I'd like to apologize for leaving this story unattended for so long. I'd also like to give a big thank you to Master of the Blood Wolves for answering my numerous questions.

And now let me present Chapter 23 of The Marked Man.

Chapter 23

Bromsson! The ship is being boarded! Whatever you do, do not open your mind, else you risk madness or death!

The sudden mental intrusion jolted Eragon out of his sleep. He sat up, his half-awake mind trying to make sense of the message he had just received.

What? Librarian Ceasar? Despite his confusion he pulled himself out of his bunk and slid to the floor. The room was barely lit, but Eragon's eyes were able to see his armor and weaponry, and he quickly proceeded to start strapping on his vest.

A rumbling coursed through the ship, and Eragon distantly heard the sound of tearing metal. "What's that?" Russ said from behind him.

Eragon took a second to marvel at how quickly Russ had gone from sleeping to alert. "The ship's being boarded. Sounds like the invaders are damaging the ship"

Russ whistled. "They must be giving us hell for it to be that loud. Speaking of which, when were you going to tell us that we were being boarded?"

Eragon was spared having to answer this when a voice was broadcasted into their room by the small vox unit in the wall. "This is Acting Captain Ayra Toras of the Majestic to all Imperial Guardsmen. Begin planetary deployment immediately as per Macharius Quintus directive"

There was silence for a second. Then Captain Dare's voice cut through the darkness. "Beta Squad, prepare for immediate deployment"

The rest of the storm troopers quickly left their bunks and strapped on their carapace armor. Despite his head start Eragon was the last one to finish donning his armor. As the other storm troopers waited impatiently he finally slung his ammunition pack onto his back and loaded the first shot into his heavy bolter. With that Dare shouted "To the hangar, now!"

Beta Squad filed into the hallway outside their room and broke into a jog. As they ran Eragon asked "What's the Macharius Quintus directive?"

"Lieutenant Russ?" Dare ordered.

"It means there's a good chance that the ship is going to be lost, so we need to get as much men and equipment planet side as possible"

"So we're abandoning ship?"

"Not quite. This way we'll at least get some tanks with us"

They continued their jog, running past other guardsmen. Several times they had to shove their way through crowds of regular guardsmen, who were all rushing out to their designated areas. Occasionally a commissar's bellow could be heard over the tramping of boots and the voices of the guardsmen themselves.

They went through the maze of corridors that composed much of the ship. As they neared one of the hangars the sounds of gunshots and screaming men met them, along with a chorus of animalistic hissing and screeching noises. Men in Imperial Navy uniforms backed toward them, all shooting autoguns at some enemy Eragon couldn't see. That changed abruptly when something gutted the men like their armor was paper. As the corpses slumped back Eragon caught sight of their aggressor.

The minions of Chaos had been horrifying, figures that the spirit rebelled at seeing. This thing was just ugly. A bulbous head was connected to a leathery hide that sported four arms, each ending in hands that possessed long, very sharp claws.

It barely made it past the corpse when Stark downed with his hellgun. This seemed to alert its comrades however, for Eragon heard the pounding of footsteps coming toward him. Dare had just enough time to yell "Defensive formation, now!" when more of the creatures spilled into the hallway. They sprinted at the storm troopers, running faster than elves even. Eragon had just enough time to register the gleaming talons on each of the creatures' four hands before his heavy bolter was up and firing. A barrage of hellgun fire and bolts scythed into the creatures. The creatures tried to dodge the fire, but in confines of the hall they were trapped, and were killed in short order. As the last one dropped, its body torn in half by a bolt, Eragon kept his weapon up. Dare started to approach the entrance, then stopped.

"Bromsson, stow your bolter and get ready to psyke" She ordered.

Underneath his helmet's mask Eragon grimaced, but he slung his weapon and got his hands ready. Russ and Dare came behind him, both with chainswords at the ready.

Eragon didn't wait to steady himself, throwing his body around the corner and sending two streams of warp fire into the larger hallway. A few of the waiting creatures were burned, their shrieking quickly subsiding as the eldritch flames licked greedily at them. Others however, were out of range, and were now circling warily. Eragon kept two flames burning in his palms, ready to hose the monsters down. Dare's hellpistol cracked, and a creature's head exploded. Shen and Russ added their shots to the fray. The creatures milled around, dodging some the shots, then quickly backed further down the cavernous hallway that Eragon's squad was trying to enter.

"Through the gap" Dare ordered.

