The Emperor's Mercy - Prologue

Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim, dark future there is only war.

The Emperor's Mercy - Prologue

Postby Erunanion » Fri Nov 18, 2011 5:51 pm

This was going to be the opening to one of my submissions this summer, but I ditched it in favour of something else (and in recognition that, now its finished, its about half the story word count on the opening scene). I have tidied it up some, and thought I would put it up here since its been far too long since I gave you all something to read. Its very bolter-porn-y, but it was a bit of fun and I like it. Hope you do too.

The Emperor’s Mercy - Prologue


The world turned in sight of madness.

Intense red light illuminated a lifeless rock that drifted through the void between stars. Some catastrophe had torn the planet from its orbit and set it on its path eons before Mankind’s birth, a journey that would continue long after the children of Terra had been extinguished from the galaxy. It tumbled with infinite patience towards a place where madness and reality bleed together, turning in the light of the impossible made true.

In spite of its terrible sky, the long peace of death had been denied the world. The mighty warp storm it fell towards was the ancient home of evils that preyed upon the lifeblood of civilisation; pirates, betrayers, and fell things. The eldar, in their ascendancy, made the world an outpost, a place from which to strike at those who would feed on their burgeoning empire. The slender bones of their towns and cities remained millennia after the immortal race had fallen, testifying to the inexorable decay of all that lived beneath the red chaos of the warp storm.

The world fell towards the Maelstrom, and though life had left it long ago, war had not.

***

“Mark your targets, brothers.” Dain spoke calmly through his vox, watching the life-sense runes of his squad projected into his vision by his helmet’s command overlay. The runes marked each Astartes’ position relative to Dain, showing his squad strung out and in cover. He rose to one knee and glanced across the roadway, his bolter’s cough reverberating through his armour as he laid down a hail of fire to cover his scrutiny of the enemy. Two-dozen eldar in lithe white armour advanced through broken buildings towards a roadway littered with debris, their oddly tapered weapons spitting streams of crystalline discs that noiselessly cut deep gouges from the bone-like material of the ruined building.

The silence was a problem. The abandoned eldar outpost-world, designated Ionid Six-Two-Eight in the star charts of the Astral Claws Space Marines, was an airless husk. After the cataclysm that launched Six-Two-Eight on its lonely flight through space all plant life had died out, photosynthesis halted in the absence of a star’s rays. Its atmosphere had withered away, leaving the world’s surface at the mercy of the interstellar elements.

The lack of air denied him the use of his hearing, depriving he and his battle-brothers of a vital sense. He felt isolated without the din of battle around him. He could see his brothers’ life-runes, the muzzle-flashes of their fire, but it seemed unreal, as if his squad were merely shades battling white-clad spectres.

Hyget Dain had fought on countless planets, some of them truly alien worlds, but this rock was simply inimical to life.

Dain’s helm crackled suddenly as his vox activated, the words clear and loud. “Sergeant Dain, hold your position, support is near.” The Captain’s voice was deep, confident and at ease.

Dain blink-clicked the vox icon in his interface twice, sending back an affirmative signal. He opened the squad-wide channel. “Hold hard, brothers, and watch for reinforcement. Drive back these xenos devils!”

A pair of razor discs bit into the eagle embossed upon Dain’s chestplate as he stood, his bolter seeking an eldar who had vaulted from cover. Dain gunned the warrior down, his pristine white armour shattered by the heavy shells. Dain’s squad hammered at their foe, splintering the brittle walls they hid behind and driving their superior numbers back from the roadway. In the silence of the dead world Dain and his men picked their targets as if they were at the practice range.

The eldar fought back as best they could, a blizzard of sharpened crystal filling the space between the Astral Claws and their attackers. Pain flared in Dain’s chest, and he dropped to a knee; a brace of shurikens had pierced the ceramite of his armour, and were cutting into the meat of his ribcage. Dain chopped a gauntlet down on each of the discs, snapping them in half against the broken edge of his armour. The remnants could wait for treatment later, and the pain was a keen counter to his drifting focus. Something about Six-Two-Eight jarred Dain’s senses, distracting him from the task at hand.

