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"Ability is not enough. Dedication is not enough. Even victory is not enough.

You must embody all of these, until the end of time and the extinction of mortal flesh..."

 

 ++ 'ERE GEHENNA COMES ++

 

=================================

 

 

When I burst through the wall, two of the heathen bastards stain my streets with unworthy corpses.  A Techmarine would perhaps say the wall and my mass was enough to drown them in bricks laid by my ancestors.

 

I call it the weight of sin.

 

Four hours my kin and I lay in wait for the column of mongrels who bite at our world, chew on our dust, and now they have come here to die.  For this is Gehenna.  The ambush executes perfectly, and the traitors are destroyed as my squad erupts from the very ground the enemy defiles.  The world, my world, my city, devours them with precious Bolts and the savage rending of shotgun chokes. Combat blades lance up into groins, severing arteries and painting the grey-brown rubble with crimson effluent and human offal.  The ambush has killed sixteen men in moments, making a garden of bones in my home.

 

One of my squad, Ardian, takes an Astartes entrenching shovel and chops one of the mewling wretches into gruesome silence with a thunk of metal into meat.

 

I laugh.  It is the only prayer of forgiveness that utters from my lips.

 

The bitter bark is short-lived.  The business of war is about us again in moments, and Julo makes the sacrifice as an Iron Warrior Predator crunches through the wall of a hab-block, slewing a torrent of plascrete down to fill the road.  I launch to my left, hearing the grunt from my Brother as the autocannon on the tank fires it's odd bam-bam cadence, before Julo goes silent, his life-sign fading from my displays.

 

Yet, every inch of Gehenna is paid for in blood, and the predator driver, keen for the kill has driven into our trap.

 

Three zones were left for him, for us to make prayer over his burning corpse, and now he will be our offering to the Great Primarch Dorn.

 

Having shot his bolt, the predator revs, belching smoke and fumes from the exhausts, and Ardian trips the detonators, thunder raking the sides of the tank, casting up more rubble and pulverised spumes of powder to blind the result, but I know.  The trembles run through the ground in my armour, and the sudden pitch of the engine as the tank falls into the cellar beneath the house, a rat in a trap.  It pitches up, the autocannon flung up in some kind of odd salute, firing into the sky with petulant fury, hitting nothing but air.

 

The augurs of our Soundstrike are not so vexed.  Deploying a super-krak missile, my augurs register the flash-heat, the displaced punch of air.  The tormented squeal of metal is followed by the hollow crunch of the explosion.  It sounds so little for what it is, but when the dust and smoke clears, Melius proves his strike true.

 

Hellish spikes and tusks protrude from the once proud machine, but now are festooned with chains and the skulls of the righteous.  Yet we have rendered them impotent, a boar speared with a lance.

 

I signal my squad to collect what we can of Julo, his sacred armaments and gene-seed, cut from his flesh by my own trench knife, for I am the last of the Brethren who wears the skull helm, even if it only painted  on.  Ardian clambers atop the blasted Predator, raiding the ammunition supplies.  They think us weakened, broken, yet blow by blow do we take from them all, the means of their destruction.  Tomorrow, our heavy bolters will rake them with their own shells, my Oath to Dorn upon it.

 

A hatch clanks open, and from it, a battered bloody parody of the Emperor's gene-science emerges.  He pulls his helm free, shattered and sparking from the connections hastily abandoned in his evacuation of the tank.  he retches up bile and blood, crawling on hands and knees, an Astartes brought low by sin, again.

 

The Techmarines would say it was gravity.

 

This time, it was hubris.

 

I stride across to his half-corpse, pumping a round of chromatic metal into my Throne pattern assault shotgun.  The sound echoes, louder than the one killing the tank.  It is the sound of an end, of mercy.

 

My sabaton flips the recidivist over, then crushes down on his plastron.  His face writhes with tentacles where his mouth should be, a red, raw gullet beyond.  His heresy, so obvious, disgusts me.

 

Yet am I not the most forgiving of men?

 

+Welcome to Gehenna.+

 

I blow his head into ruddy spatter, then turning, observe the dawn on a new day.  Our Vespers are concluded, and I lead the brethren into the sunlight of a world blowing itself to pieces.

 

I load my shotgun with more prayers.

Edited by Mazer Rackham
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The deluge wakens me.

 

Once my visor reinitiates, the world as I knew it is overturned.  Staring up into the abyss, pinpricks of light wink across the carpet of darkness.  At first, I consider it retinal backwash, but it is not.  I blink, the additions to constellations familiar to me shift and brighten in the fleeting time it takes for my eyes to close and open.  The rushing noise is constant, until I realise that the sound infesting my cranium is neural data warning me of a breach in the warplate.  Another flicker of eyelids and the damn noise shuts off.

 

I try to lift my left arm to test my condition, but it does not respond.  My palm does not darken my vision, and I turn to see the reason why.

 

My shoulder is three feet away, glistening in ragged redness, the fist still grasping my combat knife.

 

Memory swims in a sea of counterseptics, analgesics and stimulants, all flooding my body, swamping it with indifference to the trauma.  Were I still mortal, the wound would be catastrophic - here, it will prove an inconvenience.  Tactical data begins to filter through, and the battle for The Gilded Bridge replays in dimmed colour.  An infantry assault by cultists, determined to take the river crossing, bolters and shotguns roaring in concert to rob them of the victory.  Still they came, a pressing tide of flesh supported by three tanks, and it was this that turned our holding action into a desperate bid to demolish the bridge.