"Wait!" Russ shouted, but Eragon, Shen and Stark started into the hallway. Eragon looked down the hallway to see creatures watching them. Something else caught his eye though. Three other, larger creatures were pushing their way through the back of the group. Unlike their smaller cousins these three looked like a cross between an insect and a lizard. Eragon registered two upper arms holding large, bony scythes and two lower arms holding a long, skin covered protrusion. He noticed that said protrusion was being aimed at him and his squad.

"Is that a gun?" Eragon asked.

The creatures answered his question, all three protrusions ejecting a narrow stream of fluid. Eragon leapt to the side, but his squad mates were not so quick. Eragon turned and watched in horror as both Stark and Shen collapsed to the floor, both with acidic fumes steaming from the holes in their chests.

The three sharpshooters adjusted their aim, and Eragon was forced to duck and weave as stream after stream of acid was shot at him. Dimly, he was aware of the bulbous headed smaller creatures rushing at the rest of his squad.

An acid stream flew past his face, another nearly hitting his knee. This situation was rapidly becoming desperate. Eragon couldn't even project flames at them, so busy was he dodging their shots.

Salvation came in the form of three miniature suns that sailed over his head and impacted on the creatures. Two of the marksmen were incinerated, while the last sprinted out of the way. Two more plasma shots impacted on the smaller creatures, burning away whole swathes of them. Shrieking, they turned and tried to charge down the hallway. The last marksman amongst them hissed before leveling its gun again. Eragon had managed to aim his heavy bolter however, and a volley of bolts impacted on the wretched thing. It wasn't killed, but its gun was ruined when a bolt exploded halfway along its length. Showing no sign of pain the last one charged, scythes held high. It moved fast, leaping left and right as it did so. Eragon struggled to correct his aim, but his shots went wide. Then another ball of plasma impacted, and Eragon's attacker disintegrated.

Eragon looked behind him and saw a Leman Russ tank with two sponson plasma cannons as well as what looked like a bigger one in it turret.

Eragon then looked for the rest of his squad, and saw Lieutenant Russ running to him. "You alright?" he asked when he reached the younger storm trooper.

"Yeah" Eragon said, before looking over at the bodies of his slain squadmates. By now the acid had ruined much of their armor, and Eragon morbidly imagined that all that was left of their bodies was a soup of acid and flesh. He then then turned to the bodies of the slain monsters and asked "What are these things?"

"Tyranids" Russ answered grimly. "We may have just run into a hive fleet. What you need to know is they're fast and there's a lot of them" He paused a second, and then said "It's not uncommon for armies facing them to run out of ammo before half of them are killed. And many of them are as smart as a man, so be careful"

"Lieutenant Russ! Lieutenant Bromsson! Move on!" Dare shouted,

The storm trooper squad followed the tank that had saved them down the hallway. As they neared the hangar, more creatures blockaded their path. These ones were similar to the sharpshooters that had targeted Eragon earlier, but were smaller with only two arms and one weapon each.

"Termaguants!" Russ shouted.

These creatures started firing, though their weapons shot projectiles that the storm trooper's carapace armor could repel. Between the storm troopers and the Leman Russ the group was quickly eradicated from the hangar entrance.

The impromptu battle group entered the hangar, where the last groups of Tyranids were being flushed out by other guardsmen and Navy personnel. As the last one died (another one of the large sharpshooters), Eragon watched as one of naval armsmen pulled out a vox and said "Hangar 24 is clear and ready to begin deployment"

Dare led Eragon's squad to one of the Valkyries. There they waited impatiently until the pilots of the various landing crafts arrived. Dare wasted no time in loading her squad up. Within minutes their Valkyrie took off and was launched into space.

Eragon couldn't hear anything beyond the vibrations of the Valkyrie's engines and the sounds of his own squad mates. His hands gripped his bolter as he thought about the enemies he had just faced. Never had he seen anything like them before. Their weapons had seemed like part of their bodies, as if they had forged their own flesh into weapons instead of steel. What were these things?

"Who was it who told you to close your mind?" Russ asked.

"The Ultramarines librarian"

The Valkyrie began to shake, and the engine's noise was joined by the sound of atmospheric entry,

"He is off the ship" Vicinius reported.

Severus Ullmar would have sighed with relief had his lungs not collapsed centuries ago. Instead he said "To our drop pods then"

Captain Sinon left the Majestic with a supply of Astartes drop pods. Severus sent a short prayer to the Emperor for his friend's wisdom. He turned to Caesar, who was securing himself in one of the pods. "Do you know the whereabouts of the Angels Encarmine?" he asked.

