Chapter Twenty-Eight: Death in Calixis
Mankind was at war. A statement which is unfortunately applicable for the species' entire history. Proven even more true by the Great Crusade. Across the galaxy, a thousand battles were waged as the Imperium fought to reclaim humanity's birthright. Bolter rounds, ships, human lives, and every other resource of war flowed out of the Segmentum Solar. They fed the Imperial war machine as it slowly but steadily brought the galaxy to heel. Across the Imperium a sense of hope and new beginnings was palpable. News of victory after victory fed the people a steady stream of propaganda. After centuries of fear, mankind was starting to look up to the stars with something other than horror and trepidation. The old human spirit, the indomitable desire to conquer the cosmos, to understand its secrets and forge a better future, was returning. Something that had almost been stamped out of the species by Old Night.
For all its glorious purpose and benevolent tyranny, the Imperium used many of the tools reserved for cruel regimes. The control of information between systems a key example. Astropaths gave the Adeptus Administratum a near-total monopoly on communication. Information passed only between necessary hands, and any leak was squashed by the electrified cudgels of the Arbities. However, a particularly intelligent and observant citizen might be able to get a sense of the whole truth through what was missing. What were the Iterator Corps and Remembrancers recordings leaving out? An avid enjoyer of Imperial vox-casts might hear reports about battles and peaceful compliances from all across the Galaxy. From all areas except for one. Nobody talked about the far Galactic North. To an Imperial Citizen, it would be understandable to assume the Great Crusade had not reached that far-off region of space. An incorrect assumption, and one encouraged by the Imperium's propaganda apparatus.
A secret war was being waged in the haunted reaches of the Halo Stars. A war not meant for the histories or to be commemorated through art. The Imperium of Mankind and the Rangda Kindred were at War. Two great civilizations of equal power, both struggling to claim ownership of the Galaxy. Unlike the great battles against the Beasts of Ullanor, which exemplified powerful heroes driving back Xeno barbarians and making the Galaxy safe for humanity, the Rangda War was something much darker and fouler. A conflict that earned the title of Xenocide.
The Imperium had struck first against the Rangda Kindred a several solar years ago. The IX Legion, colloquially known as the Dawn Angels had reduced a major feeding world to ash and then pushed deeper into the Galactic North. Soon the VIII Legion, the Night Lords, joined the conflict. Both legions were known for their psychic foresight and brutality. They had been given a critical task by the Emperor. Buy time for the Imperium. With every world brought under the Aegis of Imperial rule, its war machine grew exponentially. Soon humanity would have the resources to fight two great wars simultaneously, crushing the two rival contenders for Galactic dominance. But 'soon', was not enough. Entire worlds were going dark as the Rangdan infection spread while millions of Astartes and mortal troops fought to secure Imperial Conquests and claim the Ullanor Beasts' heads.
It would take time for the Imperium to gather the needed strength and redirect its forces to face the Rangda as well as the Orks. Entire Legions were already committed to the Golgothan campaign, hoping to burn away the Orkish infestation before the Greenskins reached the next stage of their broken evolution. The necessity of fighting two galactic campaigns left the VIII and IX Legions with the difficult task of buying time for the Imperium to send them support. It was a task the sons of Dante and Konrad approached in different but related ways. The two Legions rampaged through the Halo Stars, attacking undefended Xeno worlds with a mixture of righteous fury and sadistic pragmatism. They left mauled worlds and wounded fleets in their wake by using their Primarch's and Astartes' precognitive talents to evade the Rangda's response. It was an incredibly risky strategy, committing nearly a tenth of the Imperiums Astartes to a series of raids in deep enemy territory.
This method of waging war to remind the Xeno what it was like to be afraid suited both Legions perfectly. Years of study into the biology, culture and psychology of the Rangda Kindred had produced mild results. The Xenobreed were profoundly Alien, even by Imperial standards. They were an Empire of symbiotic species descending from a common ancestor. An ancestor that is more closely aligned with Viruses than the multi-celled bacteria Terran life descended from, resulting in an entire Domain of organisms that existed beyond the already exotic norms of galactic life. The Rangda without exception followed their distant progenitor in many ways, chief among them their Parasitic nature.
It was poetic in a twisted way. Most every form of life across the Galaxy had spent their entire evolutionary history fighting Viruses. Fittingly the species capable of enslaving and exterminating all multicellular life was the ultimate product of some parody of life born of a Virus. This parasitic existence was what made the Rangda conflict unsuitable for propaganda or even public awareness. The Rangda Kindred did not have the decency to kill or conquer like other monstrous species. They infected and subverted with a level of skill only matched by the Dark Gods.
Entire worlds of peaceful humans, descendants of long-lost colonists existed in the Halo Stars. Left alone to exist and grow like Crops in a field. Completely unaware their existence was permitted only to provide fodder for hungry aliens. Aliens whose influence reached down into even the cellular and genetic level. Every world in the Halo Stars was suspect, every man, woman, child was infected. Existing as livestock cultivated over centuries. Ready to be consumed when the Rangda Empires worms burrowed out of the Warp and into their meal.
The Imperium would be forced to purge these populations, exterminate millions, perhaps billions in bio-pogroms. A terrible prospect that proved only part of the Rangda's horror. The Kindred gleefully unleashed terrors that combined the worst of organic, psionic and mechanical technologies. Even with the raiding tactics of the Night Lords and Dawn Angels, casualties had been heavy and every battle was difficult. While successful, the offense against the Rangda could not continue without resupply. It would still be years before the other five legions tasked with wiping out the Rangda would arrive in force. Years the VIII and IX had to put to good use, and more importantly survive.
So an Imperial forward presence had been established in Rangda space. Within a sector the old Maps and Navigator lore called Calixis. Its isolated nature and swaths of nebulas made it perfect for Imperial uses. Fast-moving supply convoys would enter a pre-arraigned system and make dead drops of equipment. That could be picked up by the VIII and IX Crusader Fleets surreptitiously. Unfortunately, not all tools of war could be trusted to such methods of transportation. Heavy armor, new Troops and ships required a proper rendezvous. Something dangerous both for the supply fleet and Crusader Fleet.
Stopping for even an isolated and short resupply would rob the Crusader Fleets of their chief advantage. The power of psychic foresight and the superior mobility of Imperial warp-drives granted the Legions a level of unpredictability and more importantly the ability to pick their battles wisely. If ambushed or cornered during a supply mission it would be disastrous for the Imperial forces.
Location: The Vindication, Night Lord Strike Cruiser in Expedition Fleet 89
Expedition Fleet 89 had earned a reputation for pragmatism and efficiency in the face of extreme danger. Having braved the Corpse Spheres of Caotal, survived an encounter with Slaugth Feeder Ships and made contact with the besieged Knight World of Dark Haven. This history of surviving in the face of unexpected threats earned the Expedition Fleet the dubious honor of escorting needed supplies into the Calixis Sector. The Fleet was under orders to rendezvous with Crusader Fleet IX in the Dyatlov-Rho System. A young system near the spinward periphery of Calixis. Product of the nearby Nebulas. The Dyatlov-Rho System is infested with proto-planets and subject to powerful electromagnetic activity. Perfect for an Expedition Fleet to hide in while awaiting the IX.
After weeks of running dark, the Expedition Fleet arrived into the infant star system. Small by Fleet standards. EF-89 was stripped down to the bare necessities. A full military contingent and little else. Astartes and Armada ships protecting a flock of reinforcements for Crusader Fleet IX. A flock capable of protecting itself, considering its members included ships flying the Dawn Angel's flag and half a dozen Auxillia regiments. Even so, the Expedition Fleet's job was to ensure the reinforcements were fresh and accounted for when they joined up with the IX Legion.
The duty of organizing and commanding the overall fleet fell to Expedition Captain Vinnius-Gamma. A competent if unremarkable officer, who differed in many matters to his Astartes equivalent. Master Tiberiu Fenj of the Night Lords. A decorated veteran who earned the respect and fear of the Expedition Fleet a dozen times over. The Heavily scarred Terran native was considered largely responsible for EF-89 surviving its duel with Slaught vessels at the edge of the Gothic Sector. Officially Fenj was the commanding officer of the three thousand Astartes assigned to the Expedition Fleet.. Unofficially in matters of war and mobility the fleet;s officers listened to Fenj.
Master Fenj had originally only been in command of a single Chapter of Night Lord Astartes. The initial Astartes contingent for the Expedition Fleet The early mixed chapters of Expedition Fleets were becoming less common as the Great Crusade wore on. Difference in recruitment and the stretching logistics made the idealized balanced forces impractical. Still when the assignment to the Calixis sector came, so did Astartes reinforcements. By the time EF-89 departed Imperial space, three thousand Astartes served as the fleet's Space Marines. Two thousand Night Lords, three hundred Dawn Angels, and seven piecemeal companies assembled from the other eighteen legions.
Under the Chapter Master's command the swollen Expedition Fleet had made a series of Deep-void jumps when entering the Calixis sector. Entering realspace in the gaps between star-systems. Using the outer-dark to hide a steady methodical approach. Warp travel in space with Rangda influence was difficult. Spiritual currents shifted randomly and occasionally stopped. Forcing shorter dives into the Sea of Souls. But after months of cautious travel the Fleet arrived in Dyatlov-Rho.
Fenj and his inner circle stood aboard the bridge of The Vindication. Watching the mammoth warp-shutters open. Exposing the bloody void of the Dyatlov-Rho. The primordial forces of creation at work in the system colored the normal blackness of space. The guts of broken proto-planets melded with wispy clouds of cosmic gas. Creating an unsettling but beautiful painting of reds, yellows, and oranges.
Scanning the void for an immediate threat the Nightlord Master growled "Status of Fleet? Did we lose anyone in that jump?"
After a moment a mortal comms officer piped up "All clear my lord. The Subtle Knife, and Blackwood are both out of formation from the jump but realigning themselves as we speak"
Nodding curtly the Astartes continued to growl out orders and request information: "I want a full Auger sweep of the system. Release a double complement of probes. This Star is stirring up a gale and I don't want any gaps in our sight. Keep our Plasma drives at low burn but make sure the Fleet is ready for a quick Warp jump if need be."
If you asked any Imperial citizen what they imagined a son of Konrad Cruze is like. The image they would paint for you would match up startlingly well with the reality of Tiberiu Fenj. Corpse-pale skin, haunting black eyes, features so sharp they seemed cruel, and a disturbing predatory air. The VIII Primarchs geneseed is strong and announces the purpose of the Night Lord Legion to all. To add to this image of a Lord of the Night, Fenj was one of the rare Astartes with old scars. A Slaugth necrotic blister had torn off part of the Fenj's face. The eldritch weapon burned off his left cheek, leaving his jaw and cheekbone exposed. Completing the picture of a officer in the Legion nicknamed "The Sons of Murder"
Turning away from the many-hued void, Fenj addressed one of the Astartes accompanying him aboard the bridge. "Brother-Librarian Nestor, what do you see?"
Slightly hunched over, with an apparent facial tick. The Librarian Nestoroi had the privilege and curse of inheriting their Genefathers gift for prophecy. While the ability to get flickers of precognitive insight is near-universal among the Night Lords. Some brothers hold a special talent in using this power. These Solomonari see into the future, at a cost to their body and mind.
Nestoroi peered out into the void, his oil-black eyes defocusing and a palsy flowed across his body. After a few moments of subtle twitching Nestoroi let out a hissing growl and frowned. Looking to his commander, the Solomonari spoke in a hushed whisper. "We must not tarry in this system, Fenj. This is a place of death and suffering. A battle will be fought here and much blood will be split into the crimson void. I cannot tell when the battle will occur, or even the victor. But in the future mankind and our enemies will clash here."
Fenj frowned and asked "Should we leave? We can hide in a nearby system and leave an encrypted nav buoy here. The Dawn Angels could find us and we might avoid whatever fate this system holds."
A moment of uncertainty and something darker appeared on Nestoroi's face. After a pause the Solomonari spoke: "No we must stay here but leave as soon as possible. The longer we hide in this ruptured womb of a Star system the more likely we meet a cruel fate. If we leave and hide in another system that will set other events into motion. Our Fleet might avoid the battle in this system. If the Dawn Angels arrive and must search to find us they will not"
Gritting his teeth, the Astartes Master flicked through the information being transmitted to his suits cogitator. Dyatlov-Rho was a maze of Proto-Planets, the last remnants of an Accretion Disk and a myriad of other stellar obstacles. The system would be a nightmare to conduct Void warfare in. Perfect for the Night Lords. Skulking about in the shadows, striking at weakness and running from the foe. This was the type of war the Night Lords had been built to wage. And why the Legion had been assigned alongside their more beatific cousins to prosecute this Shadow Crusade against the Rangda.
Weighing his options Fenj made his decision. He trusted Nestoroi's sight and he had his orders. They would stay in Dyatlov-Rho and await the Dawn Angels. Expedition Fleet 89 was on schedule and it should not be more than a few terran weeks before the IX Legion made its appearance. Even if the Rangda made an appearance, they would have time to escape the Xenos.
Data was sparse but Imperial Records had already documented Rangda Worm-Ships on numerous occasions. Horrible techno-organic vessels with the diameter of a moon, and stretching to lengths that defied physics. A Worm-Ship could punch its head into the Warp and burrow through the Sea of Souls before rentering the Materium at a desired location. With its tail end still floating in the realspace it started, the Worm-ship could "open up" turning itself into a tunnel through the Warp that provided fast and easy transport between two systems. Thankfully the process of worming between both sides of existence was time consuming and not exactly subtle.
If Imperial warp-drives could be compared to ships from the age of sail. Braving the Warps currents with the Astronomicon as their north-star. Then the Rangda Worm-Ships were bridges built in the Warp. Slower with a more limited range, but with the ability to move colossal fleets and objects with ease. Thankfully these bridges could not exist indefinitely. For once the madness of the Warp worked in mankind's favor. The churning tides of the Immaterium battering away at the Worm Bridges and eventually rupturing them with enough time and effort.
After a brief discussion with the Expedition Captain, and other pertinent officers, both Mortal and Astartes. Expedition Fleet 89 had a plan. They would wait for the IX Legion and fulfill their duty, but they would not wait ideally. The majority of the Fleet moved into the elemental murk surrounding a malformed planet near a Mandeville point. Hiding in the mess of gases, metals, lava, and electromagnetic interference. Meanwhile the Night Lords would do what they did best. Scouting the Dyatlov-Rho system and finding every possible way to use the star system to their advantage. Now came the part that had been tormenting soldiers since the oldest days of Ancient Terra. The waiting.
Location: The Vindication, Night Lord Strike Cruiser in the Dyatlov-Rho system.
Date: 893.M30 (Four Solar Months Later)
They had been cut off from the rest of the galaxy for four months. No Astropathic messages had arrived and there had been no response to any they sent. Which in itself was unusual but not terribly. This far away from the Segmentum Solar and the heart of the Imperium, the Astropathic network became frustratingly vague and unreliable. Mass soul-bindings were occurring nearly daily and it was still not enough to provide sufficient Choirs for mankind's growing empire. Even in the 30th millenia the Fog of War reigns supreme.
What was worrying and kept the men and women of Expedition Fleet 89 on edge was the fate of Crusader fleet IX. The Dawn Angels had not arrived and they had received no word or sign. The official Iterator line was the Warps Currents or a battle were delaying the Emperor's true Angels. An official position that became increasingly doubted as the weeks wore on. Astartes, Auxilia and other such beings of action were not meant to hide in the shadows awaiting what may come. It ran counter to the entire ethos of the Great Crusade. Striving out to face the galaxy and conquer it in humanity's name.
This existence of watching and waiting suited the Night Lords well. The Emperor had not designed them as soldiers, warriors or even beasts. The VIII were predators, and they knew it. Like any skilled predator they were content to wait for their prey and not make stupid choices. Especially when that predator senses something even more dangerous than itself. The Warps currents were proving unpredictable and increasingly erratic. Nestoroi and his fellow Librarians had spent much of the four solar months in careful observation. Working in consultation with the fleets most skilled Navigators to understand the strange eddies of the Immaterium.
It was a young Navigator of House Tordith who finally cracked the problem and nearly went mad in the process. The Navigator had peered into the Immaterium and tried to make sense of the rapidly changing currents. Going from terrible heights that threatened to form Warp Storms to unsettling calmness the likes of which only found beyond the galactic plane. The Expedition Fleets experienced Psykers had been looking for a pattern or point of context within the frame of the Warps natural movement. In his inexperience the Navigator of House Tordith took a different approach and stumbled onto a terrible insight.
He looked at the changing currents not as if they were shifting tides or disrupted formation, but if they were the wakes of Immaterial vessels. A skill all young Navigators were trained in and taught to focus on. The Warp's shifting was not the result of some Alien ritual, bizarre natural phenomenon or even the whims of Dark Gods. It was the effects of passing Leviathans. Truly massive things were moving through the Warp around them with disturbing regularity. Things of such presence in either mind or matter that the Warp bowed to their movements. Entire planets traveling through Worming tunnels like a Swine through a serpents belly. Godlings that could kill just by focusing their attention on petty human minds. Incomprehensible Alien things swam across the Halo Stars.
With this dreadful information it became painfully clear to Master Fenj that his options were limited. Whatever horrors waited in the Rangda's territory were not the sort of things mortal men could face. This was the realm of Gods and Monsters. A place where even a being like an Astartes was little more than a common soldier. So under his orders the Expedition Fleet would wait. Follow their orders and avoid the attention of whatever horrors drifted about in the Halo Stars. This decision had provoked arguments and actions that toed the line of insubordination. Almost daily a different representative of the Imperiums myriad institutions would come before Fenj. Arguing for different courses of action. To reach the rank of Chapter Master, Fenj had some experience and skill in these political games. Still he was no rhetorician son of Augustio and the XIII Legion. More used to debate halls than the battlefield. It distracted Fenj from his duties and it threatened Fleet cohesion.
The most recent petitioner to come before the Chapter Master was a Magos requesting permission to start a temporary extraction site on a mineral-rich moon on the far side of the system. Fenj listened to the Tech-Priest but found his mind wandering. He mentally took apart the heavily augmented Martian. Wondering what injuries would summon forth pain. Planning how he would break the mind and spirit of a being that had replaced most of its body with steel and plastic. It proved a pleasant distraction, a bad habit he had picked up to help with these meetings. He of course never acted on these little mental tangents. The officials who came before him rarely deserved the attention of the Emperors' Judge, Jury, and Executioners. On some level, the subject of this mentally simulated dissection could usually sense the predatory weight behind Fenj's eyes. It helped speed things along. An unsubtle tactic but an effective one still.
