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Masters of Destruction
Before they had steel, bronze, even before they had fire, they had weaponized sticks and stones. Wooden clubs, chipped stone knives, stone tipped spears. Some cultures took animal teeth and fixed them to the edge of wooden weapons, these were able to inflict terrible wounds.
As they progressed through various technologies, each was warped to fulfill their most brutal purpose. Chemical knowledge lead to poisons and explosives. Explosives lead to projectile weapons. Flight lead to flying attacks and fighter planes.
It was really no surprise. On their home world, even the sunlight was torturously dangerous to most creatures. It could kill in many ways. Burning exposed body parts, overheating, dehydration, even the radiation that is cast off caused rampant uncontrollable cell mutations if you were exposed for too long.
The plants would take the sunlight, and use it to make terrible toxins. Animals developed poison and venoms. Everything was trying to kill everything else. Given their homeworld it was no surprise they turned everything into a weapon.
And humans learned from those around them. Learning about poisons and venoms, toxics and more. They even managed to weaponize light for themselves. Lasers, they're called. Concentrated, coherent beams of light, capable of burning through a ship's hull in moments.
Their vessels were mobile weapons platforms, capable of engaging with any fighting vessel in the galaxy. Even their software was weaponized. It could infiltrate enemy datanets, exfiltrate data, and then reduce the enemy's network to slag.
Still, for all their destructive prowess, they had a delicate touch, when they wanted. Poison and medicine, they insisted was a matter of dosage. Explosives could be used to create massive changes to the planet's surface, or for mining. Lasers were useful tools for various purposes. Even knives were refined to the point that they were used for surgery, saving lives.
For all their destructive potential, and history of battlefield innovations, there were just as many stories of humans developing vaccines, antivenins, and treatments. Developing life saving surgery, groundbreaking treatments, therapies and procedures to combat all manner of ailments and injuries.
No other races had developed such terrible weapons, and no other species had hammered those weapons into such life saving tools. That was what really scared me about humans. They weren't afraid to make something like an atomic bomb, and even when they did, they would twist that massive destructive force into the force behind a power source that serviced a hundred thousands of homes.
No other species in the galaxy harnessed and mastered destruction, and so eloquently used to to create.
[Book Excerpt| DUTY UNTO DEATH] The Adeptus Custodes vs Tyranids
The flash of golden light blazed for one perfect moment upon the burning, broken surface of Loqe II; a fleeting blessing, a passing instant of grace. The warriors who strode from it did not look back, unbothered by their eldritch transit. Instead they formed a loose circle around the suspensor casket. Shield Captain Tamerlain laid one hand upon it, auramite against auramite.
‘It is safe then?’ Darnax asked. Tamerlain simply nodded.
‘All survived transit intact. We–’ He stopped and looked skyward. As one the warriors, brothers all, looked up. A new sun graced the heavens in a burst of atomic fire, as a primary drive detonated somewhere far above. A moment later, it was followed by a flurry of smaller explosions. Like a stellar cradle, failing. ‘That was the Terra Nostra and her escorts,’ Tamerlain said. ‘The fleets will rally swiftly and then be upon us.’
‘Then we shall hold them back,’ Calith stated. ‘You were wise to abandon the vessel. While primordial, this world will provide a more nuanced battleground. One cannot fortify every last arterial in the body of a ship, but here we may sculpt the battlefield to our will. In His name.’
As the Palace is the Imperium, so the Imperium is the Palace. Tamerlain remembered the words that Trajann Valoris had imparted. No matter where duty leads you, you are ever upon the walls. Unto death.
‘Unto death,’ Tamerlain said. Each warrior raised their fist to their breastplate, and echoed him.
They advanced across the basalt plains of the death world, past the solidified lava flows of aeons past, and across the burning magma rivers of the present. It was a world in turmoil, wracked by its own inner tumult, even as war descended upon it – trailing burning biomatter through the heavens.
