Yvela Milles feet crashed through the thin, hard crust of the snow and sank almost to her knees. The wind that scoured her face was bitterly cold, but her helmet had been ruined during the clash at the guard post below. The bodyglove she wore under her carapace had the temperature controls set to maximum, but the cold still ate at her extremities. She flexed her fingers and pushed forward.
Her armsmen shadowed her, a dozen men and women dirty gray flak with rasping rebreather masks. Dark carapace breastplates gave them additional protection and they carried an assortment of lethal weaponry. She bit back a giggle. A few years ago they would have outfitted with uniform weaponry and gleaming armour with brass fittings. Now they were one step above a pirate band and even if they found what they were looking for, things were likely to get worse before they got better.
The wind pelted her face with snowflakes and whipped her dark hair in front of her eyes. She brushed it back and trudged forward. "Not too much further," a voice purred in her ear. Yvela's head whipped around as her hand fell to the grip of the bolter hanging from her assault sling. She hadn't noticed the witch coming up on her.
Malice wore a dark robe covered with raven's feathers and the pelts of small animals. The woman was whipcord lean with almost no fat or muscle to speak over and nearly thirty centimeters taller than Yvela. Her bald head and angular features made her look like a hungry vulture. Yvela didn't know how the witch stayed warm. Perhaps she wore a bodyglove underneath the robe or perhaps she used witchery. She scowled at the thought.
"We're close," said Malice. "I can feel them. They will be wary. They are used to being hunted."
"Who isn't?" replied Yvela. "If only the damn Chimera was still working."
"Time is of the essence," said Malice. "We could not wait. If they leave all will be for not."
"Yes, yes," said Yvela. "Do you have anything useful to say?"
"Perhaps you should make sure that your soldiers will not open fire when we see them? It would be unfortunate to have come all this way to lose the prize due to some some fool having a nervous trigger finger."
"What about them?"
"They know we are coming and that we offer aid."
"And how do they know that?"
"Because I told them an hour ago."
"Witchery," Yvela hissed.
"Yes and this and more will give you what you desire. Power. Revenge. Dominion. Vindication. You aren't going to balk at a little discomfort, are you? Turn back and you will have come all this way for nothing. Your enemies will hound you to death or the deep dark. Keep going forward-"
Yvela silenced her by jamming the muzzle of her bolter into the psyker's throat. "I know what's at stake bitch," she growled. "Don't try and twist me like those petty little barons on that nameless shithole I found you on. Serve me well and I will reward you. Betray me and I will end you and you will not cut clandestine deals with heretic witchery without telling me. Am I clear or do I need a new witch?"
"Apologies, my lady," Malice croaked. "I had only your best interests at heart. I know how much you dislike sorcery. I merely wished to spare you details that found you unpleasant."
"Feed me lies like that again and I will end you," hissed Yvela. "Now get moving."
As they trudged up the mountain, eyes unseen watched them. The observer was ghost quiet despite her powered battle plate and almost invisible thanks to her holo shroud. An Astartes of the Raven Guard Chapter would have found her stealth skills to be commendable, if not quite equal to the best of that illustrious chapter. "Mazirian," she whispered into her vox. "Twelve contacts, including the witch. Mixed arms, mostly light but I count at least one melta gun, a grenade launcher, and a bolter. Private armsmen, not Guard or PDF."
"Hold position," said Mazirian. "I'm on my way down to speak with them. The witch knows too much to let go. They're either with us or we kill them. Alethia, hold position. Heketos is flanking. If things go wrong, burn them."
They came from above, rounding a bend in the path ahead and coming into sight. One was shorter, wearing unadorned powered armour that resembled Mark VII battle plate. The armour was the colour of the surrounding snow and bereft of any decoration or insignia. A battered and scarred boltgun was held in his hands.
His companion was taller and his suit bore a passing resemblance to a Mark IV suit painted cerulean blue and accented with gold. On one shoulder pad a serpent of golden fire biting its own tail encompassed a silver eight pointed star with elongated vertical and horizontal points. The helmet was fronted by a visor over a plain slab of face plate. A bolt pistol was strapped to his side, but he held in his hands a thin shaft of translucent crystal that was almost as tall as he was.
"How did you find us?" the sorcerer in blue and gold demanded.
"I found you, Mazirian, Sorcerer-Lord of the Thousand Sons," Malice replied. "My mistress bade me to find a weave in the skein of fate that would bring her victory and in my searching I found you and your compatriots. We told no one and left no clues behind. You have not been betrayed."
"An alliance?" Mazirian asked. "Is that what you want?"
"Yes," Yvela said. "Together we are stronger than apart. We share enemies and goals. Let us crush them together."
"You are bold mortal," Mazirian replied.