After fifteen minutes of Fenj's attention the Magos was starting to falter. Perfect, this Martian cyborg was not as removed from their emotions as many of their cult. Fenj bet within five minutes the Magos would be completely cowed and would not even object to his objection to the proposal. Setting up a void mine would bog down ships and resources that needed to be ready to leave at a moment's notice. Fenj did consider allowing the proposal simply to distract parts of the fleet. Deciding against it out of a sense of caution, and his own instincts. It would not be long now before something happened. A faint itch of anticipation gnawed at the back of the Chapter Masters mind, and he was not the only of his Legion feeling it. The instincts of a seasoned warrior are a valuable tool, especially ones gifted with traces of precognition.
The frantic whispers and increasing nervousness of Nesteroi and his fellow Solomonari confirmed it. They were hiding something, not something too strange among the occult circles of the Librarius. Yet whatever secrets they were privy to had them tense. They had shared the revelation about the Warp Currents, so another mystery was gnawing at the soothsayers minds. Fenj considered himself a patient man, a trait that his Legion favored and rejected in equal measure. That patience was running thin. He might need to corner Nesteroi and pull the secrets out of him. He doubted even the most erratic Solomonari would ignore a direct order free of any interpretation. Fenj would have the truth even if it required an ugly confrontation with a Brother he considered a friend.
A need for such a confrontation became nill a few seconds later. Fenj's Vox exploded with a dozen hails. The Chapter Master held up a large armored hand to the Magos, signaling them to pause. Fenj's worst suspicions were confirmed as he checked the Vox calls sources. They came from the Librarius, Astropathic Choir, Navigators, and every other warp-soaked Imperial institution. Before Tiberiu Fenj could tune in to a single hail, he felt something strike him in the very soul.
Waves of fractured visions and virtually incomprehensible thoughts hit Fenj. A seizure-inducing psychic misfiring that stunned the Astartes for a solid six seconds. By the time he regained focus, Fenj realized he was on his hands and knees. The Magos and a mortal attendant calling his name with a mixture of fright and shock. Pulling himself up, Fenj shook off a wave of Nausea that should have been impossible for him. Every communication device in his office was exploding with hails, status reports and emergency claxons. Centering himself Fenj listened for a moment and understood. His episode had not been random, the majority of Night Lords had suffered similar seizure-like episodes. Lasting a few seconds but debilitating. This was the blessing and curse of the VIII Legion. Geneseed was not meant to carry such a potent legacy of its Primarch. Even diluted and controlled, the terrible power of foresight could be catastrophic.
The normal precognitive insights of the Night Lords were never anything so grand. An instinct to dodge a surprise attack, unnatural familiarity with alien environments and similar hints of atemporal awareness. Rarely these abilities amounted to something more in the Solomonari and could be pulled forth in any Night Lords on the eve of disaster. In a seizure of warning like the one that gripped the fleet. This was the first time Fenj had experienced the terrible vision of the Solomonari, what he saw would haunt him for centuries. If he lived that long. The enemy was at the gates and there would be time for self-examination and shock if they survived.
A deep snarling growl escaped Fenj's throat and both mortals stepped back. Organic and mechanical eyes wide in terror. Ignoring them the Master pulled his helmet off its mag-clamp and put it on. Tapping into the fleet-wide command frequency and barking orders. "Night Lords! Our time has come, move to your assigned positions and prepare for combat. Cousins, Auxilia, and Mechanicum stay with the hidden fleet. You will shield them while we drive in the knife."
On a private channel he messaged the Dawn Angels' own commanding officers and the Expedition Captain. "Stay hidden until the enemy shows their hand. The Night Lords will keep them distracted and unable to commit to a proper hunt. However be prepared to leave the system and move towards the secondary or tertiary positions if need be."
Within minutes Fenj was back on the Vindications bridge and shouting for a status report. Auspex and Auger readings were in the clear so far but the Navigators were reporting extreme Warp disturbances. Immaterial madness that must settle before a reasonably safe Warp Jump could be initiated. The bow waves of an oncoming horror. A curse from the fetid Underhive Fenj had been born in, crossed his lips. Turning to the Bridge Crew the Astartes Master gave his command "They are coming from the occidental Mandeville point. Move us to position Gamma. Activate the inverted voids. We run dark today."
The crew obeyed and the rest of the Night Lord fleet fell in around the Vindication. They took their positions and waited. The Night Lords scattered themselves in hunter-squads across a squashed disk of gas and rock that might become a Gas Giant and its moons one day. Using the mess of a young star system to hide. The Vindication accompanied by a quartet of Cruisers and six escorts tucked itself behind a pair of Proto-Planets. A mismatched duo of celestial stones grinding into each other in a slow-motion impact. Here they would wait and watch.
It did not take long, Augers picked up the tell tale signs of Warp translation. Fenj had expected some great slit in space/time. Instead a smattering of smaller Warp Rifts opened. Staring at the tactical display, Fenj's eyes widened in shock. These were Imperial translation signatures. Soon close to a hundred ships bearing the telltale signs of Imperial design entered the Dyatlov-Rho system. Most in the light cruiser or escort weight class. With a single Battleship at the new fleet's heart. The newcomers' formation was shoddy, but quickly correcting. Bad jump or escaping a battle?
Soon a wideband Imperial hail erupted across the Void. A standard distress signal meant to attract friendly attention when there was little threat of enemy interception. The hail included a manifest of ships and basic information. Identifying the new fleet as Dawn Angel and Auxilia ships separated from the Crusader Fleet. This battlegroup had been forced to engage in an emergency Warp Jump. Fleeing the Rangda and eventually coming to Dyatlov-Rho looking for help.
Once the Warp Rifts fully shut the straggler fleet started to move towards the system center. Broadcasting its distress signal and scanning the system. Something about this raised Fenj's hackles. It felt false, like a lure twitching in logical intervals in hopes of snagging prey. They could send Cipher-codes along more secure channels to get confirmation of this Fleets identity. That carried its own risks of exposure. No, the best option was to wait. Let this flotsam and jetsam expose itself. If they were Imperial ships and didn't detect Expedition Fleet 89. Then they would repair and resupply before moving back towards Imperial space. If this was a trap, well the bait would keep dangling until the trapper got a bite or gave up. Either way, it was better not to risk exposing themselves.
Still more information would be useful, it was time to turn to more esoteric tools. Gesturing to a darkened corner of the Bridge, Fanj summoned Nestoroi. The Solomonari looked ragged, pale skin turned sallow, his hair greasy and stringy. With a wild-look in the soothsayers eyes. A look Fenj had seen before. The eyes of a man who stared into the abyss and felt its pull. A common sight among the elder Solomonari. Twitching slightly Nestoroi approached his Brother and gave a sad little smile.
"I take it you and many of our Brothers have a newfound empathy for my order Master Fenj?" asked Nestoroi. Showing a hint of humor Fenj had not seen in his friend in decades.
A tightening of muscles that could be called both smile and grimace crossed Fenj's ruined face. "Indeed old friend, now onto business. What do you sense from our new arrivals?"
Fenj had expected Nestoroi to focus his powers out into the void. Anticipating the tell-tale chill of psychic techniques, maybe even a few etheric sparks to light up his friends Librarian Hood. Instead he got a near instantaneous reply.
"Fear, I sense so much fear. It radiates off those ships like a stinking cloud. The type of fear that breeds madness and turns men into animals."
Silence fell across the Bridge as the Librarian's words settled. Another pained smile crossed the Psykers face and he took a deep steadying breath. Then Fenj felt a lance of familiar thought strike his mind. He let it pass his barriers and accepted the telepathic connection from Nostoroi.
+ "I'm sorry Tiberiu. You trusted me to guide you for decades. A trust I have betrayed over the last few months. I will not ask for your forgiveness or mercy, just that you understand when things become clear." +
Momentary shock filled Fenj as he looked into his Battle-Brother's eyes. Hints of resignation and exhaustion danced behind the Soothsayers wild sight. No questions could be asked, no answers pulled forth. As a great welling of psychic pressure pushed on the minds of every human, mortal or augmented in Expedition Fleet 89. The mysterious Imperial Fleet had not been the source of the Warp disturbances the fleets Psykers had picked up. They never could have been. They were the school of fish fleeing before the coming Leviathan. Fenj and his officers had turned their attention to the threat of the Fleet and the Worm had slithered in.
Fenj had never seen a Rangda Worm-Ship. Only read dry battle-reports. He'd imagined a great cut in the Void that let the Worm's head enter realspace like a suture through flesh. In retrospect he realized that was far too clean for the Rangda Kindred. At the heart of the Mandeville point the Imperial fleet had arrived. Space/Time bulged. The fabric of existence was pushed against by some invisible force. Fenj watched as the light of distant stars bent around the insistent force attempting to penetrate the Materium. Shifting and wriggling, the defect in reality was pulled taught. Light and gas smeared among the intruding form, before the certainty of the Materium gave way.
It made no sound of course, but every soul-bearing being in Dyatlov-Rho heard it. A sickening squelching rip. Accompanied by a chorus of pained screams from throats that defied the petty laws of physics and biology. Existence tore open like a burst cyst as a monumental shape pushed its way into realspace. Clouds of etheric ichor spewed out into the void, a thousand laughing Daemonic faces visible on the spiritual discharge. Writhing shapes clung onto the Worms head as it pushed its way forward. Melting off the Rangda horror as the dread certainty of the Materium asserted itself.
Unobscured by the wriggling byproducts of the Warp, the Worm came into view. Fenj had faced many horrors in his years of service. His dreams still carried flickers of the Slaugth's malice. Fenj had been part of fleets ordered to reduce worlds to ash, he personally had liberated the Meat-Pits of the Sonorous Hierarchy. Taking time to ensure the creators of those horrors were the last offering to their sick artistry. Those events somehow paled in comparison to the thing before him. It was a Worm, no better way to describe it. With the diameter of a planet. The Worm did not ooze the lunatic-malice of Chaos or show signs of creative evil. Hypno-indoctrinated data flicked through Fenj's mind. Of the myriad of parasitic vermiforms that tormented life across the galaxy. Creatures that burrowed under skin, into muscle and brain. Laying eggs and eating their host from the inside out. Perfectly adapted by evolution to function in a horrible way. What stuck through the still bleeding puncture in Space/Time was the God of those pestilent worms.
A colossal god that wriggeled through the flesh of reality. The product of science and sorcery that no human mind would ever dream of. This was an Alien horror in all sense of the word. Something outside human context or comprehension. Even the evils of Chaos were more familiar than this. Twisted reflections warped into a profane existence by ancient sins. Fenj found himself at a loss for description or context. The single word kept repeating inside his mind.
The mysterious Imperial fleet found itself exposed. Caught in the open void with the Worm adjusting its titanic form. Easing its way further into Reality, extending fleshy hooks capped by polished black stone into the wound it had created. Anchoring the Worm and keeping it steady. The Imperials opened fire as they accelerated toward the Star of Dyatlov-Rho. Macro-cannons and Lances rained death upon the Worm. The Vindication's sensors reported the barrage hit but with no observable effect. Shields or more esoteric Alien trickery at work.
Still the fleet fled. They would soon be close to the elements of EF-89 hiding near the far Mandeville point. A flicker of worry crossed Fenj's mind. Would one of the other commanders of the non-Night Lord ships be foolish enough to expose themselves? Hoping to aid the running fleet, even at the cost of the element of surprise. No, Fenj thought not. Fear would keep them to their orders. If there's one thing the Night Lords understand, it is fear and how to use it.
The Worm brought his focus back to it as its head swelled up. Great sphincter of flesh and plastic released and the Worm's maw opened. Splitting the alien leviathans head open. Strange Auger readings flooded the sensors. Long spindly ships with trailing tentacles and bulbous bulls flowed from the Worms mouth. Ships made of metal that twitched and moved like living flesh. Gliding through the Void like parodies of Terran Gelatinous Fish. Rangda War-barques. At least thirty had already exited the Worm and the flow of Xeno ships showed no sign of stopping.
Turning to the Librarian Nostoroi, Fenj growled: "You will explain what you have done, or by the Throne, I will end you myself Nostoroi. Till then we have our duty. Let us learn if these Rangda can feel fear."
Turning from his old friend, Fenj glared out into the Void and the scene unfolding. The War-barques were fast, propelling themselves across the stained canvas of space like primordial sea-beasts. The initial clear Auger readings started to become less certain. Whatever technology the Rangda used to obfuscate themselves was becoming active again. Radiation reports, size estimates, and other scans varied between each observation. Not enough to hide the War-barques but enough to befuddle targeting cogitators. Watching the alien ships writhe across the system, towards the mysterious Imperial fleet. Fenj wondered if his own Strike Cruiser could match the War-barques speed. The Xeno vessels accelerated and moved with a twitching pulsating movement. Leaving a trail of intense radiation as they went.
As the thirty Rangda ships exiting the Worm became sixty, then close to a hundred. Captain Vandcoth, an experienced Voidsman of the VIII and part of Fenj's officer circle spoke.
"Chapter Master, what are your orders? Do we leave the Dawn Angels to die?"
There was no judgment or apprehension in the Astartes voice, simply a question of intent. Fenj could see it in Vandcoth's eyes, and the eyes of his other brothers around him. Pragmatism vied with Bloodlust. For a moment Fenj did not respond, coming to a decision faster than a mortal mind could even comprehend the options.
"We will wait for now. Tell the strike fleet to be ready to attach at a moment's notice though. If an opportunity presents itself we will not hesitate to exploit it."
Vandcoth relayed his orders and Fenj hoped the encrypted Astropathic or Vox transmissions were invisible to the Rangda. The scant data they had suggested so, but even if they could. Hopefully, the brewing battle towards the inner system would keep the Aliens occupied. The unknown fleet continued its escape but turned its weapons towards the approaching War-barques. Lances and Macro turrets lit up the void and struck the Rangda ships. Now Fenj could get a proper view of the enemy's shields. He half expected the Rangda ships to open up and swallow the oncoming fire or some equally bizarre defense. Instead, the void around the first Rangda ships rippled with impact. Shells that hit this strange shimmer slowed and in some cases stopped. Projected energy refracted in useless spurts of light and radiation.
An unbidden memory passed into Fenj's awareness. The strange refraction reminded him of Slaugth shielding. The way the light was torn asunder and dissipated was practically identical. He had heard rumors of a connection between the Rangda and Slaugth but never paid much attention to them. Reaching up Fenj idly traced the exposed bone of his face, a painful reminder of the Walking Worms.
The other shield, or manifestation of the same shield. Which slowed down the kinetic weapons was unknown. A battle report he had read about an Armada skirmish with a Rangda Spoor Vessel mentioning something called "Gel Fields." Now he had an image to go with the brief report, the few survivors of the encounter had provided little information.
Chasing after the wounded and out of formation Imperials, the Rangda started to close the distance. The Xeno's armor had been exposed, now to see their fangs. The War-barques did not keep Fenj waiting long. A dozen cogitators and data-linked servitors across the bridge started to scream warnings. As a gout of radiation streamed from the leading Randa ships. Even from this distance the Auger and Auspex were howling warnings about the radiation levels. The Rangda had fired what amounted to a small Gamma-ray Burst at the fleeing Imperials.
The effects were instantaneous once the energized stream hit a lagging transport vessel. Punching right through its shields and almost instantly frying every circuit on the Imperial ship. Nosteroi flinched horribly shortly after impact and Fenj imagined the Librarian had felt the psychic death screams of the crew. Today he had no pity for his friend's burden. Whatever the Solomonari had hidden from him would be exposed. For now, they had to focus on the battle raging before them.
Without its plasma drives to increase its momentum the rad-soaked transport ship fell further behind its fellows. Drifting through the encroaching Rangda fleet. As the Alien ships passed by a dozen long plastic tendrils struck out from a few of the larger War-barques. Striking the corpse ship like a parasitic wasp laying its eggs, before continuing towards the next target. The rad blasts were obscene acts of destructive power. Weapons capable of such gamma saturation were rare to the point of forbidden across the Imperial military. Only the First Legion and some particularly insane Magos use these weapons. Then only in extreme circumstances. Fenj doubted much could survive such a weapons use, this was a tool of extermination and insanity.
The battle continued as half a dozen more Imperial ships died to Rangda weapons. The Gamma-Gout weapon was only part of the Alien's arsenal. Much of it defied Fenj's understanding of war, but that did not surprise him. The eternal problem when dealing with Xeno's. Alien minds could dream up and produce horrors beyond mankind's comprehension or imagination. The Mechanicum would have challenges dissecting any captured Rangda weaponry. Some of the tools of destruction were within his frame of context or at least somewhat familiar. Shadow Blasters that combined Radiation, Sorcery, Grav, and Necrotic energy in a dreadful slurry of death. Boney spines that spat globs of milky fluid at incoming missiles. Long rubbery tendrils that acted as both grappling spike and boarding pod. Along with a whole host of similarly profane weapons.
With grim satisfaction, Fenj watched the first Rangda casualty. A War-barque overextended and found itself surrounded by a swarm of escorts and cruisers. Its shields taxed by the small ship's fire, and its body burst by a well-timed broadside of plasma shells. Some of the Xeno ships larger chunks wriggled for a few moments before becoming still.
"Good," thought Fenj "They can die well enough, but how to make them afraid?"
Another two Rangda ships soon fell, but the battle went poorly. The Worm-Ship had finished vomiting up its passengers and shut. Awaiting the battles outcome or new travellers. It took multiple Imperial ships sustained coordinated fire to break a single Rangda vessel. And the Xenos outnumbered the dwindling Imperial force three to one. It was an ugly decision but letting these scattered Imperials die to preserve the Expedition Fleet was the right call. Hopefully, once the battle was finished the Rangda would return to whatever infested system they originated from.
Less than a hundred tattered Imperial ships dueled close to three hundred Rangda ships across the inner Dyatlov-Rho system. The relatively ordered formations of the chase were abandoned as the Void came alight with savage close quarter combat. Fenj and every other officer in the hidden Night Lord strike fleet observed the battle with predatory focus. Any weakness or opening would not go unnoticed. One detail that stuck out to Fenj was the lack of variety in weight classes among the War-barques. While he noticed at least a dozen different distinct breeds of Xeno ships. Each combing flesh, metal, plastic and other more esoteric materials in a skeletal mixture of arthropod and cnidaria life. They were all roughly the same size. About equivalent to an Imperial cruiser, but likely with less mass considering the Barques shape. This might be an exploitable weakness. The mixing of different vessel classes provided many advantages. Combined arms warfare stands supreme, even in the void.
A sudden Vox hail caught the Chapter Masters' attention. It was from a Star Galleon leading part of the scattered resupply fleet. As the battle raged across the inner system, a section of the Rangda fleet and fleeing Imperials had split from the larger warzone. Engaging in a running battle that was coming perilously close to the Star Galleon and other elements of the resupply fleet. Detection by either side of the battle might prove disastrous. The hidden ships would need to move and do so subtly.
"Tell them to wait until either side suffers a major casualty. Use the ensuing chaos and fallout to escape to the far side of the Gas Giant they hide within."
