AN/ Look, I normally shitpost drunkenly at the start and at the end of each chapter, but this time I have some bad news. I don't want to ruin anything just yet, so enjoy this before I lay it all out at the end where I need to tell you about the future of this series. Please try not to judge too harshly about what I have to say there is all I ask. Anyways, sorry in advance, but please try to enjoy what I've written so far. I worked pretty dang hard on this chapter.

...

Cruelty is the only constant in this Galaxy. There can be no hope in its hellish confines. No hope at all. Yet, even with this truth about them, the honest men of the Imperium fights on.

They fight against the darkness that besets the Imperium's borders, and, sometimes they strike out at the darkness. They bring it to its knees, and with mortal, human hands of flesh and blood and faith, they savage the darkness with a hate born of spite and anguish.

They make the Darkness suffer as they have suffered, and when that darkness tries to escape they drag it back down to wallow in the murk of their mortality.

For as long as they can, they keep the darkness pinned- before it inevitably escapes and the cycle repeats- they make it know what fear is.

Men are dying. Men are screaming, gore bursts across the plaza like overripe fruit. The heavy bolter thuds in succession as the Chaos Marine wielding it walks its barrel left and right across the cover of the veteran guardsmen. A Calibrian Sergeant shouts out what everyone already knows. "Facking Heretic Astartes! Eyes front! Eyes front!"

"The fuck did he come from?" The grenadier next to Hastis shouts, seeking shelter behind an all too flimsy brick wall.

"Guns! Guns! Guns!" Two squads of the Calibrian Grenadiers open fire, leaning out of cover, hosing their assault-type weapons over the hulking frame of the monstrous chaos Astartes. The sound of heat diffusing off of the chaos marine's armor sounded almost like laughing to Hastis.

"Facking fantastic, this is just facking fantastic!" Hastis snarls, he grips his lasgun tightly, he bears his teeth as he does away with the warning the grenadier had given him, and uncaps the overcharge stud and presses it ruefully, almost at once the weapon heats up in his hands as it prepares to fire.

"Take that facker out now!" Suliko, roaring over the vox loudly enough that Hastis can hear it both over the combead and naturally. "Get facking Voltair up here now!"

Hastis adds his weapon into the mix, the grenadier next to him moves in synch with him, they both have their guns shouldered and trigger studs pressed by the time they draw a line on the chaos warrior. Hastis will not forget the sight of a hulking black armored warrior, laden in spikes and skulls, his armor seeming to glow a dull hellish red as countless lasbeams stich over his frame. He watches his own supercharged red beams of heat paint across the warriors helmet as it turns to look at him, the barrel of his weapon following slowly- completely unconcerned with the wave of energy washing over it.

Hastis' eyes widen as he find himself staring down the bore of a Heavy Bolter. Ice fills his veins and with a curse he grabs the grenadier next to him. "Down!" He shouts, moments later the walls erupts, splinters of stone riddle his back, ripping up his skin and armor. "Phask! Shit!" He curses, but the grenadier pulls him by the arm, hauling him behind a yet unmolested section of wall.

"Thanks for the save. Much obliged, sir-"

"Shut up and run!" Explosions bracket the wall they cower behind, each blast punching holes in their cover as they try to reposition; try to find some form of shelter. The Chaos marine is toying with them, placing each shot just behind them- the traitor astartes auspex clearly feeding him the telemetry of their position despite their cover. Hastis knows this much, and it infuriates him with just how helpless he is. If he could just get a bit closer- get a bead on the bastard with his revolver…

"Sir- Get to a better position- we'll draw his fire!" The shout came over the vox, Hastis managed a quick enough glance to see a pair of objects soar out from a heretic palisade behind the Chaos Marine, the underslung grenade launchers of the Calibrians did more than draw the Astarte's attention. The loud Thwat! Of an armor piercing Krak grenade saw to the chaos marine doubling over, staggered forwards and roaring in anger, he twists around, raises his weapon.

Another soft thump, from the Astarte's right this time, coming from the upper floors of an adjacent building. The Calibrian Grenadiers had scattered and spread out, and now rained as much fire as they could from every angle. The corrupted Astartes twisted- faster than what should be possible for such a large, heavily armored creature- and the krak grenade slipped past just over its shoulder- the chaos Astartes rakes a barrage of fire across the rooftop of the offending position, stone and wood splinters- Hastis sees a red mist with it, another dead Calibrian.

"Hastis!" Hyork, Hastis saw the inquisitor, hunkered down in a small butchers shop, Lagorn with him. "Over here!"

Hastis nodded to the Calibrian next to him, they sprinted across the open street- every footstep seeming to take a thousands seconds before the next- an eternity exposed to the perdition of the Chaos Astartes. Hastis dove through the window, the grenadier through the open door.

"Where the Fack is your Tank?" Lagorn shouted at once, "Why ain't it up here mowing that bastard down!?"

"I don't rightly know!" The grenadier tore off his helmet and face mask, his deeply tanned face was smeared with blood from a bad gash across his forehead, Hastis can see part of the mask the grenadier wore lodged into his skull. "The Lt, hadta' have voxed 'em by now, I don't rightly know!"

"Fack it! I'll do it!" Lagorn shouts, activating his Vox Caster, Hastis peers out the window- all too aware of just how bad a position this shop was, the heavy bolter could punch right through, but the Astartes traitor was occupied, thinning the herd, demolishing the positions of the Calibrians, almost purposefully ignoring Suliko and the squad holed up in the fountain at the center of the plaza.

"SHIT." Low gothic, Hastis whipped around, staring at Lagorn who was fiddling with the arcane instruments of his Voxcaster, the readouts on his wrist mounted cogitator seeming to inspire dread in his eyes. "SHIT." He repeated, vehemently he smacked the bulky green unit on his back.

"What's it?" The Calibrian snapped, on the verge of panic but training and intensive conditioning managing to hold him steady. His hands methodically ran over his lasgun, loading a Krak grenade into the undermount launcher and replacing the drum-mag on autopilot.

"I can't get a Facking signal. I don't understand, everything's fine but- but I can't get a damn signal on the long range."

"What's that mean?" The grenadier asks. "You can't vox the Colonel?"

"Far more than that, I can't contact any-facking-one outside of fifty facking meters!"

"They're targeting our long range communications, jamming them." Hyork said. Hastis couldn't help but note how calm he was in this situation, given how unfocussed he was just minutes before. The old Inquisitor clasped his cane with both hands. "We'll unravel this later. I'll handle this traitor."

"Wot?" The grenadier raised a brow, looking to the old weather-beaten inquisitor in a dirty overcoat. "You mean ta fight that big-bastard?" He shook his head, incredulous, "No dis'r'spect lord, but that jus' ain't possible."

"No, he's right." Hastis said. "He's the only chance we have at the moment, we're going to have to cover him though."

"Glad to have your confidence for once, Hastis." Hyork said, standing, he flicks his cane; two gleaming adamantium edges sprout from wither side, a field of visible power coalescing on either one. "This wont be at all pleasant, however."

"You going to do that thing? Sir?" Lagorn asks. He stows his equipment as quickly as possible. "That a bright idea with all the cultists around?"

"Only chance we have, as I said."

"The hell you talkin' bout." The Grenadier curses something in his native tongue, he stands as they do, grabbing his helmet from his lap he tries to put it on, the broken strap only sees that it falls to the floor. It clatters to the ground, coming to a rest next to a boot.

A hand, larger than that of a normal man, reaches down and picks it up.

"Please stay down inquisitor." The Marine places the guardsman's helmet back on, making sure it stays. "I shall remedy this." A carapace armored marine- appearing from seemingly nowhere, strides past Hastis, Hyork, Lagorn and the Calibrian, he turns the silvered staff in his hands, its ends smeared with blood that is splattered across his armor- cratered and broken in places.

"Facking where did-" Hastis doesn't have time to finish his curses before the Scout is walking out of the butcher shop, ducking under the doorframe.

He'd only seen a brief glimpse of them fighting in the trenches yesterday. He'd only thought that what he had seen was a trick of his concussed mind. He had dearly hoped that it was only that. Now his breath caught in his throat and he tried hard to breathe, watching what follows.

The Marine, the one with the long silver staff strolls out into the shell cratered and ruined plaza, calmness about his person that is at odds with the destruction before him. The Lieutenant and the grenadiers in the fountain look up, staring as he approaches. The Marine looks down at them, contemplating them for a moment. "Stay down." He tells them, and the chaos marine turns- seeing him for the first time.

The two Astartes, one loyal and one traitor, locked eyes upon each other. The corrupt counterpart growls something, words distorted through a snarling, twisted vox grill. The Traitor aims his weapon, the heavy bolter seeming to rumble as it takes in the new target. The chaos marine fires.

The scout marine Moves.

Yenald- Hastis remembers his name now- The scout masters movements become sharper, more focused, his outline seeming to blur and shift as bright streaks of fire dance around him, his staff becoming a glinting silver shriek that whipped through the air like a shining star.

The Chaos marine hoses the ground around Yenald, bolts the size of his fist nearly grazing the scout marine. At one point Hastis thinks he sees Yenald slap a bolt round out of the air with his stave. And then they are in a melee, the scoutmaster leaping the last few feet and planting his boot against the chaos marines' helmet and kicking off, flipping backwards and striking out with his staff. The long metal pole slapping against the chaos marines less armored wrist joints, forcing the traitor to involuntarily drop his weapon.

The opposite of the staffs end swings up and punches into the left lens of the Chaos Astarte's helmet like a javelin, all before Yenald hits the ground. The chaos marine screams in pain- a sound that sounds like an alpha grox but twice as deep. Yenald rips his staff free and a torrent of blood sprays out in response. He sways under the wildly thrown punch of the chaos Astartes, ducking under another fist and then another, the chaos marine is furious, enraged at this injury. Yet he cannot connect, Yenald steps back, ducks, leans and sidesteps each and every blow the chaos marine tries to inflict upon him.

Yenald seems almost leisurely in his next movement but it is faster than Hastis can see, there is a blur of motion between the traitor astartes legs and then Yenald is jamming his staff between the backpack and back of the chaos marine and levering it away. A shower of sparks accompanied the sound of groaning ceramite, the backpack generator tearing partially off, cables and tubes snaking wildly. He wrenches his staff free and then he spins, jumping into the air and twisting around, grabbing the extreme end of his staff he brings it around with devastating force- it connects with the back of the chaos marines left knee.

There is what seems to be an explosion as fragments of Ceramite and hardened rubber shatter across the plaza alongside blood, muscle and bone. The Chaos Marine screams again- the sound ripping from his vox, Yenald skips back and away, the chaos Astartes falling to one knee, his left leg below the knee hanging limply, barley connected by sinew and ligaments.

The groaning of plasteel and ceramite against rock fills the plaza as the Chaos marine turns to regard Yenald with his one good eye, baleful hate piercing out in an almost physical manner. In response Yenald merely flicks his staff, oils and blood slicking off of its length. He removes a cloth from a pouch and begins cleaning his weapon. After a few moments he looks up, regarding the guardsmen who stare over and from behind their cover, stunned and uncertain.

Yenald puts the cloth away, and speaks. "Kill it."

Suliko is the first to stand. He levels his laspistol at the crippled chaos marine. The lieutenant is a picture of rage, with blood and entrails splattered across his armor. "All squads! Burn this filth away at once!"

The air burned red as lasguns snapped to shoulders, and laser beams as fast as light scoured the traitor Astarte's armor. A single burst was all they needed to home in on the weak points- the joints, the lenses- the cracks in its armor. The Chaos marine was growling like some mad beast, raising its arms to cover its head as the overwhelming volley of lasfire rippled across its body once again.

