Nothing but a List of Names to Mark his Ascension
Chapter 74: The Death of a World
The Ancient detached the gorget seals at his neck with a hiss of pressurized air. He pulled his helmet free and mag-locked it to the hip of his armor. Sergeant Tarkus' face was pale grey, with heavy brows hooding eyes that now squinted in the hellish red of Typhon. "I would deny you, Diomedes, if it means saving the men under your command."
Many of the surrounding Astartes looked between Diomedes and Tarkus in what the Captain could only believe was shock. The secret of Tarkus' survival was shared with only a select few: Angelos, Cyrus, Honored Thule. The rest knew nothing, and Diomedes had heard in passing the rumors whispered about the silent Ancient. Some in the 5th Company called him a ghost, a spirit of vengeance made flesh. Others said he was Captain Aramus, saved from the brink of death after his battle with Ulkair. So close to the truth, yet so far. Diomedes had suffered the presence in silence, knowing that Tarkus' judgmental gaze had been on him all this time.
"I swore an oath as you did, Diomedes. I swore to find the corruption lurking in the heart of this Chapter. I swore to kill it. I held my tongue as we cut down our traitorous brothers. But now I must speak. Pressing on here will not bring us Kyras. It will lead only to death."
"He is beaten."
Tarkus shook his head, blinking as a distant flash of orbital fire lit up the horizon behind Diomedes. "Kyras has planned this massacre for centuries. He is not beaten, not in the slightest. In chasing him here, we sealed this planet's fate. The Chapter Master has forced us to make an terrible choice. To let this planet die by the depredations of the Warp, or by hand of the Inquisition. I have never been forced to make such a choice, but I know which path we must walk."
"But if we prevent Kyras' retreat-"
"We cannot. Kyras would not come to this place without a means of escape. Who can say what sorcerous power he's claimed."
Then it was all for nothing. Diomedes stared down at his feet, at the blistering earth of Typhon Primaris. "Go then. Let me die in this place."
"Martyrdom does not suit you Captain," said Cyrus.
Thule rotated to face them. The gold of his chassis bubbled in the heat, shimmering down his sloped armor like molten tears. "CYRUS IS CORRECT. THE CHAPTER CANNOT LOSE ANOTHER LEADER."
Tarkus rested a hand on Diomedes' pauldron, glaring into the Captain's eyes. "There was another like you Diomedes. Driven, passionate. He too despaired in the face of the truth. This galaxy broke him upon the wheel, and he turned on those he called brothers. When his despair spiraled to madness, we slew him, and lost that day the shining light of the 4th Company. I will not risk that again. Men may say what they will of Apollo Diomedes, Captain of the Honor Guard, but they will not call him coward, nor will they say he flinched from duty. Kyras may have taken our glories from us, but he has not changed who we are. We are Blood Ravens, battle-brothers. We seize victory from darkness."
Diomedes nodded, a sad smile across his face. He averted his gaze, unwilling to let Tarkus and Cyrus see the tears welling in his eyes. Brothers. He had forgotten that word. Who was the last he had truly called brother? None of his old battle company still lived. And of the men he'd inducted into the 1st, he'd confided only with Gaius. Now that man was dead, a traitor whose soul had rotted beneath Diomedes' very gaze. And the others: Galan, Bonaparte. His closest companions, traitors all.
Who could bear to call him brother, after all that he had done?
The earth shook as a lance beam seared into the mantle of the Typhon lowlands. To stay was to die, that was certain. But above was only damnation. Damnation for him, and for those under his command. The Inquisition would not overlook his blindness. He had fought to keep Angelos from discovering the truth. He had shielded heretics for decades, perhaps centuries. They would see him burn for this. Even if they defeated the traitor Kyras, only death and damnation would await. But it was not for honors that he swore to serve. To die in the Emperor's light. That was justice enough.
"Tarkus, you speak truth. Again I am humbled. Let us go from here. Only when this is war is done can we mourn our failings."
Mourn, yes, and face the consequences.
Where was Uremael? Where did the Farseer fall? Arcadia paused atop a lip of blasted rock. The ancient temple loomed before her, the dark mass of stone black against the burning sky. The complex was abandoned. If Ronahn had attempted to retreat here, he had either changed his mind or had never made it. She did not dare reach out to find him. The veil was thin enough as it was, and Arcadia had already seen the daemons stalking the jungle. It would be suicide to call more attention to herself.