Not an ideal plan but one that could work. Almost on cue, shortly after the message was relayed. An Imperial Cruiser exploded in a blinding rupture of its Plasma Drive. The Cruisers engines created a momentary second star in Dyatlov-Rho. Launching the burning ships husk into the nearby gravity well. All while its crew fired its weapons with the desperation of the already dead. A trio of Rangda War-barques swooped down towards the Imperial ship, pounding it with Shadow Blasts and Gamma Bursts. Reeling from impacts and unable to reorient itself. The dying Cruiser spun into the gravity well and finally exploded in a storm of plasma and shrapnel.
As the explosion lit up the Vindication's sensors, Fenj could only watch as a cloud of debris, plasma-fire and munitions struck one of the Expedition Fleets ships. The Light Cruiser had been trailing behind the Star Galleon and its fellow resupply ships. Acting as a scout and rear-guard. Poor fortune bombarded the Light Cruiser hiding deep in the Gas Giants clouds. Quickly its voids were overwhelmed and the unmistakable signs of impact were apparent even from distant Auspex readings. The horrified silence of the Bridge was broken when Nestoroi spoke.
"Man makes plans, and the Gods laugh. What an apt saying for our galaxy. They will find us now."
As predicted the three Rangda ships noticed the Light Cruiser and turned their dark attention to it. Firing a wave of slower-moving Rad weapons. Fenj wondered if they were macro-canon equivalents, but that was something for later consideration. For now more pressing concerns kept Fenj's attention. The Auspex cried out as it sensed a minor gravitic disturbance ripple out from the Rangda ships. The wave quickly fading into the Void but its purpose became clear. The War-barques turned their attention to the hidden Imperial ships and opened fire. It was a form of Gravity Radar, and it had found elements of the Resupply Fleet.
Cursing a string of particularly foul underhive oaths, Fenj started barking orders. "We strike now before they have time to realize we are here. Contact the Resupply Fleet, I want them moving to the Mandeville point and jumping as quickly as they can. Night Lords! We will buy them time to escape and see if we can make these Xeno's scream!"
Across the Dyatlov-Rho system, six different strike-forces slipped out of cover and headed for their chosen targets. Flying silently through the void like great Chiropteran horrors. The Vindication and its accompanying ships moved quickly. A pocket of Rangda ships were pushing the refugee Imperial ships. Leaving their backs exposed, and ready for a salvo of Torpedos and Macro shells. The Night Lord ships were fast, very fast. Agile too, capable of cutting through the void like some gothic knife the size of a city. Hiding behind inverted Void shields they proved undetectable. Despite himself, Fenj felt a cruel smirk cross his ruined face as the first volley hit home.
Slower and less accurate, but subtler than Lances. The kinetic bombardment of the Night Lord ships struck. Instantly five of the War-barques died in a shower of explosions. Ripping the enemy vessels apart and leaving twitching skeletal remains in the Night Lords' wake. All across the system, five other Night Lords forces hit as well. Each punching a hole in the Rangda line of battle before fading back into the crimson void. Rad warnings flashed as the dying screams of the Rangda ships spilled into the system. Not enough to effect any Imperial ship worth its metal, but a grim warning of the War-barques weapons.
Using the provided distraction the Resupply fleet erupted from the gas giants' depths. A great school of surfacing leviathans. Adding their own fire power against the Rangda. The Xenos seemed to barely realize a new threat had appeared when an entire Expedition Fleet erupted out of the ammonia clouds. Fenj and his Battle-Brothers would not give the Rangda time to realize what was occurring. The Vindication's battlegroup swooped in for a second pass. Picking off some War-barques starting to turn towards the Resupply fleet.
Steadily both Resupply and Refugee Fleets moved towards the Mandeville point. The beleaguered Imperials who the Rangda originally hunted. Using the opportunity provided to escape. In a few quick strikes the Xeno's were put on the defensive. Now it was time for the Night Lords to do what they were created for. Sowing fear, chaos, and confusion among mankind's enemies.
Loosening their formation, the VIII Legion battle groups started pushing limits. Hunter squads of Warships dove between Rangda ships, finding the foes limits. So far the Rangda had not used the Gravity Radar again. Perhaps it was a limited resource or simply extremely costly. Either way, the advantage went to the Night Lords. Flitting between the gaps in the Xeno formation, the Night Lords raised merry hell. Dodging alien point defense and other weapons. Fenj could swear he heard his Battle-Brother Orchilo of the Dying Sun laughing maniacally as that ship dove between two War-barques. Baiting them into opening fire on each other. Amusing but now was not the time for such pursuits. They needed to keep the Rangda distracted and off-balance.
So far the refugee and Resupply fleets were making good progress. A few casualties among the Refugees attempting to disentangle from unwinnable battles. The first Night Lord loss had also occurred. An escort in the third battlegroup died when a swarm of the slower rad weapons locked onto it. Homing in and striking the ship. No terrible drive-core detonation but an eerie silence as the ship went dark after the bombardment. Fenj had no desire to become more acquainted with these kinetic Rangda weapons. Rad-soaked missiles of uncertain potential it seemed. A series of new messages reached him. The Resupply fleet had made contact with the tattered Imperial refugees and were coordinating an escape. It seemed the rescued fleet was furious that the Night Lords had waited so long to aid but were willing to swallow that anger long enough to evade the Rangda.
As the Night Lords attacked the Rangda they made sure to constantly change their pattern of offense. Shifting from tight-knit squads designed to strike devastating blows, to chaotic swarms meant to harass and intercept. Much to Fenj's annoyance, the Rangda were starting to catch on. Half a dozen more VIII Legion ships died from mistimed attacks, poor luck, or the enemy's skill. The advantage given by their surprise attack was becoming negligible. To the Xeno's credit, they reacted quickly and had turned their attention towards the Night Lords. The VIII Legion would pay in blood giving both Imperial fleets time to escape.
"Eighty-Four percent of the Resupply Fleet and large elements of the rogue fleet present at Mandivillie point. Cogitators and Tactica predicting Hundred percent within the next bell." Chimed a mortal Comm officer. Yelling to be heard over the clamor of claxons and hurried activity.
Good, they would only need to keep the Rangda distracted a bit longer. Then their charges would be marginally safer. Beginning a whole new set of challenges. How would the Strike Fleets of the VIII Legion escape? Well Fenj thought, If his Brothers were good at anything it would be fleeing when the opportunity arose. Normally they would use Nostoroi's sight to ensure a successful escape. The events of this battle were proving anything but normal.
Glancing over at his Brother, Fenj met the Solomonari's eyes for a brief second. He expected shame or avoidance there. Instead, Nostoroi met Fenj's stare with a look of resigned sadness. A look that was accompanied by another telepathic message from the Librarian. Fenj was sorely tempted to refuse the psychic link but pragmatism won out against bitter distrust.
+ "The gift of our Genefather is so misunderstood Master Fenj. Most of our brothers, yourself included, believe it to be foresight. Thinking we merely peer into the Warp like the Angels or Xeno seers. I wish our gift was something so banal as that. Tell me Brother, what did you see when the visions took you?"+
Fenj wanted to shout, to grab the insufferably vague Librarian's skull and take an eye. They did not have time for this, a battle waged around them. A battle that quickly grabbed Fenj's attention as a Nightlord light cruiser detonated in an iridescent tablou across Dyatlov-Rho. Framing the system and its occupants in a single moment of white light. A moment familiar to Fenj. The Chapter Master's eyes widened as he felt anomalous memories and reality slots together. Before him was one of the seemingly nonsense visions he had suffered through. The vision came true before him, and his mind dredged up terrible sights yet-to-be.
+ " We do not see the future through the Warp like a petty psychic seer. We see time as our Liege does. Not as a river that we hope to guide ourselves along. But as an Ocean that stretches out in every direction. We do not see what could be, we see what is. Even if what is, is not yet now. In those moments of mind-breaking awareness, we see the curve of time in totality. A sight more than capable of breaking even our augmented minds. I know it wears on our genefather, who can use both methods of foresight. The secret of the Solomonari is not triggering these visions, but finding details within them while maintaining a semblance of sanity."+
Fenj did not have time to process and understand this supposed revelation about his Legion. He did not care about some supposed atemporal sight gifted by the Emperor. A snarling retort to the unwanted lecture grew in Fenj's throat. To castigate his subordinate and pull the truth from him. The Chapter Master hadn't even opened his scarred mouth when another telepathic message struck him.
+ " I tell you this not to irritate you Brother. In contrast I tell you, so you might understand and be at peace. Our sight is not perfect, the meddling of the Warp can disturb it, but it's close to perfect. I promise you Brother, there was no other option. The opportunity to escape long past by. Mankind must bleed in this system. Better we pay that bloody price than the IX Legion in entirety."+
"What are you saying? What have you done, Nostoroi?!" Barked Fenj. An armored gauntlet reaching out to grip the Librarian. Every eye on the bridge flicked from their duties to watch the Chapter Master. Exactly the kind of distraction Fenj had hoped to avoid.
+ " I've seen the future, and so have my brothers in the Solomonari and Librarius. We all see the same thing. We lose this battle, but mankind wins the war. It's easy to sacrifice a pawn in a game of regicide, except when you are the pawn." +
Eyes alight with fury and dawning horror Fenj wrapped his gauntlets around his advisor's throat. The Solomonari went limp, not responding to the attack. Resigned to whatever fate he seemed to know was coming. A dozen screaming Voxlines, panicked shouts from the bridge crew, and a distant explosion in the Void pulled Fenj's attention back to the battle. The Comms officer shouted into the din, getting the Chapter Masters attention.
"One of the refugee ships just opened fire on the resupply fleet! The Valiant Steel is gone!"
Location: Stellar Glory EF-89 Star Galleon in the Dyatlov-Rho system.
Date: 893.M30 (Shortly before the Valiant Steel's destruction.)
Captain Henrietta Maevish tensed her grip on the command throne. She watched the ragtag collection of Imperial ships approach her vessel through the viewport. They were so damn close. Within cosmic spitting distance of the Mandeville point. With the Night Lords keeping the Xeno's busy, escape would be possible. The only thing preventing the Stellar Glory and the rest of the Resupply Fleet from leaving was elements of the bloody cowards that had brought the Aliens here in the first place. No, that was not fair. She had seen the Auger readings on the Worm… thing. If separated from the rest of the Crusader Fleet, then running from that abomination was the best option.
That did not change the fact they currently delayed their escape. Mass warp-jumps could not be done without coordination. It was easy for a single misaligned or poorly navigated ship to smash into others while in the Warp. At best it could knock a vessel off course. At worst, damage the ship or its Gellar field. An easy mistake that the Imperial Armada had long dealt with. Simple communication between all jumping ships could alleviate virtually any danger. So when it became clear the Refugee ships would be joining the evacuation, the Expedition Fleet had sent hails. Hails quickly returned by about half of the ragged Imperial fleet but ignored by the other half.
Scores of more damaged ships spread out across the Retreating Imperials did not respond to any communication. Vox, astropathic, even a few more exotic types employed by the Mechanicum. Every scan they employed showed them as badly damaged but still functional Imperial ships. Psychic probes had trouble locking on, but that could be caused by a depleted crew, or problems with the Warp Drive and Gellar Field. To have one or two ships like this after presumably heavy fighting and a desperate retreat was understandable. This many though? It raised the hair on Henrietta's neck. Something wasn't right. They could attempt a jump but she did not like the idea of a small fleet of silent ships rattling about in the Warp Current with them. A feeling that her fellow captains and superiors seemed to share.
Drumming her fingers rapidly on the polished metal of the throne, she barked an order at the Comms officer.
"Mister Hart, send another wide-band hail to the nearest mute ships." Pausing for a moment and deliberating, she continued "Ensure it includes a targeting warning and friend/foe queries."
The next logical step but a grim one. The mute ships would find a way to respond, cease their advance towards the Expedition Fleet or risk being fired upon. As reports came in about more Night Lord casualties it became clear they had little time. As Henrietta feared, still no response, and the refugee fleet only got closer. They did receive some questioning hails from refugee ships asking why they had their comrades targeted.
The Stellar Glory was neither fast nor particularly well-armed. Its nature as a Star Galleon was in its reliability and durability, not its firepower. That made it one of the reasons Captain Henrietta Maevish's ship found itself positioned close to the refugee ships and slightly behind its siblings in the Expedition Fleet. This vessel could take significant punishment, and even deal some in return if truly pressed to. It and some faster strike cruisers made up the rearguard. As the senior captain of the detachment, it fell to Captain Maevish to take a course of action.
With no clear options, she made her choice. "Vox all responding refugee ships. Tell them to group up and separate from the mute ships. They will jump with us and the others will jump after us separately. "
Not a perfect plan but a passable one. The message filtered from the fleet and after some hesitation, the responding ships complied. Breaking ranks quicker than she expected. Perhaps she was not the only one with apprehensions about the silent vessels.
"Have the Valiant Steel move to meet them. Cover their retreat and prepare to respond if the mute ships try anything." The fast Cruiser would make a good herding hound, moving the tattered flock away from their sick brethren.
The Valiant Steel broke ranks and prowled towards the incoming fleet. It lacked the inverted void shields the Night Lords favored but its design and crew earned the vessel a reputation for speed and stealth. Cutting through the Void, the Cruiser was soon within boarding distance of the responding fleet. In response some of the mute ships accelerated, moving to follow their escaping kin. Valiant Steel moved to intercept, broadcasting overt target locks. Hoping to warn off the mute vessels. No such luck, drastic measures were needed. Henrietta swallowed down bile and gave the Valiant Steel permission to fire.
It never got the opportunity. Streams of hard radiation poured from the nearest mute ships. The concentrated bombardment quickly overloaded the Valiant Steel's shields. Leaving the vessel naked to the blistering fire of monochromatic energy that followed the Gamma pulse. There was no time to issue a warning, no time for the cruiser to strike back. The ship went dark, its systems and crew burned out by the entropic weapon Imperials would learn to hate, Rangda Shadow Blasters.
The mute ships soon turned their fire onto the rest of the refugee ships. The Vox exploded with frantic confused hails and reports. Henrietta stared wide-eyed. The sensors had detected nothing and still didn't. Only registering the energy attacks once they had already fired. Something was very wrong. Pulling herself up from the Command throne with a snarl. The Captain barked "All ships open fire on the silent ships. They are not human, kill without mercy!"
The tension of uncertainty and mistrust snapped and quickly replaced by the stress of battle. Valiant Steel and its fellow rearguard moved into position. Opening fire on the mute ships. A lucky shot from a Cruiser in the advancing formation tore a chunk off a mute ship. Revealing the milky-white plastic meat of Rangda design. Parasite ships, another danger dreamed up by perfidious alien intellects.
A million questions flew through Captain Maevish's mind. What were these strange vessels wearing the husks of Imperial vessels? Why didn't scans show any sign of this oddity? When were these ships hollowed and infested? A bevy of damnable questions, but ones meant for other servants of the Emperor to answer. The only questions that mattered to her were quite simple. How do we kill the enemy and survive the process?
The Stellar Glory and its companions in the rearguard formed a line of battle and traded fire with the Rangda Parasite Ships. A Star Galleons' shields are designed to take heavy blows and the Glory proved itself again and again. Radiation and Entropic bolts enough to kill smaller ships fizzled against the layered Void shields. Imperial fire was focused on a few Rangda ships individually. Maevish didn't want to take any risks, and ordered all ships under her command to make sure the Xenos were really dead while also providing a narrow line of fire, one that the escaping refugee ships could evade. The Imposters would burn, but the rearguard still had a duty to fulfill. In contrast to the Imperial technique, the Rangda spread out their assault in a steady bombardment. Perfect for picking off weaker fleeing ships. Henretta bit back a grimace as she saw ragged Imperial ships go dark. Soon most of the refugees would be behind her battle line.
With fewer targets and more distance between themselves and easy prey. The Parasite ships turned more of their fire onto the Stellar Glory. Their shields held, but the radiation counters started to shriek. Decaying atoms smeared around the vessel bombarded it with a steady stream of radiation. Gene-therapy would be required for much of the ship's important crew. Sterilization would be the only fate for the unlucky and unworthy. Another shrieking claxon alerted the bridge crew. One of the secondary Void shield generators had suffered damage. Overtaxed, the techno-arcane systems had given out. The Tech-Priests were confident they could fix it but said it would take time. The sustained concentrated fire was not something they could handle for much longer.
Something new flickered across the Auspex display and a moment of worry worked its way up Henretta's spine. Fading as she recognized the signature of an inverted Void Shield being replaced by standard defenses. A squad of Night Lord ships emerged from the darkness of the space and struck at the Parasite ships. Vox hails from the lead Strike Cruiser reached the Stellar Glory.
The gravelly underhive accent of a Night Lord had never been a comforting thing for Henretta, even after years of serving with the VIII Legion. Today might be the first exception to that rule. As the maniac voice of one of the Emperor's cruelest Angels echoed across the Vox.
"This is Brother-Captain Ravanos of the Darkened Blade. Run along mortals, this is Night Lord's work. These Xenos have been Judged, Weighed, and found Wanting!"
The Vox cut off just as the start of a mad cackle escaped the Astartes on the other end. Gesturing to her crew and opening her own communications with her fellow captains. Henretta prepared her next move.
"As the Brother-Captain says. Let us leave this engagement. Keep us between the battle and the refugees. Keep up fire on the Xeno's as we retreat. Any distraction we can provide will let Cruze's sons slip in a knife."
With the Night Lords reaving between the parasitic ships, they had an opportunity. One they would not waste. Leaving the battle the rearguard and refugees joined up with the rest of the Expedition Fleet. They had barely reached the edge of the Mandiville point when Jump data poured through the Comm, and hundreds of Warp Drives ignited. Quickly joining them the intact and now swollen Expedition Fleet 89 (Resupply Division) prepared to leave Dyatlov-Rho. Fleeing the Rangda and the terrible worm-ship that pierced the void.
The first Warp rift opened, created by a hulking Forge-Ship of Mars. Soon dozens more split the fabric of reality and bled impossible colors. Warp-shutters started to shut across the fleet and Henrietta found herself silently thanking the human minds that had given her the tools and training to survive this nightmare. She took one last look out at the assembled fleet. Working hard not to glance at the crawling chaos visible in the nearest entrance to the Warp. Even in the Materium and at a great distance, gazing upon the Sea of Souls could prove destructive.
Observing the fleet her eyes caught on one of the Refugee ships. It had not started up its Warp Drive, and instead moved closer to the fleet's middle. After a moment Henrietta was about to turn to her Comn officer. Hoping to signal the strange ship and get an answer. She got one before she even fully turned her head. The vetted and contacted Refugee ship, whose captain she had spoken to personally, shed its skin.
