In the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, the Imperium of Man stands alone, besieged on all sides by daemons, aliens, heretics and mutants. For ten thousand years, the Emperor of Man has sat upon his Golden Throne, as the galaxy-spanning empire he crafted wages a ceaseless battle in his name.
Led by his will, vast armies of the Imperial Guard die by the billions, whole chapters of the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines, plunge into hell, and the entirety of star systems are slaughtered. But even these great sacrifices cannot hold back the inevitable.
The Imperium's time left in the galaxy is short. Like the last few grains in an hourglass, it moves inexorably down the vortex into the forgotten realms of history. Here, in this blighted, hopeless future, mankind slowly perishes, praying for someone to pull it back from the brink.
And now through some divine twist of fate, that someone has arrived...
Chapter One: Entrance
Dancer VI's rotation had brought Thantos, one of the planet's five satellite hive cities, into the path of the system's twin stars. As the golden light of dawn reached the hive, passing between its tall spires and glancing off the stained glass windows of cathedrals, Thantos almost seemed peaceful. But as the light proceeded further in, toward the center of the upper levels in the area known as Emperor Square, the truth became more evident in the shattered marble statues, ruined stone buildings, and the stinking heaps of dead bodies.
Most of the dead were Imperial Guardsmen, slumped in the impact craters where they had spent the last moments of their lives fighting side by side, their flak armor holed by bullets, torn by axes and, in some cases, punctured by fangs. Lasguns still clutched in white-knuckled grips, the Guardsmen stared up into the smoke-streaked morning air.
The rest of the dead belonged to the Orks. The hated greenskins had made landfall on the arid badlands just three weeks ago and with little opposition from the planet's defense forces, took Thantos and its two sister hives, Hakantos and Tainatos, in a matter of days.
The 42nd Marathon Regiment of the Imperial Guard moved in the following week under orders from Segmentum command. Under the watchful gaze of Colonel Sergio Lementa, the regiment set to work fortifying the planetary capital Sakarnos Hive and the two remaining satellite hives, Argnos and Utnos, digging in and preparing for a hellish war of attrition against the Ork-held hives.
The Orks made the first move, moving across the badlands in a great horde toward Argnos hive. Colonel Lementa, having predicted this move, cut into the greenskins with a combination of long-range Basilisk artillery fire and a pre-set minefield. The Ork charge was destroyed, crushing their first major offensive in a wave of explosive judgment.
Feeling confident, Lementa ordered a full counterattack, choosing the nearest enemy hive, Thantos, as the target. The Guardsmen attacked en masse, pushing into the lower levels of the hive and moving up unopposed. Believing that the Orks had abandoned the city, the enthusiastic men emerged from the tunnels and into Emperor Square, right into the Orks' gun sights.
The ensuing firefight, like all great massacres, was over quickly. Lieutenant Menshaw, the officer put in charge of the attack, was cut down in the opening seconds of the attack. Shortly thereafter, the Guardsmen's morale cracked, reducing them to a broken shambles of confused maniacs firing in all directions, discipline abandoned in the face of such an ambush. And then they started to drop, the fight coming to an end as a Nob buried his chain axe in Commissar Zaitsov's head.
Private Dimitri Vlasna watched the big man fall, saw him hit the ground with blood leaking from his split head, and in fright hid himself beneath the piles of his dead comrades. He had stayed there, immobile, as the Orks moved through the dead, laughing and joking with each other in a foul mockery of low gothic. He stayed there as the man above him had his neck feasted upon by one of the aliens. He stayed there through the night, not daring to make a move.
When morning came, however, Dimitri pushed the bodies around him aside and got up on one knee. His flak armor was covered in dried blood from what had trickled down onto him during the night, and his cropped hair was caked with gore. Dimitri looked around, checking for any sign of enemy activity, before crawling to the edge of the pit he had called home for the last thirteen hours.
The stench of death pervaded the Square, staining everything it touched with an air of decay. The statue of the God-Emperor that occupied the center of the Square was still standing, the morning light revealing that even it wasn't above being stained by the combat, as evidenced by a great splash of red upon its noble marble face.
A half-dozen Orks were milling about on the opposite side of the Square, wrestling with each other, barking with glee as they took bites out of one another's hides. A Nob that Dimitri recognized as the same one who had murdered Commissar Zaitsov stood by, tusks bared in a feral grin as it watched the scuffle.
Dimitri grimaced and reached back into the pit. He pulled his lasgun up and checked its charge, finding it to be at half capacity. How much was really needed to kill one of those bastards? Dimitri didn't know, but he was surely about to find out. Zaitsov, given his position as company Commissar, wasn't the most popular of men, but that didn't make revenge any less of a goal. The fact that shooting the Nob was certain suicide didn't faze Dimitri in the least. Getting out of Thantos alive on his own was impossible, so he might as well die fighting, like a true Guardsman.
