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The Beheading by Guy Haley (Book Review)

The final stretch of The Beast Arises has been less than satisfactory. The crowning achievement that was meant to be Rob Sanders’ Shadows of Ullanor unfortunately left me rather disillusioned and wary of where the story might go next. I had been expecting some truly huge moments in the novel, but at best we got a regurgitation of the previous two novels, with little to recommend in-between. However, with the next book in the series, the whole thing comes to a close and thankfully, the train’s changed for better tracks.

Guy Haley’s The Beheading tells a story that has been a long time coming since we meet Drakan Vangorich in the first novel of the series, I Am Slaughter. Vangorich’s reign of terror is known of for a long time and we finally see him follow-up on his threats and his well-laid plans that he’s been putting together since that first appearance in Dan Abnett’s novel. However, the really cool thing is that there is far more to the novel than just that as Guy tells a parallel story that is also about hope and defiance against adversity, which in the end makes this one of the best novels of the series.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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Shadow of Ullanor by Rob Sanders (Book Review)

Ever since the destructive events of Ardamantua, it has not been an easy time for the Imperium. The loss of the Imperial Fists as a Chapter. The loss of hundreds of worlds to the Ork threat. The loss of sanity and belief. The inaction and impotence of the High Lords. One defeat after another until warriors of sagas stepped once more into the breach, awakening legends and battling greater legends still. The Beast Arises has been very enjoyable to read, given the fact that I finished most of the books in the series within a day of starting them. That changed with this next book however.

Rob Sanders, who gave us the fairly-decent Predator, Prey earlier in the series, seems to have lost his unique touch with the eleventh and penultimate novel, Shadows of Ullanor. Picking up some time after the tragic events of The Last Son of Dorn, he tells a story of how the Imperium bounces back and takes the fight to the Orks again. But it is just not the same as the previous novels. The narrative is repetitive and the characters fail to elicit any positive emotion. There are wild inconsistencies in the various plots and sub-plots. To be honest, after the incredible high of the previous novels, this one is a deep, deep low.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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The Last Son of Dorn by David Guymer (Book Review)

The Beast Arises has been steadfastly moving towards an epic conclusion for the last several books. Everything changed for the Imperials once the long-lost Primarch Vulkan was rediscovered, bringing true hope for the first time in the ongoing losing war against the Orks. The lord of the Salamanders led a massive army drawn from across the Segmentum Solar against the Ork world of Ullanor, once the site of the Imperium’s greatest triumph, now reborn as the hellish homeworld of the Beast and its new Ork armies. With The Last Son of Dorn, the end truly begins now.

This is the tenth novel in the series, and perhaps the most poignant so far. Armed with new weapons and arms, both physical and otherwise, Lord Commander Koorland leads a second massed attack against Ullanor and the Beast, hoping to end the threat once and for all. The novel, more than any of the others before, is a true homage to the character and culture of the Imperial Fists, even though only one of their number now remains, and David Guymer writes perhaps the best novel of his that I’ve read so far.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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Watchers In Death by David Annandale (Book Review)

Off the bat, you may not realize it, but a lot of what has been happening in The Beast Arises is all a precursor to the status quo we know from the M41 era. There have already been rumblings about the division of specialities in the Inquisition and we also know that there are some High Lords among the High Twelve who do not have that seat by those familiar times. So in many ways, this series is charting out the history of the Imperium and no book does that more than Watchers In Death by David Annandale, his third book in the series.

As its name implies, Watchers In Death is all about how Lord Commander Koorland forms the Deathwatch Kill-Teams that are so famous and ubiquitous in M41 lore. It all begins with a need to fight the Orks on a different axis, brains over brawn essentially, and I absolutely loved how it all turned out. It made for some stirring reading, especially since it was all used to strike back against the Orks with immediate effect. And the Deathwatch aren’t the only ones to have made their mark here, for we also see the return of some of the most badass Imperial warriors from the Great Crusade era.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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The Beast Must Die by Gav Thorpe (Book Review)

Legends beget legends. But they all have to begin somewhere. In David Annandale’s The Hunt For Vulkan, we saw the beginnings of the latest legend-in-making when Inquisitor Veritus sent Chapter Master Koorland to a planet of legend to find a living legend in the form of the Primarch Vulkan. In the process, the novel itself became a legendary story about honour, oaths, duty and service. As I’ve said so many times in reviews of the previous novels, The Hunt For Vulkan laid the foundation of what was to follow.

And follow Gav Thorpe’s The Beast Must Die did. With the return of Vulkan to the highest levels of the Imperium, the stage has been set for an explosive confrontation with the Orks and their new warlord, the Beast. Legend must now fight legend at a location that is itself legendary. As Vulkan often says in this novel, there is a certain pattern to events, and those who are attuned to these patterns stand to benefit the most. Following on from his last outing in the series with The Emperor Expects, Gav delivers yet another masterpiece that does justice to the characters involved.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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The Hunt For Vulkan by David Annandale (Book Review)

When politics gets in the middle of prosecuting a war effectively, then that usually spells doom for the good guys. As we’ve seen in The Beast Arises over the last six novels, this has been a central theme, something that has let the resurgent Ork threat run wildly rampant across the Imperium. And those who must fight this untenable war have grown ever more disillusioned of those who run the Imperial government, their incompetence a direct threat to the safety and security of the Imperium. But now that’s about to change.

In David Annandale’s The Hunt For Vulkan, we see one of the biggest turning-points in the conflict. The Last Wall is sent on a mission to locate the last known living Primarch, Vulkan of the Salamanders, and bring him back to the larger Imperial fold so that he can lead the resistance against the Orks. The how and the why of it is wrapped in multiple mysteries, and that’s part of what made this novel so damn good. As before with The Last Wall, David really captures the essence and motivations of his characters, telling one hell of a story here.

Note: Some major spoilers from the previous novels and this novel are mentioned here.

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Horus Heresy: The Unremembered Empire by Dan Abnett (Book/Audio Review)

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.

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Horus Heresy: Vulkan Lives by Nick Kyme (Book Review)

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.

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12 Days of Best SFF Characters of 2013: Day #7

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.

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Nocturne by Nick Kyme (Advance Review)

‘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.

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Sons of Corax Chapter 6

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.

Sons of Corax Chapter 4

‘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.’