WARHAMMER DOES NOT BELONG TO ME. MASS EFFECT DOES NOT BELONG TO ME. THERE'S A WARP PORTAL IN MY LIVING ROOM, BUT IT'S NOT SPITTING OUT DAEMONS. JUST OLD THREE STOOGES CLIPS.

Give a mouse a cookie, he'll want a glass of milk. Give Shepard some Space Marines, and she'll want more Space Marines.

Star-Bound

Chapter 22

Oaths

Unlike when Shepard arrived with Corax and Jonson, there was little fanfare when the Ultramarines' fleet arrived over Macragge. This wasn't a slight on Russ, Guilliman explained, but simply because other elements of the Ultramarines and their allies were on campaign. In fact, Guilliman's effort to save Shepard and Russ had left his home dangerously exposed, though he claimed it was worth it.

"Those who are still injured will be moved to the apothecarion in the Fortress of Hera," Guilliman said. "Our… other guests will be given quarters. They will be treated well, but I will not permit them free reign in my home. Not yet."

"At least you're not killing them," Shepard said. "That's a start."

"That may change in the coming weeks, when we speak to Cawl."

"You mentioned this 'Cawl' before," Russ mused. "I remember someone by that name. A tech-adept of some kind, yes?"

"Far more than that, brother." Guilliman shook his head irritably. "He assisted the Emperor in the original Astartes project. After the Great Heresy, I ordered him to create improved Space Marines, and he did so."

"The Primaris." Russ crossed his arms. "I've seen them in action. They're… impressive."

"Wait a sec, back up." Shepard stared up at Guilliman. "This Cawl guy is over eleven thousand years old? A Primarch I understand, but… what!?"

"I doubt there is anything left of his original body," Guilliman said. "He has replaced much with machinery, and his few organic parts have been cloned many times over. He is incredibly gifted in almost every field, and he is partly responsible for my own revival." He frowned. "I would count him among my greatest allies, though he has a tendency to be more independent than I would like."

"As long as he's not messing around with Chaos, I don't care," Shepard said, and Russ grunted in agreement. Shepard then remembered something from the previous day. "Oh, Lord Russ, Bjorn wanted to talk to you before we landed. It sounded important."

Russ nodded. "Of course." He glanced at Guilliman. "We'll be in the hangar."

"I will join you later." Guilliman waved his hand dismissively, as if he believed that Russ cared about permission or protocol. The Wolf King only made a rude gesture and stalked off, Shepard right behind him.

"It's good to see the lad is still around, even if he's a Dreadnought now." Russ smiled through his roughly-trimmed beard. "He was one of my best warriors."

"He mentioned being upset that he stayed behind, while you left," Shepard said mildly.

"I needed someone to command the rest of the Rout while I was gone, and he proved he could do so."

Shepard thought back to what Bjorn had said on Auramus, and doubted the ancient warrior cared about that. Still, she held her tongue; if there was going to be a confrontation, she figured that it would be better if it was resolved sooner than later.

The Wolves had assembled in the Macragge's Honor's main hangar, ready to board her transports so that they could be taken to the surface. During the voyage, the Ultramarines Techmarines and artificers had done what they could to repair the Wolves' damaged equipment; it had all been restored to functionality, but each of them still looked like they had been through hell.

Ragnar Blackmane had always been considered a youth among the other Wolf Lords, but after the fighting on Auramus, he now looked more the part of the weathered leader. His right eye and hand were gone, the former just a mass of angry-looking scar tissue that awaited a bionic replacement, while his arm ended in a stump. Still, the Young King had lost none of his boundless energy, and constantly moved between his packs, sharing stories or commiserating over lost friends.

The Wulfen of the Thirteenth Great Company largely kept to themselves, a short distance away from the Blackmanes. During the fighting, they had almost seemed joyful as they unleashed their rage, but now that the battle was over, they were quiet, withdrawn, almost timid until they saw Russ. They bounded over to him, their muscles tense and hands gripping weapons; their heads swiveled back and forth, as if searching for a foe.

"Peace, you fools," Russ commanded, though his tone was fond. "Remember that you are more than beasts!"

Almost as one, the Wulfen shuddered and looked as sheepish as super-soldier wolf-men could. They organized themselves into something that could loosely be called a formation, and gathered in front of the transports again.

"They need to spend some time on Fenris once again," Russ said as he and Shepard headed over to the Blackmanes. "The fight on Auramus was the first time they'd had their feet on solid ground in a long while."

"They need more than a hiking trip," Shepard commented dryly. "They need therapy—and probably a bath."