 

Melius is...gone.  So is everyone else.  Broken rockrete under my right hand gives me purchase, and I roll onto my right side, looking at the rubble and isolated buttresses of where the mighty bridge once stood.  A torrent of debris hurled downriver in with the aid of two melta charges.  A job well done.

 

It is then my aural relays pick up the sound of sucking, grunting.  It sounds like an animal chewing.  Proximity augurs show it is close, so I force myself to roll onto my chest, pressing up to my knees in a crunch of gravel.  I am spotted by a miscreant in a filthy robe, sporting primitive, black-painted armour.  His autogun lies at his heel, forgotten.  I recognise the symbols, the plating abutting across shoulders crenulated with spikes.  He belongs to the heretics trying to cross the river.

 

He is dripping wet.  This is not just from the tumultuous spill of the water he managed to survive, but the dark runnels of blood splattering from his mouth.  He shoves another gobbet into his jaw, working it as he works his blade, hacking and sawing at meat contained within the ruined hulk of an Astartes Mark VII plastron.  The idiot tattoo of the dark powers writhes grotesquely across his forehead in his gleeful butchery, and although he stares right at me, his eyes do not see.  He is....somewhere else.

 

"Ha ha!" he drools, and spits, "the god has a long reach!  Ha ha!"

 

The miscreant points at my arm, and laughs again, repeating his joke.

 

Fire thunders up and down my spine.  He is eating the remains of Ardian, his IFF ping in my visor lies in crimson letters, unmoving as his body is defiled.  When I call him brother, it is not the figurative reassurance of war-comrades or a geneclade, but honest familial piety.  Only my faith separated us, placed me on the track of the Living Skull.

 

I reel to my feet, the world lurching and greying as precious blood drains from my head to feed my limbs.  The pain spurs me on, and the mongrel realises his foolishness in not wearing a helmet - and his impending peril - too late, as I seize my disembodied limb and swing it down onto his head, battering his cranium into ruin with a choked gurgle.  I do not count it as a mercy, for this is Gehenna, and we are out of such currency.

 

The only just dessert we serve here is death, and I mean to choke them all with more than they can chew.

 

Tearing the robe from the corpse, it serves me now better in death than for the Ruinous Powers in life, as I form a satchel and load as much into it as I dare.  I begin the long road to our nearest redoubt, praying for the Noble Primarch's blessing.

 

And if he could stop the world from spinning, that would be a good start.

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And with a third post, does this become a series?

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 

What was once a bunker is now a hovel.

 

Our defenders, the Primarch know them, abandoned the fortification long ago.  I have searched it and found the tell-tale signs of violence, piled shells and empty charge packs, cracked photohydrogen fuel flasks and fused fission regulators.  I do not remove my helmet, but the chemical traces linger, of burned plastek and exploded fyceline.  Medical supplies lie strewn about the bunker, hard with clotted blood.  I crack open a Medicae trauma kit emblazoned with the genehelix of the Apothecarion, sighing the seals are intact.

 

Truly the Primarch wishes me to endure.

 

Accepting his beneficence, I grit my teeth as peel away the cloth covering my left shoulder stump.  An explosion nearby arrests my endeavours, but even though I hold fast, breath paused in my throat, the sound subsides.  I smile - not at the violence, which anywhere else would mean trouble, but at the significance.  In the circumstances at play, the detonation means someone continues to resist, and Dorn think not meanly of me, it takes any attention from my current predicament.

 

I rip oven the battle dressings and cataplasm patches, applying them quickly.  Time is not my ally, and the longer I tarry here, the less likely it is I will link up with any of our  troops.  I wonder about that, mainly to fight off the cramp and nagging ache plaguing my wound.  It has sealed through blood clotting alone, but it is a constant reminder of my mortality.  I carry the pain glove with me, communing with the heroes long dead.  I must be spurred by their example.  I drive away the weakness by standing.

 

I have not come to this bunker by chance.  It holds the secret of our ambushes, of how we get supplies to the beleaguered bastions still fighting.

 

Beneath the floor, covered by hidden devices, lies an entrance to the tunnels under the city.

 

I rummage through discarded satchels and PDF equipment to find the panel on the floor.  Dust is collected in the cracks, proving it undisturbed.  I lift the latch and stab the runes with my finger, entering the 32-digit sequence.  There is a small click, and with a heave and fall, I am down into the half-flooded passageways.  The water rushes at a steady pace, contemptuous of my disturbance.  Solid walls abut my bulky frame, yet safety is elusive, for this is Gehenna, and Hell takes many forms here.  Our enemies likely infest this place too.

 

They will drown in the sorrow swamping these tunnels.  Rancid water from run-off and dam spill, the Great Rivers clogged not with fauna or flora uprooted from their habitat during the storm season, but choked with bodies.  I drop the hatch above me, to thump down with grim finality, a barrier which would take eight mortal men to lift.

 

Darkness.

 

A white lance of brilliance spears the gloom, as my helm-mounted stablight pierces the dark.  I douse it, but not before the rays bounce from the turgid wash and glimmer onto walls and tunnel ceiling.  The dark-sight provided by autosenses is good, but it robs the colour of a scene.  The water churns brown, thick with soil and the copper corruption of blood.  The strength of the counterphages pulsing through my blood will be tested here, as I wade through the souls of so many dead, reaching for the butt of my bolt pistol.  I test the safety stud is still pushed through, preventing accidental discharge, as I half wade, half pull myself through the water, boot cleats crunching...things...under them.  it is at times like this I think the sensory interface with powered armour a curse.  Prayer drives such notions away.

