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The war that erupted against the backdrop of the cold infinite void at the reveal of Magnus' kingship was as brutal as it was short. The fleet assembled from Macragge and Greater Ultramar was vast, only grown larger after swallowing the remnants of the Scions of Terra, as well as any supporting elements that tagged behind them once they commenced their leave of the system.
But even it could not hope to deal with the enormous vessel Magnus now commanded without serious casualties. And that was before factoring in the rest of the Thousand Sons' fleet. Surely, the only reason they were not all dead already was due to ulterior motives, and their keeping of distance.
"Magnus is leaving us alive for now," Roboute said.
"Any guesses as to why?" Kronos replied.
"He is savoring the kill. Or he yet has some task given to him by his new master," the Primarch refused to use the word "god", and that Kronos could find commendable. Perhaps it was the word most suited to describing the gargantuan gestalt psychic entities that inhabited and dictated much of the rules of the Warp. But it nonetheless brought a measure of revulsion to him still.
"How do we proceed then?"
"I don't know."
Those mere few syllables, in that arrangement, would've turned most men's hearts into jelly. Coming from a Primarch, they were a terrifying thought indeed. A Primarch was not supposed to say "I do not know" to something. Not in the eyes of any who lived in this era.
They were paragons of virtue, and of martial might. Utterly unquestionable, their minds barely comprehensible, and basically unkillable save for those of equal breeding as the Emperor's finest creations. Of course, to Kronos this statement meant little other than reaffirming that which he already knew: the situation was dire.
"I doubt we possess enough psychic force to even attempt to stop him were he to make a move. And our fleet definitely does not possess the material force needed to challenge his dominance of space."
"If we turn our backs to flee, they can tear us apart through our exposed flank. If we attempt to hurl ourselves forward, we will end up in the Maelstrom," Guilliman's eyes were stern, calculating as he sucked up every detail of Magnus' rebuilt pyramid. "They have us completely boxed in. I expect nothing less of Magnus."
Guilliman's eyes darted to the emergency vox transmitter in his chambers, but only briefly as he turned it on, and returned his gaze to the pyramid, working out how he was going to crack it.
"Speak," he replied sharply, and Kronos imagined any poor mortal, for it could only be a mortal's voice, on the other hand must've been terrified at such a response. It was a useless consideration, but he couldn't help but pity the poor men.
Whether the man was cowed by Guilliman he could not tell, as the next reply came:
"Incoming vox transmission from...the enemy. Should we answer lord?"
Guilliman stood silent for several seconds, and try as he might, while he knew the gears were there turning in his brain, Kronos could not tell it in the Primarch's face.
"Hold. I am coming down to the bridge."
Guilliman moved, not bothering to close the link, the tone of his voice evident as to the finality of his message, Kronos marched in lock step with him, at the Master of Ultramar's right.
"He will want to goad you."
"He will want to gloat," Guilliman replied swiftly. "Magnus has always reveled in his superiority. His own hubris lead him to damnation."
"And how do you plan to exploit that now?"
"Firstly? Buy some time. Beyond that, we shall see."
The line was established, though only static came through it. Kronos could've almost thought it a cruel joke, a practical jest set to ruin morale. Though he knew better, as he probed his mind outward. Something was coming through, using the established route to manifest itself, a tangible physical link that allowed the passage of the ethereal.
He felt his grip on his spear tighten, almost instinctually.
"He will be here soon," he said to the Primarch.
"I am aware."
"That is not what I meant. He is traveling here now even as we speak, unbound by his physical manifestation. I would recommend double-checking whatever seals your Librarius has equipped this ship with in the short time they've had."
Guilliman looked intently at the vox caster for a moment more, before nodding, sending a message throughout the ship.
With that out of the way however, the first signs of Magnus' arrival were here, as the vox was alight with something drowning out the static. Something...not human.
