Humanity was on the brink of annihilation. However, humanity was a tenacious and stubborn species and refused to submit to fate. Instead, the UNSC and Imperium had decided to secure a future for their species even if the unthinkable should happen. Humanity was preparing to evacuate millions of civilians, vast amounts of cultural and historical artifacts, and a large portion of humanity's collected knowledge to an isolated region of the Galaxy the Imperium called the Halo Stars.
Fate, it seemed, had a sense of irony.
The region of the Milky Way Galaxy humanity planned to flee to shared its name with the very Forerunner Constructs that were the knife at the throat of the galaxy.
Lieutenant Garrison of the UNSC Army's Military Police emerged from his transport and grimaced. He was furious on several levels. Garrison was furious at his orders from taking him away from Earth when the Homeworld needed every available soldier to defend it. He was furious at the Covenant, Chaos, the Insurrectionists and all the other threats to humanity. In just over fifty years of constant war, humanity's population had been decimated. The refugee camps on the few remaining Inner Colonies and Earth were woefully overcrowded.
"Papa? Papa!" The shout barely cleared the droning of engines and the shuffling refugee queue. Garrison's head whipped around as he saw a small girl rush from the queue. An Imperial Naval Armsman tried to grab the girl, but missed. Garrison's fury melted away as the girl hugged his leg.
"Amelia, what are you doing here?" Garrison felt his voice break in relief. He may have not wanted to leave on the eve on the Battle of Earth, but he certainly didn't want his family to face the horrors of the Covenant and Chaos.
"Momma say's we're going on vacation," Amelia laughed as her father picked her up.
"We are," the Military Policeman lied with a nod. Garrison would not strip his daughter of her innocence and expose her to the unholy truths of the Milky Way.
"And I'm actually going to ride on a space ship!" Amelia said excitedly. Garrison nodded, both at his daughter's enthusiasm, and the approaching Armsman.
"I'm sorry, Armsman. My daughter just got excited seeing me. I haven't been home in three months," the Lieutenant explained.
"That may be, but we must maintain order," the Armsman said curtly.
"My daughter won't be an issue," Garrison assured the Imperial. "I'll take Ameila back to her mother now."
"Make it quick, the Refugee Fleet has to be out-system as soon as possible. We can't be caught by the Great Enemy or the Covenant," the Armsman said with just a hint of panic.
Garrison nodded and carried his daughter back to his wife. Katherine did not waste any time in embracing her husband.
"I missed you Sam," Katherine whispered. "Do you know where we are going?"
"Far, far away. I heard an Imperial call it the 'Halo Stars'. It is on the opposite side of the Core from the Orion Arm and it," Sam responded.
"It?" Katherine asked nervously.
"Something highly classified," the Lieutenant said fearfully.
"Covenant?" Katherine followed up.
"Worse," Sam said quietly.
"Begin boarding!" An Imperial said over an amplified voxcaster. The shambling queue lurched forward and the refugees streamed forward into an uncertain future.
Orbital MAC Station 'Bermuda'
"The transport just checked in," Lt. Aljehandro Coyoc reported to Captain Bucholtz.
"Clearance granted for FTL jump. Tell them Godspeed. They have to get out system before the Covenant and Chaos arrive," Bucholtz said authoritatively.
"Aye, aye sir," Aljehandro said crisply before relaying the commands to the waiting Imperial Colony vessel.
Bucholtz watched the enormous Imperial vessels broke orbit. The vessels were surrounded by a cloud of Imperial escort craft and UNSC frigates.
"It makes you uneasy, doesn't it?" Lt. Coyoc asked as he watched the transports prepare for Warp Transit.
"That the Imperials go through Hell for their FTL?" Captain Bucholtz asked. Aljehandro nodded. "Yeah, Slipspace may be a dangerous place, but at least it isn't Hell."
"The Imperials have been using that Faster-than-light travel for about as long as we've known about metal working. I think the convoys will be fine, sir."
"I pray you are right, Lt. Coyoc," Bucholtz grimaced. "As soon as the transports make the transition to the Warp, I want you to double our sweeps for Slipspace Wake."
"Aye, aye sir," Coyoc transmitted the commands to the transports. The massive colony vessels acknowledged the orders. Coyoc watched in somewhat morbid fascination as several smaller vessels, Imperial Escorts and UNSC frigates, attached themselves to the multi-mile long vessels like lampreys. Aljehandro caught the disturbing imagery and remembered what Commander Kale of the Imperial Navy had said during his briefing.
"As you are exposed to the Warp, even peripherally, you will notice several side-effects. These effects can be anything from an ever-present itch, disturbing thoughts, or other minor effects. Those who are more…sensitive may experience more intense symptoms. These can range from physical illness, spiritual illness or even permanent insanity."
Aljehandro had doubted, and had even mocked after a few beers, the Imperial briefing. Now, he shivered at his previous doubt. This was a mere glimpse of the Warp filtered through Gellar Fields, titanium, and distance.
'If it is this intense during a routine Warp Transit…what in God's Name will the Chaos invasion be like?'
Aljehandro realized the scope of the war to come and he despaired.
Stealth had long since been abandoned. The necessities of protecting The Orphanage outweighed any benefits that stealth could offer. Team Scimitar was the closest team to the Orphanage and was determined to protect their youngest allies. The SPARTANs did not give voice to the images of horror filling their minds. It was best not to think of the degradations Chaos would unleash.
"Six kilometers! Move it people!" the raspy voice of Scimitar lead barked over the radio channel. The other SPARTAN-IIIs acknowledged with standard radio clicks. Onyx was unnaturally quiet. The war's symphony of death, madness and destruction was absent.
"Contact on motion sensor," Tobias-G142 reported mechanically.
"Whatever it is, it's coming from the east," Greta-G023 added.
"Still no sat-coverage," Ilsa-G091 reported.
Greta nodded at her squad and they began to move out, but in a far more defensive formation. It would not save them. Tobias barely had a chance to shout "Incoming," before he was completely destroyed by enemy fire. Greta had lost her first soldier. There was no subtlety in the attack. It was born of rage and an eternal hatred. Mechanically, she noted that the weapon was likely a Chaotic bolter. The Celestial Lions had managed to send some information from their Battle Barge while tearing through the Chaos Fleet in orbit.
"For the Dark Gods!" The Chaos Space Marine cried as it ran clear through a pine-like tree. The Chaos Space Marine was a thing of madness and bloodlust. Scimitar opened fire, but their carbines lacked the power to even annoy the Fallen Astartes.
Greta nearly wretched, in spite of her mental conditioning and training, when she realized the right arm of the Chaos Marine was a fusion of the mechanical and biological. It was a nightmarish bladed thing. A foul fluid pulsed through translucent veins that attached to a silvered blade. Worse, the end of the arm was, in fact, a toothy snapping maw.
The clarity of training, of purpose, suddenly flooded Greta's mind. The arm was a weakness that could be exploited.
"Scimitar team! Fire on the arm! Fire on the god-damn arm!"
She may have rediscovered an island of clarity and sanity, but the Chaos Space Marine was still the embodiment of terror and revulsion.
Scimitar team managed to push past their terror and fire. Several rounds hit vulnerable areas on the Chaos Space Marine. Once again, Greta felt a wave of fear wash over her. The Chaos Space Marine and its arm both howled in pain for a moment. However, instead of raging at the pain, the Chaos Astartes reveled in it.
"This pain exalts Slaanesh! My endurance exalts Nurgle! My plots of vengeance exalt Tzeentch! And when I drink of your hearts, I will exalt Khorne!"
