The smell of sweet incense, riding on a wisp of a gentle smoke filled Alaric's nostrils. A single strike of a well-tuned bell rang out, signalling the end of the service, followed by the parting words of the priest as the elderly and broken voice called out.
"Worship the Immortal Emperor." Prompting the reply.
"For without him we are nothing." Which rose from the throats of the congregation in well practiced and solemn unison. And with that, all remained upon their knees before the alter, heads bowed in reverence, until at last the heavy thud of the grand doors signalled the priest had departed.

In respectful silence the congregation began to file out one by one. Most men here wore the uniforms of House Varshod, marked out by deep blue jackets that almost looked like an inky black in certain lights, with deep ichor red, like clotted blood, collars, cuffs and trousers. The cut and nature of their clothes varied from person to person, and role to role. But the uniformity was unmistakable.

Casting his eyes upon the great winged Aquila that hung above the altar on mighty chains, Alaric offered one last silent thought of thanks before leaving the chapel himself. Immediately he found himself in a large narthex, in which most of the congregation remained, talking amicably with one another, the elaborate gothic architecture almost as grand as within the chapel itself, the priest by the door talking to his flock as they left.

"Alaric!" Called out a voice from the crowd, belonging to a tall, broad shouldered and barrel-chested man who even now was half shuffling, half forcing his way through the crowd. He didn't actually need to barge into anyone, people just seemed to get out of his way. As he drew closer, his full height was made clear. Alaric was not a short man, standing at a distinguished 6'2, but this fellow loomed over him. Sometimes Alaric wondered if a little Astarte had found its way into this man's DNA somehow. As if to reaffirm this idea a firm but friendly hand fell down on Alaric's shoulder with such force as to almost make the man flinch. The lines in the face of this amicable giant gave a clue as to his age, whilst the medal ribbons on his chest spoke as to his experience. "There you are! I was worried I would miss you."

Alaric for his part simply smiled and delicately removed the hand from his shoulder, all too aware that a few on lookers were casting sideways glances at one another and whispering behind their hands. Alaric had a far leaner built, and whilst it was plain to see his features were far younger and fresher than his friends, it was still a face pre-disposed towards gauntness, with slightly sunken cheeks and eyes. Some clue as to the crowd's reaction was to be found in their clothes. For whilst Alaric may have had far fewer medal ribbon on his chest, his clothing was made of a finer cloth, with a hint of gold trim on his shoulder, collars and cuffs, even a matching fourragere. It was far less ostentatious than many in his position would have sported. But it's meaning was clear. Seniority.

But everyone in this room knew something well beyond what was simply implied by the uniform. They knew this man's name. It wasn't just Alaric. It was Alaric Varshod, second son to Valamer Varshod, current head of house and ruler here. Well Alaric Varshod was his short name, his full name would take far too long to say. But Alaric was taking all of this in surprisingly good spirits. Looking up at the brazen man he said with a slight role in his eyes and the ghost of a smile on his face.
"Jorriah, there was never any chance of that. I would have sought you out before this day was done."
"Oh really now? The eagerness and arrogance of youth wouldn't have had you tearing out there without taking pause to speak to an old timer like me?" Curiously the towering, robust man seemed to sigh and shake his head. "When did you forget to be young?"

With that, the pair made their way for the exit, walking easily side by side, pausing only briefly to thank the minister before emerging into what could charitably be described as, the outside.

At first an onlooker could have been forgiven for believing that they were indeed in the open air. The pair emerged into a beautiful, ornate garden. Deep beds of vibrant flowers, edged in immaculately trimmed shin high hedges, stretched out before them. A gentle trickle could be heard from the ornate fountains, whilst the calls of rare birds rang out from the branches of perfectly grown trees which were half plant, half sculpture. Even the blend of scents in the air seemed painstakingly tailored to gently complement one another. Around them, and beyond the garden, the spires of great buildings rose, each an awe inspiring sight in their own right. But combined they made a monumental conglomeration of powerful, gothic beauty. Looming above the very pinnacles of these great towers was a swirling red sky, possessed of a strange and terrible grace as it twisted and tore above. It took a keen eye to spot the transparent dome above them, sheltering this little patch of perfection from the maelstrom outside.

