The last audiobook that I remember listening to from Black Library is Dan Abnett’s Prospero Burns, one of the two books alongside Graham McNeill’s A Thousand Sons that told the story of the fall of Prospero, of Magnus, and the Thousand Sons Legion. I’d tried to read the book before many times but always gave up, the only such Horus Heresy novel I’ve struggled with so much to date. The audiobook was a better experience but the story was still too problematic for me. Fortunately, Dan’s next big Heresy novel, Know No Fear easily proved to be a much better experience in all respects and is one of my favourite Heresy novels to date. So there’s some balance.
Dan’s latest Heresy novel The Unremembered Empire is my first Heresy audiobook since spring 2012 that I have experienced primarily in the audio format. I listened to the novel back in September, supplementing it with reading the ebook on and off, and I liked the dual experience. The Unremembered Empire is one of the better novels of the series, but it is also one of the more weaker ones since it is a branching novel and it attempts to do too much with too many characters. Taken in the context of the series at large, it is a pretty decent novel, but taken on its own merits, if fails to satisfy as much as it should. There’s just way too much going on in the novel and that works against it. Had it been trimmed of a few plotlines, it would have been one of the best novels of the series.
Note: This review contains spoilers of varying degrees.
In the last two years, Black Library has gone all-out with its range of novellas, whether we talk about the Horus Heresy series or the more “contemporary” Warhammer 40,000 setting. In fact, I’d say that there are too many novellas being released, at the expense of new novels, and I stand by that statement, looking at their released schedule for the last few months. But then, there are novellas like Promethean Sun, Iron Warrior and Knights of the Imperium Master which make it all really worth it. And when the publisher goes for a combo of novellas/novels, that’s when I really sit up and pay attention.
Forge Master is part of a trilogy of novellas about the Imperium’s campaign against the Overfiend of Octavius, the Warlord of one of the greatest and most powerful Ork empires in the galaxy. Told from the perspective of different Space Marine chapters, each novella covers a different part of the campaign, in this case, the Salamanders. The novella covers a small strike team of the Salamanders as they board an Ork flagship looking for a prisoner and David Annandale’s writing here is some of the best I’ve seen from him. In fact, it may be his best work that I’ve read to date.
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.
For this new seasonal list of the best SFF characters I’ve read this year, my seventh pick is Vulkan, Primarch of the Salamanders Legion of Space Marines, from Nick Kyme’s Horus Heresy novella Promethean Sun, which gave us the first in-depth look into the character after a truncated series of cameos elsewhere in the series. As a fan of the Salamanders, this was the kind of story that I’d wanted for a long time but was unable to get it on release since it was offered as an expensive limited-edition product and was out of my range. But a re-release was offered this year and was a quick pick-up for me.
Hit the break to see why I picked this character.
I last did something like this in July for the six months from January 1st all the way to June 30th. This list is for July 1st and all the way through to December 30th (the last day doesn’t count!). As I mentioned at the end of that list, this isn’t going to be regurgitation of my “Reading Awards” page, but something more varied. The list takes into account everything I’ve read in the last six months.
Let’s see what makes the cut and which comes close then!
Guy Haley is one of the authors I discovered this year, when I picked up an eARC of his second Richards and Klein Investigations novel, Omega Point, and then requested the first novel, Reality 36, as well. I liked both novels and was hungry for more, which introduced me to his novel Champion of Mars which ties a bit into his novels above and was just plain fantastic. Then I heard that he was going to be writing for Black Library and that he had already been commissioned for two novels! In all honesty, Guy is definitely one of my favourite authors period. Strike and Fade is the first of his works for Black Library that I’ve had an opportunity to go through, and it is just mind-blowing.
In the last installment of this series, it was Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Gav Thorpe, Rob Sanders and John French. This time it is Matthew Farrer, Nick Kyme and Chris Wraight. As it turns out, this past weekend we’ve also had the first ever Black Library Weekender, a two-day weekend event at which there was a ton of information released about the Heresy: more audios, more novels, more anthologies, a new author joining the ranks, and more time-limited edition novellas among other things. So instead of what I thought I’d cover for the fourth installment, It’ll be how the new stuff announced matches up with what I had envisioned. But anyway, here’s today’s writeup for you all.
‘I’ll beat the fire out of you,’ said the scarred warrior, wearing a renegade’s armour, his bottom lip curled down in a snarl. ‘Ignean.’
– Nocturne, a Tome of Fire novel by Nick Kyme
Note: I would like to point out that this is an advanced review since the novel itself will not be available to the general public until November this year, and was available only to the people who were at Games Day UK a few days ago.