Power sword raised, Arcadia slipped into the shadows of the temple gate. She followed the wall, sidling along the rough stone as she approached the open arena that made up the center of the ancient ruin. She crouched beneath the darkened archway, just before the stone above gave way to bloody sunlight. The arena was empty. This was Autarch Kayleth's strongpoint, her chosen fallback position. Had she died as well? Arcadia thought of the valiant warriors that had followed the Autarch into the fray: Veldoran, the Farseer Elenwe. Had they all died as well? She would weep for them, for all the Eldar that had died on this folly of a world. How many lives had this fallen Craftworld claimed? Too many. They should have never come here again.
Somewhere off to the west, in the crags and foothills that loomed above the temple, she could hear the faint whine of shuriken catapults, and the crack of mon-keigh bolters. Some of her kin still fought. That was comfort enough, and put fire in her heart in a way the war songs never could. Arcadia dashed across the arena in four great leaps, moving like a sword blur through the air.
Something heard her. Arcadia spun as humanoid figures dropped from the stone railings. They fell onto the sand with an unnatural quiet, their blades flickering with silent flame. Beady red eyes followed her movement, and mouths of needle-teeth grew into wide, malicious smiles. More than two-dozen bloodletters fanned out across the clotted sand. Out of the corner of her eye, Arcadia thought she saw two or three more above, circling around to cut her off at the exit. She couldn't stay. This was not her fight. Arcadia turned and sprinted for the darkness of the tunnel, heedless of the harsh laughter of the pursuing daemons. They were faster than any man, as quick as wrath itself. But she was an Eldar and a ranger.
Two bloodletters dropped from the archway ahead of her. Just as she'd predicted, they closed in, hoping to chase her back into the blades of their kin. The tunnel loomed just beyond. Arcadia dove towards the pair. This was no time for fear. She called on the fury of Khaine, channeling the rage of the war god as she had for decades as a banshee. She dipped beneath a thrusting sword, delivering a cut of her own to the bloodletter's belly. It's sculpted skin parted like water beneath the first drop of rain. Exposed muscle rippled and tore as the daemon unraveled, it's screams echoing like the report of distant gunfire. The other daemon turned. Its blade was already in motion. The hellblade was too long, too heavy to block. It would win in the bind, and the daemon would overpower her. If the blade did not kill her, it would snuff out her life with claws and teeth. Instead she leapt to her left, moving faster than the blade could follow. She cut across her body, turning her blade edge around to slice through the bloodletter's throat as she passed.
She did not look to see the beast die. She ran on, through the darkness of the tunnel and out into the jungle once more. The forest glen was near. Eldar corpses dotted the approach to the clearing, littered among the gargantuan shapes of Astartes dead. Somehow the enemy had evaded their patrols. The space marines here were not Blood Ravens. Their armor was the blue of the deep sea, trimmed with silver and scales of green like the ivy of Biel-Tan. She knew them. Alpha Legion. Macha's old enemies were here. With the daemons close behind her, Arcadia ran through the remains of the recent battle. If she did not find the Farseer soon, she would just end up another corpse.
Albrecht let the bolter fall from his hands. He let out a sigh of defeat, rendered into a static huff by his vox grille. "What gave you leave to speak in such a way?" His men wavered. Half had lowered their weapons. The others still trained them on Augustine.
Augustine didn't allow himself a similar sigh. They had come close to death. Even with the aid of the Eldar, Augustine couldn't hope to fight off Albrecht's entire squad. Words were not his forte, but they had saved his life all the same. "Sometimes even the worst of liars speak truth," he said. "We have little time. This bombardment can only mean one thing."
"Exterminatus," said Albrecht. He made no move to retrieve his bolter. It was as though it disgusted him. Augustine knew the feeling. Were it not Aramus's old power sword, he would have discarded Halcyon long ago. The blade of the old Captain did not deserve to be sullied by Sergeant Kerax's blood, even for the good of the Chapter. Augustine wondered how many brother marines Albrecht killed. Perhaps it was good that Blood Ravens did not dream.
"Did Gaius plan for an evacuation?" Augustine asked. "Are there not thunderhawks to return us to the Observer?"
"None. Gaius was sure of his victory. He must have paid for his life. I see your brother carries his powerfist."
