It is the only word to describe the feeling.
The rush of combat, the peace of prayer, the roar of the incinerator and the shrieks of the heretics as they die a death well deserved…
It is clean. Chaste. Righteous.
I rise from my kneeled position of obeisance before the shrine in my quarters. The time for meditation has come and gone. The time for battle is at hand.
I make the sign of the Aquila across my chest and whisper a prayer for the coming battle. This battle, this last, secret battle in the great war against insidious Chaos that writhes beneath the surface of existence.
It may be my last.
We are His chosen. We are His perfect warriors, trained for centuries, recruited from only the most powerful and the most faithful, subjected to the tortuous six hundred and sixty-six rites of purgation and lent a portion of His power, and with it, His pain. We have faced all this, faced horrors that would destroy the mind of a lesser man, and we have stood triumphant. This battle ahead of it is no different. We shall succeed. We must succeed.
And yet…it may be my last.
I force such black thoughts from my mind. Thoughts such as that lead to fear.
The door to my chamber still opens smoothly, silently, a lasting tribute to the blessings that have protected it across time and space. Within the armoury the suit shines dully, scarred yet loyal, covered in ornate scrollwork and purity seals and carved with holy scripture. In it, I stand nine feet tall, encased in an impenetrable adamantinum shell, my every sense enhanced, multiplied, empowered. It is indomitable, invincible, an emblem of His holy might.
I reach out to hold the ancient force halberd that I have wielded for three hundred and twenty years, ever since I was gifted with the most honourable rank of Brother-Captain. The delicate circuitry interlaced into the blade itself shimmers slightly as it reflects the faint illumination of the shrine. My name is carved into the haft, along with the names of the seven who wielded it before me. Nine thousand years this blade has existed, and only seven men have had the honour of fighting with such a blessed weapon.
Emperor, I come to thee.
It is time to go to battle.
One last time.
The great weight of my armoured form sends the deck wavering at every footstep, the shoulder plates barely fitting through the constricted borders of the docking collar as I reach my destination and enter. My four companions stand at my arrival and salute, armoured gauntlets thumping against adamantium breastplate and raising their weapons to attention. They, like I, have completed their absolutions and are now as ready as they shall ever be for the trials that await us.
Each one a proven warrior, their deeds so great that they cannot be told. When they die they shall rest forever in the cool dark of Titan, encased behind golden doors, and it shall be as if they never lived. For our existence must be kept secret, lest Chaos learn of our strength.
As I pass each of them, they bow in turn. They know as well as I do what we face now.
And they know what awaits them on the surface. They know that this battle will be the last that they will ever see.
They know, and they goon regardless.
The drop pod hurtles towards the barren surface of the condemned world like a celestial messenger descending from the heavens to herald doom and apocalypse. It is not unlike the actual situation.
This passage is the fastest, least comfortable known to man. Any lesser being would surely perish during entry, but faith lends us the strength and endurance to survive. Traditionally, strike squads use teleports, but the lengthy rituals and arcane devices that are required are not available. We shall have to make do with more…direct methods.
I look to my companions, the muted light of the drop pod gleaming off their baroque silver-grey armour. Decius nods in acknowledgement as my visored gaze passes over him. Tiberius stares at the pod's bulkhead, lost in thought, his left hand idly tapping the barrel of his incinerator. Michael looks away, as if ashamed to have warranted my attention. Tyrael raises his head proudly to meet my stare. Tyrael was always proud.
I do not need to test their faith. Their faith has been proven time and again, as has mine.
Now, feel the chamber sway, hear the harsh groan of metal as the pod rotates, lining up on the planet below. On the opposite wall, banks of lights above the door flash green, yellow, then red. A heartbeat's delay, and the thrust engines engage with a brutal jolt and a thundering roar. I am flattened towards the floor, vision dimming into blackness under the awesome pressure. Each breath is a harsh rasp, and my ears are filled with the dull roar of the thrusters. The incessant reverberations are making it difficult to see.
The capsule is buffeted roughly from side to side, and I know that we have reached the outer fringes of the atmosphere. Soon the pod will be a fiery meteor, descending upon the evil inhabitants of this world. They have betrayed Him, and are no longer worthy of life. They plead innocence, but what of it?
We hurtle down from the sky at a speed three times that of sound itself. And then we land, so to speak.
The impact is incredible. The ancient pod slams into the rocky soil faster than a speeding bullet, the shock absorbers entirely failing in their required purpose. Hideous spasms of agony lance up my spine, and involuntarily I cry out, blood gushing from my bitten tongue. Pain, fiery pain, blinds me. I ignore it, calling upon His strength to sustain me, and my vision clears to see that the floor of the pod is buckled and twisted. The clamps release with a quiet sigh, echoing my feelings as I lay one hand against the battered wall. The ancient spirit flares one final time, before sliding slowly into darkness.