The Chaos Marine closed the distance faster than any member of Scimitar could imagine. It was even faster than the Elites that had butchered Greta's homeworld. Ilsa swung her MA5K carbine in desperation, but the clumsy strike missed. The Chaos Marine spun out of the way and followed through with a wide horizontal strike. Ilsa's head was claimed in the name of the Dark Gods. The Chaos Marine's bolter barked out a pair of shots. Rodger, who Greta had always joked only, knew how to say 'Yes sir/ma'am' and 'No sir/ma'am' was blown nearly in half by the bolt round. Nicolai had his arm blown off by the Chaos warrior's shot.
Greta screamed and poured her last magazine into the Astarte's arm. The next sound she heard was the tearing of metal and flesh. The young SPARTAN screamed as the Chaos Marine lifted her to eye level. Strangely, she quickly lost feeling around the area where the Chaos Astartes had impaled her.
"Witness the TRUTH of Chaos!" The Astartes ripped his mutated arm clear of Greta's ruined torso. Greta was bleeding out very fast. She lost consciousness for an indeterminate amount of time. The Chaos Marine's chanting ripped her back to the nightmarish present. Greta's bleeding had not slowed, but an unnatural awareness had filled her being. The SPARTAN-III noticed she was at the center of a crude circle.
A crude circle made with the remains of her team.
Greta screamed as a pulse of raw energy erupted from the ground beneath her. Her last conscious memory was of the energy flowing into the Chaos Marine. Her physical body died within seconds. Tragically, her immortal soul did not. Instead, it entered the realms of Chaos. Greta's arrival did not go unnoticed and an eternity of unspeakable torment began.
The Chaos Marine shrieked his adulation of his Gods as the taint of the Warp engulfed him. In seconds, his mortal frame ran like wax and he was changed. His mind had been torn down after hundreds of years of service to Chaos. The destruction of his will left the Marine little more than a shell filled with devotion to the Dark Gods.
His will was insufficient to sustain his sapience. In a word, he shattered. The Marine ceased to be a proud Astartes warrior. Instead, he was little more than an animal. His form was unrecognizable as even formerly being human. The former Astartes superficially resembled a hound. It was a fitting transformation. He had always lived as a hunting beast for his Dark Masters. Now that truth was as literal as it was figurative. The semi-mindless beast detected new prey.
His new purpose drove him forward.
UNSC Mining Orbital, Alpha Centauri
Inquisitor Jacques de Loreant and Sister Theresa of the Order Pronatus of the Adepta Sororitas silently entered the main conference room of the UNSC orbital. The conference room was filled with representatives of all the major religions of the UNSC, the Imperial Ecclesiarchy, several museum curators, and other guardians of Humanity's cultural and spiritual artifacts. In addition, Captain Spann of the UNSC Army and Captain Najjar of the Imperial Guard were present to safeguard the treasured relics of mankind.
"We have little time, so I will skip the hollow platitudes," the Inquisitor said harshly. "The task of protecting humanity's most ancient and revered cultural and religious treasures has fallen to us. The enemies of Man seek to utterly extinguish the light of Mankind. The Great Enemy and the foul Covenant desire our complete destruction. They seek to erase us. The God-Emperor and UNSC High Command have ordered us to defend the relics of Mankind with our very lives."
"What of us that have sworn oaths of non-violence?" The Dalai Lama asked.
The Inquisitor grimaced in barely-controlled disgust. "You will be taken to the Reliquary. You will be protected along with the Sacred Relics."
"Inquisitor," Captain Spann began, uneasy at de Loreant's title. "Will a pair of companies be enough to hold the mines? The briefing materials made it clear that the bulk of Chaos will strike directly at Earth. The Covenant, however, might attempt to establish a secure forward operating base here for repair and mustering reinforcements."
"An astute question," Jacques responded. "The God-Emperor has taken steps to assist in our defense. I have received a message directly from his Custodes that He in His Mercy has altered the Warp Currents surrounding this system. The Warp does not directly affect Slipspace under normal circumstances. However, a Warp Swell of considerable force can make Slipspace travel risky. Attacking Alpha Centauri would be too much of a risk."
Spann nodded, but was unconvinced. The meeting continued and eventually the Inquisitor dismissed everyone. Captain Spann took the opportunity to approach Captain Najjar.
"Captain Najjar, it's a pleasure to finally speak to you," Captain Spann greeted and extended his hand. Najjar looked at the hand for a moment before taking it. The Imperial captain was a bear of a man. Spann was a tall man at around six foot four. However, Najjar was nearly four inches taller. Najjar responded in a strange language that Spann could not understand.
"Captain Najjar thanks you for your welcome. He looks forward to protecting such holy relics alongside you," a far shorter man wearing a red sash over what appeared to be a dress uniform translated.
"You're welcome," Spann replied uncertainly. "I don't believe we have been introduced either, sir."
"I am Commissar Dabir Madani," the officer bowed. "Captain Najjar is from the world of Thariq. They speak a very rare dialect of Gothic. I will act as translator."
"Thank you…Commissar," Spann had not shaken his uncertainty. The communication difficulties would make the defense of the relics very difficult.
"Do not thank me yet, Captain Spann. Thank me when we have achieved victory," the Commissar said bluntly.
"To be completely honest, I'd rather be back on Earth," Spann responded. "That is the real battle. Yes, these are treasured artifacts, but they should have been sent with the evacuation fleet. Why send them here?"
Madani gave Spann an appraising look and rested his hand on his bolt pistol. "A question I have wondered myself. However, we have our orders." He quickly translated the conversation to Captain Najjar. The enormous Guard captain said something quickly.
"Captain Najjar shares our…curiosity but wishes to remind us that we have a purpose and with faith in the God-Emperor it shall be revealed," Dabir translated.
"We'll see. I think we need to go over defensive plans with our companies. I have an idea that will hopefully keep the Covenant from simply glassing us from orbit…"
Forerunner Ship in Slipspace Transit
Stealth was his ally now. He was outnumbered, outgunned, was coming dangerously close to being outmaneuvered. Master Chief had fallen back on an instinctive knowledge he knew shouldn't be possible. The SPARTAN possessed an innate ability to use Forerunner or Forerunner-based technology. It was almost as if the knowledge was hard-wired into his very DNA.
However, that was a question for another time. A time after the War. A time after he got Cortana back.
Now, he had one focus. John was going to cripple the Covenant's command structure. The Prophet of Truth would die.
A part of John-117, a part he had grown to fear after his encounter with Khorne's Daemon, hoped to finish Truth as brutally as he finished Regret. Master Chief refocused on his mission and continued to stalk an Uggnoy Patrol. He was running dangerously low on supplies. The Grunts were returning to a barracks facility. Most were happily chatting about the food nipple. Chief, however, was hoping there would be some kind of weapons locker in the barracks. The Brute overseer had just left his charges in disgust. Now, Chief mused, was the best time to strike.
Chief slipped into the Grunts' hovel and moved amongst the inebriated Grunts. He didn't kill any of the Uggnoy. Instead, he found a weapons locker that was left opened by the trashed cannon fodder.
'This is like Christmas,' the ghost of Cortana's presence whispered in his mind. John had never celebrated any religious festivity, and with his exposure to the horrid religions of Chaos and the Covenant, he likely never would. But in this case…he definitely agreed with what Cortana would have said. The locker held a pair of Fuel Rod Cannons, Needlers, and plenty of ammo for both weapon types.
Suddenly, a flash of anger and revulsion filled John's mind. He mechanically went to work setting up a crude detonator in the weapons locker. Master Chief had not used with technique in seven years.
Not since Draco III.
Not since walking through the hellish landscape of mass graves full of murdered human civilians and feasting Jackals. The SPARTANs and other UNSC personnel had shown no mercy. Mercy had never even occurred to them. It had been a total and complete slaughter.
'The Imperium would have appreciated the fires we tossed the dead Covenant onto,' Spartan-117 thought.