"And his arm too. Gaius and his command squad lie dead on a ridge half a kilometer south of here. You are free to see his corpse if you wish, though the daemons may get in your way as well."
"There is no need for that. What would you have us do? We have no means of contacting Captain Diomedes. There is no hope of escape."
"No escape, but perhaps survival. The Eldar know the way to safety."
Augustine heard the click of inter-helmet vox as Albrecht's squad muttered among themselves. "You would ally us with witches?"
"Better witches than daemons. Kyras must be stopped, and this civil war has only assured that our ranks are too depleted to face him."
"We would be damned."
"Victorious and damned." Augustine stepped forward. Only two bolters tracked him now. "The responsibility will be mine alone. Trust me."
"Never," said Albrecht. But he followed all the same.
Are you sure it's wise to bring these brutes along with you?
Augustine glanced over at Albrecht. The other Sergeant ran at his side. This close, he would overhear anything Augustine said, even a whisper. Augustine had never been one for telepathy. Orion had tried to teach him, in the months before Augustine had departed to join the 2nd Company. It was all for nothing. The heat was Augustine's only gift. If they survived this, if the Chapter and the Inquisition showed mercy on them, Augustine would never make Epistolary. He might not even join Orion in the ranks of the Codiciers. But now, driven by a need to speak without further tarnishing Albrecht's trust in him, he tried.
We have made a devil's bargain, Eldar. I thought I might add terms to it myself.
So you can speak to me! The Eldar sounded almost delighted. I considered tearing the words from your mind, but the thoughts of a primitive are poisonous.
Better we communicate this way, Eldar. If my brothers wish you dead, I will not be able to stop them.
I told you already, Nathaniel. I'm already dead.
You know what I mean.
The daemons hounded them. The canine beasts pursued them at every turn, chased off by volleys of bolterfire from Albrecht's squad. No matter how many the marines into blood pulp, more circled them in the darkness of the jungle, burning eyes peering at them through the ash clouds. Humanoid figures followed in their wake like hunters following their loyal beasts. The charged in frenzied groups, blades held high like poised executioners. Twice the Blood Ravens forced them back, but each time they returned in greater numbers. The world itself was birthing them, spawning them from the rain of blood and bone that fell incessantly on the dead valley.
Spent bolter shells littered the forest floor, signs of the battle that raged all around them. In the distance to the south and west, the boom of artillery fell silent, and the whine of lasguns diminished, then vanished entirely. If any Cadians still lived, they had forgone organized resistance. Perhaps the daemons killed them all. Perhaps they'd gone mad, and turned upon their comrades in a frenzy only the Warp could impart. It did not matter. The Exterminatus would render all consideration moot. Unless they found safety soon, everyone would soon be dead. The Eldar were the only hope left.
My kin are not far. They will take refuge within the fallen Craftworld. It may be enough to protect us from the planet's destruction.
Let us hope so, for everyone's sake.
"Sounds of contact ahead," said Albrecht. He raised his arm and the column halted. Augustine listened, filtering out the distant booms of orbital fire and the crack of Typhon's splitting surface. Beneath the whine of Eldar firearms and the fleeting crack of bolterfire off to the southeast, he heard it. There was fighting to the north, a running battle in the trees beyond the pre-human ruins that littered the northern end of the valley.
One of yours? Augustine didn't know how perfect the dead Eldar's clairvoyance was, but he had a feeling that her second sight stretched further than even an Astartes' enhanced senses.
Yes, and you must move quickly. The daemons are congregating ahead. There are a great many of them. They will not survive if you do not make haste.
Can we go around?
No. The Eldar's voice was insistent. I will not save you and abandon a fellow Eldar.
As you wish. "Brothers, prepare for imminent contact with Chaos daemons. Our destination lies at the far end of the valley. We must push through."
Arcadia leaped across the boiling stream, desperate to escape the daemons. More bloodletters seemed to emerge from the woods every minute. Her pursuers' ranks had swelled to over thirty, each rushing to be the first to bare her blood to the roiling sky. A fallen branch snapped behind her, and Arcadia threw herself to her right. The hellblade missed her by inches, the heat curling her hair as it passed. She stumbled on the uneven ground, but turned her forward fall into a spin. Her outstretched blade arced with her body, and drove into the daemon's flank. She tore it free and ran past it as seven more approached from the smoldering jungle.
