More than any other author at Black Library presently, it seems that David Annandale is by far one of the busiest of the lot, if his output in the last couple years or so is any indication. Multiple short stories, a novel, multiple novellas. And his work has been seen digital-to-print republication. For me, he has certainly emerged as one of the best of the bunch, owing in part to his technical writing and his characters and plots of course. It also helps that in much of his work he has chosen to write about factions and characters that usually don’t see the light of day otherwise, much.
About ten days back or so I mentioned in my review of Forge Master that it was part of a trilogy of novellas about the Overfiend of Octavius, an Ork Warlord who controls one of the biggest Ork empires in the galaxy. Where Forge Master was the capstone to that trilogy, Shadow Captain is the middle narrative and is told from the perspective of the Raven Guard rather than the Salamanders. And the events in this novella take place just before the events of Forge Master. Just as with it successor, Shadow Captain proved to be a most entertaining read, and it shined the light on another of my most favourite Space Marine chapters.
The Horus Heresy is the one part of the Warhammer 40,000 lore that has had the most impact on the 41st millennium, the specific time of this far-future space opera/science fantasy setting that we are all most familiar with. The events of that era have influenced everything has happened since, and when Black Library began exploring this age of wonders, it was like a dream come true for countless fans of Warhammer 40,000. The response was phenomenal of course and in no time the series became a New York Times Bestseller hit. The army of writers involved have plumbed all sorts of depths of this era and they have come up with some really wonderful stuff over the past few years.
Of course, they’ve also had to deal with some of the downsides of this effort, and from my understanding, one of these is how Primarchs like Vulkan and Corax escaped the massacre at Istvaan V after the death of their brother Ferrus. Gav Thorpe explored the latter in an audio drama and a novel (both of which are fantastic by the way) and the former is dealt with by Nick Kyme, a recent entrant to the Heresy writing team and the result is one of the most bleakest Horus Heresy novels to date, Vulkan Lives. Nick explores the Primarch himself and one of the shattered remnants of the Salamanders Legion in this novel, and the results are interesting.
Well, I’ve read the 22nd novel in the series by now, the Shadows of Treachery, and it has sparked off more stuff that I think could feasibly turn into a part 4 for this series. Anyhow, last time I talked about this topic, I covered Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill, Ben Counter and James Swallow. This time its going to be Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Gav Thorpe, John French, and Rob Sanders.
Twitter has been buzzing lately with “best of the year so far” and “most anticipated lists”. Looks like everybody and their fictional cat is on the bandwagon. So I thought I’d do one too, a “best of the half-year” list that is. I mean why not, I’ve read so much good stuff this year that it all deserves recognition anyway. I already do a top-of-the-month list anyway, as you can see on the Reading Awards page, so this should be good fun either way.
Let’s see what makes the cut and which comes close then!
At the end of January, on the last day to be exact, I did a blogpost about how the month had gone for me writing and reading wise. The plan at that time was to do that at the end of every month. But as it turned out, due to some extenuating circumstances such as two international trips and some other stuff (mostly work), I wasn’t able to knock out the February report. So I’m lumping it here together with the March report. Enjoy!
And so little time. *sighs*
Two weeks on since my last post, and things have been extremely hectic. And that is an understatement since I am totally bogged down with work. Not my day job of course, but with what I call my night job: writing.
Hail, in the name of the True Emperor. Astinon and the others were stunned to hear the battle-cry of the New Imperium under Primarch Vulkan from the mouth of a renegade. This made no sense. How could the Carcharadons know it, isolated and cut-off as they were on Medan?
‘You have no right to speak those words, renegade,’ Astinon said through clenched teeth and balled up his gauntleted fists. ‘You will -’
Tyberos cut off the Corvian general before he could continue, moving forwards to stand face-to-face with Astinon as much as their difference in height would allow. ‘On the contrary, brother, I have every right to utter those words. Do you foolishly believe that we, the Carcharadon Astra, have given up on all our sworn oaths of ages past?’
A grim-faced Astinon stared at what was left of Brother Lykasz, one of his oldest comrades. Under the crushing, armoured boots of the renegade Terminator, only a headless corpse remained, with splattered blood and brain-matter coating the tunnel floor. The Corvian Commander was in shock at witnessing such a brutal execution of his friend and battle-brother.
The berserker renegades postured like caged beasts behind their leader, who himself stood so calm and assured that he might well have been anywhere but in the thick of battle. He was crouched low, ready to charge at a moment’s notice like a predator that has the scent of its prey and is waiting for the right moment to strike.
For a moment, time seemed to stop for Astinon and he was unable to move. It was as if his body was refusing to do what he asked of it. He was rooted where he stood just before the entrance to the tunnel and the large chamber beyond. His entire body was as taut as a stretched string and he shuddered slightly. His eyes were fixed on the bloody spectacle before him and he was able to see every crack and fracture on his dead brother’s armour.
The clamour of battle around him faded into the background and to him it was as if he existed between two moments. The challenges of the enemy and the battle-cries of his strike team alike faded out as if they were being shouted from a great distance. He could hear none of that. He heard only the twin, rhythmic beatings of his own two hearts.
None of the smells of the tunnel-fight existed for him, both the sweat and blood of the superhuman warriors within or the smoke from their gun barrels. He could smell only the blood of his battle-brother, still steaming off the Carcharadon’s lightning claws.
This is not an end worthy of remembrance, he thought to himself. We have braved despair, desolation, defeat, even death itself for this? To be killed as an afterthought by mindless barbarians who are not even aware of their own glorious heritage? I shall not stand for this. He clenched his fists at the last thought, the tiny gesture breaking the spell on him, and he was aware of his surroundings again. Knowing what he had to do, he sub-vocalized an order on the comm-net.
+Corvians, halt.+ His voice as he accessed his strike team comm-channel was as cold and harsh as the fierce snowstorms of the near-mythical world of Fenris. It was so unlike his usual calm and assertive self, but his brothers did not pause at this change. They obeyed his order instantly, their discipline to their credit as they moved back to stand with their general, knowing well how he would respond to such an insult.
The Terminator lord’s posture faltered as Astinon and his warriors rallied, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with each other. The growl that issued through the Carcharadon’s helmet speakers was bestial enough to chill the Corvian general’s soul, a scream deeply primal in nature. But Astinon ignored the animalistic challenge.
