Immortal Emperor

4 . In Extremis

Duty unto Death

Space asteroids

Mission time: 7:00:55

”Repeat please, did I hear that right, my Lord?”

Captain Borsk Alfidus had seen a lot of strange things in all his years of Imperial service, but the utterly impossible readings on his cogitator took his breath away.
But of course, all that was nothing compared to the sight itself.
Terminal 509 was like a tiny dot hovering helplessly in front of a spectacle of indescribable character. It looked as if the universe was tearing itself asunder. Like a warp rift in space, but massive in size. Flashes indicated an ongoing battle, and the scanner picked up several frigate-sized vessels in the vicinity.

“You heard me, captain. Full speed ahead.”

Astartes Sergeant Thyne stood next to Alfidus’ command chair. His manner and voice was calm, and Alfidus was unsure if it irritated or reassured him.
The enemy ships seemed to be attempting to block the path towards the station. Well, that or they were keeping any outbound ships from escaping.

Alfidus decided that it irritated him.
“And if we get dragged into the vortex, my Lord?” he asked.
The Astartes didn’t even flinch.
“We might. Or we might not. Either way, I’ll be in the airlock. Dock as fast as you can.”

The Astartes turned on his heel and marched off of the bridge. Alfidus turned to see him go, wondering if any of them would live to fight another day. Alfidus was a brave man. He once had his ship ram a Greenskin command ship during a fleet engagement. But even so, he hated flying into the unknown.

He decided that it really irritated him and switched on his intercom.
“Crew of the independence. This is your captain. All gunners, all batteries, fire free! Duty unto Death!”
Borsk saw confirmations click in from all shipboard batteries, and seconds later the darkness outside was lit up by dozens of energy beams.
“Throne…” he said to himself, as the Independence hurled towards the station.

Mission time: 7:10:01

In the airlock, Ultramarines Sergeant Desaries Thyne considered his options. His borrowed helmet lacked the luxuries of his own helmet, but it would do. The readouts on his squad status were somewhat less reassuring however. Battle Brother Tauron was still in the medical tank, and Battle Brothers Thracius and the Death Guard were still recovering from their horrible wounds. The very thought of it made the scar on his neck sting. He would make the traitors pay. Soon enough he would make them pay. The scene outside had resembled the vision that Word Bearer bastard had subjected him to in his cell. His hands balled into fists.

“Twenty seconds!”

The human captain’s voice sounded tense over the intercom and it brought Sergeant Thyne back to the present.
A chain axe roared in a test run nearby. The blood crazed World Eater and the savage Space Wolf had their choler up. They wanted to tear some traitors apart. They would have to wait. Now was not the time for a boarding operation. They had both complained, of course, but current mission objectives were too important to be ignored.
The enemy fleet before them was too weak to engage Terminal 509 directly, but they were strong enough to keep any small craft from escaping the approaching rift. The Independence would give them one hell of a surprise though.

“Ten seconds!”

Sergeant Thyne’s eyes gazed over the remains of his Astartes squad. Drask seemed to find it impossible to stand still, pacing about and idly swinging his chain axe, thoroughly unnerving the ship’s armsmen. The Space Wolf on the other hand seemed preoccupied with using a chain sword to get something out of his fangs.
They all felt a slight bump as the docking procedure commenced.
“For the Emperor!” Sergeant Thien growled, “For the Emperor!” his brothers responded.

Mission time. 7:10:29

This was not how he would have gone about it. No, it would be an inglorious end to perish in the void onboard a broken up space station. This was not the way of the World Eaters. Drask would have boarded the nearest enemy craft instead of slipping around them like a whipped dog.

The chainaxe felt natural in his hand, it called out for blood. Would he need his rage today? Yes. No maybe not, not now, he needed to keep his choler cool. The Ultramarine sergeant said so. He said they need to get other Battle Brothers off the doomed station. Drask thought of Brother Sergeant Ceorl and the other World Eaters, engaged elsewhere in the system, and not for the first time he wished he was with them.

