(After a comment by 'SpecialGuy', I decided to respond. I have actually read 'Angels of Darkness, and my opinion is that both Lion El'Jonson and Luthor went bad for unknown and probably very different reasons. As stated in the book, the destruction of Caliban was caused as much by confusion and the spreading of misinformation as anything else. The point made that this may only have been Astelan's personal opinion is valid, and I have made a tribute to both reviewer and author that you will recognise if you read carefully. That said, I value all my reviewers equally, and this final chapter is a salute to you all. Ave Imperator, or whatever you prefer.)
"Arbites, there is no retreat, and no possibility of rescue, only death at the claws of the heretics that seek to defile this place. This we cannot prevent, but we shall die trying, for that is the duty of the Arbites! We are the guardians of the Emperor's law, and we must not fail in our duty!
Stand! For the Emperor's will is unflinching!
Stand! For the Emperor's light cannot be put out!
Stand! For the Emperor's law is absolute!"
Last recorded words of an unknown Arbites Proctor
The air was filled with the sound of gunfire, punctuated by cracks as bolter shells impacted uselessly against the forward armour of the two remaining Angels of Vengeance Dreadnoughts. They returned fire, Bachiel spitting a volley of missiles at the mounds of rubble behind which the Crimson Guardians took cover. Hamaliel's assault cannon peppered the mounds with bullets, throwing back any who rose to return fire.
In relative safety behind the two machines, Brother-Captain Jophiel strode along the boulevard, flanked by his forty First-Company Terminators: Squads Verchael, Cassiel, Penuel and Sachiel. Behind them came the remaining Tactical Squads, apart from a few he had sent scrambling through the ruins on either side of the Boulevard. If they got the timing right, and he was certain that they would, the Crimson Guardians would be outflanked.
Not that it was really necessary. The defenders possessed nothing more powerful than a plasma gun and the power fists of their Terminator squad. Losses would be minimal so long as no more mistakes were made.
Behind, the disgraced Interrogator-Chaplain strode at the head of Squad Cassiel. It was almost as though he was trying to stay out of Jophiel's way. Since it was he who had been in command of the disastrous first assault, such behaviour would be understandable.
The Dreadnoughts advanced, humming and clanking, weapons blazing at the red-armoured Space Marines who had the effrontery to stand against them. Bolter shells pitted their armour, doing nothing more than ruin the paintwork.
In the end, it was only the mounds themselves that halted their advance, as between them the rubble heaps completely blocked the boulevard. Denied their enemies, the Dreadnoughts tore at the rubble with their power fists, the Marines coming to a halt behind them.
Beyond, the Crimson Guardians took the opportunity to retreat, knowing that their best chance lay in killing the Angels of Vengeance at a distance. They had been pushed back to a wide plaza at which two streets intersected, leaving them with little if any cover. Captain Senshiro and his Command Squad took up position in the centre of the plaza, with the red-armoured Tactical Marines forming a barrier between them and the Angels of Vengeance. In the centre of the line stood Terminator Squad Ashitaka, storm-bolters aimed at the mounds, power fists humming.
Black-armoured Tactical Marines swarmed over the mounds, firing their weapons as they came. The Crimson Guardians returned fire, dropping a few of the attackers but doing little to stem the tide. Interrogator Chaplain Arbatel was at its head, emptying his bolt pistol into the thin red line as he sprinted forward. Smoke-grenades tinkled as they struck the flagstones, sending up white clouds to blind the defenders.
Then the tide came to a halt as the Angels of Vengeance came into the desired range. Rather than engage in melee combat for which they were not equipped, the Tactical Squads stood and fired, pouring bolter shells, plasma and flame into the Crimson Guardians. There would be no foolish mistakes this time.
Senshiro knew it was hopeless. His few surviving marines could not survive such a weight of fire. There was only one thing to do.
