The night sky over Incandescent Zeta's largest desert is one of the prettiest sights in the galaxy.

Its system's position near the Galactic Core and relatively unmarred atmosphere result in a canopy of shimmering brilliance, a tapestry of packed points of light that twinkle and glimmer in the endless void. To your west is revealed the Core itself, where the brightness and density of stars increases exponentially and where the silver and gold and crimson outweighs the black. The eastern sky is no less impressive, where the stars yield to supernovas and stellar clusters, and where the splashes of intense colour nearly blur into one. There is no great band of stars across the sky to behold here, for this sky is where the stars surround you on all sides. Even in the depths of night, the desert is bathed in millennia-old light.

(So impressive is the sight, that nobles from other systems often journey especially to see it. Rumours that these nobles also bring along certain mind-altering substances to intensify the experience are neither here nor there.)

Alas, the same cannot be said for the desert itself. During the day, endless dull yellow spreads out in all direction. During the night, the yellow becomes grey. Indeed, the only thing of note in this particular desert is the Imperial military outpost that rises like a steel and permacrete block from the sand.

The guards outside the outpost at this particular moment in time, however, were anything but Imperial. Small, slender, lithe, and clad in purple-black spiked armour, and hefting long rifles set with serrated blades, they leant against the walls flanking the outpost main steel door, wearing looks of absolute boredom under their grim helmets.

"I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with 'D'," said the one on the right in a corrupted alien tongue.

"Slaanesh's guts, not this again," groaned the one on the left.


"We've done this. We've played this damn game for all its worth. I refuse to accept there's any words we've left unsaid."

"Oh? Are you so sure of that?"

"Dead certain." The one on the left set down his rifle and counted the words off on his fingers. "We've done 'D' for desert and dune. 'S' for Splinter Rifle, stars, and sky. 'B' for building. 'H' for horizon. And … that's it. There's nothing else."

"Well, it's none of these. You have my word on that. Go on, try."

The one on the left grumbled and concentrated. "Is it desert again?"


"Dune again?"


"Hmm." The one on the left cast his eyes skywards, looking for a suitable star. "Diomedes Epsilon?"


The one on the left gestured at the one on the right. "Dunce."

"Oh, witty. And no."

"Damn bugger-all."


The one on the left lost patience. "Fine, I yield. What is this mysterious 'D'?"

The one on the right spread one arm wide, and, with a poetic flourish of his wrist, said, "Desolation."

There was a silence. Then the one on the left growled, "I'm going to start stabbing you. I doubt I'll be able to stop."

"Aren't we a sore loser."

The one on the left picked up his rifle and leaned upon it, muttering, "I loathe guard duty. Nothing ever happens," with tragic irony soon to be revealed.

"Look on the bright side," said the one on the right. "Once this is over, we'll each get a couple of slaves apiece from the prisoners taken here."

"Now there's a bright side." The one on the left brightened up. "I hope I get one of their commissars. It's hard work to break their will and make them beg for death, but so satisfying when it happens."

"I'm a fresh-meat artisan, myself. For my money, there's nothing funnier than the look on a mon'keigh conscript's face when you explain what each of the blades inside the Talos actually does." He considered this. "Well, okay, maybe the look on their face when you finally bung them into the Talos. But I digress."

"Wait," said the one on the left suddenly, and with some urgency. "Did you hear that?"

"What?" said the one on the right, instantly alert.

"I … It's like a …" The one on the left paused, twitched, then turned to face the one on the right. His rifle was levelled, and his eyes behind the lenses were glazed over with purple light.

"You..." began the one on the right, and got no further as the rifle sparked and lanced a stream of lazing crystals into his face, blowing in his helmet and dropping him instantly. The one on the left shuddered, dropped his weapon, lost the glaze from his eyes, and looked around just in time to see the head of a crackling force staff swinging towards him.

There was a soft thunk, followed by a splatter of cranial matter against the outpost wall.

