I nabbed myself a subscription to WarhammerTV because I kept seeing clips from Angels of Death, which looked amazing. I was a big fan of Richard Boylan’s Hellsreach adaptation, which got him the job of making official content for Games Workshop.
The 10-episode show was amazing. I’ve been a Warhammer 40,000 fan for over a decade, and still have a Blood Angels army, so this show was particular catnip for me. It struck me as familiar, though, and I recalled a piece of fanfic I wrote for a competition back in 2011 (I did not win, and the judges did not particularly like it). Interesting similarities include a small squad lead by a chaplain who has a close but strained relationship with the sergeant, a ship named Sword of Baal, squad members dying one-by-one, and forces on the ground cut off from communication due to atmospheric interference.
Do I think that the writers saw my work from 11 years ago and cribbed it? Absolutely not, that is ridiculous. These are some standard tropes that fit well within the 40K atmosphere. Even the name of the ship isn’t that much of a stretch. I just thought it was interesting, and honestly, it made me appreciate the show even more. A thought in my brain existed and someone took a similar thought and made it amazing. For that I am grateful.
I managed to track down that story thanks to some digging on archive.org, as the blog I originally posted it on is long gone. Enjoy! It’s 12,000 words long.
“Brother-Sergeant Durand, stay a moment,” Captain Zedrenael’s commanding voice called out as the briefing of the 8th Company’s squad sergeants and their corporals ended. Durand dismissed Tarquin, his corporal, and joined his captain. From the back of the room, a black-clad chaplain approached to join the captain and the sergeant of the company’s second assault squad.
“This is Brother-Chaplain Callis, who has just been assigned to our company,” Zedrenael introduced the new arrival. Callis smiled, and crossed his right arm over his chest, tapping a fist onto the bone-white Aquila decorating it.
“Brother-Sergeant Durand and I are familiar, Brother-Captain.”
Durand clapped the priest on his pauldron. “That we are. We were raw recruits together these ages ago. Last I heard, Brother-Chaplain, you were attached to the 5th Company. What vile misdeeds have brought you this demotion?” Durand bantered playfully.
Zedrenael cut in. “Brother-Chaplain Callis’ assignment with Brother-Captain Sendini was up for renewal, and I managed to have him assigned here while his Brother-Captain was otherwise occupied on Armageddon. I consider it, let us say, ‘evening the score’ after he poached Brother-Priest Adrian from my honor guard.” The captain looked well pleased with his acquisition.
“Though we have not taken the field together in some years, Captain, I would vouch for Brother-Chaplain Callis’ integrity. Of course, I’m sure the Apothecarion and the Reclusiary wouldn’t let an unworthy rogue slip through,” Durand added.
“Obviously, brother. That’s why you’re wearing red instead of black,” Callis grinned.
The captain interrupted the repartee. “Very good, brothers. It pleases me that you are already familiar with each other on field of battle, and I am grateful for the asset that this provides me. But, to the matter at hand, Brother-Sergeant. Something I didn’t discuss in the tactical briefing. While the bulk of our forces are committed in Port Barston, I have need of small reconnaissance squad.”
Durand’s back straightened, an immediate reaction to keep his shoulders from dropping. He’d been disappointed that Secundus Squad was not selected to lead the vanguard for their strike on the rebellious guardsmen below, but to be assigned to mere reconnaissance? Surely, he’d displeased the captain in some manner.
“This is no meager assignment, Brother-Sergeant,” Zedrenael continued, sensing disappointment. “On the far side of the Haerid Prime, there is a small island continent. We have intercepted no communications from Kelmaran, the continental capital, nor from either of the two smaller outposts since entering orbit. Very little of the continent is populated, as it is locked under a glacial ice shelf. Kelmaran and the mining outposts Untrao and Delhix make up the population centers, and as manufacturing facilities, hold strategic importance. Kelmaran is a manufacturing and processing hub for the raw materials that are mined beneath the ice by the other two settlements.
“We do not have much in the way of intelligence from the surface. We know from loyalist forces on the ground that there were scattered reports of fighting in and around Kelmaran, but no details beyond that. Complicating matters, a gigantic weather pattern is covering most of the continent. The storm is severe enough to cause massive disruption in probe telemetry, but from what we can tell, Kelmaran has been abandoned completely. I need eyes on the ground to assess what has happened and to let me know what forces, if any, I will need to divert there after we have secured Port Barston.”
Durand nodded solemnly. “Secundus Squad is ever at your command, Brother-Captain.”
“Of this, I have no doubt, Brother-Sergeant,” Zedrenael reassured him. “Select four of your men. Brother Tarquin and the other four will remain with the main force in the same capacity that was discussed in the briefing. You will drop at the same time as we launch the assault on Port Barston. Brother Etras will remain here on Sword of Baal to coordinate communications. Relay your findings as quickly as possible. As I mentioned previously, we expect the engagement in Port Barston to be fierce but ultimately short. Your information will tell me how to proceed as we return this planet to the Emperor’s Grace. I expect you to lead your entire squad in the next vanguard, Durand, so be swift. You will insert and extract via Stormraven, as the storm may prove problematic for a Thunderhawk. Brother Matrian has plenty of experience with harsh-weather insertion.”
“By your will, Brother-Captain,” Durand affirmed. “Shall I inform Brother Tarquin that he has been brevetted?”
“Yes, and that the details he heard in the briefing will be no different. Choose your men, and be ready to depart aboard Angel’s Fall in two hours. Brother-Chaplain Callis will be attending us in the Reclusiam in one. I will forward all of the tactical briefing assets to your database. Dismissed, marines, and good hunting.”
Durand and Callis saluted and exited the briefing room. Together, they walked through the winding passages of the strike cruiser.
“I don’t believe the Captain mentioned, but I may have put your name forward for this assignment,” Callis spoke.
Durand stopped. “Oh, brother, I do thank you.” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “A chance for glory on this rebellious planet, and instead, I’m off sniffing after ghosts? Is this some sort of vengeance for a forgotten slight? While you sing your battle-sermon in front of half of my men, you send me off to lead the other half on a scavenger hunt?”
“Yes, about that,” Callis murmured. “I have also convinced the Captain to allow me to accompany you.”
“Oh, but of course you have,” Durand rolled his eyes in mock disgust. “Couldn’t get yourself re-assigned to Armageddon, so you’ve come here to nip at my heels?”
Callis smiled again. “Someone needs to, brother. Besides, I’ve heard the whispers. Your talents and squad are well-regarded, and there will be openings in the main strike companies as the war on Armageddon drags on. Brother-Captain Castigon himself is rumored to have taken an interest in your career.”
While the bulk of the chapter was engaged in the continuing conflict against the Ork menace on Armageddon, the 8th Company of the Blood Angels was seeing significant action for a reserve company. They had fought three separate battles on Imperial backwaters, mostly small-scale rebellions, but action nonetheless. Durand’s squad had been fortunate, performing admirably in these fights without sustaining a single casualty. He too had heard the whispers that the entire squad was on the verge of being reassigned to the 4th Company and redeployed to Armageddon. A major leap upward, and a chance for far greater glory than mopping up small pockets of insurrection, but Durand was not one to lend credence to rumors and intrigue when tasks at hand required his attention. Here on Haerid Prime, the planet was in full-scale rebellion, and the opportunities for recognition were numerous. A battle-brother’s entire career could be made here, and Durand had no desire to remain in a reserve company forever.
“But why, Callis, would you choose this assignment as your first action with this company, and why forestall the glory you insist is in my future?”
Callis held up his hand in apology. “I admit that this move was for purely selfish reasons. While Port Barston will prove to be a large battle, the rebellious forces are not likely to crack simply because we have taken one hive. There will be plenty of chance for glory on Haerid Prime, my brother. In the meantime, something has happened on the other side of this planet, and we need to know what it was. I want to show the Captain that I am willing to forgo glory for the betterment of the mission at large. Even without my prodding, the captain’s recent battle reports indicated that he would trust you to be his eyes and ears on the ground.”