So at last, the Tome of Fire trilogy has come to an end. It’s been a roller-coaster ride, right from the beginning with the short story Fires of War in the Heroes of the Space Marines anthology, through the audio drama Fireborn and now to Nocturne, the final novel in the trilogy itself. With Nick Kyme stepping to the fore, the Salamanders have really gone from strength to strength and we now have, in his truly’s own words, over 400,000 words of BL canon published about them. That is a great achievement for a chapter which, it would seem, only yesterday was one of the most underdeveloped chapters in all of GW canon, barring their Index Astartes article in the olden days.
‘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.
‘Is the fleet ready Sergeant Manov?’ queried Astinon from his throne. The general of the Corvians had polished and repaired his armour himself for the occasion, with his dedication and hard work reflected in the newly painted markings the battle-plate was adorned with.
‘The Silamia is moving into position with the rest of the fleet now, Lord Commander,’ answered Manov. The champion also wore his full armour to mark the turning of events that had started with the arrival of Collector Idel aboard the battle-barge two weeks prior. The heraldry of his former chapter was proudly displayed on the left shoulder pad, a golden raven clutching a black spear.
Gathered on the bridge was the full senior cadre of the Corvians, captains and sergeants of all the disparate warbands that had once belonged to chapters descended from the Great Raven’s own, the Raven Guard. Like Astinon and Manov, they wore the full livery and heraldry that were their legacies, handed down from battle-brother to battle-brother for twenty thousand years. The drab green of the Raptors clashed with the purple of the Hawk Lords, the black of the Raven Guard with the silver of the Knights of the Raven, the grey of the Revilers with the red of the Imperial Talons, and others besides.
They all stood shoulder to shoulder as equals and brothers, facing the Astartes who had given them some of their greatest victories, who had shed blood with them and mourned lost brothers with them at the victory feasts. In his orange and black armour, a long cloak of deep yellow, and the Golden Aquila on his breastplate, Astinon cut an impressive figure compared to his brothers. His power sword Stormblade, a relic of his chapter from the Age of the Imperium, rested bared across his knees and his twin, black-gilded bolt pistols were secured in their holsters. With Manov’s reply, he looked across at the seventeen armoured Space Marines who stood around him in a rough semi-circle.
‘Brothers, this day marks a monumental chapter in the history of the Corvians,’ he began, his voice steady and filled with an infinite calm that he could feel deep inside him. At last he had been able to let go of his burdens of the last twelve years and had changed from his brooding self into the confident and decisive leader he had once been.
‘We stand on the brink of an era, with the confidence and experience of ages honed in countless battles, ready to take the next step into the unknown,’ he continued and spread his hands around to take in the entire bridge. The Corvian officers followed the motion of his hands and looked out into the void where their vessels danced soundlessly into cohesion. In their eyes Astinon could see a fire, a drive to achieve the heights of greatness their forebears would have been proud to acknowledge as worthy of their heritage. He drew strength from their belief in themselves.
‘We all know that our rag-tag fleet of warships and merchantmen makes ready to go to Armageddon, a world that is two months distant through the swirling eddies of the warp. We all know that we go to present ourselves to the judgement of one of the true children of the Emperor, the demi-gods of our past, a Primarch. Vulkan, Lord of Nocturne of old, and now Lord of the true Imperium of Man.’
He paused for a moment to look again at his brothers and pointed to each in turn. ‘He will judge us for our sins, for our loss of faith, for our transgressions and we will accept whatever punishment that he sees fit to reward us with.’ His voice became sadder now as he went on. ‘We have fallen far, my fellow Corvians. Two weeks ago we were scraping by for our continued existence in this faithless galaxy. But today, today we stand ready to begin our lives anew.’
Now his voice hardened, strong as steel. ‘Should the Lord Vulkan accept our oaths of allegiance and loyalty, we shall be as steadfast in his service as the Salamanders themselves. We are the truest of all the sons of Kiavahr, sons of the Great Raven, Corax, one and all. Victorus aut Mortis!’ he cried.
‘Victorus aut Mortis!’ they all thundered in response, even the serfs who served as the bridge crew joining in.
‘Leave for your ships now, my brothers,’ he commanded. ‘From this moment on the reins of our destinies are in our own hands. Let none dispute our legacies or challenge our collective might.’
