary, the alien’s allusions to something incomprehensible and vague were annoying at the worst, and infuriating at the best. Here was the creature responsible for so much carnage on Byzantion Tertius, HIS planet, the world that made him what he became, the world he was sworn to protect… by every right, he should have been eager to execute this bringer of war and destruction. But there was so much more he could learn; he sensed the Farseer was telling something like the truth, even if his rational senses were warning him of the Eldar deception, of how little he should trust anything he just saw and heard. On the spot, his decision was made; the futures swirling about him set in motion.

                        “Go back to your wretched kind, witch,” he said, putting as much contempt and disgust into his voice as he could. “Tell them of the fate that befalls any who dare to betray the Imperium of Man.”

                        Incredulous, the Farseer got up, staring at her hands as if she was seeing them for the first time. Caeryel rose her eyes to his, and the expression of shock and… terror in them was almost human.

                        “So this is the path you choose, Primarch,” she said, eyes wide. “Then I have only much pity for you.” Caeryel backed down, still facing Adrian, oblivious to everything else, even to the sounds of the battle where the Storm Bringers were slaying the last remnant of the Eldar warriors.

                        “You will have need of me, one day,” the Eldar Farseer said, eyes narrowing, composure returning. “Pray to whatever you believe in that this day does not come soon.” As soon as she finished speaking, she turned her back to the Primarch and ran faster than most humans could, evading the piles of rubble and going towards one of the abandoned, burnt out husks of the buildings, where, Adrian presumed, her means of getting away from here alive were located.

                        A Space Marine near Adrian rose up his bolter, aiming for a perfect shot at the alien’s fleeing form; the Primarch stopped him. “Let her go,” Adrian said. “It is better to leave one alive to relay the news of their failure to the enemy, and to discourage them from ever trying our defenses again.”

                        “Of course, my lord,” the Marine said, with reverence at what he probably took as some deep, profound wisdom. He lowered the bolter, casting a baleful glance at the Eldar. “May their kind be fed alive into the Warp.” Adrian realized that the Marine was the native of Byzantion Tertius himself, Isaac Varus by the name; he had every right to hate the Eldar after what they put their shared home world through for their own inscrutable, alien agenda.

                        Adrian hoped that his words brought reassurance to his comrade, but inside, he felt empty. Marked by doom! There was a sense of needless determination to it, alien to his civilized sensibilities. It was as if for all their ancient knowledge, the Eldar were but mystics, deterministic and insular creatures. Somehow it did not feel right to him, even if he could sense the truth in Caeryel’s words.

                        “This will be the end of it,” the Primarch said to Varus, who nodded in eager agreement. But deep in his hearts, Adrian knew that true end was nowhere in sight.


                        • #13
                          Now – Aboard The Hammer Of Dawn

                          “There is no way in the Warp you could be serious,” Captain Isaac Varus of the Fourth Company exclaimed, a puzzled and confused expression upon his face despite not one, but two Primarchs standing next to him. “You are expecting to do… what again?”

                          “This thing we fought clearly has the potential to destroy planets,” Adrian said. “There were ten billion people on Viridian Primaris – and now not a single one of them lives. We need to destroy it for good before it has a chance to do this somewhere else.”

                          “Still, consorting with the Eldar? I beg you to reconsider, my Primarch,” Isaac said. “They are not to be trusted. You remember what happened on Byzantion Primaris!”

                          “And yet, if anyone will know about the enemy we are facing, it is them,” Adrian replied grimly. “Guilliman either knows very little, or is unwilling to tell anything more. Other than him, the only one who might have an idea is Magnus, but Magnus is on the other side of the galaxy. The Emperor may know something, but he may just as well look the other way and tell us to forget about the whole incident. Damial may relate to that, too.” The albino Primarch nodded; he was clearly uncomfortable with the idea, but somehow eager to get on with it.

                          They were in Adrian’s private meeting room, two Primarchs flanked only by the most trusted of their respective retinues – Chaplain Aurelian, Captain Varus, and Remembrancer Mvua from the Storm Bringers; Inferno, Bolt, and Maroon from the Ghost Riders. The encounter on the planet below was weighing heavily on their minds; it was not an enemy they have faced before, and had a confident way of defeating. It was not a meeting Guilliman, Corax, or Jaghatai Khan knew of; it was a meeting they were not going to find out about.

                          “Brother Damial,” the Storm Bringers’ Primarch said. “It is clear that we must hunt this monstrosity down, and I would solicit the assistance of the Ghost Riders Legion for it.”

                          “We cannot reroute the entire Legion just to satisfy a pet project,” the albino Primarch replied. “I hope you are not thinking of doing that. The galaxy is big, and there are some pretty bad things out there.”

                          “This is not what I had in mind, Damial,” Adrian’s face became determined, grim even. “By removing the bulk of our Legions from the front lines, we are in essence doing the enemy’s job for him. No, I was thinking of something much more subtle.”

                          “Subtle?” Damial began to look quizzical and curious. “I am all ears, brother.” Behind him, the other Ghost Riders appeared attentive and alert.