Russ lightly cuffed her ear, much to the outrage of the Alexian Guard that stood nearby, but a quick gesture from Shepard calmed them down before they caused an incident. Besides, she had always known that her snark wouldn't go unanswered one day.

"Lord Russ." Ragnar knelt. "All warriors are accounted for and ready to depart for Macragge."

"Excellent." Russ waited until Ragnar got back to his feet. "Has there been word from Fenris?"

"Yes, Lord; a response came just minutes ago from the Great Wolf. He will come to Macragge with all haste, with ships to carry us back to Fenris."

Russ nodded. "And once we have rested and resupplied, we will set out once more, and fight wherever we are most needed." He smirked. "I've been told that Corax and Jonson returned to the fold some time ago, so we'll have to catch up."

The closest Space Wolves chuckled, but it faded when the heavy stomps of Bjorn heralded his arrival. "Jarl."

Russ turned to greet the ancient Dreadnought, only for his vision to be filled with Trueclaw. Bjorn backhanded the Primarch with such force that he was sent flying a dozen meters. Everyone was too stunned to immediately react, and by the time the Wulfen snarled and tensed for a collective leap, Bjorn had stomped over to Russ and snatched him up. With the Primarch clutched in a weapon that could quite easily destroy a tank, no one moved; they couldn't risk causing Bjorn to actually try to kill Russ.

Russ spat out blood and glared at Bjorn. "Why?"

"You. Abandoned. Me." Bjorn lifted Russ so that he was level with his vision slit. "You ran off into the Eye when the Imperium needed you, when we needed you! We needed a Primarch, and you decided to spend ten thousand years on a quest that didn't even resolve anything! You could have kept the Imperium safe, but instead, you ran away."

At first, the accusations made Russ bristle, but soon his anger faded, replaced with tired acceptance.

"What do you want me to say?" he asked.

Bjorn let him go, and though his mighty frame didn't outwardly change, he still seemed as tired as his gene-father. "Just swear that you will never put yourself over the Rout. We would not survive you leaving us again."

"You have my word." Russ reached up and put one hand over Bjorn's sarcophagus. "And I am truly sorry, my son."

With that, the tension that had been building within the Wolves evaporated. Shepard let out a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding; she had known that Bjorn wanted to chew out Russ, but she thought he'd been joking about hitting the Primarch.

She wondered just how upset her friends in her Crusade would be when they found out what she had been through without them. She hadn't been gone as long as Russ, but the devotion of her friends might cause them to react badly. Shepard didn't like the idea of bringing her friends into danger—she never had, and it had only gotten worse as the years went on—but she had come closer to failure on Auramus than she'd like to admit. Things would have been easier if she'd had her army; next time, she'd bring in as many guns as possible.

A week after arriving at Macragge, Shepard received word from the Vehemence; surprisingly, it had sent its message from Vigilus, far from the Argris System. Shepard was confused, but apparently, her time in the Eye of Terror had resulted in time taking a sharp left for her—though she had spent only two weeks in the Eye, a whole six months had passed for her Crusade.

Upon learning where Shepard was, a detachment from the Crusade had set course for Ultramar with all haste, but it would be some time before she was among her friends again. Until then, she spent time in the Fortress of Hera with her remaining honor guard, acting as wardens for the Dusk Raiders.

"How are you guys doing?" Shepard asked from outside Brol's cell. "Anything I can get you?"

"Our injuries have healed," Brol said, "but I would like to see a sky that is not corrupted."

"I'm working on that," Shepard promised. "This Cawl guy should be here tomorrow. Hopefully, we'll get everything sorted out then."

"If we are to be executed, I have a request." Brol paused. "Please return Lieutenant Artin's sword to his lord, and convey my thanks for borrowing it."

"I'll do everything in my power to make sure you can do that yourself." Shepard gently rapped her knuckles against the door. "But if the worst does happen, I'll handle it."

"You have my thanks."

"Is there anything else you need?"

"Not so much need, but want." There was a muffled creaking sound as Brol shifted. "I earned many honors before Mortarion took command of my Legion, and then all of that was swept aside. I want to reclaim my honor, and punish the traitors for their disloyalty."

"We killed thousands of Death Guard on Auramus," Shepard reminded him. "It may not have been a colossal victory on a strategic level, but I'm sure Mortarion was put on notice."

"I do not think I will be satisfied until they are all dead," Brol growled. "Mortarion included."

"Well, I hope you get your chance."

