Sedreth felt the unfamiliar touch of fear as his bolter clicked empty. Snarling behind his helmet he flung it into the mass, smashing a screaming face with the impact. In the same movement he whipped out his combat blade and slashed a girl-child almost in half; she dropped without a sound. But there were more; hundreds more. Hands dragged him down by sheer weight of numbers, his armour systems red-lighting under the strain of dozens of fanatical civilians. No! By all the Gods it would not end like this. He flung himself upwards, throwing bodies from him and bellowing in rage.

"For the Emperor!" The ancient war-cry, cynical mockery of a long-discarded allegiance, burst from his lips as he landed, a dervish of destruction and fury, amidst the endless mob. There was no time to consider, no thought, just instincts honed by thousands of years of endless warfare.

He staggered as Astryaliliath's claw, ripped clean from its arm, hit him in the head, denting his helmet. A whoosh of flame from behind him crisped half a hundred and the pressure eased. He snatched a fresh bolter from the ground, flinging the severed arm that held it into the press, and brought it up.


He held the trigger down, uncaring of ammunition counters, needing only to give himself sufficient space.

A figure stepped up beside him, likewise armoured in black and pastels, the great gold-embossed flamer in his hands spouting promethium. Cadris, his squad's heavy weapons expert. Centuries of combat experience reasserted itself and he reverted to burst fire. They combined their fire-power as only veterans of millennia could do – nothing got through.

Finally it ended. Sedreth looked round. They were the only beings left standing in a field of blood and charred gore. He glanced down at the gold- and pink-chased bolter in his hand; Sestin's. Stupid bastard. He dropped his recently deceased captain's bolter contemptuously and retrieved his own, scavenging ammunition from the other dead.

"I'm almost out," said Cadris from his left. "You think that was all of them?"

"If it wasn't we're already dead," replied Sedreth cynically. "That fucker Sestin led us right into it. Knew we shouldn't have taken him on as captain."

"He had the favour of the warp. Allegedly."

"Allegedly is right. You better get a secondary weapon."

Cadris picked up a bolter from the ground, stepping past, in an unconscious gesture that spoke eloquently of contempt equalling Sedreth's own, the fancifully worked example that had belonged to their late and unlamented commander. He racked his new weapon and checked the ammunition then turned back.

"I suppose someone had better contact Ahriman. You're senior."

"Thanks for reminding me." Sedreth grimaced and tongued the vox.

Ahriman the Sorcerer, formerly Chief Librarian of the XV Legion Astartes, and currently the most wanted being, give or take half a dozen or so, in the galaxy, was not a happy man.

His voice was cold as he replied to the report. "No. Touch nothing. I shall join you shortly."

He clicked off without waiting for acknowledgement. Thirty space marines. Not to mention two daemonettes. Bloody useless Emperor's Children. Effete bastards still couldn't fight even after ten millennia. He summoned his bodyguard of Thousand Sons.

Sedreth looked at his companion; his oldest companion. His last companion. "He's coming down in person."

"Oh, Joy And Rapture. That makes me feel so much better." Cadris looked across the corpse-strewn flagstones towards the ancient, alien-looking, temple building.

There was a flare of light and the pale blue- and gold-armoured figure of the the ancient sorcerer appeared, surrounded by four full squads of soulless Thousand Sons marines. Sedreth didn't bother to salute.


"Ambush, Lord Ahriman. One second, nothing on the scopes, the next, thousands of them. Like they came out of nowhere."

The man's gaze met his meaningfully, and he slowly removed his own gore-smeared helmet. Ahriman was still recognisably human, like most Thousand Sons sorcerers. Like Sedreth himself if it came to that. Unlike the majority of the surviving warriors who had served since the Rebellion neither sported the commonplace mutations that indicated service or favour to one of the chaos powers. Sedreth had never dared to wonder why he was one of the few who had been spared – or denied. Wondering and questioning got you killed; he had learnt that lesson long long ago.


"Civilians who could tear apart a daemonette bare-handed, Lord Ahriman," he replied, indicating the dissolving but still recognisable corpse of Astryaliliath. One of its claws had been driven into the daemon's chest hard enough to come out the back. The sorcerer stood in silence for a few moments. Sedreth said nothing; if Ahriman didn't realise that any other troops would have died to a man he was stupider than a World Eater, and no-one had ever accused Ahzek Ahriman of being stupid. He wondered for a moment if he was the last person to remember Ahriman's name.

Finally the man spoke, thoughtfully and almost to himself. "Hmm. Possessed then. Interesting. I felt nothing in the Great Ocean."

Sedreth met the sorcerer's considering gaze. "Lord Ahriman, if we are to enter the temple, I think we will need more marines. Lots more marines."

"No, sergeant Sedreth, I think not. You and your compatriot have demonstrated suitable martial prowess. You two will enter, scout, and report to me."