She crossed the stream again, retreating to the northern edge of the glen where the corpses of her kin were the thickest. She could taste the psychic residue of death in the air. Uremael's last scream echoed in her head. One of these corpses was his, mutilated beyond all identification. Spiritstones glittered like flares in the firelight. She couldn't leave them behind.
The daemons had already cut off her escape. Dozens of Khorne's hounds prowled the jungle to the north, blocking her path to the caves where the rest of the Swordwind had retreated. She could outrun the bloodletters, but not them. She had to make a stand and hope Ronahn was still out there fighting. Arcadia flourished her blade and turned to face the bloodletters closing in on her. There were fourteen now, approaching in a loose formation more akin to a hunting party than a band of warriors. They would not fight as one, driven by bloodlust as they were. That gave her a chance, at least. Arcadia kicked off the ground, jumping forward and to her left towards the closest of the daemons. She slid beneath its savage hew, and rose up with a cut to its arms. She severed both limbs at the elbows, and before the severed appendages could disintegrate, drove the point of her power sword into the beast's bloody maw. The others were moving now, strafing to get behind her. She drove forward, blood pumping in her ears, seeking to push through their encirclement and get them all on one side of her again. She deflected a thrust and followed the line of the hellblade with her own stab, impaling the wielder to the hilt. She kept moving. The flickering hellblades danced in the corners of her vision. They were just a half-step behind her. She sidestepped another strike, the dipped beneath a second and third that saw the two blades lock just above her head. With a savage cry, she disemboweled both daemons, then pushed through their ashes to sever the head of another. She could do it! She was winning! Her heart was the beat of a war drum, her ragged breath whistling in the acrid air like a banshee's scream. She hadn't forgotten the teachings of the Aspect Temple, and they had not failed her here.
The snap of gnashing teeth alerted her to the approach of the hounds. She slid aside as the first jumped at her, and barely had time to bring up her blade to cut down the second. Two more hounds dove at her legs. She backpedaled, stumbling beneath a slash from one of the bloodletters. Arcadia cried out as she lost her footing. She fell and scrambled across the ash, her sword lost in the mass of daemons behind her. All she had left was a knife. Enough to kill one of the hounds as it tore her throat out perhaps, but not enough to save her life. She crawled away from the snarling beasts, kicking at them as they bit at her heels. She felt solid stone at her back, one of the boulders that lined the edge of the glen. She had only an instant to reflect on her plight before the hounds leapt at her.
The daemons exploded in mid-air, showering Arcadia in steaming blood. Arcadia clutched her head as a fusillade of bolterfire tore into the surrounding bloodletters. Figures in dark red armor jumped over her, pressing into the daemons and driving them back across the clearing. At their fore, a slight figure cut through the line of foes, hewing down one after another with a brilliant power sword. He blocked a hellblade head-on, then tore one of the daemon's arms from its shoulder as they grappled. Spinning, he cut both legs off at the knee. For an instant, his helmet's green lenses locked onto her. He gave a nod, a nearly imperceptible shift of the head, then turned and rejoined his fellow Space Marines.
Arcadia crawled through the ash to where her power sword had fallen. The blade flickered to life as she touched it. She kicked off the ground, entering the fight like an afterimage, a heat-haze of plasma exhaust. She slipped around the Blood Ravens, attacking the distracted daemons and slipping away before they could turn to face her. The Astartes paid her no heed, never shifting from their course, never giving her more than fleeting glances as they shot, stabbed, and immolated the hated foe. Only when the glen was clear of daemons did they halt their relentless advance. With the subtle click of helmet communication, the marines fanned out in a wide perimeter, each scanning the jungle for the next wave.
"Is it really you?" Arcadia approached the leader. He was Augustine. She knew it was so. Ever since their last meeting she had known, felt, that their threads were entwined. But much had happened in these past cycles. She was no seer, and she had feared the worst. She had feared that he had fallen or worse, joined the ranks of Kyras's madmen.
Augustine stepped past her to confer with one of his brother marines, a blood-drenched Astartes carrying a severed arm in the crook of his elbow. Only then did he turn. "Recover the soulstones of the fallen so that we may be off." There was no hate in his voice, though it was tinged by the cold static of his vox grille. He sounded tired, dulled by endless grinding warfare, hollowed by the deaths of so many brothers. She faltered, off-put. She had expected verbal sparring, muttered curses, not this.
Arcadia did as she was told.