Brol's words did raise a question, though—while Shepard knew her powers could destroy a normal daemon, could she kill a daemon Primarch? From what she had heard, the traitor Primarchs had only ever been banished, and were far more powerful than a typical Daemon Prince. Part of her wanted to try, but she had been killed fighting the Swarmlord, an entity that was weaker than even a regular Primarch. Anti-Chaos powers or no, Shepard thought she wasn't strong enough for that kind of battle.

I've only ever been fighting to keep my skills sharp, she thought. Maybe it's time I really started training again.

"Your Holiness." Carolya gently tapped her shoulder to get her attention. "Lord Guilliman has summoned you; he wishes to brief you on dealing with Archmagos Cawl."

"Okay, thanks." Shepard knocked on Brol's door again. "I have to go, but I'll talk to you later, Garask."

"I hope you will bring good news when we speak next."

"Yeah," Shepard muttered to herself, "so do I."

Shepard had thought she'd seen the limit of what human engineering could create when she'd seen ships like the Macragge's Honor, which dwarfed even the Vehemence, but she was rendered speechless when she saw the personal flagship of Belisarius Cawl enter orbit. The Zar-Quaesitor, an Ark Mechanicus,was truly massive, capable of holding entire armies within its holds, and armed with weapons that could annihilate worlds.

"It is different than the last time I saw it," Guilliman commented; his tone was mild, but his gaze was piercing. "Cawl has added three new lance batteries to the spine, and a macro-deployer."

Considering how conservative the Adeptus Mechanicus was, Shepard was surprised that Cawl would change anything on such a revered warship. Then again, the Archmagos was known for innovating—a heresy that carried a death sentence within the Mechanicus. Shepard decided that she liked Cawl already; she had been frustrated by the Imperium's lack of progress on the technological front for years.

A large transport arrived to deliver Cawl to the surface; like the ship it came from, it was covered in arcane technologies that would have taken Shepard years of study to fully understand. The shuttle landed just in front of Shepard and the waiting Primarchs; the ramp opened, and squads of Skitarii marched out, all wearing the proud red robes of Mars.

After his security detail was assembled, Cawl himself came down the ramp, and again, Shepard was stunned. After years of knowing Xem-Beta, she thought she was used to the augmentations the Mechanicus employed, but Cawl was something else entirely.

The rear half of his towering body looked vaguely like a mechanical caterpillar that rose up into a more humanoid top half. He still had six arms, some of which were completely mechanical, while others ended in tools or weapons. Two of his arms carried an enormous cog-toothed power axe, which he used like a walking stick. A host of mechadendrites coiled like angry serpents around his abdomen, and other parts within his body clicked, hummed, or wheezed. Most of his face was covered by a hood or a metal plate, and only part of his nose and one eye was organic.

"Greetings, Archmagos Dominus," Guilliman said calmly. "My thanks for answering my summons so quickly."

Cawl spread several of his arms and inclined his head. "As ever, I am your servant, Lord Guilliman. I must admit, your message was vague enough to pique my curiosity, so I came as quickly as I could."

"I thought it might." Guilliman gestured to his sides. "You of course recognize my brother, Leman Russ. I would also introduce Alexia Shepard, Living Saint."

Cawl paused; his head didn't move, but Shepard would bet money that he was scanning both her and Russ. "Lord Russ, it is impressive that you have survived so long. I would call the odds of your return astronomical, but the arrival of Lords Corax and Jonson has significantly reduced those odds." He paused again. "And another Living Saint; it is not often that I have a chance to examine one of your kind. I hope you don't mind such an inquiry."

Shepard smiled genially. "As long as dissection is off the table, but I'll admit that I'd like to know more about how I do what I do, beyond 'the Emperor gave me powers'."

"Dissection would grant some insights into that, but I will settle for scans and questions." The light in Cawl's optics flickered, and Shepard wondered if that was his attempt to imitate twinkling eyes.

"Please, come with me." Guilliman gestured to the Fortress of Hera. "There are many matters to discuss. I believe that you will find them… gratifying."

Contrary to what she initially thought, Shepard was not part of the entire meeting with Cawl; most of it, actually, involved logistics and placement of forces that had nothing to do with her, so she was free to wander, under escort, of course. She wished she could have spoken with Marneus Calgar again, but he was off on campaign—fighting alongside the Knights of House Taranis against a large Genestealer Cult uprising.

She did briefly have a chance to meet Varro Tigurius, and thanked him for his part in saving her on Auramus. He accepted the thanks, but couldn't stay for long; his skills were constantly in demand.

