Nothing but a List of Names to Mark his Ascension

Chapter 72: Traitor

Amphion scaled the ruined barricade. To his right, a land raider burst through the earthworks. Its ramp dropped amid a shower of shrapnel, and five wine-red terminators spilled onto the battlefield. Vox-hailers on their armor droned out passages from the Liber Chaotica, their twin-linked bolters firing without pause. Amphion shielded his eyes as the land raider's lascannons pulsed. The Blood Ravens were in full retreat. Dozens of Word Bearers swarmed the stronghold's parade ground. The Blood Ravens retreated back to the bunker complexes. They found shelter beneath the gun emplacements, mounted atop the bunkers themselves. Lines of sandbags and rockcrete battlements hid multi-lasers and auto-cannons that now opened up in a crescendo of howling weaponsfire. The stragglers, left behind when the bunker doors sealed, were now at the mercy of the attackers.

"Forward!" Amphion called. They had to get under the guns before more Astartes met their end. The terminators could soak up the gunfire, but the power-armored marines were already starting to fall. He half-ran, half-slid down the destroyed breastwork. He ducked low as a flurry of shells bracketed his position, and raised a hand to shield his face from any ricochets. Eliphas charged ahead. His iron halo pulsed amid the torrent of bullets.

Amphion skidded to a halt as a gauntleted fist burst through the wreckage at the bottom of the breached wall. A Blood Raven tore himself from the debris. Blood leaked from dozens of wounds. He jerked around as Amphion halted behind him. A twisted girder dragged on the ground behind the Blood Raven, hanging from a sucking wound in his chest. Amphion's hand whipped up. His powers flared and the Blood Raven was seized in an invisible cage of psychic energy. Before he could come up with a suitable manner of death, one of the Word Bearers rushing by paused and unloaded half a magazine of bolt rounds into the helpless Astartes. The corpse hung frozen for a few seconds before Amphion finally relinquished hold of it.

He fired his bolter as he advanced toward the command center. His shots were lost in a hail of suppressing fire, lighting the night sky brighter than any flare. He caught a flicker of movement near the bunker entrance and lashed out with his powers. Tendrils of warp energy tore into the clutch of Blood Ravens, scattering their gore-caked wargear across the bloodied ground. "Deimos!" he shouted without thinking. He gunned down another marine. His bolt rounds tore into the Raven's gullet. The Astartes flopped to the ground and rolled, grasping for a bolter. Amphion kicked the weapon just out of reach and emptied the rest of his magazine into the dying marine. "Deimos!" he shouted again. He couldn't know for sure if the man he'd killed had been on Kronus. Even if he had been, what were the chances he'd been one of the vanguard at the Deimos Peninsula?

How many of them remember? To Amphion, it was the defining battle of his life, moreso than even the raging void-war above Calth. Did these pitiful fools even know what they'd taken from him? He surveyed the advancing Word Bearers. How many of them were veterans of Deimos? There were a pitiful few of them left. Did they even recognize the fury of his battlecry? But just as the indignation began to cool, he heard it. "Deimos!" shouted Champion Saerix.

"Deimos!" cried a havoc from Illuminator squad. He fired his lascannon and the bunker wall melted into a pile of hissing slag.

"Revenge for Akantos!" shouted another.

"This is for Telamon!"

They stormed the bunker, howling out the names of those they'd lost, killing all that crossed their path. Amphion charged at their fore, Zathus' name on his lips.

Alek stood in the doorway, shifting nervously from foot to foot. "What is it?" Kippler asked. He'd had enough rest these past two hours. If anything the downtime was starting to grate on him. He hadn't had a moment of calm in days, almost a week at this point.

"Word from Captain Hunder is that the battalion is pulling back. Once the civilians are evacuated to the rear, we'll begin towing the Maveron artillery out of here."

Kippler frowned. "We're abandoning this position?"

"The Maveron don't think it can be held, even with our numbers. Hunder plans to leave a diversionary force here, to pull back after a token resistance."

"Seems like everything is a token resistance these days, Alek." Kippler stood and slipped the vox report into his carapace jacket, then took up his battered long-las. "Let's go see the boss."