Shedding its skin might not be the right words. The husk around the hidden Parasite Ships exploded outward in a wave of mega-shrapnel. Striking nearby ships with literal kilometers of warped slag. Another of the Refugee ships detonated, then another. At least a dozen erupting in shot-cannon blasts capable of crippling Imperial vessels. Freed from the camouflage the Parasite Ships opened fire. The trap had been two-fold. Henrietta swore violently as a spear of Adamantium that had once been part of a Cruisers keel struck the Stellar Glory. The ship shook and alarms wailed. One, in particular, set itself apart. It's horrible keening something all who sail the Void long learned to fear above all else. The Gellar Field had failed.
Hundreds of Warp rifts dotted the Void around them and the Stellar Glory's own Drive had been ignited and started to cut open reality. The ship was badly damaged and ripping open a path to its own death. Recovering quickly the Captain shouted orders. They would abort the Warp Drive's ignition and get the Gellar Field operational again. It was then when death struck the bridge. Mechanisms and Cogitators sparked and a few crew members bent over in pain. A metallic taste and the smell of burning meat filled the ship's bridge. Shakily Captain Henrietta Maevish raised her hand to her face. Feeling the blisters of radiation burns raising along her skin. The great mechanisms of an Imperial Ship continued as the Bridge and most of the vessel's upper decks burned alive with flames on the atomic level.
The Warp Drive finished its task and opened up reality. As blood vessels ripped open and skin sloughed off her. The Stellar Glory's Captain stared into the Warp. . Her ship, its crew and her were slowly moving towards the open maw of Chaos. Fresh meat thrown to hungry things circling in the dark. With fingers already burnt and rotting, Henrietta reached down to her sidearm. Death was inevitable but she would not die in the domain of Thirsting Gods. A final act of desperate fearful defiance.
Location: The Dyatlov-Rho System
The Stellar Glory fell into Hell. Its crew damned, and its metal body destined to haunt the galaxy as part of a space hulk. Nobody except a few attentive scanner-techs noticed the tragedy. For another horror had joined the nightmare brewing across Dyatlov-Rho. The destruction wreaked on the Expedition Fleet even proved secondary as the Worm shifted. Its foul head, covered in unblinking eyes and plastic-organic stitching bulged grotesquely. Preparing to split open again, to let something new arrive. The bleeding wound in space/time it stuck through ripped open even further. As some horrible shape pushed itself along the Worm and prepared to enter the system.
Splitting open, and unfurling fleshy apertures, the Worm-Ship prepared to disgorge its newest cargo. Cargo that answered a question posed by Chapter Master Fenj. The Night Lord commander had wondered why the War-Barques differed little in tonnage. The lack of difference was for the same reason Imperial escorts and strike craft vary little in size. These War-Barques were not War-Ships as the Imperium assumed. They were little symbiotes that flitted around a leviathan, protecting and serving it. A leviathan now revealed to humanity. Expedition Fleet 89 faced a Rangda War-Moon.
The swollen gullet of the Worm-Ship finished discharging the Moon, vomiting up the planetoid like a piece of rancid meat. Megastructures were not uncommon sights in the Galaxy, no matter what race created them. Millions of years of intelligent life attempting to surpass nature resulted in wonders and horrors on a planetary scale. Humanity itself was no stranger to their creation, having created moon-sized ships in its past. The Phalanx of the VII Legion was a surviving example of such a behemoth. Beautiful and terrible, the Phalanx and other human Megastructures inspire awe. They were physical manifestations of humanity's power and purpose. It makes sense that Xenos creations on that scale would similarly reflect their mind and culture.
That wretched alien intelligence must exist to design, let alone create the War-Moon, and its creation hinted at many terrible things about the Rangda. The descriptors picked by the Imperium to describe the Rangda mobile battle station are accurate yet deliberately vague. Yes a War-Moon reaches a size comparable to many moons and planetoids. Roughly a thousand kilometers in radius and spherical, it possessed a myriad of weapon systems, some reaching the size of a small hive-spire along with literally millions of Rangda crew and docking points for hundreds of War-barques show what it was designed for, war.
The descriptor of War-Moon did not convey the sheer alien wrongness of the battle station. They are not a hollowed out and repurposed planetoid like the Orkish ships, but a wholly artificial creation of Xenos make. A biomechanical chimera of flesh, plastic, metal and other more profane components. The War-Moon's surface was a labyrinthian mass of grotesque figures and shapes. Like the vivisected innards of some primordial god-thing cast in plastic-flesh, and smeared across a world. It defied both symmetry and true randomness. Patterns of tumorous growths and metallic shapes covered it. Never quite consistent enough to make a semblance of sense, but still showing the signs of some unknown intent and purpose.
For a few brief moments the War-Moon hung in the void, floating away from the Worm-Ship, its albino surface silent and unmoving. The Moon seemed to lack any method of propulsion, its surface absent the craterous engine pits required to move something of its size. Even if it used the strange radiation propulsion of the Rangda, an alien parody of the Ion Engines favored in smaller craft. The War-Moon should show signs of those machines. Yet as if the idea of including anything remotely familiar in the War-Moon's construction was intolerable. It moved by writhing across the Void like some gelatinous fish of Old Earth. Continent sized pieces of plastic-flesh swelled and twitched, dragging the War-Moon forwards through some alien mechanism. It wriggeled through space, pulling itself across hard-vacuum like an amoeba in fluid.
Swarms of war-barques, some detaching from the War-Moon, others leaving the ongoing battle flitted around it. Screening the leviathan from any enemy foolish enough to get close. Something the Night Lords could not even think to do, let alone attempt. There was chaos across Dyatlov-Rho. In a few moments the tide of the battle turned completely. Explosions wracked the Resupply Fleet, throwing its desperate exodus into question. Imperial ships opened fire on eachother out of sheer startled horror. Many of the now undeniably suspicious Refugee ships broadcasted desperate hails and vox-codes. Only a small number of those who made it to the jump point revealed themselves as parasite ships. The majority claimed innocence and humanity. Claims that fell upon deaf ears.
Guns opened up across the Resupply Fleet. No more chances were given. If a ship was remotely suspected of harboring Xenos parasites it would die. Under the bombardment more parasite ships were exposed. Their stolen skin ripped from them, and their bulbous fleshy forms blasted to milky ash. Other ships pleaded innocence and mercy as they were torn asunder. Auger readings showed no abnormalities in the majority of executed ships. They spilled their guts into the Void, revealing themselves as humans in death. An ugly truth that would be hidden from many. To die in service to mankind is one thing. To be cut down by your own people in paranoid wrath is another.
Wounded and shocked, the Resupply Fleet resumed its escape attempt. Elements of the fleet had already jumped, many to their deaths. Still some might be lucky to arrive intact. The evacuation would continue, but gone was the opportunity for any semblance of an orderly retreat. This would be a rout, clumsy and ill planned. One that must still be defended at all costs. Normally it would fall to the Night Lords to torment and kill fleeing foes, not protect them. This was not the type of warfare Konrad Curze's sons preferred. But to think they are helpless outside their element of terror and pain would be a gross miscalculation. They are the Emperor's Space Marines, and war, no matter the type, was the reason for their existence.
The VIII Legion forces recovered quickly from the shocking arrival of the War-Moon and trap sprung at the Mandeville point. Night Lord ships pulling away from whatever skirmish they found themselves in and regrouping. It became clear to Chapter Master Fenj and his fellow officers that the Legion's favored methods of engagement were impractical. The Night Lords would need to adapt quickly if anything would be salvaged from the battle. Soon messages in VIII Legion Battle Cant jumped between ships. The eclectic mix of Terran underhive slang, shared references and foul humor was virtually indecipherable to any native gothic speaker. No more chances would be taken.
Orders came in Battle Cant. Roughly half of the Night Lords fleet, the more experienced ships present, received commands from Master Fenj. "Show the Sump-Humper your bellies. Give the starch-eaters a skirt flash and make them squeal", while the other half received orders to "mind the Midden and bite leather. Hold till Magie and then earn your cuts.
The first group would dive head first into the Rangda fleet and present an easy target. All while keeping something special in store. The second group would escort the evacuating ships and skirmish with any Rangda that got close. Then join the first group when the Resupply Fleet had successfully escaped. The Vindication and its escorts would lead the first group. Pushing forward with a gamble from a madman's mind.
Location: The Vindication, Night Lord Strike Cruiser at head of VIII Battlegroup
Master Tiberiu Fenj watched through the Vindication's view ports as the War-Moon gathered its fleets to it. He saw the War-barques swirl around the biomechanical tumor of a planetoid, moving like swarming insects, with patterns that drew the eye and turned the stomach. Smaller craft joined the Barques, squat things similar to a parasite ships true form except more compact. Like they had not stretched themselves out to fill up a ships husk. Soon a shifting cloud of xenos ships filled the Void around the War-Moon. At least four hundred ships, not even counting the War-Moon and whatever secrets it held. Watching the strange dance the Rangda ships performed, a flash of insight struck Fenj. Experience, mixed with his Legion's gift, told him what he was watching. This was an intimidation display. The Rangda were using the time required for the War-Moon to awake and move into position to play mind games.
This was comforting, it was inefficient and alien, but hinted at something Fenj could use. They were attempting to scare the Expedition Fleet. These Xenos knew what fear was and attempted to use it. This was good. The psychological impact of the War-Moon could not be understated. Superweapons are often more valuable for the shock and terror they introduce than the actual combat value. Yet the Xenos sought to increase the tension instead of pressing the advantage presented by the Parasite Ships attack. The Night Lords intervention in rescuing the refugee fleet was unexpected and shocking. The Rangda had probably intended to use the infiltrated fleet to get deeper into Imperial territory or another strategic goal. Fenj and his brothers had forced them to waste that advantage. Wrecking merry hell on the Xeno Fleet after coming out of nowhere. The Rangda did not know if the Imperials had another play to make, they had brought the War-Moon as insurance and now prepared for his move.
The Rangda were afraid, or at least nervous, expecting the Imperials to have another dagger waiting. These Xenos, these Cerebvoric horrors had spent years already fighting the Imperium of Mankind. Years fighting Primarchs, two demigods gifted with precognitive abilities and a skill at shock warfare. Twisting his mouth in something approaching a smile Fenj whispered to himself. "Thank you my Lord Father, and Lord Uncle. Now it is time to cast the bones and make them bleed."
Fenj turned his attention to the prone form of Nosteroi. The Chapter Master had cast the Solomonari down violently, nearly hard enough to injure even an Astartes bones. Not letting his iron-hard gaze waver he addressed the Librarian. "Is this why you misled me old friend? I cannot forgive you but I can start to understand. What web have you and your ilk woven?"
The Solomonari started to pull himself up and reached out with his mind. With an effort of will, Fenj batted away the telepathic request and growled "No, no more games. Speak truth with your tongue, as men are meant to."
Nosteroi spared a questioning glance at the bridge crew. He felt uncomfortable sharing the truth. Too bad, thought Fenj. He had his chance to be honorable with this, Now the truth would come out, pulled free if need be.
Speaking in his grating rasp Nosteroi spilled his secrets "We saw the path ahead of us. My colleagues and I, and we made a choice. Our struggles and death here in this system could have been avoided, but in doing so we would damn many others in our place. The carnage those Parasite ships might have inflicted in Imperial space is just the tip of the proverbial sword. A blade we might impale ourselves upon to save others. Is that not why we exist and the Imperium's armies exist? To die in place of others. We sacrifice ourselves upon the altar of war to save those we protect. I'm sorry Tiberiu but the pawn cannot know it is a pawn. I could not ask you to willingly lead your subordinates into the jaws of death."
A quick boot to the gut knocked Nosteroi down again. Now Fenj stood over him, ceramite scraping against ceramite. The cold blood-fury of the Night Lords filled the Chapter Masters eyes. Like a carcharodon of Old Earth's darkest seas entering a frenzy. "You dare Nosteroi? You dare to assume cowardice or incompetence from me? I expected more from you! Denying me the knowledge to make the choice. By the Emperor, you denied me the knowledge OF a choice. This is the mistake of your kind. Knowing the future makes you forget the present."
A swift and brutal kick knocked Nosteroi over, the Librarian unresponsive to the abuse. Firm hands grabbed the shamed and castigated Nosterori and lifted him up. Face to face with Fenj. Nosterori resisted the urge to turn away. Fury, hurt, and a deep seated malice boiled below his commanding officer's face. With a final growl Fenj spoke quietly. "No more lies brother, do not disappoint or mislead me again. We will face death with honor and hate, join me in facing our end with drawn blades."
Nosterori nodded and felt himself smile. Not the saddened grimace of a martyr, the likes of which decorated his face for months. Instead, the wild-eyed malice of a Night Lord's grin. Pragmatism and predatory cruelty define the VIII Legion. A brotherhood of darkness designed to strike at the enemies weakness and inflict terror. For warriors such as them a suicidal battle did not mark some glorious last stand or valiant bravery. It meant failure, foolishness and ignoble defeat. Any good predator does not let itself be driven into a corner. Yet when driven into a hopeless situation, subtlety and pragmatism can be cast into the void. The Rangda had the Night Lords cornered, outnumbered and outgunned. But the Xenos did not know that, a doubt Fenj would take full advantage of.
Location: The Dyatlov-Rho System.
Date: 893.M30 (Shortly after Chapter Master Fenj gave his orders)
The Vindication and its fellows in the first Battlegroup charged the War-Moon. Accelerating their ships to their maximum and Void-Flicking as they moved. A strange strategy the II, VIII and XIX Legions had each indivudally developed. Of rapidly shifting Void shields between normal and inverted during the lead up to an attack. Risky and potentially disastrous if mistimed, but capable of befuddling scanners and disorienting the enemy. Never was the full force of Night Lords visible, and they never kept a consistent course. Masking the Imperial's numbers and position. The Rangda expected trickery and more secrets from the Night Lords, it was best the VIII Legion did not disappoint them.
The War-barque screen expanded forward. Thinning itself to cover more territory and better control the Void around the War-Moon. The Xeno megastructure had been unnervingly quiet. It's only activity, the movement of ships too and from its various bays. Aside from its disturbing method of propulsion. Auger probes and overlapping scans gave new insight into that. Powerful gravitic generators dotted the War-Moon's surface. Each at the center of a polyp form that stretched out from the surface and increased its own gravity, while its siblings decreased theirs. Using the War-Moons own mass and space/time's curvature to wriggle through the void.
Stretched out and bristling for an attack the Rangda forces moved towards the remaining Resupply ships. Auspex readings were imprecise but it seemed the Xeno fleet was dividing itself into a great crescent shape. The War-Moon at the center and mixed groups of Barques and Parasites forming AU sized wings on either side. Encirclement tactics are less useful in void warfare, with three dimensions being considered instead of two. That was not to say they were not dangerous. A fleet funneled in any direction by enveloping enemies would find itself easy prey. Something the Night Lords would not let happen. The secondary Battlegroup would deal with the Rangda wings if they got too close, but Fenj doubted that would happen. Guard duty was actually their secondary purpose in hanging back, they would be the Imperials reserves.
Pushing forward and void-flicking as they did the Night Lords ignored multiple feints by the Rangda wings. Attempts to pull them away from their charge and divide their force. The first battle group juked and twisted at every opportunity but did not deviate the course. Burning at full thrust directly at the War-Moon. Realizing this intent, elements of the Rangda fleet moved to intercept. The inner segments of the wings and some of the orbital guards around the Megastructure taking up new positions. The Rangda abandoned any attempts to intimidate or manipulate. The aggression shown by the much smaller and already unpredictable Night Lord fleet could not be ignored or underestimated.
From his Command throne aboard the Vindication, Fenj absorbed the ongoing battle and watched the War-barques move closer and closer. The skeletal, agile things moved with impressive coordination and speed. Yet occasionally Fenj caught glimpses of what he wanted to see. Slight delays in responding to fleet movements, and formations more compact than necessary. The signs of uncertainty and worry. Recognizable across the void and between species by the trained eye of Konrad Cruze's sons. Fenj did not know how the Xenos crewed their ships. Maybe strange alien forms operated a bridge much like his own. Or perhaps the ships were more grown than constructed, its crew akin to organs and symbiotes. No matter, whatever alien intelligence guided the ship wished to live. It could feel fear or something close to it, a weakness to be exploited.
Soon the first Battle group would be within firing distance. Imperial void weapons have better range than Rangda weapons. The unstable nature of radiation cannons forcing the Xenos to medium engagement distance at a minimum. Normally the Night Lords would keep their distance and flay bits off the Rangda fleet. An option limited by the Xeno's superior numbers and the enigmatic War-Moon. So the Imperials pressed forward, but did not neglect the present advantage. Night Lord ships flickered in and out of visibility as some maneuvered to aim their guns as the coming Rangda. Going from a parallel course with the Xenos to perpendicular, without virtually any loss of momentum or direction. Sliding across the void with all guns blazing. A tricky maneuver, one that could easily over tax a ship's gravitational compensators, but if done correctly allowed the full might on an Imperial broadside to strike with the ship still in motion.
Volleys of Macro Shells and Lance strikes filled the void, slamming into the Rangda's shields. The Gel Shields slowed down the Shells, turning ship rending munitions into sluggish hunks of metal. Something the Night Lords now expected, and compensated for. Two-stage detonation Macro Shells are specialized and typically not very cost effective. The piercing power of a normal Macro Cannon combined with the dangers of Space make the bolter-like secondary explosion typically unneeded. That is not to say an enterprising Tech-Priest or few thousand might not be able to convert the standard shells to the two-stage variant with a bit of effort. Something the Rangda learned as the slowed Macro shells exploded in a hail of ultra-dense shrapnel.
The results were not as spectacular as the Imperials had hoped. Resulting mainly in slow motion explosions or otherwise stunted blasts. Some rounds did have the desired effect. Taxing the Gel Shields and even breaking past the strange slowing field. Tearing holes in the Rangda ships and even breaking a few particularly unlucky ones into pieces. Long distant scans showed the still intact but wounded alien ships start to "heal." The plastic flesh oozing over the damage with disturbingly organic movement. Deceive strikes would be needed to ensure the damn Aliens actually died.
The bombardment continued with more Lance strikes and Macrocannon fire hitting true. Cutting holes in the Rangda line of battle. This sweet spot where the Xeno's could not return fire effectively was coming to an end, they would soon be in range of the Rangda's gamma weaponry. Now came time to commit, the void flicking must end and they would dive into the breach. The moment of truth came fare too quickly as the fleet's shields sparked and glowed with impact. Concentrated beams of Gamma radiation punched into the overlapping defenses of each ship. While not much more powerful than a traditional Lance weapon the Gamma Bursts lingered. Each volley leaving trails of radioactive contamination in the void. Turning the space between the fleets into a rad-soaked waste. So far the Night Lords shields held and they pushed forward. The heavy armor and shielding of Astartes vessels protected from the worst of the radioactive storm the ships flew through.