 

My mind so occupied is nearly my undoing - the snap of an infraglobe under the water betrays my lack of stealth.  I did not detect the trigger wire, yet this was not an explosive, but a trap.

 

+Hold!+

 

The command comes on my own frequencies.  I do not respond, yet I stand motionless.

 

+Iron Within!+

 

It is the call of our enemy.  A rallying cry and test both.  It is a baleful mockery of the refrain our own men use, and bile begins in my throat as I sense I am to die in this miserable pit - and yet...I must trust they have not shot me for a reason more than to taunt me.  I must trust in Dorn and the Emperor that this is a trap for the knaves who desecrate my world.  If not, at least I will end with my honour intact, and the words of the Beloved Primarch on my lips.  +We do so 'ere Gehenna Comes!+

 

+Chaplain?  Thank the throne!+

 

I am no Chaplain - merely an Acolyte - but I do not disabuse him.  The Living Skull must lead, it must reassure.  Even if it only has one arm to punch with.

 

It is a young voice - too much so to be a full Battle-brother.  I hear the sounds of sloshing coming towards me, three, no four warriors.  As they near, their shapes shimmer, ghosts in the underworld, thanks to the miracle of chameleoline.  IFF reports fill my HUD, unmasked even as the Scouts are revealed.  Squad Bariax surround me, and together, we forge on ahead, an armoured gauntlet of defiance down a desperate, deadly gullet.

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  • 1 month later...
Posted (edited)

They are not fools, though vermin they truly are.

 

A clumsy ambuscade in the depths of the tunnels, awash with silt and gobbets of charred flesh, the pink-silver plasma bolt misses me by a hand breadth, merely through providence.  Beneath my left sabaton an ancient brick crumbles, dropping my weight sideways by the hair required to save my right pauldron from the searing blast.  I know the weapon is clutched by a heretic - they use supercharged plasma, unstable, but thoroughly deadly.

 

Except they have missed, thank the Beloved Primarch, and now they shall die.

 

Squad Bariax contains two sniper rifles, and although the enemy siegecraft does them much credit, in a long tunnel without abutments or turns, there is no escape.  The young initiates have proven this again and again.  We make war in strange ways, for this is Gehenna, and every weapon must be turned to the kill, wherever it may be. The Scouts' vision, protected by auto-sense goggles marries pinpoint lasers, which spill off the angles of the silvered ceramite illuminated by the backwash of the plasma bolt.

 

My bolt pistol is in my hand, trigger making my finger itch.

 

+Die miscreant!+ hatred fills my heart with scalding steam, my vox thundering down the ancient brick tunnel, only partially absorbed by the thick clods of moss which truss the battered blocks together.  it ricochets along with careening bolt shells as the figure writhes under the impacts, my objective to slaughter the bastard by weight of fire.  He must not be allowed a second shot.

 

Ching-thump, ching-thump.

 

The sniper mechanisms cycle and I watch the rounds snap into flexsteel, the eruption of rich Astartes blood - polluted as it is by sinfulness - spurt up as the traitor drops.

 

The vile Iron Warrior is not alone, and bolt shells scream down at us as angry amber hornets, looking to sting our flesh.  I see the plasma gun sitting upright against the wall where the traitor dropped it, and take aim, holding a breath, despite being bracketed by fire, the enemy are not fools.  I am now a danger to my comrades, the Iron Warriors know it.  Should any shells collide with my plate, deflection will cost Bariax in blood.

 

I must act quickly.

 

+Lord Dorn...!+

 

Prayer half-spoken, but carried beyond my flesh by will, the trigger once more snatches my finger and the eruption is catastrophic as it is kaleidoscopic.  A sunrise birthed in crimson flare, the plasma gun bathes the end of the tunnel in unholy fire, consuming the traitors and everything else in a torrent of crackling plasma wash.  I laugh as they are devoured by their wickedness.  It is...poetic justice, a mercy born of need.

 

I turn to find some of the Scouts wounded, but they hold themselves and the craters in their flesh without complaint, awe writ large on their faces.  It is endurance enough to win a losing war.  If we can escape this pit to wage it.  My pistol is empty, our weapons in poor repair.  We can wait no longer, we must go home.

 

+Quickly brothers, to the surface.+

 

And the Fortress Monastery.  I glance at my shoulder, hoping an Apothecary still breathes, and we can...re-arm.

Edited by Mazer Rackham
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Nice work Brother Mazer:thumbsup: You've capture the focus and purity of thought of an Astarte in the midst of battle quite well:yes:

 

Many thanks for the kind words Brother Lunkhead. :thumbsup:

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When the shadow pulls away from me, light spills across pristine white ceramite.  It carries the cool hue of clinical precision, and my olfactory glands duly detect the sacred unguents of counterseptic, dimming the blinding lumens cascading from above.

 

By reflex I try to move, but thick adamantium braces truss my bare chest to a flat surface.  I sigh with relief as I return from elsewhere.  As children of the Golden Praetorian, we do not have the Watchful Sleeper, and must make do with analgesics and allowing our minds to wander in the grey areas in which we commune with him in the Pain Glove.

 

It was quite the journey as my flesh begins to ache, telling me what I already know - that metal has been grafted to flesh.  After that, the sharp tang of adrenaline spikes my mouth as the pain comes, but it is strange, not the teeth-aching savagery of feedback screeches from broken warplate - it is cold.  The lack of acidic saliva turns my mind to another one of the Emperor's Gifts that eludes us.