The sounds grew louder and louder, and the ship crew began to be disturbed. Astartes standing guard nearby gripped their Bolters ever so slightly more, just enough for Kronos to notice. There was a charged quality to the air, like a current running through his blood. The situation only seemed to deteriorate from there as some of the humans grew restless.
"Enough games brother," Guilliman spoke harshly through the vox. "Show yourself and stop wasting my time."
Suddenly, the noise stopped, but only for the briefest of instances. In it's place however, a cacophony erupted, though judging from the lack of reaction on the bridge, it was one only he and the Primarch were made privy to. It rose higher and higher, until even the sound regulating systems of his armor were heaving a hard time compensating.
The sound reminded him much of maddened chanting artificially sped up, though the voices he heard were barely of mortal tongue at all. The vox started to spark, red hot charges blowing out of it like a man coughing, though he doubted it was due to any technical error, noticing how the structure remained intact.
The red sparks grew in size more and more, until he and Guilliman had to take several steps back. His spear shifted to a combat position, while Guilliman's own hand was on his sheathed sword, as the Hand of Dominion whirred to life, ready to crush anything that came through to a pulp.
The sparks had upgraded to a full snake length's of twitching lightning, though the effect, much like before, seemed lost to any around save for themselves. The lightning coiled and folded into itself, giving rise to outlines, shapes, and finally a vague map of a body. As some time passed, it was filled in with characteristics so very man-like, and yet at the same time, not at all.
The crimson-skinned giant stood tall, taller than either of them. Great ghostly wings that had barely any substance, still formed primarily as outlines by blood-cast electricity, spread out behind him, like shifting scaffolding. A great mane of hair even richer in color than the giant's skin extended down his shoulders, and his features were handsome yet reserved.
Almost unnaturally for something out of the Warp, there were hardly any qualities that struck one as abominable. Even the armor of the figure was golden, ornate and lavishly decorated. The only thing that would give a hint of unease at such a supreme figure of authority was his missing eye, the organ not so much damaged as seeming to never have been there at all, as the socket were it should have sat was devoured by a patch of crimson flesh.
Still, despite the supreme effort on his part, Kronos could see past the abomination that was Magnus. He was a cancer on the Materium. An existence that would've been almost terrifying were it not crushingly sad. Here stood one of the Emperor's mightiest creations, reduced to a base slave with a false sense of authority and power granted to him by the very puppet master that had turned his life to Hell.
Kronos would've spared pity if he had any left. But traitors were traitors, and Magnus was among the greatest of them all, perhaps almost to the same degree as Horus himself. So it was, only disgust filled him.
"Guilliman," Magnus said, and smiled despite himself.
"Magnus," Guilliman replied, his face hardened stone, his voice betraying nothing.
"It has been too long brother. Far too long," the Red Cyclops mused. "Or has it at all? My perception of time is skewed these days, and well, I can't imagine you've felt much of anything in your deathless stasis. So has it been that long at all?"
Guilliman said nothing, which let Magnus to continue.
"Come now, Roboute. It is unbecoming of you to treat a brother so. Am I not the same Magnus you knew all those years back?"
"As a matter of fact, no you are not. If you must attempt to appeal to the diplomat in me, I'd suggest using the sweet talk to prevent me from ripping your head off, you bastard cur."
"Is that anger I sense brother? From the great Guilliman?" Magnus chuckled. "Perhaps you are right. I am not the same as I was. And you certainly won't remain that which you were. Even now you see the truth of Change all around you. Your world burned, turned to flaked cinders as you awake in a galaxy alight with the flame of the Blessed Four."
"And what of it, brother?" Guilliman replied, his face yet calm, while his mouth spat sound with the force of a hurricane. "I will not debase myself. I will not turn my back on my vows, burning all I know and yet love, only to be enslaved by some cancerous gestalt from the depths of Hell. My heart is the heart of the Imperium of Man, all that which we fought and bled for and which you cast away when your folly delivered retribution upon you. So long as that heart still beats, I will never falter, you son of a bitch. Now, if you would be so kind as to extract yourself from my ship, before I do it for you."