"The skeins of fate are constantly shifting around you," he commented before he left. "You shatter destiny with every action you take. I do not yet know if it that is ultimately for good or ill, but you have brought three Primarchs into the light of the Imperium, and that has lessened the strain on my lord. For that, if nothing else, you have my thanks."

Shepard smiled up at him; he had already been tall before crossing the Rubicon Primaris, so she had to tilt her head back. "After everything he's been through, maybe he could take a break? You know, sleep in, spend a night on the town, that kind of thing."

They both knew she was joking, of course; regardless of how many Primarchs Shepard found, Guilliman's skills would only be unneeded if every enemy of humanity suddenly dropped dead. Even then, he would be needed to govern the Imperium.

Not long after that, Shepard received a summons to join Guilliman and Cawl; at some point, Russ had left the conversation, possibly because he had little interest in the conversation, or because he was still recovering after his ten millennia of fighting. Either way, only three people sat at the table now.

"These discoveries will prove critical to our understanding of blackstone, and the Necron threat," Cawl was saying as Shepard came in; if he was aware of her presence, he didn't show it. "The difficulty lies in maintaining a stable power matrix for the quantum energies."

Shepard raised an eyebrow. "If you're talking quantum mechanics…" Cawl visibly twitched and turned to face her. "Hold on, give me a second, it's been a few decades since I've studied that field. If… if you're trying to harness quantum energies, the power requirements would increase logarithmically. Even something on a 'low' power setting would need a battery the size of a small building, unless my math is wrong."

Even Guilliman was staring at her now. "You told me that you studied engineering, but that is impressive."

"I only dabbled," Shepard said modestly. "There were a couple of years in my early career where I didn't have anything to do but study."

Cawl kept looking between her and Guilliman. "Who is this woman?"

"One of many talents," Guilliman said, amused. "And the reason why I am now willing to entertain an idea that you proposed—Primaris Chapters formed from traitor gene-stock."

Shepard now had Cawl's undivided attention. "Tell me how this came about."

The conversation was kept brief; Shepard presented only the facts about the Dusk Raiders, while insisting that they had been loyal to the Imperium every step of the way.

"It is impossible to know if these Astartes would have remained loyal, had they spent more time with Mortarion," Cawl mused. "However, there is also the possibility that they would have been among those the traitors culled. I would like to examine them for any flaws in their gene-seed."

"Do so," Guilliman commanded. "Once you are sure that there is no genetic corruption, I want you to prepare a Chapter of Primaris Marines made from Fourteenth Legion gene-stock."

"My Lord Guilliman, that would take some time…"

"Spare me your theatrics." Guilliman rose from his seat. "I know you well, Belisarius, and I know that you have many Chapters made from traitor lineages, ready to be pulled from stasis. Consider this a test; if the Chapter I assign to Saint Shepard performs well and proves loyal beyond a shadow of a doubt, I will sanction the deployment of more." He leaned in closer. "And do not pretend that you were not aware of my intentions long before you came to Macragge. You brought just such a Chapter, did you not?"

Cawl brought the fingertips of two hands together. "That, my lord, is incorrect. While I do have several vaults full of such warriors, I did not bring any with me. I will have them brought here with all haste, though; I will require perhaps two weeks to properly awaken them and test them for readiness, and another month of Warp-travel."

Shepard was impressed; considering the state of the galaxy and the ponderous nature of Imperial logistics, six weeks was incredibly fast.

Guilliman sat back down. "It is not often that I find you unprepared, Archmagos."

"You made your opinion on the matter quite clear when I brought it up before," Cawl pointed out.

"But things have changed," Shepard said, inserting herself into the conversation again. "If this idea works, think of what we could do on a large scale!"

"Oh, I have considered it." Cawl regarded her; Shepard had spent enough time around Mechanicus adepts and their mannerisms to know that the Archmagos was already fond of her. "I have calculated that with the deployment of Primaris Chapters forged from traitor gene-stock, Imperial victories would increase by at least twenty-nine percent in Imperium Sanctus alone."

Considering the width and breadth of the Imperium, Shepard was astonished by those numbers, and her hope for the Dusk Raiders' future grew.

"Until I am certain, such ideas will have to wait," Guilliman said, tempering their excitement. "Archmagos, gather what you need and bring them here. I want detailed reports on every aspect, from the warriors to their equipment."

Cawl bowed his head. "Already transmitted to my ship, Lord Guilliman; the necessary actions will be taken within the hour."

"Good. In the meantime, you said that you have brought new technologies for our existing Primaris Chapters?"

"Indeed! Rapid-insertion craft and aerial support are, admittedly, somewhat lacking, but I have brought a remedy!"