Their eyes met; Sedreth nodded. "As you command, Lord." He pulled on his helmet again and turned, signalling Cadris by hand. They loped across the square, two bloody black and pastel avatars of barbarism, decadence, and death.

Sedreth tongued the squad channel. "You take left. Standard protocols; you remember?"

"Imperial protocols? That would please Eidolon no end."

"Do you see that arrogant prick here? Let's do this. Unless you fancy taking on Ahriman and his Thousand Sons?"

"Nah. Not yet anyway. When did you last scout?"

"You know when; you were in the same squad."

"Damn. I hoped you'd done some a bit more recently than that."

Sedreth's laugh was cynical, but genuine. Cadris never failed to lift his mood. "For the Emperor, brother."

The reply held a bitter, scornful, pride. "For the Emperor."

They entered the great dark cleft that had once held doors of beaten metal.

Inside, the stone floor was smooth, as unblemished as if the place was newly built. As they moved cautiously forward a soft light started to glow, blueish-green and peaceful, almost in rejection of the martial attributes of the two warriors. They advanced slowly, one on each side of the smooth unmarked corridor, their armour clashing with the serene atmosphere.

A voice spoke from ahead of them.

"Well, mon-keigh? Are you just going to stand there?"

Sedreth's bolter was already aimed, but he didn't pull the trigger, curiosity and caution combining to stay his finger. Across from him he saw Cadris' flamer muzzle lift to the precise angle that would maximise the spread of promethium, but he too stayed his hand.

He tongued the vox, not really expecting to be able to contact anyone. "Lord Ahriman. An eldar farseer. She appears to be awaiting us."

The reply came through clearly, surprising him. "A farseer? Find out what she wants."

Sedreth double-clicked off in acknowledgement and moved forward.

The tall alien in green and white stood at apparent ease, her slender human-like form giving an impression of fragility. Sedreth wasn't fooled. He'd met her ilk before. If she was hostile, neither he nor Cadris would survive this day. The powers of a farseer were beyond any two ordinary astartes, even Emperor's Children veterans.

"What do you want, eldar?"

A soft alien laugh came back. "You, Morgan Sedreth. And your companion. Ethaniel Cadris. The temple greets you both."

As she said it the blue-green light intensified. Sedreth's comms monitor flicked red, indicating a communications barrier.

Cadris snarled. "Your powers will not affect us, witch. We are under our Lord's protection."

Another soft chuckle. "The being you know as Slaanesh has no power here, Ethaniel Cadris. Nor does any other, even humanity's Emperor. This is a place of test. There is only you and your own talents to rely on."

Sedreth shrugged inside his armour. "Is that supposed to impress us, or scare us?"

"It is merely a fact, Morgan Sedreth. You are the last of the Astartes Legions to come to this place. Are you willing?"

Sedreth chuckled in his turn. "Willing to do what?"

"To face the trials."

"Let me guess," said Cadris. "Everyone else tried and failed."

Sedreth replied more cynically, "No, Cadris. They tried and died, I expect."

The eldar nodded. "You are intelligent. Good. You will need to be." She waved her hand languidly, gracefully. The blue-green glow grew to unbearable intensities and enveloped them.

Sedreth looked around at jungle. A movement to his left and he blinked. A massive marine in purple and gold power armour stood beside him, the aquila, the two-headed eagle of the Emperor, proud on his chest. He instinctively raised his bolter.

"Sedreth?" said the warrior in a familiar voice.

"Cadris? What are you doing in that armour?"

"I could ask you the same."

He glanced down at himself; he too wore the codex colours that the Legion had abandoned ten thousand years before. "What?" he began, then was shoved aside by his brother's powerful left arm as Cadris' flamer roared to life. A monstrous chittering echoed in his ears as he rolled to his feet in time to see more of the things scurrying towards them, each multi-legged form higher than a man. He flung a grenade and stepped back to back with the flamer marine, controlled bursts ripping apart chitinous bodies as the monstrosities charged across the clearing.

"There's too many!" shouted Cadris above the roar of battle. "We can't hold them."

"Megarachnid. They're megarachnid, Cadris." He blew a multi-eyed head apart with a four shot burst.

"Tell me something I didn't know. I thought we'd killed all the bastard things."

"We did. They must be from our memories."

"Did you remember being killed? Shit." The flamer cut out, empty, and was replaced by the stuttering fire of Cadris' bolter.

Remember? Maybe, if this came from their memories... it couldn't exactly make things worse. "I'm going to try something; don't shoot him."

"Shoot who?"

He felt the response to his concentration like a wave of power and knew.