Few in number, they moved over the ashen drifts, the pyroclastic afterbirth clinging to their gleaming armour. They were only six, but there was no doubt that they would be more than a match for any number of alien foes. Each of them, Wardens all, had served mortal lifetimes in the Emperor’s name. Together they had millennia of experience, fighting the most important war in human history – the battle to ensure His continuation. Tamerlain was the oldest of them, the most senior of their delegation, and so the one to bear the title of shield-captain. This was his prosecution to direct.
Above them lightning scored the sky, agitated by the volcanic eruptions and stirred by the atmospheric violation above. The wind picked up, casting dust and particulate stone about them. Their pace quickened as the world began to scream and convulse.
The clouds were disrupted, breaking apart with inconstant motion as the sudden deluge emerged from the fire and ash. Tendrils flailed in the atmosphere, pushing the mycetic spores onwards in a flurry of flagellating movement. They impacted the lowlands in a trickle at first, before becoming a tide. The lurid flare of bio-acid discharge cut through the gloom as the spores detonated, flaps of skin peeling free, and the newborn chorus of atrocity echoed from below.
The warriors of the Adeptus Custodes knew their foe was coming, knew that they were the focus of an enmity vaster than worlds, more immense than entire star systems. The psychic resonances of the hive mind would have detected their immaterial transit. Whether it understood what they were, what they represented, or the cargo they carried did not matter.
What mattered was that it hungered, and hated, and knew that they were there. The fleets above hurled their spite upon the barren sphere, swathing it in a mockery of life; a riot of hideous permutations that the natural world could never have birthed.
The Wardens did not speak as they turned axe and spear to the task before them. Powered blades hissed as they passed through the great black veins of basalt and obsidian, hewing them like the dead trees of a petrified forest. They hit the drifts with a muted thump, softer still beneath the birth screams and impact yowls of the enemy beasts. One by one the Wardens heaved the vast slabs of rock up, one atop the other.
‘A fine bulwark,’ Natreus said, nodding at the rising wall of stone. His voice was a terse vox-click, suddenly in Tamerlain’s ear.
‘It will suffice,’ he answered. ‘With time any fortress can be raised and defended.’
‘Just as time tears them all down. All but one.’ Calith spoke the words as he moved between his shield-brothers, lifting another spar of black rock effortlessly. ‘They gather?’ He dropped his burden upon the wall before him and gestured out across the plains.
‘They gather,’ Tamerlain said. ‘They will swarm us with a living tide of blades, thinking none may outlast them. When the greater beasts come, they will expect to pick over our bones and take what we defend.’ He shook his head, the crimson plume shifting in the rising, burning gale. ‘As so many before them, they will be mistaken.’
They gathered amidst the sweltering heat of the world and the building howl of the foe – six warriors, each bearing their weapons with a surety that spoke not of arrogance or vainglory, but a professional aptitude in excess of other mortals. Spear point and axe blade crackled with power fields of near-perfect brilliance. They were personal relic-weapons, their mechanisms arcane wonders in this fallen age.
Shield-Captain Tamerlain stepped forward, gazing out beyond their modest ramparts. Behind him Calith and Natreus stood alongside Osran, Varamach and Darnax. Each was a warrior-savant in their own right. Their names were long, winding through their armour – as stolid and potent as their oaths to the Emperor. The firelight caught the edges of their auramite plate until every eagle seemed in flight, and every bolt of lightning seemed as vital as those teeming in the loaded thunderheads above.
Tamerlain lifted his axe and slammed its gilded ferrule against the stone. Behind him there was the barest whisper of powered plate as his comrades readied, stepping forward in perfect unison; guardian spears primed, underslung bolters ready to fire.
‘We are the wall. His wall,’ Tamerlain said. There was a scream, inhuman and terrible, a single alien howl from a million throats.
The storm broke.
