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To see an Astartes out of breath was utterly alien to her. How long had he been training before she had arrived in the halls? Loken wiped the sweat from his face and upper body as he made his way to his personal arming chamber. Mersadie followed him and, as usual, could not help but admire the sheer physical perfection of his enhanced physique. The ancient tribes of the Olympian Hegemony were said to have called such specimens of physical perfection Adonian, and the word fit Loken like a masterfully crafted suit of Mark IV plate.
Almost without 24 Graham McNeill thinking, Mersadie blink-clicked the image of his body. Loken shrugged, picking up a carved vambrace and a polishing cloth. None of us has ever lived long enough to find out.
The melancholy of the immortal, or the paradox of an ageless being caught in the flux of constantly changing times — struggling flies in the clotting amber of history. Is there some part of you that wants to? To be honest, it scares me. Does it scare you? I am powerful now, strong. Why would I want to change that? Once the Crusade is over I mean. Has his poetry taken a turn for the maudlin again? What makes you think like this? Instead, she stored this conversation away for another time, one when he might be more forthcoming on these uncharacteristically gloomy thoughts.
She decided to ask another question and steer the conversation in a more upbeat direction, when a looming shadow fell over the pair of them and she turned to see the massive, slab-like form of First Captain Abaddon towering over her. As usual, his long hair was pulled up in its silver-sheathed topknot, the rest of his scalp shaved bare. The captain of the First Company of the Sons of Horus was dressed in simple sparring fatigues and carried a monstrous sword with a tooled edge.
He glared disapprovingly at Mersadie. Abaddon nodded curtly 26 Graham McNeill to Loken and gave her a last, barbed glance before turning away to the sparring cages, his sword buzzing into throaty life.
Now Davin was a feral world swept by hot, arid winds and baking under the baleful red eye of a sun. It had been six decades since Loken had last set foot on Davin, though back then it had been known as Sixty-Three Eight, being the eighth world brought into compliance by the 63rd Expeditionary force. Compliance had not improved it much in his opinion. Its surface was hard, baked clay clumped with scrubby vegetation and forests of tall, powerfully scented trees.
Habitation was limited to primitive townships along the fertile river valleys, though there were many nomadic tribes that made their lonely way across the mighty, serpent-infested deserts. Though outnumbered and hopelessly outclassed, they had fought with great courage, before offering their surrender after doing all that honour demanded.
The Luna Wolves had been impressed by their courage and willingness to accept the new order of their society and the commander — not yet the Warmaster — had decreed that his warriors could learn much from these brave opponents. Though the tribesmen were separated from the human genome by millennia of isolation, and shared few physical traits with the settlers that came after the Astartes, Horus had allowed the feral 27 False Gods tribesmen to remain, in light of their enthusiastic embracing of the Imperial way of life.
Iterators and remembrancers had not yet become an official part of the Crusade fleets, but the civilians and scholars who hung on the coattails of the expeditionary forces moved amongst the populace and promulgated the glory and truth of the Imperium. They had been welcomed with open arms, thanks largely to the dutiful work undertaken by the chaplains of the XVII Legion, the Word Bearers, in the wake of the conquest.
It had been a good war; won rapidly and, for the Luna Wolves, bloodlessly. The defeated foe was brought into compliance quickly and efficiently, allowing the commander to leave Kor Phaeron of the Word Bearers to complete the task of bringing the light of truth and enlightenment to Davin.
Yes, it had been a good war, or so he had thought. Sweat trickled down the back of his head and ran down the inside of his armour, its greenish, metallic sheen still new and startling to him, even though it had been months since he had repainted it.
Loken remembered the cheers and the cries of adoration laid at the feet of the Warmaster as his announcement had spread through the Expedition. Fists punched the air and throats were shouted hoarse with jubilation. He could almost feel that rawness again as he took a deep breath of the sour, acrid winds of Davin that blew from the far north, wishing he could be anywhere else right now.
It was not a world without beauty, but Loken did not like Davin, though he could not say what exactly bothered him about it. To the west of them, soaring mountain peaks seemed to scrape the stars and further north, Loken knew that there were valleys that plumbed the very depths of the earth, and fantastical tombs of ancient kings.
Yes, they had waged a good war on Davin. Why then had the Word Bearers brought them here again? He sighed; these days the words of bland administrators carried the weight of the Emperor and, as much as Maloghurst wanted to, he could not ignore this message in particular.
