Chapter 1: A Brave New World
The Battle Barge Axios sailed through the void, its crew working frantically to repair damage from its running battles against the forces of Chaos during the early melees in the debris-littered space around Cadia. Brother-Captain Lucian Westwynter, veteran of a thousand battles and a hundred crusades, captain of the Blood Guardians 3rd Company, fidgeted anxiously in his seat in the Axios' bridge. Blank-eyed servitors moved around him, restlessly moving to their next task. Westwynter did his best to ignore the hive of activity, trying and failing to look calm in the face of such a maelstrom of work. Keep it together, Lucian. He glanced briefly at the screen showing the situation on the planet beneath the Axios, then looked away as the light indicating a vox-message began blinking. Sighing, Lucian carefully pressed the button with his gauntlet-clad finger.
"Westwynter. What do you need?"
"Brother-Captain, this is Bondsman-Lieutenant Zacharias in engineering. Our repairs on the engines are complete. We now have full sublight capabilities, thank the Emperor. Requesting permission to commence repairs upon the warp engines, sir."
"Approved. The Emperor protects. Westwynter out."
Lucian returned his attention to his viewscreen, frowning as he noticed a small red blip on the auspex. He blinked, then applied the ritual bang to the screen. The blip remained on-screen, prompting him to blink again in surprise. Westwynter apprehensively glanced at the list of repairs yet to be completed and frowned. While the ship's main cannons and most ballistic batteries were online, Axios' lance batteries still required much work before they could function at a useful capacity. Currently, they were good for naught but smacking about shuttles and fighters, and Emperor-damned awful at even that pitiful task. Lucian pressed the vox button yet again.
"Westwynter to engineering. How soon can you get the warp engines running?"
"That depends, Brother-Captain. What are they going to be used for? As the way I see it, these engines are only good for firing out the torpedo tubes right now. We need at least a day before they can even send us half a kilometre, at least in one piece."
"Hypothetically speaking, how quickly can you make repairs before a hypothetical enemy ship that is an hour away from the system gets to us?"
"That bad? Well, sir, we need at least twelve hours."
"You have six. Westwynter out."
Lucian looked about the bridge once more, then activated the ship-wide vox system.
"Blessed be the Emperor's name, and all those that serve Him. This is Brother-Captain Westwynter. An enemy fleet has been detected inbound to the system. All hands to battle stations. Repeat, all hands to battle stations. Repairs to armament shall continue, but other than those crew deemed essential to repairs, all crew shall man their assigned battle stations. The Emperor protects. Westwynter out."
Westwynter stood up, leaving the Bondsman-Captain to his duties before walking to the turbolift. His blindingly white armour's silence contrasted with its bulk, concealing the fact that it weighed easily half a tonne. Lucian carefully depressed the button, and slightly nervously looked about as the lift creaked as he stepped in. Nonetheless, it withstood his weight, albeit barely. The turbolift slowly descended into the depths of the battle barge, shuddering occasionally but successfully depositing the captain at the chapel. Making a mental note to get the techmarines to look at the lift, Lucian reverently walked towards the altar.
"Emperor," he said while kneeling, "Give me strength for the coming battle. We shall fight in your name, and we shall fight honourably. Ave Deus Imperator!"
Westwynter made the sign of the Aquila, averting his eyes as he did so. While he rode the lift back up to the bridge, he thought about the coming battle. The Axios' main guns would probably finish the fight quickly, having been outfitted with an upgraded Nova Cannon by the Chapter's tech-priests just before it left for Cadia. The trick was avoiding the blast from a victim's warp core overloading, as the cannon's power was so much that the entire ship was more often than not utterly annihilated by the shell. Nonetheless, Lucian was confident. The enemy ships wouldn't be able to close with the Axios and its escorts, not if it intended to survive. As well, he had a good six hours before the ships got within firing range, more if they halted to reorient themselves.
A massive explosion followed by the blaring of klaxons announced otherwise, prompting Lucian to curse mildly before uttering the benediction of the Emperor.
"Battle-Captain Westwynter! The enemy fleet has made an in-system jump towards us and has proceeded to engage! Emperor-damn them, they took out the Dauntless!"
Lucian swore again. So they were up against the Archenemy. Almost as if it sensed the gravity of the situation, the turbolift doors opened just as he replaced his helmet and muttered the proper litanies. Cutting a commanding figure, he quickly strode across the busy command bridge towards Bondsman-Captain Argus, the man at the helm. Argus snapped out a few commands as he stood, foreshadowing the firing of several forward batteries.
"Brother-Captain! The Traitor ships have destroyed our escorts! Our strike cruisers are fighting with all their worth, but they are hopelessly outclassed. Requesting permission to fire the Nova Cannon!"
"At close range? The resulting warp rift would—fire away Captain."
Westwynter respected the man's guts, if not his judgement. He was a ground forces commander first, and so had little knowledge of void combat. What little he did know, however, told him that there was no way that the Axios could win this without using its dreaded main gun, no matter the consequences. Argus pressed a button on his vox, then uttered a command feared by all aboard.
"This is Argus. Fire main cannon."
The Axios shuddered violently as it unleashed its rage, the fifty-metre shell streaking through the void as the Astartes ships frantically fired retrothrusters and retreated. A moment later, a new sun was born in the Cadia system, annihilating the Archenemy ships and rupturing their warp cores. The bridge crew's eyes grew wide in awe as they witnessed the glory of the Imperium, then grew yet again in fear as the warp ruptures from the enemy ships expanded rapidly.
"Start the warp engines! All hands brace for impact!" Lucian grimly held on as the ship's engines stuttered to life, silently praising the Emperor as he prayed for deliverance.
Just as the warp-wave reached its apex, the space around three Imperial warships within the Cadia system seemed to bend, then burst like a bubble, leaving only the void and a dying miniature sun.
Lucian gingerly opened his eyes as the Blood Guardians ships Axios, Shield of Damocles, and Remembrance emerged from warp space, and the viewscreens revealed vastly alien stars.