Without fear of reprisal, Hastis stepped out from cover, closing the distance between him and the chaos astartes. He's only been this close to one of their kind once in the past on a now dead rock of a world. He can remember the chilling glares of their ruby-eyed lenses as they slaughtered his comrades. Even incapacitated like this, the traitor before him still bore an aura of unprecedented menace. He took careful aim; lining up his shot with the revolver, thumbing back the safety, sighting in and pulling the trigger- an overcharged hotshot lasbeam cratered the chaos marine's elbow- punching through ceramite dating back to the Horus Heresy itself. The Heretic Astarte's arm went limp- hanging by a thread of tissue. The chaos Marine was roaring in pain, shouting in anger at being forced to kneel to mere mortals who slaved themselves to a corpse-god.

Hastis retargeted and fired, his next shot blasting through the rubberized joint of the chaos marines other elbow, blowing the limb clean off. For a moment, Hastis sighted down the length of his revolver, focusing on the traitor's helmet. For a moment, he wanted to pull the trigger. He didn't. He wouldn't kill this thing with a single shot. That would be too quick, too painless. He thumbed the safety on and holstered his gun. Suliko had other ideas.

"Burn this cretin!" Suliko snarled, the first platoons flamers advanced, pilot lights flickering, they doused the ancient Astarte's in burning promethium. The cracks and rents opened up in the marine's armor letting serpents of fire inside to scorch flesh that hadn't seen the light in over ten thousand years.

The weapon specialists hosed the marine down, giving the fiend a full one third of their tanks before muzzling their flames. By now the power-armored warrior was a burning effigy, writing on the ground in an attempt to put itself out. Several guardsmen backed away, everyone could only watch as the chaos astartes slowly burnt to death, this thing more a creature of the warp than anything living.

Engulfed in flames, its flesh and bones blackened as its pulsating organs liquefied and then turned to ash; even still, it still took a full three minutes for the chaos warrior to die.

Hastis consulted his chronometer on his wrist. It had only been four minutes since they entered this plaza. Twelve Grenadiers, the elite of the 76th and veterans of many battlefields were dead and even more were wounded in less than three minutes, all because of this single creature.

"Traitor Astartes confirmed in the AO, that's a confirmed Traitor Astartes neutralized in grid…" Hastis watches Lagorn talk into the vox speaker. Hunkered down in the back of Voltair, furiously trying again and again to punch through the miasmic jamming interference by hooking his vox set up with that of the Crassus Armored Assault Transport's own vox array.

"Anything yet?" Hastis asked, sitting down next to Lagorn. The Vox specialist had been having a rough go at the task his superiors had given him. Whatever the Chaos forces were using to interfere with their long range and medium range communications it was damned powerful.

"No luck so far, sir. I've managed to boost the squad coms by several degrees but anything more and it turns to static. It's the best I can do. As for contacting anyone else, absolutely no luck whatsoever. We're going to have to use runners."

"'ts what I was afraid you'd say." Hastis griped. "Course, runners usually have to know where they're running too first. Any idea where the other Calibrians are?"

"The Lieutenant said that the first company would be spearheading the assault on the citadel, the second company would be covering each flank, while their third brought up the rear with the big guns in case they needed to retreat."

"That was the plan, yes." Hastis nodded. "As you can see, the plan has seemingly gone down the shitter."

"With that being the case, I have no idea where any of the other forces could be. Some may be moving on schedule, others could be holed up fighting it out with cultists and traitors. We have no picture of the battle-line as we are now."

"We could be getting flanked an not even no it. How's that for a thought?" Hastis grinned.

"Pleasant, sir. Pleasant." Lagorn grimaced. "Anything else you need, sir?"

"Not at the moment, keep at it, maybe you'll figure something out."

Hastis left the Crassus Armored Assault Transport. Voltair had been called up once the fighting had ceased and made its dominance clear, its guns overlooking the plaza from the center, the Calibrians spread out in a loose perimeter around it. The Guardsmen were making sure to keep as much distance from the fallen traitor astartes as possible, the only ones daring to approach it being the Space Marine and Hyork.

Hastis was to join them, making his way over he glanced down at the burned out husk of what was once humanities foremost breed of champion.

Its armor was blackened from flame, smoke rolled out from its broken lenses and the rents in its armor. Even though it lay still and lifeless, there was an aura about it. A menacing spell that shrouded its final resting place. It was an unholy thing, menacing and cruel.

Hyork glanced up as Hastis approached; he was kneeling next to the armor, scraping away the soot from a pauldron to reveal what lay beneath. "Iron Warriors." Hyork spoke softly. "Traitor Legionary." He couldn't keep an ounce of dread from his voice.

Hastis didn't know much, he was only an acolyte, but he did know that the Iron Warriors were one of the eighteen legions forged by the emperor during the great crusade, and one of the nine to turn traitor. They were supposedly siege specialists, experts of cracking open enemy defenses. It was a surprise to see one on the defensive. It was a surprise to see one at all, more importantly. The Iron Warriors were supposed to be dead now.

The Shattering had seen to almost every single Traitor Legion being either vaporized or slaughtered along with their loyalist counterparts. Then again, no one had a clear number on just how many of them there were in the first place. It was chilling to think that the losses they sustained might in fact not even be all that significant. Hastis shook the thought away. If there was a singular constant in this galaxy, it was that there everyone had it bad

Yenald was stoic, not saying anything but the disdain in his expression was clear. He looked as if he wanted to say something, but did not know quite how to put it into words. Eventually he composed himself, less frustrated it would seem.

He gripped his staff with both hands, staring down at the husk before his feet. "I lost five brothers earlier." He turned, looking to face the Inquisitor. "Myself, and five other scouts had made considerable headway. We were clearing the way for you to advance your armored units. We held positions and tried to contact your command elements to advance your tanks to our position. We could not force the signal through. The traitors ambushed us from underground. Only I survived."

"Oh. I see." Hyork nodded. Solemn. "I am sorry."

"The traitors are dead." Yenald turned away. "Nothing more needs to be spoken of it."

"Do you have anything yet?" Colonel Deov Vestalt was not a happy man. Sweat beaded off his toned body, running down his bare chest. The fusion heart of the Divine Judicator was a powerful thing that supplied the tank with the golden light of the God-Emperor and allowed it to smash his foes, but by the Throne was it hot. The close confines within the airtight and cramped armored compartments of the Tank did not make it any more bearable, and neither did the inclusion of several sweating tankers. What's more, was the fact that he had lost contact with the entirety of his first company.

Down to his left next to the drivers compartment was his communications officer. She was working at the cogitator before her, the pale green light of the screen reflecting off the sweat on her brow. "I can't regain contact with the advance elements." She said, readjusting her bulky earphones. "Second company is reporting a loss of contact with first company lead elements as well. If this keeps up..." she was holding her panic in check, like the elite tanker she was. Even so, he could see it clearly enough.

"The astartes?" He asked. "How do they fair?"

She shook her head. "The jamming is putting a shaft in any and all long range communications," She said. "Nothing I can do."

Deov slammed his fist against his chair, gritting his teeth. "Clever facking heretics, they're trying to isolate us."

"Too late to lament now, Sir, do we continue the assault?" The vox officer asked.

It was a good question. One he didn't want to make but had to, regardless. "If we pull back now, we'll be leaving the first to die, they'll be slaughtered without the second company securing the flanks…"

"But if we do advance we'll be pushing in blind."

Deov cursed, he knew that much as well. But he couldn't just sit and do nothing, not while he was still in command. "Damn it all, send the signal and get third company back on station at once. Have them watch for blue flares. Send word back to the fourth and fifth companies if at all possible, I want them setting up to receive us for a general withdrawal. We may have to do just that if this turns as bad as I think it will. Tell the third that I want them ready to shell the entire AO, collateral be damned."

"Aye, sir."

"They're charging again!"

Shards of masonry, ripped from the walls by high-caliber impacts showered down onto them. Snarling like some wild beast, Hastis returned fire with punitive impatience. The lasgun was growing hot in his hands with every squeeze of the trigger and storm of heat-light. Six bodies, scarred with runic sigils hit the ground in the street ahead, adding to the already massed pile of smoldering flesh as the type-67 smashed craters across their bare chests, boiling away flesh with explosive consequences. He let off the fully automatic burst and flicked the firing stud for the underslung shotgun, the scattershot attachment barked with a plume of fire and the tight spread of serrated buckshot tore through a seventh cultist and out the other side. The repetitive thud next to Hastis kicked up a notch, a massive, bulky weapon bucked in its cradle as it spat out seventy millimeter, fist sized shells in rapid succession. Lagorn fought to keep the barrel down as he stitched a line of explosives across a horde of charging madmen, blowing off limbs and cratering torsos.

"Lagron!" Hastis screams of the riotous cacophony. "Don't you facking dare let up on that bolter!" Lagorn doesn't respond, gritting his teeth instead and pumping out yet another barrage of death from his position, fighting hard to keep his nerves from breaking, the only thing keeping him from cracking was that he was not alone. Under just as much duress as him, on either side of him, behind a crudely built palisade of broken masonry and cracked stones, the Calibrian first platoon Grenadiers are firing everything they have. A fourth and fifth and sixth wave of mindless heathens already assaulting down the narrow street before them, their skin blistering and popping as another wave of lasfire washed over them, the bodies in the front shielding the ones in the back long enough to inch closer and closer with every assault.

From above, a burst of autogun fire smashed into the already chipped walls, sparks arched off of several grenadiers, their heavy frontal carapace taking the impact but staggering them back, their aim is thrown off for a second, the disciplined volleys of fire broken for a split second. Hastis reacts nearly on autopilot. Ripping a grenade from his webbing, biting the pin and hurling the frag into the seething mass of humanoid corruption spilling down upon them. The frag grenade tumbles amongst eh mass of bodies, its explosion almost lost amongst the shrieks and roars of the cultists, the only sign of its passing being the sudden hole that erupts in their lines as shrapnel rips through yielding flesh, tearing off limbs and goring open a hole in their ranks that gives the Imperials enough breathing room to react and shift their fire, but only for a second. "Balcony! Balcony!" A grenadier shouts, shifting his fire, hosing down an overlook further up the street, a gaggle of heretics leaning out, firing blindly with their rifles in an attempt to put Lagorn and his heavy bolter down.

"I see them." A voice, deeper than the battle around them replies with assured calm. It's the Marine, Yenald. From behind cover he shoulders his oversized long barreled bolter, sighting down the scope he pulls the trigger twice with effortless calm. The report of his weapon is deceptively soft, nothing like the barking heavy bolter under Lagorns' control. The Heretics fall apart, bursting into gory mist. "Neutralized." He announces, and without a moment of pause he returns to punching head sized holes in the chests of heretic leaders among the rabble. It wasn't enough. The chugging of Lagorns heavy bolter is almost eclipsed, a storm of flesh continuing to scream towards them, Hastis feels his gut drop out from underneath him as the ripple of light from the barrel of his lasgun sputters out- he glances at the meter on the drum pack, its empty. He looks at the closing hoard. He doesn't have the time to reload.

"Hit the bleedin' deck!"

Hastis and the grenadiers drop to the ground, the marine steps to the side, Lagorn does not move, he doesn't let up even as everyone else pulls back and hunkers down. He's low enough to avoid the burning twin pikes of promethium that jet overhead and into the rabble, the Calibrian flamer specialists arcing their emissions over the heads of their comrades from behind. It ends all too quickly, the fuel tapering out; the deluge cut short, leaving a burning hellscape ahead of them that would end all too soon.