Magnus simply shook his head, almost regretfully. His smile had become practically imperceptible by that point.
"Always reliable, trustworthy Guilliman. You have the blind steadfastness of Russ and the stubbornness of Dorn. As you say brother. I shall take my leave. I need not worry. If I cannot convince you now, an eternity should suffice instead."
"The only eternity I'll be made privy to is your lifeless corpse floating in the starways when I am done with your fleet," Guilliman replied, ice cold.
The manifestation of Magnus flickered once, then disappeared from the room.
"What now?" Kronos inquired.
"Now, Octavian plays his part."
The Mars-class battle cruiser Roaring Dragon was, for all intents and purposes, entirely unremarkable, if ever such a thing could be said of the mighty ships of the Mars-class. That is, except for one specific design flaw, or as Octavian had come to consider it, the ship's ace in the hole.
It had accidentally been built with upscaled plasma drives, a terrible mess made of the Imperial production machine through a thousand lesser mistakes sparked of bureaucracy. Many heads had rolled following it's launch, but Octavian did not find himself particularly concerned with the history, given he was about to blow the entire thing to kingdom come.
His plan at first was rejected outright, and really he couldn't blame anyone for such an opinion. Even by his standards, this was a terribly suicidal idea, not to mention superficially wasteful. None wanted to see an entire battle cruiser lost to a potentially pointless endeavor.
However, much to his delight, the Lord Guilliman had been receptive of his...extremely unconventional strategies. He smiled as he realized he loved the man more and more each day. It was only natural of course. There could be no other way with an Astartes and their gene-father, but it still amazed him how right his presence felt. As if every Ultramarine successor had had a gap within their hearts and minds which they'd only realized had been there after it was refilled.
But the task at hand forced him to focus his mind once more. The ship had been preemptively emptied, running on only a skeleton crew of servitors and Astartes. Twenty of his company joined him on this voyage, his most senior squads. At four million kilometers away from the enemy force, the ship had gone to silent running, it's entire hull blackened from within.
Now it sailed through the void via momentum alone, it's engines dark as it prowled through the vast blackness like an ancient, enormous camouflaged predator. The only semblance of light and life left in the vessel was in it's bridge, where necessary monitors still blinked to life and Astartes milled about the few tasks they had before the full engagement.
A simple scan would've been enough to sniff them out, though Octavian was riding solely on the sheer ludicrousness of the maneuver he would attempt. Despite the seemingly dead engines, the plasma reactors were kept at a constant output that was simply vented into space, as discreetly as possible. The dragon's mouth was closed, though the fire remained burning within. And that was what he needed.
He watched the traitor Primarch's war fleet and his kingship grow ever closer, inching on his displays. Such a sight would've been intimidating for any most men, though he was no such person. What he saw before was nothing different from what a sailor on Old Earth would've witnessed in a whale. A gargantuan catch that dwarfed him and potentially his vessel, though prey nonetheless.
If he handled his harpoon carefully, he would skewer the beast, every time.
"Brother-Captain," one of his brothers hailed him on the vox. "The plasma reactors have been rigged to be operating just under criticality. Heat venting is as minimal as we could get it. It should save some time. By your command, the ship will have but minutes to live."
He recognized now he was talking with his personal aide in this mission and Doom Legion Techmarine, Rutherford.
"Excellent work brother. Retreat to the Caestus. We must move with all haste when our surprise rears it's head. How are the void shields?"
"Ready to be deployed at will. No shot will reach us before they are up. As per request, I've only left power running through the most rudimentary interfaces on the bridge, the shields and the venting systems. I'd recommend anyone who doesn't have a helmet on to proceed with it. Life support went out five minutes ago."
"Understood. Doom to the untrue, brother."
"Doom to the untrue," Rutherford replied, before the vox cut out. Now all that was left to do was wait.
"So this is it huh."