With an incoherent cry of despair and rage, he ripped his power sword from its scabbard and dashed forward. As one the surviving Crimson Guardians did likewise, charging into the billowing smoke. They knew that they were going to die, that there was no possibility of rescue. All that remained was to die like Space Marines.
And make the Angels of Vengeance and their brethren curse the day they picked a fight with the Crimson Guardians.
The Angels of Vengeance were ready for them, pouring fire into their charging enemies for as long as they could. Then red and black clashed; kicking, punching, head-butting.
Squad Ashitaka did the most damage, striking left and right with their power fists, tearing through armour, flesh, and bone. All the while their black-armoured enemies swarmed around them, beating and clawing uselessly at the scuffed and bolt-scarred Terminators. To their left the Dreadnought Shikanosuke waded into the Tactical Squads, scattering them as they tried to avoid the machine's deadly fist and armoured legs.
Behind them, Brother-Captain Jophiel had managed to reach the top of a somewhat-reduced mound. He watched the scene in mounting frustration.
"I don't care if he is an Interrogator-Chaplain," he thought bitterly. "I'll kill him myself when this is over. He'll buy no black pearl with the blood of my men."
Although his two Dreadnoughts were still clawing at the mounds, Jophiel could see that they had made enough of a gap to allow his Terminators through. He scrambled down the mound, ordering them to follow.
Time to clean up this mess before even more of his command was lost.
Adamar brought his chainsword down, the jagged teeth slicing though the exposed neck. Blood sprayed skyward as the marine ceased to struggle. No time for reflection though, as two more Angels of Vengeance charged out of the smoke. Although they had no idea of who or what he was, they had been ordered to take him alive. This was their misfortune, for as they tried to lay hands on him, Adamar fought back. They dared not harm him, but Adamar was not so bound.
It did not take much to dispatch them. Despite being full Space Marines, they were mere novices by comparison. They had not endured what he had endured, seen what he had seen, done what he had done. He had been wading through alien and traitor blood thousands of years before these whelps were even born.
As they lay twitching and bleeding, Adamar looked left and right, seeking his enemies. He had been forced to discard his helmet, and though smoke still clouded everything, he could still hear the crack of boltguns, the clump of heavy boots on flagstones, the screams of the dying.
"Surrender, Fallen One. There is no escape."
Adamar turned slowly, knowing with sickening certainty who it was.
The Interrogator-Chaplain came to a halt a short distance from him, bolt pistol at the ready, his face unreadable behind the skull-masked helmet.
"I am Arbatel, Interrogator-Chaplain to his Imperial Majesty's Chapter Astartes, the Angels of Vengeance, and I hereby place you under arrest. You will surrender yourself."
"All this over me" Adamar replied sorrowfully, knowing how his enemy would answer. "You killed them just to get at me."
"In pursuit of the Fallen, no sacrifice is too great!" the Chaplain replied with triumphal fervour. "Your friends were damned when they chose to protect you, when they chose to interfere in our pursuit of salvation! What did you expect? Did you think that we would spare them? Did you think that we would forgive them for their hubris? For thinking that they were our equals!"
"You have committed fratricide!" Adamar spat back, rage replacing sorrow. "I told them the truth and you killed them for it! All to protect a secret! I understand now what Astelan meant, and I see the truth of it in this bloody episode!"
Adamar raised his bloodied chainsword and pointed it at the Interrogator-Chaplain.
"I would rather go unto the Emperor with these whom you have slain than accept your poisoned chalice! It is you who are the Fallen, not I!"
"Silence!" the Chaplain roared, shaking with anger. "You will be redeemed! You will not bring his wrath down upon us!"
"You deserve nothing better!" Adamar screamed in rage and exultation. "You replaced his truth with lies! His light with darkness! YOU ARE TRAITORS!"
With a howl of fury, the Chaplain flung his bolt pistol aside and charged.
They fought like men possessed, the only sound in their ears the clash of steel on steel, their only thought to survive, their only wish to kill. The struck and blocked and parried, Crozius Arcanum against chainsword, blows glancing off shoulders and elbows. The experience of hundreds of years against the fury of the fanatic.
