Nothing But a List of Names to Mark his Ascension
Chapter 56: Halcyon
Note: I do not own Warhammer 40,000 or Dawn of War, I am simply writing a different perspective to the events portrayed.
"He is waking up," said a voice above him. The words were barely audible. Augustine tried to move, but his limbs were heavy, restrained. A bright light shined down on him. It was blinding in its intensity, and Augustine could do nothing but hold his eyes shut as tightly as he could. Even that was impossible though. His right eye refused to shut, and the light seemed even brighter now.
"He is panicking Harkon," said another voice, gruffer and more mature than the first. "Shut that damned light off, we can see fine."
Nathaniel Augustine breathed a sigh of relief as the lamp shut down, and opened his eyes a second later. Everything was blurry as he was helped into a sitting position by a white robed figure. As he settled down, he winced in pain. His chest was tight and breathing was very painful.
"Where. . ." he began. "What happened?"
"You are quite injured still, brother," said the man next to him. Groggily, Augustine turned and looked him over. A white robe with long brown hair meant Harkon, the 4th Company's apothecary.
"Indeed," said the other voice. Augustine turned to him, another white robed figure that the young Blood Raven did not recognize. "I am Carnegie," he said. "An apothecary with the 3rd Company."
"Do you remember what happened to you?" asked Harkon.
"I remember Thaddeus," said Augustine slowly. There were long pauses between words, both from the shallow breaths he was taking as well as the vagueness of his memory. "I was wounded. Then nothing, darkness."
"You were in a stasis field," said Harkon. "It has been two days since then. Everything is over now."
Augustine's vision was now clearing up, but there was something distinctly odd about it. From his right eye, everything seemed so much brighter, and focusing took slightly longer than it did with his left. Together, his vision was a blur of bright colors from the right and dull sterility from his left. He reached up and winced to find cold metal where his right temple should have been. He traced the sensitive flesh on the edges, and found that it reached down to his cheek bone, where a separate metal plate was held fast to the bone by deep metal screws. His breathing increased rapidly as the urge to rip the offending device off intensified. The thought of having such a foreign object screwed into his skull terrified him, and he instinctively reached up with his hand, only for Harkon to grab it and hold it tightly.
"Calm yourself Augustine," he said. "It is all right. It feels odd now, but you will adjust in time."
"My vision is off," replied Augustine through hurried, painful breaths.
"It will adjust in time," said Carnegie. "We have only just attached it. Now that you are awake we can run calibration tests and sync it to your body's will. Soon you will be able to control it as if it was your hand."
Harkon nodded along and added, "You will be able to magnify with a thought, activate night vision, and even sync it to a firearm. It functions much like your helmet head's up display."
"I see," said Augustine with slow realization. He looked to his left, past Apothecary Carnegie. The brightly lit Apothecarium was filled with bodies both shrouded and open. On the far side of the room were the covered ones, unmoving under their bone colored shrouds. They were the honored dead from Aurelia. On Augustine's side were those still living. He looked down the line and recognized some familiar faces.
Argionus Cleon cursed at his injuried leg. He was conscious and in a seated position, alternating between demanding his injury to heal and bantering with Sergeant Magnus on the gurney beside him. The Assault Sergeant's arm was in a sling, and even from a distance Augustine could see the black flesh, evidence of numerous breaks.
Furthest away were the most gravely injured, all sedated or in comas. Augustine's heart sank as his eyes came across Sergeant Tarkus. The old man's scarred face was dreadfully pale and beaded with sweat. He shook ever so slightly, as though a flame had been lit beneath him. His chest was a mass of bandages, dark with dried blood.
"He was shot twice, point blank," said Harkon, following his gaze. "His ribcage was completely destroyed and he lost multiple organs. We have had him in surgery twice, and he nearly died on us three times. He has not yet regained consciousness."
"Will he live?" asked Augustine. He remembered Brother Brochus of Tarkus' own squad, who had survived the battle only to die of his wounds later.
"I am not sure," said Carnegie. "This is not something that a stasis field can solve, like your injury. We cannot simply put him in a dreadnought either. He is not even stabilized. He could die at any time."
Augustine shook his head in disbelief. He opened his mouth again to ask of his squad's condition, but something else caught his eye. It was far more dreadful than anything he could have envisioned. Across from him was a body covered in a much finer shroud than those surrounding it. The bone colored cloth was trimmed with gold embroidery, and the image of a great dark Raven was stitched upon it, crying tears of blood. All who entered the apothecarium gave it space, not wanting to disrespect the corpse beneath. Next to the body lay a hammer, Remembrance. It was laid out beside the body, guarding it like an apotropaic ward against all encroachers.
"It cannot be," said Augustine. "What happened on Aurelia?"