The Warmaster would never agree to it, but Maloghurst had to tell him. The sanctum doors slid smoothly aside, revealing the dark and peaceful interior. Maloghurst enjoyed the solitude of the sanctum, the coolness of the air easing the pain of his raw skin and twisted spine.
The only sound that broke the stillness of the sanctum was the breath rasping in his throat, the abnormal rearward curvature of his spine placing undue pressure on his lungs.
Maloghurst shuffled painfully along the length of the smooth surfaced oval table, reaching out to place the slate at its head, where the Warmaster sat. It has been too long since the Mournival gathered here, thought Maloghurst. A shape resolved out of the darkness and he relaxed as he saw the familiar features of the commander, eerily red-lit from below by the light of his gorget.
Fully armoured in his battle plate, the Warmaster sat at the back of the darkened sanctum, his elbows resting on his knees and his head held in his hands. Surely, he had misheard. To imagine that the Warmaster did not know something was inconceivable. Maloghurst hesitated. A remembrancer from Terra, one with friends in high places it would seem: the Sigillite for one. You are the Warmaster, chosen by the Emperor, beloved by all, to be his regent in this great endeavour.
The remembrancers of this fleet may record every fact they witness, but without you, they are nothing. Without you, all of it is meaningless. You are above all men. Perhaps she will help me with that noble ideal. You are a god amongst men, sir: immortal and beloved by all. My father made me for immortality and the galaxy should know of me.
Ten thousand years from now I want my name to be known all across the heavens. Davin, eh? The communication from Erebus of the Word Bearers that had brought the 63rd Expedition to Davin had spoken of an old tally, the settling of a dispute, but had said nothing of its cause or participants. After the carnage on Murder and the desperate extraction from the Extranus, Loken had expected a warzone of unremitting ferocity, but this warzone, if indeed it could be called that, was 32 Graham McNeill deathly quiet, hot and… peaceful.
Horus had come to the same conclusion not long after they had landed, sniffing the air of Davin with a look of recognition. There is none of that on this world. Who would dare to summon the Warmaster? The answer had come when a column of dust grew on the eastern horizon and eight boxy, tracked vehicles rumbled across the steppe towards them.
Shadowed by the Stormbirds that had flown in with the Warmaster, the dark, brushed steel vehicles trailed guidons from their vox-antenna, emblazoned with the heraldry of an Astartes Legion. From the lead Rhino, a great, devotional trophy rack stood proud of the armoured glacis, hung with golden eagles and books, and sporting jagged lightning bolts picked out in lapis lazuli. He could swear he smelled apples. He glanced around the interior of the yurt, wondering if perhaps there was some local brew of cider on offer.
Like the drink, the yurt was crude, but had a primitive majesty to it that appealed to the romantic in him, though he was savvy enough to know that primitive was all very well and good unless you had to live there.
Perhaps a hundred people filled the yurt — army officers, strategium adepts, a few remembrancers, scribes and military aides. An unsmiling figure in the black uniform of a Titan commander stood to attention at the forefront of the gathering, and Karkasy recognised the jowly features of Princeps Esau Turnet, commander of the Imperator Titan, Dies Irae. Karkasy remembered the huge Titan that towered over the architectural presentation that Peeter Egon Momus had given back on Sixty-Three Nineteen, and shivered.
The hissing collection of silver struts and whirling cogs that encased scraps of flesh in a vaguely humanoid form must be the Mechanicum adept, Regulus, and Karkasy saw enough brass and medals hanging from puffed out, uniformed chests to equip a battalion.
Despite the presence of such luminaries, Karkasy found himself stifling a yawn as he and the rest of the audience listened to the 34 Graham McNeill Davinite lodge master, Tsi Rekh, performing an elaborate chant in the local tongue. Say what you like about the iterators, thought Karkasy, they can certainly enunciate to the back row.
Dressed in her ubiquitous combat fatigues, chunky army boots and tight white vest top, Keeler looked every inch the spunky frontierswoman. A thin silver chain hung around her neck, whatever was hanging on it, hidden beneath the fabric of her top. Well out of his league, he knew, what with his generously proportioned physique, hangdog eyes and plain, round face; but his looks had never deterred Ignace Karkasy from attempting to seduce beautiful women — they just made it more of a challenge.
He had made some conquests by riding the adulation for his earlier work, Reflections and Odes garnering him several notable carnal tales, while other, more easily impressed members of the opposite sex had been seduced by his witty badinage. He already knew that Euphrati Keeler was too smart to fall for such obvious flattery, and contented himself with counting her simply as a friend.