The librarian shook his head. "They have not yet translated out of the Warp"

"Then they will walk straight into the same trap we did" Vicinius said.

"We can only pray that it is otherwise" Severus said grimly. "I am in my pod. Are you ready?"

"Affirmative" said Caesar.

"The machine spirits are prepared" Vicinius said.

"Then we launch"

"Launching in ten, nine, eight…"

The two drop pods rotated in their clasps, then settled. Severus' auspex detected a slight vibration as the doors below the pods opened.

"…three, two, one, launch" Vicinius intoned.

The pods clasps detonated, and Severus registered an abrupt movement downwards. Almost immediately the pods retrograde motivators ignited, slowing them so that they could drop out of orbit.

"The machine spirits are willing" Vicinius said over the pods' vox casters. "The first burn is good"

"Are you well Codicier?" Severus asked.

"My mind is closed, and my sanity is secure" Caesar replied.

"Then let us begin the Litany of Resolve. We are Emperor's finest"

"Molded by His hands"

"Though of flesh we may…" Severus was interrupted by his pods' auspex, which screeched urgently.

"Techmarine Vicinius, my pod's machine spirit is disturbed"

"Ours as well. They have just seen a massive increase in radiation levels. Analyzing. Initial readings indicate an energy weapon with Warp augmentation. Energy levels indicate an anti-orbital weapon" Vicinius said.

"Is it of Chaos?" Severus asked.

"It appears so" Vicinius replied.

Severus paused, readying his words, and then said "Then there are two enemies we must face to preserve our chapter's hope. For our Primarch's sake we must stand firm and fight as we never have before. Sons of Guilliman, this is our hour. The Emperor has entrusted us with the man whom He has marked. And as Ultramarines, we will prevail!"

Thus spoke the dreadnought as he and his fellow Astartes continued their descent.

"I'm getting a lot of anti-air here" the pilot stated. "It's too risky to land here"

"Then don't. Storm troopers, grab your grav chutes!" Dare ordered.

Eragon grabbed his offered chute and started putting it on. The jerking of the Valkyrie as it dodged enemy fire made this very difficult. The task went from difficult to impossible when something hit the Valkyrie. Metal screeched, and the engines started to climb in pitch as the transport started to enter a spinning dive. The storm troopers, who had partially unbuckled themselves to secure their grav chutes, were tossed around the cabin. Eragon couldn't get a coherent picture in his head between the spinning and flurry of limbs and bodies that kept crashing into him. Vaguely he heard the pilot yelling, and the ground below approaching.

He breached the barrier in his mind, and reached out. The Valkyrie abruptly stopped its spiral, but maintained its dive. Eragon, fighting extreme dizziness, pulled himself hand over hand into the pilot's compartment. Through a clear window he could the ground was now dangerously close. There was only one way to stop a crash.

Eragon shouted "Letta!" and psyked again, grabbing hold of the doomed Valkyrie and slowing it down. It was heavier than he expected, forcing him draw more energy forth. The amount was starting to worry him, as were the shrieking, babbling voices in his head that were gaining in volume.

The Valkyrie slowed, but not enough. Desperate, Eragon poured more energy into his simple spell, and the deceleration got stronger. Eragon's organs felt like they were trying to push their up through his throat. The daemons grew louder still, and some started making forays into Eragon's mind. Trying desperately to keep them out, he felt a sudden jolt as the Valkyrie hit the ground nose first. His dazed condition still allowed for psyking to happen, and two invading daemons were quick to seize the opportunity. Their presence jolted Eragon enough for him to throw them out of his mind and seal off the psychic energy in his mind.

Another impact shook him, and he slumped to the floor of the pilot's compartment. Every part of his body ached, and a very large part of him wanted to stay on the floor and not move again. Vaguely he heard voices.

How long he stayed this way he didn't know, but at some point an armored foot connected soundly with his chestplate.

"Bromsson" a voice said.

Groaning, he turned himself over to see a commissar looming over him.

"Korosov?" he asked.

"Commissar Korosov, and yes it's me. Now get up"

Eragon pulled himself up, helped by the commissar. When he was on his feet Korosov looked at him and said "We need to leave now, before, we get found by cultists"

"I thought we were fighting Tyranids"

"Looks like the Damned beat the xenos to the surface" Korosov said grimly. "Now move!"