Draco-III had affected him deeply. If it wasn't for the intensive indoctrination and mental conditioning, John would have likely been driven mad by what he had seen. He remembered the embodiment of anger and vengeance Colonel Richard Wright had become after Draco III.
It shook John to the core at the sudden realization. However, the SPARTAN did not allow himself to pause and consider that Richard, who had been in Mombasa when Chaos had arrived, may have been embraced the Dark Gods.
'I don't have time for theology,' John chided himself and broke into a run as his HUD revealed that his IED was about to go off.
Once again, John slipped into the shadows and resumed his hunt.
The Primarch's Vengeance in Warp Transit
Captain Thomas approached Chief Librarian Casimiro. The Howling Griffons psyker opened his eyes as the Imperial Fists Captain approached the barrier separating the Specularius Navigo from the rest of the bridge.
"The Astronomicon exists," Casimiro said in lieu of a greeting.
"Only the Emperor can create the Astronomicon," Captain Thomas challenged.
"That is an immutable truth, Captain. Recently, however, there was a flare of psychic might I have never experienced before. The Emperor must have revealed himself to guide Humanity through this trial," the Chief Librarian explained. The Astartes, still clad in Terminator armor, deactivated the numerous psychic and mundane safeguards before exiting the cramped chamber.
"How soon shall we return to Terra?" Captain Thomas asked impatiently. The great enemies of Man were gathering for an assault on the cradle of the Imperium and the entire species. He could not live with the shame or betrayal of not fighting on the front-lines as his Emperor's foes arrived.
"Terra is on a war-footing. They should be making contact with us soon," Casimiro answered. "As for real-space transition? Within the next two hours if the Warp Currents remain favorable."
Captain Thomas spent the next hour attending to his battle-brothers, wargear and the soldiers of the Guard and UNSC Marine Corps. The Imperial Fists had long prided themselves on their connection to the entirety of the Imperium. They may have been transformed into gene-altered supermen that stood apart from the teeming masses of humanity, but they never forgot that they served and protected the Imperium as a whole.
Warin also had a great deal of respect for the survivors of Halo. They had fought tenaciously and survived in the face of near-impossible odds.
"Commissar Halvorsen," the deep voice of the Astartes echoed in the corridor. "I would speak with you."
The Commissar had been reviewing the roster of surviving and injured soldiers when he heard the Astartes approach. He quickly put aside that task and rushed to the Astartes side.
"Yes, my lord?"
"I have spoken with Chief Librarian Casimiro. Constant Astropathic communication with Terra should be established soon. In addition, the real-space transition should commence within an hour."
The Commissar bowed as he received the news. "That will lift the spirits of our men, my lord."
"The UNSC Marines and Guardsmen fought with valor and skill. They deserved an update. We shall need their valor and prowess before the end," Thomas said with a quick nod. The Astartes departed without another word spoken. The Commissar was not insulted; on the contrary, he was greatly honored. The Howling Griffons had barely acknowledged the existence of the 'merely human' warriors on board their ship. The Imperial Fists, on the other hand, were far more accessible.
Commissar Halvorsen returned to 'his' soldiers and informed them of the news. As the morale officer spoke to the Marines and Guardsmen, Captain Thomas rejoined Captain Gregori on the bridge of the Strike Cruiser.
"Transmit the Howling Griffon's identification information," Gregori ordered. The Astropath bowed deeply and scurried off to carry out the Astartes Captain's orders.
The Howling Griffons officer turned to his counterpart. "Terra has made contact. They are grateful for our arrival, but they are proceeding with caution."
"It is a prudent course of action. We are, after all, heading into a Primaris Warzone," the Imperial Fist pointed out.
"Forgive my intrusion, lords," the unnamed Astropath spoke up. The two Astartes captains turned to the man. "Terra has acknowledged our identification codes. High Command wishes for us to head for Luna and to prepare a roster of our forces and munitions needs."
"Serf, is there any news of the Imperial Fists?" Thomas asked before the skittish psyker could rush off.
"High Command mentioned that there is a substantial Astartes force on Terra and Mars, but they did not reveal details of the individual chapters, my lord." The man handed off a printout to Captain Gregori before returning to the sanctuary of his choir.
"It seems we arrived before the bulk of our foes," Gregori rejoiced as he read the printout.
"Good, I always preferred destroying the Emperor's foes with my sword over fleets." Thomas felt his helmet seal into place and took comfort in the autosenses that flared to life.
"Strange for the Master of the Fleets," Captain Gregori pointed out.
"The Imperial Fists respect Guilliman's Codex, but we follow the traditions of our own Primach as well. Honored Dorn appointed the Captain of the Second Company as the Master of the Fleet. My title is Master of the Marches."
Gregori nodded. "I forgot that not all chapters are descended from the Ultramarines."
"If I may take my leave, Brother-Captain?" Thomas bristled somewhat at the slight.
The Howling Griffons Captain nodded. Thomas strode from the bridge and made his way to his brothers. The Imperial Fists Combat Squad rose to their feet as the captain entered their small sanctuary.
"Brothers, our next battle awaits. As our Primarch-Progenitor, Rogal Dorn, defended Holy Terra from the forces of the Arch-traitor, we will defend Terra from the forces of Chaos and the Covenant. So long as one Imperial Fist draws breath on the soil of Terra, the homeworld of Mankind shall never fall."
Colonel Gryta had positioned her regiment throughout the city. She was currently in a UNSC modular Barracks that had dropped just outside the city. The 4th Ersawi Regiment was dug in throughout the city. Colonel Gryta was glad that the UNSC engineers and Adeptus Mechanicus had reinforced the city's subway system as best they could and installed several modular shelters throughout the city. Bern wouldn't the target that Geneva would be, but there was always the chance that Covenant or Chaos raiding forces would strike the city.
Then there was the odd feeling Gryta could not shake.
The Ersawi officer was certain there was something in this city that held some significance. It was gnawing on her sanity.
'I am going to check some of the other shelters,' Elsa decided. She decided to travel amongst the tunnels and secured paths. Nominally, it was a standard sweep. Colonel Gryta stopped at various checkpoints and talked with her Guardswomen and the UNSC troopers. She managed to keep her composure, and no one had an inkling of her growing unease.
Elsa felt her heart leap out of her chest as she entered a make-shift shrine to the God-Emperor. The relief of being in such a sanctified place was palpable. Elsa Gryta felt her unease ebb and she could breathe again.
"What is my purpose here?" The Colonel whispered to the small silver Aquila.
"Our purpose is to serve the Will of Our Emperor," a man's gravelly voice filtered into the chamber. Elsa whirled around and drew her bolt pistol. The man's reverence to the Emperor did not pull her off her guard.
"I am Colonel Elsa Gryta…" the Guardswoman began.
"Of the 4th Ersawi Lancers Regiment," a second voice flitted through the small chamber. The Colonel tightened her grip on the bolt pistol and was a single thought away from pulling the trigger.
The man who had been the first to speak reached into his pocket and produced a small icon. It was a strange faux-marble 'I' with a metal skull in the center.
"Do you recognize this?" The man questioned.
Elsa felt the grip on her pistol slacken involuntarily. "I-I've heard rumors."
"Good, that means we have been sufficiently discreet. Your theory is correct. I am Inquisitor Trireus Agmar of the Holy Ordos," Agmar said formally.
"My regiment has never faltered in our faith or in our duty," Gryta responded with all the courage and defiance she could muster.
Agmar walked past the still armed Colonel and signed the Aquila at the small shrine. "Of that, the Inquisition has never had cause for investigation. Ah, but you must be wondering the 'whys' and 'whats'."
"I-I am curious," Gryta cast a glance at the very androgynous figure standing in the shadows. The…person had to be a psyker of some kind.
"Did you truly believe that passing through the Anomaly would have no effects? Even though the God-Emperor Himself shielded the Faithful, that much Warp Exposure had a profound impact on many individuals. You were one such individual," Agmar explained.