"What," said the warrior in white, "do you offer us? To speak of being an ally of Legion-brothers is a bold claim. What makes it true?"
"I have a ship, supplies, fighting men," Yvela replied. "A witch who is a very good seer and my own prowess. I also have information."
"What kind of ship?" asked the warrior in white.
"Tempest class frigate. A fighting ship with two thousand armsmen. Where is your army?"
"We should just kill them," said Alethea over the vox. "A few shots and then Heketos gets stuck in. It'll be over in a moment."
"They're far too useful," replied the warrior in white.
"Agreed," replied Heketos.
"You have a bargain shipmistress," replied Mazirian. "We are allied."
Static crackled over Yvela's microbead. "My lady, we have a big problem. At least a full mechanized company of Imperials with armour support are on their way."
"My rearguard says the Planetary Defence Forces have arrived."
"The bitch lead them straight to us," Alethea hissed.
"All the more reason to get use out of her now and not waste blood and bullets we can't spare," replied the warrior in white.
The response that Alethea made could only be interpreted as a sign of disgust, but she said nothing. "Heketos, anything to say?" the warrior in white asked.
"Hail Alpharius," was the Night Lord's mocking reply.
"Fine," replied the warrior of the Alpha Legion. "We'll fall back to above the bend. Good view, good cover for us. Mazirian, crack the vault. Now. Any way you have to."
He turned to address Yvela. "Who else do you have?"
"One more. My rearguard. How much time do we need to buy?"
"As much as possible."
"Throne," she cursed. "Do you have an exit plan? We had to abandon our vehicle."
"We do. Your space on it is not guaranteed. Not if we forfeit the prize."
Yvela scowled. "Fine. We'll talk about it later." She touched her microbead. "I'm sorry Tiberius. I'm going to need you to buy us some time before you bolt."
"I was hoping you would ask," Tiberius replied.
"How many Imperials?" the warrior in white asked.
"At least a mechanized company with armour support," she replied. "My man will buy us some time and then join up."
"One mortal?" the warrior in white replied. "He must be good."
"You have no idea."
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Tiberius watched as the Imperials disembarked from their troop transports. The paths up were too narrow and the slope to difficult in many places for the vehicles. The men wore heavy white tunics and trousers, suitable for cold weather environments. As armour, it didn't look like much. The men wore helmets and the officers wore fur lined overcoats and peaked hats. Lasguns were the weapon of the day.
"Two hundred odd effectives. They're dismounting. Lasguns, light armour. A few grenade launchers. Some heavy weapons team. At least three missile launchers, two heavy stubbers, and a multilaser. I'll pick some off and slow them down."
Tiberius looked back down through the scope of his long las. It was almost too easy. He dropped the sights onto the face of an officer talking with what was probably a veteran noncom and shot him in the temple. There was a hum of las discharge and a crack as the laser sliced through the air, but no flash. The officer's cap blew off in a spray of blood and brains. Tiberius shifted his aim and shot the NCO in the throat. The shot nearly decapitated him. More hot blood sprayed in the snow.
The soldiers were taking cover, falling prone, and firing blind. He could hear the shouting all the way up here. Time to leave. Tiberius fell behind the small mound of snow and backed away. His bodyglove had a camouline coating and blended in perfectly with the snow. The insulation blocked preysight, although that would eventually cook him in his own body heat if it was kept up for too long. Of course, with the current weather, that was a plus.
He was on the move to the next position and pick off a few more. That and see if they stumbled into any of the antipersonnel mines he had placed on the trail.
"My man says two hundred odd soldiers," said Yvela. "That's before he starts picking them off. You're Astartes and have the high ground. Two hundred PDF should be nothing to you."
"We are not concerned with the threat posed by these soldiers," replied the Alpha Legionnaire. "It is the reinforcements. Once the Imperium learns that we are here, the will commit heavy air and artillery assets as well as infantry. And if that fails, they will consider space assets."
"The defense grid has holes in it we can fly out of," replied Yvela, her eyes on the retreating Thousand Sons sorcerer. "Where's your friend going?"
"To put the time we are going to buy him to good use. Come with me. There's a position above the overhang with good cover and sight lines. The warrior in black armour and the Sororitas are on our side. Do not, however, refer to Alethia by the name of her former order. She is ferocious in her apostasy."
"She isn't the only one with grudge," replied Yvela as she followed the Traitor Marine up the slope. "I am owed a great deal and blood and pain are the only currencies I choose to accept."
"Whatever our paths, we are all condemned traitors," replied the Alpha Legionnaire.
"What do I call the warrior in black? Or you for that matter?"
"The Night Lord is Heketos. You may refer to me as Alpharius. The warsmith is Garvek. You will meet him in time. I suggest you focus on the coming battle. Your worth is not yet proven and some of my companions are impatient when dealing with mortals."