A gold-armoured figure dropped like a stone into the midst of the combat, dappled white and black angel's wings roped with pearls briefly extending to halt its plummet. He heard Cadris gasp in recognition as the Blood Angel landed amidst the megarachnid of Murder just as he had done a hundred centuries before. Then the gasp became a grunt of pain as his brother was borne past his shoulder to the thick jungle grass, a nightmare of insectoid predation atop his purple-armoured form. Sedreth loosed a burst into the thing's head, then met another as he too was grappled by the beasts. He held his trigger down one-handed while he stabbed and slashed with his combat knife, desperation lending him strength and speed beyond even the usual astartes superhumanity. He kicked the dying thing away and leapt to his feet, but the creatures were done, shattered corpses all that remained.

The Primarch Sanguinius chuckled. He hauled Cadris upright as easily as a marine would pick up a child.

"A good fight. You do my brother's Legion honour with your prowess," he said, the same words he had used so long ago. Before. Then his countenance changed, the angelic, sculpted, features wearing a frown. "I know what became of him. And of you. Be aware, astartes. You are not blind pawns yet." The frown vanished and he faded from sight along with the jungle and its ferocious denizens. A brilliant blue light enveloped them.

They looked at each other, both back in the black and multi-hued pastels that they'd worn since.

"Is that it?"

"I doubt it."

The light faded and the farseer stood facing them again. "Impressive, Morgan Sedreth. You have agile minds, for astartes. The majority of your kind fail that trial."

Cadris chuckled cynically. "We're the Emperor's Children; the best of the best. If you wanted someone to pass your trials, you should have come to us first."

"I would not have come to you at all, Ethaniel Cadris. We have far too much in common." She waved her hand again and the light blinded.

Sedreth stood alone on a gantry. He looked down at himself. Hmm. His own armour, still scored and blood smeared. This might not be a memory then. He looked round slowly. A familiar symbol shone silver and stark over a dark entrance at the end of the metal bridge, a stylised helmet over the eight-pointed arrow of chaos. Iron Warriors. He cursed quietly. Not a good thing to see for one of the Children. There was movement in the shadowed doorway. He raised his bolter, cocked it.

A figure came into view. A marine in dark green armour with a stylised dragon-head shoulder symbol. Salamander. The other did not fire, despite raising his flamer.

"At this range, we both die, traitor."

Sedreth chuckled. "True. But since when has that bothered you, servant of a failing corpse?"

The other's voice was cold. "Better to kill more than one enemy, if you can. The sons of accursed Perturabo are enemies to both of us."

"Vulkan would kill you for saying that, marine." He was about to continue when the sound of heavy armoured boots echoed from behind the man. A deep chant started as the boots grew closer, 'Iron within, Iron without'. He swore aloud.

The Salamander moved towards him. "Do we kill each other and save them the trouble, then?"

"Well, since you put it like that," he replied, squeezing the trigger and burying a burst in the chest of a gun-metal-black armoured warrior as the man came into view. "For the Emperor!"

The reply was instantaneous. "For the Emperor!" The flamer roared defiance and Iron Warriors fell burning, but more still came. The Salamander retreated before them, smashed backwards by bolt impacts but still laying down an horrific field of almost impenetrable flame. Sedreth snarled, picking his targets, each burst dropping a warrior. There were too many. He threw a grenade into the midst of them as half a dozen of the deadly eggs flew towards him. He flung himself backwards, landing catlike on his feet despite the explosion tearing a hole in the metal beneath them. The Salamander flung his now guttering flamer two-handed; it burst with a resounding flare and warriors collapsed burning and dying even as bolter fire and more grenades came back and the Imperial fell, one arm torn off. Instinct took over and Sedreth leapt to drag the man backwards.

"Come on, boy. I haven't lost a man to these pitiful fucks in ten thousand years and I am damned if I'm going to start now."

The marine didn't reply, his bolt pistol doing all the talking for him. Sedreth fired one-handed, dragging the heavy dead weight along scarred metal flooring as Iron Warriors charged into their fire. Fuck. He let go of the Salamander and emptied his bolter into a massive, warped figure that might once have been human; it fell only to be replaced by a massive astartes with a power axe. He whipped out his blade and closed, slipping the heavy blow and driving his knife past the other's gorget and under his chin even as the man recovered his balance. A chainsword smashed into his shoulder and he turned in time to see the wielder's head explode from a bolter round. He looked back. They were clear.

He turned to the Salamander, fully expecting to receive a shot from the bolt pistol, but the man's arm was dropping. He walked over to the dying marine.

"Good fight, Salamander. You want me to make it clean?"

The warrior looked up at him weakly, tried and failed to lift his pistol one more time. "You're one of them. Why not make me suffer?"

"Respect. 'He who sheds his blood beside me shall be my brother'. Shakespeare."

"Who?" Light reflected off the man's visor, grew and enveloped him.

He looked round, and the familiar surroundings of the temple chamber met his gaze. He looked for Cadris. There. On the ground, bleeding from a... severed arm. Shit.

He ran across the floor and knelt beside his brother.