                          “If we were to send a small detachment of warriors from both of our Legions, working together, on a mission to chase down the monster that destroyed Viridian Primaris, we should be able to neutralize that menace before it has a chance to strike again, without abandoning the Great Crusade or making it seem like we cannot hold our own,” Adrian explained.

                          “What if Guilliman, or Horus find out and try to stop you?” said Damial. “Guilliman clearly did not like to even talk about it. If he knew what we are talking about here and now, he would prohibit any wild grox chase.”

                          “But Guilliman does not know about it,” Adrian replied. “And besides, we are Space Marines. This is simply what we do. This is our duty,” he said, as an impassionate plea. “To do anything less is to shy away from the duty we were made for. Think of the ten billion people who died on the planet below us. If it was not for that monster, we would have had no need to call Exterminatus upon it. Ten billion people would have still been alive!”

                          Damial shrugged. “It may seem a lot to you,” he said, “but you may not realize just how huge the galaxy is. Ten billion people is nothing compared to some of the hive worlds out there. It is nothing compared to Terra, or to Chthonia, or any of the old worlds.”

                          “Does it mean we should simply stand by and do nothing, and let another ten billion people die?” Adrian rose his voice. “At which point does it become statistics? Ten billion? Twenty billion? A trillion? At which point does interference become warranted?”

                          “I pity anyone to whom letting the deaths of billions go unavenged is a mere statistic,” said Mvua Mvua in an incendiary, brash voice, completely unconcerned that he was talking to the Primarchs, a virtual genetically engineered demigods who could have smote him with no effort whatsoever. “It goes directly against everything that makes us human – and not like… that thing, and the poor wretches that followed it into the jaws of damnation.”

                          Damial looked angry; there was a certain gleaming tint in his eyes, and his movements were somewhat jerky as he approached the little Remembrancer, coming almost face to face with the man – as much as it was possible with someone who was only a little over half his own height. “Remembrancer, don’t you tell me anything about being human,” Damial seethed through his teeth. “I am a blank, do you know what this means?” The albino Primarch licked his lips in nervous, anxious way that made him seem like a viper about to strike at his prey.

                          “This means that most humans have never accepted me for one of their own, as if I was something monstrous, something unclean. They feared me and the others like me as much as they pleaded with me to save them when the things that go bump in the night reared their ugly heads. They praised me for as long as it took for the monsters to be dispatched of, and then turned to scorn as soon as the monsters were gone. Do you know what I did?”

                          The Remembrancer was silent, tolerating the outburst stoically. Not a muscle on his face flinched, even if he did appear to be completely in the Primarch’s power.

                          “You do not?” Damial said. “Well, let me tell you then. I have slain the monsters – and then, I became the very monster that ruled over them. The mere notions of humanity hold little sway over me. The only true brothers I have all wear black and grey, and go into battle under the sign of the scythe. So don’t you ever tell me about my obligations towards humanity, the huddled masses who would just as soon shun, fear, and attempt to destroy me had they not been scared out of their wits!”

                          “And yet, you still serve humanity, lord Damial,” Mvua Mvua said, not casting his eyes down and standing to the much bigger, much taller Primarch. “For all you deny of it, everything you have accomplished so far has furthered the cause of the human species as a whole. Perhaps you may not see it as your duty, or as your obligation – but it is indeed in your very nature to do what is right. Do you think I cannot see that? Do you think that something honest, loyal, and noble does not show through this hardened façade? I know that in the end, you will choose to do the right thing, and support lord Adrian on ridding the galaxy of this pestilential pest.”

                          “You have the guts, Remembrancer,” Damial said, backing off somewhat. “Suppose I were to agree to your plan, brother Adrian,” he said, now turning towards his fellow Primarch. “What would you have me do?”

                          Adrian fixed him with an unflinching glance. “I would ask for some of your warriors to accompany some of mine on a mission to find and destroy the abomination for good,” he said slowly. “At least five, perhaps no more than ten Ghost Riders, preferably those who share the power of the blank.”

                          “Why so?” suspicion crept into the albino’s voice. “Most people try to get as far away from the blanks as possible. The use of blanks as interrogators is limited at best, unless the subject is a psyker, in which case the only thing that can make him talk is either another, better psyker, or a threat of a blank getting up close and personal.”

                          “Remember the creature you slew, brother,” Adrian said. “It shrugged off the heavy bolter and the plasma rounds as if they were paper. But then, you and Brother Captain Thumraddin got close, and even the standard bolter fire seemed to hurt it, before you chased it away with your War Scythe. I presume Captain Thumraddin is a blank as well, correct?”

                          There was a nod of acknowledgement from Inferno.

                          “This might be the only chance we have to truly hurt the bastard without requiring Exterminatus or something of equal measure,” Adrian said. “The presence of the blanks seems to hurt it, or at least allows it to be hurt. After the two of you got close, it became just flesh, and we all know how to destroy something which is of flesh and bone.”

                          “And what if it does not work?” Damial asked. “What if your wild guess is just that, a wild guess? And even then, we still have to find it!”

                          Adrian noticed that the albino was almost subconsciously saying “we”; for all intents and purposes, it was as if Damial’s resistance to the idea was overcome. It was a good sign; the hard part of making a convincing case was done – now it was but a matter of devising a plan that both of them could agree upon.