But the experience was not enough as, after what seemed like an eternity, Adamar began to tire. Arbatel saw his chance and swung the Crozius one last time. The head, fashioned into the shape of an Imperial aquila, struck Adamar's blade and broke it in two, the shorn end clattering away across the flagstones. The Crozius continued to fall, momentum and gravity bringing it down onto Adamar's unprotected chest plastron, tearing through the ceramite and knocking him to the ground.
Arbatel pulled his weapon free, ignoring the sparks that leapt up from the jagged hole. Adamar lay where he had fallen, breathing heavily, utterly exhausted.
"Kill me," he gasped. "I am of no use to you now."
"Oh no, Fallen one," Arbatel replied, unable to keep a hint of satisfaction out of his tone. "This is nothing compared to what will be inflicted upon you soon. That is, if you do not repent."
"I will never repent!" Adamar snarled, though defiance was all he had left. "My soul is not your plaything!"
Arbatel shook his head in apparent resignation.
"How little you know, Fallen one."
A plasma bolt struck the Chaplain in the shoulder, sending him stumbling sideways, Adamar tried to look, but could not move his head far enough. Arbatel struggled to his feet, snarling with rage as Captain Senshiro strode forward, plasma pistol aimed straight at him.
"You will not stand in my way, Crimson Guardian."
"I am already dead," Senshiro replied, his face impassive. "My men await me where the Emperor is. I will die in better comfort if I know that I have thwarted you."
Arbatel charged, howling with rage and swinging his Crozius. Senshiro dropped the plasma pistol and leapt at the enraged Chaplain, his right hand flashing to the hilt of his power sword.
Time seemed to slow as they passed each other. Senshiro halted, staring straight ahead, his face screwed up in concentration.
Arbatel staggered, wondering why he suddenly felt so weak. His fingers were numb, so numb that he barely felt the Crozius Arcanum slip free and fall the ground. He glanced down with blurring eyes, and saw the blood splattering on the flagstones.
There was no pain. It was strange, he thought, how little sensation there was. He barely heard the crash as he slumped to the ground.
Senshiro was confused. He turned, wondering who had spoken, and saw that it was Adamar, still lying prone. He was surrounded by column of intense white light. Electricity crackled about it, earthing itself in the ground. There was a metallic taste in the air.
The light faded, and where he had lain, there were only the crushed flagstones.
Senshiro knew what had happened. He felt better for it. The weight that had lain on him since the beginning of the whole affair was lifted.
The smoke was gone now. Everywhere Senshiro looked, there were either dead Crimson Guardians or living Angels of Vengeance. They stood in a ragged line across the plaza, hemming him in, weapons trained and ready. Behind them, Senshiro saw the two dreadnoughts standing next to a heap of wreckage that had once been Shikanosuke.
He looked up as the black-armoured Terminators stood aside. Captain Jophiel strode forward, his white armour battered and drenched in blood. He glanced at the body of the Interrogator-Chaplain, then stared at Senshiro. All was silent apart from the whistling of the wind between the ruined buildings.
"He was consumed by hatred. He did not understand." Jophiel gestured with his blood-encrusted sword at the dead Arbatel.
"But I do, Crimson Guardian. I do indeed."
The boltguns opened fire.
"Are they following us?"
"No Lord. They have not even detected us."
"Excellent. This mission has been a complete success."
And it had. Not only had they rescued Adamar, but they had done so without loss of life.
At least, no loss to themselves.
"I know what you are thinking, Jubelo. There was nothing you, I, or any of us could have done for them. Do not dwell on their deaths."
Although the words held neither emotion nor sympathy, Jubelo did his best to draw comfort from them. Sacrifice was necessary from time to time, and every Fallen Angel saved from the grip of the Unforgiven improved their chances of success beyond measure. The Crimson Guardians had not died in vain.