"New toys for the Space Marines?" Shepard leaned over. "I can't wait to see that!"

"I believe you and I are going to become fast friends, Lady Shepard." Cawl gestured for her to follow him. "If you would, perhaps I could show you some of what I am working on?"

"There are two of them." Guilliman screwed his eyes shut as two of his greatest allies exited the room, chatting like old friends. "What have I done?"

Leman Russ watched as thousands of tech-adepts swarmed around the Hrafnkel; it reminded him too much of insects feasting on a carcass, an image he didn't want to hold for his ship. The ancient vessel had had to be partially taken apart before she could be repaired, Russ couldn't help but scowl as torn pieces of hull were sliced away.

"She deserves to be treated better," he growled.

"The Mechanicus are applying every rite to appease her spirit," Ragnar said, "though I agree that she should be treated like the warrior she is."

"That ship saw me through the Great Crusade, the Heresy, and ten thousand years inside the damned Eye." Russ gripped the railing in front of him; even though his armor had been taken away for repairs, he had more than enough strength to twist the metal in his hands. "She is as much a part of the Rout as any of us."

"When she is restored, I am sure that many of our Chapter will be eager to sail her into battle once more." Ragnar's eye shined with fervor; Russ could tell that he was imagining what it would be like to fight aboard a Gloriana in its prime.

As much as he enjoyed entertaining the young Wolf Lord's lust for glory, Russ had other matters to discuss. "Much has changed; not just for the galaxy, but for my Legion. Tell me, lad—what is it like on Fenris these days?" When Ragnar didn't immediately answer, Russ saw that his expression had grown haunted. "Tell me my home still stands."

"It does, my jarl, but Fenris has suffered greatly in recent centuries, as has the entire system." Ragnar looked down at his stump, which had recently been fitted with the socket that would house a new hand. "Midgardia was reduced to dust, her people slaughtered by the Thousand Sons, and Fenris herself was damaged by the sorcery of cursed Magnus."

For a moment, Russ was silent as he absorbed that news. "I should have expected that whoreson to attack my home, rather than face me in battle. He sought revenge for Prospero."

"He nearly had it," Ragnar said gravely. "Were it not for the Grey Knights, we might not have been able to drive him back, and our numbers were still greatly depleted. The first wave of Primaris Marines helped restore some of our strength, and it is easier to turn an aspirant into a Primaris, but we are still fewer than we were two centuries ago." He looked up at the Primarch. "With you and your warriors returned to us, I have hope that things will change for the better."

"Speaking of which," Russ said, ignoring the awe in the young Space Wolf's voice, "tell me of the Rout as it is today. If I am to be what you hope, I must know who I will fight alongside."

"And the double-redundancies prevent loss of power, except under catastrophic damage," Cawl said as he explained the design in front of him. "Of course, by that point, issues of power supply would be moot."

Shepard nodded. "I still feel like it could be improved with segmented armor, not exposed cabling."

Something inside Cawl's frame clicked. "The issue lies in ease of field repair; it is simpler to replace damaged cables."

"I'd rather it not need replacing, but I see your point."

Shepard hadn't felt this delighted in years; instead of prompting an academic debate, arguing over engineering with the Mechanicus was likely to get her shot. However, Cawl openly welcomed such discussions, and he was excited to have them with someone outside of his own circle. Granted, some of the technology the Imperium used was far beyond Shepard, but she was a quick study, and at least understood the context. Anything she didn't understand was explained by Cawl; she normally wouldn't have tried to take up so much time when he had so many responsibilities, but Cawl was capable of handling hundreds of tasks simultaneously. If anything, he said, talking to Shepard was refreshing, and helped him with his other tasks; Shepard wasn't sure if he was just humoring her, but she didn't mind.

"We really must speak more often, Shepard." One of Cawl's mechadendrites pressed against something in his workshop that looked suspiciously of alien origin, which glowed briefly. "I cannot remember the last time I spoke to someone who enjoyed this field so much that wasn't of the Martian priesthood."

Shepard pretended to raise a glass in a toast. "Considering most people in the Imperium don't even know how electricity works, I'm not surprised. It's a shame we probably won't see each other for a while after this."

"Indeed." Cawl's frame rose and fell in approximation of a sigh. "This war against Chaos has disrupted much, but it has forced the Imperium to move forward, if only a little."

"Yeah, new goal: kill all the jackasses so that we can nerd out over this stuff as much as we want." Shepard's eyes went wide as she spotted another blueprint. "Is this an orbit-deployed plasma emplacement? How would you keep the containment stable through reentry, let alone impact!?"