Harkon's face darkened. The light creases that covered his mostly youthful face deepened as sorrow overtook him. Then he began to speak.
With a quiet sigh of satisfaction, Eliphas the Inheritor took his seat on the brass throne of the Monument of Sin. The bridge was quiet now, freed from the influence of the Black Legion. Instead of that dreadful grinding noise that had permeated everything, a gentle whisper of dark prayers now filled the air. The scent of blood was gone, replaced by the smooth fragrance of incense.
"Praise Chaos Almighty!" said the Inheritor with a smile. "We have asked much, and as always, we receive!"
"But the loss of Ulkair," said Amphion in a low whisper. He stood before Eliphas, with his back to the Dark Apostle. He looked out past the great windows into the miasma of the Warp, perhaps attempting to discern some meaning from the colorful storm.
"Was a setback yes," finished Eliphas. "While I would have liked to prevail in one fell swoop, we are not required to be hasty."
"The long game it is then," said Amphion. "Neroth and Kalestera fled with the last remains of their force, but to where I know not."
"It does not concern me," said Eliphas with a dismissive shake of his head. "They have no power anymore, nor any way to threaten me. Crowley's force on Meridian does bring me some concern though. Have you made contact with them yet?"
"Subtlely, I have," said Amphion. "They do not yet know that we have betrayed them. They will continue to fight against the loyalists there. Their interference will leave all our foes blind to our movements."
"Perfect. I will have Zephus-Hassan stay on Meridian to keep an eye on our erstwhile friends. He blends in well, and will be a great asset fighting there."
"Do we not need him with us?" asked Amphion. "Would his prowess not be better utilized against the Blood Ravens?"
"There is no need," said Eliphas. "We will not do battle with the Blood Ravens for some time."
Amphion looked at Eliphas with a shocked expression. He expected that his Lord would not sit quietly and wait, but would rather attack again immediately.
Upon seeing Amphion's face, Eliphas continued saying "We have barely a hundred Astartes at our disposal. I will not count those clueless Black Legionnaires as part of our numbers. We must bide our time. I have already sent a message back to Sicarus. I am confident that Erebus, that ancient worker of temptation, will send us additional reinforcements."
Amphion nodded slightly. He had not thought of that. "You think that after hearing of our work, he would send us a Host of Word Bearers?"
"Exactly," said Eliphas with a smile. "When we muster against the Blood Ravens again, it will not be with a rabble of Black Legionnaires. They will face serried ranks of Word Bearers. Now, take us far into dark space between systems. There we will wait until the time comes."
Amphion smiled and turned back to the window, watching the clouds of emotion stream past the bow of the ship. Somewhere out there, the gods of the Warp bickered and laughed, amused by the deeds and failures of men.
Lars Uther woke with a start, nearly catapulting out of bed. He was shirtless, and a cold sweat covered his body. Judging by the calmness of the air, a certain lack of tension, he instantly knew that it was all over. He was in a hospital clearly, a private ward for higher ranked wounded, of which there were few. A heartbeat monitor stood by the bedside, but that was the only piece of medical equipment he could see.
Uther's body felt odd, much too light, and with quiet realization he noted that his left arm was gone, severed cleanly near the shoulder. He should have known earlier though. The last thing he remembered was passing out under the watch of the medics muttering about septic wounds. The stump of his arm was wrapped in bandages, freshly replaced. The strips of gauze on his stump felt like the only clean thing in the room. The walls were dark with grime, and Uther was surprised this could even be considered a hospital.
Then he noticed the chair next to his bed, and the figure seated there. Sound asleep, Elle Connor's head lay on Uther's legs. Despite his movements, she was undisturbed. Her coat and cap were gone, leaving her in black fatigues with only her sash identifying her as a Commissar.
"She's been here the whole time," said the last occupant of the room. Wadden Hurst sat in the corner of the room, out of sight to Uther's left. In the shadows he had kept a vigil by the Captain. "We both stayed here during the day, but even when I left she stayed. I don't think she's eaten in a day, maybe longer."
Uther looked down at her, an ambiguous expression on his face. "So," he said slowly. "When do I get my augmetic?"
"You aren't," said Hurst. He let Uther look shocked for a moment before continuing. "She blew all of her bonus pay on you, pulled every favor she had. She said you hate augmetics, so she got you a graft replacement."
A graft, thought Uther. Those were incredibly expensive. Even Castille may not have been able to reliably requisition one. How had Connor gotten near enough money to buy such a thing. Hurst had said she had called in favors, so maybe she knew some people. Regardless, it was incredibly generous of her.
"Well, I should be going now," said Hurst. He stood, closing the book in his hands. "Don't worry about the billets Captain. We're being stationed in the upper levels. Merrick told me he found a hab building nearly untouched by vandalism. We'll get you the best room we can find."