“You are nothing if not thorough, Callis,” Durand interjected.
Callis nodded. “I cannot serve a captain on the field of battle if I do not know him, and more importantly, if he does not know and trust me. Being by your side seems to be a quick way of earning that trust. I am quite confident that our reunion will end before we depart this system, and I needed an opportunity to prove my worth at your side before you’re promoted away from here.”
“As you say, brother,” Durand said, mollified. His smile returned as he turned away from the chaplain and headed toward the ship’s training gallery. “I hope you have a fiery sermon for my men.”
Durand found his team as he’d left them, diligently practicing their aim in the cruiser’s shooting range. Daily inspections and drills were a key to the success of Durand’s squad. The nine battle-brothers under his command were experienced and even-headed by Blood Angels standards. Since being promoted, Durand had lost only one man to the Black Rage. Most sergeants in the 8th spent the majority of their drills on hand-to-hand combat, but Durand liked to stress shooting accuracy just as much as skill with a chainsword. His regimen had been rewarded with a number of shooting commendations, a rarity for an assault company.
Bolt pistol fire rang out with deep reverberations as his squad reacted to various targets springing from hiding spots. Sesto and Laris were in a far corner of the shooting gallery, standing back-to-back and picking off enemy targets with precision. Silvio and Ursel were in a trust drill, facing each other and picking targets behind the other as they sprung up. Tarquin’s glowing plasma pistol sent a lance of purple energy straight through a target, and the tang of ionized plasma hung in the air. As Durand called for a halt to the drills, the echo of pistol fire lingered for a moment or two.
“Secundus Squad, take a knee.” The nine battle-brothers exited the gallery and fell into a straight line, kneeling as one. Durand smiled to himself at their sharp discipline. “We are about to go into battle, and I know you are ready and furious for it.”
“We are the scions of Sanguinius.” Quirius replied. “Our duty is clear. We shall know no fear.”
The rest of the squad echoed him.
“We shall know no fear!”
“We shall know no fear, brothers,” Durand continued. “And our duty is clear. Below us are Imperial citizens who have spurned their loyalty to our Holy Emperor, and they must be made to see the error of their ways. I am proud of you, and you will make me even more so this day. Steel yourselves for war, brothers. Meet me in the Reclusiam to pray for our blessed victory. I will brief you before we drop.”
“By your will, Brother-Sergeant,” Tarquin responded.
“Brother, walk with me,” Durand said, motioning his corporal away from the rest.
Tarquin finished adjusting the straps on his jump pack, checked his grenades, and holstered his plasma pistol. Gunning his chainsword once, he fell in beside his sergeant as he hung the weapon at his side.
“What news, Brother-Sergeant?” Tarquin asked.
“Captain Zedrenael has given me new orders,” Durand began. “A reconnaissance mission to the other side of Haerid Prime. I’ll not get into my mission’s details, as I have been allotted only half of Secundus Squad. I have trusted you as my corporal for fifteen engagements, and I do not hesitate to have you command the rest and speak with my voice in my absence. I am proud to call you Brother-Sergeant, even if just for today.”
Tarquin stopped, stunned by the suddenness of his promotion. “I am honored, Brother-Sergeant. What role is my half of the squad to perform in this engagement?”
“Your orders will remain the same, Brother Tarquin. You will join the second wave of the assault as indicated. I will take with me Brother Junius, Brother Sesto, Brother Laris, and Brother Ursel. You will have Brother Silvio, Brother Quirius, Brother Saben, and Brother Ignatius under your command. You are free to make your own choice of which of your brothers to name as your corporal.”
“Brother-Sergeant, if I may speak freely?” Tarquin paused and waited for Durand’s nod. “Brother Saben and Brother Ignatius are themselves at least my equal, if not my superior, in every regard. Brother Silvio and Brother Quirius will also be formidable sergeants in time.”
“I appreciate your assessment of your squad-mates, which is why you are my corporal. You know each of their strengths and weaknesses as well as I.”
“My point is, Brother-Sergeant, and I mean no disrespect to any of my battle brothers, but you have given me the four finest brothers in this squad and left yourself with the youngest and least experienced, in a situation where you will be cut off from the main force, and I assume without swift reinforcement should you require it.”
Durand smiled and grasped Tarquin by the pauldrons. “You will make a fine leader, Tarquin, fine indeed. But worry not. Our company’s newest chaplain has chosen to ride with me, and he is a fine commander in his own right, capable of getting far more from our brothers than any would have suspected. I have commanded this squad for half a century already, and have lead younger and more inexperienced battle-brothers into grimmer situations. Brother Junius, Brother Sesto, Brother Laris, and Brother Ursel are fine marines, and while you are correct in your assessment of their experience, remember that even the 1st Company boasts only ten sergeants among its ten squads. Commanding your equals may prove a more difficult challenge than what I face, Brother-Sergeant. Remember that.”
Tarquin nodded. “As ever, Brother-Sergeant, you are a wise commander. Forgive my question.”
“There is nothing to forgive, Tarquin. Without questions, there cannot be answers. Without answers, we do not learn. There is no flaw or shame in learning to lead. Now, let us go and pray for wisdom.”
The two marines arrived at the chapel and joined the rest of their squad. One hundred battle brothers filled the beautifully artificed cathedral. Light from various stained-glass mosaics filtered down, reflecting the many victories of the Blood Angels on the polished and detailed armor below. Durand and Tarquin stepped to the front with the rest of their Brother-Sergeants and knelt before Callis, who was slowly waving a censer of incense. The chaplain’s eyes were closed, and he was murmuring a prayer to Sanguinius. The battle-brothers behind Durand began murmuring along.
Soon, the murmur rose, and Callis’ voice rang out a paean to their fallen Primarch, and to the God Emperor. Supplications for their protection, for wisdom, for a quick hand and swift death to their enemies rang through the hall. Callis’ voice dropped away as the marines kept up the chanted prayer. Callis moved down the row with the company’s two other chaplains, examining the marines, checking for signs of the Black Rage. Brother-Priest Lombrec stepped to the front of the Reclusiam as the chants reached a fevered pitch. He lifted a golden chalice over his head and raised his voice to join the prayer.
“We go to battle borne on wings of steel and fire!” Lombrec shouted.
“We go to do his will!” the marines responded.
“May our feet be swift, to carry us to battle! May our vision be clear, to see our enemy!”
“Bless us with your speed and sight, Father of Angels!”
“May our strike be true, to cast down the foes of man!”
“Protect us, O Holy Emperor!”
“May we bring honor and glory to the Golden Throne, and bend the fury within us to His eternal will!”
“We shall be his sword! We shall know no fear!”
Lombrec lowered the chalice and gestured to the first squad, who rose. Durand turned, and was relieved to see that all of his brother marines stood confidently. None had fallen to the Black Rage this day. Three marines from other squads were not so lucky. Overcome with visions of Sanguinius and his final battle with the traitor Horus, they began raving and clawing at themselves. Guided from the cathedral, they were fated to don the coal-black armor and cut a vicious line through heretical guardsmen this day.
As the marines filed past the altar at the front, Lombrec dipped a finger into his chalice, and painted a small bloody “X” on the forehead of each battle-brother. “Remember the wounds of our Father, received in the sacrifice to protect our Holy Emperor.”
Durand affixed his helmet as Lombrec moved down the row, marking each of the squad members in turn. Once they had all been properly blessed, they turned as one and headed for the transport hanger.
Standing before the row of Stormravens and Thunderhawks, the marines of Secundus Squad checked their gear and made final preparations for war. Durand examined the blades of his lightning claws, crackling as they were with energy, ready to cleave steel and flesh. Callis had joined them, menacing in his skull-helm. The engines of the Angel’s Fall behind him fired with a roar. The voice of Brother Matrian, the Stormraven’s pilot, crackled into Durand’s headset, informing him that the craft was ready to depart on his order.
