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Deidactor Skerry


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Dramatis Personae

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Hadrian Respervus - Chapter-Master of the Pterarchos Liberalis

Dainen Artellus - Sixth Captain of the Pterarchos Liberalis

 

Donolin Praetus - Chapter-Master of the Imperial Shields

Zahart Prosiel - First Captain of the Imperial Shields

Dometrius Gauhl - Fourth Captain of the Imperial Shields

Partellian Velenos - Fifth Captain of the Imperial Shields

Aurelius Petracus - Tenth Captain of the Imperial Shields

 

Hantel Ingeun - Master of the Forge; Imperial Shields

Deccitel Holimus - Chief Apothecary; Imperial Shields

 

Aspeno Frash XVII - Planetary-Governor of Lysbonus

Mank Gertugo - Planetary-Governor of Shibul

Stephanus Brettunol - Planetary-Governor of Nazacan

Drakul Leskunmo - Planetary-Governor of Valeidlectus

Machivia - Fabricator-General of Purgariphum

 

Barabbel Duutar - Lord Admiral of Fleet Deidactor

Venezia Calhoun - Captain of the Refused Despondency

 

Worlds of the Deidactor Skerry:

Lysbonus, Hive World

Shibul, Production World

Nazacan, Agri-World

Valeidlectus, Civilized World

Purgariphum, Forge World

—------------------------

 

Under the span of the Imperial Aquillia sat over a million worlds colonized by the human species, and protected by endless regiments and vast interstellar fleets of ships which reserve the majority of a planet’s entire industrial capacity to construct. Every world in the Imperium of Man is as independent as they are ruled by the High Lords on Terra, who’s reach can wax and wane in the endless shaking tides of politics and campaigns.

 

Those in the segmentums away from the Sol System find their own ways to live in the face of xenos, heretics and whatever else the inky depths could muster. Many do not make it; falling to ruin against teeming hordes of monsters where reasoning is no solution. Others establish unions of safety, creating patrols of warships and regiments of Imperial Guardsmen cycling about these miniature federations, so that food and material may follow in their wake.

 

Some fall from grace, creating pacts with dark gods or falling under the thumb of xeno rulers, such as the Tau, certain Eldar craftworlds, or one of the other myriad species lurking the galaxy. These inevitably come to conflict with neighboring worlds, and the Imperium of Man at large. One could look upon a standard stellar map of the Imperium and see clean, defined borders between itself, its endless enemies, and its sparse, tense allies. In truth, this is a lie, for entire sectors are gained, lost and regained every month.

 

There are endless factors which may determine the fate of a world under the Emperor’s eternal vigilance. Positioning, available resources, previously unseen or entirely known bordering enemies, or the fracturing of interplanetary unions which causes all to fall into chaos and ruin. Yet such worlds are not defenseless, and certain worlds could weather storms unimaginable.

 

In the final moments of the forty-first millennium, in the Perpetua sector within the wider Segmentum Ultima, the worlds within the Deidactor Skerry would be pushed to such a brink.

Edited by Bruce Malcom
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Part One - The Warden

 

Lysbonus’s Spire Primus was a spectacle of engineering and achievement in the Deidactor Skerry. Its population outnumbered any other planet in the region in total, and entire colonies elsewhere had been built from excess people spawned in Spire Primus. In the core of the impossibly large city was a shimmering tower of brass, ferrocrete and dull yellow alloy.

 

This was the Fortress-Monastary of the Imperial Shields, where an entire chapter of the Adeptus Astartes resided. The Reviere, it was named by its inhabitants, was guardian and warden of Spire Primus and even the rest of the Skerry. At the heart of such a structure was the Observator Grandis, the throne room of the Chapter-Master, Donolin Praetus.

 

Surrounded by screens, monitors, servo-skulls and trusted aides, Praetus was statue-esc. His servos remained still, and had for over two hundred years. Enginseers, Magi and Techmarines operated on the encasing armor, as serfs monitored the food and water flow into his suit. He was pristine, an untouchable, mythic figure to his chapter-bretheren. His internment unto the Observator Grandis was an event shrouded in eternal mystery, the younger Astartes all questioning the events leading to such a decision.

