Battle-Brother Engel was just settling down to his prayers when the yells and banging started.
They came from a fair distance away, winding through the corridors of the Deathwatch Watch-Fortress from the direction of the communal room and all the way to Engel's quarters, which consisted of a single stark room. On one side was a bare stone plinth which served as a bed. On the westerly side was a small shrine before which Engel, still clad in his power armour, knelt. That was it for the room's contents. Anything more would have been a unwarranted luxury.
He tried to ignore the yells and began his prayers, writing them off as a petty distraction that would vanish in due course.
"Blessed forever be the Immortal Emperor," he began, "Who grants me my strength and my will, who teaches my hands to war and my mind to hate."
More screams, more banging.
"Blessed forever be Great Sigismund, who gave us our teachings and and our creed, who taught us to abjure forever the alien, the mutant, the heretic," Engel said, with a touch of annoyance creeping in at the edge of his voice.
Scream, bang, scream, bang, etc.
"Blessed be Rogal Dorn the Unsullied, whose blood runs in my veins and who makes me all that I am. May their three-fold will clad me in armour of faith and fire and give me the strength to never rest until the galaxy is clean," said the by-now quite irate Engel. That racket wasn't an aid to pure thoughts and pristine devotion in the slightest.
"May my mind know no mercy and no sympathy for those vile in the Emperor's sight. Let intolerance garb me in its holiest of cloaks, and may my bolter-arm remain ever upright to unleash the wrath of … bloody warpfire!" he concluded, standing upright and turning his head in the direction of the noise. "How is anyone meant to conduct their devotionals with that sort of clamour in the background?"
He stormed out of his chamber and along the wide passageways to the communal room, growling and muttering as he stalked forward. He prepared his shouting muscles in the back of his throat, which he hadn't had a chance to properly exercise since he finished training his first Neophyte some two decades ago.
He rounded the last corner, kicked an oblivious servitor out of the way, and slammed open the communal room door with a bellow of "I WILL NOT TOLERATE BEING DISTURBED IN THE MIDDLE OF MY … what is going on here?" He stopped at the tableau before him.
The communal room was a rectangular block about eight metres in breadth and fourteen metres long, with a low ceiling and shining ceramite surfaces. On one side was an armoury, blocked off behind a blast door and transparent plastiglass windows, should dining Battle-Brothers ever need to react quickly to an emergency.
The tables and chairs that normally held the room's centre were overturned and scattered. The blast door was being leaned against by a panting Ozymandias and Tywin. And behind one of the windows was Hector, his eyes dark and wild and his gauntleted hands clawing at the glass.
"Good day, Brother," grunted Ozymandias, the Dark Angels Librarian. "Sorry to disturb you, but a situation's arisen."
"It's Hector," said Sergeant Tywin, formerly of the Blood Ravens, who Engel noted as having a freshly-broken nose. "He's … er … having a little moment."
Engel rushed to the glass before Hector and stared at the young Blood Angel's face. His eyes flashed red. His teeth gnawed at the window. He struck at the window with his hands incessantly. As Engel's face rose into view, Hector uttered threats muffled by the thick plastiglass.
"Blood for noble Sanguinis!" came his muffled voice. "Kill the traitors in Terra's name! Kill! Kill! Kill!" And so on.
"Oh, bother," said Engel, stepping back. "It's the Black Rage, isn't it?" Tywin and Ozymandias nodded.
The Black Rage was one of the more unfortunate inheritances passed down to the Blood Angels by their Primarch. Every Blood Angel suffered the risk of abruptly reliving the experiences of Sanguinis during the long-ago Horus Heresy, and promptly devolving into a homicidal maniac.
"We were sitting together, discussing the forthcoming mission against the Tyranids," began Tywin. "Perfectly civilised, perfectly calmly."
"And halfway through," continued Ozymandias, "Hector suddenly sat bolt upright as if gripped by a seizure, and his eyes turned dark red. And then he jumped across the table and started attacking us, just like that."
"We managed to come to grips with him, and we managed to get him behind this door and promptly sealed it," said Tywin.
"We suppressed and contained a berserking Blood Angel, Brother Engel, with our bare hands, and I'd like to see you try that," added Ozymandias.
"And as you came in, we'd just finished signalling for Apothecary Julius to attend us quickly. And now we just have to wait," said Tywin.
Engel peered at Hector once more. The marine was still assaulting the window, and showed no signs of stopping.
"This isn't a permanent state of affairs, is it?" he said, peering into the scarlet eyes filled with blind fury.
"I don't know," said Ozymandias grimly, stepping slowly away from the door and groaning. "We'll just have to wait for Julius. It's just as well the armoury's empty."