The attacker stepped out from around the side of the outpost. He stood more than seven feet tall, and was clad from head to toe in power armour, black and unadorned but for a silver left pauldron and a right pauldron bearing the insignia of the Dark Angels. He held the gore-splattered force staff in one hand, and a plasma pistol in the other.

His name was Ozymandias, and he was a librarian of the Deathwatch.

From behind him loomed three more Space Marines. The one immediately behind him, Brother Engel, cradled a storm bolter in his hands, and bore the insignia of the Black Templars. Behind him came Brother Hector, a Blood Angel bearing two chain swords. Last came Sergeant Tywin, a Blood Raven with a power sword and bolt pistol. The after-matter of teleportation hung in gossamer threads off their armour.

Tywin tugged off his helmet, and glanced over the corpses and the steel door. His bionic eye glimmered in the scarred folds of his face.

"Urrgh," said Ozymandias. "That's the last time I attempt to control a xeno's mind. I feel polluted."

"Look at it this way," said Engel. "It could hardly make you any more polluted than you are now, psyker."



"Be quiet, you pair," muttered the sergeant, running a gauntleted hand over the door. "Discretion and speed shall have to be our watch-words for this mission. Rig a charge on this door, Engel. I want us in and engaging the enemy as quickly as possible, so we can free their prisoners."

"At once," said Engel, moving to the door. Tywin turned to Hector.

"Have you taken your drink, Brother?"

"Yes, sergeant." Hector's drink was a necessity born of an earlier mission, and was required to be drunk periodically to stop his turning into a raging berserker. It was a holy concoction, fed to him through tubes in his helmet, made from consecrated wine, certain secret roots that grew only on Baal, blood, and diluted tar-extract. It curbed the Black Rage effectively. However, it tasted like 'something pulled from an Ork's rectum' according to Hector, but one couldn't have everything.

"Brother Ozymandias, send off the astropathic signal. Let the inquisitor know we've arrived," said Tywin. Ozymandias nodded, and turned away and looked up into the night sky, where of the endless twinkling lights was an Imperial frigate hanging in high orbit. He assembled the necessary astropathic codes and symbols in his head.

+Inquisitor Pyota,+ he began, as Engel began fiddling around with a krak charge at the door, Hector fidgeted, and Tywin stood at ready. +Kill-Team Raptor has reached planet surface, and has made initial contact with Dark Eldar forces. Currently outside designated outpost, preparing to breach upon conclusion of message.+

+Force estimation by tacticians as yet unchallenged. Believed to consist of multiple Dark Elder warrior squads, of the Kabal of the Black Heart, possibly acting with a squad of Traitor Marines. Objectives as yet unchanged. Storm outpost, free Imperial prisoners taken, purge outpost clean of whatever scum exists therein.+

+Two Dark Eldar dead. No casualties or injuries to Kill-Team Raptor as yet.+

+Operation: Stormfall commencing. The Emperor Protects.+ And with that, as Ozymandias finished the message, Engel said "Done," moved away from the door, and depressed the trigger for the krak charge.

The door blew open as the charge went off. This in turn set off the mines behind the door, creating a second set of explosions that blew apart the entry corridor and rained debris down the stairs leading down to the base proper. The mines on the stairs in turn were set off, and the sound of thunder echoed thirty meters down. Distant screamer-alarms started warbling.

"You were saying about discretion?" said Ozymandias.

In the darkest reaches of the outpost's quarters beneath the shifting sands, Haemonculis Yaltallon paused before the armoured figure and coughed to get his attention. He turned ponderously, the blazing spiked staff in its hands twinkling with shafts of warp-infused light as it did.

"Yes?" said the figure. He was clad in the same power armour as Kill-Team Raptor, but this armour was trimmed with vivid purple, and the blackness of the plates seemed deeper, richer. Fine silk robes of a hundred different colours were draped artfully over the armour, and his exposed head was serenely beautiful. He was of the Emperor's Childen Traitor Legion, and his force staff marked him out as a Chaos Sorceror.