With that he was gone, leaving Uther alone. The only remaining sounds in the room were the swish of the curtains in the window and the incessant beeping of the heartbeat monitor. The sun was going down, but the only evidence of that was the time on the wall clock. The light outside was dim no matter what time of day it was. It seemed that they still hadn't fixed the level's overhead lights.
Near his feet, Uther heard a short groan as Connor's eyes flickered open. She sat up and shook her head, letting her hair fly all about before stretching out her sore back. It was only then that she noticed that Uther was awake.
"Lars!" she said excitedly. The exhaustion in her eyes vanished as her smile grew.
"I'm back," said Uther. He smiled back, unable to help himself. "I heard you arranged for a graft."
"Yeah," she said without hesitating. "There's no way I'd let you get an augmetic if I could help it! You'd scratch at it every day, and forget to clean it!"
Uther snorted "What are you, my mom? You don't need to worry about me."
She crossed her arms and frowned. "I'm a Commissar, Lars. If I let you get an augmetic, you could just get another infection and then the Company will be without a Commanding Officer again. It's for the good of the regiment!"
She thought she was good at hiding her true intentions, but Uther must have known her too well. Even she didn't like saying that she did it for him.
"Well thanks," he said. "I appreciate."
"Hmm, it was nothing."
"Oh?" said Uther. "I heard you had to pull some favors. What exactly did you give up?"
Connor laughed nervously, scratching the back of her head. "Well, I was offered a room in the governor's villa here. I ended up trading it with a requisition officer who could sign off the procedure."
"So now you'll just stay with the Company?"
She nodded. Her eyes thinned as she adopted a sly smile. "I'm sure I'll find somewhere nice to bunk."
The Blood Ravens stood assembled in the Litany of Fury's great hall, one of the few places that could hold a full 3 Companies at once. However, less than two hundred marines were gathered. They were the pitiful remains of the once proud 4th, 5th, and 3rd Companies of the Blood Ravens chapter. At their head stood the leaders; Captains Diomedes, Gelden, and Angelos, as well as Davian Thule and the Honor Guard.
They stood on a raised platform, and behind them were the bodies of the dead, members of all three Companies. The living members of the Company waited below in silence. They stood at attention, some armored, some in robes. All who were conscious had gathered, even those that had to be wheeled in on gurneys. Nathaniel Augustine stood next to Lloyd, both in robes. In the weeks since his awakening, he had recovered greatly, and now he could walk without a cane or a brother's assistance. From the thin ranks of the 4th Company, he watched the proceedings. Angelos spoke first.
"Brothers, honored warriors of the Blood Ravens, it is on this day that I announce our final victory. Our psykers can find no trace of the Black Legionnaire ship. While we remain on guard, I can say with confidence that their leadership is fractured. Their defeat on Aurelia has left them crippled, and their forces under the command of Eliphas have fled. The remaining Black Legionnaires are scattered across the system. In time, we will hunt them down and destroy them."
Diomedes stepped forward. His creased face was stoic, though his voice was filled with authority and pride. "We have paid for such a victory with many lives. Even now many brothers remain wounded. Every man fallen is a hero, to be honored by the Chapter for making the ultimate sacrifice.
"Captain Aramus is one of these heroes," said Angelos. He smiled, proud of the accomplishments of the fallen. "We will never know what happened between him and the daemon Ulkair on Aurelia. Only the results are obvious; Aramus prevailed against the evils of Nurgle. He gave his life for the Emperor and the Chapter. He will enter into the Chapter Annals, and his name will be marked upon the hammer Remembrance that he bore. His deeds will never be forgotten."
Augustine let out a cheer, joining his brothers in celebrating the deeds of Aramus. He had only been a Captain for a short time, and Augustine had never really understood him. He was an arrogant man, skilled but foolhardy, and perhaps promoted too high into the ranks. He had adapted quickly though, and learned his limits as well. And while Augustine had complaints about his ability to command, the manner of his death was nothing to scoff at. He had proved himself, and died well.
"In truth," said Captain Angelos, "The 4th Company took the brunt of this war, as well as the last. Each member is an army, each warrior a veteran of two wars. Their numbers are small, honed by the fires of war. Many squads no longer exist. The forces of Chaos tested the 4th Company, but each man held strong and fought, to the death in many instances. Even when betrayed by one of their most trusted Sergeants, the Company rallied. Thaddeus' treachery left many deaths in its wake, but the deeds of his squad cannot be forgotten. They fought against their own Sergeant for the good of the Imperium. Such loyalty will be commended."
"However," started Diomedes. "The low numbers of the 4th Company require immediate action, and Captain Angelos and I have decided on the proper course. As of today, the 4th Company of the Blood Ravens is disbanded."
