I really struggled with June’s entries as this was the first time I’d opened it up to include comic books too which was down to the awesome prize donated by our resident cartoon mentalist Curis of Ninjabread. In the end I settled on a short story by a previous winner, Mr Dave Bartley (@Mephistonag). His story, Rage, once again gets beneath the surface of the 40k fluff and creates a gripping tale.
So without any further flapping of gums, I give you…
Pre-drop battle prep, a ritual Captain Albus had followed for the past 200 years. The weapons he tended had changed with his rise through the ranks, but the process remained. A solid touchstone to hold to, controlling the battle lust building within.
The armoury buzzed with activity, his retinue working on their weapons and armour, but he paid them no attention, external input closed to him. Mind focused on the preparation for war. The process began with his combat knife, the weapon of last resort save his armoured body itself, the true final weapon of any Astartes. Focus. He returned his mind to the routine.
He examined the blade, searching for imperfections from his recent sparing, seeking out the one he would never remove. The permanent blemish on the blade came from a battle with his most hated foe, one he may have called brother an age ago. Freshly inducted to the assault unit, his company were tasked to eradicate a raiding party of traitor Astartes. For 2 months they chased them form planet to planet, a trail of destruction left in their wake. They finally cornered the last few heretics; both sides aware the chase had ended. The battle rapidly degenerated into a whirling frenzy of close quarters fighting. Bolter and chainsword clashing in a storm of noise, oblivion awaited those whose concentration slipped for just a moment.
He’d found himself locked in combat with a hideous parody of the noble countenance of a Space Marine. Its armour was festooned with dark imagery and icons that hurt the eyes and turned the stomach. The armour’s surface squirmed and shifted, morphing with every thrust. Sword clashed with sword, the traitor had lost an arm; a mass of writhing tentacles sprouted from the sucking wound, lashing out to pull Albus closer. The faces on its armour seeming to reach for him before he broke free, severing tentacles in a shower of foul-smelling ichor, the toxic fluid mixing with the churned ground beneath their feet.
A large explosion tore through the line, the blast causing Albus to stagger, his feet slipping in the blood soaked earth. His suits internal stabilisation systems strained as they attempted to right him before he crashed onto his back, momentarily stunned. The servant of Chaos moved with unnatural speed, leaping onto Albus, pinning him to the ground. Its tentacles ripped his chainsword from his grasp, hurling it aside. With an inhuman wail its helmet split open to reveal an impossibly wide maw lined with row upon row of razor sharp teeth. Its shriek pierced deep into Albus’ soul, tugging at the core of his humanity. The monster’s tentacles began to slither around his neck, tightening steadily, ceramite creaking beneath the tremendous pressure. The traitor continued to stare down at him, his armour starting to crack, unable to withstand the attack.
The weight pressing down on him shifted, the beast was moving, preparing for its killing blow. Albus saw his opening. With a triumphant bellow he smashed an armoured fist into the heretics face, the shriek dying as Albus’ fist broke teeth and shattered bone. Snatching for his combat knife he thrust it deep into the eye socket of the thing’s helmet before it could recover. It rolled off him, its cry now a mix of pain and outrage, any trace of arrogance lost. Its good hand pulled at the hilt, desperate to remove the blade imbedded in its skull. Albus rolled, his hand closing over the hilt of his chainsword. Righting himself he took the traitors head from his shoulders with a single stroke.
That tear in the blade, lodging the knife in the heretic’s eye, had saved his life. The blood pulsed rapidly through Albus’ twin hearts. How had such treachery come to pass those millennia ago? What foul promise had torn the twice damned Horus from the path of righteousness? No matter, he would be stopped, the insurrection ended.
Albus sheaved the knife; turning to his next weapon, the power sword gifted him on his induction into the first company. Appearing to be a standard blade, dull and uninspiring, in its unpowered state. He checked the hilt, marvelling at the minute cables that fed the sword, allowing it to cleave through ceramite like flesh. He inspected the blade closer, words intricately engraved into its surface, his personal requiem. Many of his chapter maintained decorated banners listing their honours; Albus painstakingly etched them into the surface of his sword, the history of his devotion to the emperor blazing on his blade in battle. The intricate task a counter point to the wanton destruction it wrought.