They found Hunder up in the hospital's cupola with Colonel Javert of the Maveron 73rd and four of his senior officers. The view from the pinnacle was as breathtaking as Sergeant Mason had said: an endless plain of grey and red. The northern reaches of Capitol Spire were a beautiful ruin, dotted by fires that had been raging for days. Buildings that had once reached into the upper reaches of the atmosphere lay like the corpses of gods across the blasted landscape. The light of distant artillery reflected off the roiling clouds of smoke that seemed to drift lower every day. Soon it would choke them all.

Hunder lowered his magnoculars and made half-aquila as Kippler joined them. "Alek says we're pulling back," Kippler said.

"I take it you don't approve?" said Hunder.

"If we keep running they'll push us right out into the wastes," said Kippler. "We'll have to make a stand somewhere."

Colonel Javert glanced at Kippler with an expression approaching scorn. Kippler had to restrained his reciprocal judgment. Javert and his men had fought as long as the VVG, and is circumstances just as dire. Even the VVG hadn't been forced to contend with the shock of the Blood Ravens turning on them. Nor had they received the support of Urelie or Captain Ulantus. They'd fought alone, with lasgun and bayonet, against everything the Cadians had thrown at them. And they'd won.

Javert directed them to a threadbare map pinned to the cupola's wall. "Our long range auspexes have been monitoring the battle to the north. The Cadians are being pushed southeast by the hour."

"By who? The Black Legion?" Kippler asked.

"Whoever commands their remnants, yes," said Javert. "In an ideal environment, this would be a blessing. The Cadians would be pushed back into our guns and slaughtered. But we don't have the numbers or even the ammunition to do that. I imagine that their next move would be to steal these strong points to use against the Black Legion."

"Hence the retreat," said Hunder. He tapped a section of the map about four kilometers back from their position. "To here."

"The Governor's palace?"

Javert smiled. "Not exactly. The palace proper lies another kilometer to the east. This complex is one of the many warehouse wings controlled by the Administratum. It's part of a railway that links the palace underbelly to the city at large, funneling supplies to the governor's estate."

Kippler leaned in to examine the map in closer detail. The railway Javert had mentioned was one of seven criss-crossing the palace complex, part of three levels of warehouses and conveyers. There would be enough supplies to last them weeks, assuming they hadn't already been raided. "How are we to defend a facility this large? Even with the Maveron at our side, we won't have more than a few thousand guardsmen."

"We have more than that," said Hunder. "The Blood Ravens are coming too."

Amphion ripped a bulkhead off with a flick of his wrist. His head pulsed with barely suppressed pain. Injury, exhaustion, and psychic strain fought against his enhanced physiology, trying to drag him down in a tsunami of fatigue. But he couldn't stop yet. The end was so close. A rough hand shoved him aside in his moment of reflection, and an onrush of Word Bearers passed him by. Amphion blinked the pain from his eyes. Gods how he wished he still had a helmet. Bolterfire echoed all around him. The sounds of battle throbbed in his ears. He filtered out the cacophony as best he could, then checked the load of his bolter. Two magazines left, more than enough when supplemented with his powers. Lord Eliphas had already moved on into the heart of the bunker. He, more than any of them, sought to avenge the loss at Deimos.

Amphion followed the tide of Word Bearers through halls painted red with the blood of the defenders. There was no fighting to be had. Amphion advanced behind the wave of death, moments behind the tide that had scrubbed the bunker of its defenders. But judging by the gunfire and desperate shouts just ahead, the bunker had not yet been entirely scrubbed clean.

The command center was in the midst of a fierce firefight. Eight Blood Ravens stood at the rear of the sunken room, manning a low barricade near the room's only other exit. Four Word Bearer corpses lay scattered across the landing. Their armor was riddled with bolt wounds, the paint scorched away by pulses of plasmafire. In the center, amid the wreckage of the Blood Raven command lecturn, Eliphas fought with an Astartes clad in white-and red. An Apothecary. The Ravens shifted targets with all the precision of gun servitors, peppering the entryway with precise weapons-fire as Amphion and the next wave of Word Bearers charged in. Amphion hastily through up a shield of energy, then slid into cover behind a cogitator console as the firefight began anew. He darted to his right, following the line of cogitators to get a better angle on the squad of Astartes.