Augustine's jaw dropped in shock, and he looked around at his brothers. Nikephoros' brow was curled in anger, and Lyon seemed just as surprised. How could they be disbanded after such a war? Even if their numbers were too low, they should simply be given priority for new recruits until they return to fighting strength.
Angelos picked up where Diomedes left off. "We must move quickly, as wars brew on our borders. The members of the 4th Company will be distributed throughout the Chapter. There will be promotions, with certain members of the 4th receiving squads made up of fresh marines. A few of the more veteran brothers will join the Honor Guard. Orders will be distributed personally. Members of the 4th Company will be on standby aboard the Litany of Fury until then."
Chapter serfs came forward, bearing carts to take the coffins of the dead. "Now," said Angelos, "The dead will be given to the stars. They will be released into the void of space to be reclaimed by the Emperor that gave them birth. They will stand watch over us for all eternity, a reminder of their sacrifice."
An hour later, Augustine stood in the observation deck of the Litany of Fury, looking out at the stars. In the distance, the orange orb that was Calderis twinkled in the light of its star. The caskets of the dead were now indistinguishable from the blackness of space. They were too far out to be spotted, even with the eyes of an Astartes.
"This is not how I expected the 4th Company to meet its end," said Linus. Augustine turned to look over his right shoulder, and nodded at Linus and Lyon as they stepped up to his side. Both wore their power armor, and seemed to have come from the practice cages. Linus walked with a slight limp, obviously not yet used to his augmetic leg.
"I understand completely," said Lyon. "I had hoped that Aurelia was just the beginning; that Captain Aramus would have led us to victory after victory. Perhaps such sentiment was uncalled for. It is foolish to think that a single man, even an Astartes, could survive a battle with a greater daemon."
"What will they do with us?" wondered Augustine. He did not really expect a response. The more mature marines would become Sergeants most likely, though they had far less experience than the job required. With numbers so low however, the Blood Ravens could not afford to leave them as rank and file marines. "Will we ever be together again as one Company?"
"Perhaps in time," said Linus. "The 4th Company will recover, even if it takes a hundred years."
Augustine nodded slowly. He was not sure if he believed Linus. In his chest there was a knot tightening. It had been growing over the past few days, this feeling of his. Every time his eyes caught those of another 4th Company marine, he believed more and more that he would never stand at their sides again.
"Now we are assembled and at peace," said Captain Diomedes, "And there is much that needs to be discussed."
"I have here a list of promotions," said Angelos, holding up a dataslate. He pushed the tablet across the steel table towards the Captain of the Honor Guard. "I expect that you will approve them."
"I do not understand why you still believe yourself to be in a position of authority," said Diomedes curtly. Nevertheless, he took up the slate and began skimming its contents. "You betrayed your Chapter when you did not submit to your Chapter Master's orders. You are renegade, and stand now in my custody."
"DIOMEDES. . . I OBJECT," replied Captain Thule. "WITHOUT ANGELOS. . . THIS SUBSECTOR WOULD BE LOST."
"Even victors must face consequences," said Diomedes. "Angelos will have to answer for his actions."
"And to whom?" asked the 3rd Captain. "Kyras? The man is a traitor and a heretic! The records of your own Apothecary Galan prove it!"
Diomedes turned towards Angelos with a fierce look in his eyes. His brow was furrowed in anger and his voice was thick with rage as he spoke. "I will not tolerate such insults! Chapter Master Kyras is a better man than you, Gabriel Angelos! He is what all Blood Ravens should aspire to be! The words of Galan were lies spread by his heresy!"
For a moment it looked as if there was going to be a fight inside the conference room. Angelos could not predict what Diomedes was planning. Thule was powerless to stop them, as he and his chassis were down in the maintenance bay. Gelden, Orion, and Cyrus sat calmly, watching the argument unfold.
"Galan's records come before his possession," said Angelos. "Even you must believe there is something evil at the heart of our Chapter."
Diomedes' eyes flickered as he quickly looked away from Angelos. His mouth curled downwards as he thought. "It is true that Galan, and much of my Honor Guard were traitors. I cannot believe that Kyras has fallen. I will not."
"And what if you are wrong?" asked Angelos. "You expect that Kyras will banish me and my Company, send us on a penitent crusade. But what if we are murdered? Would you approve of that?"
"That would be a penalty unbefitting your crime," he said simply.
"It would be proof of his heresy!" replied Orion. "I know you well Captain Diomedes. You would never fall to Chaos; that much is true. But you would fail if Kyras turned the Chapter against you. You would die as well."
Cyrus nodded. "You must not turn Captain Angelos in," he said. "Even if you are right, the penalty would not be much greater. If you are wrong, Angelos and his Company would be spared death."
