This is more about a Space Marine Chapter than the Deathwatch, but the long hand of the Ordo Xenos's Chamber Militant lays across the story.
Tantalus Drumand towered over Damien Exacles from his position a the head of the dais. The silver painted artificer armour enhanced the Chapter Master's physique so that he appeared to be giant compared to his First Captain. Sheathed at the Chapter Master's hip was the power sword Terminus Est, from which the Chapter derived it's name. They were the Sword Bearers and for two thousand years they had struck down the enemies of mankind.
Physically the Chapter Master and the First Captain were much alike. Both hailed from the northern reaches of the Icaru and bore the features that were common in those places. Grey piercing eyes looked out above hawk-like noses and angular faces. Their hair was dark and their skin was a deeply tanned brown and both of them had been fortunate enough to not require augmentic replacements. The left side of Tantalus's face was marred by a terrible acid burn that he had received while serving in the Deathwatch but Damien was fortunate enough not to have received such a disfiguring injury.
"Behold Damien Exacles," the Chapter Master shouted, "Captain of the First Company." Drumand's voice echoed through the long hall, carrying without any mechanical augmentation. The hall's acoustics and the augmented senses of the assembled Astartes meant that not a word was lost even to the men furthest away from the Chapter Master. Eight hundred Space Marines of the Sword Bearers were assembled in two lines facing the aisle and running for almost almost a kilometer in length. Banners and trophies from a hundred different foes hung from the ceiling, swallowed up in darkness. Only the lights at the front of the room were on, although darkness was not a barrier to the vision of the Astartes.
"Take from him his Mark of Mastery!" roared the Chapter Master. Two Marines in silver armour approached the First Captain. The black sword symbol on their right shoulder pad marked them as Sword Bearers, but the stone Crux Terminatus on their left shoulder pads marked them as First Company and worthy of the honor of wearing the rare and potent Terminator Tactical Dreadnought Armour into battle.
They extended their hands and gently took the white cloak from Exacles's shoulders. Hands encased in armoured gloves with deliberate and delicate care unclasp golden sword broach secured the cloak to the First Captain's shoulders and marked him as a master of the blade. Exacles stood as still as a statue.
"Take from him his badges of rank!" roared the Chapter Master. Two more Astartes of the First Company approached their captain. Exacles now wore just the long sleeveless tunic and sandals that were the common garb of the Chapter for both Astartes and serfs. On his brow he wore a crown of laurels carved from jade and set with a synthetic ruby. On his shoulders he wore a small stone badge in the shape of a cross and skull and a gold badge depicting a skull on top of three badges. Around his waist he wore a simple belt of grox hide from which hung a meter long gladius style sword in an intricately worked sheath.
The Astartes delicately removed the badges marking Damien's position as captain and a warrior of the First Company from his shoulders. They then stepped back. "Take from him the mark of glory!" bellowed Tantalus Drumand.
Two more warriors of the First Company stepped forward. The took the crown of laurels from their captain's head and stepped back. Exacles had not yet even blinked. "Take from him the mark of brotherhood!" roared Drumand.
Another pair of warriors came forward and cut the sword from Damien's belt. They resumed their positions as had their brothers before them, holding the honours as carefully as spun glass trophies.
"These are all marks of a Sword Bearer and from today forth you are a Sword Bearer no longer!" roared Drumand "From our ranks I cast you out!"
Damien moved for the first time, raising his gaze to meet that of his former master. "But I am still your brother!" he shouted. "For all that you have done will never been forgotten! All that I have lived, all that we have lived, we will carry with us forever! The old bonds and old ties will never be forgotten!"
"For as long as men endure in this galaxy," replied Drumand, "for as long as Sword Bearers fight in the Emperor's Name you will be remembered! By what name shall you be known?"
Damien Exacles turned away from the Chapter Master and turned to address the assembled Marines. "From this day forward, I and all that shall follow in my footsteps shall be known as the Blood Tigers!"
"Let the enemies of Mankind tremble!" shouted Drumand. "For today the Sword Bearers have given birth to a new chapter of the Angels of Death and from our ranks we haven chosen one of the greatest among us, the Captain of our First Company, to lead it!"
Two chapter serfs guarded the Strategarium. The honour guard wore white carapace armour marked with the downward pointing black sword of chapter. In their gloved hands they held Delcius pattern lasguns, a hard hitting model capable of sustaining barrages of over four hundred pulses a second without overheating. One of the serf's inclined his head. "Chapter Master."
"I request entrance to the Strategarium," said Damien Exacles. Yesterday he would not have had to ask but today he was no longer a Sword Bearer.
The serf nodded and touched the vox panel by the thick ceramite door. "Chapter Master Exacles wishes to enter the Strategarium." The was a soft reply. The serf touched a control on the door and the half meter thick door slip open. "Permission has been granted to enter Chapter Master."
The interior of the Strategium was technoshrine to waging war throughout the Charybdis Reach. The domed ceiling was covered in holomaps and the central table displayed the known positions of fortress worlds, major space stations, Astartes and Imperial Navy vessels, and xenos worlds that had yet to succumb to Mankind's fury. Four servitors attended to the cogitators while two Space Marines stood at the table. They had ceased their conversation when the Chapter Master entered.
The Marine on the right was tall, even by Astartes standards, and his bald scalp was marked by deep scars. His left eye was an augmatic and his skin was the same rich brown as the Chapter Master's. The other Marine was nearly thirty centimeters shorter and paler, almost bone white, with a messy mop of short black hair and dark eyes that glinted with mirth. He managed a sly smile. "You missed him Damien. Marcus left us half a bell ago."
"I'm not looking for Marcus," replied Exacles, "I'm looking for you."
The taller Marine slapped the smaller one of the shoulder. "Hah. You're not always as clever as you think you are Navaros."
"Are you serious?" asked Navaros. "Marcus and you were scouts together. The First Company has always been based on the Excalibur. I thought that he would be your choice."
"Marcus is a great captain, but if he is to be a Blood Tiger he must leave Excalibur behind as well as the Sword Bearers and that is asking too much from the man who will be Master of the Fleet if he stays. You, on the other hand, are skilled in fast attack operations and are audacious without being reckless. That is the Master of Fleet I will need."
"Well it is easier getting the job this way than waiting for all the brothers ahead of me to die," replied Navaros.
"Considering there are so many of them, yes."
"You wound me brother."
"I was beside Tantalus at Volega. Your choice of maneuvers nearly gave him a heart attack. In both hearts. That is not a quality one looks for in a Master of the Fleet."
"It succeeded," said Navaros.
Navaros extended his hand. "I'm your man Damien."
Exacles took it. "One down, two hundred and ninety-nine to go."
"Two hundred and ninety-eight," replied Navaros. "Don't tell me that I'm wrong about that one."
"You're not wrong," replied Exacles.
Kail Prenshaw rubbed his beard with his left hand. The augmentic was sensitive enough to faithfully reproduce the sensation of touch, an absolute necessity for Prenshaw. The lives of his brothers were literally in his hands and so when flesh threatened to fail he can acquired replacements of infallible steel. His body was failing, but his mind was still sharp. He gestured and the pict display moved to the next image. Curious.
The door behind him opened whisper quiet but that was loud enough. "Lights," he called out and the dark room was filled with illumination. The alcove the Apothecary occupied was filled with cogitators and pict screens but most of the rest were filled with surgical beds and medical augers. Kail's augmentic eyes adjusted automatically to the change in lighting. "Damien."
"Senior Apothecary. I have need of your services."
Prenshaw sighed. "I am not the man a new chapter needs. I am barely fit for combat and I am not getting any younger."
"I need your wisdom," said Exacles. "Most of the chapter will be young and that's before we begin recruiting. I need your wisdom and your experience as an adviser, an instructor, and most of all as steward of our geneseed."
"I am honoured, but you need someone younger, with more energy."
"Do you wish to die here, doing the errands of the Chief Apothecary without ever doing anything that matters?" Exacles said furiously. "How long has it been since you were in the field? How long since you had responsibilities that truly mattered? I remember when you lead the relief force at Coramanch. None could stand against you. If a brother could be saved you saved him. I need your cool head and I need your fierce devotion and you need work worthy of a hero."
"You are a hard man to refuse First Captain."
"First Captain no longer. No one less knowledgeable than the Chief Apothecary should oversee the seeding of a new chapter and that means the only man for the job is you."
"I am not so clumsy that you can catch me in a net that simple."
"Your duty to the Emperor, your brothers, and Mankind will compel you. I just bear the truth of it."
"I suppose if I refuse you will try again."
"And not you alone. I do not think I can best both of you. Very well, I accept."
"Thank you, old friend." Exacles extended his hand.
"I fear you think too highly of me," said Kail.
"I would be pleased if events are not so dire as to prove you wrong," replied the Chapter Master.
Smoke rose from the cauldron as the mechanical arms lifted the massive plate of ceramite armour. Antaeous Drakon studied the plate through the augury monocle fitted over his left eye. With light touches of the control rods he shifted across the the cavernous room to cool. The quality was acceptable.
"Drakon," said Damien Exacles as he stepped into the forge. The sound of machines served to drown out his words, but only from the ears of mortals.
"Chapter Master," said the Techmarine as he turned from his work. "How long have you been waiting?"
"Not long," said Damien.
"The forges are not a good place for tunics and sandals," said the Techmarine. Antaeous himself wore Mark VIII Armour marked with both the Chapter's sword insignia and the gear and skull mark of the Adeptus Mechanicus. "We are not Salamanders and the fires of this place are not kind to flesh."
"I'll keep my distance from the fires. You know why I am here."
"Of course," said Antaeous. "Drumand will never make me Master of the Forge. Konstanin will not go with you. So logically I am the one should approach and I should accept. But I have a price."
"I know," said Exacles. "You want a freer hand to work. To experiment and tamper. To innovate. To create."