He watched as Gryta lowered her bolt pistol. The shock had shattered all of her proud resistance.
"Do not overly fear my intentions; we are not going to censure you or remove you from command. My purpose comes from the God-Emperor Himself," Agmar continued. He motioned to one of his agents. A short, wide man wearing carapace armor strode quickly to his master's side. He produced a small item from a pouch. Agmar accepted the item and approached Gryta.
"This is a Forerunner device," Agmar announced without ceremony or context. Gryta, however, instinctively knew she should accept the item. The Guard officer held the small device in her hands for a moment. She ran her finger along a small glyph-ridge on the device. In an instant, she divined the small device's function. Elsa activated the device and encased Inquisitor Agmar in a containment field.
"What has happened to me?" Elsa demanded.
Behind the energy shield, Agmar smiled. "You have conquered the Geas the Forerunners placed upon us. They sought to control and direct us, but Humanity is a flame. We are power and can be guided, but ultimately answer to no one other than our own destiny and will. You are evidence of this."
"I will not be a specimen to be studied in a lab," Elsa had regained her composure and purpose. The fact she was being targeted by several weapons was actually a comfort. It was familiar.
"Of course not," Agmar assured her. "You will be the wind that guides the flames of Humanity's purification of the Galaxy. The Forerunners had no idea what they have granted our species. They have assured Humanity's dominance for all time!"
Oracle Master Yeur was standing in a small room the humans had provided. On the surface, they were merely 'protecting' him from 'vengeful' elements. The truth was he was in a convenient location for observation and interrogation. He was meditating on the nature of duty and order when the door opened.
"The Emperor and the UNSC Security council demand your presence, xenos," one of the Imperium's Space Marines ordered. Yeur took in the impressive warrior. He wore ornate blood-red armor. The Space Marine carried a massive hammer that, on a very basic level, resembled the Jiralhanae's gravity hammers. However, the human hammer was far less aesthetically distasteful.
"Of course," Yeur replied as he rose to his feet. "You have the air of conquest about you. Would you honor me with your name?"
The Space Marine nodded. "I am Captain Gabriel Angelos of the Blood Ravens."
"Very well, Captain Gabriel Angelos. I shall accompany you," the Elite replied. The Astartes did not speak again, but led Yueh out of his small holding area. A pair of human demons wearing the heaviest armor the Elite had ever seen joined the procession.
Eventually, Yeur entered an underground command bunker. The humans had substantial guards and Yeur was curious as to the reasons for such heavy defense. Sydney was a relatively secure area of the planet. The Continent known as Africa had borne the brunt of the initial Covenant Assault.
The Golden Human eyed Yeur neutrally on the surface. No one save the Emperor and Yeur knew the complete truth. The human psykers had a vague, woefully inadequate, and potentially soul-crushing view of the psychic probe. Tzavaras, as the human referred to himself in Yeur's mind, was accessing the Collective Unconsciousness of the Sangheli people.
It should have been an impossibility.
"Have you learned what you needed?" Yeur asked through labored breaths.
"I have," the man said simply.
"You could have gained my knowledge at any time," Yeur said simply. "Why bring me here?"
Lord Hood crossed his arms. "The non-aggression agreement between your people and humanity is the only hope we all have of defeating the Prophets. We are not going to jeopardize that by torturing you."
Yeur cast a glance at a nearby screen. The reason was obvious now. "My brothers have arrived and you wish for conformation of their intent."
The assembled humans nodded. Yeur could not miss that several could barely contain their hatred of the Sangheli. The ancient Oracle Master was pleased by this observation. A species that was willing to forgive an enemy was a species that would have no future.
They would be prey for the strong and destroyed.
"This is Oracle Master Yeur to Sangheli ships. My mission from the College was a success. I say again, all objectives have been fulfilled."
The distinctive deep warble of an Elite filled the com. "I would have expected no less, Oracle Master."
"I would have fulfilled my mission, even in death. It is a shame I must fight my battles for the Sangheli with words instead of cleansing plasma and blade." Yeur pointedly ignored the tension and rage his reference to the Covenant's orbital superiority generated in the humans.
"Oracle Master, we have returned from one of the Sacred Rings. The…ceasefire with the humans holds. There are several on board our vessel." The unnamed shipmaster reported.
Lord Hood decided to join the conversation. "This is Admiral Hood. I demand to speak to my people."
"Admiral Hood, Commander Keyes reporting," Miranda said with evident relief.
"What is the status of your crew?" Terrence Hood
"Scattered, Admiral," Commander Keyes admitted. "Half of the Marine and Guard compliment is with me and the Elites. The rest of the Guardsmen and Marines are unaccounted for…along with Captain Thomas and Librarian Casimiro and the other Space Marines."
"Damn, we will need every Space Marine and soldier if we are going to survive this," a UNSC officer cursed.
"The question remains," Lord Hood cut in. "Where exactly are we going to do with the Sangheli?"
Captain Angelos stepped forward. "If I may?"
Lord Hood, the God-Emperor, and the acting president of the United Earth Government all gave the Astartes permission to proceed. The civilian government's attempt at relevancy was completely ignored. Lord Terrence Hood received a nod of acknowledgement. Gabriel signed the Aquila and bowed deeply in reverence to the Emperor.
"The Blood Ravens have established a Castellum at Uluru. In addition to the might of the Third Company and elements of the Blood Ravens First, Seventh, and Tenth Companies; the Adeptus Mechanicus has an Ordinatus Platform in the area. The Xenos can repatriate our soldiers and disembark there."
"That is a wise course of action," Behar agreed.
"I will task a frigate flotilla to escort in the Supercarrier," Lord Hood added before tapping away at the terminal in front of him. "Contact Gregorian Squardon; I want those Firestorms on point."
Lord Admiral Hood had been granted overall command of the human naval forces as a sign of trust and respect. The Imperium knew well the value of the long road. Behar, however, knew the truth the Imperials could not accept.
There was no going back. There would be no Imperium of Man as it had been in the Forty-first Millenium. The coming battle would give birth to something new.
'Perhaps my dream of an enlightened psychic humanity can be saved,' the Emperor thought.
The ground wailed in torment as Te'oma, once known as Tom, vented his rage and hatred upon the world. Psychic fire ravaged everything in front of the sorcerer. He embraced and returned all the bitterness accumulated in his long years of reflection.
'We may all be mere pieces on the board, but a skilled player does not waste valuable resources!' Tom raged at the world. He knew it could not answer. Onyx possessed no signature in the Warp.
There was a very simple reason for the lack of signature. Onyx was not a natural planet.
It was a shell. The Forerunners had encircled a Slipspace structure with uncountable Sentinels. The Martyrs of the Mantle had designed Onyx as a Shield World; a place they could take refuge from the lighting of the Halo Array. However, the Forerunners had been unaware of an ancient wonder beyond even their advanced sciences.
The Black Library existed. Onyx was situated near an ancient spar of the Webway and the Onyx Dyson Sphere intersected perfectly with the Old One's transit system.
'We must secure the Dyson Sphere. The ashes of the Forerunners and the Eldar cannot keep us from our destiny,' Tom declared.
'Nothing can, my dear Tom,' Lucy assured her companion through their psychic bond. 'Not even Ambrose, the other blind fools of the UNSC or the slaves of the Corpse God. They may be destroying our pawns, but they are as ignorant as an infant in the womb.'
Tom smiled as he watched his Rubric Marines continue their implacable advance. The automatons fired unnaturally accurate Inferno bolts into the Sentinels. Dozens of Sentinels fell from the sky even as their attacks failed to penetrate the Warp fields protecting the Chosen of Tzeentch.