"Bolterfire," Cleon said. Lyon heard it too, frantic volleys, the sounds slowly approaching from the molten landscape to the northeast. The order to withdraw had come a few minutes before. Captain Diomedes relayed extraction coordinates through the thunderhawk vox, ordering Squad Lyon and all other elements of the 5th Company to withdraw south to open ground, where their landing craft would return them to orbit. He checked his chronometer. Captain Diomedes was taking no chances. They had an hour before the thunderhawks withdrew. Any marines remaining on Typhon's surface after that would be left behind. A repeating vox beacon called out to survivors from the 2nd and 1st Companies, beseeching them to heed the warnings, but so far Lyon had not encountered any. The din of battle ahead was the first sign of fellow Blood Ravens the squad had seen since breaking off from the rest of the 5th Company.
Lyon ordered an ammunition count. He was down to four magazines, his stores depleted by the Cadians they'd killed and the daemons that spewed from the molten fissures in the earth. The squad was in a similar state. If the marines ahead were hostile, Lyon and his brothers would not be able to resist long. Their only hope would be a fighting retreat. "Loose formation, follow me," said Lyon. They couldn't abandoned fellow Blood Ravens. Despite all he had seen, Lyon had hope that they could be rehabilitated, granted penance. It was not a crime in itself to be deceived.
He led his squad across the broken earth. Tremors coursed down the valley, one of dozens of microquakes that were beginning to break apart Typhon's outer crust. The bombardment was taking its toll. Even without the cyclonic torpedoes that would soon scour the life from the surface, the repeated heavy lance strikes would themselves be enough to drive most of Typhon's biosphere to extinction. If the ships of the Inquisition withdrew now, the silicates kicked up from the mass drivers and lances would blot out the sun for years to come, choking plant life and starving Typhon's fauna. But the Holy Ordos were nothing if not thorough. The taint of Chaos could not be strangled. It had to be scorched.
The tactical squad moved across a field of jagged earthen spars that stabbed the up like tilted gravestones dripping with cooling magma. There was no sunlight. Instead the battlefield was lit from below. Orange light filtered upward from deep crevasses, painting the smog above in an eerie orange. The inverted light sources played havoc with Lyon's low-light autosenses, and with a curse he deactivated them, blinking as the world reverted to a true-color display marked with the harsh green of his HUD.
The molten graveyard ended at at a ridgeline marked by another section of jungle, trees burnt to blackened skeletons by the repeated close bombardments. Just as Lyon's squad reached the edge of the rock spars, the gunfire reached a crescendo and figures burst from the trees, firing as they ran. Thirty Blood Ravens moved in a ragged band, pausing at the lip of the ridge to empty their magazines before sprinting down towards the cover of the rocks. Lyon stood from cover. "Brother Marines, rally here!" he called. The first of the marines, no doubt a member of the 2nd Company, vaulted over the jagged rock and landed beside Lyon.
"Identify yourself," he said. Lyon did not recognize his voice, but he knew few of the 2nd Company, only that Augustine and Nikephoros were sergeants within its ranks.
"Ocella Lyon, Sergeant of the Fifth Company under direct command of Captain Diomedes. I am assuming battlefield authority here."
"Zael, Brother in the 2nd Company." Zael checked the capacity of his plasma gun before aiming it up the slope above the heads of the other marines. There were no Sergeants among them.
There was no time for Zael to appraise them of the situation. The other Blood Ravens were already surging towards their position, chased by a tide of daemons. "Choose your targets, conserve ammunition," Lyon ordered. His squad stood from cover and unleashed their collective firepower, joined by the retreating Blood Ravens that slid into cover around them. Leading the tide of daemons were four brazen mounts, bull-things with gleaming teeth and fire spewing from mechanical joints. Urged on by sword-wielding riders, they let out mechanical bellows before charging down the hill towards the thin line of Astartes. The last round in Lyon's bolter snapped the head off one of the riders, and Zael's plasma gun made the beast's brass teeth stream in molten rivulets down its glowing face. A missile took out it's leg, and the massed fire of twelve bolters chewed its steel frame into a hollow shell.