The pod has played its part.
Now must I.
Then the walls open up, and light, O glorious, terrible light, my brothers, white light so pure it brought sadness to my heart burst through the split pod and revealed to us the world that we saw.
A world destroyed. A world devoted to Chaos. A weak link in the mighty chain that is the Imperium.
It is here, now, that a ritual is taking place, and we cannot allow it to succeed.
The restraints disengage. The gangway rocks as I descend, powered armour ringing against blackened metal. We are greeted by a sky covered in darkness, riven with unearthly lights born of heretical powers, a den of stygian corruption in the centre of a ruined city.
Emperor, I come to thee.
And we charge, charge out of the dark confines of the pod with storm bolters blazing, titans in silver armour, into the first of our trials. The crushed bodies of those slain by our descent lie around us. In the centre of a plain of shattered concrete, a myriad swarm of cultists sway in time to some unholy rhythm, caught in the throes of a demonic power. They do not notice our thunderous descent, so blinded they are by the forbidden pleasures Chaos has offered them.
The psycannon bolted to my arm jerks with every shot, sending bolts of psychically charged power into the horde of cultists, killing three or more with every shot. The vibrations from the mighty cannon send shivers through my arm. Decius follows suit, spraying a cluster of distant figures with a cloud of explosive shells. Tiberius lets loose a gout of flame from his blessed incinerator, heretics dying in a sea of promethium consecrated with the ashes of saints.
We are perfect, incorruptible. We are his finest. Though our enemies are legion, we are their match.
We are pure.
They rise to meet us and fall like wheat before the scythe.
Dozens of men are appearing now, swarming in confusion, divided and leaderless. I fall upon them with a cry of outrage, feeling the Emperor's guiding hand in every stroke. Hacking and slashing I hew into the crowd, lopping off heads and limbs with indiscriminate ease. In droves they die, reeling from my terrible countenance as I burn the truth into their souls.
My halberd rises, falls, and rises again, a slow, methodical swing that cleaves through the ranks of heretics. I thrust forward; impaling a man on the end of my ancient blade and throw his screaming body away before his corrupted blood can sully the holy weapon. A brutish man wielding a grotesque two-handed chainsword screams at me as he waves it madly over his head. I lift my arm and intercept the blow, the metal teeth grinding ineffectually against adamantinum gauntlet. I raise the psycannon and his head explodes in a shower of blood. Shells ricochet harmlessly off my armour, none finding a single crack to exploit. A chain swings towards me from the right and I catch it in one fist, using its owner's own momentum to send him crashing into a wall.
These are not our true target. They exist purely to lock up our efforts to reach the centre, where our goal awaits us.
The sorcerer. My enhanced vision can see him clearly even from here, his face covered in self-inflicted scars and heretical tattoos. His eyes roll back into his head as the perverse magic ripples over his skin.
I grit my teeth at the sight and channel my anger into the next swing of the halberd. We need to move faster. We do not have time for this.
Tiberius fires again, and a wave of white-hot promethium passes in front of my face, fire so hot it could vaporise iron. It vaporises the traitors just as effectively, clearing a path to our target. We storm the breach, Tyrael's and Decius' storm bolters providing covering fire as Tiberius and I carve a pathway through the horde. Michael stays at the rear, to hold off any attacks from behind.
I stride through a mass of flesh, crushing all resistance. These people have never seen the might of the Emperor's greatest servants unleashed upon them. They had no idea what awaited them in the depths of their depraved sin. Four powered paces, glaive flickering to left and right, and a further dozen are dispatched to the hell they deserve.
The halberd sings through the air as I spin it above my head.
He is calling me.
Emperor, I come to thee.
I cleave through heretics innumerable, gauntleted fists striking left and right, wading through a sea of bodies. The sorcerer pauses a moment in his casting to fire a ball of luminescent blue warp-fire at me; the infernally hot flame strikes my breastplate and the consecrated aegis seals absorb it harmlessly, leaving only a feeling of dull warmth in my chest. The sorcerer snarls at his spell's failure and throws a bolt of black energy from his other hand in a futile attempt to stop my charge. I twist to one side, and the bolt misses completely, burning into the crowd of cultists behind me.
With a whine of strained servo-motors and a creak of armoured plates bending with my own weight, I thrust forward with the halberd in a desperate attempt to stop the ritual.
I am too late. Even as my blessed glaive pierces his chest, he speaks the final words of the incantation.
I bellow my rage to a dying sky.
Now comes the true test.
The sky is rent in a tortured scream as a hole is opened in the very fabric of reality. The walls between the Warp and the Materium are split asunder, and balefire and lightning bursts from the gate, destroying solid matter and ripping great tears into the concrete of the square.
It is the vision that has haunted my dreams for the past months. A vision of death, of destruction, of the end times.