The Chaos sorcerer reached his destination and smiled in grim satisfaction. Sentinels redoubled their efforts to repulse the Chaos Space Marines. They were doomed to fail. Tom and his Rubric Marines were close enough to their objective that the gaze of Tzeentch itself had fallen upon them. Reality itself wailed in pain as the unknowable Changer of Ways appraised the battle. Sorcerous flames erupted from screaming mouths that had appeared in the ground. Tom noticed the hesitation in the Sentinels as their programing struggled to comprehend the Warp. The Forerunners had programmed their most common guardians to understand the laws of physics.
Unfortunately, there was only one law in the blighted wastes: the Law and Will of Tzeentch.
The Flickering Fires of Tzeentch lashed out and consumed the Onyx Sentinels and Tom triumphantly approached his prize.
"I entreat thee, Changer of Ways! I call upon thine might, Architect of Fate!" Tom bellowed as he approached a seemingly inconsequential thermal exhaust port. Four of the Rubric Marines took their positions around the port as other Rubric Marines dragged five stasis pods into position. Witchfire poured from the optics of Tom's helmets as he circled the port. The Rubric Marines and Stasis pods matched with Tzeentch's sacred number of nine.
The former SPARTAN-III moved among his 'cousins' as he searched for the catalyst for his dark rite. Tom was not seeking the leader of Team Katana. Instead, he was searching for the most ambitious.
"Know that you are contributing to glory," Tom stated grandly as he paused in front of his chosen sacrifice. He reached deeply into the Warp and transferred a tendril of Tzeentchian flame into the Forerunner stasis pod. The Spartan died in silence and became the fuel for a Warp-Flame conflagration. Tom telekinetically lifted the pod and lowered it into the exhaust port.
In a moment of monstrous beauty, the energies of the Warp ravaged the Forerunner Information network. Lightning erupted from the ground and obliterated the active Sentinels and forced the inactive constructs to melt and fuse into a proper planet.
Tom allowed himself a moment of triumph as he screamed to the sky like a crazed Khornate Berserker. Even the sight of the Celestial Lion's drop pods entering the atmosphere could not steal this moment of utter glory.
"You are too late, slaves of the Anathema!"
Commissar Madani was no hiver. He barely remembered his original homeworld before it was stolen by the foul green tide of WAAAGH! Meklug. The most vivid images, other than the rampaging terrors of the invasion, were of the red clay hills and the Kedar trees. These tunnels were claustrophobic and cold. He did not like this place. In a moment of selfishness, he wished he was with the Inquisitor de Loreant and Captain Spann on the orbital. The Commissar irrationally felt as if he was buried alive. Dabir resigned himself to performing his duty and found comfort and courage in his purpose. He moved throught the fortified tunnels and saw to the needs of the troopers.
"Commissar?" A UNSC soldier asked as he approached. The soldier flashed a salute.
Dabir returned the salute sharply. "Is there an incident to report?"
"U-Urgent message from the Orbital, sir," the soldier reported quickly.
"Thank you," Commissar Madani responded equally as quickly and made his way to the nearest command center. Two Guardsmen of the 3rd Company of the Thariq 91st Regiment snapped to attention as the Commissar entered the command center. Dabir expertly hid his frown. The Thariq 91st had been devastated by the Tyranids of Hive Fleet Cerastes and had barely reorganized itself into six functioning companies on Kar Duniash when Lord Solar Nuliez had ordered them to take part in the Anomalus Crusade. It was a shame that High Command had declared that the Thariq 91st was to be deployed as individual companies to support other endeavors. Dabir shook off those thoughts as he completed the Rites of Encryption.
"This is Commissar Dabir Madani," he reported.
"Commissar, this is Captain Spann. Quixotic Wind just detected Slipspace Whispers at the edge of the system. The Covenant is coming. Prepare for war," the UNSC captain said solemnly.
"Captain, my earliest memory is war. I have been groomed and prepared for battle since my childhood. The Emperor protects."
The vox contact was broken and Commissar Dabir Madani unclasped the holster of his bolt pistol. He turned to the two guards and nodded once. The Commissar flipped a switch and tapped into the vox network. He spoke first to the Thariq 91st in their native dialect of Gothic. The words flowed like water. Madani spoke to their faith in the God-Emperor and their proximity to Holy Terra. He called upon the Guardsmen to defend the relics of their species.
Commissar Madani's voice reached a crescendo as he called upon the Guardsmen to stand beside their brothers in victory. He paused as he finished his speech. It was not planned, but based off the well-worn skeletons the Schola Progenia had drilled into his memory. With a deep breath, Commissar Madani began his speech to the UNSC marines.
"Soldiers of the UNSC, the Covenant is at our door…"
As the Commissar gave his speech, Captain Spann was waiting for the inevitable. The 'Dumb' AI Quixotic Wind was monitoring the Slipspace Whispers. The sheer scale of the whispers was unlike anything in the UNSC databanks.
"Not even the assault on Reach had Whispers like this," Spann breathed.
"The Orbital's Machine Spirit has calculated that most of the Covenant Fleet is moving on," Inquisitor de Loreant replied harshly. "They are going to strike Holy Terra."
"Attention, command staff," Quixotic Wind interrupted any response Spann could muster. "I have confirmed three Slipspace Exit Points at the edge of the system. Do you wish for active scans?"
"Negative, passive scans only," the Inquisitor ordered.
The minutes passed as if they were days. Finally, the AI spoke again, "Command staff, confirmed the Covenant force. The profiles match those of a Jackal Privateer and two smaller Slipspace-capable craft."
"Scavengers," Spann spat the word. "They are looking for easy targets for pillaging."
"They have found nothing of the sort," Jacques sneered. "They will die soon enough."
The AI's avatar flashed in alarm. "I have detected intrusion attempts!"
"Do not counter! We have to make them think this is an abandoned mining facility," de Loreant commanded.
The AI logged an ineffectual protest, but allowed the Kig-Yar to penetrate the only active storage medium on the orbital. "The Jackals have discovered the Reliquary! The privateer and its two escorts are accelerating."
"Martel, prepare to arm the melta torpedo," the Inquisitor ordered one of his acolytes. "Captain Spann, see to the platoons. When the enemy craft dock, I will psychically shield our presence. Use your best judgment as to whether you wish to board a Covenant vessel or retreat to the surface."
"Yes, sir," Spann responded before heading to see to his men. The Inquisitor took his position in an escape pod. After an intolerable amount of time, the Jackal ships docked with the station. The airlocks were blown away by plasma explosives and an agitated lance of Jackals cautiously made their way into the station. Spann and his marines watched from their concealed, psychically and physically, positions as four more lances boarded the Orbital. The Kig-Yar, lulled into a mirage of security by de Loreant's psychic gifts, began to ransack the human facility.
"Now!" Spann ordered through the heavily encrypted human network. Marines quickly boarded each of the smaller xenos craft. They weren't sure how many Jackals remained on board and did not want to risk a prolonged engagement on an enemy controlled ship. Instead, they quickly located power junctions and placed a truly excessive amount of C-7 explosives.
Every team reported that their objectives were completed. Quixotic Wind, in its typical panicked voice, reported that the Kig-Yar had broken the limited encryption of the databank and had located the Reliquary location in the tunnels of the planet below. The privateer began moving towards the surface of the planet to plunder humanity's relics.
"Destroy your targets and retreat to the surface," de Loreant ordered.
The melta torpedo roared from its jury-rigged launcher towards the privateer. Its machine spirit performed basic evasion and dodged the few ill-aimed shots from the Kig-Yar ship. The capital-grade weapon struck the shields of the Covenant vessel and exploded in a violent conflagration. Inquisitor de Loreant, his retinue, and Spann's marines used the explosion as cover to retreat to the planet's surface and the safety of the subterranean tunnels. As the escape pods rained down, the C-7 explosives were detonated and successfully damaged the smaller craft. Quixotic Wind contributed to the assault as programed. The AI vented the entire Orbital once all the humans had evacuated and the five Jackal lances were condemned to a horrible death in the cold vacuum of space.