+Prime krak grenades, three-second timers.+ His second terse order resulted in a slight shuffle behind him as the surviving nineteen Sons of Corax took out several small metal eggs from their belt pouches and triggered the explosives for a set countdown.
The renegade lord took a threatening step towards the Corvians and clashed his lightning claws together, bright blue sparks flying off them as the weapons’ energy fields came into contact. Roaring again, the Carcharadon waved his warriors forwards and broke into a run straight towards Astinon, their ponderous, heavy boot-steps ringing on the metallic floor of the tunnel. Once again, the renegade Astartes forsook their bolters, preferring the savagery of their close combat weapons and their fists.
+One, two, three, now!+ As one, the twenty Corvians lobbed the deadly hi-explosive grenades at the mob of charging renegades and drew their ranged weapons. They died in droves as the krak grenades went off in their midst, many of the renegades torn limb from limb and died screaming hateful curses at the loyalist Astartes. Others came on regardless of missing limbs and bleeding wounds.
+Fire!+ The roar of bolter shells that followed Astinon’s order was enough to drown out almost all other noise in the tunnel, the echoes endlessly feeding back on themselves. But the wayward progeny of the Primarch Corax did not falter in their reckless advance, as heedless of the dense fusillade as they had been off the concussive grenade explosions.
The renegade Terminator lord alone was unharmed, his armour systems potent enough to protect him from the waves of incendiary shrapnel washing over him. The cast of his helmet and the amber light of its optic-lenses along with his immense size lent him an even more terrifying visage than before as he ran the length of the burning tunnel to get to the Corvians.
Disgust filled Astinon at this fearsome mockery of his own self. Where the Corvians were noble warriors and represented the highest ideals of the Adeptus Astartes, the Carcharadons were base savages who were nothing but twisted, fallen parodies of everything it meant to be a true Space Marine. To him, these renegades were an abomination and would need to be purged to their very core, Vulkan’s orders be damned.
Holstering his pistols, he removed his helm, wanting to look at his enemy with his own eyes. He gazed straight into the renegade lord’s optic lenses, trying to divine something of his nature through the soulless ceramite. Astinon snarled at the Terminator and drew the Stormblade, making a chopping gesture with it at the enemy in an effort to goad him.
The Carcharadons just came on and the Corvians braced themselves for the impact.
‘What word of Captain Astinon’s task force, Dalmor?’ The Captain of the First Commandery turned at the soft voice behind him to see his Primarch entering the command sanctum. He immediately kneeled before his liege, who wore only a simple, knee-length robe of emerald and gold.
‘My lord,’ answered Dalmor, his voice slightly inflected with concern for his honour-brother and the warriors he had often fought beside years ago. ‘We received word from Lieutenant Kostar less than three hours ago that the Corvians had begun their deployment on Medan in full force. Astinon’s teams are last known to have walked into the ruins in strength; we have not received any updates since. The good Lieutenant has advised that the high metallic content of the abandoned manufactora may be blocking any transmissions from the Corvian strike force.’
‘Just as we predicted might be the case,’ said Vulkan softly as he came to stand next to his First Commander. The Primarch went without his usual panoply of armour and weapons that he always wore when he held his court or when he attended battle briefings. Even in his simple robe, Vulkan exuded his warrior heritage and his manner was anything other combat-readiness.
‘Contact Lieutenant Kostar again and request an update of the situation. Astinon and his warriors will be facing an opposition they are not likely to have faced in years and their faith in the true ideals of the New Imperium will be tested to the limit.’ Vulkan frowned for a brief moment as he continued. ‘It is also vital that they succeed in their mission for the riches of Medan will accelerate my plans considerably. And rescue the Corvians at the same time from their degeneration’
‘If they are still intact, my lord,’ offered Dalmor. ‘We take a great risk in this mission. The Corvians are nowhere near optimal strength for this mission. We should have sent reinforcements from the other Commanderies currently on Armageddon.’
The Primarch waved away his captain’s concerns with a simple shake of his head. ‘No, my friend, this is a task for the Corvians alone. Loathe as I am to put Corax’s surviving sons through such an ordeal, only they can complete this mission. They, and they alone have it in them to see it through and numbers do not matter.’
‘I have faith in my honour-brother and his warriors, Lord Vulkan, but I still fear the worst. Medan is going to change the Corvians, for better or for worse,’ said Dalmor.
‘Then it is a good thing we are here to guide them, are we not, First Commander?’ asked Vulkan, winking at the Space Marine and smiling for the first time since he had entered. ‘I want an updated report on Medan within the half-hour, Dalmor. I am very much interested in Astinon and how he handles this mission. He reminds me of Corax’s captains from the glorious days of the Great Crusade.’ With that, the Primarch began to leave the command sanctum.
‘Where will you be, father?’ asked Dalmor.
Vulkan thought for a moment before answering the Commander’s question. ‘I will be with He’stan in my private sanctum. He and I still have much to talk about.’
Thanks to his superhuman constitution, Adrastos was rarely out of breath, if ever, but this was definitely one of those times when he was. Smoke and ash filled the air, making it nearly impossible to breathe as he stood in the dilapidated ruins of the vast manufactorum. Around him, his battle-brothers helped each other recover from the furious battle they had just fought against a horde of renegade Astartes, the Carcharadons. The Corvians had taken little damage, since the enemy had numbered far less than them, but both sides had been equally matched in their savagery.
Adrastos muttered an oath of appeasement to his power armour’s machine spirit as he knelt besides one of his dying battle-brothers, Sergeant Samer, a Raven Guard like himself. The Hawk Lord Apothecary assigned to his strike force, Romio, shook his head at his captain, indicating that Samer was beyond his arts to save. Adrastos nodded faintly and looked at his sergeant.
‘You fought honourably, brother,’ he said, not without a little anguish. There were few enough of the Corvians left alive after ten thousand years of bitter fighting, and the Raven Guard themselves numbered fewer than ever, barely more than three squads’ worth. Samer’s loss was a hard blow.
Samer tried to speak but only blood poured out of his mouth. He had taken four bolter rounds straight to the chest during the fire-fight and an enemy warrior had hacked off his right arm at the shoulder with a lucky blow. His wounds were too severe, his genetically-enhanced body struggling to repair the damage but failing miserably. The Space Marine was dead within seconds.
Romio hung his head in sorrow and began to extract the warrior’s gene-seed, the reductor drill mounted on the apothecary’s left-arm punching through the sergeant’s chest plate and neck in quick succession.