Haemonculis Yaltallon was smaller and more slender than the sorceror, and his own face was sunken and parchment-pale. His exalted art had granted him command amongst the force of his kin on this world, and the great curved blades that protruded like scissors from his metal-wrapped hands were but one of many implements he used in his craft.

"Intruders have penetrated the upper levels, and have thus far been unimpeded by the defences put in place. I warn you of this in case they manage to get this far and interrupt the ritual."

The sorcerer stayed silent. Then, in smooth, deep tones, "I see. But you shall, of course, see to it that they shall not get this far. You will honour our arrangement."

"I serve the Dark Prince with as much fervour as you. I shall not fail."

"Just so. I will attend to my duties. Attend to yours." And with that, the sorcerer turned on his heel, and walked through an open door to where his brethren were waiting, shutting the door behind him. Yaltallon stood for a monent, then walked back up the stairs to where his squads of warriors were waiting. He was already regretting this arrangement.

His raiding party had long desired to strike at this outpost, where Imperial mon-keigh waited to be plucked and borne back to Commorragh. But they had been stymied by the outer defences of the outpost, and had no webway gate in the structure from which they could manifest. The cost of entry would have been too high, and they had reluctantly searched for other targets.

However, six marines of the Emperor's Children had appeared like providence from Slaanesh itself, led by a powerful sorcerer, and they had struck a deal with the Dark Eldar. They would assist the raiders in breaching and storming the outpost, where their armoured forms would be highly useful in the cramped confines. They would kill as little as possible, and let the eldar have all prisoners taken. And all they asked in return was that the eldar remain in the outpost for a while afterwards, to act as guards while the Traitor Marine performed some unspecified ritual to Slaanesh on a focal point within the complex.

Yaltallon wasn't so great a fool as to not suspect the marines, but his gentle probing as to the nature of their ritual had yielded no results. On the other hand, his warriors were impatient and eager to crack the outpost's defences. He had accepted, with no little trepidation.

He alighted in the main chamber, which had once been the dining area for the Imperial troops, where his warriors waited.

"Your will, Haemonculi?" said the foremost sybarite, who grasped her two poisoned blades with keen anticipation, while her squad waited behind her with equal eagerness.

"Our allies desire an undisturbed ritual," he said. "We shall form a ambush line in this chamber, while the squads stationed above hold the line. And dispatch two of your warriors to guard the prisoners. It would be counterproductive if they are harmed."

Yaltallon fixed his warriors with a withering glare.

"We shall fight this day, and we shall fight against the best the mon-keigh scum can muster. Your success shall earn you slaves to bear back to Commorragh. Your failure shall ensure that I will personally put each survivor into a Talos."

The raiding party nodded appreciatively. By the standards of Commorragh's children, this was a rousing speech indeed.

Below them, in a circular room of tarnished steel, lit only by the candles arranged into uncanny geometric patterns on the floor, the Emperor's Children began their ritual.

The sorcerer began, rapping his staff against the floor as he fixed his gaze on each of his five brothers in turn.

"Prince of Excess, your most reverent and unworthy subjects send you their adulation, and beseech you to send a manifestation of your most potent power, upon this defiled world..."

Warp-energies susurrated throughout the echoing chamber.

"There's xeno on my boots," grumbled Engel, wading through a corridor on the fourth level, the floor of which was thick with shredded eldar.

"I told a storm bolter would be overkill," said Tywin, shaking the gore off his power sword. "You can't deny its effectiveness, though."

"No sign of the prisoners in any of the rooms on this level," said Hector, returning from a brief foray into the few holdings on this level of the outpost.

"Then that leaves only the bottom level," said Tywin, pulling out a data-slate of the outpost schematics and glancing over it. "There is where we'll find the prisoners. And that's where we'll encounter the heaviest resistance. And the Traitor Marines, if the tactician wasn't mistaken."