Shadow Blasters and more concentrated Gamma fire started to change that. Unlucky Imperial vessels died as their mechanisms and crew burned with invisible flames. The Rangda were starting to slow, preparing to move into an optimal engagement range. The Imperials did not, pushing forward with seemingly careless abandon. Lance strikes, Gamma Bursts and other weapons streaked through the void as the fleets clashed head on. It would not be long before the Night Lords entered close quarter void battle. Fenj and his fellow officers could see confusion start to sow among the Xeno ships. This was not how humans fought they must have been thinking. Sacrificing the ranged advantage for up close pugilism, this was Orkish and illogical. Distinct from what the Aliens had fought before.
This was the Night Lords presenting their bellies and their claws. Equal parts sign of weakness and threat. The homing rad munitions of the Rangda were soon in use and started to strike Imperial ships. They seemed a cross between torpedo and macro shell, but soaked in radiation like most Rangda weapons. Now came the moment of truth, it would be minutes before the two lines of battle smashed into each other. As far as the Rangda knew this was an attempt at ramming. If they didn't move the Night Lords would literally smash through them, if they did then this brazen assault would get that much closer to the War-Moon. The inevitable problem of super-weapons and megastructures is they can win a battle by their presence but lose a war in their destruction. It was unlikely the Imperials had anything that could truly harm the War-Moon, but battles have been lost because of smaller assumptions.
The Rangda made their decision as the Vindication and its kin came close. Barely moving out of the way, literally scraping by each other in a few cases. The Xeno ships deployed their boarding tentacles, latching onto passing Night Lords with long fleshy tubes. At this distance the Xeno's might have noticed the unusual power consumption and additional shield wrapping around the Night Lord ships. If they had been looking for it, and had not been focused on the lunatic assault of the VIII Legion. Once they had gotten close the Night Lord vessels had taken a risk and diverting power to the Gellar Fields. Virtually pointless in real space, but critical for a Warp Jump, a Micro Warp Jump in fact.
A hundred tiny tears in the fabric of reality ripped open as the Night Lord offensive Battlegroup dived into hell. Dragging Rangda ships in with them. Such a brazen and unplanned micro jump was incredibly dangerous and required the knowledge of countless variables. Or at least the ability to see into the future. One moment the Night Lord fleet was charging past the Rangda line of battle, the next it reappeared in the outer orbit of the War-Moon. Many Imperial ships trailing the severed and twisted remnants of boarding tubes. The Dark Gods do not take kindly to any species that deny them, be that Mankind or Rangda.
Now the Night Lords were where they wanted to be. Within striking distance of the War-Moon, and with the full attention of the Rangda fleet upon them. Torpedoes and munitions rained down from above. Bombarding the War-Moon with Imperial wrath. Forests of nozzular cannons spat globs of off-white fluid into the heavens in an alien equivalent of Flak. Overlapping shields and waves of radiation halted directed energy and confounded cogitators. The scant elements of the attack that made it through the defense struck hard and twisted biomechanical landscapes that quickly healed, but they did strike.
Location: Tyrannos Umbra. Night Lord Battle Cruiser.
Date: 893.M30 (Shortly after the raid on the War-Moon began)
Claxons pulled Brother-Sergeant Lubor Leontiv from his pre-battle meditation as they went through the Battle Cruiser's halls. Something had struck the Tyrannos Umbra. Swiftly clipping his helmet into place, Leontiv scanned the runes lighting up on his tactical display. One of the Rangda rad-blacked torpedoes had made it past the point defense and slammed into the ship's starboard side. Battle damage and possibly active enemy munitions fell under the purview of the Mechanicum and mortal crew, not something an Astartes outside the command crew should be informed about. New data streamed through Leontiv's helmet and he understood why his squad was being summoned. These were not torpedoes, they were boarding pods. The enemy was attempting to board the Tyrannos Umbra
Sergeant Leontiv turned to the squad and growled through the private vox. "Voidsmen patrols are moving to hardpoints around the potential breach" Their armor's virtual map pinged half a dozen locations in a semi-sphere around the boarding pods impact.
"These will be our fall back points and where the line must be held. Squads Averin, Gusev, and Ernet will be joining us. But we are primary defenders and they will be positioned to respond to other potential breaches or cover our slack if we all die" continued the Sergeant, with the typical morose humor of his Legion.
"Command has little go on in tactical data. Let the enemy show their hand before we cut it off. These are Rangda, probably bastard cousins of those walking worm Slaugth, so expect similar foulness and difficulty killing them. Exterminate with extreme prejudice and tag the corpses for burning. Brothers, let's go find out if these xenos breeds can scream!"
Squad Leontiv armed themselves and moved out, exchanging favored weapons for more specialized tools of destruction. Volkite and Flame weapons at range, axes, claws and mauls for melee. Weapons better suited for close quarter combat and not damaging the Void Ship around them. Equipped for battle and finished with final preparations the Astartes moved out. Slipping through the Battle Cruisers bowels with remarkable ease. This is where the Night Lords excelled. They relished skulking in claustrophobic shadows, a predator army unburdened by mercy or honor.
The labyrinthian expanses of an Imperial void ship, especially a warship could be confusing for even an experienced crew. Literally thousands of kilometers of corridor and access ducts snaking through the vessels innards. Squad Leontiv moved through the maze with ease, making excellent time to their destination. Internal sensors fed the enemies location to the Tyrannos Umbra's cogitators, which in turn transmitted the data to the Night Lords, giving them a reasonable estimate of the Rangda boarders' movements. Extreme radiation levels quickly burned out all but the hardiest sensors, resulting in an expanding dead-zone on the Cogitators map. They could know the extent of the enemy's infestation, but not their precise movements. Squad Leontiv moved to intercept one enemy thrust moving towards a Voidsmen hardpoint. The Rangda boarding pod was large enough to be mistaken for a large ordinance shell. There was no telling how many Xenos had gotten on board, but the sensor outages indicated a single large mass moving toward the nearest Imperial defenders. Anomalous sensor pings hinted at other possible scouts and infiltrators moving elsewhere. Voidsmen could hopefully head off this threat before it became too serious. While the Night Lords dealt with the main threat.
Soon the Rangda force would move through an almost empty cargo hold. Clever use of automated bulkheads and the ship's crew had given the Xenos a path of least resistance. Dark, filled with metal crates and plenty of industrial detritus. The Cargo hold would be the Night Lords hunting ground. Squad Leontiv had already taken up positions and prepared a number of surprises for the enemy. They did not have to wait long. The red mass on their helm display would soon reach the main entrance of the Cargo hold. Aside from the low bass hum of the ship, the hold was silent. Silence first broken by the rapidly increasing clicks of armor-held rad-counters. Thousands of years had made the tell-tale crackle of the Giger Counter a universal sign of danger.
Next came the wails. Leontiv at first thought it was displaced air or vent problems caused by the invaders. A low but rising note of anguish echoed down the ship's halls and into the cargo hold. Unified by some unseen torment were a multitude of voices, singing in a choir of pain was the unmistakable keening of human agony, accompanied by other stranger warbles of misery. The screams grew in volume to a near deafening height, the hell-song keeping tempo with the steady click of detected radiation.
Then at long last the enemy came. A tide of bodies poured out of the large transport bulkhead. The ten meter entrance was filled with a teeming mass of limbs. Brother Lubor assumed it was a flesh-crafted horror. A splicing together of meat into one singular tool of destruction. As the river of skin and bone emptied into the cargo hold its nature became apparent. A stampede of withered broken forms driven forward by their sheer weight of numbers. Lubor focused his sight on the mass and soaked in the details. Humans, abhumans and at least half a dozen unknown Xeno species made up the mob. Each naked and covered with radiation burns. The unmistakable stink of dying tissue and iron pouring off them. Rubbery and near translucent skin marked by festering wounds did little to hide strange slithering shapes writhing within. Each of these slaves held an eldritch weapon in hand and were bound by a neural-collar sunken into their flesh.
Neural-Collar, another example of the Imperium giving an accurate but underwhelming name for a Rangda atrocity. Biomechanical flesh plastic protruded from the slave soldiers spine, neck, and skull. Forming a vaguely insectoid construct burrowed into skin and bone. Later dissections and observations would reveal the truth of the Neural-Collars. These were the Rangda slave-soldiers, the lowest of the Xenos castes, more kin to the Khrave then true Rangda. The tortured body the Neural-Collars were bolted onto were nothing but armor and tools. Kept "alive" and moving by worming tendrils. The bodies belonged in a hospice ward in the wake of a reactor collapse, instead they served alien parasites. Doomed to slowly fall apart from the signature radiation of Rangda weaponry.
Sergeant Leontiv estimated at least a thousand slave-soldiers were in the Cargo hold and connected passage. They must have been crammed together in the Boarding Torpedo like vac-sealed ration packs. The data pouring in from his sensor suite informed him that about half of the slave-soldiers had entered the Cargo hold. Perfect opportunity for the first surprise. With a thought the remote detonators on a series of thermal explosives activated. Fire is paradoxically useful and useless in this type of combat. Limited oxygen and vented compartments could easily neuter the flames spread. While the cramped quarters and air-tight structures could turn entire chambers into smoke and flame filled death traps.
The initial blast of the thermal bombs produced a flash of white hot fire. Instantly incinerating the closest slave-soldiers. Luckier slave's shields held from the blast, the fiery backwash only burning them horribly. The Neural Collars came equipped with a flimsy energy shield of some sort. Probably enough to absorb one or two las-shots. Leontiv wondered how they would handle the secondary explosions. "Repurposed" fuel canisters had been tucked away in the hallway, the closest a few inches from the thermal bomb. Liquid fire erupted out, spreading in great pools of burning promethium. Leontiv took an appreciative inhale, the smell of surprise, fear and burning flesh go lovely together.
Smoke filled the Cargo hold, the burning flames casting eerie shadows around the large chamber. The slave-soldiers farthest from the blast recovered quickly. Moving into a loose semi-circle formation and scanning the shifting darkness. All while never stopping a steady babble of screams, cries and panicked murmuring. Psychological warfare is an ever popular weapon across this accursed galaxy. The Master of Mankind had given his Legions an order and a promise. 'And they shall know no fear.' Exactly for this reason.
Leontiv spoke quietly over the squad vox. The Rangda slave-soldiers were searching for them, he did not know what senses they possessed and was loathe to give away the element of surprise. "They have been weighed, watched, and found wanting. Kill them all my Brothers!"
Streams of fire, Volkite rays and a few incendiary bolt-rounds poured from the cargo holds ceiling. Other legions mocked the Night Lords for this stereotypical tactic. "Of course the Bats of Cruze hang upside down in the dark looking for victims" they would say. No matter, it got results and the sheer terror it could provoke was lovely. Dozens of slave-soldiers died in the first volley. Every Volkite or Bolt killing instantly, the Flamers requiring time to overtax shields. Even thinned by the explosion the alien assault force was massive. Reacting quickly, nearly two hundred barrels of alien guns swung up towards the ceiling and opened fire. Jets of monochromatic energy lanced into the shadows. Shrunken down portable shadow blasters.
The weight of fire was immense and scores of shadow blasters fired on every suspected Astartes position. Most of the shots went wide, either from inaccuracy or Night Lord agility. The few that hit were dissipated by personal shields. Only Battle-Brother Cletatian was unlucky enough to catch a full volley of shadow blaster fire. The Astartes had been midleap, bounding between metallic rafters. Quick thinking and maneuvering thruster work saved his life. The monochromatic blasts quickly broke through Cletatian's shields and a few more struck his left leg.
Instantly the armor's paint burnt off and it's mechanisms melted. The transhuman flesh inside burned into a shriveled radioactive husk. Cletatian spun in the air to avoid subsequent fire and missed his intended landing. With the crunch of ceramite on metal the Astartes slammed into the deck below. Recovering quickly, but with a useless leg, he pivoted to face the onrushing horde. Volkite in one hand, chain axe in the other, Cletatian met the enemy. Crippeled by his ruined leg, he still punched through the slave-soldiers with dismissive ease. Weaving between them, forcing the slaves to hold their fire or at least hit each other. To little surprise they still shot eldritch energy bolts at him. Every dodged blast reducing a random slave-soldier to a burned husk or rad-blackened shadow on the hull. The rest of Squad Leontiv reacted quickly. Two other Battle-Brothers moved to help Cleatian in the melee while the rest poured fire into the slave soldier swarm.
Cleatian's destroyed leg caught up with him, the dead weight forcing him to stumble. An opportunity exploited by the nearest slave soldiers. Who sprung at him with spears made of fluited bone. One spear managed to slip between plates of ceramite and thrust into the Astartes flesh. Transhuman organs already pushed to the limit found another challenge. Viral loads pumped into Cleatian's flesh, accompanied by dozens of different immune-system inhibiting toxins. The injured Astartes revitalizer kicked in. Stimulants and rejuv chemicals flooding his body. It would do little to halt the Rangda infection, but maybe keep him fighting longer. The augmented biology of the Astartes protects them from true Rangda subversion. Flesh might wither or become foul with rot, but would not be possessed by the insidious Xeno's viral nature. An Astartes very tissue would let itself rot into septic muck before becoming enslaved to the Rangda.
Grinding his teeth in pain, pain that burned hot even with the stimulants coursing through him. Cleatian pushed forward, the bloodlust of his geneseed pushing him forward. Hacking through the crowd of slave-soldiers. Volkite spewing deflagrating rays, turning any slave unlucky enough to be hit into a charred skeleton. Wounded and surrounded, Cleatian did not even see his death approach. Something huge pushed through the Cargo hold's entrance. Ignoring the still burning promethium and charging Cleatian with speed similar to an Astartes own. Cleatian barely started to turn when a duo of spears struck him right through his chest. Long lances of bone, plastic and metal punctured his hearts and lungs. A follow up point-blank blast took the dying Astartes' head off.
Standing among the Slave-Soldiers, its lance-like melee weapons retracting from Cleatian's corpse was a Rangda Warrior. Standing at least a head taller than an Astartes, its body brought to mind images of microscopic bacteriophages, and mounted warriors of Old Earth. Three lower limbs formed a stout tripod base, each ending in armored claws. The main body was heavily armored and vaguely humanoid. Four manipulator limbs stuck out from the torso's shoulders. One pair holding shadow blasters. The other holding the duo of lance weapons that combined the practical lethality of a spear and the insidious flexibility of the ovipositor. Nestled between the armored shoulders was a flattened head covered in diverse sensory organs surrounding a lamprey mouth. Formed from the strange milky white biomechanical material of most Rangda constructs. It's flesh wriggled and twitched, the air around it humming with the tell-tale discharge of an energy shield.
With Cleatian dead, the Rangda Warrior and its accompanying slave-soldiers moved to meet the two Astartes who had hoped to rescue their Battle-Brother. Loping forward on the alien tripod limbs the Rangda clashed blades with the Space Marines. The Lances quickly proving themselves more akin to sharp tentacles than actual lances. Crowds of slave-soldiers surged around the Astartes, uncaring as their stolen flesh was crushed under heavy ceramite boots. Each attempt to land a blow with a shadow blaster or bone spear was a trivial threat even in the hundreds. One that did serve its purpose, slowing and distracting the Astartes. Every time one of the two Battle-Brothers got close to the Rangda Warrior the air around them started to glow with ionizing radiation. The Xeno's shields irradiating and burning anything that got too close.
Battle-Brother Andrival pushed through the energy field. Ignoring the paint on his armor flaking off and the faint itch on his skin. He managed to land a solid blow with his power-axe. The blade cleaved through flesh-plastic and the Rangda Warrior let out an eerie wail of pain. Already close, Andrival levelled his bolter and emptied his clip into the Rangda. Blowing holes open in the Xeno, showering the Astartes in stinking oily blood. The wails grew louder and Andrival did not have time to react when one of the lance-tentacles snaked around his power-axe wielding hand. The blade refusing to come free and costing him valuable micro-seconds. Wrapped around his arm, its shifting surface squeezed and cut .
Roaring in fury Andrival kicked out with all the leverage he could muster. Snapping one of the Rangda's legs. The Xeno toppled forward onto him and his Brother opened fire on its exposed back. In a final act of spite the Rangda ripped off Andrival's ensnared arm as it died. Pain and hatred colored the Astartes voice as he screamed. Shoving the twitching corpse off of him in time for a handful of slave-soldiers to descend upon him. Ramming their spears into his body over and over. The last sight the Astartes saw, between the flailing strikes of the slaves was the shadows of more Rangda Warriors emerging from the entrance.
Watching two of his squad die quickly, far too quickly for an Astartes. Sergeant Leontiv made the call. "Fall back. On my mark detonate tertiary explosives. We will regroup at the nearest hard poi-"
His words were cut off as the Tyrannos Umbra shook with impact. Runes on the Sergeant's display informed him three more boarding pods had hit the ship. The Rangda Kindred had come in force to kill them all.
It left a bad taste in Leontiv's mouth but their two fallen brothers must be left behind. At least seven more Rangda Warriors were moving into the cargo hold. Watching the slave-soldiers swarm the dead Astartes and rip them to pieces, he knew geneseed extraction would be impossible. Better to fall back and regroup with the Voidsmen. Hopefully the additional firepower would turn the battle back in their favor.
Under the Sergeant's orders the Squad fled the Cargo Bay, arming the proximity explosives peppering the room and leaving the Rangda with a few parting shots. The Night Lords were fast, incredibly fast. Slipping through the ship's innards with an agility unnatural to such hulking figures. A series of brief Vox messages informed the nearest hardpoint they were coming and what was trailing after the Astartes. Steady booms and cracks echoed down the long transport shaft the Night Lords charged through. The Rangda were seemingly hitting every trap they had left behind. Leontiv doubted it would do much more than thin the slave soldiers' numbers and maybe slow them down.
Soon the garrisoned hardpoint became visible. A bunker built into a major intersection of two large hallways. It had built in shields, a quartet of Multi-laser turrets, ammo, med and ration stock. All wrapped in a sturdy metal frame. Vox-pings between the bunker garrison and Astartes crackled. Position noted and status confirmed. Leontiv did not want any itchy fingered gunner opening up on him or his brothers when they entered the hardpoint. Dispensing with stealth the Night Lords had thundered down the transport shaft and burst into the hardpoint.
All four turrets swiveled to face them but thankfully the gunners kept their wits. The Night Lords scrambled up the intersection's walls. Taking positions in the corners, using the series of gantries and rafters as their own bunker. Sensor runes lit up on Leontiv's display. The electromagnetic trip wires had been placed every ten meters down the hallway. Hopefully the additional rad-shielding and subtle nature of the devices would protect them from the Rangda. Leontiv watched as a cascade of runes alerted him to the encroaching threat. Waiting till a specific secondary alert reached him. One tripwire had identified an anomalously large and fast object. A Rangda warrior no doubt.