                          “Which brings up the point of contention that Captain Varus was elaborating upon earlier,” said Adrian. “The Eldar.”

                          “I don’t like it,” Isaac Varus growled. “There has to be some way other than consorting with the alien witches to learn what we need to learn, and to rid the galaxy of this abomination of filth.”

                          “Listen, Isaac, I know you have been there on Byzantion Tertius when the Eldar attacked,” Adrian said sympathetically. “I know you have questioned my decision to let the witch live, perhaps to this day, even if you did not say it.”

                          “I… I…” the Captain could not find any words for a coherent reply. He looked completely stumped, as if he was just forced to admit to some wrongdoing of ages long past.

                          “I can never blame you for it, or think any less of you, my friend,” Adrian said. “But there was something… odd that day. Like I felt that the Farseer was telling the truth, as much as any sort of truth could come from the lips of a lying creature like that. I felt that by letting her live, I was setting something in motion. And now I know what it was.”

                          “You are saying that you let the witch live, so that some day, you can get an answer from her people on the nature of the foe you were not aware of yet? This sounds like a load of grox shit,” Damial replied.

                          “I cannot really explain it,” said Adrian. “But whatever you may think, no one can deny that the Eldar have forgotten more about the Warpcraft than most other races have ever learned.”

                          “Still, it is consorting with the xenos,” Isaac Varus said, somewhat weakly. “It is against everything we stand for, and everything we are supposed to be.”

                          “Isaac, you should consider what the Storm Bringers are already taking for granted,” the Primarch looked at him pointedly. “We have never been hesitant to use xeno tech if it turned the tide of battle. Our plasma weapons only work like they do instead of blowing up after every other shot because we managed to reverse engineer and modify an Eldar design. Our Marines are armed with power weapons much more often than with simple chainswords, because we understand how they work, and have taken the knowledge from many sources, not all of them... human. Knowledge is just that – neither good nor evil in and of itself. It is how you use it that makes all the difference.”

                          Damial frowned, and looked like he was about to start saying something, but then reconsidered. For as much as the Ghost Riders tended to follow the Imperial tradition, which decried anything touched by the alien to be suspectful at best, and heretical at worst, the albino Primarch wielded a weapon that was clearly forged by no human hand. Even if – and perhaps because – the first creatures he killed with it outside of the War Scythe’s former owner were the Eldar.

                          “Then, your plan more or less has us selecting a group of our warriors, having our Space Marines meet with the Eldar, somehow getting them to tell us what we are up against and where we find it. Did I miss anything?” said Damial.

                          “That covers it quite well. Except for one small detail.”

                          “What would that be?” the albino Primarch’s eyes narrowed.

                          “I will meet with the Eldar myself,” Adrian said. “I think they will be more willing to talk with me alone than with anyone else. And – brother, not to belittle you, but I can imagine your presence, or that of Brother Captain Thumraddin literally driving them into physical agony. They will be of no use to us shrieking and wailing in terror.”

                          “Then I presume you know where to find them,” there was now a sense of menace in Damial’s voice. Adrian could not blame him; very few Imperial leaders would have hesitated if they had a chance to strike at the Eldar where they could truly hit the enemy. Most of the Imperium’s engagements against the elfin aliens were defensive in nature, at best competing with the Eldar for some strategic location both species desired. Not many humans have ever been to an Eldar Craftworld, or even had a chance at destroying one of the aliens’ true strongholds outside of the numerous pirate bases.

                          “When we fought the Eldar on Byzantion Tertius,” Adrian explained, “we have discovered a location that could only have been one of their fabled Webway gates. We could not activate it ourselves, but… somehow I know that they will be waiting there for me when the time is right.”

                          “You have the powers of foresight?” said Damial sarcastically. “They did not seem to help in learning what we are up against.”

                          “I do not have true foresight, not any more than you or any of our brothers besides Sanguinius and Magnus do,” Adrian replied sadly. “But the Eldar… their entire lives are based on being able to tell what is to come, and to act upon it. We may see their actions as random and whimsical, but there is a deeper underlying reason to it all. If you understand the motivation behind their words and deeds, you may understand what drives them.”

                          “Then what drives the xenos?” Inferno said. “They are alien by their very definition.”

                          “The Eldar are fanatical and obsessed with the survival of their race,” said Adrian. “Their every action is dictated by that, and they have no concerns at all for anyone else that gets in their way. They would gladly sacrifice a planet with billions of humans to keep one of their own alive for another day. For the Eldar to make common cause with anyone else is not unheard of, but it is rare that they stay on your side after their objective is achieved.”

                          “So what you are saying,” Damial mused, “is that you have to ensure a common cause, not rely on them… and expect betrayal at any given turn. Just like the gangs of Karelius Majoris used to be.”

                          “If you wish to put it in such terms, brother,” Adrian felt slightly more relaxed; the plan was as good as agreed upon, if the albino’s words were any indication. “The Eldar are but a tool to use in our mission. It is, of course, a sharp and dangerous tool – but we just have to make sure that we know which way the sharp end of the stick is pointing when we use it. If we take into account what they are capable of, and what they desire, we shall not place ourselves in a position where they can do any true damage.”