"But you aren't?" she said with a smile.
"A judge a tool's worth by the tasks it can help accomplish and I have seen many transhuman supermen blunder into their deaths. Superiority is proven, not declared."
Mazirian walked back up the path to the point where the jagged outcropping thrust itself off from the mountain's peak, forming a spire of earth and rock. Two industrial servitors waited with eternal patience from him to return. Dirt and rock were scattered around the site, fruit of their labour. In front of them were a pair of golden double doors, over three meters high and nearly that wide.
The doors had been concealed under earth and rock, concealing their existence for as long as the mountain would last but that had not been enough to hide them from a sorcerer of the Thousand Sons. The doors were covered in tiny raised script that seemed to ripple and flow if the eye lingered upon them. The language had been old when mankind's first ancestor improvised it's first tool and the words themselves were almost unpronounceable by a human mouth and throat. Neither of those facts were barriers to Mazirian.
He had pulled daemons howling from the warp and bargained for the lore he needed or ripped it from the screaming neverborn who had insisted on to high a price. He had patiently, painstaking reconstructed the language and practices of the long dead Telmorri, who had bound the lesser denizens of the warp to be their slaves and spread among the stars until they had crossed paths with the Eldar. The Eldar had been at their apex and had cast the Telmorri down, reducing the few survivors of their wrath to crude savages that hunted their prey with stone-tipped spears.
The neverborn, the daemons of the warp, did not forget their enslavement and so much of their lore was recoverable to the adept who possessed the skill and will to reassemble it. Their had been no reason to do so until now. Any who could exert enough power over the neverborn to resurrect the secrets of the Telmorri had no need of their daemon binding lore. But there was, of course, an exception.
An ancient vault had been discovered and plundered by prospectors, its contents sliding through the black markets until it came to the attention of cultists who served the Thousand Sons. A particularly potent artifact was retrieved and analyzed and finally found to be from a near dead or extinct race. Daemons had provided answers, many answers and it had been ascertained that in the time before their fall to the Eldar, the covenmasters of the Telmorri had been buried by their acolytes in secret tombs along with their personal artifacts that were dangerous for another to use. The artifact collection varied, but always included a powerful ritual orb which was required for many of their most potent workings.
And so here stood Mazirian; son of Magnus, child of the Planet of the Sorcerers, and bearer of the heritage of lost Prospero. "Open, damn you," he cursed softly. He would not be denied. The names of a thousand guardian spells and daemons mocked him the door. "Open."
It took them until dark to climb the rest of the mountain. Tiberius bled them as they came, falling back from one position to another, taking a toll in lives before he did so. They came slowly, for fear of the mines he had left on the trail. But come on they did, despite leaving a dozen men, mostly officers and senior noncoms, sprawled in ruin on red snow.
"Your man is good," said the Alpha Legionnaire. "He bought a lot of time."
"I told you," replied Yvela.
"You did," replied Alpharius. "I have not forgotten." His helmet autosenses enhanced his already inhumanly good vision and allowed him to observe the advance of the PDF despite the snow and advancing darkness. Preysense allowed him to see the heat blooms of vehicles that had moved to surround the other possible routes off the mountain. "Unfortunately, these are good soldiers. Despite losing sergeants and officers, they are continuing to come. Their reinforcements have secured the base of the mountain. I had hoped they would delay until more infantry arrived, but they've continued to push ahead.
"Yes. And while this position is good, they will zero it with mortars and rain shells upon your men or suppress and pin you with support weapons while they flank and kill you."
"Unless we do something else," said Yvela.
"What would you do if we weren't here?" asked Alpharius.
"Flank them with Malice while Tiberius slinks around and picks off their heavy weapons."
"How would you rate your chances?"
"Against two hundred odd effectives? Bad, but it could be done. The butcher's bill would be high and the chance of someone very valuable, like me, catching a lasblast to the face is far too high for my taste."
"And if you lose they will still come and find us."
"Probably. Time is that critical?"
"I can call a lifter, get us off this rock. They'll see us, but we have a good chance of making the run to my ship."
"We have reliable transport off world. For you and your men as well."
"That's reassuring. Fast?"
"Very. Exit isn't the problem. Finishing the mission before the enemy arrives in overwhelming force is."
"Not my intention, but maybe we can help with that."
Alpharius said nothing for a moment. "After we kill them. If Mazirian hasn't made any progress." He activated his vox. "Heketos, preysense shows a group breaking to the left. Flanking."
"I see them," the Night Lord replied. "Forty-odd troopers. Platoon and heavy weapon sections. Very by the book. These boys aren't barracks trash."
"Punch through them and take out the mortar teams in the rear. Make it quick."