 

He was not wounded too harshly, he was not stuck here – beyond the consequences of a choice made long ago. Yet the chapter-master was not lost from them, his words and orders still arriving in the cogitators of warships and vox-receivers of fireteams across the Skerry. Yet often, true command fell to the first captain, Zahart Prostiel.

 

Zahart was a man once filled with endless will and drive. Yet boredom, attrition and stagnation had robbed him of such conviction. His armor was as tired as he was, repairs refused in the face of a chapter’s duties. It was not that the Mark IV plate he wore was without blemishes – many gashes and cuts adorned his dull yellow power armor, but he always figured the armories and forges of the Imperial Shields were better spent on those lesser in command than he.

 

Thus, his armor, much like the skin underneath, had become a collage of pain, scars reading like poetry. Claw marks and acidic burns, gunshot wounds and psychically-mangled flesh. As he strode into the great Observator Grandis, those serfs who operated on the connections between the Chapter-Master and the great auspex arrays felt a shiver sneak down their spine and legs.

 

Zahart was tall, a being who stood out even among his brothers. His armor, though damaged, spoke to a thousand battles, a hundred worlds fought upon. And yet, the first captain knelt before his inanimate lord. “Chapter-Master,” he began, a tired, nearly bored tone about his voice and movement. “The men are all in good health, the apothecaries and chaplains have assured me. Our latest requisitions, the Dictator-type cruiser Refused Despondency and the twin Venial-type frigates Saint Garro and Cardinal have arrived over Hive Primus, in the chapter Ramilies station. Already, serfs and crew are being mustered – I will be interviewing potential captains in a few hours’ time. Scout squads Nonus and Octavo have earned their power armor, their heroism in the blistering sands of Begorax VI haven’t gone unnoticed, a glorious day for the chapter and the company they shall be assigned to,” he said with hints of bravado and pride.

 

Zahart’s head slowly upturned to see the unchanged, unmoved Chapter-Master. To the serfs, for a moment, it looked like prayer, deification of the old Astartes. A mirror of the Emperor himself, a hero entered upon a throne, a seat of power and a prison unescapable. The heart of bureaucracy, a chapter grinding to a halt as its dynamic structure is frozen in time.

 

“You know this, don’t you?” Zahart asked. “You and this…tomb. You promised to lead us into glory, into combat and conquest! And here you are, entrenched in all this ferrocrete and all these layers of cables, wires…” The first captain wanted to scream, holler, demand he get off his cowardly throne. But there would be no use. There was no place for outrage, when such emotion would only harm oneself and the chapter. But, by the Emperor, how he wished…

 

Zahart stood, his gaze not leaving the elevated Chapter-Master, and the first captain parted silently. He strode past the walls lined with chapter slaves and tech-priests, with almost an air of defeatedness. Of loss. Of failure, old and new.

—------------------------

 

The elegant bower of Aspeno Frash XVII was scarcely visited, even by its wealthy and powerful owner. Occasionally, a handful of servitors would enter the room, with walls lined in royal blue silks and adorned with endless rows of portraits of rulers’ past – paintings detailing his closest relatives at the end of the entrance walkway, a reminder of the Frash legacy Aspeno upheld every day.

 

Though the very room itself was caked in a glory bought and purchased, it barely withheld against the earned honor of an Astartes in full power armor. “Zahart Prosiel,” the gun-servitor spoke his name, standing down outside the chamber door. “Authority recognized. Access granted.” Though the room protected by the door was not made for it, the security gate door itself was made of layered ceramite and thrice-folded adamantium – able to withstand even the splitting of an atom.

 

The door unlocked, gigantic mechanisms sliding within as the door’s sides parted, allowing entrance to the first captain. He walked with a casual stride, the dirtied pride of his war-plate a strange anomaly in the stainless, peerless sanctum where the planetary-governor resided. Much like his estate, Frash was a man who was adorned so heavily, one could not tell where the royal blue suit ended and the gold, purple and otherwise colorful rolls of cloth, silk and alloy began. His face was perfect, artificial – a suave yet entirely fake aura around him.

 

Yet despite his wealth and grandeur, Prosiel knew the governor was familiar with the pain and stress of ruling Hive Primus, as his forefathers had before him. “First captain,” Frash began. It was not the typical casual ‘Zahart’ or even the serious ‘Prosiel’. Frash’s choice of words placed a degree of concern on Zahart’s face underneath his pale yellow helm.