The others were almost upon them. Lyon was already moving, drawing a krak grenade from his belt. He threw it at the closest beast. The grenade detonated with a seismic crunch, imploding the bull daemon's right flank and spilling flaming blood to the cracked earth. Its bellow shorted out Lyon's autosenses. He gritted his teeth, bringing his bolter to bear. Using a helmet rune, he blink-activated the full-auto setting and sprayed the daemon's flailing head with mass reactive bolt rounds. "Bounding retreat by squads, go!" he shouted.
The 2nd Company marines broke cover. They made for a mound of volcanic stone amid the lava floes. Lyon walked backwards, firing from the hip, his HUD alight with target indicators. His ammunition count was right red in the corner of his visor. The alarm pinged in his ear. He was down to a single magazine. "Squad, fall back."
They ran back through the rock spars, dodging outcroppings and ducking as the 2nd Company marines fired over their heads. Lyon checked his tactical display. They were retreating west, not south as Diomedes had directed. "Break contact south at all speed."
The Blood Ravens tore across the landscape, leaping over rivers of lava and scaling massive spars of jutting rock in their flight from the daemons. They spread out in a spaced line, turning and firing into the mass of daemons even as they ran at full tilt. Groups of marines broke off into packs, scattering and separating their pursuers, all coordinated by Lyon's constant tactical updates, fed through their visors by their link to the distant thunderhawks.
Lyon found himself running beside the marine he'd met earlier. Zael's plasma gun was maglocked to his armor, the canister dry and the power cells dull and lifeless. He carried a bolt pistol in his right hand, firing over his left shoulder as they sprinted for the cover of distant trees. "Where are your commanding officers?" Lyon asked.
"Dead, missing," said Zael. "Veteran Quintus has been leading us ever since we heard of Gaius' death on the vox."
"Gaius is dead?" Had Diomedes found him?
"Killed by Sergeant Augustine, that traitor above all traitors. He admitted it himself, tried to take command but the vox was too scattered to establish proper battlefield protocols."
Lyon's mouth went dry. Augustine had killed Gaius. Was that truly an attempt at a coup, or was it something else entirely? After the rumors he'd heard, he could no longer be sure. There were many other questions that he wished to ask, but the battlefield was a more pressing concern. The landscape blurred around them. The valley floor was a wash of scorch-black and glowing magma, the daemons just a distant flicker of red at the rear. The map display indicated that they were only a kilometer and a half from the thunderhawk landing zone, a jutting plateau on the western rim of the valley, awash with red 'hostile' contact runes.
"Form up," Lyon ordered over the vox. The scattered Blood Ravens responded to his call, filing into position as though he had always been their Sergeant. Even Gaius had not crushed their discipline, he was pleased to note. Short on ammunition as they were, thirty Blood Ravens were still a force to be reckoned with. They would smash through the enemy and rejoin their brothers. Then he would have answers.
The sounds of combat intensified as they re-entered the woods. The path to the landing zone sloped upward steeply, the earth shaken loose by the intense bombardment and slick with blood from the torrential downpour. The rain had only just begun to diminish, but now the paths to the ridge were clogged with bodies. Some were cold now, the bodies of guardsmen killed when the Honor Guard first took this position. Many more were fresh, the rapidly disintegrating ichor of daemons, like slime and smoke in equal measure. The rearmost ranks of daemons barely had time to turn before Lyon and the remnants of the 2nd Company set upon them. The Blood Ravens struck them at a full sprint, firing from the hip as they drove into the daemonic ranks in a tight wedge. Lyon was at the fore, firing his bolter one-handed, a combat knife clutched in an icepick grip in his other hand. He gunned down a bloodletter with a four-round burst, then drove the point of his blade through the eye of another before Zael riddled its writing form with bolts. Ammunition runes flashed in his helm display. Six more shots, then he was out.
"Captain Diomedes! We are attempting to break through the enemy lines!" Lyon shouted into the vox, unsure if the Captain could hear them. A bloodcrusher turned to face them, crushing four lesser daemons as it turned. Lyon whipped up his bolter, toggling the full auto and taking aim at the mount's face. He pulled the trigger. Bolt rounds scored off the beast's bronze armor, sparking like firecrackers as they detonated. His bolter clicked empty. The juggernaut roared, stamped its foot, and charged at him. Lyon cast his bolter aside and brought up his knife, ready to stab for the vulnerable joints in the daemon's armor. Zael sprayed it with bolt rounds. Cleon screamed over the vox, begging him to beg away. Lyon ignored them, focused entirely on the moment. The beast lumbered towards them, howling. Lyon readied his blade, then lurched back as a plume of flame slammed down onto the beast's back.