Mazirian glowered at the unyielding doors. He had invoked the Eighty-Seven Blessed Names and the Lineage of the Three Great Dynasties. He had spoken the Seven Cants of Binding and Loosing and secret names of the high metals and alloys. All that and they had denied him some much as a twitch.
He spoke the Nine Lesser Names of Damnation and the air quivered and the snow at his feet hissed and boiled. Blue and pink smoke rose from up. He rose through the emulations and invoked Eight Names of the Ruinous Powers. The golden doors shook. And that was all.
Mazirian paced. More extreme measures would be required. He had exhausted all subtlety, all lore that would command obedience from the works of the long dead sorcerers. There were spells that could force opening and breach barriers that he had yet to employ, but they were not powers that could be invoked without risk. To match power against the defensive wards, to attempt to blast through them instead of working them with the right keys, was to face whatever counter spells and traps the ancient workers had built into the wards.
"The path of the sorcerer is not for the weak of will or those lacking in resolve," he said quoting his teachers. The Lords of the Planet of Sorcerers had passed those over when testing their tithe-children. Only the brightest, strongest willed, most resolute had a chance of being chosen to join their ranks. They had uses from the rest ranging from the lowly thrall wizards who would serve as fuel and fodder unless they could better themselves to the diabolically cunning magi that would become agents, cult leaders, and chaos lords in their own right.
He turned back from the door and began to chant. The words were almost impossible to pronounce and each utterance raked his throat with hot steel talons. Emerald fire blazed around his staff and gauntlets. He spoke the last word of the incantation.
The doors flared with emerald fire and negative light, a shadow flare that ate all light save that of the witchfire. Metal and sorcery screamed, the sound of a thousand metal men and women shrieking in agony from organ pipe throats, a cacophonic outburst that rolled down the mountainside like the hammer blows from a god's anvil. The doors remained unopened.
Marckello Voss flinched at the sound rolling down the mountain. It sounded like a hundred men being tortured to death simultaneously. And he knew what a man dying in pain sounded like. When he was fifteen his uncle was publicly excruciated for tithe evasion. The frater brothers had dragged him up the steps and attached him to the autorack set up just to the right of the doors to the cathedral. The rack on the left held a different sinner. The drill abbot had supervised his uncle's execution, a process that had taken three hours. Every family member within three degrees of consanguinity had been required to attend .
Off to the left he could see beams of golden light flash through the darkness. The lasbeams of his comrades were answered by cyan beams and slug thrower muzzle flashes, beams and flashes that revealed the general location of the enemy. He and the rest of Second Platoon were currently moving to flank the heretics, denying them the benefit of cover and coming down on them from above and the side. That would finish them, if the mortars and heavy weapons hadn't finished the job by then.
He heard the roar of turbo fans before he saw him. The legionnaire seemed to be conjured out of night itself, his armour a shade of blue so dark that it was almost black. Time seemed to slow down and Marckello could make out details. Short, backward curving horns protruded from the helmet's forehead and bat wings were swept back along the side of the helmet. The eye slits flared red.
The Night Lord landed feet first on Sergeant Cardillo, crushing his chest and flattening him to the snow. The Night Lord stabbed Devraine in the throat with the silver bladed gladius in his left hand, punching thirty centimeters of bloody steel out the back of the dead mans' throat. In his other hand the Night Lord held a much longer blade.
It was a long sword with a black blade that was over a meter long. In the center of the cross-guard was a blood red eye with a slit pupil . It sliced through Montcarl's helmet as if it was wet paper and took off the top of his head. Marckello backpedalled furiously and fell back into the snow, sliding down several meters. In the time it took him to do that, the Night Lord killed more of his comrades.
The long sword cut through Reshard's shoulder and diagonally down, passing through his chest and spine and nearly cutting him in half. The gladius disemboweled Marianne and the Wesson's chest crumpled around the traitor marine's boot like it was paper. Then the jump pack roared again and the Night Lord flew through the air, striking at the rear ranks.
Marckello stumbled to his feet and fumbled with his las. His photovisor he could make out the shape of the marine killing his comrades. It was an offense against nature that something that big could move so fast. The arms swung and limbs were severed and torsos cleaved open. Las blasts flashed around him, but he was moving too fast to be an easy target and only a few struck home. The traitor didn't seem to notice the hits.
All was chaos. There was no order or discipline. Just panicked shooting and a lightning fast superhuman who killed almost faster than the eye could follow and ignored their best attempts to kill him. The traitor marine moved and the storm of inaccurate fire followed. Someone fell into the line of fire and caught two lasbolts in the back and tumbled to the ground.
Then the traitor was gone. Shots streaked through the darkness as men continued firing. Marckello blinked and looked around, his heart pounding in his ears. Nothing. Where had he gone?
That’s when the vox began to spit out screams.
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