And all this not ten paces from where I stand.
Daemons come, chaotic things with shifting forms and hideous bodies, tortured souls howling in agony. Hellhounds leap over the bodies of the fallen, brass-armoured monsters wielding hideous greatswords, lithe seductresses dance through the chaos with blades twirling. We are surrounded.
I raise my halberd into the air and rally my brothers with a cry of defiance. Tyrael is the first to react, sending a hail of explosive bolts into the first of the daemons, followed by Michael and Lucius as they charge into the melee, force weapons swinging.
I see Michael swarmed and overwhelmed, and I imagine that I can hear his shriek as he is torn to pieces, claws cutting into his armour like it was not even there.
I hear a scream from my right via the vox-caster, and turn just in time to see Tiberius impaled upon the spines of a spiderlike abomination with the body of a man. The tank of promethium in his incinerator explodes a second after registering its wielder's death, consuming both Knight and Daemon in a ball of cleansing fire.
A pack of howling monsters charge at me, screaming for my blood. I move faster than thought, the halberd little more than a blur at the edge of my eyes, my every stroke reinforced by grief.
Then it comes.
The corpse of the sorcerer rises high into the air, jerking and twisting unnaturally, head thrown backwards and eyes staring sightlessly into the apocalyptic sky. With disturbing suddenness, his chest bursts open, ripped apart by the unholy birth of the thing that dwelled in its body. It lands amongst the shreds of skin and bloodied rags that is all that remains of the sorcerer; a shadow that dwarfs even me, a daemon ripped from the Warp.
A being more than twenty feet tall, a beast of shadow and flame, bull-like horns framing a canine face and eyes of hellfire. Two black, impossibly large wings sprout from its shoulders, and it holds a sword larger than a man in one twisted claw. I feel its fetid breath pass over me, carrying with it a hint of brimstone and the deepest depths of Hell.
The remainder of the horde pause in their assault to watch the ensuing duel.
Its dark eyes meet my own, and the sounds of the battle cease. All that matters is holding his gaze. All that matters is not turning in terror and falling under its shadow.
All that matters is this battle.
Purity against taint. Corruption against faith.
It strikes with blinding speed, axe crackling with warp-power, the air filled with lightning and thunderbolts as we duel. Its strength is phenomenal, the strength born of heresy and chaos. Concrete slabs crack beneath the weight of our blows, ancient pillars topple at our passing. I can barely manage to hold my ground. Its sword rises and falls, sparks showering as it is deflected by the haft of my glaive. I can barely manage to withstand the sheer strength of its blows. I find myself pushed backwards, pushed into the defensive, desperately evading the fiery blade.
I am going to die.
The daemon-sword clashes against the halberd yet again, but this time it is sent flying from my hands to clatter on the pavement two metres away. The loss of my weapon stuns me for one vital moment until the Daemon's fist catches me under the chin and sends me flying backwards to smash into the concrete. It cracks beneath my phenomenal weight.
I try to stand, but I cannot. My body will not obey me. My attention is consumed utterly by this monster that overshadows me.
The Daemon stands above me, triumphant. The gate thunders and howls behind him and I catch a glimpse of Chaos itself behind the threshold. His wings seem to block out the sun. He raises the hellish sword for one final blow.
End it all, I say to him. Finish it.
Hails of bolt shells speed past my face and strike the Daemon in the chest, halting it temporarily, if not killing it. I hear a roar of defiance and Tyrael and Lucius charge it, force weapons held over their heads as they head towards doom with a bravery I could not muster.
I try to tell them to stay back, tell them not to fight it, but it is too late. An almost careless blow sends Tyrael crashing through three walls. He does not rise. Lucius lasts a few moments more before the hideous sword separates his head from his shoulders, cleaving through adamantinum and ceramite exo-skeleton as if it was not even there.
The sight of my brothers being slaughtered so carelessly fills me with rage and I leap at the daemon heedless of safety, wishing only to destroy its taint, the taint that dares defile this sacred place.
My fear forgotten, I run and scoop up the fallen glaive, fuelling all of my strength into the charge. The Daemon swings the sword downwards, but I dodge to one side and it hits the ground, shattering the concrete. I run between its legs, swinging the glaive from left to right, cutting through the tendons. The Daemon howls in pain and falls to one knee. With a roar, I turn around and thrust the holy weapon into its side. A shower of blood sprays across my armour.
The Daemon screams again and turns, one monstrous talon reaching out to seize me. The claw closes on me, and I feel myself lifted into the air. The beast clenches, and I feel ribs break. Agony streaks through my torso. The halberd falls from my nerveless fingers. I struggle to breathe, my three lungs working furiously to push air through my crushed chest.
It laughs, an arrogant, mocking sound that makes me feel insignificant, as if I was the smallest of children before the greatest of giants.