"That is a matter that I am still working on," Cawl admitted. "It is proving to be an enjoyable challenge. Speaking of new designs, I was hoping to get your opinion on several that I want to test with this new Chapter that Lord Guilliman wishes to deploy."

Shepard's eyes practically sparkled. "Ooh, I'm always up for new toys!"

The ship was unmarked, save for skull-and-cog symbol of the Mechanicus along its flank. It arrived unannounced, and would have been shot out of the void, had Cawl not ordered the orbital defenses to stand down at the last second. A caravan of unpainted Overlords flew down to the Fortress of Hera to disgorge their cargo; waiting for them were six hundred Ultramarines and more than twice that many Space Wolves, along with their respective Primarchs, Shepard and her remaining honor guard, and Cawl. Brol and his men were also present, their armor and weapons restored and returned to them after long consideration by Guilliman.

The Primaris Marines that stepped down the ramps were unmarked, just like their transports, save for a XIV painted on their left shoulders. They marched in perfect unison, to the point that Shepard was a little unnerved; there was none of the easy camaraderie from the Necropolis Hawks, nor the cautious pride from the Lamenters. These Astartes were blank slates—Cawl had said that they didn't even have the history of the Death Guard to base their culture on.

Once assembled on the muster field, the Chapter marched into an empty part of the fortress monastery that had been set aside expressly for this purpose. There wasn't enough room for over four thousand Space Marines, so only the Primarchs, Cawl, Shepard and Brol escorted the new Chapter, with their respective honor guards keeping close watch. Once in the massive chamber, the Astartes knelt as one, and waited until Guilliman bade them rise. Once they did, Guilliman nodded at Brol; they had discussed at length how he would approach this new Chapter.

"Company commanders, step forward," Brol ordered, his baritone voice resonating throughout the chamber.

Ten captains approached; they all wore the same Mk. X Tacticus-pattern armor, and with their helms on, it was impossible to tell them apart. They even rested their hands on the hilts of their swords the same way.

"Do you know who I am?" Brol asked; he pointed at one of the officers near the center of the line. "You. Remove your helm and answer."

There was a moment of hesitation, and then the captain in question revealed his face; he looked ridiculously young, for a Space Marine, with close-cropped blonde hair and vibrant green eyes. "No, honored brother, I do not know who you are."

"I am Garask Brol. I share your gene-line. Do you know where you come from?"

"All I know is that we are descended from the Fourteenth Le—"

Crack!

The sound rang out like a gunshot; the captain staggered back, and Brol calmly rested the butt of his power scythe against the floor, uncaring of the blood that stained it. Blood trickled from the corner of the Primaris captain's mouth for a moment, before the hyper-coagulants sealed the wound. Despite wearing their helms, it was obvious that the entire Chapter was disturbed by the sudden violence.

"Never use that answer again," Brol commanded. "The Fourteenth Legion betrayed the Emperor and the Imperium. Never again will you claim that lineage, for we would all burn if the wrong people were to learn that truth. As far as any outside this chamber are concerned, we are the newest Chapter to descend from the Thirteenth Legion." Guilliman nodded to confirm Brol's words. "The sins in our bloodline are ours to bear, and we will earn our own redemption."

Inexperienced though they were, the Primaris Marines nodded in understanding.

"We have been presented a gift, and a challenge," Brol went on. "We have been given the gift of life, for we have not betrayed the Imperium. We have been challenged to prove that betrayal does not run in our blood, to show that we are not weak, like the Death Guard; we will not fall to temptation in the face of hardship, but endure and overcome, as we were meant to. We are what the Emperor intended, not his failure sons!"

As hoped, the unnamed Chapter tensed and gripped their weapons tighter; they were ready to face a challenge that no Primaris Chapter descended from a loyal Legion had had to face before.

Brol gestured to the Dusk Raiders behind him. "My brothers and I fought in the Great Crusade. We knew the dream of the Emperor, and we now know how that dream has all but died. But those faded embers can become an inferno once again! The Emperor's dream might one day be realized… but only after every one of His enemies has been ground to dust under humanity's heel."

Each of the Primaris Marines crashed his fist against his chest in salute. Brol eyed them for a moment, and though he could only see one face, he nodded in satisfaction.

"Soon, we will be given a new name, and our new identity. Until then, my brothers and I will speak to you in a less formal setting; I wish to know the warriors I will fight and kill alongside."

There was another moment of hesitation, and then the new warriors broke off into groups, though they stayed in their squads. The Dusk Raiders—though they would not keep that name for much longer—split up to meet their new brothers, but Brol stayed behind.