 

Our spit is not a weapon of war, it is a cudgel of contempt.  The old ways are the best.

 

The great restraining bands crack open with the sound of metal parting from mighty maglocks, and the surgical table judders as the mechanisms grind me into an almost perpendicular position.  Gravity plates continue to arrest me, preventing me falling prematurely.  The surgeon steps back, his gleaming pale armour a sight to behold.  The left pauldron is intricate with wrought quicksilver - a reminder of his service to the Deathwatch, centuries past, but it made him the best apothecary the Gehinnom have.

 

Master Fortis cants his Mk VI helm, the diagnostor array on the left hemisphere illuminating, and I can see the focus lenses tracking items of his unerring notice.  The chill of our apothecarion makes the hairs on my left arm stand on end.

 

Ah.

 

+Simulacrum 99.9 percent effective,+ Fortis states, although I can hear the smile in his voice.  Utterly calm, this warrior-healer could tell a man in gruesome detail how he was injured, and then proceed to provide remedy.  A remarkable man of mind and will.  Perhaps the best of us.

 

+And yet I still reside upon your slab.+

 

The helm cants in the opposite direction.  He's sighed under there.  I know it, and he knows I know it.  He will not admit it - and worse we both know I am the charlatan here, as I refuse to look at the new limb he has grafted onto me.  He lowers the diagnostic augur control, and begins to slide the probes and plugs free of my skin-grafted ports.  Then he tries to slap me, and I instinctively block him, catching his wrist with my left limb.

 

His beak, so appropriate for the old plague doctors, Quacks, as they were called, turns to regard me.

 

I shudder at the quality of the bionic.  It is old, sleek.  The metal skin of the graft is dark, strangely pearlescent.  I can barely her the servo-mechanics in it.

 

+Enrobe yourself, and go to the Hall of Memories.  Your investiture awaits,+ he taps his control pad and I drop, easily absorbing the short fall to the cool tiles of the surgery beneath.

 

I regard him narrowly as I dress in boots and robes of our Order, before leaving wordlessly, the calm and peace of this, our last sanctuary accompanying me as the pain ebbs and fades, becoming as remote as the war destroying our world beyond the mighty walls of our home.

 

Yet in my heart, vengeance burns with punishing heat.

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++++ Interlude +++

 

Once, the cistern must have  been one of many,  constructed to collect  and distribute flood water deep inside the armored  cliff walls  of the hive city. These days it was more of a cyst, nestled inside the decaying carcass of a broken world.

 

What little liquid water still made it’s way all this way down  drizzled along the walls, ran around and over  arching stalactites,  nests of tubes and cabling  and down a swaying root forest of chains and bladed hooks that now dangled from it’s arched roof where it mingled with vapor clouds of condensation until it could coagukate into blackish blobs finally dense enough to drop into the vastness below. 

 

The cisterns were vast. But they were far from empty.

The water might no longer find it’s way here with any regularity but people did.  The metal caverns were a sinkhole now, a refuge for the lost and the weary, the desperate and deluded, the broken ones , the forgotten. And these days, the cisterns were filled to capacity.

 

The droplets fell, then sizzled and hissed whereever they landed, eating their way easily through rotten fabrics as well as  corroded steel or mound covered plas. 

 

On Gehenna, even the water was spiteful these days. 

 

When the water touched flesh, some would hiss, then jolt ad shirk away. Others, the more enlightened ones, had learned to welcome the pain and used the acidic flow to trace symbols of devotion along their already exposed skin.

 

Electro braziers and the occasional lumen globe cast flickering  lights over the sea of bodies. Here and there,  one could just make out the torn remains of the robes of the Administatum or the faded patch of a PDF trooper’s insignia. Most of the assembled humans wore little more than rags,if anything at all. Many hardly passed for a human any more and were ghoulish, feral things. 

 

An ululating droning unsong from the throats of thousands echoed  back from the  ovid shaped walls over a constant thrumming of drums. 

 

The air was thick and heavy, somehow still moist  and carried the sharp metallic sting of ozone and copper with it. 

 

It was Pandemonium. But it was not without shape. Nor was it without purpose. 

 

In sharp contrast to the disheveled heap of humanitas all around,  Bands of Carcaroi roamed the cistern.

Led  by their Kahin-Diopos -Seer-Sergeants - the massive abhumans were clad  in rad-hardened carapace armour under flowing  drapes of heavy ballistic cloth and  moved with the precision and purpose of veteran soldiers.  They were huge, heavily augmented things, and where it showed, their pale fur and waxy flesh told  of their vatgrown origins, riddled with hex-glyph coded electoos.

 

Occasionally, their leaders would halt the patrol pick out a specific human from among the chanting rabble apparently at random. Most came willingly. Some did not. Neither returned.

 

More often, the brief application of a a snarl, an ironclad hoof  or the kiss of a neural whip would ensure the throng of humans would  fall in line and fulfill  it’s intended function amidst the predestined pattern unfolding all around them. Because in the end, all would serve.

 

Bodies hung from chains, slouched in cages and huge platforms had been raised throughout the cisterns at seemingly random intervals were the Chirugeo-Shamans of the  Carcaroi oversaw the workings of  great aether turbine wracks. Circulating rings of  black stone and dark steel  inlaid with aurium and argentium runic circuitry  orbited the bodies that had been strapped into them. Heat rolled off them in waves, but it was not just thermal interference that distorted the light around them.

