In the darkness, there is nothing but the thrumming of active power armor. It is a grating sound, a harsh sound. Weary on the ears. Exhausting on the mind. The sound makes Volturno smile.
Secure in his suit of Mark Seven Aquilla plate, the veteran sergeant racks the slide of his boltgun with a dull clack. His brothers follow his example. Halkyr tends to venerable machine spirit within his combi-plasma. Faestus Hal slams a sickle-shaped magazine into his Godwyn pattern bolter. Lekolon plays with the belt feed of his fat-barreled cannon. Kolmion sanctifies the flamer in his lap with blessed oils, pouring the sacred fluid over the weapon until it gleams in the dark. Naikos fiddles with the trigger of his boltgun.
Volturno sees the faces of his men in the darkness, his enhanced eyesight piercing the gloom with consummate ease. He sees the looks of stoicism etched onto their features, the looks of pride, the looks of grim determination. He also sees the looks of disgust. Of revulsion. Of hatred. Volturno cannot help but think there is an irony here, a sense of mockery set against their holy purpose. The thought makes him chuckle.
Faestus Hal glances at him.
Volturno responds with an order.
Five gauntleted hands move in unison, planting sneering helms over pale features. Volturno places his own over his head. There is a second of blindness, a second where the false-eyes of the Astartes power armor adjusts to Volturno's own retinal nerves. When sight comes back, it is made better, clearer.
"Vox check," static distorts Volturno's voice, makes it seem even less human that it originally was.
Volturno nods. Sensor built into his helm monitors the heartbeats of his squad. Currently they are strong, steady, eager.
"Litany of Devotion. Begin."
"Where there is uncertainty," Faestus Hal says the first line, "we shall bring the light."
"Where there is doubt," Halkyr intones, "we shall bring faith."
"Where there is shame," Kolmion growls, "we shall point atonement."
"Where there is rage," Lekolon grunts, "we shall show its course."
"My word in the soul shall be as my bolter in the field," Naikos finishes.
"For the Emperor," Volturno rasps.
"For the Emperor," his squad says back.
"We are closing in on the destination," a new voice, brass-like, metallic, enters the vox-net, "Estimated time, fifteen seconds. Ready yourselves, brothers."
"Will you support us, Ternerias?" Volturno asks the newcomer in the net, "We could use your vehicle's heavy bite."
The response is a static-laced laugh.
"I won't be going anywhere," the driver of the Razorback grates, "Ten seconds."
Volturno nods, satisfied. He turns back to his men, meets the stare of blood-red eyes.
"In Sanguinius's name, brothers."
The darkness shudders and jerks. The squad remains calm. Stray weapons fire. They rise when Ternerias's voice lurks one last time into the vox-net.
The ramp clangs down to the tune of hissing servos. Light floods into the compartment. There is no disorientation. Astartes helms are built to withstand such simple things.
Volturno is out first. His boots impact against pavement. False muscles in his suit immediately moves to compensate. His arm swings up, bringing to bear the boltgun. The other flexes the armored digits of a powerfist. He takes in the scene before him in an instance. Rows of ruined buildings. Many collapsed. Figures using the rubble as cover. The tall forms of turian legionnaires, blasting down the street. Asari commandos, shielding their allies from harm with shimmering biotic shields. Hulking krogan, bellowing as they fired again and again. And finally humans, darting through the wreckage, deploying heavy weapon platforms, fighting for the ruins of their homes. Volturno's boltgun moves instinctively to target the nearest figure. It takes all of his considerable discipline not to pull the trigger. For he sees what is coming down the street. He sees their mutilated frames crawling for the line. Sees the metallic sheen of corrupted bodies. Sees the blasphemy that is somehow eviler than the unholy alliance of human and alien. The Razorback's twin-linked autocannons are already firing, hurling explosive shells into the swarming mass, rendering the foul unions of organic and synthetic into scrap.