He turned to see the door flap of the yurt pushed aside and the massive bulk of an Astartes duck down as he entered. The warrior carried a staff crowned with a book draped in oath 36 Graham McNeill paper, over which wound a long sash of purple cloth.
He had his helmet tucked into the crook of his arm, and seemed surprised to see all the remembrancers there.
One shoulder guard of his armour was draped in heavy parchment, rich with illuminated letters, while the other bore the distinctive icon of a book with a flame burning in its centre. Though he knew it symbolised enlightenment springing forth from the word, Karkasy instinctively disliked it. He smiled to himself at this delicious heresy, wondering if he could work it into a poem without Captain Loken realising, but even as the rebellious thought surfaced, he quashed it.
Karkasy knew that his patron was showing his work to the increasingly reclusive Kyril Sindermann. In that case, Karkasy would quickly find himself on the next bulk hauler on its way back to Terra, regardless of his Astartes sponsorship. The warrior in turn raised his long staff in greeting. Keeler gave him a sidelong glance, looking at him as though he had suddenly sprouted another head.
Captain Loken had been waiting for him, resplendent in his armour of pale green and apparently untroubled by the heat or the swirling vortices of dust.
Do you understand me? What do you want to me to listen to? Who do you want me to listen to? He made his way through the dusty stacks and piles of yellowed papers, lethargic globes of weak light bobbing just above head height, his heavy footsteps echoing loudly in the solemn hush.
Here and there, a lone scholar clicked through the gloom in a tall stilt chair, but none was his old mentor. Loken travelled through yet another dizzyingly tall lane of manuscripts and leather bound tomes with names like Canticles of the Omniastran Dogma, Meditations on the Elegiac Hero and Thoughts and Memories of Old Night.
Sindermann jumped and looked over his shoulder with an expression of surprise and the same furtiveness he had displayed 39 False Gods when Loken had first met him here.
No, not at all. I seldom encounter others in this part of the archive. The subject matter is a little lurid for most of the serious scholars. Naive and overly hyperbolic, but stirring nonetheless. There are passages in there that I think have more than a hint of truth to them. You think that this is another clue as to what happened to Xavyer Jubal?
Just as happened to Anult Keyser himself. One of his generals, a man called Wilhym Mardol, became a daemon and killed him. Loken saw how tired he looked, his skin the colour of the parchments he perused and his clothes hanging from his body as though draped across his bare bones.
Loken realised that the venerable iterator was exhausted. How is the commander? Very well, what is it you want to know? The powers they used certainly do not sound natural. Surely they must have seen how dangerous it was?
How much less must they have known? Do not be so quick to judge, we are not so different from the tribes of Old Earth as you might think. You believe that the wall separating civilisation from barbarism is as solid as steel, but it is not.
I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of pagan superstition, fear of the dark and the worship of fell beings in echoing fanes.
Would human selfishness cause some to fight to get that resource at all costs, even if it meant harm to others and trafficking with evil? Would they deprive others of this resource, or even destroy them in an effort to keep it for themselves?
Common decency and civil behaviour are just a thin veneer over the animal at the core of mankind that gets out whenever it has the 42 Graham McNeill chance.
The time that has passed since civilisation began is but a fragment of the duration of our existence, and but a fragment of the ages yet to come.
The rule of the Emperor, brotherhood in society, equality in rights and privileges, and universal education foreshadow the higher plane of society to which our experience, intelligence and knowledge are steadily tending. It will be a revival, in a higher form, of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient tribes of Man before the rise of warlords like Kalagann or Narthan Dume.
I admit I was shaken after the Whisperheads, but the more I read, the more I see how far we have come and how close we are to achieving everything we ever dreamed of. Each day, I am thankful that we have the light of the Emperor to guide us into this golden future. I dread to think what might become of us were he to be taken from us. Loken was less shocked, having 43 False Gods witnessed the commander raging at subordinates many times in the weeks since they had departed the marches of the interex.
Horus had known no peace since the terrible bloodshed amid the House of Devices on Xenobia, and the deaths and the missed opportunity of unification with the interex haunted him still. Since the debacle with the interex, the Warmaster had withdrawn into a sullen melancholy, remaining more and more within his inner sanctum, with only Erebus to counsel him.
The Mournival had barely seen their commander since returning to Imperial space and they all keenly felt their exclusion from his presence. Where once they had offered the Warmaster their guidance, now, only Erebus whispered in his ear.
Thus, it was with some relief that the Mournival heard that Erebus would take his leave of the Expedition and journey ahead with his own Legion to Davin. Repeated requests for aid or tactical assistance came to him from all across the galaxy, from brother primarchs, Army commanders and, most loathed of all, the army of civil administrators who followed in the wake of their conquests.