"You don't suppose the eldar could have already left with the prisoners, don't you?" said Engel, reloading his steaming plasma pistol. "It would be like the creatures to leave as quickly as they'd entered."

"They wouldn't leave their comrades behind," objected Hector, gesturing at the bodies around them.

"How much do you know about these particular eldar, Brother?"

"Not much, I'll concede, but ..."

"Then take it from me that, of all the xenos in the galaxy, they are among the greatest bast..."

"They're still here," interrupted Ozymadias, his head surrounded with a corona of drifting psychic energy. "There's … maybe a dozen of them in the chamber immediately entered on the level below. The prisoners are through a corridor off to the right of that chamber. And through a corridor to the left..." Ozymandias frowned, and shook his head. "Everything then gets fuzzy. There's something strange going on, and it stinks of Chaos."

"Can you see the Traitor Marines?"

"No. If they're there, they'll be behind that fuzz."

"Then let's take extra caution," said Tywin, raising his power sword and igniting it once more. Streams of power flared off the battered blade. "On my lead."

He marched down the last set of stairs (these bereft of mines) with the rest of the squad close on his heels. He stopped before the door, raised his hand to call a halt, and reached down gently for the door knob. He fumbled at it gently.

From behind the door, the Marines could hear the unmistakeable sound of fingers sliding into triggers, and released breaths.

Then Tywin abruptly put his full weight into the door with his shoulder, ramming the whole thing out of its hinges and forwards into the room with him behind it. The scream and noise of razor-edged crystal shards slashing off the metal surface filled the room, and suddenly Tywin was bearing down on one of their attackers, ramming the full weight of the door upon the unfortunate eldar, who vanished beneath the door with a squawk and splash of blood. Tywin rolled as the door descended, and fell crouched behind a overturned dining table on the left of the chamber, a position quickly adopted by the three other space marines. Bolter fire and the returned hiss of rifles filled the air.

The tables along the length of the room had been overturned in order to provide cover for the defending eldar, but also served the same purpose for the Space Marines. Guns were quickly bent around corners and shots were snapped off before the guns were withdrawn (some long-dead quartermaster for the Munitorum decided to install heavy permacrete-and-steel tables for whatever arcane reasons, so simply shooting through them was unfeasible.)

"Maintain fire!" roared Tywin, snapping off a round from his pistol and catching one unwary eldar warrior in the chest. "They cannot stand against us!" He glanced round the room and saw, at the right, directly across from him, the doorway that surely led to the prisoners.

"Ozymandias! Secure the room through that door! Eliminate all opposition!"

The librarian obeyed, and rose and ran and ducked through a hail of enemy fire, and rushed through the door.

At the back of the room, a pale eldar rose and carefully sighted down the length of one of his hands, from which emerged a gleaming mess of machinery. Something went phut, and something small and pale and golden in hue flew across the room.

Tywin saw it, and, acting on reflex, raised his pistol and fired at it as Yaltallon smiled a cold smile.

The blot round hit the vial of assorted chemicals as it neared the Space Marines, and blew apart with a deafening explosion. Fire and smoke flared forth and filled all available space, obscuring the sight of the Space Marines and throwing them to the floor. Engel grunted as he landed on his back, holding his storm bolter close to his body. He pulled himself up quickly and rolled back into cover. Peering through the smoke, he saw Hector crouched against a table, but saw no signs of Tywin or Ozymandias.

"Where the hell's the sergeant?" roared Engel above the clamour of battle and through the haze of smoke and after-light of the explosion. He leapt up and exploded an eldar's torso with one swift pull on the trigger of his storm bolter. To his right, Hector crouched and waited, tense as a poised hunter, with his chainswords ready.

"And where the hell's the pysker as well?"

"He's through there! Sergeant Tywin ordered him through," hissed Hector tersely, pointing at the door to his . He hadn't had a drink for at least a few hours, and he fancied he could feel the Black Rage building in his head like a stormcloud.

