Set in LL's uber-nightmarish 50K expansion of 40K.
Chapter 1: Embers
Always, there were the howls.
Howls as the dirty blue suns rose and howls as they set beneath the patina of smog that was the atmosphere. Howls as the Despoiler’s guns cracked against the flickering voids, howls as the army of mutants rose up through the abandoned mid hive section to devour Siclemaus from within. Howls as the Black Legion broke the gate apart, as the Cadians flooded the breach, as the high spires burned.
High ones that sounded like a woman being raped and too often were. Low, deep moaning ones resembling a rad-bear screaming as it beat at the walls of a hunter’s pit. Wild, ululating ones that came when the packs were massing together for another assault, clashing their weapons against their warped chests and fused ribs as the Twists pumped their ancient blood hate of humanity to the fore.
This was the one that was coming from the horde of mutants now, as they prepared again to throw themselves as the dissolving compound. Gwain saw the great red pack of them, as the mass of fang and horn and scale gathered around their warped leader. The pack master was a hideous fiend, nine feet tall and wielding six clawed hands, his one eye was blood red and a great mast of horns and vestigial meosis organs erupted from his skull. Hands with far too many digits, long jointed fingers, avian talons, dark, caprine hooves and scything crab claws reached out to paw at the dingy metal, an earthly relic of one of their dark saints.
‘Their massing again,’ the Lieutenant observed loudly to the militia around him, putting away his cracked magnoculars ‘do we have any mortar shells left?’
‘No,’ Chisolm muttered, the sullen blonde enforcement sergeant scratching at his week old beard, ‘not a shell today and not yesterday or the day before that. We’ve got no shells and no rockets and no cannon shells. We’re down to two clips of autorifle rounds a piece, maybe a grenade or two.’
‘Have the adepts made any progress on the multi-laser batteries?’ asked Gwain. The Imperial energy weapons lay dormant inside their armored turrets, as they had done for centuries since the fabled Arbites had died of the Grey Plague during the Hunger Winter. The few adepts taught by the High Spire tech-priest that were available to the platoon had been trying to get them up for days.
‘No,’ snorted Chisolm, tossing down his plastek and steel autogun and stomping down the stair in his rumpled uniform, ‘Neither of those two have done crap with it. Have fun with the war.’
‘Where are you going?’ demanded Gwain, drawing his antique auto-pistol from its case.
‘I’m gonna go see if I can die drunk,’ muttered Chisolm, ‘maybe with a woman if any of the civilians haven’t shot themselves yet.’
‘You know I need every man at the wall Chisolm,’ the Lieutenant ordered, aiming the gun at the enforcer’s head, ‘Your presence could mean all the difference.’
Chisolm laughed at that, a harsh, cracking giggle that was part amusement and part manic depression.
‘There is no difference you damned militia idiot,’ Chisolm snapped, ‘the damn twists have ten times more bodies than we have bullets, and it takes a clip of lead to put one of the big bastards down. You think you, thirty scarecrows and that swarm of walking corpses called civilians can even slow them down?’
‘We have to try Chisolm,’ countered Gwain, aware that his militia platoon’s already dismal morale hung on the outcome of his verbal duel with the compound’s sole surviving enforcer, ‘better to die on the wall with a gun in hand than cowering in the dark and clutching a bottle.’
Chisolm spat, ‘Why? Why fight, even if you could beat them all. You saw the army outside the gates before they took the wall, hundreds of thousands of black guard, a full regiment of the damned Cadians, even some of the Death angels. They’re already inside and they’re already hunting us, using the muties as hounds. Unless you’ve got a few free companies of Death Angels in your pocket, we’re dead already a thousand times over. So shoot me if you want too. It won’t make much difference.’
The pistol shot reverberated off the dull grey walls of the ancient arbite compound, echoing like a thunder clap. A soft thump announced Chisolm falling to the ground, a .40 caliber hole in the back of his skull. Greasy grey matter leaked from the massive exit wound where his face once was and blood jetted from shattered arteries.
‘No one leaves the wall,’ snapped Gwan, waving pistol in front of his men, ‘No one do you hear me?’
The second gunshot sounded across the compound and the mess of filthy, collapsing habs and commerciae that surrounded it. At first Gwain thought one of his men had shot him, but he felt no pain and all of them still had their weapons in hand, yet safed. Gwain snapped his broken magnoculars to his eyes, looking out towards the mass of mutants surging in the rubble scape.
Out in the urban wasteland, the mutants were going wild, surging as randomly as boiling water. Their hulking leader was down, his three horns and six eyes vaporized by a shot of immense power. The lieutenant had heard something similar to it once before, when a higher ranking noble had used a hunting rifle to snipe early in the siege.