Octavian turned to see the lone human crew member left aboard the Roaring Dragon. Her captain, Solomon Seanz. A short, somewhat rotund man who looked to be in his mid 60s, yet was probably in his hundreds, Octavian had had a good read of his history and battle honors. They ran twice as long as his arm.
The captain had insisted on staying on board his ship even in this suicide mission, and although Octavian had been vehemently opposed at first, he had been convinced by the man's passion, which seemed to have little regard for his status. He valued a mortal that had the balls to speak against an Astartes. Most people would have one such man shot. Him, he'd have the man promoted if he hadn't signed his own death warrant.
"Are you certain you want to stay here?"
"She's my ship Astartes," the man replied, his face hardened as he looked around the bridge. "I have not guided it through thick and thin to watch it die from the viewport of another vessel. I will go down in it's blaze of glory. To surrender my life for that of a Primarch is the greatest honor I could have. And were even that not the case, I'll never abandon ship."
He caressed one of the panels lining a tactical read out of the vessel.
"Me and this old girl...we go so far back even you might not have been born."
"Try me," Octavian said, a huff of laughter escaping him, which lit the captain's face with a smile as well.
"Ah, you know how it is though. You have your own charge, don't you?"
Octavian nodded, finding himself in agreement. His thoughts wandered to the Ferrum Mortem. There was no force that could get him off that ship were it ever to die. It was his vessel, his sword and shield, the spiritual home of his company. He'd launch it into a mission like this without a second thought. He needed no more compelling than a single nod from his Primarch. But he'd never abandon it. To do so would be abandoning his soul.
"I do. Emperor guide you, captain. Keep a final eye on the vessel for me," Octavian said, as if the man needed prompting. He also handed the human a sealed suit he had acquired from one of the maintenance decks. "A man like you doesn't deserve to die from atmosphere venting."
"Thank you, lord."
"My name is Octavian. Spare me a thought when the sun this vessel turns into rips a traitor Primarch to shreds," he said, and made for the exit confidently, two of his brothers following behind him. They had already given the order.
Within the bowels of the ship's cavernous holdings, the plasma generators churned and flashed, sustained nuclear fusion powering the vessel now being turned against it, at the command of Octavian's actions. What was once controlled became pure chaos, as the entire ship's fuel supply was pumped into the superheated, superpressurized environment of the reactor.
Pure atomic death lingered inside it for some time, building up as coolant systems failed and the reactor housing barely contained the heat.
Thirty seconds before mark, Octavian and all elements of his company made it to their Caestus, which used their Magna-Meltas to burrow through the ship's insides, out into the void, in a reverse of the standard purpose of the assault rams.
Twenty seconds before mark the Thousand Sons fleet picked up a disturbance near Magnus' kingship.
Ten seconds before mark the Roaring Dragon was discovered a mere five thousand kilometers away from the flagship. Machine spirits on all nearby vessels were already running assault vectors, and priming their weaponry to tear the ship apart.
Five seconds before mark the Dragon was eaten from a sun expanding out of it's own belly, the proverbial flame enough to cook a planet from orbit, and debris launched with such speed each piece of it could've caused an extinction level event.
A star expanded outside the main viewing port of the Macragge's Honour, hiding their image of the Thousand Sons fleet. The plan had gone smoother than expected.
"Commence mark," Guilliman said, not missing a single second, as his fleet already formed up into a three-pronged trident, a favorite tactic he had used to great effect on many starlit battlefields. The elements of the fleet which had not been outright destroyed by the corona of pure annihilation would surely be reeling, confused and without leadership.
Magnus' ship would have probably endured, for it was simply too big to be killed by such a way. However, it would have been severely damaged in the blast. This was the time to press their advantage. They would have to rip through the fleet swiftly, and charge back into the Warp, dangerous as it could be.
Already the first ships of the speartips fired their salvoes, tech-priests running simulations of the expected locations of the enemy ships based on their pattern of movement and position earlier, as well as their proximity to the blast. Enormous autocannons spat out building-sized projectiles, lances zapped forwards with lasers thicker than entire Titans, plasma projectiles like frozen nuclear mushroom clouds careened through the expanse of space between the two fleets.