Adrastos got up and looked around for his second-in-command, Sergeant Decra. He spotted the Storm Hawk Space Marine across the chamber, wiping his chainsword of the blood of the enemies he had killed in the fire-fight. A pair of long, fresh scars bisected the left side of his face, giving him a savage look, more so than was usual even for him.
Decra was one of the best close combat fighters among the Corvians, due in no small amount to the ancient traditions of his nearly extinct chapter, and his wounds indicated how close the battle against the feral Carcharadons had been. He was also of the old stock, recruited from Zephyr itself forty years ago during a dangerous recruitment mission undertaken by Astinon’s predecessor, Tomar Rao. Adrastos walked over to him, passing some of his other battle-brothers who were piling up the dead in one corner of the room.
‘Brother-Sergeant, any luck getting through to Commander Astinon or the other strike teams?’ he asked as he approached.
The Storm Hawk looked up at his Captain, his blood-shot scars twitching as he spoke in his heavy, rumbling voice. ‘We have had no further word from the others, Captain. The comm-net signals simply cannot penetrate the thick adamantium walls and the ferrocrete that is part of the manufactorum’s structure. We will need to find some sort of a booster relay or a hardwired vox-caster unit to be able to communicate with the Commander or the other Captains.’
Adrastos cursed under his breath at the Sergeant’s response. Without the ability to contact the other strike teams, it would be that much harder to coordinate their progress through the manufactora. Or know if the primary objective had been accomplished in case any of the other strike teams found the prize the Corvians had come to Medan for. He made a quick decision about what to do next.
‘Sergeant, assemble the strike-team within two minutes to proceed further into the manufactorum and send out a squad to recon ahead of us. I do not want any more surprises.’
‘As ordered, First Captain,’ acknowledged Decra and began issuing commands to the remaining fifty-four warriors of Adrastos’ strike-team.
Astinon ducked to avoid a murderous sweep of the renegade lord’s lightning claws, rolling backwards into a crouch just beyond the reach of the power weapons. He glanced up at the Carcharadon who snarled as the Commander once again evaded his murderous swings.
The Corvian general’s armour was pitted and scarred with damage from the renegade’s blows that he had not been able to avoid. His left pauldron, with its gilded chapter iconography, was a ruin and a significant chunk of his breastplate was also missing. Quick as he was, against the Terminator’s relentless onslaught he was quickly tiring.
In contrast, the Carcharadon’s armour was still unblemished by anything more than light scorch marks, its potent defences keeping him safe from any attack. He had somehow managed to block the Stormblade again and again with his twin lightning claws and Astinon was unable to find any weaknesses in his opponent’s defence.
He glanced briefly to his right to see Manov skewer a Carcharadon on the adamantium-reinforced chainsword the champion preferred for close combat, the whirring jagged teeth of the weapon turning the renegade’s innards to a bloody, chewed pulp. Manov nodded at his commander and engaged another Carcharadon, this one wielding a morning-star of unknown design.
Around them, the swirling combat between their battle-brothers continued, with neither side able to gain any advantage over the other. The berserker fury of the Carcharadon renegades was matched by the cold discipline and training of the Corvians. More Astartes had died on both sides and the Corvians were still outnumbered three to one, but it was essentially a stalemate. Both groups of warriors drew heart from the presence of their duelling war-leaders and the outcome of this tunnel-fight rested on them.
In his anger, Astinon spat at the Carcharadon. ‘You are utter filth, a hideous mockery of all the nobility of an Adeptus Astartes and the ideals of the Great Raven. You are undeserving of the legacy that you bear and I shall remind you of that when I take your head, you honourless, misbegotten insect!’
The renegade stopped in mid-swing at Astinon’s outburst, his surprise at the Corvian general’s words evident in his posture. Astinon drew in a ragged breath, for this gave him a moment’s respite to recover from the renegade’s relentless attacks. His chest heaved with the exertion of the close-fought duel. Around the two leaders, their battle-brothers also ceased their fight and looked on, anticipating something momentous about to happen.
Without ceremony, the Carcharadon removed his own helmet, revealing a surprisingly handsome and sharply-visaged patrician face, though scarred heavily. Astinon stared in shock, for he had assumed that these were mutated and degenerate warriors, but that was obviously not the case with the towering Terminator-armoured warrior before him.
The Carcharadon’s expression twisted into a feral snarl as looked at Astinon with murder in his eyes, which were a disconcerting all-black, fathomless and pitiless as the void between the stars. ‘And what would you know of honour, Angel of Retribution?’ he asked and the rich, calm voice that addressed him shocked Astinon once again. What in the name of the True Emperor was going on here, he thought. I was told to expect barbaric savages, not warriors who speak as if they are standing in an Imperial Royal Court!
Noticing Astinon’s confusion, the Carcharadon laughed a grim, toothy smile. ‘I am not what you expected is it, Angel of Retribution? You have not seen the half of it I am sure.’ He motioned to his remaining warriors and as one they all removed their helmets, revealing their faces to the Corvians.
Each and every one of them was unmarked and unblemished by mutation, their features as noble as that of Astinon and his own warriors; even the colour of their skin, whether Corvian or Carcharadon was the same waxen, deathly white. The only difference between the two forces was the armour they all wore, the grey of the Carcharadons against the multitude of colours among the Corvians.
‘Who are you?’ Astinon whispered with a rising dread in his voice. He was completely off-balanced by the normalcy of the renegades before him.
The Carcharadons all laughed at the question, as if the Corvian general was stupid to have asked it at all. The lone Terminator joined in his brethren’s mocking laughter.
‘Who am I? Ten thousand years must have dulled the memory of you and your forebears, proud son of Corax, if you cannot recognize me,’ he said. ‘Do you at least recognize these markings on my armour?’
It was only now that Astinon could make out the faint lettering on the armour. It was an old sub-dialect of High Gothic, old even before the fall of Imperium of Man. As he deciphered the armorial wording, he gasped in horror.
‘It cannot be!’ he cried out. ‘No Astartes can survive this long, it is impossible!’
‘Nothing is ever impossible, son of Corax,’ the Carcharadon lord responded. ‘I am living proof of the longevity of our kind. Your expression tells me that you know full well who I am, what I am.’