Its laughter is cut off when I wrest one arm free from its grip and fire the wrist-mounted psycannon into its eye.
It screams and drops me, holding its face and stumbling backwards a few steps. That small opening is all I need. Calling on His power, I unleash a storm of blazing light into its twisted heart, and its body falls to the ground, not yet dead.
I raise the halberd two-handed and strike downwards, piercing the carapace of the Daemon's chest and cutting into its heart. The abomination lets out a strangled scream that trails off as its body dissipating back into the Warp, but it is a pyrrhic victory. I fall to my knees as the enormity of my loss consumes me. There is a gaping hole in my mind, a void once occupied by the link with my brother warriors that lie dead on my orders. My brothers are dead, and I stand surrounded by enemies uncountable.
Now, I know despair. Now, I know fear.
There is no hope of defeating them all. Only one path remains.
I knew it would come to this.
I must close the gate.
Emperor, I come to thee.
Gathering my strength, I ascend. Actuators whine as the ancient armour adds its strength to mine, pulling me upward. Minutes pass, dragging like decades. Daemons surround me, a gibbering horde of maddened warp-things. Red-skinned demons in brass armour swing great warp-forged blades and mutated monsters spew forth daemonic flames from their hands and mouths. Interspersed in their ranks are humans twisted by the malevolent energies, mutated into things less than a man.
Claws gouge deep furrows into my armour and inhuman jaws try to pierce the adamantinum plate. My gauntlet crushes the skull of one hellhound, and another blow sends a spiderlike creature to crash into the wall, its carapace shattered. Twisted arms hold me pinned. Their bodies weight me down, trying to drown me in a sea of madness. Surrounded, I am pressed hard to withstand their redoubled attacks.
Mortal strength is not sufficient.
I need a portion of His power. I open myself to the warp, searching for the peace of mind I need.
It comes to me.
I call on His presence, feeling the blazing white power gathering above my head in a halo of destructive, purifying energy. It expands in a wave of white-hot fire, a holocaust of psychic power that coalesces around me into a crown of fire. Those nearest to me are charred in an instant, unable to withstand the pure might of His glory. The stench of burning flesh fills the air. They pause in disarray, intimidated by this potent display of power.
I summon my strength and cast the rest back, lunging for the peak, for that tear in the universe, that door that must be closed.
I am but ten steps away.
Something catches my shoulder, a foul appendage of one who is more animal than man. I strike without looking, over my head, feeling the tip carve through flesh and muscle.
Five steps to go.
A blast of arcane energy melts my left gauntlet, enclosing my hand in a molten prison.
My hand reaches out, my mouth moving to recite the Litany of Purity that will heal this wound in the Materium and close it forever.
Liquid agony burns through me as a sword cleaves into my back, ripping through flesh and armour alike. I crash to the floor, nerveless fingers scrabbling at the concrete surface, and a dark cloud suffuses my mind. I feel His presence fading.
Death is coming for me. I can feel his foul touch at the edges of my mind. And yet…something holds out.
This will be my last battle. And I will not fail. There is no greater failure than to die without purpose. My death will not be meaningless.
I will not fail.
I rise with a roar, propelling myself upwards with the haft of my halberd. With one arm I throw off the daemons holding on to me. Ancient power flows as I leap the last few feet forward and chant the Litany through a mouth filling with blood.
His name dominates my mind.
The portal lies open before me, a swirling mass of Chaos. My hand reaches through the verge, and the edges shrink imperceptibly. It resists, but my will is the stronger, even if my body has failed.
With a crack of thunder and a burst of energy, the gate dies. With a howl of outrage, the daemonic host is pulled back into the Warp, dissipating like sand in a storm. The city is suddenly eerily silent in the wake of the battle. All that is left is the wind and the bodies of the dead.
It is accomplished.
I slump forward and close my eyes, whispering a final prayer, feeling my life ebb away.
Death rises to claim me, andI welcome him.
Emperor, I come to thee.
A/N: I actually had a lot of trouble with this. For one thing, you soon begin to run out of adjectives to describe demons. Claws, talons, wings, that's about it. I need a thesaurus.
Also, I think I strained the ending a bit. I was hard pressed to find a suitable way to finish it, and when I did, it didn't fit with the feeling I was aiming for. I got the idea originally from that scenario, Stop The Ritual. In terms of fluff, I think I kept pretty close to the actual thing, thought I may have overpowered the Knights for reasons of plot. Bah. I'm the author. If I say they can fight a thousand demons, they can fight a thousand demons.
I tried not to openly state that the Greater Daemon he killed was a Bloodthirster, but it's pretty obvious. Not the most original of choices, but the easiest to describe. Try describing a duel with a Great Unclean One. He vomits all over you, then dies from his own plague. Thrilling.
Please, review this. Tear it apart, go ahead.