Captain Diomedes drove his power axe into the rider's skull, casting the Bloodcrusher Knight down from the daemon engine's back. He unloaded his bolt pistol into the cracks of the engine's armor, only to fall when it reared up. By then, the Honor Guard were there. Captain Thule toppled tree husks with his bulk, tearing through daemons with every swing of his piston arms. He slammed into the juggernaut's flank. The beast fell onto its side, but Thule's arm clamped down tight around its bulging throat and wrenched it up into the path of its assault cannon. A stream of slugs tore the armor from its skull, just as Loren plunged it's blade up through a gap in its back plate. Lyon's coup de grace was practically an afterthought. He drove the point of his knife into the ruination of the daemon's face. The beast shuddered, then the plates on its back detonated as though it had eaten a grenade.
Lyon's helm was awash with static. The HUD had shorted out and his autosenses were reeling from the point-blank explosion. He blink-deactivated the helm display, ignoring the ping of damage alarms in his ears. He didn't need them to know he was wounded. He reached up, and with a groan of pain from lacerated limbs, tore his ruined helmet free.
He was on his back, lodged in a trough of earth that his fall had gouged out of the forest floor. The battle still raged around him, Blood Ravens and daemons locked in desperate combat. Thule towered over them all, blasting bloodletters to shreds of gore with bursts of his assault cannon. Diomedes fought beside him, his armor blackened and running with the blood of man and daemon alike.
"Get up, Lyon. There is still fighting to be done."
Lyon wondered if he had died after all. The voice was unmistakable, as was the face of the brother staring down at him. Was this what the Chaplains had promised, the soul of his brother descending to lead him to the Emperor's side? Was he to take his place among the legions of the faithful, to fight forever alongside their Father?
"Sergeant Tarkus?" His voice was a bloody rasp. It couldn't be. Tarkus was dead. Yet this scarred, pale visage above him could be no one else.
Tarkus lowered his hand, and Lyon reached out to take it. Tarkus hauled him to his feet, and for the first time in a decade, Lyon looked into his Sergeant's eyes. His mouth went dry. He had so much to say, to ask. Where had Tarkus been all this time? Why had he not shown himself? Instead, all he could say was, "You live."
Tarkus could see the questions in his eyes, and his face tightened with remorse. "In my own way, yes. There will be a time for answers, Sergeant. But first comes retribution."
Augustine followed Arcadia through the twisting canyons beneath the shadow of the mountains. The paths here were narrow, too thin for the Blood Ravens to pass through shoulder to shoulder. Augustine marched at the head of his column, the rest following in single file. Only Arcadia went before him, scampering ahead like a cat before a herd of bulls. "How much further?"
"A short distance," Arcadia said, for the third time. The earth trembled as a macrocannon round sheared off part of the mountain peak. Augustine clutched the canyon walls, tensing for the avalanche he was sure would come. The lip of the gorge was high above them. The twisted crags almost completely obscured sight of the blood sky. Looking further down the path, Augustine was sure that they would soon be entirely underground. How many centuries ago had this Craftworld fallen, and by what means was it buried?
The vox buzzed, and Augustine slapped the side of his helmet in another futile effort to dispel the interference. He had little hope of contacting anyone directly, but there was a chance, however small, that he might overhear the transmissions from Captain Diomedes and the other members of the Honor Guard, perhaps even vox calls between the ships in orbit. He frowned, frustrated by the ghostly whispers of barely intercepted traffic. Then, for the barest instant, the static amplified, then fell away entirely as a priority transmission cut through. Whatever was powering the vox cast was magnitudes stronger than an ordinary shipboard vox, more akin to a Lord Admiral's communications array.
Augustine paled as the first familiar words began to filter through, spoken by a soft, though unwavering voice. "In fealty to the God-Emperor, our Undying Lord, and by the grace of the Golden Throne of Terra, I declare Exterminatus on the Imperial world of Typhon Primaris. I hereby sign the death warrant of an entire world and-" there was a pause, as though the speaker did not wish to say what came next. "And consign a million souls to oblivion. May. . . may Imperial justice account in all balance. The Emperor protects."
Arcadia turned, her head cocked in confusion. "What is it? Speak, unless you've gone dumb from shock."