Diomedes drummed his fingers on the table for a few moments before replying. "Very well. It is impossible to deny that there is heresy running rampant through the Chapter. I cannot believe that Chapter Master Kyras has fallen, but it is likely that other marines are not loyal to our cause."
"That is a start," said Angelos with a breath of satisfaction.
"Understand this, Angelos," said Diomedes. "Under my authority, I am banishing the 3rd Company from subsector Aurelia. You are to make no contact with Blood Raven forces for the next ten years. In this time you are to fight for the good of the Imperium, and search out proof of your claims wherever you can."
Angelos smiled slightly. "That will do," he said. "It is indeed best if you put an official seal on what was my plan originally."
"I will go with them," said Cyrus.
"As will I," said Orion. "The 3rd Company has no librarian left to its name other than myself.
"You must," said Diomedes. "You two were too close to Angelos. If you stay behind, Kyras will suspect that I had a role in this. I will see to it that some remain behind with me however. The 5th Company needs new men. I will . . . allow them to maintain a discreet line of communication with the 3rd Company."
"It almost sounds like you are aiding us, Captain Diomedes," said Cyrus with a smirk.
"Do not taunt me Cyrus!" growled the Honor Guard Captain, "Or I may withdraw my generosity."
Then the vox opened, and Martellus' voice entered the room. "Brothers, come quickly. I fear that time is short." His voice was more frantic than usual. Fear was present in his tone, a rare thing for him.
"Calm yourself," said Diomedes, "Speak clearly Techmarine. What is the matter?"
"Tarkus has awoken but. . ." he did not finish, instead saying, "I fear there is little time."
Without another word, the assembled marines stood and ran towards the apothecarium. Each feared the worst.
Martellus stood outside the apothecarium aboard the Litany of Fury, where Tarkus had been moved. Inside, Harkon worked over Tarkus, injecting all manner of medicines into his ruined flesh. Martellus had kept his vigil outside the clinic, as he felt that he was too dirty to step inside. It was only minutes before that Tarkus' eyes had flickered open, and soon after his life signs slowly began to drop.
"Martellus!" came a shout, and the techmarine turned to see a trio of Captains running down the hall, followed closely by Cyrus. Other marines slowly followed the group, keeping their distance. They were evidently curious, and Martellus could see their apprehensive expression. Tarkus was one of the last marines still in the apothecarium. If Captains came running, there were few that they could be visiting.
"What is it Martellus?" asked Angelos.
The techmarine shook his head and gestured towards the door before standing aside to let the marines pass. Then he stepped over to the window. Gelden remained outside, but the other marines rushed inside. Martellus did not wish to follow. He was not sure what he would say in such a situation. He was not sure he would have been able to say anything.
Tarkus lay on a nearby gurney, and with Diomedes and Angelos standing with Harkon, it was almost impossible to see the Sergeant. Diomedes stood tall, but Angelos quickly knelt to the Sergeant's side, whispering something. Tarkus' eyes were half closed, but his mouth moved just enough for words to form. Angelos listened, and turned to Diomedes, who nodded.
Tarkus spoke again, and in response Diomedes stepped forward and knelt at his side. With surprising strength, Tarkus pulled him close, hissing into his ear. Diomedes nodded once, then stepped back as Tarkus' arm went limp. From his position, Martellus could not read the monitor watching Tarkus' life signs, but from Harkon's steely gaze, he understood. Slowly, the other marines filed out. Their expressions were downcast.
"What did he say?" asked Gelden.
"A personal request to me," said Diomedes. His eyes were thin with sorrow. Despite his blunt exterior, he cared for Tarkus. "I will fulfill it shortly."
A few dozen Blood Ravens now lined the hallways, watching Angelos and Diomedes leave the Apothecarium. They understood now that Sergeant Tarkus had undergone the worst fate that could befall a loyal warrior of the Imperium; to die a death far from the battlefield, laid low by wounds suffered before. He did not die screaming his hate, but slowly and quietly. It was not fair, nor was it dramatic, but not all things in the universe could be so. Extraordinary men can die ordinary deaths, just as a common man can rise above his station to perform great deeds. The next day, the funeral was quiet with mourning, perhaps more than even Aramus' own. With the passing of Sergeant Tarkus, the 4th Company was truly destroyed.
Ulthwé Craftworld was silent. Ever since the survivors of the Typhon expedition had returned in failure, the Eldar there had been in mourning. Arcadia sat on one of the upper terraces, looking out of the wraithbone spires of the world. Her feet hung over the edge, and she listened to the funeral dirges in silence.