A spear of searing blue light lanced into the eldar squad from Dain’s left; the lenses in his helm automatically dimmed to filter the worst of the light, allowing him to watch a pair of aliens combust under the plasma beam’s glare. Dain’s vox spoke again. “Up, brothers! We have claimed this world, and no xenos shall stand upon it!” Dain felt himself rise almost without conscious thought, the Captain’s voice lifting him from cover on an eddy of righteous anger. He took his squad forward, weapons roaring in the silence.

The Third Company’s command squad was running along the roadway, heavy war-plate shattering the cream-coloured tiles with each pace, gloriously disdaining the staccato fire that was turned upon them as the eldar realised their plight. The Captain led the charge, burnished silver armour reflecting the cold red light of the Maelstrom, bolt pistol outstretched and wreathed in muzzle-flare.

Pinned between Dain’s men and this new enemy, the eldar hesitated, and the Astral Claws punished their indecision. Both squads closed the gap quickly, ignoring the bite of crystal shurikens fired in desperation. Dain leapt a broken barricade on the roadway’s far side and hammered the butt of his bolter down on the eldar who cowered behind it. The metal cracked the green faceplate of the eldar’s armour, driving fragments of thermoplas into his brain, killing him instantly. Dain was moving past before the eldar’s corpse had hit the ground.

The Captain and his picked Astartes tore into the eldar’s flank. The xenos stood no chance at all, lashing out with their slim swords which broke against the Astral Claws’ gauntlets. The Space Marines fought with grim economy, battering through the graceful artistry of the eldar, breaking bones and crushing the fragile joints of their enemy’s armour. Huron’s right fist was sheathed in a writhing blue power field, the talons of his ancient lightning claw smoking where eldar blood touched them.

It was over in moments. The few eldar that yet lived turn to run, and were cut down by disdainful bolt shells and a second bright burst of plasma fire. Dain and his squad stood amongst the broken bodies, silver statues spattered with gore. Dain’s breathing was loud within his helmet; he took a deep breath to ease the rhythmic beating of his twin hearts. For a few moments he had forgotten the silence of Six-Two-Eight, lost in the joy of destroying an enemy weaker than he.

***

“Sergeant.” Captain Lugft Huron took a step towards Dain, casually pushing the broken body of an eldar from his path with a boot. A spray of blood marred the mirror-sheen of Huron’s armour. His helmet dipped slightly in greeting.

“Sir. We advance at your order.” Dain turned to look at the expressionless faceplate of his Captain as he spoke, an equal of his own but for the golden star-burst that framed Huron’s right eye-lens; the Captain’s personal heraldic device.

“Advance, sergeant, advance. Our brothers have met little resistance so far; we must find the source of this alien taint.”

“Yes, sir.” Dain switched vox channels. “Dain Squad, onwards. Brother Vengt, Brother Erlok, to the fore.”

Dain’s squad, along with other elements of the Astral Claws 3rd Company, had landed on Ionid Six-Two-Eight fifty-two minutes earlier. They had diverted their vessel from its patrol route to investigate a silenced listening post the chapter had installed on the dead world to observe this sector of the Maelstrom’s edge. It had been destroyed by an incursion of Six-Two-Eight’s former possessors, who now lay piled beside the remains of the listening post. The Third Company’s strike cruiser, the Wrathful Endeavour, scoured the void above the planet in search of the vessel that had borne the alien intruders.

Heavy footfalls compacting noiselessly the thin dust that carpeted the planet, Dain and his brothers went in search of those that remained on their world.

The roadway headed into the heart of what had been a major xenos settlement on Six-Two-Eight. Dain and his Astartes followed it, the squad moving swiftly through the ground floors of the ruined buildings which flanked it. Everything was canted or lay broken; tall, elegant spires loomed over the road and cast long shadows that obscured the red smear of the Maelstrom above them. Cracks veined the strange material that had been used to craft almost everything in the city; spider-web fractures raced out beneath each footstep the Space Marines took as the weight of their power armour fractured what remained of the eldar’s creations.

Captain Huron’s command squad marched along the centre of the tiled road, disdaining the dangers of eldar sharpshooters or concealed perils. The Third Company’s banner, Huron’s star-burst on a field of deep blue, was held high by Brother Sumatris, proclaiming who was the true master of Six-Two-Eight. But their bolters were up, the veterans of the company unwavering in their vigilance.