Jubelo looked up at the sound of footsteps and saw Ishmael enter the Bridge.
"Report, Ishmael," came the voice from the throne.
"Our guest was not seriously damaged," Ishmael replied. "He is in confinement, weeping for his friends," he added contemptuously.
"The deaths of brave men deserve tears!" Jubelo snarled, irritated by his comrade's churlishness.
"Not from us," Ishmael retorted in the same contemptuous tone. "We have better things to be doing!"
"It is not his fault," the voice spoke up, defusing the confrontation instantly. "His psycho-indoctrination has not been renewed in hundreds of years. Neither of you were any different when I found you."
The memory was not an easy one to bear. Although Space Marines were physically above and beyond ordinary men, it was the psycho-indoctrination that truly made them superhuman, inuring them to pain, fear, doubt, and sorrow.
But even Space Marines could be worn down. The things they witnessed and endured would drive even the most maladjusted human beyond the imaginable limits of psychosis. It was fortunate that the process could be repeated as often as necessary, allowing even the most active Space Marines to maintain their sanity for hundreds of years. Adamar's emotional breakdown was a blessing by comparison to what might have happened.
An insistent noise brought Jubelo's attention back to his console.
"My Lord, we are receiving a communication." Jubelo stared, mystified, as the information scrolled down the screen. "A hyper-light signal."
"Clear the bridge."
They obeyed, leaving their stations and filing silently out. They knew better than to argue.
Once they were all gone, the figure touched a button on the armrest of the throne. Before him, a holographic image shimmered into view. The head and shoulders of an aging human male, its hair long and pure white, its face wearing an expression of undisguised loathing.
"Cypher…" the head spoke first. "I trust that everything has gone to plan?"
"It has, Lord Valarafir," Cypher replied. "I have the one I wanted and your son Valarion is on his way home."
"My son," Valarfir snarled, "is barely alive, thanks to your scheme. My servant reports that he is in critical condition."
"He's a big boy now," Cypher said sarcastically. "Big enough to make his own stupid mistakes. Perhaps you should have sent his nurse with him."
"Curse you abomination!" the head snapped. "I am beginning to wonder why I made this bargain!"
"You know why. You wanted Damarose dead, and so he is. Your attack on the planet drew the Crimson Guardians, who obliged you by killing him and managed to protect Adamar long enough for me to arrive. Thus, Lord Valarafir, we are even."
There was a long pause, then the head cleared its holographic throat.
"If my son dies," it said at last, with the careful control of the utterly enraged, "I will pursue you to the ends of the Universe."
The hologram disappeared.
A few hours later
Inquisitor Denathril surveyed the ruins, trying not to despair.
For nearly six years he had pursued this lead; asking questions, pulling strings, calling in favours, torturing unfortunates to death for the smallest clue.
But once again the trail had gone cold. The killers of Inquisitor Constantine would go unpunished for a little longer.
Only a little longer. Denathril had sworn to find those responsible for the venerable Inquisitor's murder or die trying. Emperor-willing, there would be some clue in this dead place.
Scattered through the town, four-hundred black-uniformed soldiers scoured the ruins. They were his to use as he saw fit, a resource granted to him by the Inquisition to better execute his duties. Officially it had been in reward for his defeat of the techno-heretic Heisenschaft, but Denathril knew the real reason.
They wanted Constantine's killers found, for they had loved the old man almost as much as he did. Constantine had taken him when all others had refused, trained him, and been like the father he barely remembered.
That little encounter with the Angels of Vengeance on Caliostro had planted the seeds of suspicion in his mind, and the Inquisitor's death a few weeks later had confirmed them.
They would pay. By the Golden Throne, by the Primarchs, by all the Saints, they would pay for what they had done.
But Denathril could do nothing without evidence. The Inquisition was all-powerful, but taking on a Space Marine Chapter without proof of wrongdoing would create too many problems. The Inquisition knew from the example of Huron Blackheart how dangerous rogue Space Marines could be.