Eragon unslung his heavy bolter and followed Korosov out of the craft.

They seemed to have crashed in valley. Large hills, scarred with craters, rose up on either side of them. What little trees and brush remained were clearly diseased. Some had sprouted ugly tumors that churned one's stomach to lack at. As he looked up at the smog filled sky, Eragon found himself thinking Not again.

The noises of a battle rage around him. Along with sounds of men and women's voices and the discharges of weapons were the roar of tanks and other machines.

"We need to silence the battery closest to us. We do that and maybe we can get some reinforcements"

"Where's the rest of my squad?" Eragon asked as they jogged.

"Don't know" Korosov answered. "They weren't there when I found you. They might have been dragged off"

Eragon felt sick to his stomach as he considered just what might happen to his squad mates.

"Shouldn't we find them?" he asked.

"No. The sooner we destroy those guns, the more men we can get down here safely. It's the only to survive this"

"Acknowledged" Eragon said reluctantly.

They continued around a small grove of diseased trees and met what looked like five squads. Eragon saw three normal squads along with a heavy weapons and a veteran squad. All of them had different platoon markings. The veteran sergeant left his squad upon noticing Korosov.

"Sir, no contact was made while you were away"

"Any transports make it down near here?"

"Not in one piece"

"Contacts!" a man from another squad shouted.

The guardsmen turned to see a group of diseased cultists shambling out from a crater nearby. Their autoguns chattered, though their accuracy would have made an ork wince.

The guardsmen nearest to them threw themselves to the ground and returned fire. The cracks of the lasguns were accompanied by the louder barking of the dual autocannons the heavy weapons squad wielded. A whoosh was followed by an explosion as a Guard missile exploded amidst the cultists.

The cultists were quickly cut down. As the prone guardsmen warily stood up Korosov turned back to the sergeant. "It's no use waiting any longer. We march on the battery now"

The sergeant nodded, said "Yes sir!", and then turned back to his squad. Korosov turned to the heavy weapons squad. "Pack your weapons up. We need move out"

As the men complied, Eragon spared a moment to look up into the heavens. The diseased, multicolored clouds of smog swirled in unnatural patters. Through these patterns wove naval landing vessels, all desperately trying to avoid the barrage of fire aimed at them. How on earth were they going to do this?

"Move out!" Korosov shouted.

With that Eragon looked away from the sky and started following Korosov across the cratered hillside.

A pair of whistling roars preceded their arrival, but the booming of their flak cannons had deafened this particular gun crew to the point that their first warning was an imperial drop pod's landing flares roasting their officer. This was quickly followed by two impacts that threw up clouds of dust, as well as buffeting them with the shock of its landing.

While the dust blinded them, the pods' doors blasted off of their mounts, allowing Severus Ullmar to stomp out. Unlike the wretches he had landed on, his auspex granted him clear vision, and he eliminated the Traitors in short order. As the dust settled he turned the fury of his lascannons on the flak guns, ignoring the autogun fire that pattered off of his armor like rain. A purple beam leapt from his gun, igniting a shell inside a gun. The result was catastrophic failure. Two more bursts and the other guns were down. Severus turned away from the smoking pools of metal to the foolish cultists still firing at him.

"Kill the Mutants. Burn the Heretics. Purge the Unclean" he intoned, and his storm bolter swept the squad, killing five with headshots. Having disproved their mistaken belief in their invincibility the cultists routed, screaming, well gurgling really, cries of terror and prayers to Nurgle. They were halted by two more blue figures. Codicier Caesar lifted his force staff, and lightening flickered along its length before discharging, incinerating what was left of the former humans.

As the librarian lowered his staff Severus turned his auspex to survey the battlefield. It was undoubtedly a former battlefield. The imperial guard had fought here, and lost. If only it had been orks that invaded Apocrypha.

This idea was changed when he heard a chorus that sounded like "Wuuuuuugh" A ridiculous idea occurred to him. It sounded like a zombie ork. He turned and saw what indeed appeared to be zombie orks shambling towards him.

"Codicier, techmarine!" Severus grated through his vox, "Xenos incoming on my position!" Having said that, he aimed his lascannons and fired. Twin beams of light turned six of the things to ash and charred flesh. The rest continued their clumsy gait, still moaning their war cries. Severus aimed his storm bolter and fired. The bolts penetrated, but failed to rip his targeted ork apart. Its body bulged and rippled as the shots exploded inside it, but the infected ork failed to die.