‘You lie,’ said Astinon hotly. ‘You wear the armour of another, undoubtedly like many others before you. You cannot be the same hero whose name was once spoken of with respect and admiration among all the chapters of the Adeptus Astartes ages ago, before the Imperium fell for a second time. It is impossible. The victor of Endymion cannot have fallen so far from those glorious days.’
‘Do not convince yourself that all you have been led to believe is right, brother,’ snarled the Carcharadon. ‘I am he whose name is scrimshawed on this armour; the very same victor of Endymion that you believe was one of the greatest heroes of the Imperium of old.’
‘No it cannot be,’ Astinon managed to say, his voice hoarse. ‘You cannot be Tyberos of the Red Wake!’
‘Ave Imperator Verimus,’ whispered the Carcharadon through rows of sharp ivory teeth.
‘To battle, brothers! For Corax and the New Imperium!’ cried Astinon as he leaped out from the front access hatch of his Thunderhawk, followed swiftly by twenty-nine of his warriors, their jump-packs roaring in the quiet of Medan’s morning sky. The Space Marines soon left their gunship behind, which used its boosters to head back out into space where the warships assigned to the task force held position.
At some distance from Astinon and his three squads, other Thunderhawks also unleashed their deadly superhuman cargo and two hundred Corvians descended together through the white clouds on wings of fire, headed straight for the sprawling manufactora complex below them. Their helmets protected them from any air drag during their descent and they busied themselves with identifying landmarks and calculating flight trajectories to their intended destination.
+Approaching drop zone, execute maximum dispersal pattern, you know your targets, Corvians.+ voxed the Commander of the Sons of Corax to his strike force. On his helmet display, a series of green runes flashed by in quick succession, indicating the acknowledgement of the orders by his warriors.
The descending Corvians broke up into four separate groups as they approached the manufactora complex from above, each group spreading out in a loose formation over its respective drop zone. No cannon-fire reached out to halt their controlled, speeding descent, which was to be expected. The bombardment cannons of the fleet’s two battle-barges had relentlessly pummelled the target for several minutes prior to the assault.
They all landed as one in the slagged and crumbling ruins of the manufactora, the impact shock of their fiery descent kicking up dust and rubble which spattered harmlessly off their new-forged armour. Around them, kilometre-thick, black-coloured spires rose towards the heavens, each linked together by gigantic causeways and ramps wide enough to accommodate three Land Raiders at once.
The pungent smell of rusting metal and rotting bio-waste permeated the air around them, so potent that it caused Astinon’s helmet purifiers to work overtime in order to filter them out. The stench was just about strong enough to make any lesser man gag but he ignored it and accessed the primary command channel on the strike force’s secure comm-net.
+Secure your drop sites, brothers, and standby for further instructions.+ Astinon’s twin bolt-pistols were already in his hands as he issued his orders, tracking back and forth over the surrounding ruins as he searched for any sign of the hostile forces that he had been told infested the long-abandoned complex like vermin. His own squads spread out away from him like the spokes of a wheel, each battle-brother covering the other as they patiently awaited contact with the enemy.
+Move out to your targets and remain in vox-contact. Secondary mission is a go for search and destroy. Once inside, I want confirmation of the primary objective.+ A chorus of affirmatives on the command channel confirmed his terse orders as his battle-brothers proceeded to their own individual objectives, scattered throughout the manufactora.
A buzz in his helmet’s audio feed alerted Astinon to an incoming message from the Montisgarre, and he blink-clicked a glowing yellow rune on his display to accept the audio link.
‘Force Commander,’ said Kostar, his senior-most bridge officer aboard the battle-barge, the man was assigned to him by Faress Teluga himself and was said to be one of the Admiral’s protégés. ‘The venerable vessel’s sensors are picking up multiple life-signs in the ruins. Clusters of them seem to be converging on the locations of the strike teams under Captains Adrastos, Dheimmel and Salsax.’
‘Identification?’ asked Astinon, still tracking his bolt pistols across the ruins as his kill-team secured their landing site.
‘Indeterminable, Force Commander,’ answered Kostar. ‘We are unable to get clear sensor readings, most likely due to the massive quantities of metallic substances within the complex.’
‘Keep me informed of any further developments, Astinon out.’
Astinon cut the link to his flagship and accessed a secondary command channel on the comm-net that connected him with his fellow officers. +You heard Lieutenant Kostar, brothers. Be wary, the beast has awoken.+
+My strike force is already establishing a defence perimeter at Zone Kappa, Astinon, we will be ready.+ said Adrastos, all matter-of-fact and focused on the task at hand. +I am about to send four squads through the north-east entrance.+
+Let them come, Force Commander, it has been far too long since I had a good fight on my hands.+ joked Salsax as usual, the Raptor’s excitement about the prospect of a close combat evident in his voice.
As was customary for him, Dheimmel remained silent, acknowledging Astinon’s warning with only a brief click on the comm-net. Astinon paid his Second Captain’s reticence no heed, the Reviler’s taciturn attitude something he had gotten used to long ago. Instead, he turned to his champion.
‘Manov, status of the kill-team?’ he asked, his voice sounding flat and mechanical through his helmet’s speakers.
‘We are ready to proceed into the complex, Force Commander,’ came back the answer.
Astinon nodded slightly in return, and blink-clicked a faint yellow rune on his helmet display to re-establish a two-way audio link with his flagship. ‘Mr. Kostar, we are proceeding into the complex proper, be advised we may not be able to communicate with you further until we exit back.’
Within minutes of Astinon and his own squads entering the complex through the south-west entrance, the comm-net came alive with curses, oaths and warnings. The enemy had finally attacked them, and in overwhelming numbers. The Commander brought his small kill-team to a halt with a silent gesture and accessed the secondary command channel.
+Adrastos, Salsax, Dheimmel, report!’ Astinon yelled into the comm-net.
+This is Salsax from the north-west end of the complex, Force Commander.+ The Raptor Captain’s relish was clear, even on the comm-net. +We are under heavy attack by some two hundred of the enemy. We should be able to hold on.+
+This… Adrastos… light resistance… holding… north-east… will… vox-contact…+ Background noise filtered through the Raven Guard’s end of the command channel, and Astinon could barely hear him or make sense of what his First Captain was telling him.
+Enemy warband numbering approximately one hundred encountered, proceeding to eliminate all targets.+ Dheimmel’s terse report convinced Astinon that his fellow officer and his warriors could hold their own.