But the Angels of Vengeance were not the only Space Marines involved. He had pursued one of their Battle-barges into this system, only to spot a similar vessel heading away from the planet called 'Picard's Landing' at full speed, just before his own battleship, the Absolution, could get close enough to identify it.
To add the macabre to the mysterious, he had landed on the planet to find a town full of dead Space Marines. Apart from ascertaining that they were of the Crimson Guardians Chapter and that they had been killed by Imperial-pattern weaponry, he had found nothing else. If the Angels of Vengeance had been responsible for the massacre, along with that of the colonists, then they had covered their tracks well.
From his vantage point atop the shell of a ruined hab-block, his dark eyes scanned the ruins, wondering just what he had gotten himself involved in. He did not look as footsteps approached him from what remained of the stairwell.
"My Lord, come quickly. We've found something.'
The corpse was pale-skinned with delicate, almost elfin, features. Its perfectly-muscled body was clad in a blue body-stocking with decoration in patterns Denathril did not recognise. The only things marring its perfection were the holes in its torso, most likely made by shell fragments.
What was truly strange was that it was found lying on the floor of one of the red-painted Land-Raiders, as though the vehicle's users had wanted it to be found.
"Xenos creature?" Denathril asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the sight.
"I should say so," replied Magos Petrovitch. The Magos scanned the body with characteristic precision, his bionic eyes focusing and refocusing. Not enough of his face remained to make any kind of expression; but if there had been, it would have been one of intense concentration.
"These readings are most unusual," he said eventually, his voice as emotionless and mechanical as his visage. "This fluid appears to be made up of artificial cells, though I cannot discern their purpose. I cannot detect any remains of internal organs, at least not according to human biochemistry."
"That's all you can tell me?"
"Without a full autopsy, I fear so."
"Then bag it up and take it to the ship, along with any others you find, and take those too," he gestured at the wrapped bundles placed in an open weapons locker. "They wanted us to find them, so it would be rude not to."
He stepped out of the Land Raider as Petrovitch and two soldiers obeyed. Looking around, he saw another of his companions. The tall, pale-skinned man was watching a team of soldiers collect the bodies of the red-armoured Space Marines.
"It's too bad, Tiberius," the man said as Denathril reached him. His colourless eyes were full of sorrow.
"I know, Rax," Denathril replied.
"They deserved better than this."
"They did, though I doubt that they would have said the same of you."
"I don't mind that, Tiberius."
Some in the Inquisition would have found this conversation very strange. Rax was an Afriel, created from the genetic material of an Imperial hero in a belated attempt to discover whatever it was that made that particular individual rise to greatness. Although the Afriel made excellent soldiers, they endured the irrational loathing of just about everyone else.
That an Inquisitor would make use of an Afriel was understandable, but for them to be on first-name terms was unheard of. For most humans it would be like an untouchable trying to befriend an astropath.
Denathril, however, did not care. Rax had proved himself a most excellent soldier, worthy companion, and loyal friend. He would not spurn the albino over petty ignorance and prejudice.
"My Lord! This one's alive!"
Inquisitor and abhuman rushed over to where a sergeant and two soldiers were crouching by one of the fallen Space Marines.
"He's alive, but barely," said the Sergeant, drawing Denathril's attention to the auspex with which he was scanning the body. "Faint heartbeat and practically no breathing. If I hadn't scanned twice I wouldn't have noticed."
Denathril focussed on the Space Marine, concentrating the powers of his mind onto the fallen warrior. His psychic abilities would soon reveal the truth.
Yes. Life yet remained, but not for much longer.
"Get him to the ship immediately! Tell Doctor Franke to keep him alive at any cost!"
(Finished at last. I took lots of time in order to make it a good ending. Was it? I can change it if it was not, so please tell me. I am considering adding a 'notes' chapter after this to explain anything you want explained, including any info on the Crimson Guardians you would like. If you want some information included, other than previously stated, please tell me in your reviews!)