"That's all that we could siphon." One of the flamer specialists pants out between breaths, shrugging off the heavy, armored canisters from his back. They hit the ground, resonating emptily. "Votair still has plenty left in reserve but getting it out is a damned pain."

"The rearguard still holding?" Hastis asks at once, surveying the street ahead of them, the charred corpses are at least four feet high by this point; the stone buildings are scorched black.

"Holding strong. Votair has the entire plaza locked down. The Lt is considering sending runners."

"Fuel up again, as much as you can this time, they shouldn't regroup for a solid two minutes." Hastis commands, the two flame-troopers salute, lugging their tanks back down the road. Hastis looks down at Lagorn. The Vox Specialist was covered with corpse soot, his face nearly blackened with ash and smoke. Oil from the heavy Bolter taken from the back of the Crassus was scalding through his gloves and he looked exhausted. He was shaking, taking in the sheer amount crumpled bullets littering the ground just in front of his position in a break in the fortifications.

"You're doing solid, lad." One of the grenadiers says, nodding down to Lagorn. "Knew you had the scones."

"How are you holding up, Lagorn?" Hastis asked. Lagorn shook his head.

"I'm a bloody tech specialist and Vox operator, not a gunnery corporal."

"I know, but we're short on hands." Hastis sighs. "Not sure how long we can keep this up."

"The worst is yet to come." The Marine was behind them, practically standing in the open, towering over all present. His expression was dour but taciturn as he scanned the battlefield before them. "They seek to wear you down before destroying you."

It had been nearly ten minutes since they moved out from the plaza. The Lieutenant was well aware of the Vox interference, and the prospect of traitor astartes was one that could not be ignored without the proper fire support in place to deal with them. Arrangements were underway for the first platoon to withdraw in short order and establish contact with the Colonel when the first wave of heretics assaulted from behind them.

Unlike the unorganized resistance from before, these creatures were of sterner stock and refused to break no matter how may were put down in the ensuing violence. Suliko took charge of the situation, ordering a fighting advance further into the city and up the narrow streets. Votair brought up the rear, reversing uphill, heavy flamers blistering with heat, keeping the heretics from advancing up behind them as it used its own hull and guns to plug the gap into the narrow roadways.

The Grenadiers took defensive postures facing forwards, and soon enough the expected attack materialized, and was summarily repulsed, as was the second, and the third, but the flamers were low on fuel. The fourth attack saw to the heretics jumping down from rooftops, or trying to break through walls and buildings to reach them from the flanks. Suliko spread the third and fourth squads into the buildings with breaching charges to head off any further attempts, and had a heavy bolter dismounted from the Crassus and brought to the front to act as fire support. Lagorn was given the task of manning it, a task he did not enjoy.

"Glad to know you're a bloody optimist." Hastis snarks in response to Yenald. He looked over his shoulder; back down the road at where Hyork and Suliko were. Hyork was pacing, tapping his cane against he broken up road being generally useless while Suliko was in the back of the Crassus, filled with dead and wounded, he was still trying to get the vox to work, unceasing in his endeavor. Even with the modifications Lagorn made he wasn't getting through to anyone.

Hastis wasn't going to lie to himself, the situation was decidedly grim, and looking around him he could tell that the Calibrians thought the same. They were good at not showing it openly but Hastis could see the various tells and tics that shown through the cracks in their otherwise calm exterior. The constant checking and re-checking of laspack charges, the looks over shoulders, the drumming of fingers on barrels, shifting pouches around for easier access and then shifting them back into a more shielded position and then repeating this every few minutes, staring at the flames ahead of them, wondering for just how long they will last, and when the next charge will begin. Hastis knew this, because he was doing the exact same thing.

Even so, he had to admit. The Calibrians -or at least their first company vets- were solid soldiers. He took the relative silence of the moment to grab his canteen, leaning his lasgun against the palisade and looking down for a moment, unscrewing the cap and-

"Contact!"

The lasbolt cut through his canteen, turning the water inside to steam before punching into the front of his flakvest. The resulting explosion of superheated steam and the fusing of the carboplastic weave of his flakvest sent him tumbling backwards. His canteen had saved him- dampening the full force of the lasbolt before it hit his flakvest. It still hurt, giving him a third degree burn all across his chest with flakweave fusing to his burnt skin. In the seconds where he was falling backwards, in the time that seemed to grind to a halt as the ground raced up to meet him. He was all too aware of the beams of light and storm of bullets that were whipping around him. His hands were scalded by the steam but it didn't hurt, he was also aware that his canteen had likely saved him, dampening the lasbolt just enough so that his flakvest could absorb it. He didn't even care about the storm of weapons fire as time reasserted itself and he hit the ground, watching the tracers of bullets and beams of light soar overhead, contrasted against the dark cloudy sky.

Lasbeams. Hastis sat low against the palisade, using his teeth to wrap his hands in bandages torn out from his first-aid pouch. It wasn't uncommon for cultists to get their hands on lasrifles, but they weren't all that common, spread out amongst he cultist ranks, with autoguns and stubbers being the main weapon of choice. The only fighting force in the galaxy that had the ability to serve up as much lasfire as was scouring overhead right now was the Imperial guard, and Renegades.

Traitor Guardsmen. The thought chilled Hastis. They'd already seen a Traitor Astartes today. What's to say he didn't have an entourage?

Lasbeams sung overhead, forcing even the heavily armored Grenadiers into cover, Lagorns' nerves broke in the face of such a sudden and overwhelming torrent of suppressing fire, he rolled to the right into cover, shielding his head, Hastis could not blame him, he'd do the same, any sane man would. Even the Space Marine was forced to disengage, he may have been fast enough to calmly step between bullets, but even a space marine wasn't faster than a laser- the scorch marks riddling his carapace armor was proof of that.

"Traitor Guardsmen." He calmly explained, looking at Hastis, telling him what he already had deduced. "This bodes poorly."

"Don't let 'em toss' frags!" Sulikos voice galvanized Hastis into action. He was a Guardsman first, an inquisitorial lackey second. Above all else, he was a damned good guardsman. He obeyed orders, especially if they would keep him alive. Hastis leans over, reaches out and grabs the firing handle of the heavy bolter, doing his best to keep himself in cover while he does so. He presses down on the firing stud; the heavy bolter jumps in its cradle, firing wildly. Hastis tries his best to blind fire the belt fed weapon, not going for accuracy so much as looking for volume of fire, counter-suppression.

"Lobbin' me-last incendiary!" A grenadier shouts, ripping a long cylindrical canister with orange taping off his belt, he pulls the pin and pops the cap, not waiting a second more he overhands it over the palisade. "Me crispies goin' out!" He cries. The canister sparks and pops mid arc, hissing violently as it erupts into white flame, blistering white-hot smoke billows outwards, small burning embers of Thermanite in the clouds that scoured miniature craters in the stone road. Normally used in close confines in order to suffocate enemies out of bunkers or tunnels, it worked just as well in the narrow streets ahead of their position. It stopped the majority of the Traitor Guardsmen long enough for a Grenadier to take over for Hastis, settling in on the Heavy Bolter, checking the current belt and then laying down a focused storm of suppressive fire into the smoke, the other Grenadiers following suit with their lasguns, a few even ramming the last of their frag-rounds into their underslung attachments and sending several rounds of explosives up the street, doing their hardest to keep the traitors at range.

"Nice call on the grenade." Hastis nodded to the Grenadier responsible for halting the charge.

"Was savin' that one jus' in case somthin' loik this happened." The Grenadier looks to his companion on the heavy bolter. "Betta' get that belt changed, Juna."

"Wait," The marine, Yenald, snapped up his stalker bolter, sighting in through the scope, he then did something that made Hastis' blood run cold. He swore.

It wasn't in any language Hastis had ever heard before, it was something guttural, feral in nature, but the emotion was more than clear. Something bad was coming.

"Guardsman. Get into cover." Yenald bit the words out, snapping to his shoulder his bolter roared in quick succession as he worked the trigger, smoking shells clattering to the street. Hastis turned around, for only a second; it was enough to see a shape emerge from the fiery smoke, burning embers billowing around its massive bulk.

Four horns sprouted from its helmet and curled back over, a snarling grill mouthpiece made up of splintered bone and curved fangs. Warplate stained pure red and black with ivory thorns curling upwards out of the joints and easily more than four-dozen freshly harvested skulls hung from its waist. It was carrying an axe larger than Hastis. It broke into a full charge at the sight of them; fire seemed to erupt from its lenses- a burning rune was etched across its twin pauldrons.

Yenald shot it in the head. Hastis watched the bolt ricochet off, the monster somehow jerking and angling its helmet in just such a perfect manner as to deflect the mass reactive round. The three further bolts that Yenald puts into the monsters chest didn't so much as slow the charging traitor, a Chaos Astartes, twisted and warped with power. Behind it, the traitor guardsmen charged, rallying to their dark champion.

Yenald stopped shooting.

Thirty meters.

Hastis dropped his lasgun.

Twenty Meters.

He grabbed the butt of his revolver.

Ten Meters.

It clears the holster.

The axe cleaves downwards.

He's nowhere near quick enough.

The silver staff intercedes right in front of his eyes just as the axe falls, it took all of his willpower not to freeze as the giant appeared before him, and now he was blinded as sparks ignited in front of his face, a powerful hand grabbing him by the shoulder and throwing him backwards. Yenald took his place, the silver blur of his weapon spinning around and surging back up to block another strike from the Heretic Astartes.

Indignity and anger surge within Hastis at the treatment, his hand still gripping his revolver. He aims, sighting down the barrel. His finger rests on the trigger but he can't pull it. A swirling melee rips apart the remainder of the palisade with its ferocity, shapes blurring together into a haze of silver, red, green, and black. He knows that he can't shoot without the risk of hitting Yenald and blowing a fist sized hole in his back. He shifts right, and pulls the trigger- the first Heretic Guardsman to reach the ruined palisade drops without a head, as does the second and third.

The Grenadiers scramble backwards; the one called Juna abandons the heavy bolter just in time, clearing the line of fire for the other Grenadiers that fall back to preplanned positions, alcoves and shop windows, firing as they retreat, thinning the onrushing storm of their once loyal counterparts

For the second time in under a minute someone grabs Hastis by the shoulder. Hastis doesn't need to look to know that it's Lagorn, the ever-faithful Vox Operator hammering away with his side arm, the laspistol's barrel glows red hot. "I'd say it's time to fall back, sir." He grunts.

"I can stand, ease off!" Hastis snaps, he drops another two traitors as they break cover from behind mounds of dead cultists. A third one has his torso cratered and then Hastis is reloading, a swift, fluid, practiced motion that ejects the spent cartridges and replaces them with fresh ones in just under a single second. He's had all his life to perfect the maneuver.

The duel is the center of attention; the dividing line- bullets and lasbolts streak around them, punishing any who would try to break from cover long enough for an enemy to get a bead on them. Sparks and blood both shed off from the maelstrom that the two Astartes are creating, Hastis can't make out a single detail, the speed of which Yenald and the Chaos champion are moving is far beyond anything his own human eyes can make out. Streaks and blurs of color and motion, the reverberations of impacts on metal or a missed strike on stone thundered up his legs. He had always hoped he wouldn't have to see combat like this again. It was that feeling, that feeling of helplessness and futility. What was the point of resisting when you could be so easily swept aside by a being that might as well be a demigod in comparison?

He already knows the answer. It's the same answer all guardsmen know.