The real threat was in range, and if the sensor readings were accurate, in perfect position. Leotiv would turn the slave-soldier horde from an asset to a hazard. The lead Rangda was caught between the waves of slave-soldiers. Probably using the possessed flesh as living armor, expecting more bolt rounds or volkite fire. This would be a fun surprise then. On the Sergeant's orders all four Multi-lasers opened fire down the transport shaft. It was blind fire, relying on the sensor data the Astartes provided. Accuracy becomes less important with a chokepoint and overwhelming firepower.
Slave-soldiers were cut down in droves. Torn apart by directed energy capable of punching through their shields and their flesh through sheer weight of fire. The Multi-lasers poured red bolts of energy down the shaft. Three always firing while the fourth cooled. After ten seconds of sustained fire the Multi-lasers stopped. On cue, a pair of shoulder-mounted missiles flew out of the Bunker. Screaming down the transport shaft and detonating with the sound of dull thunder. A sound that didn't even have time to end before the Multi-lasers started up again. Linked directly into the ship's power grid, the rapid-fire las weapons could keep up a sustained bombardment for a long time. Unfortunately, the sensors relaying back to the defenders perished in the attack. A trio of Cyber Altered Tasks, disposable mechanical drones favored by Mars, soon found themselves scuttling down the transport shaft. The near-constant stream of red las bolts overhead were unregistered by their simple circuitry.
The C.A.T. 's soon found piles of corpses, burnt, torn asunder and broken open. The Multi-lasers and Missiles had reaped a grim toll on the Rangda attackers. It was difficult to tell from the servitors' shoddy sensors but it seemed at least two hundred of the slave-soldiers were smeared around the hallway and one, maybe two Rangda Warriors as well. Worryingly there was no sign of the enemy assault force, aside from the corpses that is. The Rangda had retreated back, realizing the transport shaft was a death trap. Most likely regrouping, possibly with the newly arrived transport pods.
Not unexpected but not ideal either. Now the question was should they hold the Hardpoint or sally out and face the enemy. The other Astartes Squads assigned to this section of the ship were moving in and would arrive soon. They would need information if they wanted to push back and destroy the Rangda attackers. Better have Squad Leontiv, which already had an idea of what to expect skulking in the dark looking for monsters. A plan of action quickly formed in Leontiv's mind. One he never got to use, as the gravity turned off.
Gravity compensation shut down and the effects were instantaneous. The Tyrannos Umbra was moving at full Plasma burn, without the ships compensators the full force of that movement punched into Leontiv and every other soul in this section of ship. The impact was immediate, Astartes smashed against metal walls with a resounding clash. An unlucky Voidsmen fell to his death sideways, screaming the entire descent down one of the transport shafts. Others were crushed under suddenly moving cargo or debris. As quickly as it left, artificial gravity returned, except it was five times Terran standards and tilted at a thirty degree angle.
This should not be possible, artificial gravity was a tried and true standard of Imperial void ships. Causing a mass failure on this level required access to the ship's most important internal workings. Something had made its way deep into the Battle Cruisers innards and gained control of important cogitators. Terrible insight flickered through Leontiv. His unconscious mind putting together the pieces or his genesires gift at work. The earlier unknown signals, Xeno infiltrators worming into the ship. Was the attack force nothing more than a distraction? No, the Rangda attacked with two weapons, a ready spear and a subtle poison. Both are equally capable of killing.
If the Rangda had already taken control of the ship's artificial gravity, there was no stopping them. A rune ignited on Leontiv's display, pulling his attention to the C.A.T. 's sensors. They had detected Rangda were returning. He got a few moments of video feed as the servitor was trampled under foot. The enemy intended to continue its suicidal attack, except they now had an opening. Sergeant Leontiv was not even surprised when the lumens and power feeds within the hardpoint went dark. The Multi-laser would only have so much battery charge and use of the ships systems would not be possible.
The long high-pitched scream of Rangda slave-soldiers started to echo down the transport shaft. It was louder and clearer than before. Xeno reinforcements had arrived. Twisted gravity limited the Voidsmen's effectiveness, and the Astartes as well to a lesser extent. They could fall back, but where to? The enemy was coming and warbling com disruption echoed across the vox. Time to make a stand, hold here or die trying. A sneer crossed Leontiv's face as he made his decision. This was not how Night Lords fought, but so be it. No plan survives first contact with the enemy, and that was especially true when the Rangda were concerned.
Prowling towards the hardpoints entrance, he motioned for his squad to join him. When the Multi-laser ran out they would use the choke point to make a stand. It had been a long time since Squad Leontiv made barricades out of their dead enemies. Forcing the foe to clamber over corpses, just to die like the rest. Not a bad place to die, surrounded by piles of Xeno scum. Would be better to survive of course, but you can't have everything. Hell, it might be worth dying just to make the Rangda bastards afraid of a broken squad of murderers. As the slave-soldiers screaming grew louder and louder Leontiv let out a final cruel laugh. If he were to die here, he would let out a scream of his own. The Night Lords lived for stealth, for striking from the shadows and vanishing without a trace. He thought that just this once, it would be appropriate to let out a cry from his transhuman lungs that would drown out all the others.
"FOR THE EMPEROR!"
Location: The Vindication, Night Lord Strike Cruiser
Date: 893.M30 (Shortly after first strike against the War-Moon)
"If it bleeds we can kill it." An age old adage adopted by warriors across a thousand cultures and eras. Morbid comfort for those confronted by a foe beyond their understanding. Considerably less comforting when something that should not bleed, does. The frantic attack against the War-Moon had torn holes in its surface. Holes that welled up with oily ichor. False-blood that flowed like rotten milk, pouring out of the War-Moons wounds. Scabbing over into plates of mottled grey. Their unnatural smoothness contrasting with the surrounding landscape's biomechanical patterns. The Night Lords could indeed make the enemy bleed, but for once that was no guarantee it could be killed.
The Vindication along with its fellows had entered into a strange and deadly dance with the War-Moon. Imperial ships slingshotting around the megastructure's gravity well, all guns blazing but never staying still. Always changing trajectory, velocity and rotation. All in a desperate attempt to keep the Rangda weapons from locking on. The War-Moons shifting gravity ironically made this easier for the Imperials. Its slithering, wriggling movements across space/time jostled the Night Lords, like the wake of a great sea-beast.
Across the Dyatlov-Rho system, the Rangda fleet was rapidly turning its attention back towards the War-Moon. Abandoning attacks on the last straggling elements of the resupply fleet, to deal with the more immediate threat. Reacting just as Fenj had hoped. The original Rangda screen they had jumped past had turned quickly and would catch up with them in moments. With the War-Moon in the way, the Rangda fleet could not open fire until they got closer. Giving the Night Lords a small opportunity to rain destruction down on the War-Moon relatively unmolested. An opportunity they were exploiting to sadly little effect.
The accursed biomechanical Xeno-tech of the War-Moon shrugged off virtually everything the Night Lords threw at it. Layered shields formed a strange eldritch atmosphere across the Moon, muting the Imperial bombardment to almost nothing. Another strange hazard presented by Rangda design was Moon's active defenses. Defensive turrets, weapon batteries, and launch bays covered the War-Moon. The number and nature of the defenses shifted constantly. The Moon's surface rippled with movement as its pale flesh wriggled with movement. Orbital defense spires could shoot up from empty wastes that could just as easily open up to disgorge swarms of attack craft. Casualties among the fleet were mounting, the Night Lords needed to strike an effective blow quickly.
Lances of monochromatic energy sterilized Imperial ships in great volleys. Whitehart and Nemo Thrax both crashed into the War-Moon. Their burning wrecks ironically doing more damage than their guns had managed. Tyrannos Umbra, Iron Wraith, and Napoca were all suffering badly from enemy boarding parties. It would not be long before the perfidious Rangda stalker drones turned their ships into cold husks. The Vindication had even taken a few hits, hard radiation punching into some unlucky decks. Grim reports had filtered up through the ship's Medicae. The Emperor's Peace was being administered on a virtually industrial scale. Hundreds of burned, melting Ratings awaited last rites and the quick kiss of the reductor.
"The Emperor's Peace" a curious phrase adopted across the Imperium referring to euthanasia. Konrad Curze supposedly coined the term semi-sarcastically after executing the warlord of an unsanctioned abhuman tribe. While literal meaning and etymology were accepted, interpretations of the phrase's nuances varied. Cynics claimed it referred to how only in death could a human find peace in the Emperor's galaxy. Others believed it referred to the Imperium of Man's unofficial motto. "Only in Death does duty end" Superstitious folk claimed it was connected to the Astronomican's effects on human souls. Which protected human souls from the Warps predation. Some even go so far to claim it provided an afterlife of sorts, created by the Emperor's own hand. A nearly heretical and frowned upon belief.
Fenj knew only one thing in the Night Lords arsenal might truly wound, or even kill the War-Moon. The small payload of exterminatus-class weaponry the Expedition Fleet held securely, locked away in the deepest bowels of the ships. Use of such dreadful weapons required the explicit permission from multiple commanding officers. Fenj and his fellow officers had agreed to unleash the tools of planet-death but now needed an opportunity. The Night Lords are murderers and enforcers, not tools of genocide. They did not carry arsenals of apocalyptic weapons like the dreaded Seventh Wing of the Black Knights or the Reaper Fleets of the XIV Legion. A pair of Cyclonic Torpedoes, two Virus Bombs and most dreadful of all a single Modalis Atmospheric Missile.
All five weapons would see use if Chapter Master Fenj got his way, but the Atmospheric Missile was his ultimate weapon. Rangda are not the only ones who give unassuming names to nightmarish weapons. The Imperium of Mankind used the Modalis pattern sparingly, because its innards carried arguably the worst weapon constructed by Martian hands. Phosphex, the crawling death. The ignorant and willfully ignorant might assume Phospex is as its name implies a phosphorus weapon. Which is true to an extent. The engineered microorganisms that make up Phosphex excrete White Phosphorus in huge quantities. Engineered microorganisms combining the darkest bio-sorcery and replicator arts available to humanity. Phosphex is as the few living witnesses of the weapon describe it, alive.
It is a designed creature akin to the amoeba, that eats through virtually any material, particularly carbon-based elements. Producing a horrific miasma of Phosphorus, oxygen, heavy metals, and a few more exotic elements as a digestive bi-product. Phospex devours its prey, shitting out white-hot contaminated fire, and leaves nothing but death in its wake. The most ancient texts on the art of Replicating creations speak of "Newman's Alkahest" or the "Grey Death" Describing dreadful visions of ravenous machines eating entire worlds. A vision come to terrible life in the biological horror of Phosphex.
Master Fenj was certain if the Atmospheric Missile struck true, even the War-Moon might die. Now the problem was ensuring it was not intercepted by the Megastructures defenses. Fools and cowards suggest Exterminatus as the answer to every threat. As if habitable worlds were so common they are worthless. Even if that were true, nothing special protects a Torpedo carrying a weapon of Planet Killing over a Torpedo carrying mundane munitions. Weapons of Exterminatus could be intercepted or nullified, sometimes resulting in the destruction of their original wielder. An opportunity must present itself or be made. Something the Night Lords are very good at doing.
Another Cruiser was pulled from the void. Its shields sputtering like a guttering candle, turned off by stalker drones most likely. The War-Moon did not waste time, its weapon batteries ripping open the Cruiser with ease. The directed radiation cooked the ship's innards and burst it like burnt maize. Imperial ships were dying faster and faster. The returning Rangda Fleet joined the melee above the moon. That is not to say the battle was one-sided. The Night Lords fought with the ferocity of a cornered beast. Ripping apart War-barques and leaving trails of scabs across the War-Moon. Fenj and his brothers only needed to hold on for a little longer, until the final elements of the Resupply Fleet were safe. Then the secondary Battlegroup could join them and relieve some pressure.
As if some cruel god had heard the hopeful thoughts of the Expedition Fleets command staff. (and perhaps some did) The next disaster struck. Since the War-Moon's arrival, the level of ambient radiation in the Dyatlov-Rho system had been steadily increasing. Imperial analysts had assumed this was a side effect of wide-scale rad-weapon usage. Which was true to an extent, but not entirely the cause. The War-Moon's main weapon systems were warming up. Ironically the great Worm-Ships of the Rangda-Kindred cannot handle the War-Moons radioactive exhaust while in transit. Requiring its primary tool of death to be totally shut down during transport. A critical weakness, one the massive fleet of War-barques existed to counter.
A sudden and drastic spike in radiation erupted across the system. The War-Moon suddenly oozed with planet-sterilizing levels of radiation. It was like the guts of a million atomic reactors had been smeared over the megastructure in some parody of Haruspex. Such levels of radiation should have been crippling for whatever mechanisms making up the War-Moon, let alone its crew. Another impossible and terrible secret of the Rangda Kindred. The Imperium and humanity had long since stopped questioning the impossibility of things, only acknowledging their potential danger.
The radiation surge suddenly disapated as quickly as it came, the levels of Radiation across the system actually decreased dramatically for a moment. Like some great Wyrm preparing its fiery breath, the War-Moon held itself after its deep inhale before unleashing hell upon Dyatlov-Rho and the Night Lords. There was no time to respond, no time to react. One moment the void of Dyatlov-Rho was its usual ugly crimson and black. The next it was white with the afterglow of a god's wrath. A singular point on the War-Moon's surface had opened up, exposing eldritch machinery to the Void and unleashing its might. The Rangda had created an artificial relativistic jet. It was an energy weapon comparable to a natural Gamma Ray burst. For two seconds the War-Moon barred its exposed heart and vomited death. This weapon, this nightmare, what Imperial scholars would document as a "Corpse-Star Ignition '' had been aimed at the final elements of the resupply fleet and second battle group. Nothing remained of the Imperial ships, nor of the icy rock of a planet near them in the void. In fact the Gamma Ray Burst would continue on into the darkness between the stars. Eventually triggering a Supernova three hundred and twenty six years in the future.
Nearly a quarter of the Resupply Fleet and half of the Night Lords force was gone. Deleted from existence by a destructive force native to dying stars and black hole collisions. Even ships not hit by the Burst were damaged. The radioactive backscatter frying shields and machinery with contemptuous ease. A dozen Night Lord ships were reduced to dying hulks, crew burning and soon swarmed by Rangda attack craft. The small wasp-like xeno ships made sure to tag every slain Imperial vessel. Injecting them with Rangda attackers who would scavenge anything useful from it.
Screams filled the Vindication's bridge as crew unlucky enough to have witnessed the Gamma Ray Burst went blind. Fenj and his fellow Astartes were saved by their augments and helmet systems. But even they winced in pain as a needle of light rammed into their optic nerve. As the final streams of radiation and plasma faded, the situation across Dyatlov-Rho became clear. The great crimson clouds of cosmic detritus had been blown away. Half the system, the half the weapon had been fired at was pitch black. Heavily irradiated hunks of metal and stone spinning through the Void. Virtually every probe and scanning system the Imperials had was destroyed or overloaded. The blinding flash of a dying star had mortally wounded the Expedition Fleets Battlegroup.
Staring out into the Void, Chapter Master Fenj felt pieces of atemporal memory slide into place. Split-second tableau of destruction coming true before his eyes. His visions had shown him this, a glimpse of the madness the Rangda would unleash. This War-Moon was more than a mobile fortress world. It was a system killer. It was the type of weapon the Imperium dared not make, and destroyed when they could. This was not the first of such a weapon mankind and the Imperium had encountered. Aeldari Star Catchers had been dumped into a Black Hole after the raid on the Webway port of Tor'Divilia. The ruined hulks of horrific tools of the Iron War such as Sun Snuffers had faced similar fates, and anything capable of opening up a system sized Warp-rift was destroyed out of hand. The War-Moon was insane, utterly insane. Something no human could design or make, a tool of destruction beyond even the ken of Human malice.
Such a weapon was the very definition of overkill, nothing could withstand it and live. This was the type of tool meant to kill a god. Which is exactly what the Rangda intended. The pieces clicked into place for Fenj, the visions and Solomonari's actions. The Night Lords had sprung a trap meant for a Primarch. This War-Moon was an anomalous nightmare engine created solely to kill things that defy reality. It was a topic of morbid curiosity among the Legions, what could harm let alone kill a Primarch? Staring out at the marred void of Dyatlov-Rho, Fenj felt he could say with confidence that this unique and specialized War-Moon could do the job.
Grinding his teeth together, the Chapter Master made his decision. They could not win this fight. At least part of the Resupply Fleet had escaped and the Rangda trap had been sprung. Now the question was not if they would survive, but how useful their deaths would be. Tactical and sensor data was packed into an Arca-Tenebrae, a virtually indestructible and invisible cube of Adamantium. It was designed to survive virtually anything and be recovered by Imperial hands. After all the horrible luck the Night Lords had been dealt, maybe fortune would keep the Arca-Tenebrae from Rangda hands.
With those measures in place Fenj opened a fleet wide Vox hail. Even a Lord of the Night found it unbecoming to initiate a suicide mission without some fanfare. "Citizens and Soldiers of the Imperium. We face a foe we cannot defeat, our mortal lives are coming to an end. I will not mince words or speak in half-truths. Death is coming and we must all face it together. Pull your minds from the future and the weakness of fear. Know what we do here today will not be without purpose. It is our duty to fight and die so others might live. Every moment we hold the Xeno curs off, every drop of their blood we spill, buys mankind time and resources to survive. We will prevail against this threat, that is certain. But a cost must be paid, one I am loath to ask but must. Children of Sol, only in death does duty end, and our duty reaches its terminus."
Silence, cut only by the sounds of battle, filled the fleet. This was not a speech to be celebrated or applauded. It told the truth and offered morbid hope that life would not be wasted, only spent. There was no mutiny, mass-hysteria or other weaknesses. Desperation and the certainty of death hardens any soul. The battle continued, with blade, bolt and blood the Imperium struggled against the Xeno horrors. Ships died in droves, the Tyrannos Umbra finally succumbing to its invaders, overloading its plasma drive as a final act of defiance. The orbit of the War-Moon was thick with wrecks. Both Imperial and Rangda filled the void as the battle raged.
Fenj had hoped the War-Moon might sleep after its deadly attack. Thankfully it did not fire its Corpse-Star Ignition, but all of its systems were fully online. Storms of munitions poured off the War-Moon. Bolts of Necrotic power, Radiation waves, Gravitic pulses, Attack Crafts, and streams of liquid flesh-plastic killed ship after ship. The moment of truth was at hand, the Night Lords were quickly running out of bodies to delay the Rangda megastructure and fleet. A decision was made, they could not wait for an opening, one must be made. Normally such a requirement would be met by Astartes drop pods and Stormbirds, delivering Angels of Death to key targets, letting them strike as Space Marines ought. The Rangda orbital defenses made such an attack virtually impossible. Numbers, overwhelming firepower or trickery would be needed to punch through the radiation beams and flesh-plastic gobbits spat into the void. Naturally the Night Lords would use all three options.