Calling on his powers, Amphion fired a bolt of warp energy at the clustered Blood Ravens. The bolt flew true, then swerved off course, fizzling at the last minute. Amphion hit the deck as they hosed his position. He crawled around the corner of the room as shells burst above him. Ruined cogitators showered him with their wiry guts. Of course his powers failed. He could smell the rage in the air, the pervading stench of arterial blood. Khorne had blessed these chosen, granted them protection from the depredations of the warp. Where the mind had failed, steel would have to make do.

"Lord Eliphas, your brothers are here!" Amphion sprayed the Blood Ravens with his bolter as more Word Bearers spilled into the command center. Marines on both sides toppled amid the furious gunfight. Amphion saw one of the Blood Ravens lurch back underneath the last burst of his first magazine, then dropped to reload. He slapped the magazine home, then jumped to his feet. Only three of the Blood Raven command squad still lived, hunkered down behind their barricade.

At the room's center, Eliphas dueled the Blood Raven apothecary. This was no mere medicae. Whether by the blessings of Khorne or the marine's own skill, he stood fast against Eliphas. He and Eliphas danced back and forth, power axe crackling against crozius four times every second. This was more than a fight between two commanders. Amphion could feel the pressure radiating from the two combatants, a hate so potent that it deadened the air itself. Eliphas was not fighting a Blood Raven, but rather a champion of Khorne himself.

Eliphas' cursed rosarius shorted out as the power axe struck home again. He'd have no more second chances. The last of the Apothecary's bodyguards fell with a bolt round to the head, and the room filled with Word Bearers watching the battle with eager interest. None would interfere, not in Eliphas' moment of triumph. The Dark Apostle twisted back, just out of the axe's reach. He did not counter, preferring to dodge a second blow, then a third. He gave ground, sacrificing what precious footing he had in the cramped confines of the command center. The apothecary growled in frustration. He pursued, hacking at Eliphas with wild strokes, his bolter spent. He slashed downward, then up again, and Amphion hissed as Eliphas' back foot pressed against the entryway stairs. There was nowhere else to run. But as the return stroke passed, Eliphas drove in. He threw his shoulder into the Apothecary's chest hard enough to crack ceramite and with a backhanded strike from his crozius, crushed his foe's weapon arm. The axe clattered to the floor, power field fizzling. Then Eliphas brought his crozius down to crush the Apothecary's chest. Blood gushed from his helmet grille. He toppled, hacking his last breaths.

The Dark Apostle took up the fallen marine's power axe and sheared the apothecary's head from his shoulders. "A fine trophy, Lord Eliphas," said Amphion. It seemed the fight was out of the Blood Ravens. The gunfire had all but faded, and the hunting squads were now reporting a full retreat among the Cadians. They were moving south, toward the guns of the loyalists. Once they took stock of their losses, the Word Bearers could pursue and end this back-and-forth war once and for all.

Eliphas affixed the helm of the fallen Blood Raven to the trophy rack, letting the blood from the severed head course down the helm of Lorgar. "Let us build an altar here Amphion. At long last we have wrested a true victory from the scions of Magnus." He turned to the gathered Word Bearers. "Do not assume for a moment that the Blood Ravens are defeated. Though their champion on Meridian lies dead at my feet, Chapter Master Kyras still lives. He is a coward, unworthy of Khorne's blessings. In his absence, we will lay waste to this world. Let it bear the mark of the Word. May all who journey here know the terror of the seventeenth Legion."

Warriors of the Alpha Legion flooded the clearing as Kyras pressed his advantage. Farseer Uremael gave ground, parrying strike after strike with his witchblade. Kyras fought amid a whirlwind of death. Archon Maeglyn and his seven Incubi danced around him. Uremael traced the skeins of fate, desperately diving a path that would end in Kyras' death. Such a path did not exist. Kyras was a void, empty. Fate swirled around him, brushing the darkness but never joining with it.

Kyras spun low, dodging two separate slashes, then severed the head from one of the Incubi. The blood showered across the clearing, bubbling where it fell. Uremael winced. The veil was thinning. The Empyrean clawed at his mind. One of his Seer Council fell, torso obliterated by a pair of bolter rounds. Before the body could settle, a clawed hand tore from the wound, and a bloodletter birthed itself into the world. The first of many.