They came in a tide, like the rush of magma from the broken crust. Clawed feet barely touched the ground as they clattered and leapt, practically skimming the ash in great bounds. They screeched and chittered incessantly, a cacophony of the inhuman. Their talons skittered off the hot stone, kicking up clouds of debris as they bounded onwards with no regard for their own safety. The wave of bodies heaved up, and thousands of eyes saw their prey with a single all-consuming will.
The Custodians stood impassive, judging and assessing the horde as it did the same to them. They were few against multitudes, the finite against the infinite. They did not hesitate, did not cower in the face of mere odds. Each warrior raised their weapon, the gleaming points of spears lifting alongside Tamerlain’s heavy axe blade. Their bolters waited. The warriors were patient. Their very beings were engineered for the long vigil, the endless defence of mankind’s true master. To wait, to watch, to make ready, was nothing.
They waited for the precise moment in which to act, the optimal instant as the tyranids entered range. They knew it, intimately and innately. They opened fire in effortless precision. In perfect unity.
Their wrath was unleashed, the shots striking the first lines of onrushing attackers. The ’gaunts burst under the onslaught, detonating as mass-reactive shots ignited within their bodies. Heads exploded in clouds of ichor and chitin, and yet the enemy pushed on. Countless more aliens trampled their dead to paste beneath their hooves, throwing themselves into the arc of the guns. They burst asunder, but the remaining beasts leapt from the carrion heaps and clawed their way up and into the reach of the Custodians’ spears.
Even as the tyranids bounded up and across the piles of their own dead, as their talons gouged at the walls the Custodians had erected, they were struck down. Alien bodies were hewn apart as they crossed into the storm of blades. The edges burned sun-bright, refracting off their auramite plate even as the blades’ edges turned flesh to ash. Tamerlain bisected a screeching maw with his axe, firing as it cleaved the thing’s curved skull apart.
We are the last wall, the final line between mankind and annihilation, he thought as he fired and slashed. He was a blur of economical motion, each strike directed with absolute purpose. We are the bulwark of lightning and gold that has always stood between Him and those who would do Him harm. We heed His words, and guard His works. We carry hope to the stars, the promise of the future. We cannot allow it to be sullied, devoured or perverted.
‘In His name!’ he cried. The words were taken up by his comrades, each locked in their own bubble of carnage. Blade strokes tore the xenos apart. Bolter shells ripped through beetle-backed exoskeletons and threw scything limbs from their joints. Tamerlain would have laughed, if not for his absolute focus. There was no room for joy in this killing, no time for the petty distractions of lesser men. There was only the moment – the complete immersion in killing.
The columns of stone and solidified magma, along with the runnels of molten rock that still flowed, had helped to direct the beasts, to drive them in set directions and so succumb to the killing arcs of the warriors. Calith impaled a leaping warrior strain and pulled it to the ground. He drove his auramite boot into its carapace and shook it off, like the vermin it was. Varamach and Osran stood shoulder to shoulder, their shots still precise despite the overwhelming numbers.
Entire broods committed themselves to the lava, screeching as they died in droves. The first to die tested the edge of the pools, an entire generation sacrificed to the flames. The next hurled themselves forward, finding range as they sought to encircle the Custodians. Most hit the molten slag with a sizzle and a pop of burning carapace. Others were blasted from the air with exacting bolter rounds from the guardian spears. Slowly the rush of attackers ebbed, falling back like chastened curs. Behind the animal hunger of their eyes, there was greater scrutiny. Evaluation by a mind vaster than worlds.
Some might have thought such a consciousness a god, a new entrant into the galaxy’s wracked and fitful pantheons. The warriors of the Adeptus Custodes gave such notions no credence.
Gods. Mortals. Intelligences. Vessels. All could die. All could be slain.
‘They will come again,’ Tamerlain said. The others simply nodded. ‘We have the cover of the plumes for the moment, but they will adapt. When next they come it will be with might to match their numbers. Every death is an instruction for the mind which guides them. Each death is a lesson.’