“How do you fare, brothers?” As Dain picked his way through the dust-coated remains, he listened to the command channel on which Huron spoke with his other squad commanders. The company advanced in a broad line by squads, converging on a point selected by the Captain from a cartograph of the xenos city.

“Poorly.” Sergeant Keigl’s voice was thick with contempt. “The eldar die like dogs. There is no glory in this.” His brother sergeants echoed his sentiment.

“The glory is in the death of xenos. Be content that you are cause of their destruction.”

Dain’s squad encountered nothing. The roadway curled away from their destination as they came within several hundred metres of the marker that pulsed in Dain’s vision. With a glance at the Captain, Dain ordered his squad from the road and into the shadowed sprawl beneath the broken towers.

***

The darkness held no secrets to the Astartes, the auto-senses of their helmets easily piercing the gloom. They stepped over broken pillars carved from Six-Two-Eight’s native rock, eying the crevices above them, formed in the chaotic conglomeration of fallen buildings. In the airless vacuum the Astral Claws made no attempt to move with stealth; the polished metal of their armour caught what little red light filtered through the ruins. They moved with purpose, Dain at their head. He saw no need for to be furtive or sly. Six-Two-Eight was theirs, the eldar were intruders, and the Astral Claws did not hide from their enemies. The targeting laser of his bolter probed every shadow and the machine spirit of his helm interrogated each gap and fissure.

Nothing lived within the sprawl. The twenty Astartes moved as ghosts, spectres in silver lit by the bitter light of the Maelstrom.

Under that light, the eldar struck.

Silent blades with biting, whirring teeth reached out of the darkness. A scream echoed through Dain’s armour, stunning his senses, as an eldar chainsword tore through his shoulder guard. The blades pulled down three Marines before the Astartes reacted, a barrage of bellowed warnings and enraged battle cries flooding the vox.

Dain twisted away from the xenos blade, punching his bolter forward into the nearest moving shape. Bolt shells punched their way through green armour and eldar flesh, flensing his attacker’s midriff. His free hand reached for his own chainsword, but an unseen blow struck the side of his helm with the force of a hammer. He lost his footing, reeling blind, and stumbled out of the ruins into the square beyond.

Shurikens and bolt shells tore the square apart. Several hundred metres distant in the centre of the space a hundred eldar warriors in white armour laid down a lethal hail of razor discs, guarding a twisted construction of arcing bone and glowing gems. Their fire forced the Astral Claws into the ruined buildings around the square’s edge. Phantoms in green armour haunted those ruins, their chainblades falling in silent, deadly arcs on the thin joints of Astartes armour.

Dain dropped to one knee, ducking out of the line of fire, and gripped his chainsword. An eldar warrior, the green insectoid faceplate of his armour crowned by a swaying topknot of braided hair, leapt from the shadows where Dain’s squad fought. A slim pistol in the eldar’s off-hand spat shurikens. Dain twisted to one side to avoid them, and then the xenos was on him.

Blows rained down on Dain from all sides. He matched them all, chainsword roaring its song for only Dain to hear. With each meeting sparks flew from the whirring blades, casting transient showers of orange light between the two warriors. Metal teeth met and snagged, jarring the muscles of both fighters as they stepped and danced amongst the ruins.

Dain had no comprehension of his squad; blue war-plate appeared and disappeared in his periphery, and life-runes winked out of his vision, but he could not spare a moment’s glance for them. The eldar’s blade danced before him, drawing Dain on before riposting with savage speed.

A scream like the end of days shook his senses as the teeth of the eldar’s sword carved a jagged trench up Dain’s breastplate, bisecting the Imperial eagle in two. His armour’s soul keened at this desecration, and as the eldar retreated from his cut the Astartes sergeant leapt forward, his free fist arcing across the distance between them. The blow struck the eldar’s helm with the impact of a bolt shell, and the warrior dropped like a puppet with its strings cut. Twin hearts hammering blood and stimulants through his system, Dain reversed his weapon and drove it down through the eldar’s armour to chew through alien flesh and the square’s tiles below.

Around him, the battle turned. The company had suffered under the eldar ambush, but the green-armoured warriors were too few to contain the Astartes indefinitely. Huron’s voice was unwavering in a furious litany, driving his Astartes on with force of will alone. With surprise gone and the Astral Claws bloodied but unbroken, the company entered the shadows around the square and punished the wretched xenos souls that dwelt there.