Maeglyn was the next to die. Kyras' chainsword cut him from shoulder to groin, then lopped the head from the ruined torso. The Archon's dark ichor splashed across the trees lining the clearing. They writhed at the contact, splitting with a sound like thunder as the warp burst free from its restraints. Brothers and sisters, the ritual is failing! Uremael desperately called out to his warhost. None could answer. They were fighting according to his plan. He was the only failure here. Another one of his council died beneath a traitor's boot. Uremael felt him scream. The soulstone shattered and Uremael flinched as the laughter of She Who Thirsts drowned out the warlock's death cry. It wasn't just his Council screaming. Typhon was dying too. The shape of the world, unseen beneath it's physical form, writhed in the clutches of the Great Enemy. Every death tainted it further. Lightning flashed across the scab-red sky.

"You cannot stop it," said Kyras. "By your actions today, you have delivered this world into Khorne's clutches. Kill all the mortals you please. Typhon will birth me an army large enough to conquer the stars."

Uremael retreated. Only two of his warlocks remained, alongside three of the Incubi. The stream at the clearing's center ran red. Daemons of Khorne spilled from the runoff. Laughing faces formed in the knots of trees, vomiting gore upon the red-slick grass. Then, like a drizzle to mark the first rain of spring, teeth began to fall from the sky. Uremael ignored the hail of bone. There was only one thing left to do. Kyras would take this world, ritual or not. Uremael could see his own strand of fate growing shorter by the minute. He would not survive this encounter. He could not win, but he deny Kyras his victory. Ignoring the braying daemons, he seized control of his warlock's powers. They could give him the strength that he no longer possessed.

Kyras must have realized what he was doing. The Chapter Master charged forward, shrieking in rage, flanked by a chorus of daemons. The Incubi met him without a word in reply. Fearless even in the face of eternal damnation. Uremael did not waste their courage. He dove into the twisting strands. He'd devised the ritual to disrupt the flow of the Empyrean. But what could obfuscate travels through the Warp could also speed them along. He could see the lights in the darkness, ships lost in the currents of the Great Ocean. Kyras cut down the incubi. One warlock fell, then the last. Uremael opened his eyes just as the horde fell upon him. Four swords struck home. With his final thoughts, Uremael turned the the flicker of his soul into a beacon, and with one last wrench of his powers, drew every current in the subsector towards Typhon Primaris.

Augustine froze mid-swing. The pain that had been gnawing at the back of his head vanished for a single instant, a moment of clarity that vanished just as soon as it came. "What in the E-" he paused. "What was that?"

Amid his squad's chatter, he heard a quiet voice whisper in his ear. That was the end.

The Imperial fleet was cast across the Typhon system like a soothsayer's knucklebones across a storm-weathered table. Ocella Lyon had just reached the Scientia Est Potentia's bridge when the sirens began to wail. The detranslation was immediate and violent. The battle barge lurched to starboard, spinning out like a rhino that had lost a track mid-turn. His armor's magboots activated with a thought, and he stomped his way onto the bridge as the first astropaths began to shriek.

"Officer of the watch, status report!" Diomedes bellowed over the screaming of the astropath. The psyker clawed as her empty eye sockets, thrashing in her restraints before her station's automated sedatives kicked in.

"Captain, what is going on?" Lyon asked. His mag-boots deactivated as he reached the command throne. The ship had finally stabilized, but the armored bridge shutters were still in place. The emergency lighting bathed the command deck in an ugly red light, broken only by the green glow of the tactical cogitators.

"Silence, Sergeant," said Diomedes, as even more Blood Ravens joined them. Cyrus and Martellus had arrived. "Techmarine, your presence is not required on the bridge. Go to the launch bays and see to it that our wargear has survived the translation. Sergeant Cyrus, what is the status of our strike team?" He keyed his vox. "Epistolary Anteas. I demand you respond at once. Shame will sour your memory if a minor translation incident marks your end."

The vox clicked as Anteas checked in on a private feed. Cyrus nodded to Martellus as the techmarine departed, then said, "Few of us were prepared for such a sudden return to Realspace."