 

“There is a serious matter at hand,” the governor continued. “The Conviction of Lysbonus, the pride and joy of our subsector defense force, has suffered from some sort of engine failure – our sole battleship. We are defenseless if anything legitimately dangerous comes for us, captain. Are the forces of the Imperial Shields willing to postpone any extra-sector activities so that we may remain prepared?”

 

Zahart sighed. “The Conviction is not the only ship of its size and stature on call if Lysbonus is besieged. The Bastion and the Pride of Purgariphum remain over Spire Primus. Battle-barges, crewed by the finest of chapter aides and even some Astartes themselves, can be far more efficient in defense than your famed Emperor-class.”

 

Frash grimaced. “I mean no offense with my words, first captain, but the local Navy elements are increasingly perturbed by the Observator Grandis. I have heard many accusations from travelling Mechanicus priests that we practice the ways of the Heretek – it has cost me many an aquillagelt from trade and barter.”

 

“If you believe I support Praetus’s decision to sit atop his throne of sensors and cables you would be very mistaken,” Zahart told Frash, menace dripping from his words; the governor had taken a step too far. “Do not blame me for his folly, and we would both be foolish to ignore the many times his macabre vigilance has saved the Skerry from collapsing under assault.”

 

Frash’s demeanor shifted to a defensive innocence. “Of course, Zahart, I didn't mean to offend you, as I stated. I merely wished to say that the sector fleet admirality is growing…unappreciative of the increasing control the local chapters of the Adeptus Astartes are displaying over the affairs of the Deidactor Skerry. The union of worlds we represent feeds and supplies the rest of the sector – we are the jewel of the Perpetua sector, they are merely protective of it. I for one support Astartes involvement, who better to protect us than sons of Dorn?”

 

“Not just the sons of Dorn,” Zahart mused. “The Pterarchos Liberalis do their part in ensuring the Deidactor Skerry's safety. The legacy of Guilliman’s legion is important in keeping our stability.”

“Well yes,” Frash agreed with hesitancy, “but the Ultramarine successors are far less interested in our total safety as they are Valeidlectus’s safety. By the Emperor, their governor is a Chapter scribe! I have long maintained that if given the chance, Hadrian and Leskuno would have us annexed into the five hundred worlds of Ultramar – then again, it wouldn’t be a clean five hundred then, now would it?” A smile accompanied his words, and Zahart smiled in turn.

 

“We are all part of the Imperium,” Zahart reminded Frash with a humorous grounding. “And I do not fear soft annexation by Ultramar, the Perpetua administratum would never stand for it, and the adminstratum could never be satiated with bribes – else we would’ve never had to pay our tithe again.” Frash laughed at the jab, and Zahart did as well. For a moment, concerns of Astartes and interplanetary politics faded away, and two good friends were left.

 

“Well, Zahart, I am glad you stopped by. Perhaps, when the wars are won and the Emperor can breathe stress-free, we could share a drink and go over our stories and experiences,” Frash asked Zahart with a grin, and the Astartes nodded.

“Of course, Frash…when the day comes.”

 

—--------------------------------

 

The Espethica Spaceport was a widely used location for the entirety of Lysbonus – an endless web of cargo freight-trains sometimes more massive than the ships used to ferry their loads expanded from the hub of travel and commerce. Over a billion merchants, civilians and servitors walked its halls and vast expanses of metal and grime every hour, its renown spread across the Skerry by the retinues and crew of Rogue Trader cargo ships, and every month Imperial Shields were cyclied in and out of the duty of its protection.

 

It was no secret that the Shields assisted in its construction, or that they broke the confines of the Codex Astartes to do it. Over a thousand Imperial Shields patrolled the inky expanses and the dour, grim tunnels of mankind alike, and they had done this so that they could further control the flow of power within the Deidactor Skerry.