"That was kind of intense," Shepard commented.

Brol shrugged. "I meant every word."

"Did you have to hit that one guy, though?"

"I needed to get my point across."

Shepard narrowed her eyes and peered up at him. "Was that a joke?" She turned to Hiral. "I think he just told a joke."

Hiral nodded dumbly; the poor man was a little overwhelmed while in the presence of two Primarchs, one of which had the Emperor's own sword at his hip.

"Saint Shepard." Brol inclined his head when she looked at him. "I would ask a favor."

"Name it."

Brol glanced at Guilliman, who nodded. "I would ask that you name our new Chapter, and give us our heraldry and colors."

For a moment, Shepard blinked in dumbfounded shock. "I'm sorry, what? I thought you were going to be called the Dusk Raiders."

"I had asked Lord Guilliman that same question," Brol admitted. "However, he told me of this 'Inquisition', and how some of them might know the true origin of the Death Guard. If this new Chapter is to survive, our name cannot raise suspicion."

"Okay, that makes sense." Shepard took a moment to be infuriated by the Inquisition's ruthlessness, even though it was necessary at times. "But why do you want me to name your Chapter?"

Brol smiled; before his scars and cybernetic implants, it might have been comforting, but now it looked more like a scowl. "You advocated for my brothers and I to be awoken from stasis. You stood up for us, when so many others would have killed us on the spot. You spoke on our behalf, to bring us new warriors to destroy the Emperor's foes. To be frank, there is no one else I would permit this honor."

Shepard processed that, and realized just how much esteem Brol held her in. "Okay. Give me some time to think it over. If I'm going to do this, I want to make sure it's good."

Brol nodded and left to get to know his new brothers. Guilliman and Russ observed the proceedings, and the honor guard simply waited, leaving Shepard alone with her thoughts.

They want to earn a redemption most of the galaxy doesn't even know about. They also want to earn that redemption by annihilating our enemies. What could I call them to express that?

Then something came to her. For a moment, the idea made her recoil, but upon further reflection, she thought it made sense.

Maybe these guys won't just redeem their Legion; maybe they can put my own demons to rest while they're at it.

Only a few days later, elements of the Shepard Crusade arrived in the system, intent on collecting their Saint. It was only a few ships, but each represented a substantial part of the Crusade. There was the Vehemence, of course, along with the Black Necropolis, and the command vessel of the Order of the Iron Tears, the Oath of Fire, a modified heavy cruiser, and several squadrons of escort vessels.

Shepard waited patiently as several transports landed at the Fortress of Hera. First out was Blaise, as Shepard expected; her new leg gleamed in the morning light, and she walked with purpose and strength. Considering how bad her friend's injuries were, it did Shepard's heart good to see her healthy.

"Your Holiness," Blaise greeted and made the sign of the Aquila; she tried to sound regal, but couldn't hide the joy in her voice. "It is good to see you well."

"Same to you, Temperance." Shepard brought the other woman in for a brief hug, and then smiled at the others who'd come to get her. "Raquilon, Jonah! I missed you guys."

Vils saluted. "The Crusade hasn't been the same without you, Shepard."

Zandtus—whose armor now sported reinforced outer plating—chuckled. "Considering it was named after her, I am not surprised." He glanced at Shepard's honor guard. "Where is Lieutenant Artin?"

Shepard's good cheer vanished. "He's… alive, but he needs your Apothecaries. And a Techmarine."

Zandtus wore his helm, but Shepard knew him well enough to know that he was grim. "I understand."

"After you're done, I need to talk to you guys about something." Shepard made sure there wasn't anyone else around before continuing. "We found something after we recovered Russ."

"Wait, you found him?" Vils had removed his helmet, but now he dropped it.

"Oh, right." Shepard laughed. "So much has happened lately. Yeah, we found him, but we also discovered something else. We'll discuss it with the rest of the war council, but to keep it short, I think we'll be getting some more Space Marines. They're new, Raquilon, so I'll need you and Malakim to show them the ropes."

"You're making me feel old, Shepard." As a Space Marine, Zandtus was used to tragic fates for his brothers, so his humor returned quickly.

"Come on." Shepard waved them towards the fortress monastery. "Let's find a quiet place to talk."

Shepard had addressed large groups many times in her life. It had taken her years to get used to inspiring normal people, and she was still uncomfortable using religion to rile up soldiers in her Crusade, though she got better each time. Today, however, was different; in many ways, it felt like she was intruding on something private. She had consulted with Zandtus and Ragnar about how she should proceed, and went over what she planned to say, in case it was offensive somehow. Neither saw any problems, though both insisted that she be sincere; the new Chapter needed an earnest beginning.