"See that the men are ready," Diomedes replied. "Officer of the Watch, do you have a report yet?"

"Y-yes my lord." The officer hesitated as his cogitator completed its meter-long printout. "The ship has exited Warpspace at appro-"

Diomedes cut him off. "Silence that damnable alarm!" he shouted to no one in particular. The tactical officer quickly silenced the bridge alerts, rendering the klaxons a distant annoyance.

The officer of the watch adjusted his spectacles. Once he was sure that Diomedes wouldn't interrupt him again, he said, "The ship has exited the Warp well within the bounds of the Typhon system, my lord. We're just now establishing contact with our escorts, but it seems we have been scattered across the system."

"Kyras's doing?" Diomedes wondered allowed.

Epistolary Anteas stepped onto the bridge. His normally vigorous face was drawn, eyes bloodshot. "I apologize for my delay, Captain. No, I do not believe this was Kyras. There is an alien hand to this."

"Xenos witchery?" said Lyon.

The communications officer stood from his post. "My lords, we have signals on the long vox. Initial augur scans are in. Contact registers as Imperial."

"Angelos?" Diomedes stood in surprise.

"No my lord. I count eight ships in system bearing the mark of the Imperial Navy, as well as one Blood Raven ship in orbit around Typhon. The IFF designates it the Observer."

"Gaius," said Lyon. "Is Kyras with him?"

"Yes." Anteas was certain of that at least.

Diomedes gripped the lectern tight enough to deform the plasteel. "Officer, identify the other ships in system. Who are they?"

"They register as Imperial navy, sire. But their IFF is overridden with another signal. The Inquisition."

"The Exterminatus fleet?" Cyrus exclaimed.

Diomedes seemed ready to depart for the launch bays already. "Hail the allied ships, at once."

The vox officer shook his head. "Impossible my lord. Their channels are fraught with interference. From what I can gather, most of their fleet is still in transit."

The bridge shutters retracted, and Anteas shuddered at the sight of Typhon. "What is it?" Diomedes asked. He wasn't used to seeing the mighty psyker so cowed.

"My lord. Something is wrong with Typhon. I can feel a massive warp echo resonating from the world itself."

"Gothic please," said Cyrus. "What do you mean by 'resonating from the world itself'?"

Anteas screwed his eyes shut, as though trying to block out a particularly loud noise. When he spoke again, his voice was exhausted, breathless. "The walls between reality and the Warp grow thin. I fear Typhon is becoming a daemon world."

Diomedes sat back heavily in the command throne. They were still hours from Typhon. Despite the circumstances, there was no reason to rush off like an overzealous fool. He'd done enough of that in recent weeks. "Officer, hail all Imperial ships with a repeating message."

A pause. "Ready sire."

"This is Apollo Diomedes of the Blood Ravens Honor Guard. The heart of our Chapter's corruption fights now on the surface of Typhon. We will deploy to the surface at once. With the Emperor's blessing, this world may yet be saved. Should our efforts be found wanting, unleash the sanction your office demands."

He nodded to the vox officer at the completion of his message, then turned to Lyon and Cyrus. "Prepare for immediate planetfall."

"Why have we halted?" Augustine asked. The 1st Company's command squad stood on a bare ridge above the river, watching the advance of the 2nd Company. The valley bottlenecked the approach, and the Eldar's resistance seemed to grow fiercer with each passing moment. Augustine's helmet display was alive with requests for aid. A quick scan of his map display showed, to his surprise, the icon of Chapter Master Kyras some distance ahead. He was not alone, though the allied contacts around him did not bear a Blood Raven sigil. They were marked in grey "contact unknown" runes.

Gaius scowled and spat an acidic glob into the dirt at their feet. His face was a rictus of pain and fury, red with dried blood from the injury that had stripped his helmet from him. The other six marines of his command squad stood in a loose perimeter, their weapons locked and holstered. Gaius lowered his hand from the vox bead in his ear. "New orbital contact reported. It seems Diomedes has deigned to make an appearance."

"Captain Diomedes?" Malachi exclaimed. Drop pods were falling to the north west, up beyond the treeline on the valley wall. Diomedes would be directly on their flank.

More of your brothers. Will you kill them too?