Officially what Master Fenj ordered, the crew of the Vindication to prepare for was called "Ultra-Massive Rapid Planetary Insertion" But nicknamed by the few fleet officers familiar with the maneuver "Falling Skies." And further colloquially known among those about to use the maneuver as "What the Fracking Shit?" Under Fenj's order the Vindication would crash land into the War-Moon.
Power diverted to gravity compensators and shields, the Vindication pulled away from its fellows in the Imperial fleet. Giving only an order to cover their rear as they moved. To an observer it at first would look like the Strike Cruiser was running, attempting to use the War-Moon's gravity well to slingshot to safety. A skilled Voidsmen would quickly recognize the angle was too low and the momentum slower than needed. Easy errors that could occur in the heat of battle, but costly ones to make. The Vindication screamed through low-orbit, riding the pull of gravity and its own momentum. Its shields and speed protecting the ship from rapidly refocusing enemy defenses. Moving with speed unnatural to such a low-orbit the Strike Cruiser fell as it flew forwards. It's belly parallel to the rapidly approaching War-Moon's surface.
All across the Vindication crew braced with anything they could. Shock-couches, impact drugs and prayers to half forgotten gods of Old Earth being common methods. It did little good when the Night Lord flagship started to clip into the tallest spires on the War-Moon. Smashing apart biomechanical towers like trees in a forest. Metal screamed and flesh-plastic cracked as the Vindication bottomed out, smashing its belly onto the surface of the War-Moon. Momentum carried it forward as the Strike Cruiser left a trail of devastation and its own innards. Scraping across the War-Moon like a skipping stone. Tearing a shallow canyon into the pasty meat of the Megastructure. For a hundred kilometers the Vindication cut its path before finally stopping. Its hull ripped open and armor cracked. Nestled in a furrow of biomechanical tissue the size of a large hill.
Much of the mortal crew was injured, many dead. Still those that could stay at their posts did. It was expected and they would not be found wanting, even as death came calling. The Vindication was not the only Imperial ship to engage in this act of wrathful self-harm. Battle Cruiser Wrathful Black had smashed itself into the War-Moon's far side. It carried nearly half of the Night Lords complement of Exterminatus weapons, holding a Virus Bomb and Cyclonic Torpedo. Both ships, Vindication and Wrathful Black would detonate their weapons. Doubling the chances of killing the War-Moon. All while the remaining Night Lord ships bought the crashed vessels time to work.
After everything the Rangda had done, every impossible act, every unimaginable Xeno horror, Chapter Master Fenj was not going to leave things to chance. Surface level detonation of multiple Exterminatus class weapons should be able to kill anything, this was not a situation for "shoulds" The Night Lords were going to jam the planet-killing weapons into the War-Moons innards and then twist the proverbial knife. Time was not on their side, Rangda forces were already approaching the canyon carved by the Vindication. Swarms of Slave Soldiers accompanied by Rangda Warriors and larger yet unidentified threats.
Every working weapon system on the Vindication was armed and prepared. Forces of Astartes and Voidsmen assembled, preparing to turn the ship into a fortress. Shields were taking time, the impact had overloaded many of them and power was being diverted for another task. Like most Astartes ships the Vindication came equipped with bombardment weaponry. Special care had been given to ensure the primary Bombardment Cannon of the Night Lord ship survived the impact. A Cannon now prepared to fire a Magma Torpedo at point blank range into the War-Moon's crust.
Like muffled thunder the Bombardment Cannon roared, launching the magnetically accelerated super-heated projectile straight down. Instantly destroying the Cannon and rocking the beached Voidship. Toxic fumes poured out of the impact site as the Magma Torpedo burned its way through the fleshy plastic of Rangda construction. Clouds of acrid smoke billowed up from below the Vindication and formed a miasma around the wrecked ship. The Torpedo was designed to burrow through enemy fortifications and burn away defenses. So far it was working reasonably well, it just fell to the Night Lords to defend until the Torpedo had finished its digging.
The War-Moon's atmosphere was surprisingly thick for such a small planetoid. Energy shields and the constant discharge from the War-Moon's own internal workings formed a heavy layer of gas that glowed with the telltale flickers of electricity and ionizing radiation. By no means breathable, existing most likely by accident or to aid heat exchange, the pseudo-atmosphere could carry sound. Screams, shouts, roars and more hideous warbles carried through the air. Audible even over the roar of the Torpedo melting its way into the War-Moon was the cries of the Rangda defenders.
Wasp fighter craft flitted about on turbines and ion thrusters, observing the Vindication through beady eyes, dotting the insectoid hull. Transmitting data to far off Alien masters who orchestrated battle like a game. The first wave to crest the canyon lip was the slave soldiers. A living tide of possessed flesh driven forward by Neural Collars bolted into their nervous system. From three directions, port, starboard and bow they came. Charging down the still smoking slope of the impact canyon, firing shadow blasters wildly and screaming constantly. The strange series of tubes snaking out of the slave soldiers mouth and throat protected them from the toxic atmosphere but still let the piloted meat wail in pain.
Anti-air turrets and jury-rigged las-cannon mounts poured fire off the Vindication. Ripping open scarlet crater in the Rangda lines, holes quickly filled by the constant press of bodies. Servitors and Cargo haulers worked quickly, turning hangers and storage bays close to the War-moon's surface into makeshift forts. Rapidly roused war-machines and stacked cargo-crates made strange bedfellows as Imperial defenders worked to prepare the Vindication for a type of warfare it was never meant to see.
The damage across the Vindication was severe, much of its stored terrestrial weaponry had suffered in the Void battle or impact. A single flight of Land Speeders had been salvaged to aid the Anti-Air guns and scout the surrounding area. Tanks and some artillery had fared better. Enterprising Tech-Priests had turned ripped open sections of hull into murder-holes large enough for Imperial artillary to fire through. Across the ruined starship a thousand acts of ingenuity and heroism went unrecorded. No monuments would be built in their honor, no sagas sung beyond a mourner's dirge. Cowardice, panic and shock did not grip the mortal crew as one might expect. They stood strong and did what mankind required of them.
Death itself does not drive men and women into blind panic. Death is an old friend we must all eventually acquaint ourselves with. Uncertainty, pain and fear are what break mortal minds. A weakness every horror in the cosmos seeks to use against humanity. One that the Master of Mankind had long hoped to excise from his species. The Corpse on the Golden Throne had used Faith to free mankind, by shackling them with even greater chains. Originally the Emperor had hoped to use the zeitgeist of his Crusade to unify humanity under an aegis of perceived invincibility. Invincibility that might become real if none dared pause long enough to test it. Neither method proved perfect, but both held an element of something greater. Citizens of the Imperium were commanded to have faith, not in a god, or even the Emperor, but in humanity itself. The seed planted onto a half-mad Psyker Saint on Luna decades ago was growing.
The brave mortal crew of the Vindication did not fight and struggle for the attention of some distant god, or for their own survival. They fought so others would not suffer. They fought because those beside them fought. They fought for a future they would not see but a future worth fighting for. Fighting and dying for a dream older than civilizations, and more powerful than any weapon. The dream of a better universe, one where mankind might not just survive, but thrive in. When the Astronomicon lit upon the Hollow Mountain it shared this dream to all in its light. The Imperator's will spread out across the galaxy and subjugate all before it in the name of a dream.
Noble hearts and sturdy souls prepared themselves for the coming tide. The Rangda slave soldiers pushed forward, scuttling insectoids the size of Equines accompanying them. Organic gun-carriages mounted with heavier Shadow Blasters and Shield Generators. Protecting the densest packed throngs of slave soldiers from Imperial fire. The sound of thundering guns and screaming meat formed a steady cacophony only broken by the warbling cry of great battle beasts cresting the canyon top. A War-Moon like any mobile battlestation is meant to spearhead any military task force. It was capable of hosting the soldiers and weapons needed to wage interstellar warfare. Assets the Rangda could now unleash with impunity seeing as the Vindication having delivered itself right onto the War-Moon's surface.
Hulking quadruped war beasts/machines settled on the canyon's heights. Easily the size of a Baneblade, the Rangda warforms took position. Physically similar to a beast of burden or great simian, walking on armored knuckles and covered in milky-white armor. The trademark heptapod limb structure of the Rangda manifesting in four over-muscled legs, two long manipulator tentacles bursting from its side and a colossal tubular structure sticking out its back. It lacked a head of any noticeable form, slits in the armor between its forelimbs, holding sensory organs and feeding tendrils. The massive Rangda-things were covered in incredibly thick exoskeletons, forming bulbous plates of bone that had been carved with eye-watering patterns of unknown significance. In the coming years the trademark warble of this beast/machine and its kin would strike fear in Imperial soldiers. Signifying the arrival of Rangda Osseivores.
Some of the Vindication's weapons turned on the Osseivores, but the oncoming horde of slave soldiers fulfilled its purpose and kept Imperial guns turned away from the true threat. The tentacular manipulator limbs of the Osseivores were capped by boney claws that could rip open metal or crush unfortunate enemy infantry. Something other breeds of Osseivore specialized in, with blending whips of serrated flesh-plastic, or huge dual-limb claws armored enough to withstand point blank Lascannon fire and strong enough to rip apart Knight-Walkers. These Osseivores were woven together for a different role. As one the line of biomechanical Tank-things plunged their manipulators into the waxy surface of the War-Moon. Acting as traction spikes, giving leverage and stability for the Osseivore as it rested on its carapace-covered haunches. The stance required for an biomechanical artillery platform.
The great tubular structure growing from the Osseivore's back combined elements of spinal column, rail gun, digestive tract and a traditional kinetic weapon barrel. Capable of mounting different weapon systems as needed. These particular Osseivore's were equipped with tools of destruction unlike most anything else the Xeno used. Batteries of great boney spikes. Each at least five meters long and a meter across at its widest point. Mega javelins launched through acrid combustion and squeezed muscles. The Bone Balsistas fired practically silently, a slight crack and the sound of displacing atmosphere they only noise made. Another unique property of the War-Moon's gaseous covering was a drastic increase in the sound barrier. No rumble of guns or boom of displaced air accompanied the Osseivore's bombardment. Just quiet death in the shape of carved bone.
Still overtaxed by the firing of the Magma Torpedo, the Vindication's shields were in no position to deflect the oncoming barrage, a few lucky gouts of flak knocked some from the sky, but the vast majority struck their target. Tearing metal and puncturing the Strike Cruisers hull. Before the first wave of Bone Bolts struck, the second was in flight. In minutes the warship's hull was covered in thousands of jagged spines. Giving the vessel the impression of a great seabeast who'd earned an urchin's ire. Ion and void shields were quickly restored, muting the bombardment and initial damage checks started. The blindly fired spines had not struck anything crucial, barely piercing the ship's armor. Still, the Rangda had proved that paranoia is a virtue. Bulkheads were sealed shut and regions of the ship close to the impact were evacuated.
Back on the surface of the War-Moon the Imperial defenders from their crude fortresses faced the oncoming swarm of slave-soldiers and other Rangda chaff. Boltguns, las weapons and every other available form of missile weapon fired into the tide. Blasting apart slave-soldiers and wounding others. Those knocked down were quickly trampled by the sheer momentum of the charge. Rangda Warriors and Constructs slinked through the slave-soldier army, using it as shield and sword. The newly restored shields of the Vindication kept the worst of the Shadow Blasters, Necrotic Beamers, and Rad Bolts from the Imperials. But the charging Rangda force would soon cross the shields, this battle would become a close quarter brawl in moments.
Meanwhile the Magma torpedo continued its steady descent into the War-Moon's crust. Burning slowly, like through layers of bedrock, occasionally opening up strange alien chambers and tunnels which were quickly sealed shut by the semi-living material of the War-Moon. Time was running out, other more proactive Osseivores and unknown Cerabvore warforms were entering the battle. More traditional artillery pounded on the Strike Cruisers shields, and Wasp-craft flitted closer and closer every passing moment, pushing back Imperial Land Speeders and flak defenses. The Night Lords had decided on a plan for Exterminatus, and were reaching the critical moments.
When the battle for the Hangers and exterior of the ship was lost the Virus Bomb would be activated. The Tech-Priests did not know how effective the Life-Eater would be against the strange biomechanical creations of the Rangda, but they had to try. Once the Virus Bomb was detonated, the Astartes would need to act quickly. Deploying the Cyclonic torpedo into the shaft created by the Magma Torpedo and cracking open the accursed Alien Megastructure. Ideally both Vindication and Wrathful Black, the two crashed Night Lord ships would detonate their payloads at the same time but that was unlikely. Still the two attacks would keep the Rangda busy and ensure the final knife went unnoticed. The Final Knife, a stratagem named after an infamous quote of Konrad Curze.
"I use three blades when I kill. One the Enemy knows about. One the Enemy does not know about. And one my allies don't know about. Nobody expects the final knife until it's already sheathed in someone"
The earlier sortee by the Landspeeders had done little, only mildly helping the flak screen and not gathering any particularly useful data. But it had provided a distraction for another craft to escape the battle. A midnight clad Stormbird, midnight clad in both coloration and ability. The miniaturization of inverted void shields had proved possible but not particularly cost-effective. Normal stealth tech usually proved sufficient for craft smaller than a few kilometers. That being said, a few experimental air transports had been built. With the full range of Night Lord stealth equipment, and inverted Void Shields installed. One of that rare and eclectic craft had been part of the Vindication's compliment and now embarked on a suicide mission of grim importance. It carried a handpicked force of Astartes and the warhead to the Expedition Fleet's Phospex Torpedo.
Location: Star Cloak, Experimental Night Lord Stormbird
Date: 893.M30 (Four Hours since departure from the Vindication)
Four squads of Astartes, almost a demi-Company, had been tasked with delivering the Crawling Death to the Xeno nest. Their orders were simple: get the Phosphex as close to the War-Moon's "mouth" as possible. While Xeno engineering, particularly Rangda defied reason, a few basic tenets must apply. When the Megastrucutre had obliterated the Resupply Fleet's stragglers, it had opened up and spat death, unleashing energies even the greatest minds of Mars would fail to shackle. Such a mechanism would require delicate and unique mechanisms that would tolerate the presence of Phospex poorly. Of course it would not be unguarded, the Rangda Kindred had proved themselves no fools. This was a suicide mission within a suicide mission, a fact the Night Lords took grim humor with. Naming the adhoc formation "Martyr Company"
Martyr Company, composed of some of the most viciously pragmatic killers the Imperium kept. Flying across the animated corpse of a World carrying one of the foulest weapons of human construction. Yes, that suited the Night Lords perfectly, and who was to judge, that was their job after all? So Martyr Company aboard the Star Cloak Stormbird shot across the skies of the War-Moon. Avoiding circling packs of Wasp Fighters, and attempting to navigate the surreal megastructure's surface.
No human mind could rightfully understand the shifting fleshy landscape that wheeled past the Stormbird. Boney towers dotted with polyp growths and rubbery tubing stretched skyward. Moving across the wrinkled and twisted "ground" like Icebergs drifting in some eldritch ocean. Something was always moving, constructed organisms skittering over plastic field, migrating tumor hills, the opening and shutting of gas-spewing orifices, and rarely the surfacing of Rangda war-forms. Literally pulling themselves out of the Planetoids surface like the Chthonic afterbirth of some dead god. The shifting surface, high radiation levels and the requirements of running quite limited the Star Cloak's eyes. Thankfully they had not been noticed and there was no indication they would be unless a Xeno literally ran into them. Not an impossible thing across the wriggling skies of the War-Moon.
They were making good time, only having to change course twice to avoid Wasp Construct swarms and a rubbery worm creature the size of a land-train drifting slowly through static-charged clouds of gas. Cogitator predictions would have them reaching the ideal landing site in short order. From there things would get considerably more difficult. Powerful energy fields encircled the Corpse-Star Ignition's "barrel" A circular scab near the War-Moons equator as wide as an Imperial Cruiser is long. The few scans they could get backed up a hypothesis of the Mechanicum, such a deadly weapon could not be used without a price. Having burned and rad-blasted the surface into a sheet of polished mineral. Turning even the extraordinarily radiation resistant Rangda flesh-plastic into a barely congealed mass of cooling pseudo-graphite. The Stormbird could not pass the shield easily, and would likely trip alarms. The Astartes moving on the surface with the aid of a Librarian would have a better chance.
Librarian Zlatko was no Solomonari, the Precognitive gifts of his Legion had never dominated him like so many of his Brothers in the Librarius. Part of the reason Fenj selected him as Astartes Psyker on this mission. The Solomonari had lost much respect in the Chapter Master's eyes. The other reason was Zlatko's unnerving talent for truly creative battle-psyking. Another thing about the Night Lords the wider Imperium did not know and was honestly better off not knowing. The VIII Legion boasted creative and artistic talents kin to the Phoenix Blades and Dawn Angels. Skills that were put to use in morbid and terrible ways. Witnesses to the Night Lords "art" found it stomach-churning and awe-inspiring. Images dredged up from the mythological Old Hells and unleashed on the worst type of monsters. Justice after all required punishment, something the Night Lords excel at.
Captain Rusya of the Second Company of Chapter 189 would be leading the Martyr Company, the relatively young officer had earned his marks leading daring counter-raids against the Slaugth, if anyone could adapt and respond to new Rangda horrors it would be him. The Star Cloak would soon reach its destination and Captain Rusya went through final checks. They had Thirty Four Battle Brothers, Five Terminators, a Librarian and a truly terrible bomb. A grav-sled would be used to transport the Phosphex Warhead, surrounded by the Terminators, who would escort the cargo.
Soon the Stormbird dropped low, towards the edge of the pseudo-graphite expanse, a lip of sorts stuck up above the scablands, a cliff topped with jagged spines that arced with unknown energy currents. This would be the first barrier they would need to breach. Rusya and Zlatko had conspired during the trip, forming a crude but hopefully effective plan. They needed to locate a Rangda and quickly and quietly capture them. An opportunity presented itself thanks to Zlatko's psychic senses. The curious half-blank, half-psyker aura of a true-born Rangda was not easy to find, but the Librarian was an Astartes, what was adversity but their raison d'être
A target soon came into psionic focus, a pair of Rangda Warriors half-merged with a nearby spire. The strange frequencies flowing to and from the small spire gave insight into what the Xeno's were doing. They were at a command post, transmitting and receiving orders and data. If they were not subdued quickly they might rouse the whole Xeno nest, least of which the entombed slave-soldiers buried in gelatinous coffins just below the War-Moon's surface near the spire. The Garrison to go with the two Rangda Warriors. They would be dealt with, nothing would spare them what was about to happen.