                          Damial hrumphed, with a displeased, but determined expression on his face. “I don’t like it, Adrian,” he finally confessed after a second’s silence. “You are playing with the things we are not meant to play around with. We are supposed to be killing the bastards, not fraternizing with them. But we don’t have much choice. You know that father will never tell the whole truth to either one of us, and Magnus… he cannot stand to be around me, and though he seems to like you, there is no telling what he truly does and does not know.”

                          “This is only what we have to do, Damial,” Adrian said, resolutely. “Especially if the thing we have – no, you have dealt with is not the only one of its kind. If we do not stop it now, we may never be able to stop it and its ilk from coming back in force.”

                          “Inferno,” Damial called to his Captain. “I leave it up to you to find nine other battle brothers, and accompany the warriors of the Storm Bringers, if you accept this task.”

                          There was fanatical fire in Captain Thumraddin’s eyes. “For the Ghost Riders and the Primarch!” he saluted. “I am honored to be chosen, my lord.”

                          “Isaac,” Adrian said. “I want you to lead the Storm Bringers contingent on this mission. Mvua,” there was a look of utter surprise on the little Remembrancer’s face, “it is your choice to go or to stay, but if you do go, I know that Captain Varus can benefit from your knowledge and advice. No one will expect for you to take shots at the creatures,” Adrian added, smiling slightly.

                          The Remembrancer and the Space Marine both nodded, acknowledging their assent. “The entire group chosen for the mission will accompany me to Byzantion Tertius for the rendezvous with the Eldar,” Adrian said. “Once I meet with them, I shall relay all I have learned to you, and go back to the Legion’s fleet. In a meanwhile, Chaplain Aurelian,” the Primarch looked at the Chaplain’s youthful features, recognizing the steel resolve beneath them, “it shall be your responsibility to lead the Legion until I return.”

                          “So… what do we do when we find the thing?” Inferno asked, voice uncertain. This was, perhaps, the biggest single assignment of his entire life as a Space Marine.

                          “Why, it’s simple,” Damial said, to Adrian’s acknowledging nod. “We find it, we make it bleed, we send it to wherever it came from. For good.”


                          • #14
                            Interlude – Now – Elsewhere, Aboard Destiny’s Hand

                            Erebus, the First Chaplain of the Word Bearers Legion grumbled, examining the prophecy of his own making, written down on the scroll of parchment with his own blood, drawn from his veins by the means of a sharp, quill-like scalpel. He felt weak, just like he normally did after he allowed the visions to overwhelm him, secure and alone in his private quarters on board of Destiny’s Hand, his personal Battle Barge. For as long as he had to keep his convictions secret, he could never let another living soul see the workings of his mind, know just what his devotion was truly to.

                            Sweat appeared on his bald scalp, inscribed over with the quotations from the Book of Lorgar. Even in his private quarters, Erebus was cautious not to leave any outward signs of his plans and clandestine activities. Being discovered could have meant death, but it was not the worst thing that could happen to him. Failing his masters was… much worse than death, for his service to them did not stop at the point of mortal demise, but went far beyond it.

                            His gods would not protect him here, he thought, for though they were immensely powerful, capable of creating and destroying entire worlds on a minute whimsical idea, they were not omnipotent. They still needed mortals to act as their agents in the Materium, to further their will, to bring the sweet, sweet taste of Chaos to all. It was true that the rewards of faithful service were incredible – power and immortality being among the chief of them – but the pitfalls along the way were many and dangerous, even to the one as fully devoted to the Dark Gods as Erebus of the Word Bearers. Having to keep his faith a tightly guarded secret was but the very least of them.

                            The events were moving once again, too fast. There was a plan, between him and Kor Phaeron, but the plan took time - significant time before it could be brought to fruition. Lorgar’s fanatical religious devotion was something to play upon, extol, and… channel in the right direction. Once Lorgar was ready, the rest would fall like dominos, turning to the worship of the true gods in the Warp.

                            Erebus imagined the future, the bright, glorious future, standing as a demigod amidst the mortals and Astartes alike, as far above them as an Astartes Primarch was above a mere underhive junkie. He imagined a future where the aliens were no more, where the galaxy was united under one power, one fist - the iron grasp of humanity, with only the Chaos gods above them. All that was all too close to unraveling, he thought to himself, examining the dire warnings of dangerous pitfalls that had to be avoided, of the strange Primarch who had the power to stop it all before any of the Word Bearer’s plans could come to fruition.

                            Damial the White was dangerous… and though no amount of Warp divinations could allow Erebus to see him, he could still see where he was - or where he was not. The First Chaplain of the Word Bearers could see the effects Damial’s presence was having on at least one other Primarch, and now possibly more. It was beginning to lead the others towards the… things they should not have been aware of, at least not until the time was right, and they learned to embrace those things, accept them, worship them.

                            But as much as the Eldar thought themselves the masters of scrying the future, and acting upon their leaders’ visions, they were not the only ones with the capability to foresee. There were still possible futures, many of them, that did not end in disaster. The eventual conversion of the Astartes Legions was still a real possibility; twenty Legions under Chaos would be an unstoppable force, a gift of such magnitude to Erebus’ masters that it would surely grant him their favor, even if that favor was to be shared with Kor Phaeron and select others that… saw the truth.