‘As we have fought, and died, and learned these millennia,’ Osran said. ‘We stood on the rad-plains of Terra when they were yet unmastered. We walked in His shadow, as the galaxy was brought to heel. We saw the Traitors repelled, though at ruinous cost. We delivered His judgement as the Reign of Blood raged.’ He paused, as though the memory itself were toxic. ‘We kept our vigil and held the Palace against every threat conceivable. We prepared for every eventuality – be it xenos, oathbreaker or the horrors of Old Night come anew. Our order has always been there. As we are here now.’
‘Neither of us lived through those times, Osran. Old though we are, we have only their legacy and their wisdom.’
‘And that is enough, shield-captain,’ Osran said. ‘What we have been tasked with would have been impossible for others. Even before the ship was waylaid, it was daunting. We have marched forth into the darkness, bearing His light. We are exemplars. There is something to be said for such a duty.’
‘For only in death does duty end,’ Tamerlain said, speaking the First Maxim of their order. Since the days when the Ten Thousand had been the Legio Custodes, they had held to it. ‘If we die here, then there is no better end. No greater service. The work we have carried from Sol will invigorate countless souls. It may be the key to turning the tide, even in this forsaken half of the Imperium.’
They gathered again, checking that arms and armour held true. None had yet fallen. There were not even any injuries. Tamerlain looked at his fellows critically, as though assessing where weakness might be found. He found nothing. These warriors were paragons of their craft, as he was. Examples of the most exacting and comprehensive genetic manipulation of which humanity was still capable.
‘We must be ready,’ Tamerlain said. ‘They will not idle long. We…’ He paused. A low rumble built about them, the earth trembling with sudden palsy. The lava pits leapt and bubbled, agitated by geologic processes vaster than any of them. The mountains quaked and the skies blackened with roiling cloud. Static lightning danced amidst the rearing eruption, till the heavens were obscured by some ancient typhonic storm, like the imaginings of the hells of Old Earth.
On the plains, the cry went up again. The screaming of the alien did not sound like pain or defeat or frustration.
It sounded, somehow, like victory.
The next wave came in the dead of night, lit only by the inconstant fires of the volcanic eruptions.
As the hive fleet’s bloated craft gathered in closer around Loqe II, so their gravity began to act upon the planet. The tremors had been ceaseless. The mountains behind them continued to spit fire, and rocks as large as battle tanks hammered into the slopes before them. Pyroclastic flows of superheated debris had rolled down the mountainsides, coating them and their surroundings in a pall of ash. The days had drawn out, and the sky had become so thick with smoke that the passage of time was marked only by fluctuations in the intensity of the darkness.
Each warrior stood still, a statue in the driving gale. They held their weapons tight, ready at a moment’s notice for battle to once again be joined. They did not speak. There was nothing to be said. Only the waiting, the weathering of the onrushing storm – both of fire and of flesh.
The first of the beasts sought to undo them with lies.
It lunged through the smoke, suddenly visible and screeching. Chameleonic cells flared and died in a rush of chemical apoptosis. Pheromones bled from it in a torrent as its tendril-filled maw drooled acidic saliva. Osran turned, blocking the lictor’s strike with the blade of his spear. Its spine-ridged limbs slammed against the powered edge, chitin smoking as it lashed out again. A claw skittered across the side of his helm, and Osran fell back, firing at it as the ash swirled about it.
He struck nothing but air.
Chittering rose from the shadows and the smog, as the darkness beyond changed and grew strange. Shapes that seemed to defy mortal logic resolved, spiteful and barbed in a way that the uncultured might think daemonic. Osran tightened his grip on his weapon, as lightning danced from the tormented skies and illuminated the host of abominations that the void had vomited forth like bile.
Warrior-forms hurled themselves forward as parasite-armaments spasmed and spat projectiles with whipping flagella, or fang-mawed beetles. They sent up puffs of ash and debris upon impact. One scraped across the auramite plate of his shoulder guard, but could not cling to it. Osran fell back, and the Custodians closed ranks. For a moment they were a barricade of gold and crimson before the horde. A final line between madness and civilisation.