“Secundus Squad, we are ready to step into the void. This is Brother-Chaplain Callis, venerable servant of the Reclusiam and a fine warrior of Baal. We have known each other since we were but recruits, and we have seen a hundred battles together. Trust his wisdom as you would my own.
“Secundus Squad will be operating as two units for this engagement. Brother Silvio, Brother Quirius, Brother Saben, and Brother Ignatius, you will be under the command of Brother-Sergeant Tarquin and assigned to the reserve. Brother-Sergeant Tarquin will have your mission briefing.”
“Secundus Squad Tarquin, to me!” Tarquin barked, collecting his charges. He led them to the main staging area.
Once Durant had his small squad reorganized, he began his briefing. “Brother Junius, Brother Sesto, Brother Laris, Brother Ursel, I have chosen you to ride with me and Brother-Chaplain Callis aboard Angel’s Fall. Brother Laris, for the duration of this mission you will be corporal. Should I fall, you will lead your brother marines, and they will follow your orders as they follow mine.”
“I am honored, Brother-Sergeant,” Laris replied. “I will not fail you.”
Durand nodded and continued. “Our mission is simple. We will be entering atmosphere in a storm, descending to the continent on the far side of the planet under cover of night. There, we will land in Kelmaran, the continental capital, and assess why all communication is silent and probe telemetry indicates the city to be abandoned. Once we have identified a good landing point, we will assess the situation on the ground, report back to Brother Etras here on the Sword, and extract on Angel’s Fall to rendezvous with the main force. Understood?”
“By your will, Brother-Sergeant!” the squad responded as one.
“Good. To our transport, brothers. We fly to war!”
Ten minutes later, the Stormraven was silently angling away from the Sword of Baal toward the murky atmosphere of Haerid Prime, tracing a different path from the bulk of the landing craft bearing the 8th Company to war. As they passed the terminator into darkness, the storms below flashed with purple and white lightning. The cloud cover was massive, a churning monstrosity that blanketed an entire continent, and as soon as the transport entered the upper atmosphere, the craft began pitching and yawing as if tossed on a turbulent sea. Matrian radioed back to Durand to expect much worse, and the entire squad tightened their harnesses.
“Reminds me of Partrin III! Haven’t had a thrill like this since!” Callis shouted.
“Didn’t you almost drown in a helmet filled with your own vomit on that drop?” Durand shot back. He was certain he heard a chuckle from one of his men.
“You’re a vile man, Brother-Sergeant, to speak so ill of one of the Reclusiam,” Callis retorted, his wicked smile audible behind his helmet.
“At least I can keep my rations down.”
The Stormraven lurched violently to one side, shaking them from their banter. The craft began spinning violently for what seemed like an eternity before leveling out. Still buffeted, they continued their descent.
Durand unstrapped his restraints and made his way forward to a view screen, grasping at the handholds with a steady grip. He keyed to the screen to patch directly into the cockpit. The pilot wore a mask of concentration, fighting with the struggling craft as the turbulence wracked it. Suddenly, the skies cleared and the ship steadied.
“Are we through?” Durand called over his headset.
“For the moment, Brother-Sergeant. Look below,” the pilot warned and spun the display to his own view.
Durand saw seething clouds below. They looked even more angry and evil than the hell they’d just passed through. Lightning arced through them as they billowed and churned, throwing giant bolts of energy as high as the upper cloud cover.
“How much farther?”
“Instruments tell us that we’re still ten thousand meters up. Ground sensors are useless. Any telemetry we were getting from probes is gone, but from what I can tell, we’re not coming in over Kelmaran. We’re over top of Untrao, one of the mining outposts.”
“What? That’s five hundred klicks to the east of Kelmaran!”
“Sensors have been completely disrupted by this storm and we’ve been tossed about mercilessly. We’re lucky that we’re over anything populated at all! Getting through the second cloud deck will likely be worse than what we’ve experienced so far, so I’d advise you strap in,” Matrian warned.
“Acknowledged,” Durand agreed and turned to head back to his harness.
Without any warning, a giant purple bolt of lightning rose from the clouds, whip-like and crackling with malignant power. It struck Angel’s Fall on the starboard engine, blasting it clear of the fuselage. The stricken ship lurched upwards into a drunken spin.
“Brace!” Matrian shouted. Durand was thrown back into the crew hold, scrambling for purchase on the metal grating of the deck. The pilot’s voice barked into Durand’s headset. “Brothers, we have minimal control and are about to hit the second cloud cover. I am cracking the ramp seals. Be prepared to evacuate!”
As the hiss of pressure escaping the hold screamed around him, Durand forced himself back to his harness. His squad unhooked themselves and looked to him as they held themselves steady. The craft began spinning violently around again. Durand glanced to Callis, then back to his brothers.
“Brothers, we shall know no fear! The Emperor will hold us in his holy hands!” Callis shouted.
“We shall know no fear!” they responded.
Durand could not tell if they were still descending. His entire world had been reduced to spinning confusion. He could barely get his bearings inside the hold itself. Purple and white streaks flashed through the gaps around the ramps, casting strange shadows and adding to the disorientation. For what seemed like an eternity, the Stormraven plummeted through the clouds.
Matrian’s voice began calling out altitudes, returning some measure of sanity. As they passed below three thousand meters, the craft began to steady. The stability lasted a mere second before the entire ship lurched hard to port, screaming against the strain. Laris was wrenched from his seat and slammed against the rear ramp. Ursel shot an arm out and lifted him back to his feet, and together they fought to remain standing. Durand looked to confirm they were unhurt, but his attention was immediately drawn back to the front. The ramp began to descend, and Matrian shouted that the second engine had torn free.
“We’re gliding, and not well. I’ll try to put down softly, but we’re not lifting off again! I’d advise that…”
Matrian’s voice cut off with a shriek of steel. Everything above of the crew hold tore violently away and disappeared.
“Evacuate! Everyone out! Now now now!” Durand yelled into his headset. There was a flurry of activity as all six battle-brothers scrambled toward exits. Within seconds, they were free of their ruined craft and burning their way toward the surface. Finally below the second cloud cover, they could see the ground illuminated for fractions of a second at a time. The turbulence was gone, and their drop was immediately peaceful and almost silent. Beneath them was a ruined wasteland where an Imperial outpost once stood, as far as Durand could tell. Scarcely a building above two stories remained, and smoking craters were everywhere. A few giant cloud-pillars reached the ground on the outskirts of the sprawling outpost. They looked like massive tornadoes, churning and pulsing with purple and white lightning like the clouds above, but did not appear to be moving. On the ground, they saw no movement, no people, no vehicles. There seemed to be nothing alive below them in the broken field of darkness.
The glowing remains of Angel’s Fall spun lazily toward the ground, righting itself and fortuitously plowing onto a barren stretch of road. Remarkably, the reactor did not explode, and there was only residual smoke from the engines. Despite skidding for nearly a hundred meters and missing the cockpit and everything forward, the craft seemed relatively intact. The lights on it were a beacon to the six marines closing rapidly on it. They touched down without incident next to the wreckage. Durand was about to comment on the lack of rain despite the clouds above when the sky opened up in a brilliant flash and freezing sleet began lashing the ground. What little light existed on the ground dimmed as wind lashed the sudden downpour.
“Wonderful, and weather on top of it,” Durand muttered. “Secundus Squad, it appears that we’re half a thousand klicks off our mark, but we still have a mission to complete. Secure the wreckage,” he ordered, and his battle-brothers descended upon the downed vessel.
As they dropped in, he took stock of his charges. Callis moved from brother to brother, quickly examining them for injury or fear, and reported that they were, by the Emperor’s Guarding Hand, all battle-ready. Satisfied that he had a solid squad, Durand turned to more immediate problems.
“Brother Laris, Brother Sesto, see if you can find the locator beacon on Angel’s Fall and whatever else we can carry. Brother Junius, Brother Ursel, establish a perimeter.” Durand pointed as he called out orders, and his brother-marines jumped silently to their tasks. Durand began attempting to call for support as Callis looked him over.