Ultimately, it was his own small kill-team that he had to worry about. They had not yet run into the enemy themselves and he knew that his warriors were itching for a just fight that would somehow vindicate their years of unyielding resolve through the last few decades. He was about to order his team to move forwards when he was halted once again.
‘Contacts ahead!’ yelled Leven, the auspex in his hands suddenly emitting a constant beep, beep as it warned of a horde of approaching enemies. ‘The auspex is having trouble estimating the size of the enemy, Force Commander, they are clustered too tightly. It is currently approximating three hundred enemy combatants.’
‘Those are good odds, brother,’ Manov laughed in the grim, oppressing darkness of the tunnels they were in.
‘Hold position,’ ordered Astinon, his voice as calm and confident as his champion remembered from the old days. ‘Leven, your squad will be the rearguard. Rosto, your squad will be in the vanguard with me. Manov, hold the centre. For the honour of Corax!’
‘We bring retribution to death to our foe!’ intoned his warriors in unison and split off to their assigned positions in the narrow and cramped tunnel.
Within seconds, the enemy horde was upon them and the tunnel rang with the whirring of wildly-swung chainswords and the staccato reports of inaccurate bolter-fire. The steel-grey armour of the enemy was a patchwork collection of armour plates covered with dried, crusty blood all over.
Astinon could pick out no distinctive markings on their armour but he still easily recognized who they were from the mission briefs given to him by Vulkan when he and his warriors had been assigned this mission. These charging berserkers were his lost cousins who had long ago given up even the semblance of their humanity, succumbing to their base, primal urges in a galaxy full of damnation and heresy.
They were long-lost sons of Corax; as much a part of the genetic lineage of the Great Raven as he was, and he had been charged with their absolution and redemption. But those would have to wait until he was finished here. Right now, he had twenty-nine battle-brothers to protect from the insane killing rages of his cousins.
‘Weapons free, fire at will!’ he cried and his warriors opened fire at the onrushing renegades, whose bestial screams of hate and murder matched tone for tone and pitch for pitch by the Corvians’ battle-cries of revenge and judgement.
Effortlessly contracting his surroundings to just his outstretched arm and the bolt-pistol held in his black gauntlet, Astinon took careful aim at one of the incoming enemy warriors, his helmet display providing him with a wealth of targeting data. He muttered a single word as he fired, the bolt pistol slightly bucking in his hands as he was still unused to the new weapon.
The shot hit the renegade square in his forehead and he dropped like a puppet with its strings cut, only to be trampled underneath the booted feet of dozens more of its kind as they charged in at Astinon and his vanguard.
Rosto’s squad was not equipped with any heavy weapons but they still answered the incoming hail of bolter-fire in kind with their own combi-plasmas and bolt pistols. Streaks of heated plasma and bolt shells whizzed past Astinon at the renegades, killing some outright while others barely faltered in their advance. In return, two of Rosto’s squad went down, concentrated fire leaving big gaping holes in their plastrons and helmets.
Astinon had been prepared to fight toe-to-toe against Space Marines who could exhibit a modicum of rational thought and a grasp of simple infantry tactics. He wasn’t prepared for the berserkers that were charging at his squads, heedless of their own safety. Most of them were without their helmets, their faces twisted into a rictus of varying bestial expressions. If they had not been wearing power armour, he would have barely recognized them as Space Marines even with their height.
One of the renegades charged straight at Astinon who was forced to quickly holster his pistols and unsheathe the Stormblade, which was bathed in silver lightning once he switched on the sword’s power field. The unhelmeted Carcharadon brought his chain-axe down in an overhead swing at his head but Astinon blocked it with the sharp, thin edge of his sword, its energy field cutting through the haft of the chain-axe with as much ease as a bolter shell through unarmoured skin.
Ignoring the Carcharadon’s inarticulate cries of hate as the renegade came back at him with his fists, Astinon simply grabbed the renegade around his gorget with one hand and ran him through the breastplate, and the primary heart inside. As the sword emerged out through the warrior’s back and into his backpack, the Force Commander drew it back before it could rupture the armour’s power generator. The renegade’s challenge died on his lips as blood poured out in a fountain from the fatal wound; he was dead before he hit the tunnel floor.
There was no respite for Astinon however as he became surrounded on all sides by more Carcharadons, their brutal weapon-swings chipping off his armour-plates piece by piece. He stepped back towards Sergeant Rosto’s squad and sub-vocalized an order on the comm-net.
+Kasten, burn them with the purifying fire of your flamer!+
+In His name, Force Commander+ Kasten hefted his battle-worn flamer and re-igniting the pilot, hosed down the enemy with flames almost hot enough to cook them inside their armour. Or so Kasten and Astinon had thought.
The Carcharadons came on, heedless of the intense fire that burned the very air around them. Their self-contained armour, so like that of the Corvians, kept most of them safe and alive. They resembled angels walking on a carpet of flames as they came at the kill-team. Angels of Death, thought Astinon, what an ironic situation we find ourselves in.
The Commander was busy duelling against a Carcharadon renegade with his power sword when his opponent was roughly shoved to the side, his place taken by a hulking form in Terminator armour bearing a pair of crackling lightning claws. The shoved warrior snarled at the newcomer but before he could say anything, the Terminator swept his gauntlets down in a blinding, murderous arc which shredded the renegade’s head to pieces. Astinon slowly backed away from the giant, the Stormblade held en garde before him.
‘Fall back! We cannot hold this tunnel. Retreat to the entrance chamber,’ he ordered in a voice still as calm and confident as before.
‘Fall back to the entrance!’ Manov echoed his Commander’s order, directing the remaining twenty-one Corvians as they retreated from the cramped tunnel, nearly made claustrophobic by the advancing Terminator.
More renegades followed their leader, their thirst for the Corvians’ blood evident in their fell battle-cries. They had abandoned their ranged weapons and all brandished close combat weapons of one type or another which, although looking aged and ill-repaired, appeared to be in frequent use. The Terminator roared a shrill battle-cry that brought Astinon to a halt as he retreated with his warriors. He turned to look back at the warlord and was horrified at what he saw.
The Terminator held one of Astinon’s battle-brothers in his oversized gauntlets. The Knight of the Raven had been gored through his stomach by the renegade’s lightning claws, which were dripping steadily with the Corvian’s blood. The Carcharadon lord put the warrior down on the ground; none too gently, and with the shocked Astinon still watching, brought his enormous sabatons down on the hapless Space Marine’s head.