Jacques smiled as the flare from the melta torpedo's detonation subsided. The Covenant's shields had been burned away by the explosion and huge gouts had been torn from the hull. The smaller vessels also had substantial hull breaches. The human soldiers were relieved that the simple autopilot programs of the escape pods managed to land them at their destination.
Commissar Madani silently pleaded with the machine spirit of the landing bay's doors to close. The massive doors eventually closed and the massive chamber's pressure equalized. Spann, the Inquisitor, and the other soldiers quickly got out of the cramped, outdated pods.
"Commissar, what is our status?" Inquisitor de Loreant demanded.
"Quixotic Wind reports that the xenos ship is heavily damaged. Unfortunately, the…machine spirit has detected a few energy spikes that it hypothesizes are the result of the Jackals rerouting power to shields. I believe we have angered the xenos scum," the Commissar explained. He, like many Imperials, were uncomfortable with the concept of Artificial Intelligences because of the legends of the Iron Men Uprisings from the Dark Age of Technology.
"Good, it'll make killing them all the easier. Hopefully, the damage was severe enough that they can't just rain plasma down on our heads," Spann added.
Captain Najjar spoke in his rare dialect. The Commissar smiled as he translated. "Captain Najjar says that he is glad some of the xenos survived. He would have been disappointed if his men did not get a chance to kill any of them."
"We have dug a grave. Let us see who shall be buried here," de Loreant responded with a nearly feral snarl.
Iago Martinez was afraid. He was more afraid now than he had been when Actium had been invaded and destroyed by the Covenant. The Covenant did not cause the sky to scream the names of the dead and bleed. This enemy was even more of a nightmare than the Elites and Jackals that Martinez swore to kill every night.
"Remember, hold the gun tight to your shoulder," an older SPARTAN-III trainees reminded the other children. "The M6I doesn't kick too bad. Aim for the center of the enemy."
Martinez gulped as another bestial creature rampaged out of the forest. One of the few older trainees gasped. "Is that one of the dogs?"
It had once been a dog imported to Onyx to provide companionship to the youngest trainees. Now, it was a hideous skinless abomination that possessed an extra set of legs and a bronze rune growing from its exposed skull.
"C-Controlled bursts," the trainee whimpered. The prospective SPARTANs fired a number of bursts at the corrupted creature. The shots were mostly wild, but several hit their target. Iago trembled as he silently prayed for someone to save him and his friends from the enemy. He needed to live so that he could fight the Covenant.
The sky began to scream, but in a new way. Unlike the earlier screams, there was no voice listing the names of all the SPARTANs who had fallen in battle against Chaos. This sound was almost familiar. Iago looked up and saw around a dozen balls of fire raining down from the skies.
"More of them! How can there be more of them?" Gregory, one of few older trainees at the bunker, screamed but in anger instead of fear. Three score of corrupted beasts massed at the tree line. There was nothing natural about these creatures. They were twisted, broken horrors. Iago looked to the heavens again and hoped one of the fireballs would save them.
The first group of Chaos beasts charged the position. Some howled almost naturally. Others cried out praises to the Dark Gods in nearly-human voices. The cry of the beasts was soon drowned out by the roar of atmosphere and metal. An enormous metal pod crashed in the very heart of the charging horde. Debris, offal, and flame were flung into the air as the ferrous comet made planetfall. The world seemingly fell silent as the blue and gold meteor cooled.
One of Iago's older friends, Miranda, peered out a window. "Is it moving?"
The meteor indeed moved. Iago realized the meteor had been slightly damaged somehow. He had heard on the radio something about 'flack batteries', but that didn't really mean anything to him. The hinges groaned and finally exploded outwards as a behemoth of metal emerged.
"Fear not! We are the Celestial Lions and have descended to ensure the death of the rats that assail the Imperium!" The behemoth roared.
Iago took in the behemoth. It was one of the largest things Iago had ever seen. The behemoth charged the surviving Chaos beasts and Iago was in awe. The enormous box with legs was moving faster than the child thought possible. Iago covered his ears as thunder erupted from the left arm of the metal savior. The young SPARTAN initiate was amazed at how the beasts exploded! Iago could tell that they had been hit by something, but he couldn't see what the gun had been. In a matter of seconds, the Chaos beasts had been eliminated.
Gregory headed for the door to try and talk with the behemoth. He barely opened the door before the Celestial Lion stopped in its tracks. It did not turn, but everyone knew that their rescuer was aware of Gregory.
"Hold your position, aspirant. The alpha beast of this foul pack approaches. You will have many chances for glory, yet." the mechanical warrior ordered. Gregory nodded once and went back inside. The authority in the voice was unmistakable. "Come foul creature! I am Ancient Illiam of the Celestial Lions and I shall cleanse this world of your blasphemy!"
A horror beyond even the corrupted canines emerged from the woods. The twisted creature was nearly as massive as Ancient Illiam. The Chaos Spawn moved like its smaller kin, but its front legs were terrible crab-like claws. The flesh was constantly bleeding a hideous mixture of pus, blood, and thick viscous oil. In the place of fur, tentacles that ended in snapping mouths grew from puckered lips on the things back.
The embodiment of madness roared the names of each of the Dread Gods of Chaos in turn before charging. Illiam stood firm and fired his melta at the Chaos Spawn. The wrathful beam tore a massive chunk out of the creature. The Dark Gods had granted the still favored spawn unnatural vitality. The beast roared in pain and rage and redoubled his efforts.
"I am a Space Marine! And I know no fear!" Illiam bellowed back and counter-charged. The ancient warrior smashed aside the spawn with his powerfist. The spawn skidded to a stop and struggled to regain its footing. Illiam strode purposefully over to the crippled abomination. The dreadnought's double-headed hammer of a right arm surged with energy as Illiam lifted it in the air. The SPARTAN aspirants felt the thunderous impact as much as they heard it.
Illiam laughed deep and dark at the bloody tally he had reaped. It had been decades since the Chapter had roused him to war. He was, and would always remain, a Space Marine. His destiny and calling was to scour the enemies of Mankind from the stars. The dreadnought reached out with his active sensors and confirmed another wave of traitors and heretics approaching his position. Illiam, once the Captain of the 5th Company, quickly appraised the situation. He had time to address the aspirants and neophytes.
"Aspirants! We do not have much time," Illiam spoke through a massive hidden vox speaker.
Gregory exited the bunker. "There are more enemies coming?"
"You will come to learn that mankind will always be besieged. How many of you aspirants have begun your training?"
"Ten of us had started actual training. We, well, we know how to use submachine guns," Gregory revealed.
"A full squad as dictated by the Codex Astartes, good. There are thirty other humans with you. How have they been trained?"Illiam enquired.
"Well, Miranda and I have been trying to show them how use the M6I." Gregory's mind raced at the sheer size of Illiam. The dreadnought's guns were larger than Gregory was!
"I am unfamiliar with that weapon system," Illiam addressed the child.
"Oh, uh, it's a 13mm pistol with a stock," the boy explained quickly. "We only gave it to the older kids."
"Do you have a vox?"
"A what, sir?" Gregory gulped again. He somehow knew that Illiam wasn't a machine, not completely.
"A communication device," the Ancient clarified with surprising patience.
Gregeroy held his submachine gun tightly. "We have an encrypted radio. I-I can give you the frequency."
"Do so. The enemy approaches." Iliam turned and faced the surrounding treeline.
Gregory double-checked his gun's safety in a fit of nervousness. "Episilon-41-2-Gamma."
"Return to the bunker,"Illiam ordered. Gregory practically ran to the door. Miranda was waiting and helped seal the bunker.
"That thing is so badass," Miranda breathed in awe.