"You cannot do this behind my back. We will have limited resources and many times the maintenance of conventional machines must take precedence over experimentation."
"No Master of the Forge worthy of the position could do otherwise. It is a sacred trust."
"Then you have my word."
Antaeous bowed. "You have my allegiance."
Damien turned took the last turn of the winding spiral staircase and found himself in front of a wide wooden door. His raised his hand and gripped the gargoyle head knocker and tapped on the metal behind it. The door swung open under the hands of a chapter serf, a woman in her mid thirties. She bowed and averted her eyes.
Inside was a hive of activity. Like most parts of the Sword Bearers Fortress-Monastery the Librarium was dimly lit. Shelves of books lined the walls, some of them hand written by the Chapter's founders or born by them to their new home during the founding. In the far reaches there were the data vaults and autoscribes that served to store and copy much of the chapter's hard won knowledge. This was usually a quiet place, attended to by a handful of scribes and the Sword Bearer's few librarians. Now it swarmed with activity.
A dozen chapter serfs were searching bookshelves and packing volumes into crates. The autoscribes groaned and hummed in a constant state of activity. Data plaques were carefully enclosed in velvet lined cases and had their positions entered onto lists.
Exacles walked softly through the hive of activity, heading towards the rear of the Librarium. Serfs bowed as he passed and scurried out of his way. A servo skull hovering near the ceiling turned in place and tracked the Chapter Master. Ahead of him was an Astartes in a sky blue robe. He shared similar build and facial features with the Chapter Master, but that had more to do with the world that had born them and the gene seed that had altered them than any real kinship. His skin was light pink and his eyes were blue. The Marine's close cropped hair was blond.
"Busy I see," said Exacles. "Any reason for it?"
"None at all," the Librarian replied. "A flight of fancy."
"Speaking of flights of fancy," replied the Chapter Master with a slight smile, "I have recruited two hundred and ninety-nine Marines to join me in founding a new chapter. That leaves one space to fill. Interested?"
"Of course not. What makes you think I would be?"
"I had a dream last night. Roboute Guilliman appeared to me and wrote your name in kilometer high letters of fire."
The Librarian threw back his head and laughed. "My friend, if I don't go with you who else will make me laugh?"
Exacles smiled. "Without me you're doomed brother." He paused for a moment. "Will you, Toth Arianocus, join with me and become the Chief Librarian of the Blood Tigers?"
"I will, my brother." Toth extended his hand and Exacles took it. "Well that's the formalities taken care of," he said and released his grip.
"The whole chapter knew I was going to pick you."
"Yes," said Toth. "Drumand solves two his problems at once. Perhaps more."
"That is unfitting," said Exacles.
"How many of the First Company were you allowed to take?" replied Toth.
"Forty. The volunteers drew lots."
"Drumand is no Vankara," said Toth. "With the too popular First Captain removed along with loyalists and troublemakers like myself there will be less objection to Drumand's 'reforms'."
"You speak unkindly brother. Drumand is a worthy Chapter Master. No man but a Primarch could expect to be as well loved by his chapter as Vankara was."
"A man divisive than Drumand would command more loyalty."
"I think your position clouds your judgment."
"Really? Then why is Drumand allowing me to bring half of the Sword Bearer's librarians with me?"
"It's not that many," said Toth. "Drumand is going to make us just like the Black Templars in another century or two."
"No," said Exacles. "That might be the fate of the Sword Bearers and given the successes of the Black Templars, far from the worst one imaginable, but that will not happen to us. We are Blood Tigers and we will chart a different path to glory."
A dozen Astartes in armour clustered around a holo obelisk that had been hastily set up in the middle of the now empty vehicle bay. A Junior techmarine and a half dozen chapter serfs checked the heavy cables that fed power and data to the obelisk. The scent of burnt promethium and machine oil laid heavy in the air.
Exacles addressed the assembled Marines. "Gathered here are the leaders of the Blood Tigers from the Master of the Forge to the Chief Librarian. There are a number of important matters for us to address. The first is the choice of fortress-monastery."
Damien touched a glyph on obelisk. A blue-green word heavily shrouded in clouds appeared in the air. "Carexi. It possess an indigenous primitive population suitable for recruitment."
"With respect Chapter Master," Toth Arianocus began, "there are other-"
"Other potential sites and population," agreed Damien Exacles. "I have not ruled out recruiting from as well but Carexi is my choice for our new home world. Mount Dorn is too good of a site for a fortress-monastery to pass up. Here we can create an ediface to rival the Fang of Fenris."
"As you say Chapter Master."
"Master of the Forge."
"Chapter Master," said Antaeous Drakon. He touched another glyph on the obelisk. The planet vanished, to be replaced by a rough outline of a mountain. Fortified surface structures were present near the peak, consisting mostly of void shield projectors and weapon emplacements. Vast interior spaces were depicted within the mountain itself. "The mountain itself will shield us. Melta cutters will allow us to quickly excavate tunnels and chambers to our specifications. There remains the question of equipment."
"The Delcius Forgeworld stands ready to supply us with servitors, mining equipment, and the machines and weapons the fortress-monastery will require."
"I stand by ready to signal them when you will it," said Toth Arianocus.
"Thank you Chief Librarian. Status of our fighting arm?"
"As you have ordered, I have assembled a provisional order of battle in keeping with our resources and personnel. While the Blood Tigers currently consists of more than three hundred battle brothers, we can currently field only two hundred as line infantry. The rest are required as pilots, techmarines, librarians, apothecaries, fleet captains and so on. Currently our brothers will be organized in five companies of forty battle brothers each, with the First Company retaining their Terminator Tactical Dreadnought Armour. In that category alone we are well represented. We have no dreadnoughts and only a single Land Raider and a pair of Predator tanks. Two Whirlwinds and a thirteen Rhinos round out our ground forces. We have three apothecaries, including our Master, and five techmarines. The Libriarium consists of myself, two codiciers, and a lexicanium too early in his training to be assigned battle field duties. That leaves us with three Marines capable of astropathic communication and three thousand one hundred and seventeen chapter serfs to assist us in our tasks, not counting pre-adolescent children."
"Fortunately the fleet has astropaths assigned to it," said Navaros Rasteen. "And a full complement of Thunderhawks."
"If you could continue, Master of the Fleet?" asked Exacles.
"Certainly Chapter Master. Our current naval strength could be generously characterized as 'feeble'. Our assets consist of three Strike Cruisers, two Hunter Destroyers, and two Gladius Frigates. We can easily transport the entire chapter but we cannot fight a major space engagement. A battle barge is being constructed for our use at the orbital dockyards at Delcius, but it will be another seventy-five months before it is completed and even with it we will be grossly understrength."
"Acknowledged Master of the Fleet. You see the challenges being laid before us. We need to move to Carexi and begin work immediately, prioritizing our ground to space defences because our fleet cannot protect us from a large assault. We must recruit and train fresh warriors to swell our ranks and we must defend the human worlds of the Charybdis Reaches while doing so."
"A point Chapter Master," said Kail Prenshaw.
"Proceed," replied Exacles.
"Much of the Chapter's gene seed is coming by way of Mechanicus transport from Mars," said Prenshaw. "The vessel will supposedly contain new suites of power armour, weapons, ammunition, and so forth with which to help supply our chapter but most crucially it will carry two thirds of our gene seed stocks and it is coming here. The transport and custody of the gene seed is of crucial importance and will require the attentions of an apothecary."
"It is coming here," said Prenshaw, "not Carexi. It is already in transit, but the warp is hardly predictable. As our brother Arianocus has reported, there are not many apothecaries. Too few in fact. Who remains behind to care for the gene seed and who goes with the chapter. We are spread thin enough. If the worst comes to pass and we are spread even thinner, it could be a blow from which the chapter will never recover."
"You will remain behind, along with two squads from the Fourth Company," said Exacles. But we will not all leave immediately. Master of the Fleet, detach one of our Strike Cruisers to carry the Second Company and everyone selected by the Master of the Forge for his construction team. You will leave as soon as possible."
Antaeous saluted, fist to heart. "Your will Chapter Master."
"There is one more thing, before you leave. Your armour. We are no longer Sword Bearers and will no longer bear their colours. Assemble your serfs. I will present the new pattern tonight so that their machine spirits will be able to leave proudly when we depart."
"This is beautiful work," Exacles said softly. "You have outdone yourself Ludvia."
The girl smiled shyly. "Thank you," she said. "It is a privilege to serve."
Exacles suit of Mark VIII armour dominated the arming chamber. No longer did it bear the silver and black colours of the Sword Bearers. Ludvia had repainted the armour black with carnelian tiger stripes running along the sides and back. A snarling tiger's head was emblazoned on the right pauldron, surrounded by a circle of blood drops. Another tiger's head snarled at onlookers from the breastplate.
"With more time, and better materials," the teenager continued, "I could make it look truly magnificent. Emeralds for the eyes and gold leaf for scrolling and-"
"Enough," said Exacles. The girl recoiled, her dark eyes wide and her face a mask of fear. "I did not mean-, calm yourself. I am not displeased. You have done good work, but this suit will never be your masterpiece. That suit will have its machine spirit awoken on Carexi and bear the mark and work of Antaeous Drakon." Ludvia began to calm down. "A Chapter Master must wear his chapter's masterwork."
He extended his hand. She took it. "It is not fitting that you should fear my anger. You are a gifted artist and you have done no wrong. You should have nothing to fear from Astartes."
"Forgive me, my lord," she said looking down. "Not everyone is . . . as even tempered as you are." She did, Damien recalled, work on many of the suits of senior members of the Sword Bearers. She was one of his serfs, but her work had been so good that her skills had been in demand since she was twelve.
"Has anyone abused you?" he asked. It had not even occurred to him to think of it. They were Space Marines. Sword Bearers.
"No. No one at all. But . . . some are harsh."
"War and hardship is our purpose," he said. "That can make us . . . blind to differences between our lives and that of others. There is no need for you to fear and what you do here will be the first of many such works."