A sharp, meaty crunch announced the death of Brother Lykasz, formerly of the Knights of the Raven chapter and Astinon’s battle-brother for the last eighteen years.
‘Rise, Lord Commander Dras, and stand as the proud warrior and general you are,’ said the crystal clear, perfectly-accented voice. ‘No warrior, no matter how high or low his station, shall ever have to kneel before me.’
Hesitantly, Astinon and his Space Marines got up from their kneeling positions, standing tall before their new master. His aura, if it could be called that, held their eyes captive and they were unable to look away from his face.
‘Once I was the lord of an entire legion of warriors, eighty thousand Astartes at the height of its power,’ began Vulkan, addressing the entire chamber. ‘I was an unwilling general in those times, commanding the finest and most brutal armies in the history of our race. The last twenty thousand years have changed much. I came back from my exile to find my father’s realm torn asunder, more potently than even my most twisted brothers could have ever planned.’ The Primarch paced in front of his throne like a caged lion, as if struggling to break free of invisible chains that held him down.
Astinon could hear the pain in Vulkan’s heartfelt speech, aware of how monstrous the Great Betrayal had been for the demi-god. He could even see the faint shadow of the anguish in the Primarch’s eyes, eyes that silently and forcefully promised vengeance for millennia of suffering.
‘And my heart soared to find that my sons and the sons of my brothers still survive, that they still hold true to ideals that the rest of the galaxy has forgotten. They, like you, have sacrificed much over the centuries and the millennia since the Fall of Terra. Many of them were forced to become savages while others kept their nobility of purpose and duty alive. And it is they who will carry aloft the torch of our new future.’ Vulkan now stopped and pointed at the Corvians.
‘These warriors, the sons of Corax, Corvians as they call themselves, are one of the many that have joined our new beginning, like the Fire Beasts and the Dorn Revenants. There will be others as well, mark my words, my friends. Lord Commander Dras?’
‘Yes, my lord,’ croaked Astinon.
‘Dalmor has told me much about you and your battle-brothers. And in my exile I have heard much of your predecessors as well. Corax was my closest brother in the Golden Days, together with Ferrus Gorgon and Rogal Dorn. I would be honoured to accept your service until the time when Corax himself calls upon you.’
Tears came unbidden to Astinon’s eyes at the Primarch’s words, and he managed to nod, answering for his brothers as well. Vulkan smiled at him once more and sat back down in his throne.
‘Very well, then. Astinon Dras of the former Angels of Retribution chapter, I hereby give you command of the Nineteenth Commandery, the Sons of Corax. Your warriors shall ever be your own. Sergeant Tel’maon, take the Captain of the Nineteenth and his officers to their quarters.’
‘Yes, my liege,’ Tel’maon saluted, forming the Aquila over his chest.
‘Captain Dras,’ Vulkan called out to the former general as he began to leave. ‘Remember always that what we do, we do in the name of the True Emperor of Mankind, not the bloated, bastardized mockery that is the Star-Father.’
‘Yes, my lord,’ Astinon bowed and left with Tel’maon.
‘We are still in the Primarch’s tower, are we not, Brother Tel’maon?’ asked Adrastos as they all walked towards the quarters assigned to the Corvian officers.
‘Indeed, Captain. The Emerald Tower lies at the heart of Hades Hive, just as Armageddon is the heart of the New Imperium. It serves as the Primarch’s base of operations, his sanctum, his refuge, and his court.’
Tel’maon and a squad of his Firedrakes led them via power-lifts down to the deep sub-levels of the tower, where access was carefully restricted and entire squads of Astartes in emerald power armour stood as sentries. Astinon could see that their armour was the same as that of his escorts, recently forged and shining with its own newness. In comparison, the armour worn by him and his warriors was a patchwork of armour-plates salvaged and repaired times beyond count and in the early stages of becoming obsolete in their functionality.
The Firedrake Sergeant stopped as he came to stand before a large, armoured door of Adamantium and strengthened ceramite. Astinon looked on as Tel’maon typed in an access code and the door opened, soundlessly and with such a grace that he could not have imagined of Imperial technology. Curious as to what the chamber beyond could hold, the Corvians followed the Salamanders inside.
As Tel’maon switched on the chamber’s bio-lumes, bathing the entire chamber in a soft golden light, the Corvians were stunned at the incredible bounty that lay before them.
The walls of the entire chamber were covered in various weapon racks and storage boxes full of a multitude of varying ammunitions. There were chainswords, chain-axes, power swords, thunder hammers, lightning claws, power-axes, boltguns, plasma pistols, heavy bolters, multi-meltas and more besides, resting snugly in their casings and giving off the sheen of newness that was the norm throughout Hades Hive. The chamber was a repository of technological wonders.
Grinning, Tel’maon watched their shocked expressions with some amusement. ‘This is to be your armoury, Captain Dras. It will fall under the jurisdiction of the Nineteenth Commandery and serfs and artificers will be provided to you in due course.’
‘This is extraordinary,’ whispered Manov, finding his voice.
‘The entire chamber is to be given over to us?’ asked an incredulous Adrastos.
‘These are wonders beyond measure,’ remarked Astinon in an awed tone.
‘This is not the entirety of the Primarch’s gift to you, lords.’ Tel’maon turned to the wall behind him and activated a control panel next to the light-box. Astinon and the others could hear a soft, whirring noise as six perfectly circular recesses some fifty feet in diameter opened up in the floor of the armoury and a platform arose from within each recess. The Corvians gaped dumbfounded at the new sight before them.
Suits of newly-forged, unpainted power armour were stacked neatly together on five of the platforms, thirty on each, their surfaces unblemished and unmarked. On the central platform were ten suits of Terminator armour, finely wrought and unpainted just like their smaller versions.
‘These suits of armour have been forged for you and your warriors, Captain Dras. More will be provided in due time as your Commandery grow in number. I suggest you and your warriors take charge immediately, for if I have read the Primarch right, you will be given a vital mission of great import soon enough. That is how it has been for all the Astartes warbands and mortal soldiers that have so far come to Armageddon. Lord Vulkan does not delay in making appropriate use of the forces under his command.’
‘Understood brother,’ said Astinon and turned to Captains Adrastos and Dheimmel and his champion Manov. ‘Assemble the rest of the Corvians. Distribute the suits of power armour and the weapons equally between all. I will make a decision later about the suits of Terminator armour.’