She could not bring herself to join, nor did she feel that the Eldar here would welcome her. Two others felt the same, and sat in the shade behind her. Veldoran, warlock of Alaitoc, sat cross legged on the floor under the veranda, looking out towards the balcony. Next to him, Ronahn rested on a couch. His arm was in a sling, and it would be some time before the broken bones healed.
"This is twice now that we have failed," said Arcadia quietly. "I cannot bear this any longer."
"Neither can Ulthwé," said Veldoran. "To lose so many in such a short time, the Craftworld will not be able to send another expedition. The seers have retreated to their studies, watching the ebb and flow of Fate to determine their next course. It is likely that Ulthwé will abandon Aurelia to its doom."
"What of Cculan?" asked Arcadia. "I hold no hope for his survival, but his soul stones must be recovered."
Veldoran grumbled to himself. "It would take ages to find a single corpse in the wastes of Aurelia, but perhaps it can be done in time."
"When I am well once more, I will go," said Ronahn. "It should be one of Ulthwé that brings him home, and an outcast can travel where others dare not."
"You care about Ulthwé's inhabitants more than I expected Ronahn," said Arcadia. "Perhaps love for your home still lingers in that cold heart of yours."
"We are Eldar, banshee," replied Ronahn. "We have no home. This Craftworld is a refuge for our kind, nothing more. A temporary dwelling to hold our race as we die."
"Perhaps," said Arcadia, "but we of Biel-Tan fight for the Eldar Empire. We do not cling to our prophecies or set out into the wastes alone. You are both proud Eldar warriors, no matter the path your take. Return to Biel-Tan with me, and perhaps we can achieve victory together."
"An interesting prospect," said Veldoran. "But I must refuse. I am needed on Alaitoc, and I have strayed for far too long."
"And you Ronahn?" asked Arcadia.
Ronahn sat up before speaking. His eyes were tired, and the white hair that usually remained tied up was now ragged, hanging over his eyes and shoulders like the hair of a wild man. "I may yet," he said. "The path of the outcast leaves many roads to follow. Perhaps we will meet on Biel-Tan."
Arcadia nodded without turning around. She was too busy staring at the stars. The mon-keigh bragged often that they outnumbered the stars. That had never affected her much, but with the losses suffered she looked upon the heavens with a newfound sadness. The humans outnumbered all the stars in the galaxy, but could the Eldar even claim to match the number of stars that Arcadia looked at now? As if mocking her, the pinpricks of light above only became brighter.
In the depths of Ulthwé lay the Infinity Circuit. The soulstones placed there were both empty and full, their contents thrust into a collective dream. For each, their ethereal bodies traveled the Circuit, touching against others. There was no sight, nor speech, just a jolt of understanding between the long dead. Millions of these contacts occurred every second. Among the innumerable souls, a certain pair met once more.
I never wanted you to die for me.
The path I took was mine to follow. With the end in sight, am I to be alone in this eternity?
Never again. . . Drochasal.
"Hey Sergeant-Major!" shouted Alek. He ran up to join Merrick and Hurst, who were making their way out of the Command Center. Vendoland HQ had remained in Spire Legis after the takeover. Within two months, the entire Hive had been declared pure. While no loyal civilians remained, the area was mostly safe. Only the Underhive remained unpatrolled. No guardsman would venture there, even now.
"Evening lad," said Merrick as the trio stepped outside. They were on the upper levels, far higher than the Administratum building that they had stormed at the end of the Siege. They could even see the light of the setting sun. Merrick looked out at the descending orb. Its disk was dark from dust in the atmosphere, but the natural light was still welcome.
"Where did you come from?" asked Hurst. He pocketed the documents in his hand, not wanting to let the supply records get lost in the wind. The upper levels had irregular weather patterns.
Alek raised his hand with a grin, showing off the glinting fingers. "Had to get a checkup."
"Still aren't many cogboys around are there?" said Merrick wistfully. "This damn city's a ghost town. It'll never be the same."
Hurst hummed an agreement. "I never would have said that I'd see the death of an entire Hive without the use of atomics, but here it is."
"Who knows?" said Alek. "This Hive City will still be here when we're all dead and gone. It'll be a monument far longer than anyone's memory. I'm sure it'll have people again. Maybe peace too."
"Maybe kid," said Merrick. "You're pretty optimistic about everything."
Within a few minutes they were near their billet, a hab relatively untouched by the war. The blasphemous runes that once marked the door had been hastily painted over. The streaks of white on the building's dull grey gave it some character. It didn't look as dead to Merrick, at least not compared to everything else in Legis. As the approached the double doors, the guardsmen met a familiar pair.