Exacles knocked on the cell door. "Enter," was the response. The Chapter Master swung the door open to reveal a modest room. A desk with a cogitator was against the left wall, a cot against the back wall, and a weapon and armour stand on the right. Toth Arianocus was sitting at the desk, working something out on the cogitator.
"How are you?" asked Exacles.
"Keeping busy," the psyker replied. "We have yet to establish a rule of the Blood Tigers."
"That will come in time," said Exacles. "At the moment our needs are not ordinary and there are more tasks than there are hands. Establishing a rule that will not be followed is not the best use of my time."
"True," said Toth. "At least I only have to repaint a pauldron."
Damien glanced at Toth's armour. Unlike Damien's new Mark VIII suit, Toth wore a heavily modified and upgraded Mark VII that was one of the Chapter's heirlooms. The Shroud Armour was one of the two suits of Librarian Artificer Armour that the Chapter possessed, a treasure worn by one of the great heroes of the Founding. If Damien had not been the First Captain and entitled to wear the awesome Tactical Dreadnought Armour it was likely that he would have been granted a suit of similar antiquity and workmanship.
The ran his fingers reverently over the sky-blue armour. As laid out in the Codex Astartes, the armour of Librarians was painted blue, the the exception of the right pauldron, to indicate their special status. The rondels over the knees and the articulated plates protecting the armoured power cables in the lower abdomen were marked with horned skull symbols while the rondels near the pauldrons bore lightning bolts, both traditional symbols of Librarians. His fingers stopped at the helmet ring. This part of the armour was a known shell trap and the Mark VIII incorporated a raised collar to protect this weak spot. "It is a fine suit," said Damien, "and a worthy spirit within. I am, however, afraid you are mistaken."
"In what way?" asked Toth.
"All Blood Tigers shall paint their armour ebony and carnelian. Our Librarians stand with us, not apart from us."
"In that case, can I borrow Ludvia?"
Three hundred Marines stood in the empty vehicle bay. "Today," began Damien Exacles, "today we are gathered as Blood Tigers. We now bear our rightful markings and places in our new chapter. All of us, save five."
"Nihlus Cataran step forward." The heavy footsteps of the Terminator Armour resounded through the cavernous vehicle bay. "Veteran Sergeant, the First Company needs a captain that knows neither fear nor despair, that no adversity can break, who knows the weakness of the enemy and can strike with all the might at his command. Will you serve your brothers as First Captain?"
"It will be an honour," rumbled the Terminator.
"Jachen Volg." A Blood Tiger wearing Mark VIII armour stepped forward. "Chapter Master."
"The Second Company needs a captain who can make forty Astartes do the work of one hundred. Your record indicates such a feat will be easy for you."
"As long as my hearts beat I will strive for victory no matter what the odds."
"Ares Kahere step forward." A Marine in Mark VI armour stepped forward. "The Third Company holds forty Marines and each life is precious. It needs a captain who give ground without giving up victory, preserve the lives of his battle brothers while bleeding the enemy white, and strike from hiding like a tiger to pull down his prey when the moment is right."
"I live to serve."
"Marhkus Exacles step forward." A Marine in Mark VIII armour stepped forward. "I need an enginseer of destruction to lead the Fourth Company. One who is a master of siegecraft, fire zones, sabotage, and destruction. Will you lead our devastators?"
"I am with you brother, from birth until the time we find ourselves before the Throne."
"Zarien Cadril, step forward." A suit of Mark VII armour stepped forward, its colours ripping from the slate grey of the surrounding ferrocrete to the black and red of blood tigers and then back. "I need a veteran of proven wisdom and cunning to impart his knowledge on the future of our chapter."
"I haven't finished imparting my wisdom and cunning on my Chapter Master and I've had nearly two hundred years," Zarien responded, "but I'll see if I can make some time for our future scouts."
"We shall see," responded Exacles. "These are your captains. Do you find them worthy?"
A roar filled the bay as power armour augmented the shouts of three hundred enhanced post humans. Exacles smiled. "Then they are yours. Now is the time of our first deployment. Master of the Forge?"
"Chapter Master," said Antaeous Drakon as he stepped forward. "My techmarines and over a thousand chapter serfs are ready to depart."
"Captain Exacles you will be joining the expedition. Select two squads of your Fourth Company to accompany you. Master of the Fleet."
"Chapter Master. The Strike Cruiser Bloodshed and the Gunboats Razor and Torment are ready to receive passengers and cargo."
They marched through the hangers in small groups, hands full of tool kits and and duffel bags. They still wore coveralls and uniforms of the Sword Bearers but they were Blood Tigers now. Children clung to their parents, the older ones attempting a facade of stoic calm, as they boarded Thunderhawks. Servitors that were more machine than flesh loaded heavy equipment onto other craft and chapter serfs scrambled aboard to secure it for transport.
"It truly begins brother," said Marhkus Exacles as he strode through the hanger. The Astartes wore his armour, minus his helmet. He greatly resembled his brother, barring the triple track of scars running down the left side of his face.
Damien turned to face his brother. The Chapter Master was standing in a pool of shadow by the hanger wall , a darkness within the darkness that was almost invisible. "Yes it does."
"So many men," said Marhkus. "And women and children."
"We are the point of the sword," Damien replied, "but the rest of the blade is made up of mortal men."
"Truth brother. We will need them very badly. Three hundred Marines to do a Chapter's job. In Charybdis no less."
The brothers' shared a moment of silence. The engines of a Thunderhawk roared as it coasted towards take off. "You did not have to come," said Damien. The noise of the bay swallowed his words, but his brother was Astartes.
"Of course I did."
"We barely knew each other."
"That was when we were mortals brother. We have known each other for decades."
"You do not have to follow me."
"It is not a sacrifice, my brother. This you do not understand. Some men have lofty visions. You and your friend Toth. You build castles out of ideas and air, holo images of possible glories. Others are more practical. We build solid foundations, we deal in practicalities. This is already built, but the Blood Tigers are new. The challenges are new. Even I have vision enough to see the glories to be won."
"I do need your skills brothers, but tell me truly do you support my vision?"
"It is ambitious and that is enough. What have we done for the last two centuries? Chase raiders, send our brothers to the Deathwatch and to help with crusades in other sectors, and the occasional strike force into the Reach. We have grown large but we have grown soft. Secure. Complacent. Only the brothers on campaign or in the Deathwatch live as we should, fight as we should. Our Chapter Master should be finding us a challenge for us, a war to wage and instead he schedules more rites of devotion. War is our rite of devotion and you would bring war to Charybdis. There is no question of my rightful place, both as an Astartes and as one who shares your blood."
"Do you really think we have gone soft?"
"No," replied Markhus. "We are the Blood Tigers. We're building our fortress-monastery in the Reach. The crusade, if it happens, might shake the rust off the Sword Bearers, but we are haven't gone soft. Neither have the Sword Bearers in the Deathwatch or the companies in Caporia fighting the Tyranids. But this place? No one has dared to attack it in five hundred years. There hasn't be a full scale invasion in this sector in our lifetime and no war that has not ended within six months of an Astartes arriving. Too much time to think of what an Astartes should be, too much time considering purity and doctrine, and too little time planning the next campaign.
"But not you brother. You're already planning the next thousand years of conquest and glory. That is the purpose of Astartes. War. Leave religion for mortal man. We know our place in the Emperor's plan."
"That we do." Damien put his hand on his brother's shoulder. "I am glad you are with me, for your own reasons."
"My brother, I am here out of obligation to my brothers, to mankind, and to my Emperor. I know what you have done, both as a Sword Bearer and as a sworn brother of the Deathwatch. I have faith that you will lead us in the proper direction and I have faith in my own worth. Great trials await us."
"If it was easy then there would be no need for Astartes."
The earth shook and the wind roared as a flash turned night into day and a mushroom cloud ascended into the sky. The giant column of fire illuminated the ground around it for miles, revealing the ruined and broken ground around the titanic crater as well as the ramshackle camps the covered the bleak plateau like diseased fungus. Before the roar died away another titanic explosion lit up the plateau and another monstrous cloud ascended into the sky. And then another.
Hell had come to the plateau, hell in the form of magma class melta warheads fired from the bombardment cannons aboard the battle barge in low orbit. The shock waves from the explosions sufficed to flatten most of the few remaining structures and set countless fires. Panicked and random shooting by the survivors filled the night with tracers and only served to add to the destruction. In the space of a minute what had been the war factory and marshaling yard of Warboss Yorb Skullgrinda had been reduced to a blasted ruin.
Near the center of the plateau, the one place not subjected to direct orbital strikes, there was another flash of light and a loud boom. Twelve huge figures appeared out of thin air. Behind them there was a loud explosion as an ammo dump cooked off and exploded with enough force to send the body of a burning Gretchin flying past them. The giant figures did not so much as flinch from the explosion or sway from the force of the blast. They were Terminators, wearing armour so dark that it appeared black, and they had come to finish the job.
Around them was chaos and ruin. Orks were firing blindly, filling the air with tracers. One of the Terminators raised an axe with an obsidian blade, pointing at a small fortress walled in packed earth, stone and scrap. Two guard towers swayed drunkenly along the perimeter, two of the few remaining structures on the plateau.
Two of the Terminators turned to the right and and fired short burts at a half dozen Ork boyz who had blundered into them. The Orks had been running, firing blindly and bellowing to their violent gods when they had stumbled onto the Terminators. The first one died instantly as bolt rounds blew his skull apart. The second's chest exploded in a spare of muscle and bone as three bolt rounds literally blew his ribs off his torso and turned his organs to jelly. The fourth had his right arm severed and the fifth fell back bleeding with two ragged holes in his chest.