Yenald skids backwards, boots grinding against the stonework road; he is nursing a shallow cut across the front of his carapace armor. It had been split horizontally by some great, rending gouge, had it been any deeper it would have had struck flesh, it would have likely been enough to kill even him. Yenald doesn't let it affect him; he has his staff raised, ready to continue the fight. The blood mad chaos astartes is just as eager, behind him the traitor guardsmen roar, seeing their champion land the first blow. Hastis see's his opening, Yenald is out of the way, he has his hand on his revolver and the traitor is close enough- maybe if he can put a shot on his hand he can tip the odds in Yenalds direction-

The Chaos Astartes topples over, hitting the ground with a resounding clang of metal on stone. Hastis stares up from over his gun sights, incredulous, he stares at his revolver for a brief moment, than to Lagorn, and then Yenald who is unfazed as ever. He catches a glimpse of the briefest of shadows dropping from a balcony far up the carnage road, and suddenly the Traitor Guardsmen are falling in silent swathes one after the other. Materializing from windows, from around street corners, from behind walls and out of alleyways, were marines, in the same color and pattern of armor as Yenald.

"Damned glory whores," Hastis sniffs, holstering his weapon.

"They can whore all the glory they want, if you ask me." Suliko, the Calibrian platoon leader, limping up the street, nursing a deep cut along his right arm, it looks like it was just barley hanging on. Hastis takes a moment to look down the street; the Traitor Guard must've struck there as well. "Bastards hit us with Chimera's."

"No sympathy for you here." Hastis nods to the fallen chaos Astartes. Suliko seems to instinctively flinch at the sight of it; Hastis doesn't begrudge him for it. "I'd would've gladly swapped places with you." Hastis can now see a ragged series of holes in the back of the Heretic Astartes helmet, blood already dried leaked through with bits of bone. One of the Marines is hefting a stupidly large sniper rifle across his chest. He's conversing with Yenald.

"The Old Man?" Hastis asks Suliko. "He survives?"

"The Inquisitor?"

"Him."

"He's perfectly fine, you don't have to worry." Suliko assured him.

Hastis grunted in response. "I see. What about the other platoons? Any luck with getting through to them?"

"They are still alive." Yenald interrupts them, having closed the distance with that damned silent gait of his. "My brothers have reports of them throughout the city."

Suliko jumps on this at once, "Can you tell me anything more? Dispositions, casualties, designation?"

"I cannot." Yenald replies. "My brothers were focused on regrouping and locating myself."

"Can you at least take us to them? We need to regroup."

"That is possible." Yenald nods.

"Still might have a chance," Suliko mutters, slipping into his native tongue. He clicks his combead. "First platoon, mount up at once, we've got a war to win."

Plasteel and thunder, power and pride, a storm of eruptions that shake the earth with every concussive thud belting out high explosive vengeance that turns bodies into clouds of red mist. It is a line of steel and faith against an endless tide of madmen and heretics. Spaced apart by a dozen equal meters and thundering away with every weapon available, they made an impenetrable wall of Imperial glory. It was a scene straight of an administratum propaganda reel: an armored squadron of Leman Russ's holding the line against an endless horde of degenerate rabble.

Colored in dulled desert hues of tan and brown with streaks of yellow, five Exterminator Pattern Leman Russ tanks sat within the ruins of a once grand pavilion that overlooked an urban forest that the ruling nobility used for courtly hunts and other ceremonies. For whatever purpose it had served before, it was now gone, the marble estate at the top of a raised knoll had been blown to pieces by rockets and missiles, and now was utilized as an entrenched position for the Imperial tanks. The fields before them were a killing ground that the armored beasts lorded over against hordes of screaming infantry.

The Exterminators had their twin barrels depressed as far as they could go, the twin sponson mounted heavy bolters angle out away from then main guns, lacing the backlines with bolter rounds as the main turrets blasted away with high velocity explosive rounds that tore up mobs of infantry, and the hull mounted lascannons sniped the occasional armored vehicle. Along the left flank of the squadron, a burning contrail shrieked out from behind the wreckage of an undistinguishable mess of metal and wood, the rocket corkscrewed through the air before slamming into the side of the rightmost Leman Russ of the squadron, the heavy tank didn't so much as even shake, its only response being its starboard heavy bolter twisting in its well and spraying down the area the rocket had come from with high explosive revenge.

"Providence reportin', we just took a hit from a rocket team along the right flank, around the outskirts by the roadway, seven-eight degrees our position." The vox crackled in his ear, barley audible above the constant ringing.

"Lead to Providence, report damage?" the squadron commander voxed back.

"Negligible, shook us up a bit, but no penetration."

"Keep an eye out for them and blow them to bits, Lead out."

"Acknowledged. Providence out."

The squadron commander, a wiry, thin man with a greying beard adjusted his headset, the dull ringing in his ears wasn't from the constant thump of his tanks twin auto cannons, their booming thuds like rolling thunder. His head was ringing from the concussion that threatened to overtake him; he mopped the blood running down his face with his bare arm. He tried to stifle a cough, and failed, a faint bloody mist spraying against the flickering external pict-feed screen before him.

He smeared his blood off the screen with the cuff of his uniform now mired in both blood and sweat alike. He stared at the red mess and wiped his mouth before feeling around his chest and only now noticing a sharp stabbing pain. He said nothing, taking in his sudden reminder of mortality in silence. Taking a shaky breath, he did what he could to still his beating heart.

This wasn't the time for him to die, not just yet. He steeled himself, and looked through the periscope, the outside lens was mired with soot, he twisted a knob and a small grimy wiper brushed against the lenses, clearing the worst of the accrual away. Nothing had changed from the last time he looked- an enraged horde of black and red, blood mad cultists and PDF rebels swarming from nearly every direction in the vain hope of overwhelming them. He swiveled the periscope to the left and to the right, his tank, Stalwart, was at the center of the five Russ formation, two to his left and two more to his tanks right; forming a semi circle within the shattered pavilion. He kept his eye to the periscope and thumbed on the internal vox unit.

"Gunner, keep up the fire on the far end, eight-zero-zero meters out, search for heavy weapons and break up any clusters," He ordered, "Port, redirect fire to ten sharpish, cut that group off at the head, don't let 'em flank." He blinked as a lucky shot from the constant wash of small arms fire that pattered against the hull of his tank like metal rain nearly hit the periscope lens, for a second he imagined the bullet bouncing down the tube and coring through his eye and out the back of his skull.

"Sir!" The voice came over the internal vox system, he uncups his eye from the periscope; the deafness in his left ear was almost total, the gunner had to shout twice. "Out of High-ex mags! Only got AP left, sir!"

He slid out of the commander's seat, ducking up into the gunners hatch. "Switch to the stubber, I'll reload for you!" It's a tight fit; his gunner was now blazing away with the light stubber, eyes glued to the scope, hands gripping the turret controls with white-knuckled intensity. The two long autoloader magazines feeding down into the autocannons chambers were empty, the red tape on their ends marking their type. Shells had been piling up around their feet without time for them to be ejected, the litter was now nearly ankle deep and spilling into the other compartments of the Stalwart.

By the time the commander had pulled himself into the gunner's section, she was already feeding a new belt into the breach of the light stubber just next to the primary cannons. She had a red ring around her eyes from where the viewscope had bitten into her face, the protective rubber having been worn away. "Pretty shit situation, eh, sir?" She grinned morbidly; he nodded back in kind, grabbing two empty red-taped mags from the floor. He opened the tanks ammo rack; hundreds of paint tipped rounds gleamed in the flickering light of the tanks lumen globes. They had already been dipping perilously low into emergency reserves. At best he could fill six more magazines before they were completely out of high explosive. Doggedly, he began the process of laboriously feeding rounds into the magazine one by one.

"There's no bloody end to them!" His starboard sponson gunners voice crackled in his good ear, he could hear them hammering away with the heavy bolter, stitching a carpet of explosive death in front of any would-be flankers. "Just keep firing." He snaps back over the vox, keeping his voice calm and commanding, thumbing in red tipped rounds nearly as long as his forearm. His vox crackled to life again.

"Carmine to Lead, we're running dry on High-Ex, over."

"Lead to Carmine, were in the same swamp as you, just make do with what you can, we have to give the fifth a little more time, do you understand?"

"Would be easier if they moved some guns up to support us, the bastards."

"If you think you can dig faster than an entire platoon of engineers, feel free to swap places with them."

"I'm just saying sir, that they should send a few of their boys up here to lighten the load."

"No complaining until this is over, lead out." He finished one pair of magazines, slotting them back into the ready magazine rack and started on his second. His gunner was working the action on the light stubber, she glanced back at him; they were nearly back-to-back in the close confines.

"Last belt going in on the light-stubby, Sir, thought you might like to know that." She still managed to sound cheery even when they were all knee deep in shit.

"Of fucking course it is," He seethes, he finished with a third magazine and reaches for a second to pair with it, he is instead bowled over as an explosion slams into the side of the Stalwart, knocking his gunner off her seat and into him. "Shit!" He snaps, he catches her before she can smash her head into the side of the hull; her helmet had already saved her once and was ruined in doing so. He could ill afford to lose her.

"Lead to all units- what was that? Identify!"

"Lavender- Lead, rocket launchers direct ahead, far building- the one with the stained glass, third story, came out of nowhere!"

"Put fire on them!" He ordered, he helps his gunner right herself; she scrambles back into her seat, taking the two prepared High-ex mags off the rack and slotting them home. "I'm going up top," He tells her, opening the top hatch and grabbing the heavy stubber. He winces as bullets deflect off the hull of his tank, several nearly winging him and a lasbolt grazes his shoulder before he can pull up the plasteel shield and settle in, he winces at every impact against it. The noise was louder out here, un-muffled by thick slabs of ceramite and plasteel. He looked to his left and right, the rest of his squadron.

"Sir!" From below his gunner shouted, voice crackling in his ear, the turret spun, cannons aiming left across the field, he see's what she was directing him at: a ragged man holding a long tube, and aiming at his squadron, his tanks, his comrades in arms. He racks the slide on the heavy stubber and sights in without uttering a word. How his gunner, Shikia, can sense these sorts of things without seeing them, he doesn't know, her instincts must simply just be that peerless.

He squeezes the studs, the heavy stubber bucks in his grip as hot lead sprays across the field- the first burst is high and the heretic flinches- he swings his rocket launcher around, the yawning tube pointed towards him. Despite his heart threatening to burst out of his chest, he relaxes, and he first again, tracers spit through the air. He walks the iron sights over the cultist and is rewarded, the left arm of the bastard is blown off, half his torso is ripped away, and the world slows as the heretic goes down- he can almost see the trigger finger of the madman pressing down on the firing stud even from so far away. The plume of smoke behind the rocket as it spirals through the air towards him is almost hypnotizing. He braces for impact, eyes squeezed shut, there is an explosion, the shockwave rolling over him, shaking him into action; wide eyed, he watches the left side of Brilliance erupt into fire and flame as the AT rocket impacts, he thumbs his Vox.

"Lead to Brilliance, report!"

"Brilliance, Lead, bad hit on our starboard Sponson, I've got a huge facking hole in my tank! My starboard gunner has shrapnel to his throat, he's bleeding badly, and my main gunner is unconscious- requesting permission to pull back?"

"Permission granted, pull back to the fifths line immediately!"

"Thank you, sir!" He watched Brilliance, its tracks grinding into the ruined marble, it began to rumble backwards when the sudden sound of plasteel grating against stone ripped through the air- louder than anything else on the battlefield. He recognized all too well the sound of a tank wheel scraping bare against the ground. He quickly toggled his vox, "Lead to Brilliance, you've got track damage! Left tracks broken off, don't try to move!"