                            The Erebus Prophecy was still vague; too many things were still in motion. But one thing was clear. Damial the White must never realize the power he holds to turn back the tide of Chaos, no matter the cost. And the only other Primarch who the vision indicated was stumbling too close to this secret… Adrian Octavius of the Storm Bringers was not to be allowed to interfere.

                            Erebus thought that the gods must have a sick sense of humor, befitting the Warp entities. From what he knew of Damial’s life, he had the seeds of Chaos within him all along, but for his unnatural power of nullifying Chaos around him. Though his soul was ready for corruption, his very nature made such corruption impossible, beyond even the power of the dark gods themselves. He would have been such a perfect candidate, too…

                            No matter, the First Chaplain thought to himself. Those who set out to conquer Chaos had a tendency to become Chaos themselves. And while Damial the White and his Ghost Riders were largely immune to the ministrations of the Word Bearer, many others were… not. The Storm Bringers, for all their vaunted learning, were only human, at least as much as the Astartes could be. They did not have the unnatural protection of psychic blankness afforded to a large proportion of the Ghost Riders Legion. They were just as fallible as the rest. And anyone fallible will some day fall.

                            This was the lesson of Chaos. Anywhere where it could grow, it would fester, bloom, rise and conquer. No armor was impenetrable; no faith was truly safe, for excessive faith, just like excessive perseverance, excessive lust, excessive courage, or excessive hope all led to the embrace of the Warp. Very few were truly strong enough to curb the excess - and was life in itself not an excess to be cherished? Was it not the meaning of existence to possess supreme courage, ultimate perseverance, plasma hot lust, undying hope - all held together by imperturbable faith? Only fools, Erebus thought, would deny themselves all of those things, all the gifts of Chaos.

                            And though the fools may think themselves invincible, their invincibility was but yet another weapon Chaos could use against them, for Chaos was all things, limitless possibilities - and limitless power.


                            • #15
                              Now - Byzantion Tertius

                              It was raining, a cold, unwelcome sensation upon Adrian’s face even as he tried to think of every reassuring phrase he could to convince himself that he was doing the right thing by coming here. It was at least twenty years since he was last on Byzantion Tertius, the world that shaped him into what he became, and the world that was now thrust from blissful ignorance of the universe at large into the crossfire of the Great Crusade, changing irrevocably from its one-time secure innocence.

                              To an outside observer, Byzantion Tertius looked almost the same, even with the still visible scars of an Eldar raid decades ago, but to Adrian, it was now something else. As a Primarch, he was granted an extended life span - even the Emperor himself did not say just how extended; for all he knew, a Primarch could be practically immune to the ravages of old age. This, in turn, gave Adrian a very different perspective on how things were changing - the glimmer of fanaticism in the young children’s eyes; the conspicuous absence of the Al’gart on the streets of the city; the ever-present double-headed eagles replacing the insignia of a more carefree time. Though some who remembered the times before the Imperium still lived, they were no longer the ones that made Byzantion Tertius function; even with juvenat treatments, very few ordinary people lived past one hundred and fifty, and the majority did not even reach that age.

                              This made Adrian wonder how old he actually was. It was over fifty years since he was found as a wandering infant on the outskirts of this very same city, and yet he looked, and felt like a young man only now getting into his prime - almost all of his Space Marines appeared older than him to a naked eye. It was thirty or so years since the Emperor found him… and in those years, Adrian saw much more of the galaxy than he could have ever imagined in his youth. But still, for all the doubts he had, for all the protestations of how an ordered, safe world such as Byzantion Tertius stifled his aspirations or ability to really bring any kind of useful change, he only now realized that it was… home, and just like a picture of home that a grown man remembers from his childhood, when everything seemed just a tad brighter, warmer, more exciting, it was forever gone.

                              He took a small civilian air car modified to fit his greater bulk in power armor, trying not to attract any undue attention; as far as the official word was concerned, he was still on his way from Viridian Primaris to the next war zone. As far as anyone else knew, it was but a routine transport of Space Marines to the Legion’s contingent on the planet, bolstered somewhat since the Eldar raid; he was but another anonymous Astartes warrior of the Storm Bringers Legion, a bit taller and larger than the most, but nothing out of ordinary on the world where the Storm Bringers were permanently in attendance.

                              The cityscape that Adrian passed on his way here was awash with the signs of activity, bustling metropolis growing larger and larger to where some began to seriously consider raising an actual arcology to accommodate its ever-growing population. With the coming of the Imperium, the earlier restrictions on population growth faded away, and the growing industry made sure that the planet’s environment, carefully preserved by the generations of its inhabitants, was now slowly giving way to the noxious fumes that characterized so many hive worlds throughout the galaxy. Somehow, it filled Adrian’s mind with frustration; he felt as if he could not protect the innocence of his home world for even a little longer, just as he was not there when the Eldar first attacked, arriving almost too late.