The moment the hatch dropped, Drask was off the ramp. He was ready for a fight. He wanted a fight. The bloodshed in the prison had not been enough. With a killer’s trained eye he quickly scanned the room, but all he found was a group of forlorn looking station crew. Drask’s armor was still was covered in coagulated blood, and he relished the fear it inspired in the mortals. Halkrson came up behind him. The presence of the wolf brother put a damper to his instinctive inclination to kill everyone in the dock.

A bulkhead door slid open and Drask’s grip on the growling chain axe tightened. But this was no enemy. An Ultramarine with ornamented armor and captain markings stepped into the dock. It was Captain Gallus. Drask’s grip on the chain axe reluctantly lessened.

“Brother Captain, good to see you! Sir, you need to get off this station. "

Sergeant Thyne stepped down the ramp past Drask and shook hands with the new arrival.
The Ultramarine captain nodded.
“Figured it when that anomaly opened up behind us. It is already pulling the station out of orbit. Those traitor ships have kept us here. Shooting down anyone trying to board them.”
The two Ultramarines leaned closer, and Drask strained hear their conversation. He noticed the grim expression on his Sergeant’s face when the word ‘Witchcraft’ was mentioned. Rogue psykers, bah. Who cared about such nonsense? Drask only needed to know where he could find them.

Other Astartes began to appear, some twenty-five of them, some of them part of the captain’s Honour Squad. He noticed Halkrson keeping watch with an alert gaze and repositioned closer to him. The wolf brother was different than his twelfth legion brothers, so different. But he briefly wondered how different Angron really was from Leman Russ. Not that it mattered. Drask didn’t care.

“All right, brothers…”

The captain’s commanding voice sounded across the deck.
“It is time that we take this fight to the enemy! We have identified the command ship of the rag tag fleet out there. It is a Strike Cruiser known as the Covenant. Whoever is in charge is either a fool… or inviting a trap. Its escorts are too far away to provide close support, so with the support of the Independence, we should be able to board it. Brother Sergeant Thien, please continue…”
Sergeant Thien stepped forward.
“The Independence will provide cover under its guns while we target the Strike Cruiser for boarding. We have three Stormbirds operational for this operation. Target’s will be assigned as the following…”
Drask caught Halkrson’s eyes. The wolf brother smiled. In his hand, Drask could feel the chain axe growl. He would need his rage today after all.

Mission time: 7:32:59

Runolf cleaved another red-clad crewman in half with a roar. Next to him, the World Eater Drask was hatefully pummeling a fallen mortal into pieces. Sergeant Thien emptied another clip into the last man standing. That was it, the hallway was clear. Or as clear as it can get when it is covered in the blood of forty enemy armsmen. Truth is, Runolf didn’t really enjoy killing these hapless fools. No sport in it. But it vexed him that Sergeant Thyne’s team was assigned as distraction while Captain Gallus’ squad stormed the Strike Cruiser’s bridge. They would probably face traitor marines. Worthwhile opponents. Not this rabble.

A voice suddenly boomed across the shipboard voxnet
“All hands, this is Brother Sergeant Honorious of the Thirteenth Legion Astartes, Ultramarines. We have secured the ship. Your captain is dead and the bridge is back under the Emperor’s control. Lay down your arms and surrender.”

“Surrender, huh”, said Runolf aloud. None of these scum would live to surrender if it was up to him. Nevertheless, the sound of firing died down as the last pockets of resistance surrendered or were crushed.

Sergeant Thien led a sweep down the hall, but they found no more survivors. Not that it surprised Runolf. They had left a vast trail of mangled bodies all the way back to the insertion point. Runolf figured he could account for most of them, but he was unsure. Unlike his legionary brothers, the World Eater and the Ultramarine didn’t seem to be interested in keeping count. Drask seemed to be enjoying himself immensely though.

They had made it all the way down the adjoining corridor when voice on the voxnet sounded again, tense this time, “Sergeant Thien to the bridge please.”