"Omnissiah, grant us wisdom to defeat these abominations" Vicinius breathed. Severus' target finally fell, landing face first on the ground. It started to bulge…and then exploded. Fragments of diseased flesh and, more importantly, five nurglings flew out. Another two orks exploded, sending more nurglings out.

"Cleanse! Purge! Kill!" Severus roared. His lascannons fired again, burning away four more orks. They didn't explode, Severus noted. Perhaps the heat of the lascannons killed the nurglings inside them.

Vicinius and Caesar joined him, sending a barrage of bolts at the nurglings. The Astartes' aim did not fail, and the diminutive daemons were popped by the fire. Unfortunately, this allowed the remaining orks to come into charging distance. Caesar interrupted them with a Smite, Warp lightning coursing out and searing the diseased flesh from their bones.

As the last corpse fell, smoking, Severus warily surveyed the area around him for nearby enemies. None were close by.

"What foul witchery is this?" he asked, turning to Caesar.

"I have not seen this before, but the forces of Nurgle have and will never stop inventing new diseases to spread to the Imperium. We are fortunate that those who were formerly human do not spawn daemons"

"What is the status of the guardsmen who have deployed?"

Here Vicinius answered. "Scattered. While it is impossible to know for certain my onboard cogitators estimate that the first wave suffered 49 percent casualties. Following drops will suffer greater rates"

"Transfer the observations to my shell" Severus ordered. The techmarine complied, and Severus absorbed the data through the conduits between him and his sarcophagus. It was not good.

"The anti air guns have found their aim, and the incoming transports are not meant to withstand such firepower" Caesar reported.

Severus noted this, all the while listening to the vox casts across the battlefield. Many of them were desperate pleas for help. Many more were calls for support, orders given by one officer only to be contradicted by another. All of them were uncoordinated. Numbers could not win a battle without cohesiveness. But no one here could achieve that. No one, except…him.

As a space marine he commanded the unanimous awe of the Imperial Guard. Even if they wouldn't listen to each other, they would listen to him. But it couldn't happen. The Codex Astartes expressly forbid such an action. Guilliman himself had decreed all branches of the Imperial military were to be separate. It was heresy to even think of such a thing.

But they would not unite. Without unity, the mortals were like frightened grox in a slaughterhouse. They would die, and with them would die Bromsson. If Bromsson died he would have failed the Emperor and condemned Guilliman to death.

"Techmarine, what are the chances of the Imperial Guard unifying behind a leader?" Severus asked, softly for a dreadnought.

Vicinius paused before replying "You, oh honored dreadnought, would be better suited to answering that question. However, all projected scenarios predict a failure"

There was only one thing to do.

Severus took a moment. Father Guilliman, forgive thy fool of a son. Forgive this imbecile, for the only way I see to restore thee, and the Imperium of Man, is heresy. He paused again. Thus do I consign myself to shame and the retribution of your chapter. I am so very sorry.

"Codicer Caesar and Techmarine Vicinius. I charge you with the preservation of Bromsson and his return to our chapter. Guard him well"

"Brother, one death will not save the guard" Caesar said bluntly.

"I am not dying. I am going to direct the evacuation" Severus said.

Caesar and Vicinius protested immediately, but Severus cut them off. "Don't you see?" he almost pleaded. "This is the only way. This is the only thing I can do to keep Bromsson alive and bring our Primarch back. I wish it was not so, but this is the only thing that can be done" He paused, and then said "If I survive, I shall submit myself to our chapter"

"The only judgment you will receive is death or a death oath" Caesar said.

"I know"

The battle raged around them, but the space marines stayed silent. Finally, Caesar said "Ave Imperator, brother Ullmar". He turned to Vicinius and said "Let us find Bromsson"

They turned and left, leaving former Ultramarine Severus Ullmar behind. Severus watched them leave. How ironic that I break the Codex, only to apply its tenants. How contradictory is my heresy.

He opened a channel to all the Guard voxes. "Imperial Guardsmen, this is the Adeptus Astartes Dreadnought Severus Ullmar. Listen to me, and we may live to serve another day" He then switched to another channel, sending this call much farther out. "Adeptus Astartes Dreadnought Ullmar to any Imperial forces on planet. We are in the midst of landing and have come under attack. Requesting assistance"

The response came after a few seconds. "Princeps Adura Menix to Dreadnought Ullmar, reinforcements are en route. Ave Imperator"