“Secundus Squad Durand to Sword of Baal, come in, this is Brother-Sergeant Durand. Brother Etras, Please respond.”
There was no response. Durand made a few more attempts. “Sword of Baal, please acknowledge. Company command, this is Secundus Squad Durand. Please respond.”
“Durand, it seems that we are cut off, at least for the time being,” Callis suggested. “But I would suppose that the possibility exists that they can hear us but we cannot hear them.”
“Noted,” Durand agreed, and made one last attempt. “Company command, this is Secundus Squad Durand, please respond. If you are responding, we cannot hear you. Our situation is as follows: Angel’s Fall has been taken down by atmospheric phenomena and is wrecked but largely intact. We have touched down in Untrao, not Kelmaran. Repeat, we are on the ground in Untrao. The craft came down in pieces, and I am presuming that Brother Matrian did not survive. Brother-Chaplain Callis, Brother Laris, Brother Junius, Brother Ursel, Brother Sesto and myself are onsite on the wreckage. We are attempting to activate the craft’s locator beacon and will continue to monitor and broadcast at regular intervals. Atmosphere is highly volatile. Once again, atmosphere is highly volatile.”
Callis looked about the ruined outpost. “From what I remember of the briefing on this outpost, it’s essentially a large mining operation with a small population center. Looks like we’re in what passes for a business district. Hopefully, the primary communication relay is nearby. Perhaps something there remains that we can use.”
“Do we have anything in the auspex about Untrao that would help us find it?” Durand asked.
“Looks like it,” Callis confirmed. “I’m updating primary mission parameters now. I don’t think that the data is nearly as complete as we had for Kelmaran, but… yes, got it. The main communication facility is close, about two blocks to the west.”
Hopefully we can learn more there. Having something to report when we’re extracted would be better than coming back empty handed. This planet had better not have claimed half of my brothers for nothing.”
Laris crawled out of the wreckage holding an auspex and two meltabombs. “This is it, Brother-Sergeant. The locator beacon has been destroyed, and there’s little else even the techmarines would find worth salvaging there.”
“Good job, Brother. I’ll hang on to one of these,” Durand took the meltabomb. “You keep the auspex. Give Brother Sesto the other meltabomb. Synchronize your auspex with Brother-Chaplain Callis’ updated parameters. Brother Sesto, continue reporting our position and situation to Brother Etras every five minutes. Let me know if you receive a response.”
Laris was checking on what remained of the Stormraven’s machine spirit when Junius’ voice crackled over Durand’s headset.
“Brother-Sergeant! Brother-Chaplain! You must see this!”
“What is it, Brother Junius?”
“Signs of battle.”
“Say again, Brother?”
“There was obviously some sort of conflict here. The surrounding blocks are littered with the remains of an Imperial Guard armored detachment. Looks like… the 137th Lerian.”
Durand turned to Laris and Sesto. “Stay here, guard the wreckage. Call if you see anything.” He and Callis activated their jump packs and streaked up to the open second level of a nearby building. Durand touched down and immediately skidded across the open floor on the half-frozen rain coating everything. Sliding toward the edge, he dug a claw into the floor, stopping himself just before the edge. Callis grabbed his elbow and helped him up.
“Just think, Brother-Sergeant, you wanted to trade this for a battle!”
Climbing to his feet, Durand glared at Callis, and though his helmet hid his expression, Callis’ laugh confirmed that the chaplain could imagine it. Durand composed himself, and spotted Junius and Ursel below, exploring the wreckage of a tank. The Sergeant and Chaplin descended together, carefully landing beside the ruined frame of the once-proud Leman Russ. Durand climbed to the top of the tank’s turret.
“Brother-Sergeant,” Ursel called up. “We haven’t yet encountered evidence of what they were fighting.”
“Could this have been a battle in the rebellion? Loyalist units fighting the rebels? Other elements of the 137th are guiding our forces against Port Barstow.” Callis wondered aloud. Durand leaned over the edge and examined a puncture on the side of the tank, trying to get a good look at it while freezing water cascaded around.
“I’ve not seen a weapon that causes this manner of damage. Bored straight through. Not melta, that’s certain. What could have caused this?”
Callis climbed up to get a good look. “Doesn’t look Imperial.”
“Then what? Some other invading force?”
“I’m not saying that. I just don’t think the shot looks like any Imperial weaponry I’ve ever laid eyes on. A lack of any other evidence of invaders leads me to believe that we’re looking at a fluke shot.”
Durand rose. “I am not sure, Brother-Chaplain,” he spoke cautiously as he looked around. “This hole is not the only one on this tank, and I believe the front of that Chimera over there is riddled with them. Unfortunately, what little evidence was here is currently being washed away or frozen solid.”
Durand turned and sliced the hatch of the ruined vehicle open with a quick thrust of a claw. He looked around, and then climbed back to the ground.
“Whatever hit this tank obliterated the crew. The hatch was sealed from within, but there’s nothing inside. Not even bones.”
Callis leapt to the top of the tank and looked for himself. “A meltagun could have done that, but the damage to the tank doesn’t suggest it. Strange, indeed. Let’s crack open that Chimera and see what secrets it holds.”
Junius and Ursel pried open the transport’s exit ramp, which fell to the ground with a wet thud.
“Brother-Sergeant, this is an abattoir,” Junius proclaimed. The scene inside the Chimera was a slaughterhouse. The men inside had been butchered and violated. All of their heads were missing.
“These men have been done to death in alarming fashion,” Ursel agreed. “This has the stink of Chaos about it. I don’t like this.”
“Steady yourself, Brother Ursel,” Callis admonished and looked to the sky just as a kilometers-long purple arc cut through the ugly clouds above. “Chaos,” he sniffed. “A Warp rift on this planet certainly would explain the strangeness and size of this storm. It certainly would make our task here a bit more interesting.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Brother-Chaplain. Unexplained weapon marks and butchered guardsmen do not lead us directly to a warp rift. I want more answers,” Durand replied skeptically. “Brother Laris, Brother Sesto, report.”
Sesto’s voice crackled into the headset, his whisper barely audible above the static from the storm. “Brother-Sergeant, I believe we have movement. Two blocks up, moving through debris. At least three, maybe more.”
“Identify, Brother Sesto?”
“Unknown, Brother-Sergeant. Moves strange, not like a man. Can’t get a good look through this downpour.”
Durand looked to Callis. “Maybe we’ll have answers sooner than later. Let’s take a look. Move silently.”
As the four returned to the downed transport, Sesto motioned to them to keep low. Durand slid around the side of the Stormraven and looked down the ruined street, following Laris’ indication. Three flashes of lightning illuminated the street just long enough for Durand to see the figures. He turned back quickly.
“What is it? What is out there?” Callis asked.
“Not sure. Not human, though. Have a look.”
Callis poked his head around for a look and just quickly ducked back. “Emperor forgive me, I’d hoped that I was wrong. Daemons. Beasts from the Warp. Daemons. I can imagine that they were drawn by the crash. They’ll be on us quickly.”
“Brother Laris, give me good news about the buildings around us,” Durand asked.
“The communication facility is directly behind us, Brother-Sergeant, and the auspex indicates that what remains is stable.”
“There’s only three of them, I say we put them to the blade,” Junius suggested. “Six to three, more than adequate.”
“While I am not normally averse to charging headlong into battle, Brother Junius, I believe that assuming there are only three would be a grave mistake,” Callis replied. “We should assess our situation further before committing ourselves.”
“By your will, Brother-Chaplain.”
“Let us go,” Durand ordered. “And quietly, Brothers.”
The six marines darted across the freezing ground, making for the remains of a once-proud building. Of the original ten stories, only the bottom five remained intact. Everything above had been sheared off and crashed into the neighboring buildings. The main entrance had been torn wide open, and there was blood splashed on the walls. Durand led the squad out of sight of the street and regrouped them. Sesto called in their new situation while Durand and Callis discussed how to proceed.