 

Their chapter had been founded under full strength by the High Lords of Terra three millennia prior, a distant council for a distant throneworld, and sent to defend the frontiers of the Skerry. They hadn’t expected the influence the chapter came to have. But they didn’t care, either. They hadn’t since its founding, and the Imperial Shields were largely to thank for such overlooking, for the eyes of the High Lords were not drawn lightly - it took the cataclysmic invading of aliens and traitors and whatever else to stop the flow of tithes, and tithes were the only things High Lords cared about, besides personal power.

 

At least, that’s how Barabbel Duutar saw the situation of the Skerry. Duutar was rarely outseen of his deep blue naval officers coat, or seen without the large and powerful stub-pistol holstered at his side. He was not a frail man, his bulk and muscle entirely unrequired for his job but required for his ego and, as he saw it, ‘command presence.’ The silver placed on his handcuffs and puffed collar, engraved with the sigil of the Armada Imperialis, denoted his allegiance while the various medals saluting in parade stance along his right breast denoted his rank.

 

“Lord Admiral,” the characteristically deep voice of an Astartes rumbled through the air, and Duutar’s neck crained back to see the large and imposing figures of First Captain Prosiel and Fourth Captain Gauhl. Duutar knew Prosiel, as everyone on the Hive World did. His very name carried a wave of morale-restoring loyalty, his coming to a battle the death knell for any opposition. Why they did not call him Chapter-Master, and chose to deem the corpse on the mock-throne such a title, he would never understand.

 

But he knew Gauhl, and much fewer men did. Fourth Captain Gauhl, master of the Imperial Shields fleet. With each lock of their eyes, a sense of rivalry passed. They were forced to cooperate, forced to accept one another in their affairs – long had he maintained the Astartes chapter keep to their fortress and use their chapter on offensive missions only, but to expect any degree of stillness on the matter of defense from a son of Dorn was, itself, foolishness, and Duutar admitted this.

But it did not make him like Gauhl more.

 

“Why is the fourth captain here? This is a matter of the Navy, the Refused Despondency does not belong to the Adeptus Astartes, and neither do the two frigates,” Duutar informed them with barely concealed bile, long suppressed anger lacing every syllable as he struggled to keep himself formal.

“The cruiser and the frigates may not, but the Skerry’s protection is our charge as much as it is yours. The governor has requested that we interview the captains chosen as well,” Gauhl responded. “Will that be an issue?”

 

“Not if Frash has demanded it,” the Lord Admiral replied with struggling acceptance, before the three were met by the yell of transport thrusters. The Valkyrie-class gunship was a versatile sort of craft, able to carry Astartes and humans alike. The one that came to carry them was itself painted blue with outlines and hints of maroon, denoting its belonging to the Navy, along with the Armada Imperialis sigil emblazoned proudly on its two side doors.

 

The Espethica Starport was abuzz with life and civilian craft, other Valkyries painted gunmetal grey and olive green flew past, while freighters, copter-planes and Arvus Lighters sprinkled the sky with machines. The clouds fought low-hanging ships for presence in the sky, and squadrons of Aeronautica Imperialis fighters made their typical runs across Hive Primus’ length and width, stopping to refuel at their designated hangars in the starport.

 

It was one of these hangars where the Navy transport settled down, its passengers off-loading with purpose. Many enginseers and minor artisans stopped in awe of the Astartes commanders, and even some of the pilots grinned as they recognized the defenders they worked with, remembering old campaigns and long-defeated enemies.

 

Yet in the mess of pilots and repairmen, three notable figures stood out as they approached the three commanders. Two were unflinching and highly prestigious Tempestus Scions, their hellguns withdrawn but not aimed, and the center figure was a Navy officer in a longer blue coat and cream pants. Her right eye was replaced with a typical Navy prosthetic, a glowing red circle in the center of machinery and wires replacing the majority of her cheek and face.

 

“Captain Calhoun,” Lord Admiral Duurtar began, and the captain bowed to the Lord Admiral. The two scions simply raised their fist to their chests and hit themselves once, the colliding of ceramite and duraweave causing a suitably loud clunk to be paired with the gesture of respect. “I hear you have been recently promoted from a position on a heavy frigate. Congratulations on this accomplishment.”

“The Imperial Shields look forward to working with you, to better protect the Skerry,” Captain Gauhl added, making Duutar’s teeth ground together.