"You don't bloody well say?!" The commander of Brilliance snapped back. "Marcello! You fucking better damn well order those rat bastards behind us to get facking up here now!"

"Ignacio you damn well better facking add a Sir to that or else I'll hand your cock to Viktor and watch your balls rot on his desk you screaming pile of Speck!" Second Lieutenant Marcello, leader of Stormlance Squadron, felt his head spin. "Evacuate your crew, and take up the turret you damn Speck, that's an order."

"Orders received. Sir."

"Lead to Carmine and Lavender, Brilliance crew is dismounting starboard side, provide covering fire where able. Out." Marcello dropped back into Stalwart; Shikia glanced back at him as he locked the top hatch. "Can't stand that whining grutt. He needles me at every turn."

"Siblings are supposed to do that, sir." She replies, "Ringa's almost dry on the starboard sponson, she's drawing belts from Damino."

"Facking lovely." Marcello sets a pair of empty magazines down, he looks into the reserve, he has enough for one more pair. "Don't you have a sister, Shikia?"

"A total bitch of one." She responds. She removes the spent mags, Marcello hands her the pair he just finished. "I'll tell you more about her later need to focus."

"Hate her that much, do you?"

She grins. "So much so that I love the shit out of-" Without warning Shikia ratchets the turret around, he nearly falls as she refocuses on something at range, eyes going to the viewscope, and at once she's shouting. "Armor at twenty! Tanks! Tanks! Tanks!"

Cursing, he drops the magazines, leaving them half loaded. He grabs a pair of armor pricing and slots them into the ready rack, "Load AP and fire at will!" He orders, slipping out of the turret compartment, he crawls back into his command chair. He yanks down the periscope, focusing in along the burnt and blasted hellscape that his squadron had created. "Lead to all units- heretic armor spotted, direct ahead, main guns load AP and focus those basterding tanks! Secondaries switch to full defensive! Don't let the line break!" He gets clicks back into his headphones, returns from the squadron as several tanks move and shift, grinding tracks into dirt as they angle their armor against inevitable incoming anti-armor fire.

No two of them were exactly the same, trundling over the battlefield they could be made from any number of scrapped together vehicles and primitive machinery. Some were nothing but wheeled gunboats, Primitive oil burning engines surrounded by slabs of iron armor and encrusted with mounted stubbers. Some were armored tractors with cannons welded onto the front, there were even desultory trucks retrofitted to house massive flak cannons that would fire on a horizontal plane. Most of these were ineffective if not useless when pitted against a Leman Russ's frontal armor, but not all of them were ramshackle contraptions of primitive iron and gunpowder. Marcello scanned the advancing horde of makeshift armor; his gut was telling him that this was not all that they were throwing at them. Such became true, when the looming bulk of a true battle tank crested the sloping entrance into the once verdant and expansive city park.

"Traitor armor, thirty degrees, put range at seven hundred! Gunner, target and fire!"

Shikia brought the turret to bare, eyes to the veiwscope, she depressed the firing studs, sending a burst of high velocity armor piercing rounds down range. The front of a Leman Russ main battle tank consisted of over 150mml of hardened plasteel, and the gun mantle is well over 200mml thick, making the Leman Russ a tough nut to crack for anything but a dedicated anti tank weapon. The Exterminator Pattern of the Leman Russ is not a dedicated tank killer. It's main gun, being the Exterminator Pattern 80mml Dual Autocannon system was utilized as an anti heavy infantry and light armor platform, a task it excelled at when the correct munitions were used: High Explosive Fragmentation, and High Velocity Armor Piercing. It was not designed to go head to head against heavy armor, that was a task best left to the Leman Russ Executioner, Annihilator, and Vanquisher patterns, even with a hull mounted Lascannon equipped, an Exterminator was not to be used as an armor killer, and when pitted against a non-variant Leman Russ, the Exterminator would always lose.

"Alright you blighter," Shikia focused in on the advancing enemy Russ, it was equipped with a deadly Battlecannon, a 120mml smoothbore barrel firing an armor piercing high explosive shell with an internal contact fuse, a nasty piece of work that could ruin anyone's day if it managed to land a hit. "Show me that pretty smile of yours…" She flicked the firing studs; a burst of high velocity rounds tore through the air, shattering against the front hull of the enemy Russ. Just as she hoped, its cannon turned and elevated, the big black gaping hole of its muzzle break came into her sights, she checked the range, and adjusted appropriately.

"Gotch'a." She flicked the right firing stud once.

One round streaked outwards covering the distance in under a half second. It wasn't perfect shot her usual work, she had been firing all day, and her senses were beginning to fray. The round clipped the rim of the muzzle just barley before smashing down the barrel and into the loaded chamber of the enemy Russ. The resulting explosion blew out the back off its turret, and left the hull a smoldering wreck as the ammunition cooked off sequentially. Shikia grinned, "Chalk me up another kill, boss!"

"That's not the last of them- target at three-ten, range six hundred!"

"On it, boss!"

The vox erupted in Marcello's ear, "Stalwart! Check twenty- evade!" He didn't ask or look, too many years had taught him not to question a warning.

"Driver! Full reverse!" He bellowed, gripping his armrest as his tank lurched backwards, tracks grinding against stone- a blow hammered into the front of the tank, hard enough to nearly shift its angle. "Driver, angle for deflection at twenty! Shikia-"

"On it boss!"

Marcello twisted the periscope around, another Russ, this one was going full throttle in an attempt to close the distance along the right flank of their line, Carmine was engaging it fully, the hull mounted lascannon burning away at the tanks hull- punching through but failing to kill it. "Fire at will!"

"Firing!"

The autocannons thundered Marcello watched the right side of the enemy Russ erupt into sparks as the High velocity rounds shattered against the heavy armor of the war machine, her first burst did nothing- but her second burst punched through the track links- the treads whipped around, coming undone and forcing the exposed wheels of the tank to bite into the dirt. Its left side swung around to the front as it plowed its right side into the ground. "Target disabled!"

"Good hits!" Marcello hit his vox. "Carmine, Lavender, focus it down, maul its cannon if you can, disable it!"

"Aye, Sir!"
"Sir!"

"Providence, lead! More armor encroaching from the front!" Marcello cursed panning his periscope back towards their front, adjusting the zoom and playing it back so he could encompass the entirety of the field of battle before them. He could see another squadron of Main Battletanks, encrusted with foul runes and blandishments, their turrets already rotating and elevating to pound their position, their first volley was short, cratering the side of the hill just below Stormlances position.

"Gunner, you have weapons free, slow them down, Driver, man the lascannon and focus down the one at two-ten," He got a confirming grunt from his driver as she swapped over to the hull weapon, he felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle up as the air became charged with energy as the cells for the anti armor laser weapon began pumping power into the capacitors. The sponson gunners were working furiously, doing their damndest to keep the enemy infantry from advancing and overrunning them. The only grace given to them was the enemies ineptitude, the moment the heavy armor hit the field, the cultists and renegades hunkered down, content on letting the tanks pull their weight for them. A shell cratered the ground right before Stalwart, the screaming impact throwing clods of dirt and masonry into the air, Shikia cursed as her vision was momentarily obscured before shifting her aim and firing a long steady burst at the offending Russ. "Armor disabled! Got the traverse!"

"Good hits!" Marcello snapped, through the periscope he watched the beam of the lascannon spear outwards, and scour across the armor of one of the Russes, its bulk smashing through several lesser 'tanks' that had ground to a halt as heavy bolters ripped away their iron plating.

"Lavender to lead- confirm armor sighting at oh-five, enemy-" Marcello lurched back a flash of steady light filled the entirety of his periscope.

"Lavender- Lead! We're hit! Main gun disabled!"

"Phask!" Marcello cursed, traversing the periscope he blinked away the dots in his vision, at the far end of the park- like a shark sliding just under the surface of the water, they glided over the battlefield.

A sleek black appearance interrupted by malevolent spikes, and sacrilegious oaths, armed to the teeth and bearing all the hallmarks of its loyalist counterpart, but none of the sacredness, he identified it in seconds, and behind it, spreading out across the field, came two more.

His blood ran cold.

"Lead to Stormlance, times three traitor armor, Predator class, initiate defensive maneuvers." He was silently stunned by the clipped calmness of his commands, his eyes still glued to the sight of what was looming death through the periscope lens.

"Here they come!" His gunner shouted the twin autocannons opened up, and this time they did not go without reprisal- Stalwart shook as another battlecannon round impacted the ridge before Stormlance squadron, and flashes of lascannon fire ripped over the front hull of Carmine and Lavender in once single sweep.

"This is insanity!" Marcello hit the vox. "Stormlance to fifth actual! We're being overrun!"

"Fifth to Stormlance- hold tight we're nearly finished-

"Negative! We're pulling back now!" He shouted, "Prepare for enemy contact we're reversing into your lines!" He cut he vox, and switched it to the squadrons' channel, "All Stormlance units! Full reverse, evasive action at once-" He stopped mid sentence twisting the periscope around he focused back on the one tank that he knew couldn't comply.

"Belay my last! Hold and fire!" Through the periscope he stared at Brilliance. "Lead to Brilliance, dismount and evacuate." He waited for a response, and none came. He tried again. "Brilliance, please respond." Something like dread began to take hold in him. "Ignacio, report damnit!" He let the vox hang open, waiting for something, anything to answer back. Nothing returned.

"Carmine to lead! We're taking too much fire!"

"All units… Pull-

"Stormlance, would you kindly maintain your position for a moment more?" A new voice crackled over the vox, he didn't need even a second to recognize it. Marcello went ridged. "This is the Major, speaking. Would you please remain where you are?"

"Target locked in, sir. Permission to fire?"

Calm but lethal. like a blade of ice sliding across an exposed vein.

The screen flickered, the only light in the compartment, silence ruled save for the muffled thuds of battle and the low hum of the engine. A jet-black gauntlet rose and depressed a vox stud, and the reply comes as a whisper. "Wait." Sibilant, with a hint of excitement, it silenced any argument. A red lensed mask rife with breathing tubes and other apparatus continued to watch the screen- a direct link to the turrets pictfeed, on its auspex were three armored vehicles, remnants from the great heresy itself. They smoothly glided over the destruction wrought park. Their guns blazed with fire as armor piercing rounds deflected off the harsh and extreme angles of their armor, while their own silent weapons seared white heat cleanly through that of the Exterminator pattern Russ's frontal armor.

It was with quiet intensity that the red lenses stared, as one of the Exterminators atop the pavilion was cored through with a single direct hit from one of the predator tanks, and another had its tracks blown off. It was a one sided engagement in the purest way possible, a lion amongst a room of children. Yet, all the cards were not on the table. The three predators -in both name and aspect- lunged forwards, running over cultists in the process, careless to the damage they cause. They passed by without noticing the shark in their midst, without noticed that they had gone from land to ocean, so intent in the hunt they were immersed in. The vox bead was tapped again.

A single utterance, sweet as honey, lethal as venom.

"Please proceed,"

The engine hummed into action, red lights flickered on, engulfing a troop compartment in its soft glow. Heavily armored, black clad warriors with fearsome weapons and downturned heads.

"Moving into position."

Rubble and stone broke away, the side of a building collapsed outwards as a jet-black shape harpooned through brick and mortar construction. Resembling a Chimera, but black as death and lacking the traditional las arrays, it was rife with optics along its turret, and instead of a standard chimera weapon, a bulky snub nosed plasma cannon glowed with deadly intent.

"Please target the lead predator."