Everyone with an ounce of common sense knew that such a measure was premature, and Horus had done all he could to stall Rathbone and her eaxectors, but there was only so long they could be kept at bay. They had reached Davin, and there were more important mat44 Graham McNeill ters to deal with.
Karkasy felt faint at the sight of the living god, arrayed as he was in a magnificent suit of plate armour the colour of a distant ocean and a cloak of deepest purple. The Eye of Terra shone on his breast, and Karkasy was overcome by the magisterial beauty of the Warmaster. The Mournival followed him, together with a tall, statuesque woman in a crimson velveteen gown with high collars and puffed sleeves, her long hair worn in an impractical looking coiffure.
He felt his indignation rise as he realised this must be Vivar, the remembrancer from Terra that they had heard about. Only the Emperor is deserving of such an honour. Karkasy watched the faces of those the Warmaster spoke to, feeling intense jealousy swell within his breast at the thought of not being so favoured.
Without thinking, he began pushing his way through the crowd towards the front, receiving hostile glares and the odd elbow to the gut for his troubles.
He felt a tug on the collar of his robe and craned his neck to rebuke whoever had thought to handle his expensive garments so roughly. He saw Euphrati Keeler behind him and, at first, thought she was attempting to pull him back, 45 False Gods but then he saw her face and smiled as he realised that she was coming with him, using his bulk like a plough. He managed to get within six or seven people of the front, when he remembered why he had been allowed within this august body in the first place.
He tore his eyes from the Warmaster to watch Erebus of the Word Bearers. Both Legions had fought and shed their blood together many times for the glory of the Imperium.
The members of the Mournival came forward and, one by one, embraced Erebus as a long lost brother. He tore his eyes from Horus in time to see Abaddon and Erebus shake hands one last time and saw a gleam of silver pass between their palms. The word was spoken softly, and the audience let out a collective gasp at such a flagrant breach of etiquette. The crowd drew back from Erebus, as though afraid that mere 46 Graham McNeill proximity to him might somehow taint them with his temerity.
Karkasy saw Maloghurst give the Warmaster a wary sidelong glance. What would you have corrected? Erebus shook his head sadly and, for the briefest instant, Karkasy detected a trace of dark amusement in his next pronouncement.
Surprisingly, Aximand went so far as to reach for his sword, but Torgaddon shook his head and Little Horus reluctantly removed his hand from his weapon.
He had known Erebus for only a short time, but Loken had seen the respect and esteem the softly spoken chaplain of the Word Bearers commanded. Since taking counsel from the first chaplain, the commander had become sullen, needlessly argumentative and withdrawn. After the influence he had accumulated since Xenobia, Loken could hardly believe that Erebus would now choose to behave in such a boorish manner.
Loken had never admired the equerry more. He saw that the other members of the Mournival realised this too. Though such an appellation was somewhat premature, given the ferocity of the opening battle attesting to its non-compliance, its usage was considered appropriate since compliance was deemed a certainty. Flocks of Raptores darted back and forth as they escorted the great and the good of the 28th Expedition to the Pride of the Emperor, for with the Laer fleet eliminated, the primarch was to unveil his plans to prosecute the war.
Dressed in the triumphal purple of his toga picta and the martial red of his lacerna cloak, he cut an imposing figure as he marched swiftly to the Heliopolis, followed by his equerry, Lycaon, and a retinue of bearers who carried his helmet, sword and trailing cloak.
A pendant of fiery amber hung around his neck and nestled between the carved pectorals of his golden breastplate. Nothing of his discomfort showed on his patrician features, for to display such emotion would suggest that he doubted the course his primarch had set, and that was unthinkable.
They marched along a wide processional way with pale walls of cool marble and towering onyx columns, their surfaces inlaid with gold lettering that spoke of battles won and glories gained during the Great Crusade. A month, Lycaon! He wants Laeran compliant in a month! Though they stood as immobile as the statues, the fierce potential for violence that beat within the breast of every Astartes warrior was evident in each of them.
The primarch commands and they are his to order as he sees fit. Such is only right and proper. He had listened to the initial vox reports of Solomon and Marius, who were, even now, involved in heavy fighting to secure the floating land-mass known as Atoll 19, with growing anger as the casualty reports flooded in. But his primarch had ordered his presence at the council of war that would announce the manner in which the 28th Expedition 24 Graham McNeill would make war upon this alien species and such orders were not to be denied.