Without further ado, Dimitri forced out a long breath and centered the Nob's lumpy mug in his iron sights. He wrapped one gloved finger around the trigger and slowly squeezed back, drawing it nearer and nearer its release point.
There was a loud crack, followed by a bluish flash of energy. The statue of the Emperor exploded, showering Dimitri in specks of marble debris that banged against his flak armor. The Orks looked up from their scrimmage and, in time with Dimitri, spotted what was left on the statue base.
The figure was clothed in heavy white armor, similar to what Dimitri had seen the Adeptus Astartes of his home world wear into battle. The warrior carried a machinegun of sorts in one hand, its long form dwarfing that of any handheld weapon Dimitri had ever seen. But what struck him as oddest of all was the figure's visor: a polarized dome that reflected all the destruction around it, as if to serve as a mirror through which observers saw the naked truth of the world as judged by this white avenger.
The warrior held up the hand that wasn't holding its massive machinegun and waved to Dimitri. "Hey there!" it called, voice crackling through speakers on its armor, "How're you doing?"
So shocking was the arrival of this warrior in white that Dimitri forgot about shooting the Nob. The Orks, however, were not so stunned and had didn't hold back from shooting at the newcomer.
Stubber bullets smacked into the marble base and smacked against the figure's white armor, glancing off and careening into the cobblestone floor of the Square.
"Ow!" the newcomer yelped, turning to look at the Orks, its weapon coming up to fire, "You sons of bitches!"
The long machinegun went off with a report more akin to a prolonged explosion than the sound of gunshots. The muzzle flash stretching a foot out of the barrel, the weapon mowed the Orks down in a pinpoint hail of fire. Scrap metal armor broke into pieces and blood flowed as the half-dozen greenskins were ripped apart, ragtag firearms going by the wayside.
The Nob, having survived the barrage by taking cover behind a chunk of stone, rushed the statue base, chain axe held high above its head. As it drew near, the newcomer tossed its weapon to the side and met it in a roaring tackle. Both combatants rolled to the body strewn ground. The Nob buried its chain axe in a crux between the newcomer's neck and right shoulder pauldron, teeth sparking against steel as it failed to get a bite in edgewise.
The newcomer landed a brutal punch to the Nob's forehead, forcing its head into the cobblestone. It grabbed the Nob by the mouth and slammed its head into the ground again and again, dashing the alien's brains out of its head. The Nob growled and tried to bite the hand in its mouth, but ended up breaking its teeth against the armor. Three more whacks and the Nob stopped fighting, its body going still aside from a few residual nerve twitches.
The newcomer got to its feet and picked its rifle back up, a sigh escaping from its speakers. "Whew, that feller was a tough one. Ain't never fought anything like that before," it looked over at Dimitri, "Hey you! Can you tell me where I am?"
Dimitri hesitantly stood from the pit and started forward, holding his lasgun at the ready just in case this newcomer turned out to be a hostile. Not that he harbored a prayer of beating such a warrior in combat, having seen the fate of the Nob. "You are in Thantos Hive, Dancer VI, and Ultima Segmentum."
The newcomer cocked its head to one side in clear confusion. Dimitri opened his mouth to repeat himself, but was silenced by a dismissive wave of the hand. "Don't worry about it, partner. Don't matter much one way or the other. Place still ain't safe, I reckon."
"Yes," Dimitri agreed, picking up on the stranger's meaning despite the odd phrasing, "We are still surrounded by Orks."
"Orks? Oh, those things." The newcomer glanced to the Nob at its feet. "How many, you think?"
"Thousands," Dimitri answered.
The newcomer didn't seem troubled by that. "You got buddies around these parts?"
Dimitri nodded. "Back in Argnos, yes."
"Uh, okay. You know the way to get back there?"
The newcomer stared at Dimitri from behind its reflective dome. After a moment, the visor peeled back, letting out a billowing cloud of smoke that cleared to reveal a frowning, low-browed face. "Did you just call me an assturd?"
"No, no, no! I called you Astartes. That is what you are, right? An Adeptus Astartes?" Dimitri saw the newcomer's face become confused. "A Space Marine?"
"Oh! A marine! Yeah, I'm a marine." The newcomer's face brightened to a smile and he extended an armored hand to Dimitri. "Sergeant Fred Jax, Confederate Marine Corp, former Alpha Squadron."
Somehow, Dimitri doubted that this man with his odd white armor, powerful spike-throwing weapon and strange accent was cut from the same cloth as the Ultramarines and their kin. Despite this, he did seem to be friendly, and in the interests of self-preservation amid the Ork-held hive, Dimitri shook with the marine in front of him and introduced himself.
"Private Dimitri Vlasna, 42nd Marathon Infantry Regiment, Imperial Guard."
"Nice meeting you, Dimitri," Jax said, "Now, what do you say we get the hell out of this, um…"