Sharp, precise single shots were sounding out across the dessicated neighborhood as the largest, most hideously mutated twists fell to the powerful bullets. The massive shells exploded as they hit, polluted blood and cancerous organs splattering across the dirt and ash strewn rock. Only a fraction of the twists were falling, yet confusion was running rapid amidst their panicked ranks. He realized with a start, that the foulest, ugliest mutants were venerated as leaders amidst the packs, and whomever was attacking them had discovered that fact very quickly.
Fire leapt from shadowy windows and dark alleyways, searing tongues of purging flame that wrapped around the panicked twists with a lovers embrace. Scores of melting mutants stumbled through the streets, their burning flesh sloughing off from their blackening bones. A great rattling roar leapt up, as a wave of the mutated tide went down before some invisible killing tool that maimed and killed the chaos followers. The mammoth gunshots continued, increasing in pace and downing scores.
Giants stomped their way from the shadows, filling Gwain’s heart with dread. Death Angels, World Burners, Astartes. Free companies of them had raided or traded with his dying hive in the past and scores of them had arrived to lead the army sent by Abbadon to absorb Siclemaust into the Despoiler’s growing chaos Imperium. Their red and black armor was serrated at the forearm and fist, jagged horns stabbed down from the sides of their heads. A roaring, flame spitting dragon had been chiseled and embossed onto their gargantuan chest pieces. Massive, child sized rifles of dull black metal rested easily in their gauntlets, firing perfectly aimed single shots from their cavernous barrels. Several eschewed the smaller weapons for long flamers that were covered in skulls and jawbones, fire erupting from beneath the blackened teeth of xenos creatures. One had a great chattering cannon with six rotating barrels spitting thousands of rounds a minute at the howling mutants, chewing them apart with lead.
The mutants tried to rally at the Astartes who had pounced upon them, but lacking leaders the response was fickle, the actions of individuals rather than a group. Few survived past the fusillade of shot and flame and those who did were impaled on serrated bayonets that hung low from beneath the bolter’s barrels. The largest of the giants wore a skull for a face and slammed an eagle topped mace into the skull of a charging, flaming beheamoth. Skull fragments spattered wide as the force of the crackling power weapon sent the mutant flying backwards, past another charging hulk. Energized talons from the skull faced Astartes flashed in the dull light and the mutant fell backwards without a face.
Further howls erupted from the other side of the disintegrating mutant horde, as what Gwain thought was a herd of cattle stampeded into their rear. Although bovine in size, the way the animals tore into the mutant army with fangs and talons, devouring living flesh suggested nothing of herbivore behavior. The fight was over in moments after that, the mutants being shot, stabbed or ripped to pieces under the onslaught. Hundreds of corpses lay splattered across the abandoned city scape, the hideous red brown slurry of their blood and bile leaking towards the weed clogged grates of the hive’s long over grown sewers.
That was when the largest Astarte looked up and locked eyes with Gwain.
‘They’re killing us,’ muttered Dilswitch, almost vomiting into his hand as another Harrismont ship flashed red and vanished off the screen. Waste Song was being hammered so hard she was shaking and thousands of deaths in the void were driving the Astropath mad.
‘Its war,’ replied Captain Silvia, ‘that’s what happens.’
Her voice was cool, but she was not, for the Captain’s cruiser was one of the few belonging to the Harrismont Empire still in the fight. A score of cruisers had surged from the warp to bring fire to those who had dared to invade the domains of the Von Harris family. Each of them was purpose built by pact-bound Machine cultists, long and lean, barren of ornamentation and bristling with railcannon and light lances.
Now barely a quarter of them remained. The Despoiler’s Navy hung above the hive world in force, a dozen massive warships and scores of transports that had survived twenty thousand years of warfare against xenos terrible and the vanished Imperium of Man itself. They were warped and twisted things, parody cathedrals of gothic spires and baroque temples. Even the smallest of the strike cruisers outmassed the Harrismont cruisers by a third and they were escorts compared to the mammoth Grand Cruisers and Battle Barges.
‘Our shields?’ demanded the Captain of a deck officer.
‘At 70% and falling’ said Engineering.
‘Let them fall to forty and bring full power to the lances,’ Sylvia demanded, her cold voice as hard as her face. She had survived in this blasted hell of a galaxy for forty years and wasn’t going to a worse hell without an escort of Abaddon’s best.
‘Target the prow of that battle barge as it makes another pass,’ she ordered, ‘clip his guns.’
‘Aye aye Madam, ‘one of the gun officers replied, barking orders into the barely working cogitator.