Julius already knew what the Lord Fulgrim was to present to the senior commanders of the fleet, and the audacity and scale of it still took his breath away. As he saw the gate, Julius felt fierce pride swell within his breast, and he reached up to touch the carved eagle on his armour.
More guards stood before the Phoenix Gate, and they bowed deeply as he approached, clashing their spears into the ground as the great leaves of bronze smoothly parted before him, a slice of white light and the hubbub of voices drifting through from beyond. He nodded respectfully to the warriors at the gate and passed through into the Heliopolis. His finger squeezed the trigger and a hail of bolts spat from the barrel of his gun.
Sparks and yellow blood spattered his purple and gold armour as the creature burst apart and collapsed in a torn heap beside him.
More followed it, and soon the plaza was alive with whipping, sinuous bodies and struggling Astartes. In appearance, each Laer could be wildly diverse, their bio-forms differing between war zones, and apparently engineered for each particular theatre of war.
In his short time on the oceanic world of Laeran, Solomon had seen winged, aquatic and all manner of variations on the basic Laer form. These particular beasts were tall, sinuous monsters, with the snake-like lower body common to all Laer, and muscular thoraxes sheathed in silver armour, from which sprouted two pairs of limbs. The upper arms each bore long, lightning wreathed blades, their elegant forms curved like scimitars, while the lower arms each wielded crackling gauntlets that fired the lethal green energy bolts.
Their heads were insect-like and bulbous, with glossy, multi-faceted eyes and jutting mandibles that produced a grating screech when the Laer attacked. Solomon spun on the spot, firing his bolter at every slithering body that emerged from the alien structures carved from the hard coral of the atoll.
The veterans who accompanied him formed a curving line with him at its centre, each warrior moving smoothly into his allotted place to push the Laer back towards the crackling plume of energy in the middle of the plaza with every marching step they took. With no inter-suit vox, Solomon had no idea how Caphen or Thelonius were doing, but trusted their expertise and courage to see them through.
Solomon had personally approved both their commands and whatever fate befell them was his responsibility. Green fire washed from a previously unseen burrow entrance and a trio of Astartes warriors went down, their armour and flesh disintegrating beneath the electrochemical energies.
Solomon watched with pride as they fought with a flawless martial discipline unmatched by any other Legion. The plume of energy was close enough for him to feel its heat and as he gave the order to surround it, the Laer renewed their assault, their writhing bodies slipping around the ruins of their homes with unnatural speed. Whipping bolts of green light and bolter rounds crisscrossed the plaza, flaring explosions rippling the air as the occasional pair of shots impacted on one another.
He placed his bolter on the ground with reverent care and drew his chainblade from its sheath across his back. The blade and grip of the weapon had been lengthened to increase his reach and to allow him to wield the blade two handed.
Mars-forged steel met alien blades in a clash of fire that echoed throughout the city. The teeth of his blade ground on its thick spine, but he forced the blade onwards, dropping the creature into two flopping halves. His warriors fought with calm serenity, confident in their superiority and knowing that their leader was among them.
Solomon tore his blade free from the alien he had killed and stepped onwards, his warriors following his example and grimly fighting with killing strokes.
The first warning of something amiss was when a violent tremor shook the ground with a rumbling vibration. Then suddenly the world shifted as the ground violently canted to the side. Solomon was pitched to the ground, rolling on the slanted plaza and tumbling into one of the many deep craters that dotted the battlefield. He quickly righted himself and scanned his immediate area for threats, but could see nothing, hearing the sound of battle from above him and gunfire closing on the plaza from either side.
If the suspicions of the Mechanicum were correct and the energy coils were what kept the atolls afloat in the sky, it seemed likely that one or more elsewhere on the atoll must have been destroyed. Solomon rolled to his feet and sheathed his sword as he began clambering up the rocky slopes of the crater. As he neared the top, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand to attention, and looked up in time to see the silhouette of a Laer warrior over the lip of the crater.
He reached for his sword, but the Lear was on him before he could draw the weapon. Intricate mosaics, too high to make 28 Graham McNeill out the details, filled the coffers of the dome and long, silk banners of purple and gold hung between fluted pilasters of green marble. A lustrous beam of focused starlight shone down from the centre of the dome, reflecting dazzlingly from the black terrazzo floor of the Heliopolis.
Marble and quartz chips laid into the mortar and ground to a polished sheen turned the floor into a glittering, dark mirror that shone like the heavens beyond. Dust motes danced in the brightness, and the smoky aroma of scented oils filled the air.