"How do the Chaplains for the Blood Angels handle such matters?" said Engel. "I've heard that those undergoing the Black Rage are put into a separate company. How do the Chaplains control them?"
"I would imagine standard procedure is to concuss them with a crozius, slap them into black armour before they realise what's going on, and point them at the nearest enemy," said Ozymandias, standing beside Engel. "Could you imagine any other way of subduing him. Emperor alive, isn't he ever going to stop?" in response to a renewed assault on the window by Hector.
"Don't blaspheme, Brother," said Engel reprovingly. "And as for … actually, wait, wait," he said, seeing that Hector was drawing back from the window and regarding the two Space Marines with a baleful glare. "He seems to have stopped."
Hector stood silent behind the glass, and then started making swishing noises in his mouth.
"Er," said Ozymandias, remembering something unpleasant. "Just to be sure, Blood Angels have a faulty Betcher's Gland, don't they?"
"No, that's us Black Templars," said the mystified Engel. "Why do you … oh, botheration," and Hector suddenly spat a mouthful of corrosive poison at the locks on the blast door. Before they could react, Hector charged forward with all of his strength and rammed into the door with his shoulder, bringing it down with an almighty crash on top of Sergeant Tywin.
"Gaack," said the stunned and pinned sergeant. Hector knelt on top of the door and raised a gauntleted fist into the air, preparing to bring it down onto the back of Tywin's head and smash it to a pulp.
"NO, BROTHER!" shouted Ozymandias, leaping forwards and grabbing at Hector. The upraised fist swung down and around and up and into Ozymandias's face, dropping him to the ground with a crunch of breaking cartilage and a gush of blood. Hector's other hand suddenly seized the oncoming Engel with a madman's strength, and hefted him up over Hector's head and threw him bodily at the opposite wall, the sudden motion flying before Engel's eyes in such a blur that he barely had time to yell before he smacked into the wall head-first.
Hector turned his attention back to Tywin, lying face down beneath the door, only his head sticking out. He seized the sergeant's hair, and tore his head up and slammed it back into the ground, and then repeated the process.
Bang. "Ow!" Bang. "Arrgh!" Bang. "Ouch!" Bang, and so forth.
"How dare you defile Holy Terra, traitor scum!" screamed the blood-drunk Blood Angel. "Your false gods shall not save you! Your blasphemy shall be purged with a cleansing fire! Your - "
Shunk, came the noise from a Narthecium's five syringes as they jabbed into Hector's neck. Fluids within the transparent tubes gurgled, then drained.
"Thzzzyph … buta … kill … kill … kluuurgh," said Hector, keeling over to his left, Apothecary Julius leaning on his right shoulder and keeping the Narthecium firmly in his neck.
"There, there, brother," came Julius's soothing tones. "Just lie down now, like this, gently, gently. There, now get some sleep," as the tranquiliser's worked their last magic and Hector fell on his side, gently snoring. The apothecary leaned down and patted his head.
"Oh, dear," said the apothecary. "And of all the times too."
"Just before a vital mission," muttered Tywin, heaving slowly at the door. "Of all the abominable luck."
"I cad feel by dose," said Ozymandias through a noseful of blood. "Is Edgel obay?"
"Has the station gone into free-fall, or am I still concussed?" said Engel, trying to stand up and failing miserably.
Julius sighed. "I know your kill-team has a reputation for encountering appalling reversals of fortune and achieving victory all the same," he said, "But is this the first time it's ever happened to you before a mission?"
The Hammer of Xenos thundered through the voids of space, stardust curling behind it in its wake.
At the front of the frigate, underneath the great jutting prow, nestled a heavily-modified Thunderhawk piloted by two tech-priests and bearing four Space Marines and an inquisitor of the Ordo Xenos.
"When we make contact with the Hive Ship," said the inquisitor, a hunched old woman in a flapping grey cloak and supported by whirring mechanical limbs, "The Thunderhawk will go for an exposed portion in the outer shell. The Hive Ship has recently been wounded in battle, so finding such a portion will be inevitable. Once we have rammed through as far as we are able, you shall deploy and kill the Hive Mind at the centre with the prepared toxins. You will then make your way back to the Thunderhawk with all haste, and we shall make use of the reverse thrusters to ram our way back out. Any questions?"
"Yes, Madam Pyota. Are you certain that you don't wish to keep Hector tranquillised?" said Tywin, gesturing at the drooling Hector. "When he reawakens, he'll be a great danger to you."
Inquisitor Pyota smiled, a thin icy smile.
"He'll reawaken in about five minutes," she said, "By which time the Hive Mind will be throwing every creature it has at the Thunderhawk. I'll need more than cutting remarks and rusty servitors to hold the line for your return. Besides, you had no plans to take him with you, so why shouldn't I benefit from him?"