"As you order."

Rotating smoothly, the plasma weapon twisted around and refocused on the predators, a piercing streak of burning blue speared outwards, and cored through the back of the lead traitor astartes tank.

The astartes grade tanks, crewed by doubtlessly ancient superhumans, reacted in split seconds, the two remaining tanks spun on their axis, refocusing on the new threat behind them.

"Fire." A gauntlet tapped a carapace-clad knee, as if the action was controlling the firing of the mighty plasma weapon.

In rapid succession, the Chimera's turret erupted into life again. Another salvo of magnetically contained plasma lanced out and ripped into the exposed side of the second predator, the burning eruption of superheated plasma burning with the heat of a sun cored through the predators reactor block- mission killing it instantly with an internal explosion that ruptured throughout the hull of the predator.

"We're targeted." The pict feed showed as much, the last Predator having fully turned to face them, its lascannon turret tacking them smoothly.

"Forwards with all speed, if you please," The order came without a hint of concern, at once the Chimera's engine roared, leaping forwards, tracks gripping the earth as it launched into a sudden burst of speed, the lascannon missed by mere inches, close enough to boil away the paint along the rear hatch. "Target their turret and fire."

The IFV locked up its left tracks, biting them into the dirt as its right tracks spun madly, spinning the armored vehicle on its axis, and bringing its turret to bare on the last remaining predator tank. There was a spear of brilliant light- and the plasma cannon burned through the limited space between the hull of the predator and the armor of its turret. The predator's main gun stopped immediately, its traverse destroyed completely. "Excellent."

"Traitor Astartes dismounting."

"Let them." Leaning back in their seat, they let the show unfold.

Black armored warriors painted in hazard stripes of yellow and black, a cruel symbol of iron on their pauldrons, each was fully capable of ripping the hull of the Chimera apart with their bare hands. They were fast enough to close the distance before the plasma cannon could recharge.

They of course, would never make it.

The first one to pull himself from the wreckage of their tank was pulverized, his armor smashed to pieces and his gore a squall across the field as rapid-fire Autocannon rounds tore him apart. The black clad soldier leaned forward with growing enthusiasm as the same fate of the first happened to the second. There was a third, hiding in his metal box, seeing the fate of his brothers, no doubt. "Ah, ah, ah… No hiding." The plasma cannon hummed into action, advanced auspex sensors homing in and letting a ball of superheated gas rip through the hull of the tank. The entire front of the predator was vaporized, turned to atoms. The Iron Warrior inside was not so fortunate, his legs gone, but he was still alive, and exposed to the guns of the Imperial guard. Three Exterminator patter Leman Russes adjusted their aim, and opened fire as one.

There wasn't even fragments of ceremite left, once they were done.

The specter of death with red lenses leaned back in their seat, admiring the image for as long as they could before the war called back to the present, the vox crackling to life and the dull, professional voice demanding their guidance once more.

"Auspex reports massive energy signature approaching. Orders?"

The red lenses looked at the readings, taking only a moment to identify them. "So they survived. How delightful." They lightly clapped their gauntlets before dismissing the readings from their retinal display. A wall crumbled and broke as a familiar Crassus simply plowed through it, its hull pockmarked with damage, it heedlessly emerged and continued onto ruined field spilled with countless wrecks and burning hulls and countless corpses. Whatever was left of the heretic swarm now balked at the appearance of the massive war engine. Its massive flamers erupted into burning violence, fanning gouts of burning promethium over the filed in wide scouring arcs.

"Now, what a lovely entrance." The black clad soldier mused, "I had thought the first Lieutenant to be dead."

"Second Lieutenant Marcello of the seventy sixth Calibrian First Company, reporting for duty, inquisitor." The tank commander was in a bad way, but there could be no rest afforded to him aside from cursory medical treatment, bandages and stimms, and something to lessen the pain only a bit so that his senses remained sharp.

"Glad to have you with us, soldier." Hyork nodded. They were in the shelter the regiments two Crassus Armored Assault Transports, Votair and Tycarion. Those present were Hyork, Lagorn, Hastis, Scout Master Yenald, Suliko, and Marcello. A Map of the battle line was on a fold out table before them, red and blue lines had been draw, a yellow stone marking the cathedral.

"We've managed to regain contact with the majority of the first company forces within the city." Suliko began. "As it stands, the first and second companies have stalled in the advance and have become entangled, the second enmeshing with the first. The third company advanced into range of the jamming and suffered the same fate as us, but in doing so our positions have been reinforced, we now have overwhelming numbers, but no cohesive chain of command to do anything with them, until exactly six minutes ago."

Suliko draw another, circling in dots every few inches. "We have vox communications in under fifty meters, anything more and its lost. We've created a web of interlacing vox communications along the battle line, relaying orders up and down the line, staying always within visual contact if possible. With this system we've managed to regain some semblance of unit cohesion." Suliko was sweating, half muttering as he poured over the map. Hastis took a half step back in case he was about to explode.

"The operation is still viable, we've lost momentum but if we can initiate a widespread push all along the line we can apply pressure against their defenses with the astartes acting as a quick reaction force- moving up and down the line, destroying points of resistance so as to keep the advance uniform."

"I was not advised of this plan." Yenald speaks.

"Oh, no, you weren't, I completely forgot," Suliko mutters, only half aware. "Lieutenant Marcello, you have overall command of the armored units in the captains absence, he's commanding Ironclad and Reaper, Challenger should converge on your position, the time-table for the push is a ten-minute grind with infantry support along these streets but falling off once you hit the main carriageway- Do Not let your tanks get bogged down, failure to break this pass will result in the third platoon- who is advancing to your right flank- to lose any chance at armor support, you are their anvil, they are the hammer-"

"He does not appear to be fully aware." Said Yenald, watching the first lieutenant Drone on, barley stopping to breathe as he drags his pencil across the map, outlining the general offense, in the most minute of detail.

Marcello can only shrug and shake his head. "He might be insane but he isn't stupid. Just crazy."

"Lets make ready to roll out." Hastis clapped Lagorn on the back of the helmet. "Hyork, we're moving." He called out to the inquisitor. "Hurry it up or I leave you behind"

Hyork made his way over as the makeshift fortifications were torn down and stowed in salamander scout vehicles and Trojan support tanks and Centaur light carriers. "Are we not mounting with the first Lieutenant?" Hyork asked. Hastis sighed and shook his head. "Had you been listening at all you'd know that we're mounting up with the first companies Stormtrooper detachment. 'Sandshroud' they call themselves. Suliko said that they're a bunch of miserable Cunts."

"He has a way with words." Hyork said.

"I doubt he's wrong."

"Speaking from experience, again?" Lagorn asked.

"Always."

The black clad Chimera IFV was waiting for them, ramp lowered, and a Stormtrooper wearing the rank of Major waiting outside for them, hands clasped behind their back and standing at attention like a statue. They turned when approached. Hastis spoke first. "You our ride?" He asked. In his opinion, the stormtrooper was unusually short for what he had expected. Short and…

Hastis didn't know how to place it. The red lenses and golden trim of their helmet told him their rank, hard earned marks of authority for any stormtrooper, so was the holstered plasma pistol and sheathed power falchion. But there was an air of dark malevolence that seemed to shroud his gut in tremors. The Major looked up to Hastis, and without preamble they began. "Greetings, Lords, I am of the Imperial Guards Vaunted Stormtroopers of the Scholia Progenium Tempestus. I am the Overall commander of all Tempestus elements within the Calibrian Seventy Sixth. It is my pleasure to inform you that the finest Stormtroopers of this regiment, and my own personal squad under the title of 'Sandshroud', will be allowed the duty of escorting you. If I may add, I would also deign to say that it is an incredible honor to be of service to the most Holy Ordos of the Inquisition. I truly do hope that myself and my comrades can be of service to you and to the Imperium as a whole, Inquisitor." The Major then bowed, one foot before the other, one hand behind their back, the other extended towards the open ramp of the Chimera. "Your escort stands ready for you to embark upon, Inquisitor." Hyork looked to Hastis with a quirked brow.

"Take notes, Hastis." He simply said.

….

The ramp closed behind them, the diminutive Major taking seat next to Hastis, hands folded and a harness locked into place over their armor. Hastis plucked at his own harness, he'd never been in a Chimera that needed on before, and he didn't know why this one would have it. The Chimera roared to life- its engine disturbingly quiet as it rolled out on greased tracks, taking position behind the Lead tank of Stormlance. They would stay with the armored column until the base of the Cathedral was visible, where they would break off and combine with the Astartes elements that would move in at from behind the Crassus Armored Assault Transports who would fire yellow flares upon arrival. Hastis glanced at Hyork, the inquisitor was quiet again, head bowed and brow knit.

"You sure you're up to this, Hyork?" Hastis grunted, tightening the straps on his armor. Next to him, Lagorn was adjusting the fit of his Vox Caster, retracting much of the antenna, locking up compartments and making it sit as close and snugly to his back as he could make it. In contrast, the Stormtroopers were motionless, heads bowed in prayer, hotshot lasguns lain across their laps. Hyork was completely different from them all, his brow was furrowed, and his hands clenched together, his first taste of real combat had been difficult for him to stomach.

The talk of all inquisitors being battlefield legends was a falsehood; most of them were simple investigators and saboteurs, directing their minions into combat while they stayed behind. At most, an inquisitor of rank and file would deal with a mob of cultists whom he outgunned and out armored, the foe they faced completely incapable of hurting them. On a pitched frontline battle zone, the story was different. Hyork met Hastis' gaze with his own, and shook his head.

"No. But I must endure." Hastis nodded, leaning back in his seat, enjoying the bumpy ride while it lasted. He enjoyed watching Hyork stew like this, overthinking the battle ahead, when in reality he had no way to control it like he so desperately tried to control and account for everything else. The maelstrom of battle, the endless variables of combat where luck and faith could overrule skill and planning was the old inquisitors hell.

Hastis grinned, relishing the uncertainty that was plaguing the man who held his proverbial leash. The moment could not last forever, autogun fire ripped across the hull of the Chimera. Hastis reached for a las array that wasn't there. "Where are damn firing ports?" He snapped.

"My apologies," The red-lensed Major said, bowing their head. "This variant upon the Chimera Chassis does not possess tertiary defense arrays. It would compromise the effectiveness of the vehicles augur shrouding."

"Augur what? Shrouding what?" Hastis snapped. "The hell kinda box is this thing?"

The hair on the back of his neck stood on end, an electric hum seeming to roll through the chassis of the Chimera, three high pitched whines, one right after the other cut through his ears as the plasma cannon fired at a target unseen, the red lights dimming ever so slightly with every shot. The IFV was weightless for a moment, Hastis felt himself lifting out of his seat before crashing back down, and nearly slamming his head back against the hull. "Sweet Throne above!" He shouts. "Who the fack is driving this thing?!" Hyork was gripping the armrests of his seat with white knuckles, his eyes squeezed shut and his lips pursed, Lagorn looked like he was going to be sick.

More fire rippled over the hull, heavy caliber rounds by the sound of it, again the plasma cannon shrieked as it fired in consecutive three round volleys, the gunner tracking targets even as the driver hauled the armored vehicle around a corner at speeds that lifted one side of the Chimera off the ground. The machine was moving at speeds that normal Chimeras would consider unsafe when even traveling in a straight line, much less a crowded hostile city. "There is an obstruction ahead, please brace for your own safety." The major announced.