The thirty five Astartes of Martyr Company lept from the Stormbird, the Five Terminators and Phosphex Bomb staying aboard until they could be safely unloaded. Maneuvering jets and jump-packs let the descending Night Lords strike as they had hoped. Encircling the hab-suite sized spire and the two Rangda wired into its ossic surface by cables and hoses. Cloaked in the mechanical shadows of Mars, decades of training and instinct, along with Librarian Zlatko's warpcraft. They were undetectable until it was too late.
The first Rangda barely had time to surface from the fugue of connecting to the spire when its head was scooped from its shoulders. It had been a marvelous show of precision, speed, and teamwork. Two lightning claw-wielding Battle Brothers had gently but swiftly carved the Rangda free, severing dozens of strange connectors, hoping to at least slow any alarms. A Third Astartes drove a Power halberd down from above at an angle. Punching through the thick double shoulders of the heptapodic Xeno and into where its torso and head met. Leveraging the downward momentum to drive the spear through where a human might have a spinal column and major artery. The blow separated the lamprey-like tube of armored flesh the Rangda used as a head from its body.
The Catastrophic internal damage and decapitation would not "kill" the Rangda, merely break its war-form badly. With nutrients, replacement parts and time the Rangda Warrior could repair itself. Or more worryingly, disperse the viral clusters that made up its true being. Animated gobbets of puppetered flesh squirming away, ready to infect another victim. That chance could not be taken. Damaged badly enough to prevent an immediate response, the Rangda was pulled free of its nest and thrown bodily into the air. It was lighter than the Astartes expected, and they put more force in than necessary. It mattered little when Brother Orddot of the Destroyer Wing hit the soaring Rangda with a charged gout of Plasma while it was mid-air. Leaving only a cloud of ash where the Xeno had been.
The second Rangda did not require such a coordinated effort, just Astartes to guard Zlatko as he worked. The Librarian dropped down from the black void like the legendary Strigoi. Thrusting spindly claws of silvered metal into the Rangda's body and tendrils of psychic power into its mind. Working Warp-Craft of any kind on the Rangda would be difficult, their half-blank nature granting them protection. Zlatko could not peer into the Xeno's soul like he would virtually any other being, he had to find an alternative method. One he had helped design about a decade back while working aside Black Knight veterans of the Ceres Campaign. Bodies are but containers for souls, for the electrical impulses that effect existence in such a peculiar way. Normally a Psyker gripped the soul of a foe and manipulated it to effect their body. Theoretically the reverse was true, requiring creativity and an element of madness to work.
Giggling wildly to himself Zlatko started his messy work. Extending his senses through his psychic power and the imaging capabilities of his gloves. Finding the patterns of impulses that made up the Rangda. It was as Zlatko had expected, no singular neural mass like a brain, instead, a dispersal of Virions with super-cell properties throughout the nervous system. It would take Zlatko a bit to pull apart this curious mixture of meat and metal, ah well time dilation was an extremely practical psychic skill to master. Poking and prodding individual neural clusters, like an over-eager youth with a vivisected amphibian. Zlatko managed to form a rudimentary sense of how the Rangda Warrior worked. Enough for him to crudely puppet the flesh of the thing.
This effort was taxing, both mentally and spiritually, made worse by the naturally Blank state of Rangda neural tissue, forcing Zlatko to use more power than normal to effect the tissue. It took a few attempts but the Librarian eventually succeeded. Warping the messages and signals his Xeno puppet was sending back into the great biomechanical brain of the War-Moon. Turning the sudden Astartes assault into a piece of debris from the battle striking the "song-spire" as the Rangda called it. Debris that would need to be cleared and repairs were needed. As such, things would be passing through the barrier the spire helped maintain, and it was not an issue to be investigated.
Zlatko didn't know how convincing the message was, he had tried to stress the damage as being disorienting but fixable. Hopefully, that would cover any mistakes or missed cues. Perhaps the battles raging in the void and across the War-Moon would keep the labyrinthian intelligence of the Rangda busy. With those preparations, the Stormbird let off its cargo and took to the skies. It would be far too overt in the scab crater and would attract unwanted attention if it skulked around nearby. Anyway a return trip was not exactly needed, the Star Cloak would head towards the Wrathful Black and provide any aid for the other beached ship. Leaving Martyr Company to the task ahead.
Fully assembled the Night Lords made it down the steep cliff and into the rad-blackened flesh-plastic covering the Rangda's most insidious weapon. It took a little effort to get the Terminators and grav-sled down the sharp incline. The built-in descent thrusters of the Armor-Skeletons were nearly entirely used up, preventing the bulky armor from crashing into the ground. And one of the two Tech Marines assigned to the mission had made some crude modifications for the sled, it didn't have to be pretty, just get the job done.
It had been close to a Terran day since the Corpse Star Ignition had ripped through the Void, still the radiation levels in the scablands were obscene. Extra protection had been hurriedly added to Martyr Company's armor. Hopefully, it would be enough to keep them functioning longer, but even after only a few moments at the edge of Ground Zero the taste of metal filled the mouths of every Astartes. The Emperor's Space Marines can survive the worst the galaxy has to offer, but not even they could face the power of a ruptured star and live. All that was left for Martyr Company was to get the Phosphex Warhead as deep into the scablands as possible and if they could maybe pop off a few Melta bombs to punch through the pseudo-graphite crust and help the Phospex along.
Gazing out at the polished black expanse Librarian Zlatko broke the grim silence that had settled over the Night Lord. "Alright then, let's hurry this up then. Never thought I would die to an exterminatus weapon, figured a Neverborn would eat its way out of my guts eventually. Ah well, let's best get this over with Brothers."
With that the Librarian set off, stalking across the pseudo-graphite steppe keeping his senses peeled for anything coming. After a few steps he stopped, considered a moment, and spoke again. "Frak it, we're all going to die anyway. Brother Luka I was the one who swapped out the Air Filters before the Drop on Vishi-2, you had annoyed me and figured it would be funny. Brother Vitomir, you are perhaps the dumbest Astartes I have had the misfortune of meeting, I hope I don't die before you. Sergeant Arseni, I helped Brother Milomir beat you in that duel three years back."
For a moment a pregnant silence filled the vox channel before the near entirety of Martyr Company burst out laughing. The mad cackles of dead men finding some humor in their end. The laughing continued for a solid five minutes before Captain Rusya brought it to an end. Even he found it funny, but they had a job to do. The laughter continued for a few moments more after Rusya's call to cease and the Captain sighed and spoke: "I suppose if anyone else feels the need to unburden themselves in such a crude manner they might as well. Anything else you care to enlighten us with Zlatko?"
Underneath his helm the Librarian gave a sad little smile and responded: "Yeah, once you are dead, head for the blinding light and don't listen to what the shadows say. It'll burn like a Sumpfire for a bit but beats the alternative, Death isn't always the end of Duty."
With that cryptic remark Martyr Company continued their trek. Exchanging spiteful confessions, finding humor and comfort in each other as they went to their deaths. They were exposed out on the Black flats and any enemy patrol or scan would pick them up. The radiation that cooked the Night Lords alive seemed to prevent any meaningful surveillance by the Rangda. Or perhaps even these twisted Xenos considered what Martyr Company was attempting far too mad to even attempt. Either way they continued unmolested, a constant string of Stim injections and the occasional Revitaliser kicking in keeping the Night Lords moving.
They made good time and simply followed the Giger Counter, going deeper and deeper into the scablands. When the first Astartes fell, his blood vessels popping open like torn tubing, Captain Rusya decided they had traveled far enough. After giving the crippeled Brother the Emperor's Mercy, the Astartes got to work. A melta-drill would be used to punch through the outer layer of the Pseudo-Graphite and then the Phosphex would be detonated. Rusya would pull the trigger and he left it up to his men how they wanted to die. A few engaged in honor duels, some gave their favored weapons a final use. Some like Zlatko were content to wait until the Crawling Death devoured them.
Shortly after the melta-drill burned itself out the ground shook, a cataclysmic shockwave cracked the rad-blackened ground. Even in the strange atmosphere of the War-Moon the noise was deafening, a wall of force powerful enough to deafen or even kill the unprotected. It seemed either the Vindication or Wrathful Black had gotten to use their own weapons. With new urgency the Phopsex torpedo was prepared. Soon a wave of dust and debris was visible on the Horizon, the more physical effect of whatever detonation had just occurred. It would soon crest the Canyon and be on them quickly. A Great swirling Haboob of grey dust and splintered flesh-constructs.
Zlatko simply watched it come, hearing a telltale click and hiss behind him. A geyser of green fog spat out of the Phospex Warhead. For a few precious seconds the Crawling Death was simply spat into the atmosphere, injected into the atmosphere and carried by the winds like some hellish volcanic eruption. Then it started its grizzly work, everything it touched burned. The surface of the War-Moon started to be devoured by a technorganic horror of mankind's own creation. As the first flames started to creep through his armor's seals. Zlatko whispered a quite defiant curse to the Rangda. "Eat shit and die Xeno"
Location: The Vindication, Night Lord Strike Cruiser crashed into the Rangda War-Moon
Date: 893.M30 (Moments after the Detonation)
The Wrathful Black was dead. Consumed in a massive blast. A devastating explosion, but the wrong kind. Sensors all across the Vindication's bridge all told the same story. That was not a Cyclonic Torpedo or misfired Virus Bomb. Something had burst open the Wrathful Black's Plasma Core and destroyed the ship before it could trigger its weapons.
The Vindication was holding on, its defenses keeping back the Rangda, even as the Bone Bolts fired into its hull revealed their true nature. A form of bizarre Rangda boarding craft that had disgorged Stalker-Drones and a slew of microscopic invaders into the ship's hull. Astartes' kill-teams and liberal use of jellied Promethium had so far kept the invaders at bay. The Flagship of the Expedition Fleet would not be destroyed like the Tyrannos Umbra. Crippeled and gutted, waiting for the Rangda to feast on its innards. Instead, it faced death by a thousand cuts. The number of bodies the Rangda could throw at the beached void ship was staggering.
Waves of enslaved flesh that soaked up bullets meant for more important targets. Lingering contamination of both Radioactive and Biological nature mounted everywhere the Rangda fought. Every weapon used, even the stolen bodies of the slave soldiers left a stain. Combined with the near constant attempts at infiltration and the heavier War-Forms assault, it was only a matter of time before the make-shift Imperial fortress fell. Chapter Master Fenj and his subordinates understood this, it mattered little. They just had to delay a bit longer, the Cyclonic Torpedo would be ready soon.
Fenj itched to join the melee that had started in the outer edges of his ship. Sink his lighting claws into the enemy and die properly. A privilege the chains of command would deny him. He would orchestrate the battle from within his ship's bridge. Currently, the Night Lord Master found his attention absorbed in every sensory array he had access to. Barking orders for an explanation to what had killed the Wrathful Black. Had its defenders fallen before its Exterminatus weapons could be activated? Grimly Fenj ordered the ship's Virus Bomb to be put on a timer and Dead Man's Switch. At least one of their tools of Planet-Death would go off.
An answer to the mystery of the Wrathful Black's fate came as the three Librarians aboard the Bridge, all Solomonari, cried out a warning to brace for impact. More mundane sensors followed up, howling warning about something massive coming in fast. Flak guns turned skywards and shields screamed attempting to halt the oncoming attack. They did not have to, the hab-block-sized projectile came crashing down at the edge of the Vindication's shields. Reducing scores of unlucky slave soldiers to red paste. Red-hot and twisted, the hunk of metal took a moment to be identified. It was the Wrathful Black's bridge. The Void Ship's command center ripped out of its hull and tossed like the severed head of a defeated giant. Equal parts challenge and threat. The source of which soon came into view.
Even from his command throne, Master Fenj felt the coming storm. Heavy footfalls that shook the ground, monumental roars created by something more than flesh, and the presence. By the gods of Old Earth, the presence. An alien intellect of such magnitude its cursory attention could be felt. Something of psychic power so mighty it bled soul-crushing weight. Fenj had seen his Primarch furious once. He had also touched the truth of time itself through his geneseed's gift. This was worse, so, so, so much worse. Not necessarily more powerful than his Genefather, or as all-encompassing as fourth-dimensional awareness. Instead, it was sickening and crushing, the spiritual equivalent of the radiation that ate through flesh and metal. A soul so vast and twisted it leaked alien madness like a burst fusion reactor leaked death. The true might of the Rangda had finished with the Wrathful Black, and come for the Vindication
A parade of giants crested the canyon's top, coming into view, eldritch mountains of biomechanical horror added to the overloading presence. Each stood as tall as a Capital-class Titan, but were more massive, with quadrupedal stances and wriggling movement. Rangda Macrobeests, the pinnacle of the Xenobreed's skill of biomechanical engineering. Horrors that combined the worst of nature and innovation. Sewn together by the Basemekanic crafters, each a unique work of terrible alien genius. Nearly a dozen of them marched towards the Vindication, great ursine-insectoid bodies fused with pyramidal structures that glowed with eldritch power. Each of the Macrobeest a match for all but the greatest Imperial war-machine, and they were the escorts for the true horror.
The psychic presence belonged to something else, something that defied proper description. Like the nerves and blood vessels of a dead god stitched to the ruins of a monument. A bipedal form of flesh-plastic so dense it appeared stone-like, crackling with uncontained psychic power. Tendrils of blood/nerve/psychic power swirled around it, the evolution of the Warp-Glamor weapons favored by the Khrave and other psychic Rangda breeds. Fenj and his subordinates lacked the context to describe this…."thing" it was everything horrible and twisted that made up the Rangda and taken to the highest degree. This was a House-Lord, the demigod ruler and nexus of an entire segment of the Rangda kindred. One of the ancient horrors that nothing less than a Primarch with the backing of his legion and the Legio Titanicus might beat. In the coming years the Imperium of Mankind would learn a name for the thing that faced the battered scraps of Expedition Fleet-89. Opus Jorith, House-Lord of House Jorith and Architect of War-Moons.
To the Imperials it needed no name, they knew what it was. It was death, their death, come to snuff out their lives like it had billions before. The decision was not hard, Fenj gave the order, forcing it out through constricted lungs, tight from psychic pressure. "Activate the Virus Bomb and the Cyclonic Torpedo. Only in Death does Duty end."
Through some small miracle of will, the order passed down the tattered lines of command and a silent Tech-Priest enacted the cipher of death, freeing the Life Eater from its cage. The pathogen spread through the Vindication, devouring everything, falling upon Imperial defenders and Rangda attackers with equal hunger. Deep below the crashed Strike Cruiser the Cyclonic Torpedo detonated. Its activation rites rushed, but thankfully not botched. Two tools of planet-death ignited near simultaneously. Anti-Life reducing all it touched to gaseous sludge, crust-cracking explosives rushing up with the power to rip open a world's guts. Chapter Master Tiberiu Fenj did not know which one killed him.
Death poured towards the Rangda House-Lord devouring its armies and threatening to crack open its prized creation. Thousands of lesser Rangda screamed in panic as they died. Consumed by Life-Eater, Phospex, or the Cyclonic Torpedo's wrath. Soon the War-Moon would be burst open and riddled with Imperial planet-killers. The final desperate sacrifice of the Night Lords slaying an Alien megastructure.
No, This would not do, thought Opus Jorith. These arrogant Host-Beasts had ruined a trap meant for a godling. And now attempted to destroy the Star-Stealing-War-Moon, a unique creation created specifically to slay gods. Intimately connected to the Song of the War-Moon, the gestalt nightmare called Opus Jorith felt the touch of Phospex unleashed by Martyr Company alongside the Vindication's petty defiance. How annoying, amputation would be required, repairs would take cycles. How utterly annoying.
In the time between the Cyclonic Torpedo's ignition and before it could hit the alien demigod, it stepped through unreality and stood in the heart of its power. Watching the expanding shockwave and death through a million eyes, the House-Lord started minimizing the damage. Leaving its army to die without a second thought, there was always more meat to use. Reaching into itself Opus Jorith pulled up its stolen reserves of sorceric power and started to cut. This would cost maybe a planet's worth of stolen warp-conduits, costly but better than letting the Host-Beasts poison spread.
Moonquakes shook the alien Megastructure as cables, arteries and cavern systems burst open. An entire continent of the War-Moon separated from the rest of it. Like a reptile shedding diseased skin, or a crustacean leaving an insufficient shell, the War-Moon let part of its body fall off. Pushed off into the void by mundane propulsion and the telekinetic push of Opus Jorith. The War-Moon had survived, wounded but not badly. With part of its crust gone the inflamed twitching innards of the artificial planetoid were exposed to the void. Already milky fluids dribbled over the nation-sized wound. Sealing shut important systems and preparing for triage. The War-Moon would return to House Jorith holdings and be repaired. Its colossal bulk entered the Worm-Ship, trailed by hundreds of War-barques, dragging the ruined husks of Imperial ships, ready to be put to use by the Rangda Kindred.
Location: Jörmungandr: Flagship of the Wild Hunt Legion. Dyatlov-Rho system.
The excised hunk of planet-flesh still burned. Three years later and the Phospex still gnawed away at the forgotten piece of the War-Moon. Left behind by the Rangda, some of the only evidence of a battle had even been fought in the Dyaltov-Rho system. Some particularly brave Tech-Priests wanted to investigate, braving the Crawling Death for possible insight into the enemy. Tyric Baldurson was impressed with their mettle, but would not risk it. Besides, the Wild Hunt did not have time to tarry. The trail was already cold, and grew as bitter as Fenrisian winds with every passing day.
It had taken three years but the Imperium had done it, waging a galactic-class campaign on two fronts. Five more Legions had been called to face the Rangda and aid the VIII and IX. Already Rangda incursions were being pushed back and the Eternal Guard, the XIV Legion had implemented a basic quarantine around suspected Kindred territory. The fighting had raged for months already and the Wild Hunt had earned a great tally of new honors and shames. So many worlds had fallen, any even touched by the Rangda needed to be purged. Entire systems of compliant humans put to the sword because of a strand of errant DNA. The markers of an alien threat the likes of mortal minds could barely comprehend.
Baldurson and his legion had gained some respite from the frontlines, dispatched on a mission of utmost importance by the Emperor himself. A mission that had taken them deep into Rangda territory. Dyatlov-Rho, and the surrounding Calaxis region had been swallowed up by the Rangda, its stars haunted by horrid alien nightmares. In this journey into the dying sector, the Wild Hunt had picked up a trail. Following the ruined remnants of lost Expedition Fleets. Resupply groups that had become stranded in Rangda space. Some had even survived to be rescued by the VI Legion, and a few of those had even been spared. Having tested free of Rangda taint.
The still-burning carnage of the Dyaltov-Rho system and the records recovered from Expedition Fleet-89's few surviving members painted a grim picture. One that Tyric Baldurson had been silently hoping would not be true. But now he was faced with the ugly truth. The trail was cold, there had not been any contact for nearly four years. The IX Legion, the Dawn Angels, and their Primarch Dante Uriael were missing in action.
(Edited by Klickator)