"You sound pained, Eldar," Augustine said. He looked down at Gaius' power fist. The spirit stone shimmered in the gilded cage upon its back. The rush of clarity Augustine had felt early was gone now. If anything, the whispering in the back of his mind was growing louder. The Eldar woman wasn't the only one speaking to him anymore. Something was dreadfully wrong with this place. The air itself was heavy, every breath burned like acid. Everything was tinged with an unwholesome psychic residue. The sky grew darker red with each passing moment, and in the distance Augustine could see a storm of what looked like hail falling in the deep forest beyond the Eldar lines.

This world is dying. The efforts of my people have been in vain. Now your allies come to their deaths. You could have prevented this.

Augustine said nothing. With Diomedes' return came a memory of time long passed, of his journeys with the 4th Company and Captain Thule. His friends would be with them, Lyon, Sergeant Cyrus, Martellus. Whatever fate Typhon held for them, it was a decade in the making. All that remained was the sign.

Lyon could practically taste the corruption on the air. Though his chronometer read mid-day, the sky was a scab-red color, thick with tumultuous clouds that promised unnatural rain. Red lightning flashed in the distance. Lyon looked up as a hailstone clinked off his pauldron, then two more. His stomach turned as he looked down. Not hail, teeth, bits of jaw. Somehow he had a feeling that it would be skulls before long.

"The Company is prepared," said Cyrus. Diomedes nodded silently, scanning the valley floor in the distance. The Ancient stood some meters ahead, swords already drawn.

"Time is short," said Diomedes. "Let us find Kyras and end this catastrophe. I will not be known as the Blood Raven who allowed Typhon to suffer the Inquisition's final sanction.

Martellus cut in over the vox. Still in orbit aboard the Scientia, Diomedes had left him in charge of Company intelligence while Gelden commanded the orbital battle. "Captain Diomedes. I've managed to crack segments of the 1st Company's vox code. You should be able to access their tactical displays."

"Can we broadcast?" Diomedes asked.

A short pause. "Vox transmissions are now enabled, Captain."

Diomedes smiled, then keyed his input. "This is Captain Diomedes of the Honor Guard, broadcasting to all Blood Ravens in this sector. Cease combat protocols at once and withdraw to your staging areas. Your forces are in violation of Chapter edicts. Chapter Master Kyras, I speak to you directly. Surrender yourself to my custody at once. If this message is not heeded, I cannot guarantee your safety. Knowledge is power, guard it well."

The 1st Company vox exploded with insults and jeers, but one voice shouted down the others. "Diomedes. Have you come to kill more of your battle-brothers? Was Lysandros not enough to slake your thirst?"

"Gaius. You have always stood above the others in your zeal. Even now I wish I could deny Kyras' crimes. But you, Gaius, I always believed you capable of atrocity."

"Face me then. Let us see who is most worthy to hold the title of champion! You are no stranger to slaughter Diomedes. Let us both revel in it. Cut down those dogs of Angelos and cast off the last of your shackles."

Cyrus and the Ancient turned to watch Diomedes. Lyon gripped his bolter tighter, his hearts beating faster. To his relief, Diomedes snorted. "You were never an orator, Gaius. I chose my path long ago. Though years of my service may be cast in a shameful light, I will not stray from the truth. I am a Blood Raven. I am a space marine. I refuse to forsake my brothers, nor will I turn my back on the Emperor of Mankind. I would rather die."

Gaius laughed, the vox screeching with every cackle. "I hoped you would say that. Come and face me, Apollo. Only by slaying you will I prove myself to be Khorne's champion."

Diomedes was silent for a long moment. Then I finally said. "I will not give you the honor of dying at my hands, Gaius."

"Who then, will you send? Loren? That silent automaton? Come now, Apollo, can any of those fools truly hope to defeat me?"

"Order us to attack, my lord!" said Lyon. "We have a perfect angle on their flank. With support from your Honor Guard, the 5th Company can rout these traitors."

Diomedes raised a hand. Then, seemingly addressing the whole of the Chapter he said, "The time has come to return to the fold, brothers. Let none find you wanting."