Hefting the sword he marvelled at its balance, light despite its size, seemingly impotent. He let the blade spin in his hand, slicing arcs in the air, satisfied all was in order he returned his inspection to the blade, eye’s blurring, reading the names of the battles on the blade, remembering. Two centuries of slaughter, humans, xenos and heretic. Heretics, the followers of chaos, his mortal enemy, those battles burnt brightest in his memory. What lead his brothers to fall from the light? What perverse mistruth had they been fed? Thrusting his sword into its scabbard, Albus clenched both fists; he wouldn’t stop while the followers of the Warmaster took breath. The rebellion would end, here and now.
His hand reached for his final weapon, a bolt pistol, ornately decorated, master crafted. Passed from company commander to commander, his retinue oath-bound to ensure it was returned to the chapter should he fall. The bone forming the pistol grip was from some forgotten alien race, its surface as firm as the day it had been turned to fit an Astartes hand. With practised ease Albus set the block in the breach, the oiled parts mating perfectly. Hefting the pistol he felt the imbalance caused by the lack of a magazine. He moved to the practise range in the armoury, ramming home a magazine, readying the weapon as he approached the firing line.
The gun heavy without his power armour augmented muscles. He aimed, squeezing the trigger, savouring the explosion that sent the round accelerating towards the target, impacting precisely where he had intended. These practise rounds lacked the explosive tips that ripped targets apart from the inside out. He fired until the clip was spent; satisfied that all was in order, ready to slay the enemy once they made planetfall.
Their target had ceased to pay its tithe some 3 months previous, and astropathic communication had ceased shortly after that. The local system governor had dispatched local troops, but after a brief and garbled message they too had stopped reporting. In desperation the governor had turned to the Inquisition, and shortly after a team from the mysterious Deathwatch had been inserted onto the planet. Their report had been chilling. The existence of a wide-spread cult throughout the planet was grave news. Their last report had indicated that they were set to infiltrate into the heart of the cult. After that only a single word was received; Chaos.
Albus felt his choler rising, his hand gripping the pistol hard, flesh appearing the same white as the bone of the handle. Once again those foul believers of false gods would be his prey. Another stain on the honour of the chapter’s would be eradicated by this strike. He would lead his company into battle with the zeal of a true believer, the deliverer of the Imperial truth.
Though no reports indicated their presence, Albus yearned for the insurrection to be attended by heretical marines. To have another chance to battle against his fallen brothers, bring them to the justice they deserved for the aeons of war their folly had unleashed on the Imperium was a fire that burnt deep in his soul. They would be made to pay.
He hunched down, the noise of battle reverberated throughout the ship, klaxons blaring, barely heard beneath the staccato burst of bolter fire, battle cries echoing as brother battled brother. They had been separated. His hand gripped hard on his pistol, sword blazing its sheaf of blue death bright in the gloom, the lustre of his golden armour dimmed. He must find his father before his brother did, he must linger here no longer.
A cold metallic hand appeared on his shoulder, Albus whirled round, pistol at the ready, the sword mysteriously missing.
“Brother Captain Albus, return to us” Chaplain Ezekius stared placidly into Albus’ eyes, looking deep into his soul. Sergeant Spes stood next to him, his crimson armour bright compared to the flat black of the Chaplains.
“Yes, Brother Chaplain. I was contemplating the battle to come. Focusing my mind” Albus stood firm, letting his arm lower the bolt pistol to his side. He felt himself chill, the fire of his anger cooling in the face of the Chaplain’s stare, taking strength from his stoic demeanour.
“Some wars are not meant for us Albus, fight the battles before you,” Ezekius nodded, seemingly satisfied with what he read in Albus’ eyes, “Time to don your armour Captain, we drop on the hour.” He turned and left the armoury, Spes following a few steps behind. Albus was alone in the armour.
He sat, bolt pistol on his lap. Had he let his control slip? Had he been on the edge of madness? His hatred of the heretics pushing him to a fury from which there was not return? He looked at his ornate battle plate, polished and prepared, ready for him to lead his company into battle, white wings on his shoulders, blood in flight. Battle. Albus retained utterly sure in his skill, and the prowess of his brothers, to carry them before any enemy. Yet one universal truth no longer rang true for Albus.
He knew fear.