As their battle brothers mowed down the Ork interlopers two Terminators raised their dreadful long barreled Reaper Autocannons and opened fire. The tops of the gun towers exploded as they sent volleys of high explosive shells into the crow's nests. They shifted aim and put shells into the supports. The towers toppled with a crash that was lost in the confusion of the camp.
The Marine with the axe pointed at the crude gates of hinged armour plate and they deformed around the center and flew inward as if struck by a giant invisible fist. The Terminators advanced into the compound with the inevitability of a glacier. Their guns barked and roared, but only briefly. Bodies fell to the dirt, spilling blood into the ground. The occasional rounds deflected off the Terminator's nearly invulnerable armour.
"What if he's already dead?" one asked.
"It doesn't matter," the one with the axe replied. Bullets whizzed around him as the battle brothers methodically destroyed every gun emplacement in the compound. "As long as the corpse is fresh it will serve us." That was why the bombardment had spared the heart of the camp. The blast effects and the shock waves had reached that far, but they would leave a usable corpse if they killed the target and that was all that mattered.
A ramshackle keep composed of mismatched armour plates bolted and welded onto a mass of girders and supports stood in front of them. One of the Terminators raised his Reaper Cannon and blew down the heavy door. Flamer and bolter fire then filled the interior. Yellow glowing tracers flashed back from the interior. Heavy slugs smashed themselves on the Terminator's armour. For a moment there was a battle but only for a moment. Then the only guns roaring were those of the Marines.
"Advance," called a Marine with a sword sheathed at his waist. The Marines stepped into the threshold, flesh compressing under their feet as strode through the kill zone. Another wave of Orks rushed out and was met by long volleys of bolter fire and sprays of liquid fire. The Terminators walked through another slaughter field.
"He's close," said the one with the axe.
"Be ready," said the sword bearer. The walls beside the the Terminators were torn open by huge power claws as giant Orks in huge, crude sets of power armour sprung to attack. One of the Orks fell to a bolter volley to the face, another to a point blank range melta blast that turned his torso to slag and char. Two more pushed their way forward, tossing their fallen comrades to the side. The Marine with the axe met one in hand to hand. The other engaged a pair of Terminators. Power gloves crackled as their energy fields activated.
As the ambush was sprung an even larger Ork, at least three meters tall before being bulked up to dreadnought size by his mega armour, charged through the doors ahead. Dual power claws hummed and crackled. "Crush you puny hummie gitz!" He roared.
"Reapers," the sword bearer ordered. "Knees."
The two Marines adjusted their aim as their battle brothers fought in hand to hand combat just meters away. One Terminator caught one of the power claws in his power glove for just a moment. It was long enough. The second closed his glove on the Ork's elbow and squeezed. The he ripped. The Ork's arm came away in a spray of blood and metal. The force of the attack yanked the Ork down to his knees just in time for the Ork to have a very good view of the power fist, wrapped in a aurora of sparks, slam towards his face.
The axe wielder was faster than Ork he faced. The obsidian blade buried itself in the Ork's chest and an overwhelming rush of psychic force was channeled through it. Crudely welded metal and smoking meat hit the floor as Warboss Skullgrinda rushed towards his foes.
The Reapers opened fire. The Warboss's armour was good, but inconsistent and the Reapers were quite capable of tearing up power armour and armoured fighting vehicles. Their operators were veterans of almost countless wars, the best of the best. Heavy shells struck the Warboss in the knees and upper thigh. They detonated with armour wrecking fury.
The bellow almost shook the ramshackle fort as Skullgrinda fell face first, his legs bloody stumps. "Gut you hummies!" he screamed. He began to pull himself forward with his power class, seemingly unaffected by shock or blood loss.
The sword bearer raised his combi bolter and put rounds into the crude, smoke belching powerpack on the Ork's back. On the third round it detonated in an oily black burst of flames. The power claws and muscle augments failed, leaving the crippled warboss to bear the entire weight of his huge body and the even greater mass of his ruined armour. Skullgrinda pulled himself another meter forward.
"Secure him," said the sword bearer. "Signal for teleportation retrieval."
"The last domino is ready to be set in place," said the Terminator with the axe. "After all this time we are finally ready."
"Yes, my brothers," said the captain as two Terminators seized the warboss and stripped off anything that could be used as a weapon with their power gloves. "We are ready to set the Imperium alight. Only at the end will they comprehend that we have been the architects of their destruction and then only because our lords will see fit to inform them of the true nature of their doom so we may drink of their despair. They shall never see us coming."
Engines whined as the Thunderhawk slowed its descent through the cloud layers. The clouds parted before it revealing the great black mass of Mount Dorn. Lights flickered from a spot below the mountain's peak. "I have visual contact with the landing bay Chapter Master."
"Proceed," said Damien Exacles from his position in the assault bay. The Chapter Master and his companions were secured in their restraint thrones.
"Acknowledged," said Geran Kallick. The dark haired serf exchanged a glance with his copilot and then reached up and flicked on the landing lights. "Beginning approach."
The Thunderhawk cruised into the landing bay that had been carved in the side of the mountain. Lights and power lines had been strung along the top and sides of the bay. Portable equipment had been set up and technicians were working. A strip of lights and reflectors on the floor acted as a guide line for the Thunderhawk. The ship coasted into a stop.
"You are good to go, my lord," said Kallick.
"Thank you pilot," said Damien Exacles. The restraints on his throne slid up and the Chapter Master got to his feet. The door hissed opened and Exacles stepped down into the bay. Behind him came Toth Arianocus and four other Marines.
"Chapter Master!" shouted Antaeous Drakon. The Master of the Forge was on the other side of the bay, but the amplifiers of his helmet carried his voice across the din. Exacles strode toward him.
"I see the fruits of your labor."
"This?" said Drakon. "This is nothing. We did this in the first week. We've cut living quarters and storage space from the rock as well as the emplaced the auxiliary fusion reactors. We have plenty of power now as well as communication and auger arrays.
"I noticed the lascannons."
"Close defence as well. Torpedo silos and defence laser emplacements will come later, when we get the plasma reactors installed. Void shield generators are a priority. Plumbing, wiring, and so forth are the province of Tech Disciple Renn."
"A very able serf Chapter Master."
"I do not disapprove. How large is his detail?"
"Five hundred workers, including servitors. I have over two thousand workers here. How many are you bringing with you?"
"Another two thousand," said Exacles.
"That's the Chapter's entire compliment."
"Close enough. Those that remain behind are awaiting the shipment from Mars. They will join the ship and direct it here."
"That should be another month or so," said Drakon. "We won't have the medical facilities ready for that much geneseed in time."
"That won't be a problem. It will remain aboard the Martian vessel, under the care and supervision Kail Prenshaw."
"Heh. I questioned that decision at first but I see the wisdom of that. You need an experienced hand teaching the new Apothecaries and managing the geneseed. Prenshaw is steady."
"All Astartes are steady."
"He's as steady as one of Dorn's fortresses. As sturdy as I will make this place."
"Mentioning one of your works in the same breath as Dorn's? Hubris Master of the Forge."
"Perhaps," said Antaeous Drakon, "perhaps. But a master should be judged by his work yes? If my masterwork is equal to one of the many works that Dorn erected in his lifetime then I am merely arrogant."
"Well arrogance is perhaps normal in an Astartes," said Exacles.
"Arrogance comes with mastery," Antaeous continued. "And I am a master of my craft as you are a master of yours."
"The Emperor did not see fit to give you a sense of humor did he?"
"He gave mine to you."
Exacles slapped him on the back. "Not bad for a start, Master of the Forge."
"It is a gift that a leader of men needs, not a master of machines."
"And how many men do you lead in this construction effort?"
"Does anyone ever win these contests with you?"
"No, that is why I am Chapter Master. Keep up the good work. The Charybdis Reach is a dangerous place and we are too vulnerable. Make this place ready for war before the Orks or the Gaun bring war to us."
Damien Exacles stepped into the cavernous room that would become the Chapter's Apothecarion. Lascutters and meltas had literally cut it out of the raw rock. Power and lighting cables came next along portable medical equipment. Beds, medical augers, growth tanks, cryostorage, medical stasis field generators and a host of other equipment had been assembled under the direction of the Apothecaries and Tech Marines. "You seem ready," said Damien Exacles.
"We are, Chapter Master," Xero Anten replied. He was a young Marine, less than fifty years as an Astartes, but bright and capable. His scalp was shaved smooth and he had an eager, almost naive look. "Our own, I mean the Sword Bearer's forges supplied most of the work and additional material was tithed from Hive and Forge Worlds in the Illyrian Sector. Not all of it is installed yet, but more than enough for us at our current strength."
"What if you had an influx of patients?"
"Manpower, not equipment, is the concern. Fortunately we have nearly two score serfs with varying degrees of medical training, several of whom are equal to an apothecary in terms of medical skill."
"Good," replied Exacles. "What is the status of the geneseed we brought with us?"
"A hundred progenoid glands are stored in the secure vault," replied Anten. "Ninety-seven more progenoids are in suitable shape to be harvested from the flesh of our battle brothers."
"Make ready to do so," said Damien Exacles. "We are beginning to recruit our first group of scouts."
"We aren't going to wait for Master Prenshaw and the Martian supplies?"
"They are nearly two months late and their has been no word. Perhaps it is merely the vagaries of the Warp, perhaps something worse. In any case, we move forward. The recruiting parties left yesterday."
Abrahen Tentoth watched as the metal bird descended from the sky. In the oldest of legends it was said that The People had been brought to Carexi by the Sky Gods in the bellies of metal birds and looking upon the metal bird he knew that it must be true. Besides, what was the point of running? The bird could not have missed their village and without their walls and crops the Menkari would be easy prey for the subman tribes of plains.
As the metal bird descended it became clear to Abrahen that it was not a beast at all, but something akin to a wagon or a chariot. A construct, an artifice made by those infinitely greater than the Menkari. Sky Gods or those who wielded their powers. The sky chariot landed on the grazing fields and settled as Abrahen approached. Behind him came Elizel, his eldest son, and a half dozen of the village's bravest men. Abrahen felt his chest swell with pride. His son was a man now, and more so than most. He pushed down the temptation to order his son back. What they were doing was dangerous but he could not ask his son to be less than he was.