"Damn it," muttered Engel. "Then it's up to us to deal with these. On my mark, brother." Hector ignited his chainswords, and the teeth ground and sparked.

"Move in for the kill. Their numbers are depleted," snapped Yaltallon, and the remaining dark eldar moved forward like a wave over the barricades and wreckage.

"Now!" ordered Engel, and the two Space Marines leapt up, Engel spraying twin streams of bolt rounds, and Hector in a nigh-impossible cartwheel, his chainswords weaving crimson through the air as he impacted with the dark eldar.

The crystal-fire went wild, and became only wilder as limbs flew and eldar died with each swing of the chainswords and the storm bolter fired into the melee. The eldar threw themselves back after the initial shock and scrabbled for poisoned knives and blades, but Hector was on them like a wilding wolf, and no quarter was given to the shattered eldar.

Engel saw one eldar female flourish two blades and leap at Hector's back, for which he sent bolt rounds streaming into her face. She fell, and he resighted and tore apart another. He resighted upon the Haemonculis, who had already sighted upon Engel. A silver flashing dart sprang out and stabbed at Engel, who twisted to avoid it, and hissed as it sliced through his armour and barely scraped across the edge of his shoulder.

The Haemonculis leered in triumph, and aimed down the sights of his wrist-mounted machinery. A shadow fell across him, and he looked up just in to see Hector bringing down his chainswords. Yaltallon raised his scissor-blades to catch the downwards swing of one blade and leant to one side to avoid the other. He pulled back with his scissor-blades clacking, and sprang forward once more, aiming the points for the vulnerable sections in the Space Marine's armour.

Hector pulled back one arm and, with all his strength, threw one chainsword at the eldar, who twisted frantically to avoid it and sent it flying on to embed itself into the wall. Yaltallon, his focus broken by the flying chainsword, jabbed forward clumsily, and was abruptly hit in the face with the hilt of the other chainsword. Hector reached out and grabbed the stunned eldar's face with his free hand, lifted him up off the ground, and slammed the back of his head into the wall.

Yaltallon writhed and slashed blindly with his blades. Hector ignored them and slammed Yaltallon's head into the wall again, and continued until Yaltallon's head was reduced to a fine red paste. He opened his hand, and let the body fall to the floor.

Breathing out, Hector deactivated his chainsword, and turned to Engel.

"I'd swear they're not as fun to fight anymore, Brother..." He paused, and looked more closely at Engel. The Black Templar was standing stock-still, with one hand loosely holding his storm bolter, and the other pointing at Hector. He radiated mute terror and fascination even from behind his helmet.


Tywin had been picked up by the force of the explosion and found himself rammed through a door behind him. He collapsed onto the stairs behind said door, fought to regain his balance, failed, and rolled all the way down.

He wheezed as he impacted with the bottom, permitted himself a brief moment to loath the universe and everything in it, and then rose unsteadily to his feet. There was the stairs on one side, from which the sounds of battle still raged. And on his other side, there was a door. A door from which faint whispering could be heard.

Tywin regained his composure, picked up his fallen sword, and gently pushed the door open.

He saw a circle of six Traitor Marines. Immediately before him, his back turned, was a sorcerer waving a force staff and chanting at a blinding whirlwind of warplight in the air. The air buzzed and seethed with corruption. The Traitor Marines didn't even seem to notice his arrival, so intent were they upon the light at the room's centre.

Some Space Marine chapters brooked no dishonour on the field of battle, and saw subterfuge and dirty fighting as refuges for the weak. Blood Ravens, on the other hand, saw discretion and low cunning as the better part of valour, and Tywin crept up behind the sorcerer and stabbed him in the back. But he did so too late.