"Just be careful," warned Engel. "We'd sooner the Thunderhawk didn't fall. And we'd like our brother to stay alive as well, even if he's gone berserk."
The frigate flew on, and the distant Hive Ship neared.
It was the last remnant of Hive Fleet Tarasque, which had drifted into the southern half of the galaxy, and had had the sheer misfortune to pass through an empty region of space as an entire Imperial Crusade warp-jumped into the same region. The Imperial war-machine had taken the Tyranids by surprise, and had scored a mighty (and entirely unintended) first victory whilst suffering minimal losses.
Only the Hive Ship itself survived, but it had drifted near a fertile agricultural system, and risked rebuilding its former strength if it wasn't stopped in time.
That was where the Deathwatch came in.
"Five seconds to engagement," droned one of the frigate's tech-priests over the vox system. "Five – four – whoops, forgot to carry the one," as the frigate suddenly jolted with a desperate salvo of fire from the Hive Ship. The frigates own lances and weapons batteries returned a blistering volume of fire power, tearing open new wounds in the vast bio-ship as it sped closer and closer.
"Prepare for battle, brothers!" roared Tywin as the Thunderhawk was launched suddenly from its bay and hurtled towards the Hive Ship, which grew rapidly larger in the forward window.
They drew closer. And closer. And closer. And impacted.
Two words can contain a great deal of action.
A few noisy and chaotic moments later, the Thunderhawk finally halted nearly a kilometre into the great living ship, within spitting distance of the core.
"Ick, would you look at that window," came the voice of one of the tech-priests piloting the Thunderhawk. "That's going to take forever to wipe off."
"Move quickly," barked Tywin, ushering Engel and Ozymandias quickly off the steadily falling ramp. "Hector? Stay with the inquisitor, now. Do you understand, Hector? Hector?"
"Phhpt," said Hector from his sitting position.
"That'll have to do," said Tywin. "Forward, brothers!" The Space Marines left the Thunderhawk, and moved briskly along a glistening section of corridor leading to the Hive Mind.
"Don't mind us," said one of the tech-priests over the vox-system. "We brought cards."
"And amasec," said the other.
"Get the servitors ready, you idiots," snapped Pyota, reaching for a heavy shotgun at her belt. "We're expecting boarders."
Behind her, Hector slowly woke up.
The Space Marines charged through the maze of tunnels at the heart of the ship, leaving floors of dead Tyranids in their wake.
Tywin had forgone his Terminator armour for this mission, instead using his old power armour along with a plasma pistol and power fist, alternately cooking and pulping any hissing beast which threw itself at him.
Engel wore his Black Templars tabard with pride, and it ran with gore in the heat of battle. He wielded only a blazing single-handed power axe, which he swung rapidly with wide, devastating strikes, and his other hand kept up a constant rain of grenades and missiles into the Tyranid swarms.
Ozymandias took the rear, his force staff blurring in the air and splattering open Tyranids with every strike. He used no pyschic powers in the close confines, his powers blunted by the all-pervading Hive Mind. In any case, he didn't want to. He had a special trick up his sleeve, which he wanted to save his energy for and which he didn't want to use until they truly needed its use
Chaos reigned and aliens died and Engel kept a running tally.
"One hundred!" he boomed at one point. "One hundred and one! One hundred and two! One hundred and - "
"Can you see any sign of the central chamber, brother?" yelled Tywin, partially to determine where the chamber could be, and partially to suppress his own annoyance at his own paltry seventy-four.
"Er," said Engel, absently-mindedly bisecting a Hormagaunt. "I think I … There!" he called out, waving at a knot of beasts much further up their current corridor. "There's an entryway behind all those genestealers!" The genestealers in question brandished massive, wickedly sharp claws and bounded down the narrow confines.
"I could have been a bloody astropath," muttered Oymandias under his breath, as the beasts neared. "But nooo, I had to be a buggering Librarian."
The Hive Mind lashed out with all the power remaining to it, and the Space Marines pressed on.
Gunfire echoed through the corridors leading from the Thunderhawk, as Pyota and several autogun-hefting servitors tore chunks out of an oncoming Tyranid swarm.
"Back, you abominations!" she cursed, her shotgun barking in her hands. "Back, you scum! You perversions of all that is holy! You affronts to all that is pure! Back or find your death awaiting!"
"That's the spirit, inquisitor!" called out one of the tech-priests.
"Shoot the big ones!" the other offered helpfully.
"Shut. Up," she said through gritted teeth. Emperor's Mercy, she could taste the foulness of these creatures.