Taking a final look at the chamber and its contents, Astinon continued. ‘The night is darkest just before the dawn, my brothers. We have begun to step out of the darkness of our conflicted past and it looks like the sun has now begun to rise on our destiny as well, a new dawn full of hope and promise heralds our future.’
‘Lord Admiral Teluga is an unsubtle man,’ remarked Astinon as he took in the display on his hololith screen and smiled at his champion. ‘He sends two battleships with seven escorts to escort our pitiful fleet to Armageddon. Our reputation precedes us, brother.’
‘He is arrogant and foolish in addition,’ said Manov with distaste. ‘We come at the request of Captain Dalmor and should be given an honour guard, not an armed escort.’
‘Given our past dealings with the Steel Legion, the Admiral’s actions are perhaps, appropriate,’ Astinon’s light tone conveyed to his champion all he needed to know about his general’s feelings on the matter. Not that they were any secret to him.
‘At least they have granted us passage through to the planet without any fuss,’ was the dry comment from Captain Adrastos, who stood next to the Lord Commander’s throne in full armour.
‘Quite true, my friend and brother. The chaplains always told of the glorious days of the past when the Primarchs walked among the chapters and kept us united together in common purpose.’ Astinon’s expression turned thoughtful as he continued. ‘Never for a moment did I ever imagine that I would have the chance to see one in the flesh myself. I recall old Svydro’s sermons well where he told of how they had all either disappeared or died. He always said they would return one day, that it was foretold in the sealed records of the Reclusiam only the chaplains could read.’
‘And here we are today,’ said Adrastos, finishing Astinon’s thought. ‘Our surviving records tell of how the Great Raven counted Lord Vulkan as one of his closest friends and confidants. By serving Vulkan we serve Corax, brother. I dare keep alive a glimmer of hope that perhaps he can tell us of Lord Corax and his whereabouts since his disappearance. The Raven Guard sought long for the Primarch in the old days but all we found was dust.’
‘Don’t be so bitter Adrastos,’ said the Corvian general and then turned to his champion. ‘Have the fleet proceed to Armageddon. We go to finally meet the Regent of the New Imperium.’
With the authority of the new master of the Salamanders freely given, the Corvian fleet was finally escorted to Armageddon high orbit and assigned anchor stations. Admiral Teluga’s thoroughness however insured that the fleet was not stationed above any vital facilities and that the defence fleet’s escorts were also stationed nearby in case of any unpleasantness that might erupt. The Corvians did not object to the arrangement and gladly accepted any limitations imposed upon them. They had come to meet with and submit to the authority of the ruler of the New Imperium and give fealty to him.
Once their ships were in orbit, the Corvians made for the surface however they could. The Astartes used their few precious Thunderhawks and captured landers while their fellow human soldiers used aging shuttles for transport. Some of them would have used teleporters if the ancient systems had still worked, and they all knew painfully well how close to the breaking point they had come with little in the way of supplies remaining to them. Teluga’s comparison of the Corvians to mercenaries was far closer to the truth than even many of the Corvians themselves would willingly acknowledge.
The descending Corvian transports were escorted to one of the spaceports in Hades Hive by several flights of atmospheric fighters along a strict route that avoided passing close to any vital military locations. Astinon and his fellow officers were surprised to notice that the aircraft were all newly-manufactured, their paint still fresh and their surfaces still gleaming. This however was just one of the many surprises awaiting them.
As Astinon and his officers stepped off the ramps of their Thunderhawks, the unmistakable smells and sounds of a hive being rebuilt after a war assailed them and they looked around in wonder. The actinic tang and the grinding, reverberating sounds of promethium-powered drills were all around them. The smell of liquid rockcrete being laid on the streets and thoroughfares below rose up to greet them as sweating labourers worked under the harsh guidance of their overseers. In the distance, they could hear and see the engine backwash of gunships as they patrolled the hive sky. And in the midst of it all, they could hear the cries of traders hawking their wares as hivers bickered with them over prices, soldiers talking idly as they manned their watch-posts, people praying to the Emperor and singing the praises of the Regent.
The last time any of them had set foot on the planet, Hades Hive had been a scene of rampant destruction and neglect, a shadow of its former glory from before the Second Strife. It had changed since then however, and they could see the hand of a master at work. As they looked out from the landing pad towards the rest of the hive, they saw miles-high towers and masses of bulky hab-blocks stretch out to the ends of the horizon.
Twice Hades Hive had been destroyed utterly and twice it had been rebuilt, and now it looked like it had surpassed even its own splendour from the Age of the Imperium. The Corvians were still looking around in wonder when they finally spotted their welcoming committee.
Standing across from them was a fifty-strong contingent of Astartes wearing dark emerald armour, the same colour as Captain Dalmor’s when he had come to meet with them aboard the Montisgarre. If Salamanders had been wearing newly-made power armour, Astinon’s party would not have been as startled as they were at that moment, for the Salamanders in front of them all wore Terminator Armour, armour that appeared for all intents and purposes to be fresh from the forges. It was devoid of any battle-scars and the snarling drakes gilded on the warriors’ pauldrons shone as brightly as the Aquilas and winged hammers on their breastplate. The Corvians continued to stare in shock as one of the Terminators stepped forwards and extended his hand to Astinon.
‘Welcome to Armageddon, Lord Commander Dras. We have been sent by Captain Dalmor to escort you to Lord Vulkan’s tower.’ The voice that issued from the vox-grilles of the armour was full of respect and authority in equal measure. Astinon stared at the hulking warrior in front of him and had to tilt his head up to look him in his helmeted eyes.
‘And who are you, warrior?’ he asked, confused and still in shock. ‘Your voice and bearing are familiar to me, yet I cannot recall if I have met you before.’
The warrior’s rich laugh surprised the Corvians once again and they looked at one another in puzzlement. The Salamander gently removed his helmet, revealing his face to the harsh winds of the hive.
‘Tel’maon!’ gasped Manov and moved forwards. ‘It has been years, brother!’
‘Aye, Lakos, it has indeed,’ said the warrior. ‘I believe we have a lot of history to catch up on, but as you can see, I now serve the Primarch himself as one of his elite Firedrakes.’
‘You have indeed risen high in the ranks since we last met, Sergeant Tel’maon,’ Astinon grinned, finally placing the warrior’s name in his memories and shaking his head in wonder.