A chair of polished black marble sat in the centre of the pillar of starlight and it was from here that Lord Fulgrim heard the petitions of his warriors and granted audiences. Though the primarch had not yet graced this assemblage with his arrival, the empty chair was a potent presence in the chamber. Julius saw officers drawn from all the military arms of the 28th Expedition seated in the marble benches, and moved to take his place on the bench nearest the floor, nodding to men whose faces he knew and noticing wary glances at his red lacerna cloak.
Julius ignored their stares and retrieved his sword and helmet from his bearers before taking his seat. He cast his eyes around the chamber, seeing silver and scarlet officers of the Imperial Army filling the lower tiers of the Heliopolis, their closeness to the floor indicative of their higher ranks.
Lord Commander Fayle sat at the centre of a gaggle of flunkies and aides. He was a stern man with a horribly scarred face, augmented with a steel plate that obscured the left side of his head. Julius had never spoken to the man, but knew him by rep29 Fulgrim utation; a skilled general, a blunt speaker and a ruthless, unforgiving soldier. Behind the officers of the army, occupying the mid-level of seating, were the adepts of the Mechanicum, looking uncomfortable in the bright light of the Heliopolis.
Their hooded robes hid much of their features, and Julius could not remember if he had ever seen one with his hood down. He shook his head at the foolish veils of secrecy and ritual they surrounded themselves with. Alongside the Mechanicum were the remembrancers, earnest men and women in beige robes that scrawled in battered notepads and data-slates or sketched on cartridge paper with charcoals.
The greatest artists, writers and poets of the Imperium had spread through the expedition fleets in their thousands to document the monumental achievements of the Great Crusade, meeting varying degrees of welcome. Precious few of the Legions appreciated their efforts, but Fulgrim had declared their presence to be a great boon and had granted them unprecedented access to his most intimate and guarded ceremonies.
What purpose do scriveners and their ilk serve at a council of war? Look, one of them has even brought an easel!
It encompasses fine arts, literary works and music. A little culture would be no bad thing for you. Fulgrim was flanked by his senior lord commanders, and the assembled warriors, adepts and scribes immediately rose to their feet and bowed their heads in wonder at the magnificent, perfect warrior before them.
Julius rose with them, his earlier discomfort washed away in the rush of excitement at seeing his beloved primarch once again. The primarch wore a long flowing toga of pale cream, and the dark iron hilt of his sword, Fireblade, was visible at his hip, the blade itself sheathed in a scabbard of gleaming purple leather.
The flaring wings of an eagle were embroidered in gold thread across his chest and a slender band of lapis lazuli kept his silver hair from his face.
Both warriors were dressed in plain, white togas, unadorned save for a small eagle motif over the right breast. Their stern martial bearing was an inspiration for Julius, who held himself a little straighter at their presence. It has been too long since last we made war, but what a chance we have now to remedy that.
One that the honoured representatives from the Mechanicum tell me would be of immeasurable value to the crusade of the Emperor, he who is beloved by all.
They refuse to see the manifest destiny that guides us through the stars and have made it abundantly clear that they hold us in nothing but contempt. Our peaceable advances have been rebuffed with violence, and honour demands we answer in kind! Fulgrim smiled, clasping his hands to his chest in thanks for their 32 Graham McNeill devotion.
Descent of Angels: The Horus Heresy, Book 6 (Unabridged)
As the cheering and shouts died away, Julius saw Lord Commander Fayle stand and bow deeply to the primarch. Julius smiled as he remembered the skill with which Fulgrim flattered those he spoke to, knowing full well that he was soon to blindside Fayle with hard facts and uncomfortable truths.
As Thaddeus Fayle spoke, microscopic motes of crystal floating in the column of light focused on the Army commander, wreathing him in a diffuse glow. Most mortals were rendered imbecilic simply by standing in the presence of a primarch, but Thaddeus Fayle spoke as though to a member of his own staff, and Julius felt his choler rise at such boorish behaviour.
Such was the price of cultivating openness within the expedition, Julius realised. The attack underway is an attempt to gather a more thorough appreciation of the war capability of the Laer. Would you have me compromise my honour by meekly avoiding this fight because it might be dangerous? My forces are at your disposal as always. Fulgrim had already drawn up his perfect plans for war and was not about to be dissuaded from his course by the doubts of mortals.