There was a scream of metal and a ventilation grill fell from the bridge’s ceiling. What clambered out of it was not necessarily human, although the metal that made it up may have once been forged by humans. Instead of skin it had crimson metal, with several sets of glaring machine eyes and auspexes peering out over 360 degrees. A great eight spoken cog, split to bear a mechanized skull and a roaring dragon was emblazoned between two of the most human limbs and a squat, armored globe that could be its head. The creature had no identifiable legs and less of a torso than an engine housing that rumbled and spat fumes.
Three armsmen raised shot cannons at it and died for their paints, bolts of plasma slamming into their chests and disintegrating them into green ash. Two other limbs bearing plasma weapons swiveled around the shocked bridge as the great steel spider skipped down from the ceiling. An officer made to grab for his side arm, only for a bolt of green heat to burn away his arm at the elbow.
‘Further violence would be inadvisable,’ hissed the spider thing from a vox grille somewhere on its body, ‘for I am far better at dealing it out than anyone else here.’
‘What the hell are you doing on my ship!?’ demanded Sylvia at the strange boarder, as long range lances slammed into her shields, hammering the cruiser.
‘Wrong,’ wheezed the monster, ‘this is the chapter’s ship now and I am here to claim it. Your vox is not up to our standards, so I am here to deliver your orders in person. Belay your last and cross the T of that battle barge at 2,000 Km, full horizontal torpedo spread as you pass.’
‘That’s suicide range,’ said Sylvia, her voice shocked at the abruptness of the command and the surrealness of the situation, ‘we’ll be rammed for sure.’
‘Stay here and a raiding party of Black Legion Chaos Marines will soon arrive by boarding torpedo, overwhelm your ship’s infantry parties in two minutes and retreat having left charges,’ the spider said calmly, ‘follow my orders and you will be out of its angle of torpedo fire and having left it severely crippled for when reinforcements arrive.’
‘Engineering, belay that last order,’ said Sylvia, deciding to trust the metal creature, ‘Helm, take us on a horizontal course 2K Km from that barge’s prow.’
‘These reinforcements better be damned good, spider,’ she hissed at the spider thing, her eye on the piles of ash her armsmen had once been.
‘They are the best at what they do. And my name is Hexile.’
Loyal Fiend had fallen out of the warp like a wolf springing from a stream, shaking warp miasma from its steel and Ceramite coat. She was huge, a relic of a bygone age, and even in the time of the vanished Imperium she had been mighty. The Aquila had been struck from her, replaced with a fire spitting beast head and runes of fire and shadow marked her armored flanks. Her machine spirit was permanently mad with rage and pain, hungering to deal out explosive death to anything that neared. A pack of frigates were with her, terriers galloping alongside a rabid dire wolf.
The battle ship cut across their rear like a flint knife, its great lances and enormous macrocannons pulsating with energy. A Battle Barge, crippled by a flurry of torpedoes to its frontal sections was its target. Bright shields blinked out under the Oberon class battleship’s guns and the armor beneath them was pulverized to blistered scrap by their impact. Glittering fast escort frigates fired their overbuilt lances, scoring hits and collapsing shields to let the Terminators teleport in. Three squads had already teleported into the stricken ships, meaning three ships near guaranteed to be taken out of the fight by the hulking elite teams with their assault cannons and roaring flamers.
Loyal Fiend’s massive lances and endless torpedo tubes fired a second volley as the reeling Black Legion ships turned. More shields flickered out and collapsed under energy sufficient to burn away oceans, beams of energy and flurries of missiles now exploding against and into armor forged before the great crusade itself.
The motion of the void war swung away from Abaddon’s task force, as more and more motley ships arrived from nowhere. A pillaged Demiurg Bastionship revealed itself from behind an asteroid field, the twin-hulled automaton vessel turning its electro-magnetic mining fields upon the Despoilers stricken vessels, breaking them into chunks and swallowing them whole. Decked in proud blue and red, a mighty Overlord Battle Cruiser fell in beside a chaos craft and pounded it to fiery dust with its close range lance batteries. Four Old Breed Destroyer-Transports flashed from the Battle Cruiser’s shadow, cutting their way through the Chaos transports to take up drop positions above Siclemaus, a flood of landing ships and drop pods carrying assault infantry falling away from it. One pulsating mass of flesh and iron, a leathery hive ship of the vanished Tyranids coupled to the frame of an Adeptus Mechanicus Titan carrier lurched insanely from the void, spilling bio plasma alongside macro cannon rounds.
But the greatest carnage was wreaked by Loyal Fiend, inestimable in its bloodshed. The Battleship gorged itself on the death of the Chaos vessels; their death screams pleasure to the ancient ship soul’s vox-ears. Even as the lances and magma cannons pounded at her shields, the ship strived to match the actions of her master’s on the planet below.
Abaddon’s sons relied too much upon their auspexes.