"What a fool," muttered Gaius. He wiped the hot blood from his lips and spat again. He'd hoped Diomedes would have answered his challenge personally. Now it seemed that the First Captain would have to seek him out on the battlefield. "Status of the enemy forces?" he demanded.

Augustine answered in a halting tone. "Four squads detected on the auspex." He shook his head, and steadied his shaking hand by gripping the hilt of Halcyon tight. Even through the crackle of the vox, he'd heard Diomedes' broadcast. There was no denying those final words.

Gaius smiled, staring off towards the distant forces of the 5th Company. "Good. Once we punch through the last of these feeble Eldar, we shall turn our front to engage Diomedes. Let it be known, I will claim his skull. If any man seeks to claim my prize, I will slay him myself."

"Here they come!" Malachi called. The 5th Company was on the move, more than a kilometer distant. They swept down the mountainside at an angle, arcing the point of their advance toward the 1st Company line. Bolt rounds whipped through the foliage as the battle was joined, and the distant crack of teleporters heralded the arrival of Diomedes' own veteran squad, the five terminators from squad Akileus.

The sky rumbled again, as though the planet itself was pleased with the resurgence of bloodshed. The sky crashed with another peal of thunder and it began to rain shards of bone. Augustine screwed his eyes shut as a fresh wave of pain struck. The pulses were getting faster and faster now. The Eldar were beginning to withdrew. He was sure they could feel it too.

"That fool, Diomedes," said Malachi. "Does he not see that the end has come?"

"He still has a task at hand. As do we." Augustine glanced at the command squad around them. Four marines, not including Gaius himself and Malachi. Would Gaius order them into the fight? Or was there still time? He rolled Diomedes' words over in his mouth, whispering them to himself. "Let none find you wanting." He never thought he'd ever hear it again.

Martellus paced the Scientia's bridge, watching the tactical display with growing concern. The ship rumbled as the bombardment cannons fired again. The streaking shells vanished into the void. Without the display screen's magnification, he would never make out the flickering engines of the Observer, in orbit above Typhon's southern pole.

"Observer has fired its batteries," called a tactical officer in a conversational tone. "Estimated time to impact, four minutes."

"Shield integrity?" Captain Gelden asked from the command throne.

"98% efficiency, my lord."

Martellus nodded. Good. Even a full broadside from one of the Battlefleet's finest ships couldn't do more than strip the shields from a battle barge. This was only the opening stage of the engagement. Seeding the enemy ship to test their defenses. Both the Observer and the Scientia Est Potentia were evenly matched in thrust and firepower. Here it would come down to command. "Any sign of the Omnis Arcanum?" he asked.

"Sensors show no other Blood Raven contacts."

"Stay on guard," said Gelden. "We must not discount the possibility of an ambush. Tune the auspex to drown out the radiance of the system's star and scan for ships lurking within the corona."

Martellus stepped over to the auspex console and checked the readouts from over the officer's shoulder. He was right. The Omnis Arcanum wasn't in system. That was a mercy. There were few ships as dangerous as an Astartes battlebarge, save for a mobile fortress monastery. Though it was nothing compared to ancient wonders like the Phalanx of the Imperial Fists, the Omnis Arcanum was a masterpiece of archeotech, more than a match for any Imperial battleship. Even without its complement of Astartes, it could break the Scientia in a matter of minutes.

"Report, enemy fire went wide!"

"How long until our weapons are ready for another volley?" Gelden asked.

"Ten minutes," said Martellus. The gun crews of the Scientia were expertly drilled, but they were still just men.

Martellus moved to the vox station. Reports from the Inquisition fleet were still trickling in. Fourteen ships were now in system, without formation or command structure. Most were Imperial Guard transport craft or navy fleet escorts. But one of the new arrivals caught Martellus' eye. A civilian ship, a Rogue Trader. "Officer, hail that ship. Priority signal."

The bridge's speakers roared with static, and once more Martellus praised the Omnissiah for his power armor's auto-senses. The signal soon clarified, and a stately voice spoke out over the vox. "This is Rogue Trader Caldwell of the Trend Line, flagship of Inquisitor Adriarch. To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking."

"Captain Gelden, of the Blood Ravens 5th Company. Is the Inquisitor with you?"

"I am here," said another, softer voice.

"Where is your Mistress, Lord Inquisitor Adrastia?"