The deep voice was soft. "Hey, Sedreth. I think they finally got me."

"You're not dead yet." He pulled off his helmet and reached for the man's bleeding shoulder.

"Leave it. It's over. Help me take this helmet off."

"What happened?" He knew, but he had to know.

"World Eater got me. Would you believe I fought alongside a Raven Guard?"

He nodded, lifting the gore-spattered helmet clear. "I would. I fought alongside a Salamander, against Iron Warriors."

"Salamander? Always liked them. The Raven Guard was you, wasn't it?"

"Yes. And the Salamander was you, my brother. It was you and me." He looked into the brown eyes, still human above a purple-fanged muzzle. "Always you and me."

The muzzle shook weakly, as if its owner had no strength to shake his whole head. "Just you now. The 79th is just you."

"Don't you die on me, Ethaniel. Not after all this time."

The eyes smiled, moved past his shoulder. "I would have liked to see the rest of your trials, eldar."

"You fought well, Ethaniel Cadris." Her voice was musical, still and sad.

"Sedreth. Morgan. End it."

"You're not dead yet, Cadris."

" You still look like you did when you joined the Legion. Slaanesh doesn't love you enough."

"Our God doesn't love, brother. Only we.."

A chuckle, becoming a blood-spattered cough. "Love. I know, brother. Love,.. was what got us into this,.. in the first place. Pass the test, my brother. For honour. For,... what we were." The fanged mouth smiled weakly, then became a snarl. "Damn you, Slaanesh. I... hope you ...choke on me..., you fu.." Light faded from the eyes and the facial muscles went slack.

"Noooo!" Sedreth screamed in rage and pain. "Cadris! Open your fucking eyes, Cadris."

A slender alien hand gripped his shoulder and he flung it off, surging to his feet bolter in hand. "It wasn't fucking real. Bring him back. It was all in our minds, damn you."

"I cannot." The tone held compassion, limitless and eternal, but he didn't care. He squeezed the trigger; nothing happened. Flinging the useless weapon aside he launched himself; she caught him, an invisible psychic force tight against his best efforts, far stronger than he. "He is at peace, Morgan Sedreth."

He struggled uselessly against that inhuman power.

"Listen to me, Morgan Sedreth. Your friend Ethaniel died at rest, with the one being in the universe he still cared about as his side. Slaanesh does not have him. He is free of all such powers. Think on him. Think on your brother."

He writhed as the memories flooded through him. Two young boys sharing a desk in a schoolroom; young men laughing at a restaurant table with two beautiful girls. Lasfire cracking overhead as they advanced into battle in dark blue uniforms. A winged figure throwing down a broken daemon from before a massive gate. An impossibly handsome white-haired warrior with golden eyes. Armoured marines sat laughing at a long table. Purple- and gold-armoured figures charging into battle. A twisted altar. A writhing man screaming in horror as he melted into a thing beyond description. Fear. Pain. Blood. Image after image. Ecstasy and agony. Naked bodies writhing in orgiastic hedonism. A laughing handsome man with a sword in his hand; the same man, scar-faced and feral and fanged. Rage. The gleaming corridors of a great ship. A sword swinging down and an explosion of energy from a decapitated body. Horror. Golden eyes blurred with tears, terrified as they turned black. Evil looking out of the beloved face. A tall warrior in captain's insignia with a brass plate inset in his forehead. Charging armoured figures in red and brass. Others, twisted and diseased in foul green. Still others in black and gold. In midnight blue and lightning. In blood red, in bright blue, in dreadful scarlet. A writhing howling body whipped bloody above a golden chalice. Faster and faster the images came, until he was screaming with a pain so old, so vast, he had forgotten what it felt like.

He was clasped against something hard. Tears ran down his face. Green armour. A slender hand stroked his hair. He raised his head, slowly, met eyes of alien shape and gentle expression.

"Your path is yours to choose, Morgan Sedreth. Do you remain what you were, a warrior of chaos? Do you go to the Imperium of Man? Yours to make, yours the consequences to bear."

He looked at her. Stood, slowly. He shook his head. "Neither is a valid choice. Both bring only ruin in their wake. The Imperium is not anything I fought for in the Crusade; the powers of the warp corrupt and vile."

Her face moved in what might have been a smile. "Then you have chosen correctly. Be well, Morgan Sedreth. We shall not meet again."

He looked down at himself as the blinding light seemed to sink into his very essence. His armour gleamed purple and gold. He looked at the body of his last friend, smiled briefly at the handsome, entirely human, face and the codex colours. So be it.

"Once more, my brother. For the 79th." He cocked his bolter and walked towards the exit.

Ahriman of the Thousand Sons never spoke of the battle in the square. But agents of the Imperium heard from spies and captured enemies of a warrior that was hunted by all the traitor legions. Their informants would speak only the name, whispered it as a word of terror and power. Sedreth.