A pair of shurikens suddenly bit into the meat of Dain’s bicep, and he looked up at the source. An eldar with an elaborate crest of black braided hair crouched on the stump of a ruined pillar above him, watching him. Dain tugged the bloody teeth of his chainsword from the alien’s stomach with a brutal flourish, taunting the eldar leader with his warrior’s death.

The green warrior leapt, impossibly fast, from his place above the street and landed in a curled ball within the melee. The long chainblade rose as he did, making a mockery of the ceramite of Brother Ryun’s armour as he did so. Dain’s battle-brother fell back, carved from groin to throat by the tearing teeth. The eldar, it seemed to Dain, paused for a heartbeat, insectoid eye-lenses locked on Dain’s own. Alien and Astartes dead lay between them.

Each roaring hate into the airless void, the two warriors went for each other. Dain gripped his chainsword in both hands, his gauntlets locked around the shuddering hilt, sword drawn back for a brutal, inescapable cut to the eldar’s chest. The eldar moved like a blur, his own weapon drawn back for a similar slash to Dain’s defaced breastplate.

The two weapons arced into each other, propelled by rage and enraged honour. The xenos blade, forged countless centuries before, met the mass-made machinery of Dain’s sword in a shower of sparks and tortured gears. The eldar chainsword, teeth a blur, crashed through the Astartes blade, hacking through the metal as though it were yielding flesh. Dain’s heart screamed in harmony with the machine-spirit of his sword as it shattered.

Dain spun, bringing his ruined blade around slowly, too slowly, in a defensive cut. The eldar was already behind him, and Dain turned into the thrust that bit through the abdominal plates of his armour. Pain as he had never known exploded behind Dain’s eyes as the tip of the eldar’s blade span and ripped and tore into his gut. Dain screamed in rage, gauntlets clawing at the alien’s chest and throat, seeking instinctive, reflexive vengeance. With a final twist that felt like burning ice in his chest, the eldar pulled his sword from Dain’s chest with the same flourish the Astartes had mocked him with moments before, and Dain crashed back against the dead world’s surface.

***

He looked up from the dead earth at his killer, insectoid eye-lenses somehow conveying his hatred for Dain and his kind. Dain’s limbs refused to move, rendered limp and nerveless by agony. The eldar lifted the chainsword, spinning tip red with his lifeblood. Dain tried to force his head up, to look at his death descending in the alien’s grip. His grip on his mangled chainsword weakened, his strength flowing from the terrible wound into the icy cold of space. His eyes closed, and the eldar’s blade fell.

***

He waited for the end promised by the final touch of the alien’s weapon, but it did not come. The eldar’s blade had fallen, yet death had not claimed him. Pain-wracked, he clawed back his mind from unconsciousness and forced his eyes open again.

Huron stood over him, crackling lightning claw buried in the eldar warrior’s gut. The Captain pulled his fist free in a wash of blood, eviscerating the alien’s corpse. Dain tried to speak, but no words came. His head fell back again, and oblivion claimed him.

***

He heard a voice, soothing in its raw power and roughness. “...duty to serve the Emperor. Hyget Dain, you are a servant of Terra and the Holy Throne. You have given all to Him, and none can ask more of you.” He opened his eyes and saw only cruel red light, the madness of the Maelstrom. The light disappeared, eclipsed by the muzzle of a bolt pistol, blackened and tarnished. Chaplain Gujet stood over him. “In death, you will stand at the right hand of the Primarch and the God-Emperor of Mankind.

“Brother, do you wish for the Emperor’s Peace?”

The silence of the barren world filled Dain’s thoughts, and the bitter cold of Six-Two-Eight gripped his heart. His body was ruined, beyond the aid of any treatment. His service to the Astral Claws was over. Hyget Dain embraced his death.

“No.” Captain Huron loomed over Dain, the star burst upon his helmet obscured by alien blood. “He can still serve.”
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The Emperor's Mercy - Prologue - The first piece of fiction I've put up on the Bolthole's new incarnation.

"It is the 41st Millennium, and never underestimate the ability of the universe to infinitely screw you over." - Lord Lucan
Erunanion
 
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