 

To five of these - including the largest one, just slightly off the cistern’s centre - had been bound the huge forms  of what must once have been the post human bodies of the Adeptus Astartes. The Scions of Gehenna. The Gehinom.

 

Only one of those had  still been somewhat close to being functionally intact in the general sense of the word to begin with when they had been brought here 

 

The leading Chiurugeo-Shaman had been performing his arts for days on this unfortunate soul already, stripping the Astartes of his warplate, his  black adapace, his skin, his sanity. Rotes had been cast.

Equerries had been sent…

 

And thus , another Astartes , a giant in an ancient suit of warplate now stood atop the dais, unmoving, just in time to partake in the apex of the ritual.

 

The stricken space marine strapped into the device before him was by ten barely clinging to a rather broad definition of being “conscious”. Or even of still being something like “alive”. But it  still continued to struggle.

 

The descendants of Dorn were tough bastards, indeed. You had to give that to them. 

 

That and also a rather excessive amount of physical violence added for effect. At least if Thelan Orkos had anything to say about it. And then probably some more of it, just to  make sure you got your  point across.

The Iron Warriors had always prided themselves on being thorough, after all. And even after a ten thousand years -well, give or take a few centuries sidereal- Thelan Orkos still considered himself that. An Iron Warrior.

 

Some of his more …conservative…brothers might have disagreed - especially those who still considered any association with the more esoteric arts of warfare as unbecoming of a true warrior of the Legion. 

 Most of that breed of course were the ones who were fighting -and dying - out in the wastes, up on the surface and still believing that the war on Gehenna, on the Imperium as whole, would be decided by blade and boltshell. And  while that view was as limited as that of those  dregs descended from that bastard Dorn, they all would serve, too. 

 

For as far as Thelan Orkos was concerned, the main objective, the true war for Gehenna would be decided on a vast,y different battlefield 

It was a war of control for the aetheric sea, a war of souls. 

Of course, to Orkos, it was at heart just like any other war  and would still be decided by the fundamental principles laid down, persecuted and perfected by the Perturabo and his Legion over the course of the long war. 

Decided by precise planing, an obsessive attention to detail and careful management of resources, by ruthless efficiency and followed by swift and decisive action. Bulwarks and fortifications had to be constructed, feints and traps laid out, their operational nice t lines of power reach reinforced and expanded even as enemy defenses were identified, isolated and ultimately  destroyed. 

 

So, all over Gehenna, similiar aetheric nodes and networks  were being established and reinforced, a trench work of the Empyrean so to speak, along ancient lines of power to collect and  harness  the flow of the warp. 

 

To this node alone, the art of the warsmith had been applied in extremis. Minute attention had to be given to every detail - the volume and  quality of the translation echo in Reaktion the curving of the outer walls. Transveil dilation patterns caused by the swing of every length of chain. Relative and absolute ogon measurement of the empyrean mass shadows cast by the various  group of thralls. Estimates on the  speed and spread of empyrean squalls…

 

There was something in the need for precision and the sheer vastness  of transdimensional siegecraft that had  fascinated him from the start. In that, Orkos still considered it much more of an rather elaborate form of craftsmanship than a mere “art”. He was pretty sure he’d be able to improve the efficiency of the, say, the agony turbine in front of him while reducing the amount of trinkets and scalped skulls involved to a bare minimum. So, Orkos took pride in his work.

And even in his darkest moments, it  was something that had allowed him to pull through. 

For it was, for lack of a better  word, simply beautiful. 

 

It was also very, very dangerous…

 

Behind his faceplate, Thelian Orkos allowed himself a brief  smile. 

 

The black Mountain would rise. The Scourge of Cities would walk. 

 

It was an undertaking that was so vast, so bold and so complex  in scale that he‘d almost considered doing it for free when they had approached with the idea of joining the Campaign, just for the sheer thrill of being part of something so insane an act of retribution. 

 

Well. Almost. 

 

But Pragmatism was another thing of pride to an Iron Warrior. And pragmatism meant that beyond the pleasantries of  being involved in such a challenging act of aethermancy,  he still had such mundane items as ammunition and shelter and supplies to consider. Transport had to be acquired. Water. Base concerns.

But no less important. Or cheap.

Bragging rights alone got you only so far in that regard. 

 

Which was what had brought him here today. Orkos watched as the cyborged beast thing before him sang dysharmonic ritual cants of scrap code from voxcaster implants along it’s prolonged neck while using  a staggering number of limbs and digits to trace hexcode sigils in the incense around them. An array of injector needles lanced into the captive space marine, flooding it with stimms. The Gehinom’s eyes flared open and immediately fixated on the armoured form in front of him. Hate flared in them as it perceived  the dark iron, gold and onyx patterns. The Imperial gurgled something that Orkos estimated to be a curse.

It was hard to guess since the Gehinom had lost his tongue and use of his vocal chords some days before. 

 

Thus, Orkos nodded politely, but remained silent.

 

This whole set up was mainly about the emotional response, after all and not about an exchange of profanities. Orkos would  certainly not risk ruining the whole ritual  for the base personal satisfaction of something like proving his superiority in the dueling cages  of snappy dialogue.

 

Orkos  could see the hatred building  in the eyes of the Dornspawn until,  at it’s Stimm-triggered crescent, the chirugeo-shaman spun the rings of the agony turbine once more. Still chanting,  the  bestial ritual-adept  punched a mass of bladed mechadentrites into the chest and the neck of the Gehinom.  Then the  robed beast turned and presented two bloody lumps to the waiting Iron Warrior.