Mission time: Unknown

Aszhek Tauron floated across a vast ocean of strange wonderful light. His Tutelary was guiding him towards a beautiful mountain in the distance.
Images went through his head. Memories maybe? A sorcerer suspended in the Void. A Raven. A sacrifice of the essence of a champion. A rift in the universe. An all consuming maw. The death of thousands. A fortress torn apart by ravenous mouths. The sorcerer was familiar. Why?
“What you see is the beginning of the end… long may it be… ”
A voice?
Where was he? He didn’t remember. The mountain took shape. Tizca. He remembered that. Prospero. Was he home?
“No brother, you are not home. Not yet.”
Where did that voice come from? Tauron hovered over the strange ocean. His Tutelary seemed anxious. He looked around but could feel no other presence.
“We do not have much time here, brother. They are coming for you.”
The voice again. Shapes in the ocean. Someone was searching for him. Hunting.
“Void predators, brother. They sense your presence. We must be careful.”
Tauron spun around. The ocean was above him now. He felt dizzy.
“Show yourself, stranger” he called into the void.
A figure appeared in shimmer of light. It was clad in dark red Astartes plate. A sad look in dark eyes.
Word Bearer. Enemy.
Tauron steeled himself for combat. The more experienced members of his Fellowship had often talked about fighting in the Empyrean. He no longer had any doubts about where he was.
“I am a son of Magnus the Red, I am a scholar and warrior of Prospero, a loyal warrior of the Emperor of mankind. Prepare to die, traitor”
The other didn’t move. But his dark eyes lit up.
“I know what you are, brother.”
A spear materialized in Tauron’s hand. But before he could wield it, the other gently laid his hand on his.
“Conserve your strength, brother. You may need it soon enough.”
Tauron found his will diminishing. It was uncanny, those dark eyes. Like they could see into his soul. Calming his choler.
“We have gone too far, brother. Much too far.”
The Word Bearer’s voice was low and mournful.
“So much death. Deceived. Deceivers.”
He shook his head.
“What are you talking about, Word Bearer? Why is Lorgar doing this? Does he even know?”
Tauron tried to raise his spear, but the other’s grip tightened like an iron fist.
The other held his gaze.
“Oh, Lorgar knows, brother. He knows. But then again Lorgar was betrayed. Betrayed by his own kin. By his own Legion. There are those even now plotting to overthrow this Empire. I known, because my Legion knows. I know because my Legion is not alone in this.”
With a howl of rage, Tauron ripped the spear free of the other’s grasp. He was about to fling it at the Word Bearer, but the weapon meekly disintegrated in his hand.

The other shrugged it off. For a fleeting moment Tauron thought he could see a smirk. “Your pain is understandable, brother. I would not believe it myself, even despite everything I’ve seen. Our Legion is doomed to join the fallen, but others will follow.”
“What others, speak sense traitor? What are you talking about?”
With lightning speed, the Word Bearer threw a hand around Tauron’s neck, his eyes burning. The Tutelary fled in panic. Tauron recoiled as the very essence of the other radiated pain. Like a hand held over a fire.
“Your rage, brother. It draws the predators near!”
Fear? Tauron was unsure, but the dark eyes soon turned sad again.
“…But you tell me, brother. Your Legion has been called to Prospero. Your liege lord is to answer to the Emperor for crimes he did not commit. Did you know this? Did you know what the other Legions are saying about you?”
Witchcraft. The other didn’t say it. Didn’t have to.
The grip felt like iron, Tauron fought back, enraged at the accusations, but he found it impossible to free himself.
“Either way, brother, all that is irrelevant now, unless you stop my Legion here. And you must stop them. Sol Invictus is the gateway to Terra. If the traitors secure it, they will have access to launch an overwhelming surprise attack before that stuck-up Dorn can muster the defenses. And they will.”
The other gently relaxed his grip.
“The chaplain Halrun, you know him, yes? He is on Populonia right now preparing a vast army in the shadows. You must alert your brothers. You must alert the Empire! The root of my Legion’s treachery runs deep. They have allies throughout the system. Sol Invictus naval base is infiltrated, but not in immediate danger, but if Populonia falls, the traitors will be unstoppable.”