"We need to move, now!" Augustine urged her forward. Somehow she sensed his urgency, his terror. This was fear, the knowledge that no matter what he did, there was a death coming that he could not avoid. Albrecht and his squad must have heard it too. They pressed him to move forward, stepping on his heels as they ran deeper and deeper into the canyons, which were more caverns now that simple scars in the earth. Though the light from above had dimmed, Augustine's malfunctioning auto-senses could make out an unnatural glow far ahead in the gloom of the cave. Somehow, he knew that the Craftworld was close.
Will they kill us, Eldar?
Who? My kin?
We have visited many crimes upon your kind.
Is that an apology?
An acknowledgment of fact.
No, Nathaniel. They will not kill you, not while I vouch for you.
Who are you, witch? You must be someone of importance. No ordinary Eldar could keep back the energies of the Warp from so many.
There was a sound like a chuckle, then the Eldar said, I am no ordinary Eldar, nor even an ordinary witch. I am Farseer Taldeer. Rest assured, I will vouch for you. In this task, we have common cause.
Kyras strode across the barren plateau. His eyes were closed, and his breathing calm, as though meditating in one of the Omnis Arcanum's private sanctuaries. The stench of fetid blood and choking smog filled his lungs, and he smiled. His eyelids flashed white as a nearby lance strike flashburned entire swaths of Typhon's gore-choked forests, and he subconsciously grounded himself seconds before the shockwave rolled up the mountainside.
He opened his eyes. Typhon burned. The once-verdant world was as smoke-clogged as any forge world, as stricken with blight as any hive city he'd ever seen. This debasement was his doing, and he reveled in it. Every breath filled him with the lives of the slain. By surviving while they perished, he gained strength. Alpharius' gambit had not come to pass. Typhon was not to be a daemon world. The hammer of the Holy Ordos would be the blade that killed Typhon. But all them of them, traitor and loyalist alike, knew that he was the executioner. The blood was his to spill, and he had spilled it. Blood for Khorne.
The bombardments had already begun to slow. Though he could not see it through the wall of smoke that clogged the sky, Kyras knew that the ships were pulling out of the lower atmosphere, falling into a holding pattern alongside the flagship of the Inquisition, the ship that would loose the deathblow. Kyras had seen it before. As Chapter Master and Chief Librarian, he had participated in, commanded, seven Exterminatus missions. He had seen the aftermath of Cyrene, the burning of Jericho IV. Even then, Maledictus had lurked within his breast, laughing at the deaths of billions while Kyras had stared on in mute fascination. He had not enjoyed it. What glory was there in the destruction of another, if one could not be there to feel it? How could you steal the strength of a foe if you could not watch the life leave there eyes. He had not understood then, and now he regretted it with all of his being.
This was magnificent.
To stand upon the screaming soil of a dying world. To feel it writhe and crack and die beneath his feet. To hear the lamentations of its entire biosphere, crying out for death and mercy in the same breath. It was humbling. It was beautiful. Kyras looked up as a spear of light pierced the cloud cover. A solitary munition fell from the heavens, arcing towards the distant Typhon lowlands like a comet falling on a clear night, a tail of red cutting through the smoke. Kyras let out a long breath as passed the horizon. Then the cyclonic torpedo detonated. Kyras blinked, his eyes trying to adjust to the brilliance of the explosion, bright like the sun brought down to earth, a wall of light streaming across the landscape towards him. Chunks of mantle the size of continents vomited up into the lower atmosphere as the plate tectonics of the world were utterly debased. The heat tore at his armor, melting the skin from his face and baring bone to the elements as blood boiled and ceramite hissed white-hot.
Glory to you, Mighty Khorne. In time, perhaps I might share this gift with every last living soul in the galaxy.
Author's note: With this chapter at an end, we are finally done with Typhon. In some ways I feel the arc took way too long, but there was much that needed to be covered. Only one major engagement remains. It's at this point that we drastically depart from the progression of the game. It's my hope that these changes lend to a more satisfying narrative conclusion, one that we've been moving towards for almost seven years at this point.
I'd also like to take a moment to remark on the climax of Diomedes' character arc. It is most likely unnecessary to state that he is my favorite character from the original games, and I have worked hard to deliver an acute lens into the turmoil that he goes through during the Retribution plotline. It's my hope that others will see him as a tortured, lonely man, rather than the ignorant brute that he often gets portrayed as.