"No doubt caught in this warp storm just as we were," said Adriarch. "Most of the fleet is has yet to return to Realspace. We received your Captain Diomedes' communique. Have you been monitoring the situation on Typhon?"

"We have," said Gelden. He glanced at Martellus, who shook his head. The readings from the ship's scanners were fluctuating madly with regards to temperature, atmospheric conditions, and even mass. Almost an entire hemisphere was shrouded in thick cloud-cover that seemed to shimmer ruby-red in the white sunlight. Anteas and the ship's astropaths had worse tidings by far. The planet was only half there. The warp was consuming the world inside out. Soon it would be a hellscape of daemons and madness.

"You know what must be done, then."

Martellus took the vox. "There is still time. We cannot forsake our brothers on the surface."

"Withdraw them immediately," said Adriarch. "I am forming what vessels we have to prepare for a preliminary bombardment. Two craft of the Ordo Malleus are moving towards Typhon Primaris at full engine power. Should the worst come to pass, they will deploy the final sanction."

Gaius laughed into the howling wind, opening his mouth to catch the droplets of blood falling from the sky. Lightning crashed again and again, scorching the earth with every strike. The forests burned, trees splitting into portals of swirling red. "Blood for the Blood God!" he shouted, cackling as one of the 1st Company squads fell to their knees, vomitting gore through their helmet grilles. The Eldar were in full retreat, many in the 2nd Company charged after them in a frenzied pursuit. Bloodletters ran with them, and hounds of Khorne emerged from the corpses of the dead to join the hunt. The earth shook, cracking into wide fissures as magma spouted skyward, forming spikes of obsidian that clawed at the lowest of the clouds.

The rapidly-changing terrain scattered the Company into squads, each hunting separately as the vox cut in and out. Only Augustine, from Gaius' position, could see the chaos unfold. He thought there would be pain. There should have been. By all rights he shouldn't even be alive. No psyker could survive on a daemon world, not without attracting the attention of the Ruinous Powers. Yet he was alive, sane. He glanced at the soulstone on Gaius' armor for the third time in ten minutes. She was to blame for this.

Malachi sagged at Augustine's side. Even with his helm, Augustine could see the despair in his frame. He had deserved better. A better sergeant than Augustine, a better captain than Gaius. And perhaps a better death than one could find on a daemon world. "Nikephoros, brother. If only you could see me now," said Augustine ruefully. He'd never be able to keep his promise. His actions today would never reach Diomedes' ears, nor any other Blood Raven. He would die alone and unmourned. That was all well. He did not deserve any better. "Malachi," he said over a private vox. "Do you trust me?"

"You have never once deserved my trust, Sergeant." There was steel in that voice, strength despite the circumstances. Augustine could use that.

"I have not, but follow my orders. There is still work to be done." Augustine nodded at Gaius, who seemed ready to move at any moment.

Gaius thrust out his power fist toward the hellish landscape before them. "Now is our time. Let us wipe Diomedes and the rest of these loyalists from the surface of this world. Then we may ascend and join Khorne's chosen."


Augustine tightened his grip on Halcyon. "Worry not. None shall find me wanting."

Augustine flared his jump pack and shot toward Gaius as he turned. His force sword cut through Gaius' half-raised arm. His power fist clattered to the stone and Gaius howled in pain, fumbling for his combat knife as Augustine brought his sword around for another strike. The command squad rushed in from all directions, and Augustine's own squad revved their weapons to attack. Malachi glanced around in utter surprise, his weapons half raised. Brother Vlad, one of Malachi's squadmates, made the decision for him. He swung at Malachi with a cry of rage. Brother Halvard moved to defend him, but was spitted on the power sword of one of Gaius' marines. A return stroke beheaded him seconds later. Halvard fell atop Vlad, slain by Malachi's shaking hand.

Gaius looked about in shock, eyes wide with pain. "You traitor!" he cursed, spitting at Augustine through blood-red teeth.

Augustine smiled. "Wrong again, Captain."

Then he drove his sword into Gaius' chest.

Author's note: I realized today, with some embarrassment, that two whole scenes were left out of the release of this chapter. They have been added now, and should add a bit more context to the Meridian situation.