The bridge of the battleship Hand of the Emperor was alive with activity as naval ratings ran back and forth between various terminals and consoles, checking and rechecking the vessel’s systems as they feverishly prepared reports for their commanding officer. Admiral Teluga observed the frenetic activity from his command perch at the head of the bridge like a bird of prey observing its target before attacking. A hushed and frantic looking conversation between two of his senior bridge officers near the vox-pit drew his cold, hunting gaze.
‘Lieutenants Lammer and Dequade, approach the throne,’ he commanded in his typical bridge voice, a high-pitched imperious tone which brooked no insubordination.
Their faces visibly paling, the two officers hesitantly approached Teluga’s perch, a vox-print clutched in Dequade’s shaking hands.
‘Do not make me ask what in the name of the Regent is wrong, you blundering buffoons,’ he snapped at them. ‘What does that vox-print say?’
‘Afleethasjustexitedwarpspacenearthemonitoringstationmaanheimlordadmiral,’ said Lammer in a rush of words, completely intimidated by the Admiral.
Snarling, Teluga turned to Sergeant-at-arms Veol, the ranking bridge security officer. ‘Sergeant, throw this man in the brig, he is charged with incompetence and gross negligence of duty.’ Veol offered a smart salute to Teluga and then dragged a whimpering Lammer away from the bridge. Before the lieutenant could get hysterical, the beefy sergeant gave him a short tap on the head, knocking him out. Teluga watched the spectacle with some distaste then turned back to Lieutenant Dequade.
‘Well Lieutenant, what do you have to say?’
His face nearly white with shock, Dequade nevertheless managed to make his report in the appropriate manner. ‘A fleet of ships exited warp space near Monitoring Station Mannheim II approximately thirty minutes ago, Lord Admiral. It is comprised of 7 warships of varying size, two transports and as best as we can estimate, five merchantmen.’
The Admiral’s only expression was a raised left eyebrow as he considered Dequade’s report.
‘Identification?’ he asked tersely.
‘The fleet claims to be the entire force of the Corvians, a warband of renegade Space Marines and unprofessional soldiers, sir. The Steel Legion has had some dealings with them in the past,’ Dequade pointed out calmly, now slightly recovered from Teluga’s initial outburst.
‘Corvians,’ spat Teluga and continued with contempt in his voice. ‘They are nothing more than a band of petty mercenaries. Have they stated their intentions?’
‘They claim that they have come to parley with the Lord Regent, Admiral. They also claim that they have authority to pass through the blockade from Captain Dalmor himself!’ responded an incredulous Dequade.
Too fast for Dequade or anyone else to have noticed, a calculating look flitted like a shadow through Teluga’s eyes at the mention of the senior-most officer of the First Commandery, the Salamanders. Before he could say anything however, a serf from the vox-pit hurried over to him.
‘Apologies, Lord Admiral. But we are being hailed by the Promethean Sun. Lord Captain Dalmor himself wishes to speak with you.’
Cursing under his breath at the unfortunate interruption, Teluga tapped a series of buttons on the arms of his command throne.
‘What seems to be the problem, Captain Dalmor?’ he asked, his voice betraying no emotion.
‘Why has the Corvian fleet not been given safe passage to Armageddon, Lord Admiral?’ the Salamander’s clear voice came across as a blunt hammer to Teluga’s ears. ‘Escort them with a full honour guard to the planet; this is an order from the Lord Nocturne himself.’
Cursing once more at Dalmor’s impertinent tone, Teluga forced himself to respond as politely as he could. Space Marines had brought the ruin of the Imperium upon the galaxy and now they were running things once again like in the olden days. Shadows of what they once were, yet seemingly powerful enough for one of them to order him, Admiral of the Armageddon Defense Fleet, around. He would teach the upstart captain a lesson someday, he promised to himself.
‘Very well, Captain. We were just about to clear them through to Armageddon. Dalmor out.’ Teluga cut the connection and looked up to see Dequade still standing nearby.
‘Order the Steel Force and the Legion’s Wrath to escort the Corvians to Armageddon. The Hand of the Emperor is to maintain position here in high orbit.’ He looked through the viewports out at the void and then muttered to himself as Dequade went over to the vox-pit once more. ‘More damned Space Marines, as if the hundreds already flocking to the homeworld were not enough, now we have a full fleet of those bastards coming to play.’
Stunned silence gripped the bridge of the ancient vessel at Collector Idel’s unexpected words and every single gathered warrior, whether a mortal or an Astartes, stared at him with dumbfounded expressions. Lord Commander Astinon could hardly believe his ears. Was this really true?, he wondered. In the utter madness and turmoil that grips this galaxy can this ember of hope really exist?
