Nothing But a List of Names to Mark his Ascension
Chapter 1: A Knife in the Hand
As usual, the temperature on Calderis was sweltering. A normal man would not survive more than three days in the heat of the desert world and were it not for his power armor and enhanced physiology, Captain Davian Thule would have felt more than a bit of discomfort after presiding over the Blood Trials for the entire day.
It was his policy to witness the Trials personally, not like other Captains who preferred to let their company Apothecary or Chaplain oversee the applicants. He did it out of respect to the teenage boys who risked their lives to join his illustrious Chapter. For the past few hours they had fought and murdered each other in one of the deep basins that marked the Southern Calderan Wastes.
From his position on the lip of the dune, standing upon a natural platform of stone, Thule watched the closing moments of the trials. The applicants had arrived numbering near a thousand, now less than a hundred fought, skin slick with the blood of their peers. Their movements were slow and the fatigue in their blows was evident. Chaplain Automemos had set them against each other with a rousing speech, and it never failed to surprise Thule how eagerly the men, or rather, the boys murdered each other.
A flurry of movement caught Thule's attention and he focused his augmetic eye to get a better look. Deep in the basin and to his right, less than a hundred yards away, a stout boy that looked to be fourteen had just lost his jaw. A massive specimen, the largest Thule could see, had struck him in the face with an axe that glinted in the afternoon light, and then removed his head from his shoulders with a quick horizontal chop. The blood showered the victor, makibut it made no difference. His black hair and tan features were already saturated with blood. Some was fresh, rivulets of red dripping down his muscles. Most however was old and crusted, forming an almost crablike shell that cracked with every swing and dodge.
"Chaplain Automemos, watch that one there," said Thule, nodding to the black haired boy.
"The giant with the axe?" the old Chaplain responded, expressionless with his skull faced helm, "I was about to point him out to you, Captain".
"He would be a fine initiate, if he survives."
It was true that there were many fine applicants, but to survive the Blood Trails, it helped to be both skilled and lucky. It also paid to have loyal friends. Now that Thule was watching him, he noticed that the black haired boy was not alone. He was standing back to back with another, smaller boy. In fact, the second applicant was small enough that if Thule were not in such a high vantage point, he would have been completely obscured by his larger ally.
The boy wielded nothing but a knife, six inches long and single edged and like every other weapon in the basin, caked in dried blood. It was being put to good use deflecting the attacks of two other applicants, who had also made an alliance. The smaller boy locked blades with his opponent, an applicant with dark skin wielding a curved saber. Taking advantage of the close distance, the small boy grabbed the wrist of his opponent and slashed upwards, tearing out the dark skinned one's throat.
The arterial blood showered the smaller boy's face, and obscured the last traces of his blond hair. Blinded, he stepped back and escaped a killing blow from his other opponent through sheer luck. The double-edged knife that would have torn into his chest simply embedded itself in his right arm. The smaller boy fell backwards onto the sand, with his opponent landing on top of him.
Thule could hear the boy cry out in pain from where he stood. Chaplain Automemos was also watching the brutal scene. In the next ten seconds, one of the two boys would be dead.
The black haired boy glanced over his shoulder for a split second with a look of panic on his face. Before he could turn to help his ally, he was assailed from the front. He hacked wildly with his axe. He killed one boy, then another. He removed the arm of one with an upward strike, and then brought the weapon down onto his opponent's head. It dug deep into the boy's skull and spilt his brains onto the sand at their feet. Still, for everyone he killed, another stepped forward. There were too many. His ally was on his own.
Behind him, the smaller boy was being crushed under the weight of his opponent, a scarred monster with long bleached hair and pale skin, a rarity in the deserts of Calderis. The pale boy tore his knife out of the smaller boy below him and stabbed down to finish him. With a cry of pain and desperation the smaller boy blocked the stab with the back of his left hand, and cried out in agony as it pierced through the palm and stopped less than an inch from his face. He kicked out, trying to dislodge his opponent, but couldn't find purchase with his feet. In agony, he pulled his left hand down, taking the knife with it. He kept the knife away from his body as he pounded the pale boy's face with his free arm. In response, the pale boy head butted his grounded opponent twice in rapid succession.