“Two-hundred fifty bolt pistol rounds, twenty-four grenades, and two meltabombs. That’s the extent of our munitions here. We’ll have to be cagey if we want to get out of here,” Callis observed.
“More to the point, we are cut off, and as you suggested, we should not assume that three daemons are the extent of this infestation. This mission is beyond the capabilities of six marines. At last readings, how far are we from the edge of this storm?”
Callis laughed. “The storm we dropped through covered almost the entire continent. Even if we were to exhaust our jump packs, we’d cover two hundred, maybe three hundred kilometers, at maximum. We’re almost ten times that from the edge of the storm. Chasing blue skies is not an option, Brother-Sergeant. We’re stuck here. We may as well make the best of it.”
Durand sighed in exasperation. “Then finding something in this communications center is our best hope. If there’s anything left there, we may be able to boost our signal and raise the Sword.”
The squad split up and looked for anything useful. It became quickly apparent that the entire orbital transmission array was in shambles, and the locator beacon had been crushed under tons of ferrocrete. Scouring the second floor, Durand and Junius found an active data terminal. Durand attempted to access it, surprised that it still had power. The display flickered to life, seemed to load its data, then scrambled and produced only static.
“It’s useless as a data terminal, but it tells us that the building’s reactor-generator is still working. Finally, good news.” Durand activated his headset. “Secundus Squad, reassemble at forward position.”
Back behind the blasted lobby of the once-proud Imperial communication center, the six battle-brothers gathered. Durand informed them of the active terminal above and waited for their opinions as Laris checked his auspex. He quickly had a suggestion.
“This pattern of building contains a reactor-generator, ten floors down, that connects to the larger mining complex generator network. There’s obviously power moving through the outpost, even if it is spotty.” Laris announced. “Were we to detonate the one here, we could initiate a chain-reaction to nearby reactors. The resulting blast would be visible from orbit. It would alert the rest of our brothers to some sort of predicament, and perhaps bring a transport close enough to make contact with.”
“We won’t be saying much if we’re so much dust, Brother,” Ursel added.
Sesto peered over Laris’ shoulder at the auspex. “Assuming a maximum detonation, we could make minimum safe distance within thirty minutes. More likely, we’ll only need to be at half that. Set the reactor-generator to overload on a curve, and we’ll have a ready-made beacon and time enough to escape. At the very least, we’ll send some daemons back to the warp.”
“Brothers!” Junius hissed from the edge of the hall. “Our position is compromised. They have entered the building.”
Durand peered around the corner into the debris-strewn lobby. Three red-skinned daemons were poking through the rubble, sniffing the air. One gestured in the direction of the squad and barked to the other two in their blasphemous tongue.
“Fall back into the building, Brothers. Brother Laris, find me a staircase,” Durand commanded.
“Got one, fifteen meters ahead on the left.”
The squad rounded the corner to find themselves facing a wall of rubble. Laris tapped at his auspex, and then looked to Durand. “One other staircase, Brother-Sergeant, but it’s in the lobby. Going through this rubble would take time and give away our position anyway.”
“Well then. We stand here and hope to make short work of this,” Durand said. The squad drew their weapons and found spots from which to spring.
Callis knelt briefly, bowing his head. “Brothers, the time has come for war. Pray with me, and hear my words.”
“We are His sword,” he continued softly, rising and readying his Crozius. “We are His furious weapon.”
“We shall vanquish the foes of mankind,” Ursel responded evenly.
“We shall crush all who threaten us,” Sesto added.
There was a pause. A shadow moved at the end of the hallway they’d turned into. It was joined by two more.
“And we, we shall know…” Durand began, clashed his lightning claws together in a shower of sparks, and finished with a shout. “No fear!” He charged, with Callis at his side. Secundus Squad fell in behind him.
They rounded the corner, meeting the three daemons face-to-face. Blood-red, each was crowned with a pair of ebony horns and carried a wickedly-barbed blade. The beasts were taken by surprise but recovered much faster than Durand had expected. One met Callis head on, clashing his wickedly-barbed sword against the chaplain’s Crozius, and the two locked in a test of strength. Callis’ voice began booming a litany of battle, exhorting the squad to valor. Durand closed on another daemon, knocking its sword down with one slash and missing with the other. The third daemon dove past him, and he heard chainswords roaring behind him. One of the marines screamed in pain.
The battle was swift. Callis smashed his foe back, but it returned with a hard slash across the chaplain’s right pauldron, shearing the lower part off and biting into his armor, stopping just short of flesh. With a roar, he smashed his Crozius into the beast’s face, ending its resistance. Durand gutted the one before him with one claw and raked the other across the daemon’s face. Turning quickly to the third, he saw it, weaponless, fend off a flurry of blows from the squad. It turned and wrenched its sword free of Junius’ chest, then sprang from wall to ceiling, its talons digging into ferrocrete as it attempted an escape.
“Our sacrifice makes us strong, brothers!” Callis shouted. “Let not the beast alert its insidious kin!”
Sesto and Laris snapped off two well-placed shots each, and all four shots struck their mark, tearing away the back of the daemon’s head in an explosion of black ichor. Durand’s training paid dividends as the daemon dropped like a stone in a shower of its own foul blood. Callis advanced on it and chopped what little remained of its head from its shoulders.
Ursel knelt over Junius and removed the fallen marine’s helmet, revealing a mask of agony. Eyes wide and teeth clenched, Junius’ stoic manner was stretched to the breaking point, but still he did not cry out. Ursel took of his own helmet and spoke directly to his battle-brother.
“Brother, Junius, stay with me. We have much glory to earn this day yet, brother, and I need you to watch my back.”
Junius’ eyes met Ursel’s, but the pain of his wound kept him from focusing. Laris knelt opposite Ursel and accessed the biometric interface on Junius’ armor.
“Brother-Sergeant, the wound is overwhelming his armor’s pain-management unit. I have overridden to a hundred and twenty percent above maximum and there is no cessation. The toxins on that blade are… Brother-Sergeant, they are keeping him alive despite pain that should kill him.”
Durand removed his helmet and looked to Callis. “Brother-Chaplain…”
Callis nodded, and removed his own helmet. He gently edged Ursel and Laris away from the writhing marine between them. Ursel sunk to the broken floor, still holding Junius’ hand. Cradling Junius’ head, he whispered to him.
“Brother, are you ready to receive the Emperor’s peace?”
Junius managed a halting nod in the affirmative, his eyes rolling in their sockets.
Callis drew his pistol, pointed it directly over Junius’ heart. “Be at ease, brother. Your deeds will live on.” He pulled the trigger and swiftly shifted the pistol over four inches, and pulled the trigger again before the echo from the first shot had faded. Junius went limp, and Callis brushed his fingers over his face, closing his eyes.
The squad was silent for a moment before Durand, in a low voice, urged them back to action. “Would that we had time to eulogize our fallen brother, but we are in a dire situation. Laris, movement speed if we carry Junius?”
Laris consulted his auspex. “Two of us could shoulder him together, but we would move just over half of our maximum through the air. In order to conserve fuel, we would be forced to rotate. Minimum safe distance in just over an hour, Brother-Sergeant.”
“Let us be done with this. Ursel, you and I will be the first to carry Junius,” Durand directed. Ursel did not rise.
“On your feet, brother-marine.”
Ursel stared for a moment, then turned and looked at Durand. His eyes were starting to become bloodshot, and his face was flushed.
Callis quickly read the signs of rage on Ursel’s face. “Brother Ursel, help me carry Brother Junius. The sooner we rig that reactor-generator, the sooner we can blast these daemons from the face of this planet.”
Durand nodded to Callis, who whispered to him as he passed. “Watch him,” Callis advised. “The Red Thirst is not far from taking him. An asset in battle, but unrestrained it could be folly.”
Moving quickly across the rubble of the lobby, Laris located the stairwell and waved the squad over. Keeping low, Sesto moved silently, scanning for movement. Callis and Ursel followed, supporting the dead weight of Junius between them. Out of necessity they had stripped Junius of his jump pack and transferred his fuel to the rest of them. His ammunition and grenades were passed around as well. Durand brought up the rear, securing his helmet once again as he dashed to the stairs.