As they drew closer Abrahen saw that the ground around the sky chariot was scorched. They was a loud hiss and a door opened in the side of the sky chariot and a Sky God stepped out. He was giant, half again as tall as a Menkari warrior, and wore massive armor of some strange material. The armour was painted black and marked with stripes of red like the tigers of the plains and jungles.
Abrahen knelt because that was what one did in the presence of a Sky God. "What would you have of us lord?" he asked.
The giant gestured for them to rise. A voice with the power of five men and an accent so thick it was difficult to understand came from the helmet. The choice of words was curious and strange, but comprehinsible "Ieth being Crucious, of the Blood Tigers," he said.
"What do you wish of us lord?"
"Blood Tigers beith warriors that servith thay God-Emperor of Mankind. We seeketh initiates to joineth us."
"Young warriors, valorous and strong."
One did not defy the Sky Gods, not and live, and yet to surrender the strength of their youth was a bitter pill. "Who will defend us if you taketh our warriors?"
"Fear not," said the Sky God. "Your warriors shall battle in the heavens to defend you from enemies beyond your ken. In addition, for each warrior you gift us we shall gift you a weapon from our forges. With it a single warrior becomes five."
It was folly to resist a Sky God and twice folly to resist him if he was going to pay in such coin. "Tell us how we may serve you lord."
"Bring forward your valorest and strongest. I shall test thime."
A ship coasted through the cold depths of space. No lights shown from its dark hull and its engines were cold and depowered. Its auger and communication spires were in passive mode, drinking in all the information that they could while emitting nothing. For two months it had followed this course, guided by the workings of an immense bank of logic engines. In truth they were not needed for the calculations were not that complex, even if the task they performed was crucial. Stealth and patience were what was needed and that the masters of the ship possessed.
The logic engines were counting down and now were in the final stages. In the prow of the vessel the massive inner doors of the torpedo tubes cycled open. The massive hatch was a plate of steel nearly three meters thick and twenty-five meters in diameter. The auto loaders raised a package that looked very much like a giant potato made of nickel-iron oar with a growth on one end. The machines forced the false asteroid into the tube and the giant hatch swung shut and resealed.
The timer ticked down to zero. The "growth" was a package of explosives and they detonated, firing the synthetic asteroid out of the torpedo tube like a bullet. It's path was noted on augers, compared to the predictions of the logic engines, and presented to the captain on his command throne. "Exit the system," the Traitor Marine growled.
Compressed gas was fired at high velocity out of the maneuvering thrusters, altering the path of the dark ship. In a week the new coarse would take them behind a moonlet where they could fire their main drive and change course for an warp jump point far from the eyes of the inner system. Meanwhile the artificial asteroid continued on the course that would take it to a cloud covered blue and green world that bathed in the light of a yellow sun.
Damien Exacles walked into the barren room that would serve as his strategarium at sometime in the distant future. Right now it consisted of a few cogitators and a recording servitor. The senior officers of the Blood Tigers were gathered in a semi-circle in a on the naked stone. "Brothers," Exacles began, "the vessel from Mars has yet to arrive, but our duty still calls. The Warp is treacherous. We shall not delay doing our duty."
"Jachen Volg, you will take the Second Company and embark upon a patrol of human and Imperial held worlds in the near Reach. Both Predators and the Land Raider will go with you and Bloodshed, Razor, and Torment will be your space arm. Questions?"
"You said human worlds, as distinct from Imperial Worlds Chapter Master," asked Volg. The veteran Marine had four service studs on his shaved head, each indicating a hundred years of service. His beak like nose had been broken and reset almost more times than could be counted.
"I did. Several of them, such as this one before we arrived, are not hostile to the Imperium. They are worth saving if they can be saved. We are the greatest sign of the God-Emperors power and our actions can help bring these worlds to us."
"Imperial interests are priorities, of course," said Jachen Volg very seriously.
"Of course captain."
"Your will, Chapter Master."
"As you know the Martian vessel has not yet arrived, but we have begun recruiting our scouts already. Zarien Cadril and the Fifth Company will take charge of training of our new recruits. Fourth Company will assist in the construction while the First and Third Company will undergo jungle training and familiarization with the local environment. I have sent communications to Delcius and the Adeptus Mechanicus have agreed to supply us in the interim."
"What did they ask of us in return?" asked Rasteen.
"The arch-magos," said Toth Arianocus, "is well aware of where the Gaun are likely to strike next, should they again attack the Illyrian Sector in force. Our purpose is not merely to defend the Imperial worlds of the Illyrian Sector and the Charybdis Reach but to be tip of the spear of the crusade of reconquest. They know we are their shield and what we ask for is a small fraction of their productive capability."
"The Chief Librarian is correct," said Damien Exacles. "And he will join Captain Cadril and the Fifth Company in training the new initiates. There is another matter, that also concerns the Delcius Forgeworld. I have ordered a substantial amount of arms and equipment for mortal men."
He paused for a moment to let the implications of his statements to sink in. "We are already calling upon on Chapter Serfs to fill every possible roll that does not absolutely require a battle brother. They are strong, intelligent, skilled, and capable and yet they are not Astartes. We, however, do not have the luxury of relying on our own strength. We will need every set of willing hands."
"You are speaking of using them in direct battlefield support roles," said Toth.
"Yes," said Damien. "They are better trained and will be better equipped than most Imperial Guardsmen. They can do more for us than act as pilots and crew. They are already acting in place of the Tech Marines and Apothecaries we do not possess. Using them as artillerymen and tankers and as an emergency reserve of troops will expand our fighting strength."
"This is greatly against the Codex," said Jachen Volg.
"It is against the Codex," began Toth, "but not without precedent in the actions of Lion El'Jonson."
"Thank you Chief Librarian. I remind you that we are no longer in the Illyrian Sector. We are in the Charybdis Reach and with only a fraction of the strength of our parent chapter. Mount Dorn will one day be the mightiest fortress this side of Ultramar, but for now are defences are a shadow of what they could be. We face Orks, renegades, Dark Eldar, and the Gaun as well as the horrors found in the depths of the Reach. We must seize every weapon we can. The Emperor demands this of us. We are the sword and shield of the Human race and we stand at the threshold of the fortress of the enemy. We need their strength."
"With respect Chapter Master," said Captain Volg, "but they are merely Human. We were made for war."
"With respect captain, in war, above all other fields of activity, Man truly excels. We are the best of Mankind and we have been remade totally into weapons, but do not let that make you underestimate our base stock. Mankind conquered much of the galaxy without us. Mortal Men , under our guidance, will prove themselves worthy of supporting the Astartes in battle. Now is the time to speak against this. Do others share Captain Volg's reservations?"
"I think our serfs are better used in noncombat roles," said Antaeous Drakon, "but I understand the necessity. They will serve us well."
"Nihlus Cataran?" Damien asked.
"All weapons, from the humblest to the most exalted, are to be employed against the enemy when their time comes," rumbled the huge First Captain. "I stand with the Chapter Master and Chief Librarian with this and I know Master of the Fleet Navaros Rasteen agrees as well. So should the rest of you. I am reminded of a story, once told to me when I was a sergeant by another sergeant in the First Company. It was of how a young scout used an unusual fighting force against Orks. I would have you tell it again, Chapter Master."
"Very well," said Damien Exacles. "I will share with you all the story of the Tigers of Hydrae Minor, from whom I chose our name."
"I was a scout back then," began Damien, "still yearning for the day when I would truly become a battle-brother of the Sword Bearers. We were a fracticious bunch, but our trainers did not find us without merit."
"That much," said Zarien Cadril, "is true."
Damien smiled at the grey haired Marine. "In keeping with the traditions of the Sword Bearers we were encouraged to compete against each other in all ways. Training, mock duels, and survival excursions were not enough as we vied with each other constantly in attempts to prove our metal. I'm sure it was much the same for you my brothers, but back then memories of our old lives were still close despite the dream learning and we had not truly begun our lives as Astartes. It was the fiercest competition we had ever known. Each of us was a champion in our old life and our bodies were changing and we were growing stronger and fiercer.
"Among our number there were two who were constantly at the forefront. They were Toth Arianocus and myself. Strangely we were not rivals, but still we drove ourselves to greater heights of excellence. There was too much respect, I think, for rivalry. We knew the other to be worthy of great things and the best choice to have at his side when lives were on the line. We were kindred souls.
"The time came to test us with fire. We were sent in to the lower levels of Marmatta Hive on Ishual and we chased raiders on Kaddi but we triumphed too easily for us to be truly tested. We had tasted blood and boredom and hardship but not the horror of war."
"Aye," said Cadril, "first blood is easy but it is war that makes us truly what we are."
"You all know Hydrae Minor. It is well suited to human habitation but it is marred by the accursed presence of Orks. As it is in so many places once the greenskin taint a place it is very hard to remove that taint, even if you kill them down the last Gretchin. The Men of Hyrdae Minor used fire and fungicides to clear swaths of the Ork taint and it worked, but the land could be reinfected for the Ork taint is tenacious and aggressive like the beasts themselves. So it was that we found ourselves in the forests and grassy plains of the Immerock hunting the feral greenskin tribes.
"We wore scout armour and carried shotguns and combat knives. Our sergeant was Madregan Orreal, who most of you must remember. 'Sweat or bleed maggots! Sweat or bleed!" He paused as there were a few chuckles in memory of Madregan. "He lead us to the Orks. They weren't hard to find. He pointed out the Ork sign, the fungi that is always around their camps and the creatures that inhabit that strange ecosystem. And we hunted.