The last cry from the sorcerer's mouth as Tywin's blade swung through the air was "LET THE KEEPER OF SECRETS BE UNLEASHED, AND OUR LORD'S BIDDING BE DONE!", and he screamed in ecstasy as the blade swept through his chest. He crumpled to the floor, red with blood and grinning wildly, as the other Traitor Marine screamed with ecstasy as well and exploded in sudden jets of blood that flew towards the whirlwind.

Tywin pulled free his blade, and took a hasty step back. The whirlwind bulged and hissed with daemonic light...

...there was noise and light overpowering, overloading all of Tywin's senses at once...

…and then the whirlwind vanished, and the light faded, and what remained at the room's centre was a Greater Daemon of Slaanesh.

It stood easily thrice as tall as Tywin. Its tall, pale, lizardine body pulsed with warp fire. Its bovine face gleamed with cruel delight, its crown of horns gently stirring and coiling. Blades unfolded from two of its arms, the remaining two clacked their great claws.

It looked around the room casually with frank and open curiosity, at the sundered remains of the Traitor Marines, and finally at Tywin.

"Tell me, toy, have you ever had your organs pulled out through your pores?" it said by way of casual preamble.

Tywin grasped his power sword with both hands, angled it up at the Daemon, and repeated the Catechism of Just Fury under his breath. He sough the exit in his peripheral vision, and also fervently wondered where a Grey Knight was when you needed one.

"Well, there's a first time for everything" said the Daemon in a friendly manner, and reached out one claw for Tywin, who hopped back just in time and swiped frantically at the Daemon's claw, slashing into it. The Daemon hissed in annoyance, and then lashed out in a storm of blades. Tywin jumped back to avoid them all, and then turned on his heel and began running around the wide circumference of the chamber. The Daemon followed, waving its blades and spitting warp-fire from its nostrils at Tywin's heels.

"Brother?" said Hector.

"BRO/OTH/OTH/ererererererer?" cackled the multi-headed, multi-coloured blurring abomination that floated in front of Engel's vision. Around it, the walls melted into strips of pastel hues and sprouted wings and flew away twittering. The sound drifting through the air now had a colour.

Some tiny, rational part of Engel's mind, that had only been preserved due to the minute amount of psychoactive material that had actually come off the dart, screamed and hollered that something was clearly wrong, that reality didn't normally function like this, and that perhaps it would be a good idea if he went and had a nice lie-down right now.

Engel ignored it, and pointed at Hector and gibbered.

"Brother?" said Hector uncertainly, grasping his chainsword that little bit more firmly.

Then the pyschosis kicked in.

Engel leapt at Hector like a berserking animal, dropping his storm bolter and grabbing at him with his hands. Hector yelled and struggled, his chainsword was trapped in between their armoured forms. Engel grappled briefly, then suddenly swung Hector around and shoved him down onto the wreckage of a table. Hector gurgled and tried to rise, but was decked low by a swipe from the ravening Engel.

Engel stooped to lick up the dropped chainsword, and looked back up to see a crackling bolt of lightning crash into him. He was tossed backwards, and stirred feebly amidst the rubble he had fallen into.

Hector, gathering his breath, turned to see Ozymandias leading a troop of bedraggled guardsmen out of the corridor. The librarian looked around the room with faint bemusement.

"Can't I leave you alone for two minutes, Brothers?" The words were spoken softly and in jest. Ozymandias glanced at Engel. "The dark eldar are known to use exceptionally potent mind-poisons. I do hope our brother shan't suffer any permanent damge." He ignored Hector's groans, and scanned the room, having come to some realisation. "Where's the sergeant?"

"Through … through that door," said Hector. "There was an explosion, and he ..." Hector paused, a dubious expression stealing over his face. "That isn't the same door that you … er, felt fuzziness from, is it?"

"Remind me to find a better term for it, Brother. And yes, I fear so." Ozymandias sighed, then motioned at the guardsmen. "You men, stay here and try to restrain our brother while we attend to a matter downstairs."

"How?" said a gaunt corporal. "We've got no rope."