Captain Uther and Commissar Connor were in the middle of opening the doors as they spotted Merrick and the others. The two were dressed casually, walking together back to their billets after inspecting the work of the Regiment. Uther wore a dark green tank top, showing off the discolored graft that had replaced his lost arm. The skin was unnaturally pale and unblemished compared to the weathered tan of his chest. Connor stayed close at his side, dressed in a dark shirt and fatigue pants.
"Captain, Commissar," said Merrick with a respectful nod, "good to see you. What's the news?"
In the distance, the crack of lasfire was audible, and despite himself, Merrick was a bit apprehensive. It was the first sounds of combat he'd heard since the taking of the Administratum building.
Uther calmed his fears, saying "We've set up a firing range on the boulevard to the west. It's important to keep our aim precise, even without any foreseeable fighting."
Merrick smiled. "I agree. I'll be sure to get some range time later this week."
"Honestly Merrick, we're not sure where the rest of the heretics went," said Uther. "After counting the bodies, we've noticed that there are far too few to account for the numbers we've spotted over the course of the campaign, Black Legionnaires included."
Hurst furrowed his brow and said, "You think they're still hiding out in Legis?"
"Command doesn't think so," said Connor, "but they're keeping quiet. The Enemy may have pulled back to another Hive, maybe even Angel. Governor Derosa's been getting antsy, especially after she discovered a failed attempt on her life."
"When was that?" asked Merrick. "We didn't get any word of it."
"No one recognized it for what it was," said Uther. "Her aid and bodyguards were on Vandis' payroll, according to security footage that was overlooked. The Eldar attack actually ended up saving her life, but a copy of Meridian's Hive schematics have been given to the heretic forces."
"Funny how things work out," said Merrick. The Eldar were never an enemy after all, and look at what happened. It felt like somebody was playing a huge trick on all of them.
"In any case, we need to be ready to act," said Connor. "The 85th could be called to patrol other Hives at any time, including the Underhives."
"Great," said Merrick. "We'll have to crawl through like rats in the ductwork."
"Makes your day doesn't it?" said Hurst.
With a crack of displaced air and a short flash of light, Zephus-Hassan stepped out into the grey of Urizen Hive. His scintillating mantle fluttered behind him as a hot wind passed. The gravel of Meridian crunched under his black boots, the only sound other than the breeze. It was dark in the lower levels, even in the middle of day. The rockcrete and plasteel arches surrounded him like a mountainous prison. Above, the Hive lived unaware of the cancer spreading in its depths. Crowley's Black Legionnaires had teleported en masse to Urizen after the loss of Spire Legis. With them came untold thousands of cult troops and citizen converts, the silent bladed automatons. Along with the dug in Vandis heretics, Urizen was set for upheaval.
Zephus-Hassan smiled. It had been a long time since he acted alone. His wounds were still healing, but it would not affect him too badly. The spear wound in his side still ached, but it was a reminder of that excellent Eldar warrior. He would do nothing to dull the pain of such a fight.
Now was the time for Eliphas' war. No longer would he fight for other Lords. Zephus-Hassan would spread the gospel of Eliphas. The Black Legionnaires did not know him. Crowley did not even know of the death of Araghast, so well was the news hidden. With his black armor, Zephus-Hassan could be confused for an agent of the Pillager. Thus, he would manipulate the sorcerer to his own ends, and abandon him when he was useful no longer.
The atmosphere aboard the Scientia Est Potentia was quite unlike that of the Retribution or the Litany of Fury. It was unsettling to Lyon, who was used to more confined spaces. Aboard the venerable Battle Barge that held the Honor Guard and 5th Company, one could walk all day and meet less than twenty fellow Blood Ravens. It was odd as well to have Gelden as Captain. Unlike Aramus or Thule, the 5th Company Captain kept mostly to himself. He prayed often, both in his quarters and in the chapel, and was not one for speechs. The 5th Company had been addressed more often by Diomedes than by their own leader.
Above all else, Lyon felt dreadfully alone. He was Sergeant now, but without a squad. His promotion held little fanfare, just a nod from Gelden and a few platitudes from Diomedes. Linus had shown more compassion, being in the same position, as was Sergeant Mercutio. Magnus had been sent to the 7th Company with his squad. They were to train the new assault marines that were beginning to fill out the Company's numbers.
Of course, the rest of Lyon's squad had come with him. Cleon was his charge now, but was not yet formally part of his squad. Lyon suspected that the arrogant man would be one of his, but the formalities had not been made yet.
"Lyon!" came a shout. He looked up to see Linus and the Honor Guardian called Loren walking towards him at a brisk pace. "Where were you going?" asked the Devastator. He had fully adjusted to his augmetic leg, and had not walked with a limp for many weeks.
"The observation deck," replied Lyon. "Space calms me."
"There is no time for that," said Loren bluntly. The marine was armored, but his relic blade was nowhere to be found. The bandages on his right eye had finally been removed though, and the metal cap over the socket showed off his unwillingness to accept an augmetic.