"The Orks were primitives with only a few guns and fewer machines but they could still hurt you with a spear or a cleaver. The Gretchin were sly and cunning and set traps for their enemies. They weren't bright creatures, but their senses were sharp. We learned the way of ambush and misdirection, when to kill with a knife and when to use the gun. Other scout squads made their kills and returned with trophies but Toth and I wanted to do something grander. We wanted to hurt them, as much as six scouts and a veteran could. So we went deep."
"Orreal tended to give a boy enough rope to hang himself with and Toth and I had very fancy knots in mind. We slid through the bush around a big camp. The Orks had carved it out of the edge of the forest, using the timber to build rude huts and beast pens. The mushrooms were everywhere along the edge, most just under a meter high. Things lived in that shade, but they scattered fast when anything bigger came along, which included us and the greenskins. The Ork idea of perimeter security was laughable. We moved in close while Orreal covered us with his sniper rifle and the rest of the squad hung back.
"The Orks had hunted the surrounding area and cleared out most of the game. They were eating the fungus and some of the creatures that lived in the fungus and, of course, the Gretchin. They were leaner than most Orks, just man tall and they wore red and blue paint and a little leather. Their camp was noisy enough to here half a kilometer away despite the fact they had no machines and we saw no guns. But they were Orks and would not die easy."
"Toth had a feeling about that place and we both put it down to intuition, but in hindsight it was clear that it was his psyker gifts. That was before we knew of them, of course. We wanted to bring back the tusks of a great bull Ork or failing that one of their Oddboyz, their specialists with strange abilities. That would be a prize worthy of praise, not only because it demonstrated our skill and courage but because such a loss would hurt the clan.
"There was one hut, larger than the rest, that was up on six meter tall stilts and leaned against a tree. It was at the very edge of the camp. I see in your eyes that you know what it must be and so did Orreal, but we were green scouts and he was willing to let us try. So we approached the hut and to our relief found there were no other Orks nearby. It was dark and although Orks see well in the dark the night still provided us with some concealment. Toth climbed the tree while I waited and covered him. He reached the level of the hut and then climbed around the side, slinking into the doorway as quiet as a cat. A knack he still has."
"For a moment there was nothing and then there was the sound of steel hitting flesh and blood jetting on wood. Drops of blood trickled down from the gaps in the floor boards. That's when I saw two of the biggest Orks in the camp coming straight toward us. I gave an owl call in warning and got ready to feed both of them explosive submunitions. They were arguing with each other, slapping each other on the arms and howling in their bestial tongue. They were headed right for the ladder to the hut."
"Now the ladder was in plain view of the rest of the camp, which was why Toth hadn't used it. One of the Orks began climbing while the other belched loudly. The stench was vile. It headed in my direction as it fumbled with its trousers. It looked like I was either going to shoot the Ork with a loud gun or engage one of the largest Orks in the camp in hand to hand combat by attack it from the front. Neither options was ideal. I prayed to the Throne that Madregan would shoot it, but I later learned that he didn't have a clear shot. It turned out not to matter.
"To this day I am not sure if it was the will of the Emperor or just the smell of blood that attracted it. Our Chief Librarian has mentioned that both are possible. Certainly the depletion of game made Ork a much more attractive meal for it. Whatever the reason, a tiger rose up out of the underbrush and pounced on the Ork. It was good sized beast, by Hydrae standards, massing around four hundred kilos. Its jaws closed around the back of the Ork's neck and he went down. I think it broke his neck almost instantly. The tiger then began to drag away the body.
"From above I heard a thump and then another owl call. I signaled that it was safe to come out and Toth came out with two Ork heads. We had out trophies but if it hadn't been for that tiger it could have gone badly wrong. It is a reminder, not only of the potential cost of hubris, but also of the fact that while much of the galaxy is hostile to Mankind some of it serves his will and the reach of the Emperor is without limit."
Young men wearing tunics and sandals filed down a narrow mountain path under the watchful eyes and growling throats of the battle hardened veterans of the Fifth Company. Two stone faced women wearing black and gray mountain camo flak watched them as they passed and then turned back to surveying the jungle below through the scopes of their long lases. "The future of the Chapter," said Damien Exacles.
"Not a bad start," replied Toth Arianocus. The Chief Librarian and the Chapter Master were watching the new scouts depart from side of a weapon emplacement. The quad las was pointed at the empty sky above, but should the need materialize it could strike with devastating force. "Fifty-three after the first round of testing, implantation, and conditioned learning. They all speak passable Gothic now," he said with a smile.
"How many do you think we'll get at the end?" asked Damien.
"Forty," said Toth, "but only because we'll rush them. They're good raw material and stealing away Cadril was your best move. He'll make them into warriors worthy of the name, but they won't spend the usual tour in scouts. We'll need the numbers, so we'll rush them into armour."
"My best move?" Damien said with a smile. "Not choosing you?"
"Don't flatter yourself. I chose me."
"True enough. Time is a limit. No matter how badly I need them they can't be Astartes until their enhancements finish developing."
"You can wear the armour without the black carapace," said Arianocus. "Just not as well."
"It can be done. The Master of the Forge assures me this is so."
"Interesting. Still no news?"
"From Prenshaw? News, but nothing good. The Martian vessel still has not arrived. You were wise to contact Delcius immediately."
"Even Delcius cannot conjure up our armaments out of thin air," said Exacles. "We are still vulnerable."
"We have the fusion reactors and the void shields."
"That they can barely sustain and no heavy antiship weapons," said Exacles. "If the Gaun strike in force and we manage to resist their bombardment, we'll be up to our necks in Deodands and Cataphractoi."
"That is part of the reason I wanted to recruit from a different population. We're going to be short of numbers and material no matter what we do, but a large number of Librarians would greatly add to our psychic strength."
"We'll be recruiting from Circe soon enough," said Damien. "We do need the strength and the war witches will be willing to surrender some of their sons."
"You've been studying the reports."
"Yes. What do you think of Volg's latest?"
"The Orks? Nothing too troubling. Three raiders killed in two months is a lot of activity, but they haven't mounted a serious attack in years. The pot was due to boil over."
Damien looked out at file of scouts. "That's the last of them."
"Then I had best join them," said Arianocus.
"In armour with a full combat load?" asked Exacles.
"Yes," said Toth. "I've been feeling . . . something, out there, at the edge of my senses. I'm not sure what it is. Probably nothing serious but I don't know. Whatever it is south of us. I'm taking a five man squad of the Fifth Company with me as back up."
"Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
"Because I didn't feel it necessary. You have no idea what it is to be one of us. There are many signs, many dangers that can so easily be read in the Warp. Some are harmless or meaningless, some are shadows of a possible future, some are dangerous only if they are focused upon too intently, and a few are real dangers. I do not come to you every day with a half dozen portents that might mean something. Sorting through that is my job. I speak to you when there is something that matters. This, I think, matters."
"I think you just want to get back into the field and waited to tell me at the last minute so I wouldn't send Aarner instead."
"Like you would send a codicier on this job. Besides, this will give me the opportunity to test our young scouts under field conditions."
Exacles slapped his friend on the shoulder. "Alright. Come back with an interesting story and I'll ask Ludvia to work on your armour."
Toth snorted. "That girl has a waiting list two years long."
"Much can be accomplished with the favor of the Chapter Master."
If you don't post an update I will eat a Cat! - Alf the alien.
Suffer not the rule Lawyers just enjoy your self!!! - Slaneesh Acolyte
I will infect you with my views!!! - Nurgle Rule Lawyer
Oups... I must have read it wrong, was it not like that before? Anyway doesn't mean all those game you lost are now forfeeted... - Tzench Liar
BECAUSE IT CAN'T HAPPEN!!!!!! The book says so!!! I hate you all, I quit this shit. - Khorne rule gardian and whinner!
Only a few streamers of light trickled down through the thick canopy to reach the scouts as they gathered by their fires. They were still human enough to nearly blind outside of the circles of light projected by their fires, but that would change. The darkness did not concern them. They were busy.
Stones smacked flakes from stones, forming edges on knives and axe heads. Heavy egg shaped stones were mated to the heads of stout shafts of wood, forming war clubs that could crack a man's head. The tips of wooden spears were thrust into the embers of dying fires to harden them. The newest members of the Blood Tigers were arming for war. They did this without instruction or command or knowing what challenges they would be commanded to face. It was enough that they were warriors and they were without weapons. That would not last.
"They aren't bad," said Kadessen Raise. The Astartes were watching the scouts from a distance. They had lit no fire and thus were almost invisible in the darkness. His aquiline nose, fine, angular features, and almost black skin marked him as hailing from the city-states of the Berezaid. "For a bunch of peasant savages."
"Our brother's noble blood is showing," said Ardruth Haas. He was bronze skinned and blond, with heavy features, grey eyes, and three service studs in his forehead. Twice he had been made a sergeant and twice he had been demoted back into the ranks.
"Some of us come from lines of educated and noble warriors," replied Raise, "you filthy, blubber eating, arctic savage."
"Indeed brother," said Sergeant Saiad Nardrune. Aside from the two service studs, each marking a century of service in the chapter, he could have been Raise's brother. "The lower orders should respect their natural masters."
"You haven't even been busted back into the ranks once brother," said Haas. He wagged a finger at Nardrune. "You have far to go before you can match my accomplishments."
"Indeed," said Nardrune. "Not even the exalted chapter master has twice been broken to the ranks."
"At last," said Haas, "acknowledgement of my elite status. But I must concur with my noble southern brothers. For soft warmlanders they aren't too bad."
"The real testing has not yet begun," said Toth Arianocus.
"Truly said," replied Nardrune. "More than one promising initiate has turned out to be unworthy of being Astartes."
"Too bad women cannot be made Astartes," replied Ardruth Haas. "The Valyoka alone would yield so many warriors that Charybdis would fall to the Imperium within a decade. You warmlanders could sleep in your soft beds and drink your fancy wines while we exterminated all the xenos in the galaxy."