The squad of Traitor Astartes in their black armor had entered the chamber of some hive spire noble, most of them sweeping the rooms corners while their leader had consulted a bulky contraption of vacuum tubes and copper wire affixed to his right arm. The Black Legionare’s were well trained and veterans beside, soon they stripped the room bare and found nothing. The Sergeant shrugged, assumed a bad signal and was about to give an order when the partisan took him in the balls.
Tyme’s great spear had come alive as it whipped up through the drain hidden by the ornate rug, a midnight black powerfield coating the pole arm’s razor sharp tip. The steel grill had parted like melted butter before its fire and shadow, the cod piece of the Black Legion Sergeant put up more resistance. Closer to cheese perhaps.
To his credit, the Sergeant did not scream as the pole arm tore through his atrophied groin and ripped apart his bowels in a tidal wave of blood and feces before severing his spine. But the crackle of the partisan’s power field was enough to snap the head of every Chaos Marine in the room to their sergeant and away from the walls. Fire Beasts poured from them, the best squad of second company broke through plaster, rockrete, priceless paintings and tapestries. Pale dust staining their dark armor, they tackled their dark kin to the ground and drove sharp knives between the joints of their armor.
Weyne did not use a knife, he used his fists, great black gauntlets of power armor, tipped with the triangular, serrated teeth that the pack beasts shed constantly. He punched once and tore off a gorget, the Ceramite impaled on his knuckle spikes and leaking hydraulic fluid. His enemy got off a shot, one single bolter round that caught him in his shoulder and blew him backwards as it detonated against his armor. Distracted, he couldn’t stop the dread Marine from knocking the Fire Beast off his body and onto the floor. The young Astarte rolled to his feet and whipped a combat knife from its sheath. The Chaos Marine had a bolt pistol aimed at him though, a hand cannon engraved with dark symbols and loaded with explosive shells.
Tyme’s Partisan erupted from his brutish faceplate, the black spear puncturing between the fell Astartes eyes and making his gene-enhanced body twitch as it fried his mind. Behind the three pronged blade and its long adamantine shaft stood the First Bull, his black armor drenched in shit. Brown streaks covered the plate, but the Heart of Vulkan still hung pristine on his neck. The old Astartes ripped his weapon free and let the Chaos warrior fall dead. He slashed once as the corpse hit the floor, severing the head for good measure. Death came hard for Space Marines of any stripe.
‘Use your knife next time,’ the ancient Fire Beast hissed, his voice a near whisper even over the vox, ‘especially when I order you to Weyne.’
No Beasts went to light Vulkan’s flame from that battle, although there were wounds. Grey Seljulk had lost an eye, Angus of the Flamer his nose and one of his fingers. Weyne needed no treatment, for his plate had stopped the shot.
Tyme still berated him one more time.
‘No damn heroics child,’ he commanded as the Apothecary Kirk cut geneseed from the fallen foe, ‘kill them fast and ignore the blood lust. If I want something mauled, I’ll send a Beast Lord and a pack to do it, not one of my guard.’
‘I understand First Bull,’ said Weyne, his voice hurt by Tyme’s shaming.
He is hurt, thought Tyme, he wants only my approval. The Chaplains and the Sergeants have raised him and the crop from Forge with stories of me and all he wants is my approval. Damn them. Damn them for making them that much more willing to die for me.
Sounds of battle were breaking out across the upper spires as the Fire Beasts sprung their trap. Tyme had hid them in the sewers and the walls, let them rest and gather their strength amidst the half ruined hive as the Arch-Enemy broke in. It was only when the back of the city’s resistance was broken and the detachment of Chaos Marines at the tip of the enemy’s spear had splintered did Tyme let his hounds loose. They fell upon the detachments, flanking and hitting them from all sides.
‘Wallace has found their lord,’ Val’Jean announced, the Beast Lord’s eyes glowing black with power, ‘holed up in some merchant’s palace. There are fifty of Abaddon’s Astartes with him and the Cadians are close by. The Lord is chaos warped, I can feel it.’
‘Signal three other squads,’ ordered Tyme, his old brain moving quick, ‘de Luc’s and Jayfer’s tacticals, MacInrod’s devastators. We’ll meet them half way there and join up with Wallace.’
The vision cast by the Astarte’s visors flickered static for a moment before swiftly returning. Outside there was a swift light that soon faded and a sound like thunder.
‘EMP bombing,’ said Weyne, youngest of Tyme’s body guards, ‘the Old Breed are descending.’
‘That will take care of the foe’s armor,’ observed Kirk, ‘the Devastator’s will be angry at losing their prizes.’
‘Forget their prizes,’ hissed Tyme, ‘there voxes are down. Strike while they blunder in the dark and eat them alive.’
Space Cowboy, Spartan II, Specter, Reclusiarch
'I see the fear you have inside.'