They opened fire as one.
Bolt rounds found their mark easily, for there was no lack of targets. The alien warriors screamed and fired even as they were scythed down. Bone blades clattered against the hasty stone defences, either in ineffectual attack or to lever themselves up. Powerful haunches flexed and the attackers sprang, weapons raised and firing, slashing, spearing down towards them.
Tamerlain drew back, and his axe came round like a threshing blade – reaping its tally of roaring alien bodies. Heads flew in a shower of bitter ichor, bodies came apart in a welter of hissing acidic blood. The powered blade smoked with burning flesh, star-hot from ceaseless use. At his side his fellow Wardens fought – each an army unto themselves. There had been days, dark days, where a single Custodian could have brought a city, a culture, a world, to heel. Those days were lost now, to time and the wrath of hateful gods.
Before a force such as this, none of this mattered. The xenos were soulless, mindless, unending. Tamerlain and the others were legends set against puppets. Even the greatest of blades could only cut the strings.
Lashes uncoiled, their fanged ends scraping over oath-carved armour. Tamerlain gritted his teeth, spinning his axe round and bisecting the whips. He squeezed the trigger, and the tyranid warrior was near atomised by the point-blank detonations. It staggered back, headless, before it dropped to the burning dunes.
The onslaught was relentless. Entire waves of the enemy fired even as they died, cut down only to be replaced with another phalanx of horror. They were like the gears of a vast machine, progressing through its set motions. Each one interchangeable, replaceable, expendable. Tamerlain had seen the milling pilgrim masses of Terra, and thought them a near infinite faceless multitude. Those numbers paled before the tyranids.
‘Hold!’ he called. They drew together at his word, side by side. A wall of thrust and parry. Talons and boneblades broke and cracked against their powered blades. Claws and whips tried to gain purchase on the staves of the spears, but the swift and efficient movements of the warriors broke their fleeting holds. They gave no ground, defending their narrow bulwark of stone and rubble as though it were the Eternity Gate itself.
You are ever upon the walls.
The thought came again, as sure as a physical blow. As certain as the enemy before them. He embraced it. He did not know doubt, or fear, and so he leant in to certainty. To the surety of duty.
A convergence of shots snapped across the maelstrom of battle, impacting against Darnax’s armour. The projectiles burst, erupting into a mass of biting, barbed tendrils. Darnax tried to bring his spear to bear, but his arms were engulfed. He struggled, even as other alien bio-weaponry burst and sizzled against his plate. Ornate inscriptions were obliterated by maliciously directed fire. Eagles and lightning bolts were worn away, seared down. Plasma detonated in bright plumes of fire, and Darnax sank to his knees. He still struggled, breaking his bonds as he did, forcing himself back to his feet. Another lance of burning bio-plasma seared through his helm, and he tumbled back. Through a ruin of melting auramite, Tamerlain could see his lips still moving. His brothers turned in the same moment, cutting their way towards him – hacking through the suffocating vines.
Osran dragged Darnax back, breath ragged over their shared vox. The others stepped forward, Varamach and Calith firing into the throng. More bodies tumbled into the dust, precise holes in their carapaces, the backs of them blown out by percussive detonations. Trails of viscera stained the ground, already smouldering with chemical vitriol. Osran laid Darnax before the golden casket that formed the core of their defence, lifting him so his back lay against it. Gold against gold. He scooped up his spear and laid it reverently across the top of it. He looked to Tamerlain and shook his head. It was a wound, as sure as any physical impact. Centuries upon centuries of experience and service, snuffed out by beasts. No warrior of the Adeptus Custodes should meet such an end, and yet it had come to this.
New thunder rose, and the earth shook. The darkness was filled with sudden and terrible light. The foe took on a hellish look, lit by chthonic fires. The golden-armoured warriors formed a knot about the casket, shielding their fallen brother as they fired into the tumult. The storm rushed down upon them, with flame and whipping winds. The enemy held for a moment, then faltered as they were driven back by the world’s fury.