"It is a tragedy that the galaxy will not be saved by legions of wide hipped cows who have never heard of a comb," said Kadassen Raise. "If you knew any of the civilized arts you could make an epic work lamenting the future that is not to be, but alas you are a ignorant, whale fucking, northern savage."
"Walrus fucking," said Haas. "It's walrus fucking northern savage. Don't forget it."
"My sincere apologies brothers," said Raise with the solemn air of a respectful child before a beloved tutor. "I will not."
"What do you have planned for them Toth?" Nardrune asked. "Cadril will test them on stealth, hunting and survival skills. All very well, that is his role as Master of Scouts. What does the Chief Librarian intend?"
"A fair question," said Arianocus. "Full kit for us is in case the psychic disturbance turns out to be serious threat. As for the rest, Cadril will test them. They will feel fear, stress. Dormant powers may stir, especially ones that have been strengthened by the implantation of our gene seed."
"You feel the need to swiftly bring up the ranks of the Librarians," said Nardrune.
"We are understrength in everything," said Toth. "This is the one area I where I can change that."
"With respect Chief Librarian, not all the men are comfortable with increasing the number of psykers in our ranks. You are a double edged sword and the Sword Bearers managed fine with only a few. That you are pushing so hard to gain so many so quickly does not reassure those with doubts. Some of us believe you court disaster."
"I know," said Toth. "And what is more I know that such a disaster could occur. What you do not see is the danger we are in. The Reach contains far greater threats than Orks or Tau or Chaos Renegades. Rogue psykers can and have been dealt with."
"You mean the Gaun" said Nardrune.
"Among other things," said Arianocus.
"Deathwatch secrets," said Haas. "Bah. Specialist alien killers. What use is that? Every Astartes alive knows how to deal with Orks and their ilk."
"Alien killers. Is that what you believe the Deathwatch is?" asked Toth. "Tell me brother, do you believe that when an Inquisitor finds a threat to the Imperium he decides whether or not to destroy it based only upon whether or not it falls within his area of specialty? No, of course not. The Deathwatch are not Ork killers. They do a job no one else can, being both Marine and Inquisitor. Some targets are best slain with an army, some by an assassin, and some by a kill team of battle-brothers. There are things that need doing brothers, things that require the strength of the Astartes but not the numbers of an army. There are things that must be watched by trustworthy eyes and crises that cannot be resolved by a conventional clash of arms. For those things there is the Deathwatch. Are the lion's share of their foes aliens? Yes, but rarely creatures as simple to deal with as Orks. The Deathwatch has eyes on the Charybdis Reach brothers and that is not because they believe it safe."
"As you say," said Haas skeptically.
"I will remind you of your words one day," said Toth. "Pray to the Throne that is while we are standing victoriously over the bodies of our foes."
The jungle yielded before the would be Marines, but not without cost. There were rashes and infections spreading among the initiates, some of which would have felled an ordinary man. Food was not a problem. There was not a boy in the group who was not a skilled hunter and those who knew what foods were safe to eat shared their knowledge with their fellows whose people were not of the jungle. The boys ate well, but they needed to. The needs of adolescence were as nothing to those whose bodies were transforming into post human giants and ferocious hunger was held at bay although his shadow walked with them.
Always there were tests. Hand to hand combat, one on one and team against team. Foraging contests, hunting contests, stealth challenges, every day a different contest. Zarien Cadril knew everyone of his charges by name and seemed to forgot nothing, but he was an Astartes and more than mortal. He wore the same tunic and sandals as his charges, but carried his boltgun slung across his back. Today he was pushing his charges to run and prowling around the rear of the column.
The grey haired Marine periodically ran up and down the line, worldlessly surveying his charges and mentally cataloging their positions, but he spent most of the time near the rear. These were the ones he needed to watch the most, the ones who might not be Astartes material. Around noon he slid back even further, to the Toth and his demisquad.
"Anything of note, Chief Librarian?"
"Nothing," said Toth Arianocus. "Odds are that if any of them had any kind of talent, he would have started using it by now. It's not surprising. It almost always shows up during the early foraging or the fire making. If it doesn't there then the interesting rashes bring it out. It looks like these boys are all normal."
"In one way that makes my job easier," said Cadril. "On the other hand, that means I can't dump any of these rock skulls on you and I have to deal with all of them so I guess I'll call it even. How close are we getting to the thing?"
"It's hard to say," said Toth. "I may have made a mistake in not taking a faster form of transportation, but I think it's still within the jungle so perhaps I did make the right choice."
"Finding anything by overhead scan isn't going to work with this canopy," said Cadril. "Not unless its putting out a lot of heat or some other emissions."
"Perhaps," said Toth. "It's a psychic signal, but not one attuned to human minds."
"Yes, or a warp entity," said Toth. "Something strong enough that I noticed it, but too alien to track easily."
"No," said Toth. "Those are far too attuned to human minds. But something that could be dangerous."
"How confident are you that you can kill it?"
"Very," said Toth Arianocus. "But to be sure of it, I didn't come alone."
"Warp disturbance," said the officer standing by the auger array. "Magnitude four and rising."
Navaros Rasteen turned his command throne towards the niches that housed the auger stations. Unlike many ships, the bridge of the Spatha contained few embellishments. An air of stark functionality was maintained, much to the approval of the Master of the Fleet. He didn't need to turn to address the human crew, but it was helped morale to make it clear that he acknowledged them personally. "Display location."
A hololithic display flickered to life in mid air. A blazing red star with a very large orange corona marked the warp disturbance.
"Jump Point Three," said the Chief of the Deck. "Perhaps the Martian vessel, my lord?"
"Perhaps," said Rasteen, "perhaps not."
"Emergence," said the auger officer. The hololithic display spawned dots. "One, two, four, six vessels sir. Disturbance magnitude six and rising."
"A whole bloody fleet," said the Chief of the Deck.
"Lightspeed lag of three minutes, forty-six seconds," reported one of the auger crew.
"Another signal, a big one," said the auger officer. "At least cruiser class."
"Signal the squadron," said Rasteen as he sent a serious of coordinate into the ship's navigation system with his MIU. "This course. And signal Mount Dorn that an invasion fleet has arrived."
"Sir," asked Jelna Vyrgan. "What are they?"
"We'll know soon enough," said Rasteen, "but friendlies wouldn't show up in this strength unannounced and Gaun don't transition so sloppily, so probably Orks or renegades. A lot of Orks or renegades."
"Two more vessels," said the auger officer. "And second cruiser. Disturbance magnitude eight. Still rising."
"Throne," said Vyrgan. "Still rising."
"It's not how many vessels there are at the start of the battle," said Rasteen, "but how many you have left at the end."
The chamber was a vast hall, cut out of the mountain's rock raw and unfinished. The walls were coarse and irregular and the floor had dips and bumps. Lights strung across the ceiling provided the illumination and air circulation fans provided a slight breeze but it was overridden by the body heat of thousands upon thousands who were standing in the hall. They were soldiers and mechanics, physicians and teachers, laborers and armourers. They were the serfs of the Blood Tigers and in number they were legion. Everyone who could be spared, young and old, was gathered here.
The only furniture was a dais of fused and crushed rock at the far end. The crowd hushed as an Astartes mounted it. Damien Exacles wore gleaming armour of midnight chastened with gold. Ruby eyed golden tigers glared from the shoulder pads of his Mark VIII Armour and from rondels on each side of his chest and on his knees. At his side he wore a saber in a sheath of gold and blood red velvet and a combibolter.
The speaker in his helmet allowed Damien's voice to fill the hall. "You are warriors and the sons and daughters of warriors. Some of you come from families with long lists of sons who became Astartes. Others of you were born to champions who failed tests and were never made Astartes. Some bear gene runes that make disqualified your ancestors from becoming Astartes while others of you train in preparation of the days of testing, knowing already that you are compatable with the gene seed.
"You are the Chapter. You dig out the fortresses and prepare the meals, help forge the weapons and man the ships, manage supplies and stand sentry in our absence. We are powerful because so many of you aid us.
"Mankind has always been under threat of annihilation by xenos horrors from the dark. To face such a trial when we as a chapter are newly born is a terrible test, but it is one that we must pass. To pass this test, to survive as a chapter, I must call upon you to do what is normally the work of Astartes. I will need you to face the enemy in direct personal combat. Not merely face them, but defeat them. You must slaughter the greenskins and throw their bodies from the mountainside.
"As I say this I see the resolve in your eyes. Young and old, you are ready to fight. Declann Moyez, I see you smiling. For decades you served in the Sword Bearer's fleet. I see the Crossed Swords of Valor on your chest, hanging proudly as it ought to be. I remember when it was awarded to you. One does not forget a mortal man who can fill a corridor with the enemy dead. And still ready. I see the fire also in your eyes Aretha Canarn. This is the battle you have spent your whole life training for, to stand against all that is unholy. And you are not the only ones.
"Children of the God-Emperor, bearers of the blood of the tiger, stand with us against the green tide. What say you?"
The answering roar was deafening.
The Mace drifted lazily through the belt. It was an large, irregular asteroid, or moonlet if one was feeling generous, almost a hundred kilometers long and nearly fifty kilometers wide at its widest point. In shape it somewhat resembled a the head of a flanged mace, from which it derived its name. Hiding behind it were two sleek vessels, lean and lethal. The strike cruisers were four kilometers long with powerful drive sections in the rear, flanks lined with high powered laser batteries, and hammerhead shaped bows from which jutted the emitter arrays of their forward lances. Massive linear accelerator cannons were mounted along their backs and their bellies held attack craft that could be launched from bays in their keels.
The approaching Ork squadron was quite aware they were there. The strike cruisers had retreated behind the Mace in full view of their sensor apparatti. Grace and Tenacity had withdrawn beyond the Mace and outside of effective gun range, but the Orks were not fooled. The destroyers were lingering because they were going to join the fight and the strike cruisers were hiding to spring an attack, not because they were trying to evade battle.