Scanning the street beyond the shattered windows, Durand caught sight of movement. He kept his head as low as possible as he made his way to the door, then held a hand up to indicate silence. Looking out on the rubble-strewn thoroughfare, he saw shapes moving. The rain continued to come down, but as he focused on distinctive forms, he managed to count at least twenty. More of the red-skinned daemons, advancing on the building.
“We have company,” he murmured.
The platform at the top of the stairs wrapped three-quarters of the way around wall, bracketing the stairwell below. Designed for the Imperium’s average citizen, the steps themselves would be easily taken four at a time by the power-armor clad marines. Even still, ten stories would take a while. Laris pulled a section of railing free and secured the door behind them.
“This shaft is more than wide enough to descend, Brother-Sergeant,” Sesto observed. “No sense in wasting good time walking.”
“We need to get off of this floor, and quickly. Brother Laris, go down five floors, then pause and give me a report,” Durand agreed. Laris leapt over the railing and dropped for a story before firing his jump pack, gliding slowly into the gloom below.
“Platform five is clear, Brother-Sergeant, but we’ll have to go no more than two at a time. There’s good light coming from above, but I can’t see to the bottom. No movement, nothing on the sweep,” Laris reported.
“Acknowledged. Brother-Chaplain Callis and Brother Ursel will follow with Brother Junius, and Brother Sesto and myself will join you thereafter,” Durand responded, and Callis and Ursel went over the edge. A few moments later, he nodded to Sesto, and they jumped the railing together.
On the fifth sub-floor, Secundus Squad regrouped. The landing was dimly illuminated from above, but no emergency lighting was active below the second sub-floor. The darkness thickened toward the bottom, and Durand could barely make out the railing of the third sub-floor landing.
“Anything, Brother Laris?”
Laris studied his auspex intently. “I’m getting strange readings below. Could be interference from the reactor-generator.”
“I’m seeing movement, but it comes and goes,” Callis offered from his auspex. “We are dealing with daemons. Any information these devices give us now is suspect.”
“Agreed, but we have little choice. According to the schematics, how far from the stairwell is the reactor-generator?” Durand asked.
“The entrance to the reactor-generator room is twenty meters to the south, but the control room is in the middle, another twenty-five meters,” Laris explained.
“Good,” Durand spoke with a sense of relief. “Lead the way, Brother. Everyone keep sharp. We will leave Brother Junius here in the meantime and retrieve him as we exit.”
“I will stay with him,” Ursel rasped. “We should not leave him.”
“Brother Ursel, I appreciate your devotion to our fallen brother, but his fight is at an end. Ours continues. We will not leave him behind, but we must move quickly,” Callis assured him. Ursel breathed heavily for a moment, but rose and climbed over the railing behind Laris.
At the bottom of the shaft, the advanced optics in the marine’s helmets amplified what little light there was. Shadows seemed to crawl about the walls, and the small hairs on the back of Durand’s neck stood straight up.
“Stay sharp, brothers,” he warned.
Callis responded by opening a chant in a low voice. “We are his angels, bringing death from the skies. We are the Emperor’s steel and fire, instruments of his holy will.” His oratory comforted Durand, and he noticed that Sesto and Laris both walked a bit easier. Ursel, however, remained tense and overly alert. As the squad approached the entrance to the reactor room, Sesto held up a hand to halt them.
“Brother Sesto, report,” Durand spoke quietly.
“Brother-Sergeant, the door appears to have been compromised. No movement,” Sesto elaborated. “I don’t see signs of weapon fire, but there are tool marks on the frame.”
“Step carefully, then,” Durand ordered. “Brother Sesto, Brother Laris, take point. Brother-Chaplain, behind me. Brother Ursel, watch our backs.” The squad fell in line and moved quickly through the door, securing the entrance and scanning alertly for any movement. The reactor room was a cavernous, three story complex. Below them lay the bulk of the reactor-generator, a massive power plant stretching the hundred-meter length of the room and rising in the back to encompass the entire three floors. It hummed and pulsed with energy, its conduits glowing and coils passing arcs of electricity back and forth.
“Clear, as far as I can see, Brother-Sergeant. The control room is there,” Laris pointed.
“Good, let’s go. Advance!”
Sesto and Laris activated their jump packs and streaked across the open floor. Callis and Durand followed in turn, and Ursel soared above them, peering down hawk-like for any signs of movement. The door to the control room lay in shadow, and as they approached, Sesto motioned for a halt.
“Brother-Sergeant, I believe we have found who pried that door open.”
Slumped against the control room door was a guardsman bearing the regalia of the 137th Lerian. He had blown most of the back of his own head off with a shot from his sidearm, which was still cradled in his limp hand. The pry bar that he’d used to enter the previous door lay next to him, bent and snapped in half.
Callis picked up the pistol and checked the magazine. “Coward,” he sneered. “Still had five rounds even after trying to shoot through the door,” he said dismissively, gesturing to the pock-marked door before kicking the corpse out of the way.
Ursel perched on top of the control room as Laris and Sesto broke the door in. Once inside, Laris set to work.
“Make it quick, Brother, I want to be rid of this place,” Sesto urged him.
Laris removed his helmet after a few minutes and knelt at the main terminal, referencing his auspex and looking increasingly more frustrated.
“Status, Brother Laris?” Durand prodded.
“One more, just one more… Ah, Emperor take this thing!” Laris groaned and punched the wall beside him. “This terminal is locked out. All control has been ceded to the outpost’s central reactor-generator master control terminal.”
“Set a timer on a meltabomb and toss it down there, then,” Sesto suggested. “That should get the job done.”
Laris shook his head. “That’s a gamble if ever there was one, Brother. We could calculate the optimal position to place it, but more than likely it would just cause a small explosion and shut the reactor down. It wouldn’t go critical. It might not even level the building.”
“Options, Brothers, our time grows short,” Durand insisted.
“Looks like the central reactor-generator is nearly two klicks from here, but there’s a high-speed service rail that goes right to it. Entrance is back on the fifth sub-floor,” Callis offered.
“The chances of finding a train are slim, but we should have a good straight shot there. And, it’ll keep us off the surface,” Sesto agreed.
“We’re headed back to the fifth to collect Brother Junius anyway,” Laris added.
“Quickly, then, and let’s hope we don’t have to fight our way up,” Durand said, and left the control room. “Brother Ursel, let us go collect Brother Junius.” Ursel nodded and activated his jump pack. “Stay close, Brother Ursel,” Durand called after him.
The squad returned to the stairwell to find it mercifully deserted. Ascending to the fifth sub-floor, Ursel quickly lifted his fallen battle-brother. As Laris grabbed Junius’ other arm to help him, there was a deep, echoing boom from above.
Sesto jumped up to the second sub-floor and looked around. Another boom rang out, and he jumped back down. “They are coming through the door on the ground floor. We need to move.”
“Took them long enough,” Laris said, grunting under the Junius’ dead weight. “Maybe we’ve got some stupid daemons.”
“Would that we could get so lucky. They’re probably just toying with us,” Sesto muttered pessimistically.
Ursel moved erratically, torn between shouldering Junius and wanting to jump to battle. Callis edged Ursel and Laris to the door, pushing them after Durand. The fifth sub-floor served little other purpose than the rail station and a service depot for it. The tracks were empty, and there was no noise in the tunnel to indicate an oncoming train.
“Oh, thank you Holy Emperor. Brother-Sergeant, I think we can take some time off of this run,” Sesto called from behind as they began climbing down the tracks. He turned and walked into the entrance to the service depot. A moment later, he emerged, pushing a flat service tram. Kicking the rail switch over, he rolled it onto the main line.
“Well, if that isn’t a welcome sight,” smirked Callis.