 

After what felt like eternity, Orkos moved. 

 

With a  crisp bow, he took each of the lumps in turn, paying attention that every one of his movements followed the prescribed patters of of acquisition and binding before placing  them in the hexcoded preservation vials he had prepared in advance. 

 

Participating in a trans-empyrean siege of this magnitude might be considered a reward on it’s own.

This, however, offered a much more imminent reward.

Two undamaged progrenoids from the lineage of thrice damned Dorn! Now expertly galvanized in their own agony and hate. What a catch! 

The possible military applications alone were substantial. And there were more mercurial opportunities as well. There were self acclaimed connoisseurs in the Eye or the Vortex who would literally offer a small kingdom for just a taste.

 

Vengeance, Orkos had always believed, had a price of it’s own. And it’s own rewards. He  very much intended to cash in on both of that. 

 

But before any of that, he would have to conclude the business at hand.  Well, the  ritual at hand, to be precise. 

In front of him, the chirugeo-shaman had produced a double headed eagle insignia obviously cut from the warplate of the delirious Gehinom slumping behind them. Now freshly  removed from the cryo-acidic containment unit on a nearby servitor unit, it still trailed streams of freezing vapor as the shaman thing raised it towards the Iron Warrior.

 

Orkos sighed. 

 

He’d always prided himself on  his rather pragmatic take  on the necessities of warp craft. Showmanship wasn’t his strong side.  But he did understand  the value of symbolism that went with the territory. So, sometimes, you just had to do what it took to get the job done. That too was what it meant to be an Iron Warrior, Orkos figured.

 

So he reached out and grasped the blasted  thing in in one hand, turned slowly towards the crowd and raised the Imperial icon over his head. 

 

The crowd roared, hissed and spat curses at the symbol of the Imperium and the uncaring corpse god who had abandoned them. 

 

Orkos let in hang there for a moment, letting the crowd built up it’s display of defiance.

The ancient warrior  closed his eyes and let another sigh snarl out through his helmet’s respirator grill.  

Then, a whirr of servos crushed the ceramite eagle under his bladed fingers. He let the broken pieces rain down before crushing them beneath his armoured heel.

 

Around him, a cheer rose from the crowd.

 

Showmanship. He shook his head. 

 

Yshan would have loved this. 

 

Orkos closed his eyes and sighed again. 

 

“You know, this is why, in the end, they can’t  win.” 

 

The memory came unbidden but the words were as clear as on the day Orkos had first heard them. 

 

“Because all they can offer humanity is servitude and pain and desolation and despair and punishment. And on a good day, maybe vengeance if they are lucky. And we can  offer them all of that, too.”

 

Orkos could  almost see the old warlock grinning in his mind’s eye now.

 

“But we can also offer them something more. Something much more compelling. Something much more thrilling. And something much more dangerous…

We can offer them… Hope.”

 

 

++++++++

Edited by Xin Ceithan
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When I enter the Hall of Memories, I know who awaits me.

 

Fully one third of the Sixth Company attends here, their armour is battered and scraped, each one of my brethren a jigsaw of violence, a tableau of warrior canvas.  The differences between them are stark.  Our regulations are strict on everything but squad raiment, the leaders of each unit deciding the colours their men should fight and die in.  The brown-red and white lozenges of our disruptive pattern are at odds with the hornet yellow pauldrons carrying the heraldry of our Chapter.

 

The Sixth Company, the Order of the Wall.  How fitting then, they should be here.

 

I sweep inside, my kin watching me through burning lenses, at a loose ease of formation, for this a holy place, not a drill square.  They are not here because they have been commanded to attend, but because they choose it.  Another largesse of our Chapter.

 

We are alike to the other sons of the Beloved Primarch, but they are as different to us as each other.

 

It is our blood and hatred that unite us beyond such trivial difference, for our blood is human blood, loyal blood, and our hatred is honest, human hate.  It warms my cold, dead hand, and I feel the strange friction, hearing the creaking as my metal fingers tighten in a steel fist.  It is good.

 

"Hail brother."

 

It is Felix who greets me.  Captain of the Sixth, and, as far as I know, the last remaining Gehinnom to hold that rank.  He is de-facto the leader of our Chapter, and yet - strict tradition demands council to elect him so. "I attend your summons, lord."

 

He smiles at me, and that fluid smooth gesture eases the tension in his face.  I do not need to know how many orders he has shouted, nor how many corpses he piled up in the streets of our home, his eyes tell me everything.

 

"It is time to take a Skull."

 

"The Chapter Lords are missing."

 

"I did not say 'The' Skull," he grins.

 

I realise his plan.  As Company Captain he is within his rights to appoint me to his Order in the absence of my own Lord.  I smile inside at how Tradition weaves so tightly around us, trapping us into fates we pretend are choices.  He turns and his scarred harness jars and grinds on servos worn shrill and ragged by battle, the sound is odd, high-pitched enough to make the stasis caskets shiver, plush purple silk cushions trembling behind vague forcefields.

 

To our left sit ranks of alcoves containing helms of varying Marks.  Each sits above a wooden shield carrying the heraldry of each Battle and Reserve Company.  Each of the shelves are cast in the light from a nearby sconce, the lantern lit to show the imcumbent is on active service.  The flickering lamps fill many hollow spaces with warmth, the alcoves otherwise empty, Skulls missing along with their owners, presumably lying dead and buried or defiled out in the wastelands that once were streets we paraded in glory.  In honour.