The pair seemed to ignore this as they walked along the path from the church with an idle and relaxed pace, savouring the atmosphere, a slight look of child like brightness in old Jorriah's eye conveying a sense of mild wonder at it all, whilst Alaric looked much more used to the display, as if it was hardly worth mentioning.
"Most teachers would despair of such a brash and headstrong student." Retorted Alaric idly. But Jorriah's response was swift and hard.
"Most teachers aren't me lad! You listened well to those auto quill wielding bureaucrats and scholars. Learned to think like them. But that's not how to fight. Not at first. You study war like it's a damn exercise in theory. But you need a throne blasted fire in you to fight a war, not a candle to read by."

Alaric pressed his lips into a slight sneer at these words, turning his ice blue eyes to look down his thin, hard and hooked nose at his elder. When he spoke he did so with a cold restraint that only accentuated his displeasure by its subtlety.
"You speak based on conjecture, I have paid close attention to every lesson you have taught me. Pursued them with diligence. Furthermore, whilst I am not arrogant enough to confuse it with a true war, I would remind you that I have led house retainers to deal with problematic citizens in the lower levels on more than one occasion." But this seemed only to fuel Jorriah's displeasure.
"I know you can skewer a few chem crazed cut throats. But being able to best a few untrained and underequipped men fuelled by desperation with the fine gear your father has to offer, and a squad of men at your back, is not fighting. You are a good duellist but that's not war. But…" The man seemed to deflate a little, dropping his great shoulders, taking on an almost defeated look. "But that wasn't the worst of it. You returned from those excursions like an administratum clerk might return from a productive day at the copy table. A life or death struggle is supposed to light something in a man. Excitement, fear, joy, grief, any one of a thousand emotions bent to its full height. It is the afterglow of the burning furnace that gives men true steel of muscle and mind in battle… I don't see it in you, when you return."

These words left both men in a strange and heavy silence. Each looking at the floor, the birds, the trees, anywhere but each other. It was not until, after a tortuously long time, Alaric turned his raven haired and tapered head, giving him an almost hawkish appearance, to the greying giant, that Jorriah spoke again, cutting off the young man before he could even utter a syllable.
"Come with me." He said, in a far more moderate, perhaps conciliatory voice. Half encouraged, half pushed by Jorriah's strong hand Alaric found himself guided to an observation platform. As the two walked Jorriah continued.
"Look. I did my service in the guard for a long time before I came here. The honours I won in the 73rd Harkoni regiment speak for themselves. I know what I am talking about. Your father bought me out of the regiment just as I was getting too old for it, to teach you how to fight a war."

Finally they arrived at their destination and Jorriah gestured out at the blasted wasteland below, huge swathes of it barely visible through the rolling clouds of acidic vapours. What could be seen was a scorched, wind smashed wreck of twisted rocks, searing plains, rivers of boiling pollutant and hellish, twisted flora. The vast mountain ranges which ran across this world stretched out beneath them. The spire like hive built by mortal men dwarfing anything mere nature could concoct.
"That is what you are walking into. But it's what lives there that worries me. Orks."
"I know." Came Alaric's matter of fact reply. "This hive has been sending out men periodically to cull their numbers for as long my family can remember. To stop them from building up and getting as organised as those brutes ever can. My brother did it before father gave him the Fortune's Blade and sent him to the stars. Now it is my turn."
"You aren't your brother." Retorted Jorriah, crushingly. "Those are orks. Even the primitive, feral ones are in possession of a wild intelligence, and if a leader has risen from their ranks… few foes are so brutal, and so cunning."
"You once said only the Eldar match a war boss in trickery and deception." Said Alaric contemplatively. Only to prompt Jorriah to snort derisively.
"And you are likely never going to meet one of those knife eared xenos. Pray to the Emperor you don't. Even to me they were just whispers around a campfire. But orks…" Mid-sentence the man brought up his left arm. "They took my arm." He clenched a gloved fist with the muffled whir of servos as if to prove a point. "And a lot more besides."