Gregory took a deep breath. "I-I think that was a person once."
"Children of Onyx, respond to this transmission," Illiam's voice boomed in the radio.
"W-We're here, Illiam." Gregory exchanged a look with his best friend.
"I will guide you in this coming storm. Oh, how I envy you! To feel the kick of your gun in your hands! To win the first of your many battle honors! To roar your defiance at the foe with your own voice!"
"What do we need to do, sir?" Miranda asked.
"Hold the line and see to your brothers…and sisters," Illiam caught himself. "I shall purge the the bulk of the foes that assail us. Your purpose is to smite any foe who evades my wrath. The next wave of heretics and monsters will arrive in a few minutes. Send a group of aspirants to find any heavy weapons."
"Yes sir," Gregory and Miranda said as one.
"You two are now in command of your fellow aspirants. Rejoice in this opportunity to achieve glory so young! For the Emperor!"
The two aspiring SPARTANs attempted a salute out of pure instinct and respect for Illiam's sheer command presence despite the fact that Illiam would not be able to see the salute. After a moment, Gregory walked up to Hugh, one of the older kids in the new group, and told him to look for heavy weapons.
"Miranda, I need you to get a group together and find out how much ammo we have," Gregory said quickly.
Miranda nodded. "I'll keep an eye out for other doors or damage while I'm looking."
"Good idea," Gregory agreed. "Something's bugging me, though."
Miranda looked up from where she was checking the magazine of her M7. "What's that?"
"Since when has there been an Emperor?"
Captain Senectus of the Iron Snakes Chapter had just completed the Rites of Maintenance on his Storm Shield when General Zahedi requested permission to enter the Iron Snakes' make-shift chapel.
"Enter, General," Senectus spoke with authority. The UNSC Army officer entered the enormous facility and approached the Astartes captain.
"Captain," Yahja began. He was slightly uneasy at treating someone with the rank of Captain as an equal. "My men and your Techmarine have patched your men into our communications network."
"You have my thanks," Senectus replied.
Yahja Zahedi inclined his head respectfully. "If I may Captain, I am curious about your deployment."
The Captain stood to his full height. Zahedi was in awe as the Astartes officer towered nearly three feet over him. "We are pledged to defend the refugees being sheltered in the mountains of the Indian Subcontinent. The Adeptus Astartes, save for a few specialist chapters like the Imperial Fists, are ill suited for static defenses and sieges. My Battle-brothers and I will strike where the enemy is weakest or where the hour is darkest. We shall strike with thunder and fury to scour the traitors and xenos from the face of the galaxy!"
The UNSC general was taken slightly aback by the naked zealotry in the Space Marine's words. In a strange way, that zealotry was comforting in the face the horrors to come. Yahja opened his mouth to respond, but the universal human emergency siren interrupted any potential conversation.
An Astartes wearing bone-white armor with only the helmet and left knee sharing the same color scheme as the other Iron Snakes entered the room. The giant warrior inclined his head respectfully at the Captain. "Brother-Captain, the Navy reports a massive Slipspace Whisper and sentry-telepathy has confirmed the data. We are mere hours away from War."
Imperial Grand Cruiser Palma
Captain Paulos felt the sting of a new connection wire attaching to his artificial spine. The UNSC had opened their networks to the Imperial Navy and their Machine Spirits were proving adept at filtering the chaff data from the useful. Captain Paulos, like many in the Imperium's forces, pointedly, chose to refer to the UNSC AIs as Machine Spirits to avoid acknowledging that they were embracing one of the Imperium's oldest and most entrenched taboos. The ancient captain pushed his musings aside as he focused on the coming battle. The Covenant was nearly upon both Holy Terra and Sacred Mars. Paulos practically shook with rage. This was the second time the Covenant had attempted to despoil the Holy of Holies.
"My Lord Captain," Commander Kale said reverently.
"Yes, Commander?" Adiso asked as he interfaced with his vessel.
The Executive Officer stood straighter. "All is in readiness. The Palma is eager for the chance to purge the Covenant."
"The Palma herself is as eager as her crew," Paulo agreed. "The Admirals have provided our orders. We shall carry them out."
Kale nodded once and turned his attention to the giant viewports of the Palma's bridge. "Do you know anything of this Fleet Admiral Harper?"
"He is suitably zealous. I respect his hatred of the xenos and all who threaten Mankind. The mere fact that he has survived for the entirety of the war speaks well to his skill." Paulos fixed his gaze on a Lunar-class cruiser, the Redoutable according to the Palma's sensors, and its trio of Cobra-class escorts.
Tobias continued to observe the mighty war fleet. "You are correct, Captain. I am curious as to why he did not transfer his flag from the And Furious Anger. It is a mighty ship for the UNSC, but compared to the Palma or even a Lunar cruiser…"
"There is something you must learn, Tobias," Paulos said with the most human emotion his XO had ever heard. "Even though Admiral Harper is not interred upon a Command Throne, his ship is as much a part of his soul as the Palma is of mine."
The Imperial Fist's Castellum, Kenya
Veteran Sergeant Andreas approached his Captain reverently. "Brother-Captain, I am glad to see you well. It would have been a tragedy for you to leave no relics for the Chapter."
Captain Thomas bowed his head slightly. "My service to the Chapter will end when the Emperor wills it."
"And now, we serve the Embodied Emperor. The Blood of Dorn in the Chapter's vein recognized the truth of the Emperor instantly." Andreas reported to his commander.
Warin contemplated the fact that the Imperial Fists were performing their most solemn duty: the Defense of Terra. It was a role the inheritors of Dorn's legacy had performed several times. The first, greatest, and most terrible defense of Terra was during the Horus Heresy. Dorn and Sigismund had held the Imperial Palace against the tide of Traitor Legionnaires and Daemons. Horus's Siege was simultaneously one of the Imperial Fists' greatest victories and tragedies. The second defense of Terra was another defense against betrayal. The dark days known as The Beheading saw the Grandmaster of Assassins Vangorich slaughter the High Lords of Terra. It took the Imperial Fists, the first Sable Swords, and the Halo Brethren to bring the full weight of Imperial Justice to the Assassins. Vindicare and Evesor Assassins reaped a bloody tally of the Astartes task force. The original Sable Swords had been wiped out through a combination of the losses from The Beheading and the rampages of the Ork Warlord known as the Beast. It was a single point of pride in the whole dark undertaking that it had been an Imperial Fists who had put the fatal bolt through Vangorich's skull.
As Warin passed a large battlement manned by Techpriest Donnel and his Thunderfire cannon, the Captain's Genetic Memories of the Wars of Apostasy surfaced of their own accord. The insane High Lord Goge Vandire nearly tore down the Great Work of the Emperor. It had taken the combined efforts of the Imperial Fists, Black Templars, Soul Drinkers, the Fire Hawks, Adeptus Mechanicus and others to help bring down Vandire.
"The Company received a great honor," Captain Warin Thomas agreed with utmost sincerity and awe.
Andreas nodded. "Aye, Brother-Captain."
Andreas bowed to his captain as Chaplain Roh emerged from the shadows. "Captain." The Chaplain did not move a single muscle as he greeted the Fourth Company's Commander. Chaplain Roh was a harsh and exacting Chaplain.
"Chaplain Roh," Thomas returned the greeting.
"We had feared you lost," the chaplain said without hesitation. "Your armor is suitably bloodied with Tyranid ichor and the viscera of other xenos."
"I may have been separated from the Chapter, but I was and will never be lost. I will always have the heritage of Dorn and the Imperial Fists to guide me."
The skull-helmeted chaplain grunted. "It gladdens me that you have taken your indoctrination to heart. The truths of the Emperor and Dorn and the wisdom of the Book of Five Rings and the Codex Astartes have become as much a part of you as your arm and Black Carapace."
