Chapter 1: Rite of Devotion

It is called the Rite of Devotion, and none will look away.

Six figures, encased in suits of grey power armor, kneel together on the grassy plain. Five men, eyes closed, heads bowed, make their reverence known to the sixth. Helmets placed on the battered ground, they wait patiently for his command. No word is spoken. No sound escapes. Nothing but the harsh thrumming of active power armor. And then an order is given.

"Let us begin," whispers Brother Sergeant Isendur.

The five nod in unison, ceramite joints creaking as they move. The first to offer his blood is Azziah. Combat knife bared, he slits his naked palm to draw the crimson ichor. He clenches his fist and allows the blood of a demi-god to drip onto the soiled earth. Next is Malik. He copies Azziah's motion to the exact degree, and spills his blood in accordance with ancient rites. Lecturis goes next. The marine jabs cold steel into his naked palm and watches as his lifeblood bleeds away into the undeserving ground. After Lecturis is Kalryion. Thick and heavyset, he makes his oath known with his blade. Next to go is Halkar. He smiles as he performs the rite, a grim smile utterly without mirth.

Last is Isendur. The Brother Sergeant removes his sneering faceplate, and gazes at his men with a face half masked in steel. Arm out, he displays his naked hand, and draws rich Astartes blood. Droplets fall to the earth, joining the blood of his brothers.

The Rite is done. Six figures stand back up, servos hissing with impatience. Gauntlets are clasped back into place. Helms hide pale features once more.

"It is finished," Isendur says without emotion, "The ground has been consecrated with the blood of Neutra. And thus, we are ready to wage war."

Vox-clicks in his helm tell him his brothers agree.

Softly, silently, the Relictors fan out, hunting for demonkin.

The first Fallen dies with a three foot blade impaled through its chest. Before its impish cohorts can respond, Lecturis is already moving. The Relictor makes no sound as he kills with his short sword, hacking in unmerciful strokes that separate heads from shoulders in geysers of sprouting blood. His bolter is in his left hand, but it remains silent. Ammunition is to be conserved.

The Fallen screech and gibber at the giant in their midst, lashing out with large scimitars and spiked clubs. Their blows are powered by the strength of desperation, yet only the paint is peeled from Lecturis's carapace. The Space Marine kills two more, adding their bleeding corpses to the dozen he has already slain. The demons see this, witness the giant clad in impenetrable armor killing through their midst, and break. Weak and cowardly the lesser minions of the Prime Evils are, Lecturis muses, but so many.

As he thinks this, a fresh mob of Fallen crests over the hill, crude weapons in hand. The Astartes considers using his boltgun. The thought disappears when a burst of white flame envelops the pack in murderous heat.

Malik pans his flamer left and right, dousing screaming demons in chemical fire. The burning promethium turns frail forms into billowing ashes within seconds. As with Lecturis, the Relictor is silent as he burns the heathen creatures down. There is no need for words.

Halkar encounters the first shaman. A blazing fireball hammers into his chest, and thumps him back two full steps. The Relictor growls at this, though the grim smile wreathed upon his features refuse to abate. With a motion from his ceramite clad arm, he sends his combat knife flipping tip over hilt in the demon magi's direction. A wretched scream, and the Fallen scatter, fleeing in all directions with their leader's death.

Halkar retrieves his knife, jutting from the shaman's cranium, and chases after the nearest demon in great loping strides.

Isendur is ambushed by two dozen of the foe. Leaping from an outcrop of rock, a trio of demons land on his shoulderplates and wrestle with the helm encasing his face. The rest emerge from their hiding spots and surge forward on gangly legs. The Relictor sergeant shakes off the three struggling on his back with a flex of his enhanced muscles and meets the rest with his power sword unsheathed.

Kalyrion smells blood in the air, an undeniable scent lingering in the wind. The Apothecary shakes his head. Not Astartes blood. No chemicals contaminate the scent. Whoever bleeds is human. And also female. He follows the scent trail for three minutes before his eyes confirm what he already knows.

Three women, dressed in warrior leather, face a swarm of gibbering Fallen. Kalyrion counts four shamans amongst the horde, exhorting their lesser kin to die in the Prime Evils' name. He notes that one of the women is badly wounded, a pale hand clutching a bloody side in a vice-like grip.

"Contact," he voxes into the squad's audio-net.

Five winking lights in his helm's interface tell him his squadmates have heard. And then he surges forward, blade in hand, the chapter's battlecry on his lips.

"Strength of Will! Courage of Will!"

Isendur is first to reach the Apothecary. Kalyrion is kneeling besides an auburn-headed woman, Narthecium emitting shrill noises as it works feverishly to repair flesh. The Brother-Sergeant stands at a distance, respectful of the Apothecary's art, and not wishing to interfere. Two other females stand nervously on guard, bows tight in fists, a good distance apart from the working Kalyrion. They spot him three seconds after he spots them, and their eyes grow wide at the blood stained across his carapace.

Halkar appears after Isendur, combat knife dripping with demon ichor. After him come Malik and Lecturis, grey armored forms visible in the distance. The squad is converging. But something is not right. Halkar gives voice to it.

"Where is Azziah?"

"He acknowledged my signal," grunts Kalyrion as he works.

"He could not have fallen," says Isendur, and the discussion is over before it has begun.

Azziah appears a full ten seconds after Malik and Lecturis. The Relictor jogs to his squad, and halts in front of his Brother-Sergeant.

"Trouble?" asks Isendur.

Azziah does not reply and instead tosses a demon head to the ground. His brothers peer at the gory trophy, and take note of the emerald tinge to its skin.

"A champion," he says without emotion, "Surrounded by lesser champions."

Isendur nods in response.

"It is done," Kalyrion speaks into the vox. The Apothecary stands back up, armored joints snarling, "She will live."

"Blood type? Gene-specifics? Compatibility?" Lecturis questions.

"She will birth healthy sons," the healer replies without emotion, "But none of whom can bear the sacred gene-seed."

Lecturis shakes his head and looks away.

"We are finished then," says Isendur, "Let us be on our way."

The squad moves on his order, forming up, ready for the hunt to begin anew.

"Wait!" a young voice halts them in their steps.

They turn and see that one of the females has detached herself from the trio, a blonde youth with fear etched across her features.

"Help us, brave adventurers," she pleads, "Come with us to the Rogue Encampment and speak with our leader, Akara!"

Five heads turn to stare at the sixth. They await his order. Isendur considers.

"We have a primary objective," he says into the squad vox, voice seeking counsel.

"There will be humans in that encampment," Kalyrion speaks.

"And where there are humans, there will be possible sources for our secondary objective," remarks Lecturis.

Isendur grunts, acquiescing. He turns and inclines his head towards the girl.

"We will go."