Above the planet’s agony and the screaming winds, Tamerlain heard the click of bolters running empty. The last of their ammunition was finally spent.
There was a moment of respite; not enough time to truly mourn, but only to prepare for what was to come.
‘He served, as all must. He passes, as all do.’ Tamerlain bowed his head. ‘There can be no greater duty.’
‘He will be remembered,’ Natreus said. ‘He fought to the last. That is all any of us can ask. As so many fought in the war beyond the Throne, in the days before the Siege. As others fell as the Lion’s Gate burned anew.’ Natreus brought his fist against his breastplate with the ringing of auramite. ‘Unto death.’
‘Unto death,’ they said as one.
‘Make ready,’ Tamerlain said. The others looked to him, away from the sombre end of Darnax. ‘The beast has scented blood and it will redouble its efforts.’ He raised his axe, its edge keen and undulled even as its ranged weaponry was silenced. ‘We shall not fail in our duty. We shall not fail Him.’
The parade of days continued, reduced to a contest of arms and the charting of the dead.
Thousands, tens of thousands, fell. Just as one by one, the defenders succumbed.
The tide of enemies rattled on, breaking again and again against their defences and against the spite of the world. The closer they came, by ground and from orbit, the more the planet rebelled. Gravity and tectonics fought their relentless war, just as the glorious few did.
Axe and spear rose and fell in a perpetual motion. They blocked the strikes of claw and bone-wrought blade. They cut projectiles from the air, turning them aside with the gleaming edges of their weapons. Reality contracted, reduced to the long moment of the melee. The immediacy of battle.
Tamerlain swung his axe, feeling his weariness but enduring. He pushed through it, sheened with sweat within his armour. They each fought bound by unity of purpose, just as Unity had bound Terra. They were a reflection of that duty, the sacred oaths which underpinned the Imperium. They fought to uphold them, even as the world died around them in fire and madness.
The swarms of ’gaunts and the warrior broods had given way to greater horrors – carnifex beasts with slabs of armour plating and wrenching claws, or with hideously swollen bio-cannons. Errant shots brought rockslides and landslips down on them, burying lesser creatures in a self-created disaster. Rocks battered against the Custodians’ armour, but it remained inviolate. Despite the scrapes and rents, they held firm.
Calith was the next to die. Great barbs of envenomed bone arced through the air. He carved one of them from the sky, and then another. The third and fourth found their mark. His voice was a low hiss of pain across the vox, as he reached down to snap one and then the other. They broke in his auramite grip as he staggered forward. His spear spun round again, carving apart the tyranid beasts as they sought to encircle him, as though injury was a weakness they could exploit. Alien blood fountained from their wounds as Calith fought. ‘Commend me, shield-captain,’ he slurred. ‘You will hold.’
‘We will hold,’ Tamerlain said. ‘Your name will be remembered. We shall carry it back to Him.’ He pushed forward, ducking under swiping tendrils and driving claws. He moved to stand with Calith, bracing a hand against his armour. Taking his place in the line.
‘Hold!’ he bellowed, and each warrior’s resolve tightened. Each thrust was more measured and determined. They gouged and stabbed and slashed at the enemy raising against their bulwark of glittering defiance. Tamerlain had stepped ahead of Calith as the injured Custodian fell to his knees, wounds weeping slowly. Tamerlain was lit by the hellish light of the mountain and the storm, and the gold of his armour seemed to burn with it. Lesser men, the mortals who cleaved to the Imperial Creed, might have thought him an angel – the Emperor’s wrath made numinous, living. He was not this. None of them were. Even in the days before, great Valdor had not been as such. They were flesh – perhaps the most flawless flesh of which the Imperium was still capable of producing, but still flesh.