Volturno switches targets. His finger tightens on the trigger. The sole husk that breached the line tumbles back, the crater in its chest spraying loose shards of metal and desiccated flesh. The asari he just saved turns to look back, stares at the six figures clad in knightly plate with dawning realization. The relief on her face makes Volturno's stomach twist in disgust.
"Into them, brothers."
Lekolon's heavy bolter opens up, short-barreled muzzle flashing with staccato bursts. Halkyr's underslung plasma gun fires with a piercing whine. Naikos and Faestus Hal add to the volley with pinpoint shots from their bolters. Kolmion advances alongside his brothers, bolt pistol kicking in his hand as the other holds the short-ranged flamer.
Husks fall by the score. Turned inside out by bolter rounds. Scorched into ash by the combi-plasma's blinding flash. Shredded by Ternerias's heavy cannons. Covered by white-hot promethium as Kolmion finally reaches the rubble.
They can hear the cheers. Ripping from the throats of humans and aliens alike. They take no solace from the sound.
Together the Lamenters reap a fearsome tally of the foe and hurl them back from the line.
The Mako rolls to a halt, alongside the rumbling form of the Razorback. The Astartes transport's twin barreled cannons revolves to target its slimmer cousin, but does not fire. There is a tenuous peace here, and no one was to disturb it, no matter how fervently they may wish to.
The vehicle's doors slide open. A single figure emerges, suited in form-fitting armor. Her boots crunch against the wreckage-strewn street and take her towards the line of resting figures. Some of them rise wearily to their feet when they see her coming. The humans among them salute. The krogan among them slap their chests with their fists. She nods at them all, warriors united in a single purpose. They are not the reason why she is here, however.
Her strides take her towards the six figures standing by their lonesome away from the line. Clad in suits of plate reminiscent to the knights of old Terran lore, they make for an imposing sight. One of them turns to her as she approaches and regards her with eyes the color of human blood.
"Commander Shepard," he says through the ventral grills in his helm.
"Sergeant," she smiles, "I thought you would be here."
"Where the Chapter Master sends us, we go," the Lamenter rasps, "Sector Invictus was falling. He sent us to hold the line."
Shepard takes the time to view her surroundings. Strewn in front of the barricades are hundreds of husk bodies. Some are piled three deep. She turns back to the Lamenter.
"Well. You've certainly held it well."
The Astartes shrugs. The motion is accompanied by the hiss of mechanical servos.
"Is there a reason you are here, Commander Shepard?"
The Spectre pulls a loose strand of hair back behind her ear.
"I've come to say goodbye, sergeant."
The Lamenter stares at her for a moment. He removes his helm. As always, she notices the scar first. It stretches from the right of his brow and ends at the tip of his chin. It mars his otherwise handsome features.
"So," his voice without the helm's vocalizers is surprisingly soft, surprisingly quiet, "This is the end then."
"Yes. The Crucible has been completed. All that remains is someone to activate it."
The Astartes's gaze turns solemn. He inclines his head.
"Good luck, commander."
Shepard's lips twist into an amused smile.
"And here, I thought you were going to threaten me with ruin and damnation from your Emperor."
The Lamenter looks around him. His eyes flicker towards the blocks of demolished buildings, the roads filled with dead, the exhausted faces of Systems Alliance and Citadel soldiers, the skies still filled with Reaper ships.
"I think," he says slowly, "under the circumstances, the Emperor is willing to make an exception. If only this once."
Shepard chuckles. She extends her hand. The Astartes stares at it. Hesitantly, he extends his own, and wraps his giant fingers around hers. His grip is deliberately weak.
"Thank you, sergeant," the Spectre says warmly, "For all your help."
"It was an interesting experience, commander," Volturno responds, "Though if given the chance, I would not like to repeat it."
"Oh? What parts?"
The Astartes snorts.
"All of it."
Shepard smiles and steps back. She snaps a sharp salute.
"It's been an honor, Volturno."
The Lamenter makes the sign of the Aquilla over his chestplate.
"The Emperor protects, Shepard."