One beast leapt onto the ramp, and was kicked in the teeth for its trouble. Pyota looked up, and swore. Just behind the swarm was a looming mob of Tyrant Guards, the huge and heavily armoured Tyranid elite.
They were moving at a leisurely pace, casually crushing smaller creatures under their bulk. They would reach the ship soon. And when they did …
There was a noise from behind her, and Pyota turned to see Hector standing. He held nothing but his combat knife, and he was staring fixedly at the Tyrant Guards.
He charged past Pyota then, deaf to her barked orders, and bulled through the ragged swarm, heading straight for the Tyrant Guard, who raised their claws in readiness.
"No, Hector!" screamed Pyota. "No! Don't do it! You'll kill yourself!"
The Genestealers had been dealt with.
The rest of the Tyranids between them and the Hive-Mind had been dealt with.
Now there was only the Hive Tyrant guarding the central chamber to go.
That's an "only" with quotation marks around it, by the way.
"Kill it!" screamed Tywin, who was pinned under its foot while it merrily belted him around the upper body with lashing tendrils. Engel straddled its back, desperately trying to so much as dent its reinforced hide with his axe, while Hector walloped it in the kidneys incessantly with his force staff, or at least where its kidneys would be had it possessed kidneys.
The lash cracked down again, and ripped open Tywin's left cheek. It lashed down again, and was knocked away by a frantic swipe from his power fist. He scrabbled for his dropped plasma pistol on his right side, but the Hive Tyrant anticipated his action and stamped down on the weapon, which exploded.
Although this blew searing hot plasma over Tywin's face and burned out his right eye, it did at least blow off the creature's foot, and it roared and hopped backwards.
Engel fell off backwards, surprised at the sudden motion, and Ozymandias leapt forwards with his staff ready to ram up into the Tyrant's gut. A lightning-swift smack from its whip sent him flying backwards, and it rounded on Engel and raised one great claw.
A sound behind it made it turn, and also twisted the Space Marines' gazes.
The sound turned out to be a wounded and fleeing Tyrant Guard, hobbling frantically through the entryway while being pursued by a ravening Hector, who, having lost his knife in the second-last Tyrant Guard, had resorted to trying to pick up this last one and crack it off the walls like a walnut.
"Die, traitor!" roared Hector.
"Hsssshhkt ktktkt kssssskt!" hissed the Tyrant Guard ("Help! The food's fighting back!")
The panicking creature, unaccustomed to fleeing in the slightest, rammed straight into the Hive Tyrant and both Tyranids fell into a thrashing biting heap.
"Use the toxin, brother! While they're distracted!" croaked Tywin, struggling upwards. Engel turned, drew the vial of toxin from a secure pouch at his belt, and threw it overarm at the aperture in the thin glistening column that formed a vital brain stem for the Hive Mind. Almost immediately, there was a vast shudder that ran through the entire ship, and Tyranids began dying or panicking in droves.
Ozymandias then turned back to a blank region of the floor, and his eyes began glowing as he raised the staff and chanted as he drew the tip down the air and opened a glowing rift in reality.
"What is … " started Tywin.
"It's what's technically referred to as a Gate of Infinity," grunted the sweating Librarian. "It opens a rift in space and going through it will put us wherever I deem in a fifty-kilometre radius; in this case, the deck of our Thunderhawk. Incidentally, every second I maintain this makes my molecules hurt, so get through quickly. Please."
Tywin staggered up and, clenching one hand around his ruined eye, staggered through with a flash of light. Engel was close behind him, screwing up his face with distaste as he stepped through and vanished. As Hector charged past, Ozymandias grabbed him by the gorget with one hand and spun him into the waiting rift.
Then he stepped through, and the rift closed behind him.
The communal room of the Watch-Fortress had been tidied up since the Space Marines had left, the tables and chairs having been repaired and reset. The four Battle-Brothers sat around the table, all of them draining a cask of finest amasec. All of them, that was, except for Hector.
"You're to make sure he drinks the mixture constantly," Julius had instructed Tywin firmly. "I have it on good authority, from a Blood Angel seconded to the battle-barge Emperor's Fist that it will mitigate the bulk of the Black Rage if constantly consumed." Tywin had nodded, and Hector currently sipped from a chalice of crimson good, his face screwed up in distaste.
Engel sat across from him, sipping quietly from a glass of amasec and counting his new trophies. Ozymandias sat beside him in turn, looking drained by pleased that his recently-developed power had worked.
Tywin sat at the table's head, his head swathed in bandages and his new bionic eye twinkling.
After a moment's hesitation, he drained his drink and addressed the kill-team.
"You can discuss that mission if you want, brothers."
They all grinned behind raised glasses, and drained them as well.