"Martellus just called us to the combat decks," said Linus. "He said there was something that we had to see."
Lyon spun on his heel and caught up to them as they passed. The practice cages were close, and with their pace they would arrive in a few minutes. "What did he say?"
"Not much else," said Linus. "Thule is there too, so it must be important."
Yes, Thule was on the Scientia Est Potentia as well. Unlike Lyon, a member of the 5th Company, Davian Thule was the newest member of the Chapter Honor Guard. His great frame was the first thing Lyon saw as he entered the combat deck. A gold livery had been installed on his armor, depictions of Astartes fighting against shapeless daemons. The dreadnought stood still, with Martellus at its side. The both faced one of the practice cages.
Gelden was there as well, standing with Veteran Akileus. The 1st Company Sergeant wore a robe rather than his terminator armor, but the man was still a hulking beast. Lyon and the others reached their sides to view the end of what must have been a spectacular fight.
Diomedes screamed as he attacked, swinging his power axe and lightning claw in alternating blows. His foe moved quickly, dodging out of the way with short movements. Diomedes' opponent was fully armored and helmeted. His armor was blank of insignia or even marks of loyalty. The chest was bereft of an Aquila, and no Company emblem marked his pauldron. Only the insignia of the Blood Ravens was visible. With two blades he fought, parrying when necessary.
"How long have they been fighting?" asked Loren.
"A good fifteen minutes in this round alone," said Akileus. "For him to last so long against Captain Diomedes. . ."
It was true that Diomedes could barely lay a hand on the other marine. The short, mechanical dodges set the marine out of his way each time. Diomedes was no fool however, and such a strategy would not last forever. The end was coming for his opponent. Diomedes feinted, and when his enemy prepared to dodge, Diomedes' foot speared in. The unmarked marine was kicked to the ground, and Diomedes' axe was at his throat.
"There," said the Honor Guard Captain, "My victory. What do you have to say for yourself brother?"
Wordlessly, the marine stood and nodded at Diomedes, who smirked shortly before nodding back, as if there was some joke that no one else got. Then the unmarked man exited the practice cage and walked off. All the while, he did not speak.
"What was that?" asked Linus.
"He keeps his silence for untold sin," said Gelden. "That is what his manifest said. It held neither his name nor his purpose. Even Diomedes is frustrated by it."
"Could he be a traitor?" asked Lyon.
"I do not think so," said Gelden. "He makes himself too obvious like this. I believe his purpose is true, whatever it may be."
"What do you even call such a man?" said Loren with a smirk.
"He is the Ancient," said Diomedes as he stepped out of the practice cage. "A stereotypical name for a nameless marine, but one I will accept."
"The Ancient," whispered Lyon. "How interesting. If only Augustine could be here."
"With that Sergeant, I take my leave."
"Very well Malachi," said Augustine. "Lloyd and Saul will see you to your quarters."
As the newest member of his squad left, Augustine turned back too look out the viewing port of the Observer. Nikephoros stood with him, silently watching the churning warp. The Pale Monster's squad was away training, all made up of new recruits. Augustine at least had members from the 4th Company in his.
"Any word on our heading?" asked Nikephoros. His armored hands were clasped behind his back.
Augustine shook his head. Even armored it still only reached Nikephoros' shoulders. "Captain Gaius has said nothing."
Nikephoros snorted. "Some Captain he is. Given responsibility for our 2nd Company as well, and he cannot manage it."
"He is our Lord now," said Augustine. "We should at least be respectful. Still, I wish we had a larger force. Thirty marines is no Battle Company, especially when they are all made up of new recruits."
"Captain Gaius was happy to receive us though. Remember what he called us?"
"The Merciless Pair?" laughed Augustine. "I agree. The name fits us perfectly. I will cut and burn them, and I will leave the smashing to you, Sergeant."
"Speaking of cutting," said Nikephoros. He looked down at the blade on Augustine's hip. "Did you ever name that new prize of yours?"
Augustine smiled sadly at the weapon at his side. Aramus' old blade was now fitted with psychic amplifiers. Augustine finally had a force weapon, though he was no librarian.
"Yes," he said. "It is Halcyon."
"A tranquil name for a sword," said Nikephoros.
"Yes. A simple reminder of better days."
Author's Note: With this chapter, I go on hiatus. When I return in about a year's time, I will conclude this story with the Retribution arc. Many characters have died. Many lived in the game. You may be angry or disappointed, but the 41st millennium is not a place for hope. Characters will continue to die in the coming arc, and by the time I'm done few will be left standing. Leave a review if you like, or a PM if you want more feedback from me. Otherwise, I'll see you all in a short while.