Captain Warin only nodded a single time in agreement. Roh continued. "Sergeant Andreas established our fortifications quickly. They appear to be based off your own fortifications from our action on Daelus VI."
"They are nearly identical, save for differences in terrain and concessions to gravity," The Fourth Company Captain revealed. "I have already made adjustments and altered the Company's contingency plans. We have never delivered Imperial Justice to the Covenant. On Daelus VI, we battled Tau. The Covenant has many doctrinal differences, especially in light of their recent schism."
"Your mind remains as sharp the blade of the Edge of Inwit," the Chaplain stated approvingly.
"The company recovered it?"
"Yes, but it never should have been separated from you in the first place. Though you were battling the Great Enemy and defending mortal civilians with a tenacity that brought honor to Dorn Himself, you must remain cognizant of all details," Roh slightly admonished the captain. Chaplain Roh had been a resolute figure in Captain Thomas' life since his elevation from the 10th Company to the 4th centuries ago. Captain Thomas was well aware of Roh's tendency to launch into speeches. It was rumored Roh would even make such impromptu addresses to Chapter Master Pugh himself. Though, those speeches were believed to be very rare and often broached with far more care and far less flair for the dramatic.
The two entered a small chapel built into the defensive network. Roh stood to the side and allowed the Captain to reclaim and appease the spirit of Edge of Inwit. After a moment of prayer, Warin hefted the ancient ax. The familiar weight of the iconic relic of the Chapter was a welcomed sensation.
"Brother-Captain, Chaplain Roh," the newly-promoted Sergeant Azarius voxed.
"Report, Sergeant," Captain Thomas took complete charge. Chaplain Roh instinctively knew Azarius brought tidings of war. Roh's place in the Company was one of spiritual guidance and discipline. The ancient Chaplain knew the arts of war as well as any Astartes, but his purpose was unmistakable. His role was not to lead his brothers in battle, unless the Captain willed it.
"The Navy reports the Covenant will be upon us in a few short hours." The Captain could easily picture Azarius' face taking on a grim countenance that would be at odds with his eagerness to destroy the Emperor's foes.
"They come to die. Humanity will never surrender Terra to any force," Captain Thomas declared. "Primarch-Progenitor! To your glory and the glory of Him on Earth!"
Lord Hood stared at the tactical displays. The Techpriests had somehow managed to install the lance battery from a crippled Firestorm Escort, void shields, and a powerful generator to power all the Imperial upgrades. Admiral Hood had no idea how the patchwork upgrades were interfacing so successfully, but he was thankful for them. Hood had seen the cadre of Engineseers Magos Micel and Arc-Magos Gho had assigned to Cairo Station performing arcane rituals that had somehow boosted the efficiency of the entire station. Trafalgar Memory, the new Smart AI assigned to Lord Hood after Cortana's semi-unauthorized deployment to the front, had reported communicating with the lance battery on a few occasions. It boggled Lord Hood's mind, but supposedly the weapons system was furious and practically rabid because of the damage it had sustained in the Fall of Medusa V. Trafalgar Memory also claimed to have convinced the Machine Spirit that it would have plenty of opportunities for revenge.
The revelation that the Cairo was now hosting a bloodthirsty and enraged mechanical spirit was unnerving. Lord Hood only took a small comfort from the Machine Spirit's professed loyalty to mankind.
Lord Hood's meditation on one facet of his new and terrifying reality was cut short by the squawking of his communication equipment. He glanced at the Contact ID and hit the icon on the screen. It was probably the last time he would be able to use the touchscreen for the foreseeable future. "Go ahead Io."
"Sir, we've confirmed fifteen Slipspace Exit Points," Io reported. There were no concerns about the Covenant intercepting the communications. Io had been equipped with one of the few and jealously guarded Quantum Entanglement devices in the UNSC.
"The scouts have arrived. You have permission to act with your own initiative," the Admiral surmised.
"Aye, aye sir," the leader of the small outpost responded nervously. "I wish I had a NOVA bomb, sir."
"The anti-matter mines will do what we need them to," Hood countered. "Report when the main body of the Covenant Fleet arrives."
"Aye, aye sir." The connection was quickly cut and Lord Hood focused on ordering all the orbital stations and fleets to Combat Alert Alpha. He continued to focus on his duties as a counter to the fear eating away at the corners of his mind. Lord Hood did not want think about how he was a few short minutes from being a participant in the apocalypse.
Time's advance had become less of a flow and more of a trickle. The tension that hung in the air was as oppressive as anything anyone onboard the Cairo had felt since the attack by one of Khorne's abominations.
"Fleet Admiral Hood, this is Io Station," the commander of the skeleton crew of volunteers manning Io station reported.
"Go ahead Io," the Admiral ordered. The weight of the coming report was tangible.
"Sir, the Covenant RPV destroyers were the recon element. We have confirmed seventy-nine additional Slipspace Exit Points. Multiple Covenant ships were using single SEPs," the anonymous officer continued to appraise his commander. Lord Hood looked at the data his own sensors were providing. The information matched what the Io sentries were reporting.
Lord Hood was about to request additional information, but the sentry shouted in panic. "We've been discovered! Confirmed Covenant Sensor Ping! Yeltsin, send the detonation codes! Lord Hood, we're falling back to the shelters! Will attempt to reestablish connection from secondary position!"
"Confirmed Io! Godspeed and good luck!" Lord Hood acknowledged.
Over six hundred thousand kilometers away from Earth, a number of antimatter mines exploded in the heart of the Covenant formation. These devices were prototypes and not all detonated successfully. The few that detonated with the full fury of their design crippled several Covenant destroyers and Kig-Yar raiders. It was a paltry butcher's tally, but the true effect of the mines was far more important. They secured extra time for Earth and Mars. Time has always been humanity's most sought after resource. The mines slowed the Covenant's advance slightly and thus increased the time for more civilians to be evacuated. The mines had bought an additional three hours of preparation. In the future, mankind would celebrate those three hours with fervor and elation.
"Contact!" One of the junior officers manning the various stations shouted. "The Mars defensive fleet reports they will be in weapons range in three minutes!"
"Behar, I hope you saved a few miracles for today," Admiral Hood whispered. He looked up with firy determination. "Patch me through to Admiral Kaal."
The Imperial Oberon-class battleship Ut Praemium Hostilis
"Xenos vessels entering weapons range. Commencing Targeting Rites," a servitor droned behind Admiral Kaal's Command Throne.
"Prepare to launch all attack craft and bombers," Kaal ordered. The crew responded with efficiency. One of the officers turned to face his Admiral.
"My Lord, a communiqué from Lord Admiral Hood," the officer reported.
Obvi Kaal inclined his head in acknowledgement. He interfaced directly with the Ut Praemium Hostilis and pulled up Lord Hood's channel.
"Lord Admiral Hood," Obvi greeted formally.
"Admiral Kaal, this is it. Give the Covenant hell and good hunting," Lord Hood said resolutely.
Kaal took a deep breath. "Our fleets shall slaughter these xenos for their affront to human honor! Every death they have inflicted upon our people shall be returned one-hundred-fold!"
"Targeting Rites complete," the servitor reported.
"Fire," Obvi Kaal ordered in a voice filled with rage, defiance against fate, and determination.
The space around Mars erupted as hundreds of vessels, both human and Covenant, opened fire. It was November 10, 2552. It was the End of Days.
Author's Note: Yes, I know it has been far too long. No exuses. If you want to thank people for helping get my muse in gear, thank WhackbarWop and Battle Bruva Volk.
And now for a bit of personal nostalgia. This chapter signifies the start of Part II. I am (on my phone which explains any odd errors in this note) sitting on the same couch in the same beach house, leeching the same dude's unencrypted Internet where I actually began planning and writing Chains of the Kindred. How's that for coming full circle?