A mere few seconds had passed after this act, and they could still not see through the veil left behind by the last dying vestiges of the Roaring Dragon's detonation. So they charged into a veil of smoke with confidence, which would end up being their untimely downfall.
When the fires and dust cleared, dissipating away into space, a vibrant shimmer of pinkish-red energy hung in the air, occasional sparks bursting out of it that eclipsed some of the smaller vessels of the fleet in size. The sight before them shocked each person aboard every vessel who could see it, and even Kronos himself felt his jaw going slack at the sight.
It was a barrier that dwarfed anything he had ever seen before. If he had to make a comparison, only the fabled Phalanx had made a greater impression on him based on sheer scope of it's construction. But where the Phalanx was impressive in it's material presence, this shimmering energy field was a testament to a barely understood force, a mystic aura draping itself over the eyes of anyone who gazed upon it.
Behind it, for it was slightly transparent, Magnus' fleet could be seen, entirely unscathed. As seconds dragged on uncomfortably into minutes, which really felt like hours, the shots first launched at the commencing of the mark impacted against the barrier, and did absolutely nothing to it.
Kronos could see that Guilliman himself was taken aback at the sheer display of power before them. And worse still, he knew that Guilliman had recognized who was doing it. Kronos could tell, for he could probe outward into the depths of space and feel the crushing weight of the psychic beacon that was the Master of the XV Legion. How the Primarch beside him knew however, Kronos did not know.
Then, a ghastly image flashed in the ethereal barrier. The silhouette of an enormous, winged humanoid staring at them, it's body black shadow save for one feature staring back at them, an enormous eye, the light of which shined with the intensity of spilled blood. The contours, the body of the thing, was gone, disappeared in a flash. The eye however, that remained.
And it not only remained, it swelled larger. It gorged itself on the barrier, growing as the latter shrunk, and at that moment Guilliman ordered a secondary burst straight into the exposed ranks of the enemy.
Those shots would never have a chance to land.
The eye started spinning. The pupil spun independently of the iris, which went opposite to it. The spinning grew faster and faster as the eye engorged, eventually blocking out the enemy fleet once more. Then with speed that should've been impossible for any real space object to possess, it crossed the boundaries between the two fleets. Suddenly, it was right above them.
And that was when the eye turned into a storm, a tornado, a veritable cyclonic natural disaster translated into the impossibly large scale of a celestial object. Ships were pulled into it just as objects on a planet's surface would have been pulled into an ordinary storm of monstrous proportions. The Macragge's Honour itself lurched through the void, as crewmen attempted to grab a hold of objects to steady themselves. Kronos instead had blink-activated the magnetic clamps in his boots, and Guilliman seemed to be doing the same.
The veritable armada they had assembled was being flung all around like the toys of a child. Several ships collided outright with each-other, and Kronos saw for one terrifying second the hull of a strike cruiser being hurled directly at them.
"Void shields to maximum at starboard!" Guilliman bellowed, and the crew members holding onto their consoles worked frantically to comply. The order was done, and the unfortunate strike cruiser met with the full force of the Honour's void shields, reducing to shreds even as innumerable weapon batteries tore into it. Kronos grimaced at the sacrifice, but crushed any traces of grief with conviction of necessity. If the cruiser had not bee destroyed, both ships would have met a grizzly end.
But it looked as if that fate might not be avoidable at all, as the storm carried the fleet, or what was left that had not been laid to ruin, straight into the gaping maw of the Maelstrom. He saw Guilliman trying to organize the fleet, activate the Gellar fields of every ship, but as it stood they were hurling into an abyss. An abyss that made all the worst case scenarios seem like pleasantries in his head.
Author's notes: Yo there. Long time no see. Welcome to another chapter.
That's about all I have to say. Updates, Idk how frequent or infrequent they'll be. Hope it's still enjoyable and all that. Dome of Bones out.