Tauron ceased his struggle, listening now.
“And why are you telling me this Word Bearer?”
The other let him go, allowing Tauron to float away. The dark eyes looked away into the void.
“…We killed our own, you know. Our own brothers. Those of us who didn’t want to go down the dark path.”
The notion almost made Tauron sick to his stomach.
“Your own brothers? Vile traitors! Monsters!”
No mere word could describe it… The thought alone was disturbing beyond belief.
“Yes we did. I did… Brother, I may be lost and dammed, but I will do what I can to make this right. I tried to warn… another, but he wouldn’t listen. Not that I can blame him. Now I’m trying to warn a fellow gifted. If my brethren discover me, they will kill me, but this is a sacrifice I am content to make.”
The Word Bearer was looking into the ocean, scanning for the shapes that were drawing closer by the second.
“We are out of time. You must go to Populonia, brother. My Legion is there in force. They have armed the filthy multitude you know as the Cult of the Serpent. Right now they are seizing armories all over the hive cities. Protect the government. Protect the governor. Halrun himself is going for the Spire. But first, you must return to your brothers. I think that they have made it out of Halrun’s little trap. Wake up, now. The battle with these abominations is not yet yours to fight.”
Tauron was suspicious, not knowing what to believe. The shapes took form, shark-like being, foul mouths full of fangs. They were coming for them.
“I promise nothing, but what you say disturbs me. What is your name, Word Bearer?”
The other willed two swords into existence and braced himself for the predators. Tauron began fading away into nothing.
“…My name is Taninn.”

Mission time: 7:45:17

Captain Gallus was down. Felled on the bridge. He wasn’t dead, but he didn’t seem to be alive either. The lone Word Bearer on the bridge has struck him with a psychic attack of some sort, then disappeared. The captain’s eyes were white.

“Witchcraft”, Runolf sneered. Drask nodded. The World Eater stood next to the Space Wolf and regarded the solemn Ultramarines with disinterest.
Outside the Strike Cruiser the small enemy fleet has dispersed. Terminal 509 was gone. Consumed by the warp rift. Some of the crew had been unable to evacuate in time, but most of the essential equipment had been secured. Unfortunately, it left them without a base of operations.

Sergeant Thyne watched apothecary Neitos work the fallen. Gallus down, unbelievable. Now he was pretty much the ranking NCO.
The traitors had surprised him. ‘Witchcraft’ was what Captain Gallus had termed it. Whatever it was, it was a powerful weapon. The enemy had ejected a human from their ship. He should have perished in the void but he didn’t. Instead he had done something to open that Warp rift. The crew had heard him laughing. They had heard voices when the rift tore in the void. But that was impossible. Sound doesn’t travel in space.
“We will cut open the universe.”
It reminded him of something.
No matter… The enemy they faced were deceivers.
At least he had received good news from the Independence. Battle Brother Tauron was awake, and doing better. With Apothecary Neitos preoccupied, Brother Kassel, the Iron Warriors Tech Marine was attending to him. The other two wounded from his squad was also doing better. He had requested their immediate transfer to the Strike Cruiser.
The other news was not so good however. Apparently Populonia was rocked by riots. Confusing reports from Cassandria, and no reports at all from the World Eaters on Caligine.

So be it. They were few, but they were ready. Perhaps this liberated Strike Cruiser would need a new name. A name that would symbolize its role in the war to come?
Across the bridge the other Astartes were looking to him now. It was indeed time to take the fight to the enemies.

But where?

The Imperial Navy at Sol Invictus had still not committed. The governor on Populonia would have the clearance to bypass communications blackout restrictions by an emergency channel, the Imperial Hammer One directive. Well, that was certainly an option.

Thyne met the gaze of each of his remaining Astartes. The decision was his…

Mission Debriefing:

Operations Report Sol Invictus 01

Debriefing of Battle Brother Jonah Deavechis

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