The Orks burned toward the Mace, the faster attack ships pulling ahead. They were ugly things, crude metal cylanders with engine clusters at one end and an armoured prow rudely configured to resemble a monstrous metal face at the other. Guns protruded haphazardly all over their rust stained hulls, but the vast majority of heavy batteries were concentrated at the front. They were built for frontal attacks and did their jobs well.
The kroozers, larger copies of the smaller attack ships, altered course slightly and continued to advance. On board the Spatha Navaros Rasteen watched them come. It was as he anticipated. The Orks couldn't contain their blood lust and the faster ships had outdistanced their slower and mighter kroozers. Rather than treat this a problem, the Ork kroozer kaptens had used it make a pincher attack. The attack vessels were angling around the Mace to the right and the kroozers were breaking to the left. One group would catch the strike cruisers in the rear. Rasteen smiled, showing perfect white teeth. "Perfect."
He waited nearly a minute for the Orks to continue their maneuvers. Then he began giving orders. "Grace and Tenacity are to synchronize a torpedo attack run on the area of coordinates zero by five-three by seven in two minutes twenty seconds. Attack burn to begin in thirty seconds. Helm take us on an interception arc towards the Ork gunships and signal Tulwar to join us."
The engines of both strike cruisers flared to life, blasting swords of plasma from their thruster nozzels. They began accelerating swiftly forward. The two sleek destroyers, Grace and Tenacity had also begun a burn to bring them closer to the Ork attack ships. "Master of Augery, status on the Ork vessels?" Navaros asked.
"Continuing on their current course," replied a grey haired human overseeing a bank of stations. The Master of the Fleet's MIU fed the tactical data to him directly, but confirmation was useful. Orks could be tricky, or as they referred to it, 'ded cunning'. "We have lost direct feed on the kroozers, but we can still see their plasma exhaust and it conforms to their projected course.
"Of course they aren't changing course," said Navaros soflty. "They'll need their strongest armour and batteries to deal with our strike cruisers. The collective firepower of their flank batteries will be more than enough to take care of our destroyers. And this way they'll still have us caught between them."
As the ragtag squadron of Ork attack ships began to swing around the Mace, four huge bay doors opened on the prows of the two sleek destroyers cruising towards them. They were less than half the length of the strike cruisers, less than a tenth of their mass, and their dorsal batteries were weak in comparison to the lethal arsenals of the strike cruisers, but they were deadly in their own way.
From each tube sprang fifty meter long torpedoes, flung into space by enormous electromagnetic accelerators. A few seconds later their plasma drives kicked in and they rushed toward the exposed flanks of the Ork attack ships on pillars of stellar fire. On board auger systems took reading and fed them into the cogitator systems that controlled them. The missiles adjusted course and closed in for the kill.
The Ork ships began firing on the torpedoes, flinging thousands of rounds into space. Most ended up no where near the torpedoes. Three ships took drastic evasive action and a fourth swerved violently towards the Mace and then overcorrected to avoid hitting the asteroid, disrupting the formation entirely.
Three torpedoes were consumed in the storm of Ork fire. A fourth missed entirely. The fifth narrowly missed one of the wildly evading Ork ships and its cogitators selected another target. It slipped passed another Ork ship by a mere four kilometers and plowed into the armoured prow of the vessel that had almost struck the Mace. The armoured beak of the torpedo penetrated the Ork vessel's armour and then the plasma drive went critical. The blast ripped through the bow and detonated the two galleries filled with ammunition for the bow guns. The combined explosions killed more than ten thousand greenskins, took half the bow guns out of commission, caused the detonation of two cranky shield generators, and started massive raging fires.
The last three torpedoes struck one of the Ork ships that had stayed the course. A massive series of detonations blew the Ork vessel apart as its plasma reactors blew, overloading the shields of the three nearest Ork vessels and laying open the starboard flank of the closest, igniting massive fires that were fed by the ship's fuel line and oxygen reserves. Then the strike cruisers came around the bend and into view.
The distance was ridiculously close, grappling range by naval standards. Each strike cruiser chose a comparatively undamaged Ork ship and opened up. The first shells of their dorsal bombardment cannons hammered down their targets' forward shields and the blew enormous holes in their heavily armoured prows. Death blazed from their forward lances, slicing easily through what remained of the Ork ships' armour and gutting their insides. A few erratic shots landed on the Astartes vessels' shields, but the disrupted formation had trouble bringing their guns to bear upon the quickly closing strike cruisers and the expanding cloud of ionized gas interfered with their targeting. Their high relative closing velocities and the comparative shortness of the distant meant that the Astartes were among them like sharks among minnows. The Orks were still reeling from the hammer blows they had taken and Blood Tigers gave them no time to recover.
The strike cruisers struck out with their broadside laser batteries as they flew through the Ork ranks. They massed fire on the same targets, choosing first those with shields downed or damaged from the reactor detonation. Although the Orks' prows were heavily armoured, their flanks were not and comparatively few weapons could be brought to bear on the Astartes as they exchanged broadsides with the disintegrating Ork squadron. Lasers burned through thin side armour and tore into the mechanical guts of battered Ork gunships. Crew compartments were opened to the void, fuel lines ignited, ammo stores exploded, and overcharged capacitors detonated. Then the strike cruisers were passed, leaving wrecked and crippled ships in their wake.
Two Ork vessels boosted away from their crippled brethren at high speed, abandoning them to their fate. The remaining ships were maimed or dead, left floundering in the strike cruiser's wake. Grace and Tenacity cruised forward, their dorsal batteries aligning with the nearest one. The range was great, but not two great. Massive shells were launched into space towards their doomed targets.
"Status," commanded Navaros.
"Our void shields and armour absorbed almost all the enemy hits captain," said the lieutenant at damage control. "Minor damage only. Tulwar reports the same. "
"Excellent," replied Navaros. "Full maneuver burn. Bring us up and around the Mace. I want to drop on those kroozers from above and behind. Those Ork rust buckets can't match us at this. Signal Grace and Tenacity to prepare another torpedo spread for the kroozers."
As the destroyers hurled shells into crippled Ork ships, massive machines in their bows were in the process of moving another spread of torpedoes into firing position. The destroyers altered course to present their prows toward where the cruisers would emerge and waited to finish reloading as the strike cruisers burned upwards and circled around the Mace.
Autoloaders pushed home fresh torpedoes at a speed most Imperial Navy ships could only look upon with envy. Logic engines calculated courses and vectors and then another spread of torpedoes burst forth. The destroyers turned sharply, burning back towards the cover provided by the Mace. Going head to head with an Ork Kill Kroozer's guns would be fatal.
The Ork ship's were committed to the intercept zone by their own velocity. They rounded the Mace and found a spread of eight torpedoes heading toward them and almost no time to shoot them down. One torpedo missed both of them, two were shot down, and the rest struck home. Four struck the closest kroozer in the flank just behind the prow and almost blew the Ork vessel in half. A massive wound over a kilometer in length bled greenskins and air into the void. The fifth struck the other kroozer, blasting through armour but causing relatively minor damage.
The first kroozer wallowed in space, having lost nearly half of its maneuvering thrusters along with communications and control systems. The other stuck with it, seeking safety in numbers. The two surviving gunships began to change course to form up with the kroozers, but then abruptly changed course. The Spatha and the Tulwar had crested the top of the Mace and were now looking down their bow gun scopes at afts of the Ork kroozers.
"Fire," said Navaros Rasteen.
Toth Arianocus walked into the strategarium. "Brothers," he began, "I believe I have had some success. The interference was strong, but I managed to project a strong signal through it. A skilled Astropath should be able to read it."
"When and if they receive it," said Antaeous Drakon.
"Yes," replied Arianocus.
"You've done well brother," said Damien Exacles. "And you are not alone. Fleet Master Rasteen has managed to overcome the detachment sent to destroy his ships while suffering only minor losses. He remains in position to deny the greenskins the ability to exploit the belt and to raid them should they divide their forces."
"That is welcome news," said Arianocus.
"But it does not save us," said Captain Kahere. "Even if your message is received brother, it will take considerable time for a relief fleet to be assembled and arrive."
"That is true brothers, but we are Astartes," rumbled Nihlus Cataran. "Victory is not beyond our reach."
"Truer words have seldom been spoken," said Damien.
"Forgive me brothers," said Toth, "but since I have returned on the Thunderhawk I have been absorbed in projecting the astropathic message. What is our status?"
Antaeous Drakon pointed at a display. "The main body of the enemy fleet, which is now the only combat capable part of the enemy fleet thanks to Navarchos Rasteen, has entered planetary orbit. They have not assumed bombardment positions. If they do, our defences might withstand the attack."
"Orks prefer looting to bombardment," said Nihlus Cataran. "There is nothing they value less than life. The wargear of an Astartes are great prizes to them."
"If they are here for loot" replied the Chief Librarian. "I do not think so. To so suddenly appear in such numbers? Why assemble such a fleet to take such a backwater world. I suspect something else."
"Proceed Chief Librarian," said Exacles.
"The psychic disturbance I went to uncover is similar to the noise that now fills the warp. I think it drew Orks to us, drew them in these numbers. And could continue drawing them."
"More of them?" said Kahere. "There are more than enough already."
"That is always the case with the greenskins," said Exacles. "You are sure of this?"
"Then I should not have recalled you from the field," said Exacles. "An error we may pay dearly for."
"Chapter Master," said Nihlus, "the error can be rectified. Elements of the First Company are ready to deploy. The greenskins have yet to begun landing in force. We can neutralize the signal and extract ourselves if we act immediately."
"Chief Librarian, First Captain, prepare for immediate deployment. You must leave within the hour. Neutralize that signal at all costs."
Both Astartes slammed their fists against their breastplates. "Your will, Chapter Master."
"May the God-Emperor go with you."
"May the Primarchs be with us all," responded Nihlus.