"Obstruction? What-" Rubble was ground to dust underneath the tracks as a bone-shaking blow shook the hull- the sound of masonry collapsing on top of them as the IFV blasted through a stone wall. Hastis barked a curse as his head slammed back against his seats headrest and Lagorn whined. Hyork tried to remain focused on his breathing. The Driver didn't show any sign of slowing down, if anything, they had floored it, the engine's throaty growl ratcheted up several degrees and they were again thrown around the corner, and again half of the Chimera was lifted up into the air, Hastis could feel bullets smacking into the floor of the transport, it was the final straw for Lagorn who started screaming through grit teeth, gripping at his harness his eyes wide and panicked.

"I am sorry that this is stressful for you, Sir. Perhaps being able to view our course would be of assistance?" The major leaned forward in their harness, a handheld Hololithic projector- more valuable than anything Hyork, Lagorn, or Hastis had on their person- produced from their chest pouch. They flipped it open and a grainy image of the Chimera's gun feed from the turret flickered into view. Countless muzzle flashes from autocannons, AT rockets and several Leman Russ Battlecannons met their gaze as the Chimera went crashing through barricades and wooden buildings like a jet-black torpedo.

Hyork stared boggle eyed and Lagorn turned away. Hastis could only watch as the IFV's turret whipped around, blinding light searing his eyes from the small holoscreen as the plasma cannon cored through the hull of a traitor battletank even as the IFV again hooked around a ninety degree corner, using the added elevation of the tipping to raise its barrel and core through the top floor of a high-rise building, bringing the rocket crew that had been stationed above falling to the ground. Hastis had to shut his eyes as the tank settle back down onto a horizontal plain and the vertigo inducing turns stopped- but the enemy fire intensified, "Shut that shit off-" He begged as pair of traitor astartes entered the view of the pict feed.

"As you wish, Sir." The Major put the vile thing away as the sound of Bolt rounds punched into the hull. "We shall be nearing our destination. You should ready yourselves, Sir's." The Major spoke, their voice rasping out through her helmets built in vox.

They primed their Plasma pistol, and unclipped the loop around their Power weapons hilt, letting it rest in its scabbard. "This will likely be a dangerous insertion. It would appear that the Heretics and Traitors are a slight more numerous than we first thought. Please, do not worry for your safety, my men can handle an increase in such dregs." The Stormtroopers seemed to animate all at once, going from resting in their seats, hotshots lain across their laps and heads bowed in prayer, to a rigorous checking of their weapons, equipment, and various archeotech instruments that was rife about their carapace laden forms. The Type-67 Lasgun in Hastis' hands suddenly felt supremely inadequate.

"Disembarking in five" The Chimera gunned its engine, flying over a straight bit of road, "Four" heavy autogun fire spackled off the hull, Hastis gripped his harness, shouting, "Disembarking?!"

The major unclipped their harness and stood. "Three." They grabbed a ceiling railing, short enough to not need to hunch over. "Two." Hastis was thrown back in his seat as the Chimera ground its left tracks in a sudden reverse as the right powered forwards, spinning the IFV around.

"One."

The ramp drops as the Chimera twists around, spinning, sliding over the rubble, its treads grinding into flagstones, sparks radiating off its hull as blistering fire from multiple heavy stubbers gouged craters across its palsteel and ceramite surface. Hastis stares with wide eyed as the Major let go of the railing, letting momentum throw them out of the power sliding Chimera. Plasma pistol raised one handed; they sighted in on their first victim. They fired. A hiss of gas and searing blue light flared out from the muzzle, a pulse of power, contrails of energy stitching along its path that led from the muzzle of their gun to target, irradiative flakes of atomized dust sparking along its journey.

The metal shield housing the tri-barreled heavy weapon melted, the belt fed rounds cooked off, the Heretic weapons team manning the gun didn't even have the chance to feel the pain before their rags burnt away, followed by their flesh, their muscle, and then bones and organs as the superheated ball of plasma continued through them and through the three brick walls behind their position.

Before this first shot even dissipated into the either, the Major was still airborne, still firing. There were three machinegun emplacements when they let themselves be thrown from the troop bay of the IFV. By the time they landed there was now only three smoldering, twisted metal skeletons. The Major rolled as they landed, flipping back up into a crouched position behind a shattered statue, pistol braced over their arm already cracking off blazing blue shots of energy at concealed heretic targets that their helmets augur systems marked for eradication.

The Chimera finally ground to a halt, its cannon blazing away, the Stormtroopers sprinted out of the transport bay- one of them remaining behind, holding their arm up, barring Hastis, Hyork, and Lagorn from exit without explanation. Laslight and the high-pitched whine of automatic Lasgun fire ripped across the street for a full two seconds before terminating all at once.

"Insertion point secure."

The trooper dropped their arm, exiting the Chimera. Spread out in cover, equal distances maintained between them all in a semi circular fashion, weapons trained outwards and ready to unleash violence at the drop of a coin. They were mechanical in their movements, scanning the area with a slow pan of their weapons before panning back in the opposite direction- awaiting orders.

The Major drew their falchion, more a sword in their diminutive hands, flicking it outwards, a burst of electric blue light rippling up its length and fading back into a steady glow along its edge as they began to snap out orders along the vox link. "Actual to zed-six through ten, forward skirmish, zed-two through zed-four, sigma pattern on actual, zed-five, escort protocol. Actual to Squad: expunge protocol sanctioned."

The major took the moment of relative calm to face Hyork. "Inquisitor, we are about to enter a heavy combat situation. I am sorry to inform you, but I do not know if we will be able to adequately ensure your safety. I will endeavor to increase your chances of survival, but please be aware that long-range auspex scans from our Infantry Fighting Vehicle reveal a high chance of Traitor Astartes being present. It is unlikely that we will be able to complete our objective without sustaining casualties. It would sadden me greatly if it were to occur that you were among them." The Major bowed again, one hand behind their back, the other clasped against their chest rig. "I do not mean any insult when I say that it is highly advisable that you remain behind our formation at any given time in the immediate future."

Hastis barked a laugh to mask his fear.

Multiple traitor astartes signatures.

Multiple. Traitor. Astartes.

They'd barley survived contact with two, each one separate.

"This bodes poorly." Hyork flicked out his sabre cane.

The yellow flare hissed and popped as it floated back down to earth. A bolt round tore through its canopy and markedly increased its descent, but the damage had already been done. Blitzing over ruined streets and blazing over rooftops, green and brown land speeders raked hellishly accurate bolter fire over the positions of Heretics and traitors. Stoic determination saw them jinx under the blistering heat of lascannon shots before they were even fired, and flakk missiles were evaded and left as spinning contrails behind them. A breach had been made and a gap was opened in the enemy positions- it would only last for seconds. Seconds were all that the Astartes of the Suns Descendants needed.

A landspeeder Storm ripped through the sky, flying at speed and low to the ground with only inches to spare. The driver maneuvered the speeder over debris and buildings at the very last second. Flak fire clouded the sky above, barley clearing buildings as a squadron of landspeeders made their descent across the redline, speeding towards the yellow flares location, the ground below blurring together in a mix of indistinguishable carnage and violence. At the head of the formation, gripping his silver staff, Yenald prepared to jump.

Three seconds.

Two seconds.

One second.

"Deploy." Yenald let go, and his scouts fell with him.

The landing would have shattered the body of any normal man, and even for Yenald, as space marine of countless years, it was a jarring maneuver. He could only imagine the ease of it had he been blessed with a functioning Black Carapace, but such was not his fortune. He didn't let eh pain slow him and he ducked under the swing of a chaos space marines howling blade.

This would be both fast and brutal. Numbers were not on their side. The bulk of the chaos marine forces were indeed sequestered within the void-shielded walls of the cathedral, and they were mainly Iron warriors. Siege experts and veterans of the heresy. Already they were exacting a toll from the Sun Descendants. The cratered skull of one of his brothers, toppling off his shoulders from the pinpoint accurate shots of an Iron Warriors legionary who was already relocating upon the walls of the Cathedral.

He only needed to hold the gap for fifteen seconds more. Just fifteen seconds, and then they would arrive.

In the expanding combat the only safety was in pitched melee, the swirling mix of armor and bodies the only shield from opportunistic snipers who would think to try their luck. Yenald ducked and weaved behind traitor astartes, striking out with his staff at any exposed joint. He did not stick to one single combat- fading in and out of individual fights the moment that the enemy combatant turned their focus to him. When their back was turned, then his brothers would strike- disengaging from their own duels with liquid alacrity and twisting a combat knife into an exposed break in the traitors armor or blasting them at point-blank range with a bolter or shotgun.

His brothers and himself were not so much as fighting- they were dancing, they flowed like a calm stream, the barest expenditure of energy in the face multiple astartes enemies. Pressing and pulling- a fully defensive gambit made to buy as much time as possible, and draw the enemy into the trap.

Mortals were here, the inquisitor and his retinue, the imperial guards stormtroopers and their diminutive leader, swamped by cultists and locked in hand to hand every one of them, a chaos astartes renegade of a lost chapter hacked and cut at the fencing blade of the inquisitor and the Stormtrooper Major beside him. Yenald looked for an opening in his own fight, one where he could twist around and place a bolter shell in the back of the traitor, turn the fight in the favor of the Mortals- but the chaos champion, a chosen elite of the arch enemy, the crimson clad warrior refused to give him an inch- whirling chain blades in each hand forced him back step b step and away form his brothers- his stave wove a cage of steel around him, deflecting each and every blow, to the point where they were almost evenly matched. He grunted, trying to find an edge. The seconds counted down in his head.

Ten more seconds.

"Blessed on the sands!" Hastis roared, combat knife glinting in his hands as he cut forwards- the steel biting into cultist flesh and sinking in as he drove it home.

"Fendora!" Behind him, Lagorn, his lifelong friend and brother shouted in kind- swinging his lasgun like a club, bashing away another cultist before bringing it to shoulder and putting a burst into the downed heretics chest. They didn't have a second to breathe before the horde crashed over them again. A black clad stormtrooper- this one bleeding from a bullet wound in the leg was next to him, drawing monomolecular steel and expertly slicing through the neck of a heretic before one handed spraying from the hip with their hotshot- buying Hastis room he needed to jam home a new drum shaped pack. The weapon primed and he put a burst of automatic lasfire into a charging cultist- his entire torso coming away as over thirty bolts were pumped into him and out his back in a storm of fierce red heat before a bullet caught Hastis in the leg and sent him to one knee.

The Stormtrooper behind him whipped around and put a hotshot bolt through the eyes of a cultist that looked capitalize on his injury, Hastis had no time to thank the elite soldier before the endless tide of madmen and traitors swarmed in close baying for blood and carnage- all manner of improvised weapons wielded in gore coated hands, there was no reason in their eyes, there was no logic. There was only the malignant taint of chaos wiping away any fear and any sanity as they basked in the shadow of their dark overlords.

"For The Dark Gods!" the ground seemed to shake with its bellowed war cry, as Hyork danced backwards, the anticipated strike materializing in reality just moments before- one step ahead of every motion this corrupted creature made. Then there was the major, sweeping in under strikes and following up with a quicksilver fast blow from their sparking falchion- each cut another insult against the ancient warrior, his rage only seeming to make his power rise to new heights.

The major danced backwards out of reach from the chaos champion- plasma pistol spinning up and ready to fire only for the attack to be aborted when the chaos champion retaliated with its own bolt pistol and forcing the major back into melee or behind cover before leaping to the inquisitors' side. Hyork flicked out the laspistol that the trenches had seen him acquire seemingly so long ago in the early morning. He fired- the red beams doing nothing to the chaos astartes armor aside from gathering its attention- and it lashes out, chainblade howling as it cuts for his neck- Hyork is dodging an instant before the attack even begins the picture in his mind playing out into reality.