I have devised a campaign 34 Graham McNeill that will see Laeran delivered to us, and while I appreciate the counsel you all give me, this is the kind of war for which the Astartes were forged. I will outline its particulars to you in a moment, but as time is critical, I hope you will forgive me if I unleash my war dogs first. He knew what question would be asked and only hoped his men could deliver on what Fulgrim was to demand of them.
We await only your word. The two warriors fell to the base of the crater as the ground shifted again and Solomon found himself pinned beneath the weight of the creature. Its mandibles opened wide and it screeched deafeningly in his face, spraying him with hot spittle and mucus. Solomon shook his vision clear and punched upwards, his fist cracking bone beneath the ruddy red flesh of the alien warrior.
It screeched once more and a burst of green light exploded from its fists as it stabbed one of its lower arms towards him. He rolled aside as the silver gauntlet sheared through the rock, as though it were no more solid than sand.
Solomon scrambled away from the creature, his back against the walls of the crater. The Laer howled, the power of its scream a physical force that sent Solomon staggering backwards, his ears ringing and his vision blurred.
He tried to draw his sword, but the Laer was on him again before the weapon was halfway from 35 Fulgrim its sheath.
The combatants crashed to the ground in a maelstrom of thrashing armoured limbs and segmented claws. The horrific eyes of the Laer reflected his contorted face, and he felt his anger and frustration rise at the thought of being trapped down in this crater while his men fought on above without him. Hot pain lanced into his side as the Laer scored its glowing green weapon across his flank, but he twisted away before it could drive the weapon up into his guts.
He had nowhere to move and his back was still to the wall. A string of unintelligible screeches emerged from its mandibles, and though its language was utterly alien to Solomon, he could have sworn that the monster was taking pleasure in this struggle.
The Laer coiled its serpentine form beneath it and leapt for him, its arms and claws extended towards him. He leapt to engage it and the two met with a clash of armoured plate, tumbling to the ground once more. The arm sheared from its body in a spray of stinking blood and Solomon spun on his heel, driving the energy sheathed weapon up into its middle.
The glowing edge easily tore through the silver armour and the Laer collapsed in a coil of ruptured flesh. A howling shriek burst from its throat as it died, and again Solomon was repulsed by the pleasure he heard in its cry.
Once again he scrambled up the side of the crater, hauling himself over the lip in time to see his warriors struggling against yet more of the Laer as they poured into the plaza. Isolated from the fighting for a moment, Solomon saw that his warriors were trapped, desperately defending against this tide of aliens.
His practiced eye saw that without reinforcements there could be no holding it against such numbers. Dozens of Astartes were already down, their bodies twitching as the alien weapons triggered involuntary nerve spasms in their wounded flesh.
I swore in the fire to First Captain Kaesoron that we would capture this place and we will not be shamed by failing in that oath! The Second had never yet shown their backs to an enemy and he did not expect them to now.
In ancient times, when warriors had run from battle, their ranks had been decimated, one in every ten warriors beaten to death by their former battle-brothers as a bitter warning to the survivors.
Warriors that ran once would run again, and he was proud that none of his squads had ever needed such a brutal lesson in courage. They took their lead in all things from him, and he would rather die than dishonour his Legion with cowardice. Solomon retrieved his bolter from the uneven ground and slid a fresh magazine into the weapon.
He moved to the centre of the line and took his place in the thick of the fighting, killing with methodical precision until he ran out of ammunition and switched back to his sword. He fought two-handed, cleaving his blade through alien flesh, and bellowing at his warriors to stand firm as a seething tide of Laer surrounded them. The cost of winning this victory had been damnably high: nine of his warriors would never fight again, their gene-seed harvested by Apothecary Fabius, and many others would require extensive augmetic surgery upon their return to the fleet.
Explosions, gunfire and the blaring howls of the towers echoed strangely through the twisting coral streets of Atoll 19, and with the vox-network scrambled it was difficult to pinpoint exactly where the fighting was coming from. It would be just like Solomon Demeter to have removed his helmet in the heat of battle to better experience the sensations of combat. Marius shook his head. What manner of fool would go into a firefight without all the protection he could muster?
Hm Are You a Human?
The sounds of battle seemed to be coming from the west, though how to get there was going to be problematic, as the streets — if they could even be called that — snaked through the atoll in meandering paths that might take them kilometres out of their way.
The idea of setting off without a detailed plan rankled at Marius, a warrior for whom each advance and manoeuvre was planned with meticulous perfection and enacted without deviation. Julius Kaesoron had once joked that he should have been selected to join the Ultramarines, meaning it as a friendly jibe, but Marius had taken it as a compliment.