 

“I am honored, Astartes captain,” she replied, looking back to Duutar. “And thank you, lord admiral. But I suspect I was not brought here to celebrate my arrival here. Am I to get acclimated to my ship?”

“Yes, but not yet,” Duutar responded. “We must first confirm you are…right for the position you are about to receive.”

“I see. There is no harm in security, I suppose.”

 

From there, the Scions led them deeper into the facility. As they got away from the shine of Lysbonus’ sun, the number of gun-servitors and Navy armsmen increased. This portion of the starport was dedicated firmly to the service of the Armada Imperialis, with supplies being shipped to and from the great vessels above. Yet all of those in the group were used to facilities dripping with pride and militarization - a Lord Admiral, aspiring Captain, two Astartes commanders and a squad of alumni from the Schola Progenia itself were no stranger to such sights.

 

The chamber they sought was a stark, deep grey. It was illuminated by candles and long-faded lanterns, and occupied by a single man. He was old, wrinkled and adorned in naught but a tired and thick brown robe. A staff of sorts, ornate and full of encarvings, stood upright in his boney fingered grip. “You are the new captain…” he grumbled, a voice long strained by a lifetime of shouting and physical damage.

“I am,” Calhoun replied.

“Many have passed through here before you. The Imperial Navy is an institution far older than my weathered face…or even the Astartes themselves. I know you have a record for captaining if you are being considered for something of this tonnage, but mere frigates and corvettes pale in comparison to the weight of controlling and leading an entire cruiser. Five times the size, five times the responsibilities, the resources to manage, the crew to feed…it is a demanding task.”

“I understand the responsibility I am to uphold.”

“Let us hope so.”

 

The old man’s eyes suddenly turned a brilliant white, and the smell of ozone was laid thick in the air. Duutar put his hand into one of the pouches placed on his hip-belt, and retreived a large cigar. “I imagine you don’t smoke,” he said to Zahart, but before the Astartes commander could respond, the captain was screaming in pain.

 

It was a sound terribly common to Zahart. He heard it more than any man or woman should, during the trials of becoming an Astartes; decades of hellish training and surgeries, punishment and combat. He knew the process made good warriors - each Astartes was worth a hundred, two hundred guardsmen in a straight fight - but Zahart knew he would be lying if he said it did not leave its mark.

 

The old man was a psyker, but one who served the Emperor at the least. Zahart knew many psykers, mostly Astartes Librarians and Chapter Navy Navigators, but the presence of psychic arcana never failed to make his muscles tense and his senses sharpen. There was little ryhme or reason to the function of psychic ability - the most a common psyker could ask for was that his attack did not kill himself along with his opponent - but a properly trained and well-skilled psyker was beyond a worthy foe. He trusted the man’s age to allow him to perform his job, but he did not trust that the psyker would not affect him in the process.

 

The screaming died down, and the psyker’s eyes returned to its original brown, though severely bloodshot. Calhoun herself collapsed after the intense psychic trauma, but remained awake enough to stand up. “The captain is pure, untouched by Chaos. She has a steel mind and will, and possesses little connection to the Warp beyond the usual levels provided by a soul. Good material for a captain. You have picked well, Lord Admiral, if I may say so myself.”

 

“Thank you, Guharel,” Duutar replied, and Zahart was surprised by the genuine tone the Lord Admiral possessed. Suddenly, his past experiences and Gauhl’s verbal jabs at the man’s honor suddenly bled away as he saw a man who truly cared for those under his command, even if he had little respect to give for those outside his operation. “Calhoun, are you present in mind?”

 

The captain nodded. “Yes, Lord Admiral. What would you have me do?”

“Go to your vessel, the Refused Despondency. If you’ve passed Guharel’s test, then you have passed mine.”

Calhoun gained a smile, and gave Duutar the hand gesture of the Aquilla. Duutar half-heartedly responded with the same, and the eager captain passed by him and the Astartes on her way to a transport.

 

—--------------------------------

Zahart’s Thunderhawk gunship returned to the Fortress-Monastary of the Imperial Shields without much haste. The Thunderhawk pilot had been instructed to open the side hatch and fly slower than typical speeds; for today, the First Captain had no rush to get home. The void of space was calm, the hive below was under no threat, and the matter of the day had been settled.