‘No old friend, it cannot be true,’ he addressed the diminutive man, his shoulders heavy as he sat down on his battered and chipped black-ivory throne, suddenly feeling light-headed and weak. For one such as him, these weaknesses would have once been completely alien, but not in the terrible times that he now found himself in. ‘There is nothing in this galaxy but horror and terror. Utter damnation has wormed its way into its heart and corrupted it to its very core. Nought but oblivion awaits us.’ To the warriors on the bridge, their general’s pain was all too apparent in his tone and inflection.
The eager and youthful Collector shook his head in disapproval. ‘No my friend, it is very much true. I have seen him and the wonders he has wrought with my own eyes. There is a fire within him that compels all around him to seek out the best in themselves. His words drive them to heights of unimaginable greatness! If only you could see what I have seen brother,’ he mused, his mind still unable let go of the visions he had seen on that blasted world.
Astinon’s stunned expression turned to one of contempt and hate. ‘You are lying, Idel. You tell me some fable, thinking that you can dupe me with such grand falsities, but I will not suffer that indignity. I once called you brother and friend, but no more. I see now how deep your ambition to take my place as the Master of the Corvians goes. But has doomed you, traitor. I denounce you!’ The Lord Commander turned to his champion, Sergeant Manov, and pointed at Idel. ‘Seize this traitor, brother, and throw him in the brig. I will see to him later.’
Manov stood helpless next to Astinon’s throne, caught between his loyalty to his commander and his friendship to the Collector. For his part, Idel was as dumbfounded at Astinon’s order as the latter had been at his words only a few moments ago. Rage took hold of Astinon as his order went unheeded and he got up.
‘Sergeant Manov!’ he thundered. ‘You will arrest this traitor and put him in the brig, now!’
Before the Sergeant could respond, a voice full of authority and purpose challenged Astinon. ‘There will be no hands laid on this man, Lord Commander Astinon Dras.’
The furious general turned towards the direction of the voice and was struck speechless for a second time in less than an hour. Stepping onto the bridge was a tall figure, a figure he had never expected to see again, not since the last time they had met on the blood-drenched fields of Gida Prime. In full battle-plate of polished dark emerald, the helmeted warrior’s presence had a distinctive effect on the tense atmosphere of the bridge. Many of the Corvians recognized the armour and its distinctive markings, markings which seemed to have become even more complex and ostentatious since he had last laid eyes on it, as if the wearer of the armour had recently been raised high in rank.
Astinon gazed at the new arrival in complete shock and awe, his senses unable to accept the evidence of his own eyes. One by one, the Corvians on the bridge couldn’t help but kneel before the new arrival; such was the magnificence that radiated from him. A surprised and awestruck Astinon collapsed back on his throne. In a life as chaotic and turbulent as his own, the endless parade of changes was too much even for him.
‘You… you are… you are alive,’ he croaked. ‘But that is impossible! I saw you fall on Gida Prime!’
In a fluid motion and with apparent grace, the warrior removed his helmet, exposing his face to the Corvian officers in front of him. With cropped hair, patrician features, a confident bearing and three gold studs, he was the image of martial perfection as only a warrior of the Adeptus Astartes could be. He walked up to Astinon’s throne and shook the Lord Commander’s gauntleted hands in a warrior’s grip, wrist to wrist.
‘I survived, brother. The drug-crazed Kazan captured me as spoils of war and I was their prisoner for nigh twelve years.’ The warrior’s voice was just as Astinon remembered, strong, clear and, in contrast to his own, full of purpose. His world contracted to encompass just him and the green-armoured warrior in front of him, his fellow Corvians and Idel forgotten for the moment.
‘Twelve years? It has been only a mere twelve years?’ he whispered. ‘The galaxy has gone from one hell to another since I thought you lost, brother.’
‘The past does not matter anymore, Astinon, but what does is that I have returned. Seven years, my oldest friend, seven years I have spent in a holy crusade, bringing hope, truth and justice to a corrupted galaxy. And I bring you the most wondrous news brother, one to uplift even your sorrow.’
‘Hope? Truth? Justice?’ Astinon laughed maniacally. ‘Such concepts are meaningless in these times Sian’me, my friend. Meaningless I tell you, for the Emperor’s light has -’
Sian’me, once a sergeant of the Salamanders chapter of the Adeptus Astartes, raised his hand to stop Astinon in mid-sentence. The Lord Commander only looked confused at the interruption.