The idea of not being the best made him feel physically sick. To be less than the best was unacceptable, and Marius had long ago decided that nothing was going to stop him from achieving his goal. Marius led his men off with a ground-eating stride that Astartes warriors could maintain for days on end and still be ready to fight at the end of it.
The glistening coral walls of the city twisted and turned, fragments of crystal and stone crunching under their armoured boots as they made their way through the city. Marius kept following the path he thought best led to the sounds of fighting, encountering scattered bands of Laer warriors that fought with the desperation of a cornered foe. Each of these fights was easily won, for nothing could stand before the warriors of the Third on the advance and live.
Can you hear me. This is Vairosean. Answer if you can hear me! Is that you? Vairosean out. He raised his hand and called a halt, but as he did so a huge explosion erupted from nearby and a tall, curling tower of coral collapsed in flames not more than thirty metres to their left.
The streets wound away from the explosion, and he knew they would never reach Caphen by taking any of them. Move out! He pulled himself higher and higher, the ground rapidly receding beneath him as 40 Graham McNeill he and the warriors of the Third made their way over the roofs of Atoll Awe, for it was a truly magnificent thing to watch the martial power of the Legion unleashed on an enemy world, and irritation because it had taken him away from the unblemished marble in his studio.
First Captain Julius Kaesoron had sent advance word of the launch to Serena and she had immediately come to fetch him from his studio to a prime spot on the observation deck.
Now, standing before the armoured glass of the observation deck, he was heartily glad she had dragged him away. The observation deck was hundreds of metres above the launch rails, but Ostian fancied he could still feel the vibrations of their release in his bones. Kaesoron had said that this was to be a full-scale assault and, seeing the sheer number of craft being launched, Ostian could well believe it.
I can barely conceive of such a thing. It was a wondrous shade of cerulean blue.
I think I loved it so much because it was how I imagined Old Earth might once have looked. She blinked and smiled at him, reaching up to press her fingertips against his cheek. Fire billowed around 42 Graham McNeill them from the shattered remains of a pair of Stormbirds that lay smouldering in the ruins of a Laer burrow complex. The crew and passengers had died in the crash and the violence of the impact had almost toppled a rearing spire of twisted coral.
It had only taken a handful of grenades lobbed into the shattered base of the tower to complete its destruction and bring it thundering to the ground.
He and his squad had fought through the Laer burrow complexes as Captain Demeter had ordered, but the aliens had anticipated the flanking manoeuvre. Every burrow held a pair of monstrous alien warriors poised to slither from hiding to kill in a frenzy of flashing blades and energy bolts.
The fighting had been close and brutal, no room for skill or artistry, and each screeching snake-like warrior had pounced into their midst, where all that separated the living from the dead was luck. Caphen bled from a score of wounds, his breathing ragged and uneven, though he was determined not to let his captain down.
Sounds of desperate fighting came from all around him, and even as he watched, more Laer warriors spat from their burrows like coiled springs, deadly bolts of energy slicing through the air towards them.
Coral and fragments of armour ricocheted around him. Screams sounded from nearby and he raised his bolter to fire on this new threat when the ground shifted violently underfoot and the entire atoll took a sickening lurch downwards. Gaius dropped to one knee, grabbing onto a nearby spur of coral as more Laer emerged from burrow holes. A spray of bolter fire from above him cut one practically in two, and it thrashed in pain as it fell.
Deafening reports echoed, and the Laer that had been set to overrun them were obliterated in volleys of precisely aimed gunfire.
The captain himself dropped down next to Caphen, the muzzle of his bolter flaring as he gunned down a Laer warrior that had somehow survived the initial volleys. Caphen nodded and followed the captain of the Third.As he neared the top, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand to attention, and looked up in time to see the silhouette of a Laer warrior over the lip of the crater.
Though outnumbered and hopelessly outclassed, they had fought with great courage, before offering their surrender after doing all that honour demanded. He slid across the ring platform towards the open fall, his white armour shrieking as it left deep grooves in the onyx surface. Broken their backs.
At the end of the chamber, past the crumpled, leaking body of the Invisible he had disembowelled, sixteen broad marble steps led up to a stone doorway. Torgaddon raised a finger for silence. As though seeking further reassurance, Petronella opened a flat blotting folder with a monogrammed leather cover and slid a sheaf of papers from inside it. His round face was framed by a shock of black hair. The edp favors the rose more than the iris IMHO , and the rose is richer, deeper.
A lustrous beam of focused starlight shone down from the centre of the dome, reflecting dazzlingly from the black terrazzo floor of the Heliopolis.