 

Hive Primus was glowing with endless streams of lights, a hundred billion candles and lamps illuminated the entire superstructure like a great plume of warming flame. Transport ships made their final departures or conducted their final landings. Within the underhive, there was no difference between day and night, but above the endless ceramite-plasteel floors and roofs, there was a magesty to the mess of steel and humans. It was the culmination of millions of years of advancement in engineering, populated by uncountable residents, and protected by his chapter and several dozen regiments of Planetary Defense Forces.

 

And for all that, it bored him. Even his builder’s soul, the blood of Dorn running through his organs and veins, was unstimulated by the same sights, for decades on end. The same defensive emplacements, the same gleaming neon signs, the same choking plumes of smog. He longed for the foreign lands of hostile worlds, the reclamation of besieged Imperial planets, the destruction of the enemies of mankind.

 

But he was here. Stuck. With no escape in sight and seemingly doomed to another decade of waiting among the worn dull yellow of his familiar fortress.

 

The Thunderhawk prepared to land in the maw of the hangar bay. It was not dissimilar to the starport’s Navy compartment, filled with Astartes craft and servitors bearing the mark of the Imperial Shields instead of human pilots and typical Aeronautica fighters. There was also a squad of Space Marines in waiting, their bolters kept at their backs, led by an Astartes in artificed Mark III armor plate.

 

The man was another Astartes captain, Partellian Velenos. He walked with a staff hitting the ground with every step, a company standard covered in seals of purity and scripture regarding the duties of the Adeptus Astartes. An Iron Halo generator sat utop his power pack, and the heavy march of his Mark III plate, along with the clang of his staff, gave his approach a sense of gravitas.

 

“With as much presence as you can bear, Velenos, I should have made you Lord Executioner,” Zahart jested, and the Master of the Marches gave back a hearty chuckle.

“Alas, the job is too boring - the reports on murdering people are far too short for my tastes.” Velenos extended his hand and Zahart took it, and the pair collapsed into a short embrace before breaking the hug. They began to walk towards the mess hall, while the tactical squad dispersed.

 

“How did the burning skies of Baccalus III do for you, Partellian?” Zahart asked idly, and unexpectedly Velenos sighed.

“The expenditure of ammunition, the damaging of armor up to that of Terminator plate, and the destroyed vehicles of the Fifth Company will strain the chapter armory’s production abilities for months to come. We lost twenty of our hundred to the menace of the Tyranids, however our fleet was more than a match for a withering splinter hive, especially so as we were supported by elements of Battlefleet Perpetua. The planet was largely saved, the horde was exterminated, and the Deidactor Skerry will remain unblemished by the tendrils of the Tyranid species.”

 

Zahart shook his head. “Twenty Astartes? In one engagement? We are losing our edge, Partellan. The Master of Recruits will not enjoy this news…”

“Petracus will have to bear the burden of reinforcing the Fifth Company. He has more than enough neophytes in the Tenth. Chief Apothecary Deccitel reports our geneseed stock has five hundred remaining. Just what has Petracus been doing? I understand we have more neophytes in the ranks of the Tenth than ever in our history - one of the boons of being so entrenched in the matters of a Hive World, I suppose. But if he is implanting all of them with geneseed, we will be drastically bloated. Our armories will not be able to equip them all with power armor and bolters…”

“To say nothing of how badly and how extensively we will be breaking the mandates of the Codex Astartes. Yet I cannot help but feel this is the best course. I do not seek for this chapter to be hunted by the members of the Holy Inquisition, but I see no wrong in reinforcing all of the Skerry. We will be the most well-defended segments of the Imperium.”

“Zahart, you know how closely the Pterarchos Liberalis follow the Codex. If they catch wind of this, there may be no Deidactor Skerry to protect.”

“We have the support of Fleet Deidactor, and the governors all fear the spread of Ultramar’s influence. They would not dare to make a move against us.”

“They could report us to the Inquisition, and then they will have more resources than anything the Skerry can muster on its own.”

 

The two captains halted their walk at the edge of the wider mess hall’s entrance. Zahart’s head tilted up to meet the eyes of Partellan. “We will be fine, my friend. The Deidactor Skerry will welcome our reinforcements, and I will deal with the politics of the Pterachos Liberalis.”

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