‘I am no longer Sian’me, Astinon,’ said the warrior gently. ‘I am reborn, and in my rebirth I have a new name. A name bestowed upon me by my new lord. I am now Dalmor, Captain of the Salamanders Commandery, the Lord Nocturne’s Own.’
Astinon’s world shattered at those words, words which wormed their way into his thoughts. Rebirth. New lord. Lord Nocturne’s Own. Thoughts of lost glory, of nobility, of sacrifice, of duty, of purpose came unbidden to him. The dream-haze that had for so long clouded his mind suddenly disappeared in an instant. And with it gone, came clarity, a clarity he had lost all those years ago.
Comprehension flooded his mind, a mind bred for war, for service, for loyalty. His shrunken world expanded and suddenly he became aware of his battle-brothers near him, of the throne he sat upon. He realized where he was and looked to his champion.
In his eyes Manov saw all the pain and guilt his general had carried with him for the last twelve years disappear in a flash. In his poise, he saw the return of unyielding confidence, the surety of purpose. He nodded in approval at Dalmor, who continued to look at his friend.
‘He has returned, Astinon, well and truly returned!’ exclaimed the Salamander, his tone conveying all the emotion he could not express with any action. A sense of wonder filled him, and all could see it, could feel it. ‘Armageddon has been purged in blood and fire, the filth of the Emperor’s Children and their dupes scoured clean from its surface. The Master of Nocturne, the true child of the Emperor has returned to guide us to new beginnings. To unite all the disparate and warring factions of humanity and restore the true ideals of the Imperium, bringing the Emperor’s light to all the corners of this damned galaxy!’
Lord Commander Astinon Dras, general of the Corvians, glanced at his old friend, a friend he had thought long gone, and whom he had mourned in his grief for twelve long years, twelve years of self-chastisement and self-torture. To everyone around him, Astinon appeared remarkably changed from the defeated man whom he had been just a few moments prior, and they saw their old commander return in his bearing.
‘I need to see him myself Dalmor,’ he addressed the Salamander. ‘I must ask forgiveness for my sins, sins that I have committed against the Emperor and my own lord.’
‘Indeed, my brother,’ Dalmor smiled at his friend’s words. ‘He himself has asked to meet with you on Armageddon, the capital of his new Imperium. It is why I accompanied Collector Idel,’ he said, pointing at the scion of a long line of those who had once called themselves Rogue Traders.
Astinon looked at his hands, hands that hadn’t wielded a weapon in two years, and bunched them into fists, smashing them down on the arms of his throne. The sound reverberated across the entire bridge of the ancient vessel, the venerable battle-barge Montisgarre, once the fortress-monastery of the infamous Angels of Retribution.
‘I am done hiding,’ he spoke, with absolute conviction in his voice. ‘I am done running away from the bastard dogs that once were as dust beneath my ancestors’ feet. I once had honour and purpose. I was once loyal,’ he whispered.
The Corvians gathered closer and knelt together in fealty before him, acknowledging his authority as their Lord Commander. Dalmor stood where he was, full of pride at the warrior who stood before him, one who had been a broken shell of himself for the last twelve years.
‘We are the Corvians, the truest of all the sons of Kiavahr,’ he continued. ‘We once stood as a bulwark against all the enemies of mankind, from within and without, whether they be traitors most foul or aliens too horrible. And we shall be so once again. Once we were known as the Raven Guard, Raptors, Black Guard, Revilers, Angels of Retribution, Imperial Talons, Knights of the Raven, and by dozens of other names.’ No one interrupted and all listened raptly to his rousing words.
‘In those dark days, we were as islands to each other, like scattered sticks of wood. That is why the Imperium fell for we failed it utterly and completely. We were once the Angels of Death, His own vengeance that would strike all those who would oppose us, but we weren’t united.’ Astinon made eye contact with every single Corvian, even with Dalmor, before continuing.
‘But that changes, now!’ he shouted. ‘We have lived the last ten thousand years as scavengers and opportunists, mercenaries in all but name. This is the Age of Dusk for Mankind and in these terrible times we will rise again from the ashes of our defeat to take our due from this uncaring galaxy.’
Astinon drew his power sword from its scabbard and thrust it high into the air. The silvery-blue surface of the sword caught the light from the bio-lumes aboard the bridge and reflected it to create the illusion that the weapon was radiating an intense, near-blinding light.
‘We will live with honour, fight with honour and die with honour!’ he cried, his voice full of passion in a cause he had long thought he had forsaken but had now rediscovered. ‘FOR THE HONOUR OF CORAX!’
‘WE BRING RETRIBUTION AND DEATH TO OUR FOE!’