“Excellent, Brother Sesto. Brother Ursel, Brother Laris, lay Brother Junius on the tram and get on board.” Durand and Callis climbed onto the back of the tram, and once everyone was secure on board, they fired their jump packs. Slowly at first, the tram began to roll, and then picked up speed. Within a minute, they were hurtling down the tunnel with Sesto at the head of the tram looking out for obstacles.
The tunnel was dimly lit, with the occasional light flickering intermittently, but it was a relatively straight path and Sesto kept sharp for anything in their path. The tram passed through a dark section of tunnel, and just as the light returned, Sesto shouted a warning and grabbed the brake lever. Callis and Durand cut their jump packs instantly, but the tram hurtled on. Durand could only watch as the brake lever snapped off in Sesto’s hand. In the tunnel ahead, the tracks sank away into a gaping hole. Tossing the ruined brake lever aside, Sesto turned and fired his jump pack, hoping to slow the tram before it hit.
His efforts were futile. The front wheels of the tram plunged onto the hole and flipped the entire tram on its end. Durand, Callis and Ursel had braced, and activated their jump packs just in time. They cleared the hole and landed on the other side. Sesto was still attempting to slow the tram when it hit, and had no chance to escape its path. He managed to avoid the bulk of it as it dropped into the chasm, but he was dragged down into the darkness with the wreckage and Junius’ body.
Peering over the edge, Durand looked for signs of life. “Brother Sesto! Can you hear me?”
A moment passed, and Durand was about to motion his squad into the hole when Sesto’s voice crackled over his headset.
“Copy, Brother-Sergeant, I am intact. This hole is only a few meters deep. Looks like another rail tunnel,” Sesto reported.
“Can you make it back up?” Durand asked, and then turned as he heard Ursel remove his helmet.
“I will help Brother Sesto bring Brother Junius up,” Ursel spoke in a monotone.
“Not until I have assessed the situation, Brother. Replace your helmet,” Durand said evenly. “Brother Sesto?”
“Acknowledged, Brother-Sergeant. Brother Junius is pinned beneath the tram, and…” There was a strange hiss from the hole.
“My jump pack sustained damage on the way down. I have no propulsion and am quickly venting fuel,” Sesto’s voice was calm.
Durand looked to Callis.
“We still have four jump packs. We can carry Brother Sesto and Brother Junius and still make minimum safe distance in about an hour,” Callis assessed.
“Brother Sesto, we are coming down to get you out.”
“Brother-Sergeant,” Sesto whispered. “it appears that I am surrounded. Daemons, twenty, maybe thirty. They have just come into view, and I believe that they see me.”
“We’re coming down,” Durand replied. He turned to Ursel, who was panting and sniffing the air. “Brother Ursel! Replace your helmet!” Ursel’s eyes were bloodshot and dilated, and had a feral look to them. Callis moved to calm him.
“No, Brother-Sergeant,” Sesto whispered. “By the time you get down here, they will be on me. These are not odds that we can sustain and still complete our task. I will buy you time to escape.”
Before Durand could respond, Ursel let out an animal scream and smashed Callis aside. Gunning his chain sword, he dove into the hole. Sounds of battle erupted instantly.
“Go! GO!” Sesto yelled.
“Emperor protect you!” Callis called in benediction.
Durand moved toward the edge, feeling the heat of battle on his brow. Callis caught him at the elbow, holding him back.
“Come brother,” the chaplain said calmly. “let not their sacrifice be in vain.”
Laris stood at the edge of the chasm. Durand put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “The Brother-Chaplain is correct, Brother. They have given their lives for us. We cannot squander that gift.”
The three remaining members of Secundus Squad fired their jump packs and streaked down the darkened tunnel, begrudgingly leaving the fury of battle and their brothers behind them.
Five minutes later, they reached the main interchange complex for the outpost’s control center. Laris consulted his auspex and pointed them down a connecting corridor. They ran, attempting to balance speed with stealth. Laris ran ahead, leading the way, as Durand continued to check behind them. For nearly ten minutes, they made their way through the complex, hunting through ruined corridors and ruined staircases. The reactor-generator was on the fifteenth subfloor. Apparently still active, as Durand could hear the pulsing of its rotation growing stronger as they approached.
“I find it odd that we have not encountered any more daemons,” Laris observed. “I would have expected them to be thick here.”
“Let’s not question our good fortune,” Callis responded.
“How much further?” Durand asked as they rounded yet another corner.
“Just up ahead, Brother-Sergeant. Ten meters and through that door,” Laris confirmed, pointing at the blast door at the end of the hall.
Durand could feel the pulsing of the reactor-generator now. Suddenly, he held a hand up, halting the squad. A strange chittering sound echoed around them, indistinct in its direction. Durand waved them quickly forward. Arriving at the door, Laris jumped to the door’s override panel. Callis and Durand watched down the corridor for movement as the strange noise grew louder.
Daemons poured into the hallway. One at first, then three, then six. They stopped, the first one locking its black eyes with Durand.
“Brother Laris, any time would be good, but preferably now,” Callis spoke calmly.
Durand slapped his claws together, raining sparks to the ground as their energy fields reacted with each other. The first daemon let out a horrific roar, and all six came barreling down the hall. Durand echoed their roar as Callis opened fire. Behind them, the door sprang open. Laris pulled Durand and Callis through and smashed a button as soon as they’d cleared the threshold. The blast shield slammed down, smashing into the lead daemon’s head. A jet of foul black ichor shot across the room, and its tongue thrashed about, the only remnant that had cleared the door. The daemons on the other side hammered on the door.
Durand caught his breath and removed his helmet. “Alright, let’s get this done. Brother Laris?”
“On it, Brother-Sergeant,” Laris replied, already interacting with the central terminal. The control room was large and fairly well-lit, but flashing with red warning lights. At the front of the room were five large viewing windows. The blast shields covering them were down, but the windows themselves were intact.
“Brother Laris, can you raise those blast shields?” Callis wondered, resting his helmet on the console before him.
“Just a moment, I’m interfaced with the entire power grid,” said Laris. “Yes, yes. Got it. Brother-Sergeant, I’ve added a fifty-minute timer to set all of the reactors to go critical. It will take approximately ten minutes for the generators to reach critical overload, at which point they will detonate. Calculations from the terminal indicated that the explosion will be enough to vaporize the entire outpost.”
“Very good, Brother. Now, let’s see that reactor and get out of here,” Durand ordered.
Laris keyed the terminal again, and the blast shields slowly lifted. Durand and Callis stood together at the center window.
Callis and Durand turned and looked at each other, eyes wide, before looking back out to the reactor-generator complex.
“What… is… that?” Durand asked incredulously.
Outside of the control room, perched over the reactor-generator, was a massive portal-like construct. Power cables had been diverted and wrapped around the portal. Daemons of all sizes and shapes clamored on and around it. A small, churning spark of light rippled at the center of the portal, pulsing in time with the reactor-generator. At the base of the portal, daemons were stacking skulls. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them.
Laris jumped back to the terminal. “Brother-Sergeant, they’re tapping power straight from the reactor-generator. Whatever it is they’re doing, it’s drawing an increasing amount of energy.”
The control room shook violently for a moment, and the pulsing grew stronger. The light at the center of the portal doubled in size. It glowed a sickly purple as it pulsed in time with the reactor-generator.
“Holy Emperor, preserve us. Look,” Callis murmured and pointed up to a gangway five stories above. Lining the edge were hundreds of guardsmen. Durand couldn’t make out much in the way of details, but they didn’t appear to be in good shape. One slipped and fell, his bound hands giving him no chance to hold on. He hit the grating in front of the base of the portal, blood splashing the grating around his limp corpse.
A number of daemons rushed to the body and tore the head from its shoulders. One held it high in triumph and tossed it into the glowing center of the portal. Guardsmen began falling from the gangway. Durand could see a winged monstrosity behind them, driving them to the edge. The window blocked sound other than the pulsing of the reactor-generator, but he swore he could hear the shrieks of horror. Those that died from the fall were lucky. All had their heads torn off and lobbed into the portal, which grew with every new contribution.