                              Knowing that he was about to deal with those very same Eldar made him despise himself, and yet it was necessary. It was simply what the Space Marines did, the necessary thing, when no other options were available, and when the odds were stacked against them. Perhaps, he thought, it was not that his time away from Byzantion Tertius changed the planet that much - perhaps it simply changed him, gave him a different perspective.

                              The Eldar webway gate was in a suburb of Argos City still not entirely cleaned up from the fighting of two decades ago; officially, it was considered to be a lower priority item when there was so much land that did not have to be cleared off for future construction. In reality, the suburb was cordoned off by the Storm Bringers under the pretense of a practice run for urban fighting training course until the planetary administration saw fit to do something with it. Adrian’s own interference, all those years ago, made sure that the planet’s civilian government would never find a good enough reason to rebuild the sector.

                              He landed the air car just outside the perimeter; today, only the automated defenses manned it. Outside, a perfectly manicured lawn and neatly paved road tracing the circumference of the blocked zone made it seem like there was nothing out of ordinary here; just an Astartes training compound, presently mothballed and waiting for its erstwhile masters’ orders to spring back to life. Inside… he did not want to think about it.

                              Adrian’s head was bare, his helmet left in the air car, and all the scents, all the taste of the falling rain seeped into his skin, all the industrial toxins that were not there before he brought this change upon Byzantion Tertius, so unwittingly, by his mere presence and not by any effort of will. He passed the perimeter, keeping his weapons ready for quick draw should any of the automated defenses malfunction. As much as Adrian Octavius thought that the entire concept of machine spirits was just more of superstitious Adeptus Mechanicus nonsense, intended more to keep everyone outside the Mechanicus confused and awed at the simple science behind it, he could not help but wonder if the techpriests were on to something. Some of the other Legions certainly took their words at much greater face value than the Storm Bringers ever did; and if there truly was such a thing as machine spirit, it could be held responsible for a variety of instances - both of the equipment breaking down at the most inopportune moments, and of the equipment functioning with little maintenance long before it should have, seemingly not subject to normal wear and tear.

                              Despite his lack of reverence, the machines of the defensive perimeter gave him no trouble, still maintained by mindless servitors - themselves abominations of flesh and metal in his mind, a necessary evil brought forth by the Imperium and the Mechanicus. Inside, the cordoned off part of the suburb was much like he remembered it - ruined, destroyed shell of a once peaceful city. Time was not kind to it; buildings were crumbling, and even the houses that still stood were now little more than derelict shells of what they once were, mostly one and two-story dwellings from the time before the Imperium introduced its own style of building structures on top of one another. The brownish grey of the polluted sky joined the brownish grey of the ruins in a landscape that spoke of nothing but the inevitable ruin, the despair of all that was once living in the certain foreknowledge of its impending death.

                              The webway gate was about three miles away from the perimeter - coincidentally, at the very center of the cordoned off space, immured in a dome of rockrete and plasteel. It was not enough to stop a concerned assault in its tracks, but it was enough to delay the Eldar should they ever come back to Byzantion Tertius uninvited - delay them enough for the planet’s garrison of Storm Bringers to respond in full force before the aliens had a chance to establish a beachhead and become more than a minor nuisance. Adrian cursed under his breath as he trod through the dirt and rubble towards it, alone and very vulnerable if the ruins held any unwelcome surprises.

                              The sky was still shrouded in perpetual mildly toxic haze when the Primarch made it to the dome that walled off the Eldar gate from the planet at large. He left but a single path into the structure, barely large enough for a single Space Marine in power armor to pass through, with enough precautions to stop anyone attempting to get out if they were not of the Storm Bringers Legion; now was the time to put those precautions to good use.

                              The pathway led underground, twisting and turning around several times to confuse any uninitiated who attempted to walk it. There was almost no light inside but for a series of sparsely placed glow globes; the shadows danced wildly, reincarnating the creatures from the wildest nightmares of the galaxy before Adrian’s eyes before making them disappear behind the seemingly illogical turns of the tunnel. He held his power sword out, feeling its weight reassuring against his armored palm.

                              Finally, after almost twenty minutes of wandering in the maze, Adrian arrived at his destination. The inside of the dome was surprisingly brightly lit, ensuring that the arriving Eldar forces had no easy hiding spots on their arrival, but right now, the light gave a sinister impression, sterile, like the inside of a morgue. In the center of the dome, the alien structure stood tall, not as large as some of the contemporary Imperial architecture, but nevertheless imposing; its shape was roughly triangular, albeit with the twists and turns in the material that could not have been created by human mind.

                              What if it all was just a fool’s errand, Adrian thought to himself. There was no guarantee that the Eldar were going to wait for him here, and even if they did see this moment in their visions of the future, who was to say what their intentions might have been? For all the Primarch knew, the aliens might have attempted to slay him while they had him here, alone, perhaps at their mercy. But it was a risk worth taking. The galaxy itself might have depended on it, and if Adrian Octavius knew one thing, it was duty. It was his duty to stand against anything that threatened humanity, no matter how powerful it was. It was why he was created; it was how he lived.