Now, she stood at the top of a flight of marble steps; on her left was Belisarius Cawl, and on her right was the outline of a suit of armor, concealed behind a white sheet. Arrayed before her was the entire yet-unnamed Chapter; only Brol and the Dusk Raiders were out of their armor, since they would soon be crossing the Rubicon Primaris. No one was sure how many would survive the process, but each eagerly wanted to try.

"A long time ago," Shepard began, her voice echoing through the chamber, "I fought a great enemy. They came from beyond the galaxy, with a single, terrifying purpose… the destruction of all intelligent life. They were ruthless, they were unending, and they were more powerful than anything we had at our disposal; in days, billions of lives were lost."

It could have been her imagination, but Shepard thought the Space Marines were leaning forward slightly, as if they were captivated by the story.

"I saw fleets destroyed, and worlds burn." Shepard closed her eyes. "I lost friends to those monsters, people that were as close as family to me." She tilted her head up for a moment, and then looked Brol in the eye. "But we defeated them. It cost even more lives, but we found their weakness, and used it to destroy them all. Now, all they are is a bad memory, and today, I would see them reduced to even less than that.

"I can think of no better way to do that than to take their name away and give it to worthy soldiers of the Imperium. To you, who will annihilate only those who deserve annihilation, I would offer a name to carry into battle.

"I name your Chapter… the Reapers."

The chamber was completely silent. The Primaris Marines had all removed their helms, so Shepard could see their faces; she could tell that each was processing her words, and why she would give them the name of a hated enemy. She could almost see the moment when each Astartes realized that she was redeeming that name through them, much like they would redeem their gene-line. As she'd hoped, the parallels had struck a chord with them.

"Saint Shepard," Brol said after a moment, "I believe I speak for us all when I say that we accept this name, and shall bear it with pride."

"I'm glad to hear that." Shepard gestured to Cawl. "Now, I hope you like your colors and heraldry…"

Cawl pulled the sheet away to reveal a painted suit of Tacticus armor. The plates were a dark grey, with red trimming the pauldrons; the lenses on the helmet were a bright crimson, as was the Aquila on the chest. On the left shoulder was a red scythe held at an angle, as if it was falling to behead a foe, on a field of white. The newly-named Reapers made soft noises of approval; like all Primaris Marines who had yet to discover their personality as a Chapter, they appreciated the simple, no-nonsense colors.

"There's one more thing," Shepard said, and faced Brol. "Leadership is a terrible burden, but it doesn't come without rank. Garask Brol, I name you High Commander of the Reapers, and charge you and your Chapter with the task of nothing less than the total obliteration of the Emperor's enemies, wherever you may find them. Will you accept this mission?"

Brol remained on one knee. "Point us at the enemy, and it will not trouble the Emperor again."

"Then rise," Shepard commanded, and manifested her wings to add a little gravitas to end the ceremony. "We have a lot to do."

And thus, the Reapers are reborn in the shape of humanity! Let the alien and the heretic beware, for the scythe shall claim them all!

Seriously, though, the Reapers were an idea I've been toying with since starting this story. I looked it up, and while there are several Chapters that have 'reaper' in their name, there aren't any just called the Reapers.

And some of you might be confused by how Cawl acted in this. I suggest you read the novel 'The Great Work', but to simplify it, Cawl has several personalities he can adopt, depending on the mission at hand. My personal favorite is this jovial scientist that he used in the book.

As always, please consider buying my book, Alpha Sanction, by Josh Gottlieb. You can find it on my website (link in my profile), or on Amazon as both an eBook and physical copy. Sales make me feel good about myself, and make me want to write more.

If you want, you can also support me on P-atreon (link in my profile). Every little bit helps, since I'm saving up to live on my own, where I hopefully do nothing but write one day. That would make me happy, and I'm sure it would make you happy too.

And I'd like to thank the following Muffins for continuing to support me:

Serious Muffins: SpaceEmperorSpar, Nimrod009, Anders Lyngbye, Matthias Matanovic, ChaosSpartan575, John Collins, Red Bard, Aaron Meek, Shaolin Khalil, killroy225

Incredible Muffins: RaptorusMaximus, michaelb958, Crazyman844

Ultra Muffins: Adam Costello, Matthew Bunting, RangersRoll

Next Chapter: We take a break from the Shepard Crusade, and follow the Amalgamation of Hate as it wages a campaign to unify traitors under the Despoiler's banner…

For the Muffins we cherish, we die in glory!