“We must stop this,” said Durand, disgust and anger in his voice. “That portal is huge. Our brothers will be ill-prepared for whatever comes through it.”
A sharp crack emanated from the blast door they’d arrived through. Laris removed his helmet. “Security footage shows at least twenty daemons in the hall outside, Brother-Sergeant.”
“Does that door lead to the other side of these windows?” Durand asked, pointing at the only other exit. Laris nodded.
“I would say that our options have been reduced to one,” he noted solemnly. Callis nodded in agreement.
Laris returned to his terminal and modified his input. “I have set the generator to begin overload immediately at your command, Brother-Sergeant,” Laris said in a low voice. Without hesitation, Durand walked to the terminal and began the sequence. The pulsing of the reactor-generator quickened slightly.
The three marines stood at the window, watching the horror unfolding below. The daemons appeared unconcerned with the rapidly increasing pace of the reactor-generator’s pulse.
Callis reached to his forehead and wiped the bloody X with his finger. He touched it to his tongue, tasting it, and then spread his arms. “Brothers, the time has come to give our lives for the Emperor, for Sanguinius, for our brothers… for all mankind.”
Durand and Laris repeated his action, tasting the blood from their foreheads. Durand placed a hand on each of their shoulders.
“Brother Laris, you are a fine battle-brother, and I am proud to have lead you into battle.”
“The honor is mine, Brother-Sergeant, and I am thankful for it,” Laris responded, bowing his head in respect.
“Brother-Chaplain,” Durand said, turning to his old friend. They clasped hands and touched their foreheads together.
After a moment, the three of them moved to the door and waited. They sat in silence for what seemed an eternity, with time marked only by the increasing pulse of the reactor-generator. Finally, Callis broke the calm.
“Feel the rage within you!” He spoke in a loud, clear voice. “The wounds that our Primarch suffered at the hands of the traitor Horus, feel the pain of them!”
Durand’s eyes narrowed. He felt the hatred well within him. He felt rage and fire. He heard steel on steel and tasted iron in his mouth.
“The horrors from the warp came forth to slay our beautiful father, to cripple our Holy Emperor. Brothers, the time has come to avenge that evil! The time has come to put Chaos to the sword!”
Red began to cover everything in Durand’s vision. He felt hot, felt like death-made-flesh. Beside him, he heard Laris’ chainsword roaring. He smashed his claws together and began to growl, a deep noise that became a roar. The city above in ruins, the guardsmen outside slaughtered, the abomination running rampant through the tunnels, his fallen brothers, all danced in his mind until only a pure desire to kill remained.
“We have but one charge, to punish the evil that boils forth from this wound! We are death! We are destruction! We are His holy angels!”
Black seeped in around the edges of Durand’s vision as he let Callis’ words flow over him. He heard the door open behind him.
“Punish! Destroy! Kill!”
He heard Callis’ final exhortation, as if from a million miles away. Forcing his way through the door, Durand activated his jump pack and crossed the distance to the mass of daemons before the portal. Blackness overtook him, and death blossomed forth from his claws.
Captain Zedrenael rested on a makeshift seat in his temporary field headquarters. None of the chairs in the building were capable of supporting the bulk of his power armor, so he’d pulled down a section of wall and piled it into a seat. Sweeping the enemies of mankind before him was tiring work, and he just wanted to sit for a moment. Still, there was much work to do before he rested. He called for his aide-de-camp to fetch Tarquin. A few moments later, the brevetted sergeant entered the field office, his armor still covered in dust and blood.
Tarquin saluted sharply, his fist over his chest as he approached the captain’s desk. “Brother-Captain, you have requested my presence?”
“Brother-Sergeant Tarquin. Please, be at ease,” Zedrenael entreated his newest sergeant. Tarquin shifted slightly, but remained mostly at attention as the captain paced before the large window frame overlooking the main street of Port Barston.
“You have acquitted yourself admirably this day, Brother-Sergeant. Your arrival with your squad at a very fortuitous moment turned the tide of this engagement to our favor. A number of your battle-brothers owe you their lives today, a debt that we share and repay often.” Zedrenael paused a moment, looking out the shattered window.
“I am honored by your praise, Brother-Captain. My men deserve as much as I, for their valor was unmatched,” Tarquin demurred.
“I have heard the accounts, Brother-Sergeant, and am pleased.”
“Thank you, Brother-Captain,” Tarquin saluted again. “I look forward to rejoining Brother-Sergeant Durand for our next task.”
Zedrenael rose and paced slowly about the room. “Brother-Sergeant, you know that every battle comes with sacrifice. In addition to our three brothers who fell to the Black Rage, three more fell during the retaking of the city.”
“Their sacrifice will not be forgotten, Brother-Captain,” Tarquin replied.
“Indeed, they will not. But there are other losses that I must, with regret, inform you of.”
Zedrenael returned to his makeshift desk, and leaned heavily against it. “Brother-Chaplain Callis and the other five members of Secundus Squad are missing in action and are presumed dead.”
Tarquin attempted to maintain a mask of composure, but his knitted brow belied his shock. “All… all of them, Brother-Captain?”
“And Brother Matrian as well. His last communication from Angel’s Fall indicated heavy turbulence. Communication cut out, but we continued receiving telemetry which indicated that the craft broke up completely less than a minute later. While it is conceivable that some of them may have managed to abandon the craft before it disintegrated, we have no evidence that they survived. That we have discovered no wreckage or evidence of movement anywhere near their last reported position makes it unlikely. Were any of them able to exit the craft, they would have activated a transponder, and we are receiving no such transmission.”
Tarquin breathed deeply. “Brother-Captain, I respectfully request permission to lead a search for them.”
“Brother-Sergeant, I admire your devotion to your brothers. However, the storm was quite furious. In addition to bringing down Angel’s Fall, we believe that it was also responsible for the destruction of one of the continent’s mining complexes. Now that the storm below has cleared, we have had survey teams scouring the entire continent for any signs of them, but it has been nearly twenty-four hours and I am ready to call off the effort.”
“I am at a loss for words, Brother-Captain. I have seen men fall in combat, men that I knew well, but this is… more difficult to accept.”
“That it is, Brother-Sergeant. It is the wish of every one of us to fall in glorious combat, to have our deeds recorded in the halls of the Fortress-Monastery. The tides of fortune and fate do not always fall the way we wish. However, your actions this day have proven that you will be a worthy successor for Brother-Sergeant Durand. Replacing him will be a test for you, but I am confident that you will rise to it.”
“Obviously, Brother-Sergeant, your brevet has become permanent. You have lead men into combat, acquitting yourself remarkably well, and this company finds itself in need of a new sergeant. In honor of Brother-Sergeant Durand, as well as your continued excellence this day, your squad will remain Secundus. I will be promoting five brothers from other squads to round out your numbers.”
“I am honored, Brother-Captain,” Tarquin began uneasily, “but surely there are other, more worthy sergeants in this company who can lead Secundus Squad.”
Zedrenael nodded. “I will not deny that, Brother-Sergeant, but we have the rest of this planet to subdue with at least three more major engagements. I do not have time to spare with reorganization, and once this is complete, I would rather you focus on leading instead of training. I will have the assignments to you shortly. For now, attend your squad-mates. I expect to be advancing within five hours.”
“By your leave, Brother-Captain,” Tarquin responded. He saluted once again, turned, and marched stiffly out of the office.
Zedrenael turned back to the communication terminal and opened a communiqué from his terminal aboard Sword of Baal. He rubbed his temples again as he re-read the transfer order for Secundus Squad. He tapped the communication pad and had Etras patch him through to the ship’s communication equerry.
“Please relay to Captain Castigon, 4th Company, on Armageddon that, unfortunately, Brother-Sergeant Durand and half of Secundus Squad were lost in the action on Haerid Prime. Brother-Sergeant Tarquin has been promoted in his stead. At this moment, my company is engaged and under-strength, and I politely request that he leave me with what forces I have. Include my personal regards and hopes for a swift victory.”