                              The experience on Viridian Primaris affected him much more deeply than he let himself admit; for once, he came face to face with a realization that there were things in the galaxy that were far beyond the worst nightmares anyone could come up with. The humans who refused to join the Imperium were easy to understand; some of them might have even had good case to desire independence. The aliens had their own motives, be it survival in the hostile universe that drove the Eldar to seemingly incomprehensible acts, or simply the desire to get into the thick of action, as was the case with the Orks. The thing that the II Legion faced on the doomed hive world was beyond all motive - it was pure malevolence, pure unreason, far beyond anything the Primarch had faced before that could actually talk back.

                              He felt the presence of an Eldar Farseer long before he actually saw her; there was inherent wrongness about the aliens that looked so human at the first glance, and recognizing it was almost second nature to Adrian, who grew up in a society where the Eldar were common enough visitors. She seemed to have come alone, although the Primarch did not trust the appearances; the aliens possessed technology sufficiently advanced to cloak enough of their warriors to have an ambush ready. This here was either the most worthy, or the most idiotic thing he ever did, and the Primarch did not feel entirely at ease with the thought that it might have been the latter rather than the former.

                              “And so the young eagle returns to the nest that spawned him,” the Farseer said instead of any kind of a formal greeting. There was still the same alien sensation of wrongness to her voice, as if two beings were speaking at once in unison, one of them through a malfunctioning vox-unit that distorted its words slightly, but just enough for an unsettling effect.

                              “I hope you are not planning a repeat of the invasion, for it will not find the defenses here unprepared,” Adrian replied.

                              “We have no need of it,” said the Eldar woman. “You have enough problems on your hands as it is, Primarch. If it is counsel you seek, I shall not offer battle.”

                              Adrian wanted to say that offering battle would have been the single most suicidal thing a Farseer could do against him; barring extraordinary luck, very few creatures in the galaxy were sufficient match for a Space Marine Primarch in single combat. For the moment, he bit his tongue instead of answering on impulse.

                              “Then you shall offer counsel?” he spoke, inserting just enough inquisitiveness into his voice to pass his intentions across to the alien. “Do you know what it is that I have faced on Viridian Primaris?”

                              “To answer your question, yes,” the Farseer said. He could not be sure, but Adrian thought that there was a curiously human expression of amusement on her alien face.

                              “Then can you tell me what exactly it was, and how do we destroy it for good?”

                              “You mon-keigh are not prepared for such knowledge,” the Farseer rebuffed him sharply. “Your species are but children in this galaxy, where we Eldar thrived for millions of your years. There are things that were old long before your Emperor decided to feast upon the ruins of our dominion.”

                              “Don’t make me regret I spared you, witch,” Adrian spat out. “You owe me a boon of knowledge.”

                              “Such notions belong with your mon-keigh kind,” said the Eldar. “My duty is to my Craftworld, not to you.”

                              “And still you came here, knowing that you would find me.” The Primarch’s voice was harsh, humorless; it was a statement of a fact.

                              “That I did,” the Farseer replied.

                              “Then you will tell me,” said the Primarch. “You will tell me everything you know about it, and you will tell me how I may send it back to wherever it came from, for good. You owe me this much for sparing your life, alien.”

                              “I owe you nothing, mon-keigh.” The Farseer sneered at him. “But I fear a greater disaster than the one already in progress if you were to be left ignorant of the nature of the threats you will be facing.”

                              “Then get on with it, Farseer,” said Adrian impatiently. “Every moment I am not on the battlefield is another moment of respite for the enemies of humanity.”

                              “When did you get this uncompromising attitude, lord Primarch?” the alien said with a tinge of amusement in her strange, inhuman voice. “You were always the rational, sensible one amidst your brothers.”

                              “I was simply reminded of my duty,” Adrian replied. “Now, will you tell me or not?”

                              “Very well,” the Farseer sighed. “I tried to warn you, though you will be their young king with the mark of doom upon you.” She paused, then recollected herself; it seemed that the information she was about to relay to him was unpleasant for her to even consider thinking about.

                              “There is a force out there, spawned of and dwelling in the Warp, that some of you mon-keigh call Chaos. We Eldar have many names for it, some of which can never be translated into your primitive tongue. Some of us call it the Primordial Annihilator, for that is all there is to it. It seeks only to feed itself, careless of what it destroys in the way. Entire civilizations fell to it - and where are they now? Dead, gone, withered in its promises of freedom, power, and eternal life, for Chaos lies. It is as certain as that the stars will go black and dead at the end of the universe, or that the course you have set upon deserves much pity from those who know.” The Eldar sighed heavily, with the air of defeat that was visible even to a human not well versed in the intricacies of the alien body language.

                              “I can spend days going over the details of Chaos, and still would only cover the surface of it,” the Farseer said, “but you do not seek the knowledge of philosophy or the deep understanding of it all, so I shall not waste such intricacies on a mon-keigh. Kill, ravage, destroy, that is all your kind is capable of conjuring up in your primitive minds.” There was a bitter undertone to her voice, as if she said something that resonated deeply with something of shameful importance to her own species.

                              “So far, you have not told me anything I did not already know, witch,” Adrian said. “Will you tell me something that justified the trip to Byzantion Tertius, or will you continue throwing insults my way and try my patience?”