Tamerlain’s muscles bunched within his armour as he fought, holding every inch of sullied ground. He did not retreat or step over his fallen comrade. He stood, pushed forward. His blade clattered against chitin, denting and breaking it as he swung again. The siege beast screamed its hate, showering him with hissing saliva as it fell. He drew back his axe and buried it in the thing’s skull.
There was a crackle of pale lightning and Tamerlain turned too slowly to stop its approach. Corposant danced across the exposed lobes of a pulsing brain, swollen beyond reason. It hovered, suspended by its own psychic might. Spines flexed and bristled as it bobbed in the air, rocks around it levitating before being atomised by its wrath. Osran lashed out at it, cutting away jutting cerebral spines in a rush of foul ichor. Its chittering rose to a scream, and reality shuddered with its fury.
Pale, cold fire coiled itself down Osran’s spear. He still slashed and hacked at it, gouging chasms into its quivering flesh and glistening armour while the flames consumed him. It spasmed and every portion of it seemed to clench. As it did, the fire danced across his armour. Osran did not cry out, not when the psychic conflagration burned at the auramite and gnawed at flesh. His precise strikes faltered and grew erratic, before he tumbled back – ashen, and broken. Varamach and Natreus wove in a moment later, catching the zoanthrope between their competing spears. It screamed, ringing with its own agony, before it detonated in an eruption of psychic fire. The earth shook and cracked beneath it, and all the beasts reared back at the sudden synaptic disruption.
Tamerlain grinned savagely within his helm as he watched. The lesser beasts broke, reduced to feral animals. They sniffed the air and keened, turning on their heels as though to flee. It stank of alien blood and sulphurous smoke and the ozone crackle of expended psykana. The three warriors advanced, cutting down the stragglers even as they brayed and chittered in confusion.
A single pod cut through the toxic fumes and the burning sky, hammering into the centre of the plain and the milling confusion of the alien horde. There was an instant realignment, like constellations suddenly clarified in the heavens. The army turned as one, unified by singular purpose once more. The thing which tore itself free from the spore-pod was immense, the pinnacle of genetic mastery and a paragon of inhuman might. The greatest bio-scholars of Terra could not decide whether it was a consciousness in its own right, or an immune response of the hive mind – brought into being when the tide was set against it.
The swarmlord raised its head and bellowed as it rushed forward to meet them.
It closed the distance in what seemed like moments. A blur, the storm given form. Blades scissored down against the Custodians. They blocked, even their movements too slow. Bio-electric fields warred with the power fields of their weapons in a whine of feedback and a shower of sparks. It forced Varamach to his knees, and the great cleaver blade descended, burying itself in the armour of his neck. There was a spasm and a gout of blood, and he had only a moment to drive his spear up and into its flesh before he fell. Another loss, too massive to countenance. Natreus ducked under its guard and slashed across its chest, but the swarmlord brought all four of its blades to bear. It pinned Natreus, blades barely containing him as he struggled, blood coating them in furious smears. The Custodian’s spear fell from his grasp, and the swarmlord cast him to the dust.
Only Tamerlain remained. He broke into a run, swinging his axe as he advanced. The heavy castellan blade impacted against one of the boneswords, chipping it. There was no surprise in its dead eyes, only a snarl of alien hate.
‘This is His domain,’ Tamerlain said, not caring whether or not it could hear or understand. ‘I am His servant, and you shall not end me with my duty yet undone.’ He moved beneath its dance of blades, feeling them scrape against his armour – turned aside by angle, speed and the armour’s inherent strength. It snarled, dripping venom as it stabbed down at him. He dropped to his knees, his hand finding Natreus’ spear. ‘Forgive me,’ he whispered, and drove the unpowered blade up with such force that it cracked the monster’s armoured sternum. It slammed one of its blade limbs into his side, and he brought his axe up again. An arm flew free in a gush of sour fluid, and it batted him aside with the flat of another blade.
They were evenly matched. Opposites. Mirrors. One the pinnacle of human genetic mastery, the other a crescendo of accelerated hyper-evolution. One was golden, the other base.