"Use your imaginations," said the librarian, who was already distracted and hurrying down the stairs, with a groggy Hector in tow.

They reached the ajar door at the bottom of the stairs, from which a strange light spilled and the sound of muffled thunder emerged. Ozymandias hesitated, and winced and clutched at his head before pushing it open.

Inside the chamber, in the dead-centre, the Daemon stood bloodied and exalting, wounds weeping across its chest and arms and head. From one hand dangled a much-battered and nearly unconscious Tywin.

"More toys?" said the Daemon excitedly.

"My everything hurts," gurgled the sergeant. Both of his legs were broken, an arm hung uselessly, and his bionic eye had been broken in. The rest of his body had fared little better, and bled through the power armour in spite of the best efforts of the Larraman's Organ.

"Sergeant!" yelled Ozymandias, and loosed a bolt of lightning at the Daemon. The Daemon caught the bolt with ease in one hand, and threw it back at the librarian with a little added power. There was an explosion, and Ozymandias yelled "Aaaaaaaaaargh" as he exited the way he came, narrowly missing Hector on his way to create a crater in the stairs. Hecot blinked, and then charged, igniting his chainsword.

The Daemon resprouted one of the blades from its hands, and jabbed it down at Hector with lightning speed, shearing through his chainsword and embedding the blade in his collarbone. He stopped and gurgled and grabbed feebly at the blade, and the Daemon purred with pleasure as it slowly forced Hector to his knees.

Tywin's last good hand twitched and grabbed at his belt, scrabbling for the combat knife given to every Space Marine. His numb fingers found the hilt, and held it tightly. He drew it out with laborious slowness, and at last had it firmly in hand. With one deft motion, he hewed at the Daemon's arm which held him aloft, hacking open its wrist to the bone and eliciting a howl of agony from it. The great fingers loosened momentarily, and Tywin fell.

He flapped feebly at the Daemon's head as he fell, slowing his descent just enough for him to twist rapidly with the blade just as the Daemon swung its head forward in a powerful butt.

Both attacks, for a certain value of 'worked', worked. Tywin flew into the chamber wall and left a considerable dent before he flopped to the ground. The Daemon fell back, howling with abyssal pain and anguish at the knife rammed neatly between its horns. Fissures of escaping warp-fire broke open all over its body, and the very texture of the air seemed to shudder. Then everything went white.

Hector, when his mind managed to block out the pain of the sword-wound and the glow of the exploding Daemon, coughed and called "Guardsmen? We may require some assistance here..."

It was some time later.

The Space Marines were gathered around a table in their quarters in the Imperial frigate.

Tywin was in the Space Marine equivalent of a full-body cast. It was a situation, noted Apothecary Julius, that he seemed to end up in with depressing regularity.

Hector had perhaps fared the least worst of the team. His only concession to his injuries was the thick band of consecrated medical tape around his collar.

Engel was slumped in his chair, his body still emitting puffs of smoke from the desperate magical assault launched on him by Ozymandias. He was nursing the mother of all headaches from the countless drugs injected directly into his skull by the Apothecary. Unnoticed around one of his elbows hung a fragment of standard-issue military trousers, hastily converted into rope to bind him.

Ozymandias himself wore the same full-body cast as Tywin, with added holy charms and silver aquilas on chains set into the cast that jangled as he moved.

Hector was the only one wearing an expression of anything other than loathing for the universe in general.

"So," he said, "Do your states infer that none of you are permitted to ingest alcohol or drug other than that which Julius orders for you? Why, what a pity."

"Does that mean I have to take the burden of our end-of-mission toast upon myself? Then I shall gravely shoulder that responsibility for the team."

Hector ignored the daggers glared at him by the others, and knocked back a measure of his drink from a glass with a grin.

"Oh, don't give me those looks," he said when he was finished. "At least we got a good new trophy out of the experience." With that, he rested his feet atop the Daemon head under the table.