Tel’maon gave him a salute as he continued. ‘Captain Dalmor and Lord Vulkan await you in the Primarch’s tower, general. The Captain has just arrived from the Promethean Sun in orbit himself and is anxious to meet you.’
‘How far is it to our destination then, Brother Tel’maon?’ asked Adrastos.
The Salamander smiled conspiratorially at the Raven Guard’s question. ‘Tell me Captain, when was the last time you used a teleporter?’
Adrastos was momentarily wrong-footed at the question and looked to Astinon and Manov in confusion before answering. ‘The array aboard the Deliverance has not worked for years, why do you ask?’
‘This is Sergeant Tel’maon, initiate teleport.’ Those were the last words the Corvians heard before their world dissolved into utter blackness.
‘That was unpleasant,’ remarked Astinon as he picked himself up from the floor of the massive teleportarium. The expressions on his brothers’ faces told him they agreed. With the breakdown of their last functioning array nine years ago, the Corvians had become unaccustomed to the feeling of being teleported. This will take some getting used to, he thought to himself.
‘Perhaps a warning next time, Sergeant Tel’maon?’ asked Adrastos. ‘I admit I was quite unprepared for being hurtled through the warp like that.’
The teleportarium, according to Astinon’s estimate, was as large as the Reclusiam aboard the Montisgarre, and that could hold up to fifteen hundred fully armoured Space Marines. Everywhere around them, serfs, Tech-priests and servitors rushed about, performing system checks and other tasks that all looked meaningless to him. A soft, continuous hum invaded his enhanced senses, a sign of the massive teleporter array working at full power.
‘Apologies, captains,’ said the Salamander in a conciliatory voice. ‘But it was quite necessary under the circumstances. The population of the hive still bears some ill-feeling towards all Astartes since the Emperor’s Children and their armies invaded a decade ago. The Steel Legion is loyal to Lord Vulkan and could be trusted to escort you down to the surface but to have you all walk through the hive’s concourses would have been a mistake. I bow down to the Primarch’s wisdom in this.’
‘And when do we get to meet with the Primarch, brother?’ annoyance flickered on Astinon’s face at the endless array of surprises he was being subjected to. ‘It seems that the forges and manufactora of Armageddon are producing a massive quantity of war material, if the aircraft that escorted us and your armour are anything to go by.’
The Firedrake nodded knowingly. ‘Lord Vulkan has always been a smith and a crafter, Lord Commander. Under his leadership several technologies have been recovered and discovered in equal measures. The armies of the New Imperium are growing by the day and they must be supplied of course.’
‘Discovered?’ asked Manov incredulously.
‘There are many things about the New Imperium that will surprise you, brothers. Do try to keep up with the revelations.’ With that Tel’maon made to leave the teleportarium, beckoning to the Corvians to follow him as the rest of the Firedrakes assumed positions around the sons of Corax as the honour guard they were intended.
The audience hall was gripped by an uncomfortable silence as Tel’maon and his Firedrakes led Astinon’s Corvians inside. Every face looked upon the power-armoured warriors, and to Astinon, it appeared that they all judged him and his warriors. The cold, harsh and stern appraising glances cast their way unsettled him as he walked behind Tel’maon, unable to meet the questioning looks. The room was full of all manner of people, from clerks to servants, from Space Marines in a dozen different liveries to mortal soldiers and naval armsmen, from lords of the Armageddon hives to Tech-priests and their servitors.
‘Astinon!’ The Lord Commander looked up to see Dalmor approaching him, his hands spread out to embrace his honour-brother. ‘Welcome to Hades Hive, brother.’
‘Is this some kind of a court of judgement, Dalmor?’ whispered Astinon in an accusing tone.
The Salamander looked confused. ‘No it is not Astinon, you doubt others too much. Come, meet the Primarch.’
Up until then, the Corvian general had not been sure of what to expect from the Primarch. He had given it little thought; his thoughts had been focused elsewhere on finally being granted the redemption and absolution he sought.
But as he looked past Dalmor and Tel’maon to the figure seated on the throne at the far end of the hall, uncontrollable fear took hold of him. Ages ago, when the Space Marines had first been created, it was rumoured that one of the Emperor’s first command to them had been ‘And They Shall Know No Fear’. It was said that all fear had been bred out of them and they were immune to its effects. That was not how Astinon felt at that moment as he and his warriors slowly and consciously approached the throne.
A squad of yet more Terminators stood guard around the throne, their armour more ornate than that of Tel’maon and his Firedrakes. The significance was not lost on the Corvians; these were the Primarch’s own personal guard, elites among even the Firedrakes.
Beyond the tall forms of the Terminators, a towering figure, his armour the most ostentatious and finely-crafted of its kind that the Corvians had ever seen or had even imagined, sat in the throne, which itself was the colour of the deepest emerald. The figure’s gauntleted hands rested on the throne’s arms which were sculpted into the likeness of claws. The throne’s back itself was sculpted in the likeness of a ferocious drake, its jaw framing the head of the armoured warrior.
On his breastplate was a single-headed eagle, so unlike the Aquilas that Astinon and his warriors knew well. More sculpted drake-heads adorned his pauldrons, a rich gold in colour and looking closely Astinon could see finely-detailed script etched on the drake-heads. A cloak of glistening, green drake-scale hung from these shoulders, and the Corvians could hear the faint rustle of armoured plates clashing as the warrior rose.
In his hands, the figure held the largest glaive Astinon had ever seen, its haft as thick as his own arms and its blade wickedly-sharp like the throne’s own sculpted claws. It was a fearsome and impressive sight. With great effort, Astinon raised his eyes from the warrior’s breastplate to his face and his reaction was automatic and uncontrollable.
The forty-three Corvian officers all knelt before the seated figure, their eyes locked with that of his own, their reaction ingrained in their very genes. To look upon a Primarch was to look upon unrestrained perfection and beauty of form, to glimpse a glory that promised much yet could terrify the most strong-hearted. The radiance that emanated from the figure on the throne was compounded with his finely-wrought armour and his glaive.
The figure rose from the throne and addressed the sons of Corax, his face youthful beyond measure yet marked with age, a face filled with infinite nobility. A warm, comforting smile graced the warrior’s patrician features as he addressed the Astartes before him.
‘Welcome proud Sons of Corax, welcome to the heart of the New Imperium,’ said Vulkan, once Lord of Nocturne and Master of the XVIIIth Legiones Astartes, now Imperial Regent.