The Major dives in, low to the ground, using their small frame to their advantage, the Falchion swings and the Champion turns away out of the path of the blade- the very tip of it sparking against his leg, before the major is weaving in and out from between a savage series of blows that were dodged with a razors edge of room left. There was no use in trying to parry such savage strikes when you didn't even have a quarter of the strength required. Again Hyork blasts away with the las pistol- the champion now filled with rage at such pitiful attempts- He turns, looking to finish Hyork now with a lunge towards the Inquisitor- The Major drives their Falchion home at last through the powerpack on the traitors back- A backhanded blow knocks them away.

"The dark gods empower me!" The snarling vox grill of the ancient marine seems more like a sneering grin. "With them I am Stronger than ever!"

Hyork sees his chance as the Astartes turns and raises his bolt pistol to finish off the reeling major- staggered from such a savage blow to the head- their helmet saving their life.

"Your dark gods will not save you from me, Traitor." Hyrok's eyes flash with power, psychic energy coalesces along the length of his blade condensing at the tip like a torch. The heretic astartes whips around- just as Hyork had seen it do in his mind.

The lightning strikes faster than the traitor can pull the trigger- a brilliant flash of psychic energy unleashed into the power armored warrior of the darkest age in imperial history- flesh is burnt away before the astartes even has a chance to scream- twin hearts burst and organs turn to ash and cinder, in seconds all that is left is a smoking husk of armor. Hyork releases the power- breathing deeply; it was never easy to do so. He spits.

"This was all the power you've been given, and you call yourself stronger?" He pants. "Hardly worth the energy." He flicks his sword cane; the force weapon still hums.

The battle shifts- the tides of the heretics close in, the sounds of fighting echo off the cathedrals walls, Hyork can see arcs of fire all along the left and right of their flanks, the imperial guard, the seventy sixth, forcing their way through the traitor defenses to reach them. He has only a second to catch his breath. Only a second of rest before a bullet punches through his chest. He can see it happen in his mind, and he knows he is too slow to dodge it.

Hastis flashes through his mind before he hits the ground. The combative Fendoran Guardsman did always chastise him for never wearing body armor. Hyork had always argued back that it was unbefitting of his station- that his armor was his own mind.

He felt so foolish now, with the blood welling up in his lungs, and the shattered bits of rib cutting through his skin. He was soon to be just another body on another battlefield in the imperium of man, an ignominious end, for a cowardly man.

It was nothing less than what he deserved.

"Inquisitor down." The static laced voice of the storm trooper was placid and unhurried- but the sentence set Hastis' blood on fire. He spins and sees Hyork fall- Hastis is running before he knows that his body is even moving, the lasgun is up and firing, red beams of light punching through flesh, as the ground runs red.

The Major is down- hacking at legs as a horde of cultist's dog piles them, the major fires blindly with their plasma pistol- the front of their helmet broken in and leaking blood. Hastis takes a bullet again- low in his gut and another up in his shoulder- he still runs.

A cultist charges him with a knife, Hastis catches the blade through his hand and unloads an automatic burst from his lasgun into the gut of the heretic.

He is just meters away before the hulking armored form lands in front of him- a creature out of a nightmare- far more terrible than any chaos space marine- clawed feet and a twisted helmet contorted into the shape of a predators face- It reaches out and closes its fist around his face, lifting him off the ground with contemptuous ease.

This was the end.

Ten seconds

What is a miracle?

Some would say, that a miracle is a blessing from the emperor, if you were to ask the pious. There are also those who would call it luck or happenstance. Some might even refuse to acknowledge it as anything out of the ordinary at all.

Lagorn, a Fendoran vox technician, is a pious man. He believes in The God Emperor of Mankind.

He watches, a chaos raptor of spiked armor and ghoulish features, grip the skull of his comrade and lift him into the air. In the hands of Lagorn, is a lasgun, a standard mass produced M35 Kantreal pattern lasrifle. It operates in the nineteen-megathule range of power output. It is a solid, and reliable weapon for the humble imperial guardsman.

It is not possible for it to penetrate the armor of a space marine, from any distance.

It does not possess the power output required to do so. Even if pressed flesh against a joint or even the helmet, it cannot do so. Perhaps if flush against an eye lens and fired on fully automatic, but the likelihood of that ever happening is astronomically low.

Five seconds

Lagorn does not think about any of this as he drops to a knee and shoulders his lasgun, sighting down the barrel and exhaling as he fires.

The laser bolt travels at the speed of light, and strikes the hardest, most heavily armored part of the chaos raptor- the chest.

And a miracle happens.

A pious man would say, that the Emperor answered the prayers of Lagorn, and gifted his lasgun with the power to strike a telling blow against the heretical astartes that had fallen from grace.

Another might say, that Lagorn landed a one in a trillion trillion shot against an unseen crack in the armor of the raptor that the high temperatures of the lasbeam had stressed to the point of breaking.

Whatever they believe, whatever the true reason being, the result is the same. The traitor's armored chest erupts, a fist-sized hole cracking open and exposing the corrupted black carapace underneath- a writhing symbiotic thing that hisses and spits.

Lagorn doesn't hesitate- doesn't ruminate on what just happened- he acts, he fires, a lasbolt cutting through the air and punching into the traitors exposed chest, once, twice, a third time and now it is through the rib plate- the fourth bolt cuts through the primary heart.

The raptor drops Hastis- staggering backwards- in shock and in pain. Even when dazed and his head reeling, there is no way that Hastis could miss this shot. He draws his revolver and in one fluid motion, he plants a supercharged hotshot lasbolt through the right eye lens of the Raptor.

His world goes dark.

Impact.

On Wings of fire and with blades of fury.

Streaks of red and silver drop from the sky like howling meteorites of ceremite coated rage and violence. The close-combat fury of the griffon's rage knew no limits. The impact of their landing cratered the ground, and hit with enough force that a boot planted against the helmet of an Iron warrior legionary landed with enough force that Yenald could hear the legionaries' spine break. Shock and awe on an unprecedented level- an explosion of such visceral violence that it was enough to give the veterans of the long war a whole second of pause- a whole uninterrupted second for the red and silver astartes to rampage freely.

One of the members of the assault squad charged a legionary directly before him with a jump pack assisted shoulder barge, driving the warrior into the ferocrete walls of the cathedral. The Assault marine maglocked his chainblade to his hip and lashed out, restraining the sword arm of the legionary, and grappling him around the torso. His jump pack flared bright- and the traitor and loyalist soared directly upwards, thirty feet, sixty feet, one-twenty, one-eighty, and when at an acceptable height- the assault marine let the legionary fall.

Without any means of maneuvering like the assault marine did, Yenald sighted in on the falling champion with his stalker bolter, and one handedly he aimed, and pulled the trigger. A Kraken penetrator cored though the helmet of the corrupted legionary; Yenald did not wait to see the corpse land.

The gates to the Cathedral are meters away; he rallies his brothers to his side as the Griffons hack through the remaining renegade's.

The end is in sight.

The sky is black, and lightning rises from the ground to reach up and touch the heavens. Colonel Deov Vestalt stands atop his Macharius Vanquisher, Divine Judicator as the wind began to howl with the laughter of dark gods, and the sanity behind the workings of reality lost all meaning.

A great rift in the clouds, like the birth of a stillborn god from a dark womb, something tears open reality above the cathedral that is so distant yet so close.

He must close his eyes and banish the heresy that threatens to whisper lies into his mind, as his eyes must be lying to him. There could not truly be a dark hand reaching down from the heavens.

There could not be a hand likewise rising from the ground to meet it. Such a thing is impossible.

Such a thing is Abominable.

He begins to weep, as in his heart; he knows that his eyes did not deceive him. He knows that he is watching the advent of the end of this world. The wind howls and the storm rages- scouring lightning digs mile long trenches into the earth and then returns to the sky, the heavens are alight with fire, and the ground shakes.

Something terrible is being born.

It is the end of all things

.

..

What is a miracle?

Some would say, that a miracle is a blessing from the emperor, if you were to ask the pious. There are also those who would call it luck or happenstance. Some might even refuse to acknowledge it as anything out of the ordinary at all.

Captain Yenald of the Suns Descendants Sixth Company, and Scout Master of the Second Gathering and Wychbane of the Dark Eldar, has lived for well over two hundred years, and will soon be given the third century rite. He has seen the death of worlds, and the birth of others. He has seen the courage of man in its purist form; he has also bore witness to mankind's unlimited depths of depravity and pettiness. He knows that Mortals are both capable of great heroism, and great evil. The small candle in their heart that is their soul is small and seemingly insignificant.

He knows, that this tiny, precious thing must be protected at all costs.

There is nothing that Yenald will not do, no pain he will not suffer, and no hardship he will not endure to ensure that the candle of hope is not snuffed out by the darkness of chaos and the wickedness of those who have already fallen to it.

The dread sorcerer lord rose on a pillar of fire, his armor shifts and churns with the power of the warp- his form as mutable as his insane mind. He is wreathed in power and holds the gaze of the dark gods upon him now in this moment. He is an unstoppable torrent that threatens to snuff out every flame in the imperium of mankind. Epithets and curses roll from the single glaring eye at the center of his helm, in his hands a warpstaff of dark power roils, at its head, a yawning abyss- a contained portal to the warp itself is opened, the insidious ritual to call a dead god forth finally at the climax.

Yenald has no words to say to this creature that has fallen far form its once halcyon and noble throne of virtue- this is a corruption of an astartes, no longer a shining beacon against the evils of the universe, but now the very evil that he had been forged to fight against.

Brothers die all around him, and Yenald now stands alone before this monster. He has only his staff- a blessed relic from dark times, a treasure of the Chapter, an irreplaceable artifact forged before the birth of the Imperium, letters in a language that none in the chapter can transcribe or identify press against his callused fingers.

He takes reaches back, and grips the staff with one hand, he throws- every last ounce of his strength put into one, single throw. As the staff leaves his fingers, Yenald closes his eyes, and for the first time in his long life-

-he prays.

And a miracle happens.

...

You know prescience? That psychic power that let's you reroll saves and shit? I don't think it's actually precognition or anything like that or even a psychic power. I actually know what it really is. You see, instead of having any psychic shit like that, psykers with prescience actually are tapping into MOTHERFUCKING ULTRA INSTINCT and are going god-mode Goku on a motherfuckers ass with some dragon-ball level hyper fighting shit, so shut up and don't question it, just let the meme happen, and whenever you make a save because of prescience, lean back from the table and scream-

-KA KA KA KA KACHIE DAZE- GUN GUN GUN GUN GUWA NUKI- CHAN CHAN BYAN BYAN KU U KO KU NO- BATOOOO-

-at the top of your lungs and watch as your opponent slowly backs away from your clearly retarded ass as you suddenly realize that you peaked during high school and everything else is all downhill from here and before you ask yes I actually did this once when fighting an Eldar player and they just silently stared at me for like a full fucking minute with the deepest and most sincere look of disappoint that I have ever seen in another human being and did I also mention that the Eldar player was actually my Dad?

And yeah, I lied about having some super important message or shit at the beginning.

You were tricked.

I deceived you.

You didn't honestly believe me? Did you?

Anyways, the crossover portion begins next chapter, which will be uploaded in the extremely mercurial future, hopefully before the heat death of the universe but you never know when motherfucking wizards and shit are involved.

Have a bitchin' day. I respond to PM's whenever I'm sober. Feel free to drop one.

...

AN/ ICe CrEEm IS HArAM