                              “I will tell you that which I have to tell you, no more, no less,” the Farseer snapped. It was curious for the Primarch to see such a human outburst from her; perhaps, he thought, for all their ancient history, the Eldar were very much the subject to the same frailties and failings as the species they despised so.

                              “Then get on with it,” Adrian said.

                              “One thing that very few understand about the nature of Chaos,” said the Farseer, “is that it is not a united force. Instead, there are entities within it great and small, each associated with the emotions and the thoughts of the sentients that spawned them - sentients like your kind, and even the Eldar. What you have faced is an entity associated with one of the greater powers of Chaos, the power that feeds on despair and stagnation, and that spreads disease and decay as a physical manifestation of that. Your kind calls this entity Nurgle, the Prince of Decay, and what you have fought is but a greater daemon from Nurgle’s own entourage, an unclean beast of the Warp that exists only to spread contagion, pestilence, and despair everywhere it goes. By their very nature, such monstrosities are empowered with the strength of their patrons, but are also unable to spend any extended length of time in the material universe without being constantly fed by the poor wretches that summon them, and worship them.”

                              “You mean,” said Adrian incredulously, “that someone actually was so foolish as to summon that creature to Viridian Primaris, and to worship it? You expect me to believe it?”

                              “The allures of Chaos are many,” the Farseer replied, sadly. “Most of those who take these false promises into their hearts do not realize the damnation they bring upon themselves, if they were sane enough to understand the concept to begin with. And even if they do understand, it is usually too late for them. It was too late for my kind,” she admitted, and Adrian felt like the alien was sharing some kind of a terrible secret that no human was privy to knowing before.

                              “So, your people have experienced something like this before,” he said, and a sense of horror crept up in his veins. No wonder the Eldar seemed to be a scattered race, fighting for the scraps of survival handed to them by the cruelties of fate. “You fought these spawn of the Warp, and… lost.”

                              “Fought them? Hah!” the Farseer exclaimed. “We believed ourselves so perfect, so secure… we created one of them. Anything that is good and noble in itself can become true evil when taken in excess, and my people were… not careful. This is a lesson your species must take to heart if you do not want to follow in our stead.”

                              Adrian wondered what kind of a monster the Eldar created, if the strongest of the Warp entities were defined by the kind of emotions felt by the mortals. “Which one did you create?” he asked warily.

                              “Suffice to say,” the Farseer continued, as if disregarding his question, “there are four primary Chaos powers. You already know about Nurgle, but there is also Khorne, who revels in blood and slaughter; Tzeentch, the Changer of Ways, whose domain lies in sorcery and mutation; and,” she spat, and a pained expression appeared on her face, “Slaanesh, She-Who-Thirsts, whose domain is depravity and excess.”

                              “Let me guess,” Adrian said, thinking but for a brief second. “Your people cling on to existence too much to have birthed Nurgle, and you do not seek battle enough to have been responsible for Khorne. For all your affectations of sorcery, your race appears to abhor mutants as much as we do. This means… depravity and excess?” The look on the Primarch’s face was that of pure shock.

                              “What can you know about the pain of my race?” the Farseer hissed angrily. “We have known the pain long before your ancestors crawled out of the primordial ocean. Our pain was multiplied during the Fall when our gods fell to feed the hunger of She-Who-Thirsts. Do not pretend to understand, mon-keigh.”

                              “How do we kill these things, Farseer?” said Adrian, taken aback by the obvious suffering and pain in the alien’s voice. This was clearly a very uncomfortable subject to her; it was worth cataloguing this information in his memory for the future use, but to press the point now was going to be counterproductive, and he realized that much.

                              “You cannot,” the alien said simply. “All you can do is send them back to the Warp to lick their wounds, until they gather enough strength to come back.”

                              “Is it desperate, then? Is our fight without a chance at victory, then?” Adrian’s voice rose to a mighty roar. “I refuse to accept it!”

                              “For as long as the universe remains what it is, there will always be hate and rage, there will always be despair, there will always be ambition for change, there will always be desire for the perverse and the unnatural. It takes great control of the self not to give in to those impulses and urges. Even my own people sometimes struggle - what can I say about yours?”

                              “The Astartes are strong in body and spirit,” Adrian said. “We are the first line of attack, and the last line of defense against the monsters such as these.”

                              “No mind is above the call of temptation. Remember that, young Primarch, before you put your trust in mere humans. Even to banish the daemons you have to invoke the powers of the Warp, and where there is the Warp, there is a possibility of corruption.”

                              “What is your part in all of this, witch?” Adrian asked, all of a sudden. He was feeling uneasy, as if some fundamental truth about the universe was just revealed to him, unveiling a wholly new set of dangers he did not even know existing. This must have been how it felt to the first humans to venture out into the galaxy, and to discover that not only they were not alone, but that they were far from the first to tread this path, and perhaps far from the last.

                              “For once, I actually want you mon-keigh to succeed at this,” the Farseer said bluntly. “There are some of you who see things the way they really are, and know who your enemy truly is. Most of you dwell in utter ignorance, which is no defense against the enemies you are now facing. And for that, I pity you, Adrian Octavius of the Storm Bringers, for there is no going back for you. Not now, and not ever again.”