But Alaric's frustration was growing, turning sharply to his mentor he looked up at him with accusation in his eyes, lending their cold blue hue a keen sharpness.
"What is the point of this reprimand? Do you seek to stop me from going? Father has bidden me into the wastes and so I shall go! Nothing you can say can change that! Your cautions are significantly less weighty than his command!" But Jorriah did not rise to the challenge, this time. He was all too aware of the great leniency Alaric was already showing him. He was just a hireling, a common man amongst the nobility. Valued for his skill, but not truly one of them. He still felt out of place in such splendour. Indeed, Alaric likely treated him with more respect than anyone else at the top of this spire. So instead he just sighed once more and shook his head.
"I can't stop your father. You could but I know you won't. You and your siblings always obeyed him just a little too readily. He would listen but, you won't ask. But, if I can't stop you from doing this damned stupid thing, I hope you will look for whatever battle fire you have inside you and bend it to its full height rather than keep it muted and weak. And do it fast, those monsters will kill you quickly if you don't. You are a good man Alaric, I don't want you to die."

Alaric could not muster words of reprimand in response to that sentiment, especially when it was said with such a palpable forlornness. Nor, in all honesty, could he offer words of reassurance that he would find this spark. He had no wish to lie to this man, and he was looking for the elusive fire but, in all truth, he could find none. True there was gravity and earnestness to what was to come. But no such inborn spark that he could see. Was this what separated he and his brother? Was it this simple? Alaric had always been the smarter of the pair. But Regias had always enjoyed more success, more notice. Until now Alaric had always thought the reason was that Regias was the elder brother, the heir apparent. But it didn't account for that odd difference in their demeanours. Was this the real reason? Such thoughts pressed heavily on Alaric's mind. But as his thoughts matched the swirling turmoil of the atmosphere above he was forced to focus on more immediate concerns.

When he spoke he did so quietly, perhaps a little cowed. He still locked his eyes with Jorriah, but as tall as Jorriah always was, Alaric felt just a little shorter now.
"I must make the final preparations to go. I am to depart with my detachment soon. I have re-read over the texts we studied. I have sought the Emperor's divine protection. I must now only gather my arms. Good day Jorriah. I will be back soon." And with that Alaric turned to leave, Jorriah just standing silently behind him, watching with worried eyes.

In his chambers Alaric donned his battlegear. His jacket and trousers seemed very similar in appearance to the crisp uniform he had worn in the chapel, but a close observer might notice a slight coarseness that was not present before, a side effect of the myriad chemical treatments needed to proof such things against the harshness of the weather outside, were a man to run his fingers along them it would feel more like canvas than cotton. Atop this he buttoned up his heavy, double breasted great coat. Again in a blue as deep as a moonless midnight with dark, ichorus red facings, decorated with the same simple golden trim to denote his station. With Jorriah's words still plaguing his thoughts Alaric took his armoured breastplate, backplate, and overlapping segmented shoulder plates, and began slowly securing each one into place. All the polishing in the world could not conceal the dull and heavy metal's uncompromising adherence to function rather than form. He had been told it was made of sterner stuff than the seemingly identical plate his comrades sported, fortunately he had never had to test this assertion. Some may have taken his slow manner as he donned these plates as solemn, but it was hesitation that slowed his hand, his aging mentor had perturbed him.