 

He stops at the alcove belonging to the Wall.  It is full.

 

With deference to the occasion, he takes the antiquated Mk IV Maximus helm from the shelf with reverence.  He turns it so the leering grin of death etched into the helm by artificers long passed now laughs at me.  I take it from him, and as I do so, the whole brotherhood kneels, bar Felix.  It is his right.  He bows and slams his right fist into left pectoral.

 

"Deathspeaker," he intones gravely, his humour buried under sincerity I did not know he possessed.

 

A sudden slam of the chamber door interrupts with gavel-force.  Human feet, one of our Helots no doubt, rush in a sepulchre demanding sobriety.  The serf risks much.  He almost collapses before us.

 

"Lords, pardon,"  he gasps, "Compliments, Sergeant Kulis, West Bastion.  Enemy."

 

I cannot keep the smile from my face.  War comes again, of course.

 

"Will you lead us in Prayer?" Felix smirks, and drawing his own Bolt Pistol hands it to me.

 

I know what he means.  "Ere Gehenna Comes, Brother."

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When the bolter jams, my adversary knows he is dead.

 

Even so, Purterabo's mongrels know how to react.  He drops the weapon, going for his combat knife and pistol.  Instead of pulping his traitorous skull like a pot of jarrowberries, he turns, using his warplate in good order - with sense, offering me his pauldron.

 

I take it.

 

In a thunderbolt downswing, my mace crumples down onto his right shoulder, sloughing off the ceramite and admantine layers of armour protecting his left collarbone and the vulnerable ball and socket joint therein.  The clash of power maul against plating crumples it with metallic confetti, ozone reek of power filed discharge relayed in my sensoria, picking up what pollutants exist in rain sodden air.

 

Sparks fly as the heavens fall, thick tears as the grey clouds dump rain into electrical circuits and open sockets, for this is Gehenna, and everything on this planet hates those trying to burn it.  The immediate, concussive force jack-knifes the warrior's torso, and his hastily drawn bolt pistol barks a shot, narrowly keening across my helmet, a pebble clattering across an icy lake.

 

In rebuff, I lash out with a boot, catching him behind the knee, just enough to turn his leg, splay his defence open for an underhand swing up into his groin.  Boulders crack with earthy rumble as he is catapulted away from me, smashed into ruin from the waist down.  It was underhanded, and unfair, and is not in the Codex.

 

We are not in the paradise of Ultramar.  This is hell, bitter trench fighting, and we love it.

 

+Pax Vobiscum, you bastard!+  Felix calls, laughing in applause of my particular violence.

 

My murderous grin turns to see him hacking with a relic blade, like any of Dorn's sons, he desires to find the champion, to prove himself, yet this is a sally party, and designed to hurt the enemy advance against our walls.  I level my maul at him and wave him back to a defensive position.  Rueful nod to my new authority, he obeys.

 

Leaving me to the kill.

 

I set my borrowed bolt pistol to burst, and rip off three shells, which pepper my next victim, loosing my limbs to a ragged charge over broken masonry and slippery earth, reddened with sacrificial humours.  Hissing rain patters the skin of my harness, chips from ricochets, explosions toss dirty soil at my visor.  On reflection, the experience would stop any mortal man, force him to seek cover, but the Living Skull must not.  Death must not be denied.

 

The Iron Warrior holds his bully's courage, flinging a Krak grenade my way, and it erupts right in front of me, tearing a crater designed not to kill me, but interrupt my challenge, buy time.  He is no fool.  In war, there is nothing more precious than time, not even the sacrifice being made by the Gehinnom around me.  Two brothers fall to our raid, shot open and smoking.  I see all this as I desperately leap, a bank of black smoke and exploded gas my only concealment, despite the prime augurs in the helm gifted to me.

 

Stuttering bolt shells find me, thumping into war-battered armour, but it is not enough, and as I clear the fug, he is there, lunging forward with a bayonet attached to his boltgun.  Time slows as kill-urge dopes me, injectors already deploying to sting at my bicep and hip, combat stimms roiling through flesh as the storm batters air currents above, and sheds torrents onto us, rinsing the Iron Warrior with dappled glimmer.

 

Pain flares at my left hip, the bayonet finding a gap in the abutting plating, and as he realises it, the traitor throws forward, seeking to pin me, drive me to the ground for the final skewer.  I grapple with him, managing to get my bolt pistol between us, firing at close range, firing at whatever I can.

 

The rounds spank and snap at his gorget, one slipping in under his helm, into the shell trap formed by his plastron and visor, and it blasts a chunk from both.  The horns on his casque thrash in the agony, but this gives me salvation, and I grip one of them as he bullishly drives on, mud underneath my cleats carving runnels in the loam, until my boots hit plascrete and I ram flat up against part of our curtain wall.

 

My powerplant gouges the obstacle, but I have purchase.  He leverages his buried blade, tries to elbow me to get me off his ridiculous helmet, but the bayonet snaps, trapped between metal and meat, both of them hardier than his own corrupt steel.  The sudden jar gives me complete control and I smash my poleyn into his face as lightning crackles, snap-bang, snap-bang, snap-bang.

 

He reels, Lyman's Ear not good enough to compensate, and he pitches down to my left, prostrate, facing up in unbidden supplication.