Delirious, the smaller boy grabbed a handful of sand with his right hand and with an incoherent scream, threw it into the pale boy's face. The pale boy fell back, blind and frenzied. The smaller boy was on his feet in an instant. A rock was in his hand and he was ready to bash his fallen foe's brains out. He raised it and prepared to strike the killing blow.
"Enough!" shouted Captain Thule.
Only fifty two applicants remained.
Thule and his retinue of ten Blood Ravens marched into the basin, where the survivors quickly formed a ragged line. Many were wounded, and some would not live to see another morning. All of the Space Marine supervisors had donned their helmets, showing the applicants nothing but the glare of a red ceremite mask and green lenses.
"You have survived the Blood Trials, and have proved yourselves worthy," Thule's vox enhanced voice blared. "Now you must prove yourself to both the Apothecarium and the Chaplains. They will determine if you are truly worthy to serve our Chapter. If you fail, only death awaits you."
Chaplain Automemos stepped forward. "When we walk the line, speak your name. It will be recorded."
Thule and Automemos walked the line; each survivor they stood before weakly muttered their name. None had dared renounce it and risk the honor of their family. Near the end of the line, the black haired boy and the small boy knelt near the end of the group. The black haired boy looked at his ally; the boy had suddenly come to his aid in the battle, and was injured badly.
The smaller boy was trying to pull the knife out of his hand. Every time he touched it, blood would pour out and the boy would grimace in pain.
"Just leave it for now," said the black haired boy. "You'll just end up hurting yourself if you don't."
"It feels like Horus himself just stabbed me," responded the small boy. His thin face was lined with pain and his blond hair was slick with his own blood.
"What would your family say?"
The blond boy shook his head and gritted his teeth. Despite his silence, the black haired boy said, "You'll be fine, now look tough, they are almost here".
He looked to his left; the pale monster was four over, his eyes still red from the sand. He was glaring at both of them. Before the black haired boy could glare back, Thule had reached him.
"What is your name, neophyte?" Thule demanded.
Unlike the other boys, the black haired boy responded with a loud voice. He was evidently not afraid, or was at least putting up a brave face.
"I am Ocella Lyon, my lord".
"Lyon… I believe there was a Brother Lyon that died fighting the Word Bearers on Kronus."
"Yes my lord. A distant relative of mine," he said, brushing his hair out of his eyes.
"He fought well. Deimos was a field where many lost their lives. It will remain an honored memory, as will your kinsman." Thule took another step and was in front of the smaller boy.
"Your name?" he asked.
"I reject my birth-name. Grant me one," the boy demanded, glaring at Thule.
Hushed whispers passed up and down the row of boys, a mixture of anger and shame that one of their own would forsake his family. Even Lyon had a look of shock in his eyes.
Thule looked down at the boy. By all rights he should not have survived. He was not particularly tall, nor strong, nor skilled. His clothing was cheap, a simple vest and trousers made of rough cloth, and his knife was lost to him. A deep slash on his shoulder poured blood freely and Thule could see he had acquired a new weapon in a very personal fashion.
"Very well. Whatever your reasons for abandoning your birth-name are your own. The Blood Ravens shall grant you a name suitable for a Space Marine." Thule stepped back as he consulted with a member of his retinue, another faceless Astartes in Power Armor; the color of dried blood and bone that had been left in the sun for too long. It was unusual, but not unheard of that an applicant would reject his own name. Some wished to start fresh; others wished to wipe away histories of crime or dishonor. In such cases, the Blood Ravens had vast catalogues of fresh identities for these applicants. After consulting a large book that the Marine bore, Thule nodded and stepped forward again.
"Neophyte, the Blood Ravens grant you the name Nathaniel Augustine. Bear it with pride, so that it may be spoken of in years to come."
Augustine grimaced in pain again, and nodded. On the horizon, the boxy forms of Thunderhawk gunships could be seen, flying low and framed by the sun. They would carry the survivors of the Blood Trials on to an uncertain future.