With an idle hand so used to the motion he could do it without thought, Alaric secured a crisp white sash over his shoulder and across his chest, tying off the hanging tassel with a firm tug. Then, turning to the wall he looked upon his weapons of choice, hanging there in pride of place above the gently flickering flames of his hearth. First, he took gently into his hand his long barrelled ripper pistol. It's hard, functional, minimalist and sharply angled design concealed the skill that had gone into its construction. Each component carefully calibrated for brutal efficiency, well beyond the mass-produced products of the manufactorums. A shot from a ripper pistol had surprising penetration and rending ability, but worse still was the deadly and diabolical cocktail of chemicals that would seep into almost any wound the weapon made. It was a weapon designed for killing, but not killing clean. Securing the weapon and it's magazines he tucked it into the holster hanging from his right side.

Then came a weapon which sharply offset the brutalist functionality of the pistol's design. With a gentleness which spoke of how Alaric valued the blade he slowly took into his hands his ancient power sword. It shared many traits with the more modern mordian pattern blades, lighter, thinner and more elegant that the heavy brutes of power swords found in the hands of many warriors. It's double edged design was designed around speed, grace and poise, rather than the cudgel like swings many favoured. But there was something about the elegant curvature of the handle, the narrowness of the blade, it's pleasing curve, the near imperceptible swirling engravings like a gentle sea, the way it moved like gossamer through the air. Something about it put many an observer in mind of a maker more elegant than any mere human. But of course, no foul xeno had forged this prized artefact. Instead, it simply dated back to a time when mankind was truly a master of its craft. It had been in the family longer than anyone could remember, and the family had a long memory. In light of his fencing skill Alaric's father had bequeathed it unto him, and it had served the young man well before now. The unknown metal almost sang as it slid into its scabbard to Alaric's left.

This left his helmet, a solid and understated design, a protective respirator slotted in as standard to guard against the harsh realities of life on the surface. Again his superiority was denoted by a raised metal crest which ran front to back, from which sprang a flowing plume of black horse hair, imported from a world where such creatures could survive. At last sealing his hardy boots and gloves he turned sharply and stalked from his chambers. His private hesitation now concealed by his noble obligation to appear confident and authoritative in front of his people. He made for a slightly odd sight as he made his way through the manicured gardens and gleaming marble walkways of the upper levels that he called home. But every man here knew his name and his purpose, and so dutifully stood aside.

By the time the hyper lifts had brought him to meet his assembled men in one of the great garages, he looked significantly more appropriate to his surroundings. Stained glass and burnished gold had been replaced by rough ferocreet and hanging cables. Looking about Alaric half expected to see someone there. His father, his mother, his sister, even Jorriah. Instead he was only greeted by the rumble of engines and the smell of oil. That and his second officer. A man dressed much like him, but without the gold trim and horsehair began pacing towards Alaric, saying with aristocratic tones that even a respirator could not hide.
"Greetings Alaric, the men are equipped and briefed. The last of them are loading on now." He said gesturing behind him to the last remaining troopers climbing aboard the Chimera transports that awaited them. "The men of the mechanicus say the machine spirits are in good humour, an encouraging omen for our venture."

Alaric mustered a distracted nod, his thoughts still lingering on who wasn't here, before forcing his mind to the task at hand.
"And what of you Holt? How are your humours?" A question Holt seemingly answered with a slight laugh.
"Robust my friend, robust. You and I have been quelling the most devious scum in the under hive together for a while now. These orks may be tough, but I'd wager we are smarter!" Alaric did not quite so readily share in this good humour as the pair made their way to the command chimera, distinguished by its extra antenna and communications dishes. But Alaric was warmed by his friend's enthusiasm.
"Let us hope you are right my friend. But be cautious. Jorriah has told me all too often of the cunning of orks." But Holt only scoffed.
"It seems the orks took his courage as well as his arm. Calm yourself. The men tell me the air here as done something to our local xenos. Changed their pallor and driven them half mad." Alaric had never been one to confuse madness with stupidity, battling insane crime lords had taught him that. But he did not wish to sour Holt's mood over something so small.

Instead he cracked an invisible and faint smile under his sealed helm as he grasped the chimera doors behind him.
"So. We aren't fighting orks. We are fighting mad mutant orks. Remind me Holt. How was that supposed to be reassuring?" He asked, before slamming the heavy door behind him.