 

I see his reddened eyes, casque now split with a telling crack down his visor, and his shock is delicious as the mace comes up, a pathetic protest from trembling hands ignored as it crashes down like the fist of Dorn himself, spattering the bastard into grisly slick at my feet.

 

To my right, by thirty metres, an ammunition supply vehicle is torn apart, setting off a chain reaction which lights up the ruined city with golden brilliance.  The deaths of our brothers have bought us time.  And time is only - can only - be bought with sacrifice.  It is a universal truth even the Iron Warriors understand.

 

I make a mental note to chastise Felix.

 

Neither peace nor mercy is dispensed here.

 

Only death.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The soil scooped into my hands is black.

 

I kneel amongst the ruins of our crops, now just hollowed stalks burned and charred.  The earth beneath my feet and that which I currently hold is poisoned, razed of even microbial life.  This whole world smells like cinders and ash, and I cannot help think we are nothing but ghosts, haunting the shadowlands.  Shades, refusing to die.  Even my home, my planet refuses it.

 

We cannot die yet.

 

The thought is a wellspring in my heart, bubbling up in acid as opposed to life-giving water, for all is spite and nought but conflict.  I turn my head at the thump of long-range artillery.  The enemy pounds our redoubts, and this short interlude is made possible only by the feints of our units trying to mask forces running the blockade to the east.

 

Shuffling feet and the sounds of broken humanity creep nearer as the train of refugees march across the land.  Fear haunts them, even as duty shrouds us, for are we not the Sons of Dorn, sworn to the defence of humanity?  It is the pain glove itself for me to watch them.  For us, that is the communinion with our great forebears, but this is Gehenna, and no such nourishing respite exists here.

 

I keep the soil in my hand as I stand up, moving to close with the column guarded by scant few of us, and maybe a rabble more of our PDF troops.  They are like us, red-rimmed eyes from fighting too long, boots almost falling apart from constant conflict.  The moment of humanity between us is suddenly not so distant.

 

Nor is the dark cloud that chokes the sky so far to the east.

 

The refugees report...something choking the hills, a wave of mechanikal marauders daubing the living guts of their victims about this warplate and machines.  I stand close to one of the soldiers as I gaze of the infinite charnel house that our land has become.  Even the snow of the mountains has boiled away, sloughing deep avalanches to pummel and drown whoever existed on their slopes.

 

"Keep moving," the soldier says, although his voice lacks any force.  he does not direct it at me, but the pilgrims behind.  I suspect his larynx is raw, or that is my choice - it is more likely his stimms have him existing in the twilight between wakefulness and mindlessness of the fugue I am familiar with when I drop into the glove.

 

The refugees are headed for one of our keeps, far to the west, where they will find food and maybe life, but for a few more days.  Our grip on the continent grows thin, and our fleet cannot repel all the enemy air power, dying in droves just to buy us this small window.  The pilgrims stand a little straighter as I loom, but then slip back into bowed hopelessness once I pass beyond their immediate, human faculties.

 

I turn my skull mask back to the torrent of wicked smoke, the fug of evil smocking our once beautiful, bountiful land and I begin to pray, bringing my inherited mace to my helm's lips. I pray for forgiveness, because it is not the foe who burned this field but us.

 

Our artillery now has open sights for miles.

 

And may the Emperor have mercy on anyone who crosses here after dark, because neither I, nor our gunners will.

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  • 1 month later...

There is no fire that burns brighter than the crucible of hell, a pit of damnation and bitter fury that burns within the human heart.

How much hotter then, do the geneforges that thump within my breast boil my blood?

There is no word for the anguish and demented fury that chafes me as I look upon the siege engines of the Warrior of Iron, their blasphemous automata and war machines wrought in black iron, slick with the purple sheen of Astartes blood.  I know it is the Blessed Dorn's holy essence, because our men are spitted atop the poles and raw, iwarped teeth of the battle equipment, bodies broken, long dead.

Impaled alive, split asunder by the dark powers, by the abject filth, who desecrate my sight with their existence, who insult me by the crime of being alive.

They are not fools, sending waves of expendable meat over our minefields.  An uneven drum tattoo erupts as invisible sticks rap the ground, tossing and blasting red geysers of unholy scum into our soil.

But we are not fools either.

And they are overconfident - too keen for the kill.  To hell with them - literally.

I stare out over the West Bastion, smiling beneath the Living Skull.  Our forebears learned from Hydra Cordatus, and we have allowed this menagerie of evil into the range of our light guns.  Now they will die.

It is my honour to begin the prayer to dispatch them, to convey our loyal dead into the afterlife in a meaningful way - yet this is Gehenna, and here - we send our men out with a bang.

+Master of Ordnance...commence bombardment!+

It takes a moment, but the thuds of artillery are the bass rumble compared to tinny snares before.  What destroyed the human miscreants, now rises to a crescendo of howling, screaming death.  Armoured carriers are blown apart, tanks caved in and disarmed.  Even the Land Raiders in the rear are molested enough for them to withdraw.

+Now, Master!+

The Master nods, his scarred face raw from combat since the siege started, at the vanguard of sally parties, the redoubtable officer unleashes one of our heavier guns in a a bullish roar, and I laugh as one of the command vehicles is completely obliterated a heartbeat later. I laugh at their demise.

The black soil is scarred, pitted and pocked with craters gasping fyceline smoke.  Each is a crucible of boiling hatred given form.

Our brothers are no more, the insult avenged, the enemy has withdrawn.

They will be back for another lesson tomorrow.

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