They fought down the burning slopes, even as the tyranid swarm wove around them in a tightening noose. By-blows obliterated swathes of brood organisms. The swarmlord did not care as it scythed through its own, as it drove Tamerlain back. He fought with every century of his experience behind him. He could feel the names carved into his armour, pressed against his flesh. Each carried a burden.
He moved as fast as he was able, raising his axe to block and parry or to cut and slash. Their melee devolved into a grinding brawl, drawn out and bitter. He tensed as he fought, feeling the dull ache of fatigue. He struck for its thorax, cleaving it open even as it brought two of its blades round.
It pincered him in place. He felt something break in his armour’s systems, his gauntlet clenching in palsy. He closed his eyes and focused. It was more gruelling and more intense than any Blood Game he had run in the service of the Throne, more pressing than any battle of his long years. He felt his fingers close, finally, around the hilt of his misericordia dagger, and pulled it free. He pushed it up and drove it into the thing’s snarling visage. Dissonator spirits engaged with a flare and the blade blazed golden for a glorious instant as it sank through flesh and chitin. The beasts screamed, every last one of them howling in animal agony.
Tamerlain kicked out his leg and drove the dying monster back. Behind him, the world roared again – in sympathetic victory.
As below, so above.
The fleet that swept into the system was a tired and tarnished yellow, not sacred gold. Battle-barges and strike cruisers unleashed their explosive payloads into the heart of the looming alien fleet, or excoriated their void-thickened hides with precise volleys of lance fire.
The hive-ships seemed sluggish, distracted as they turned in their ponderous arcs. Only a few weapon-symbiotes were able to hurl themselves into the void, to die in their final burst of biological imperative. They smeared against active void shields with only the faintest pulse of light and heat.
At the head of the relief fleet was the battle-barge In Glorious Purpose, its slab sides marked with old scars. It drew ahead of the rest of the ships, raking the tyranids with ferocious broadsides as it rolled into Loqe II’s orbit. Bombardment cannons fired, rending the fickle atmosphere and adding new scars to the world’s harsh surface. A mountain detonated under their guns, in a mega-eruption which hurled debris into the void itself.
‘Take us down,’ Captain Ignus Vrul growled. ‘Find the signal.’
The world was dying, terminally wounded by the collision of warring factions.
Vrul strode down the ramp and onto the ash plains, already buffeted by the pyroclastic winds. He spat, and watched the ashes sizzle, before casting his eyes up.
He beheld a fortress, wrought of victory.
The corpses of the tyranids had been utilised, not as grim totems of warning or fear, but as once-living brick and mortar. Spurs of bone and chitin held the walls in place, adding to the solid foundations of hewn basalt which they augmented. The flesh of the beasts was seared, blackened, and had run together in places – further annealing the materials together.
Before it knelt a lone warrior, so still and grey that he seemed another victim of the calamity – an ashen sculpture of ruin. He moved, then, and the Space Marines jerked their weapons up. Vrul did not bother, merely sneering with bemused disdain. !!! BUT WHAT A DAMN IDIOT ¡¡¡
‘Who goes there?’ he asked. ‘We answered a priority transmission, swathed in clearances fit for a Chapter Master, and all we find is you?’
‘I am Tamerlain,’ the survivor said. ‘Shield-captain of the Adeptus Custodes.’ He forced himself to his feet, and gestured. Behind him, the techno-arcane mechanism of the sarcophagus hovered like a relic of ancient Gyptus. His brothers and their arms were lain upon the Primaris gene-cache, reverently. Like honoured kings.
‘I bear word from Terra, and the promise of the future. I bring the means by which brotherhoods such as yours shall weather these nights of fire and blood.’ He touched his fingers to the casket. ‘And you shall help me to bring it where it is needed most. That is my duty, in His name.’
And if you ever wondered how 10,000 custodians could protect the imperial palace, you already know for each one who falls silent, that is quality.
For God's sake they really fight like demigods.