-this is a pre-recorded message from the transport Philomel-Two-Six. We have been shot down by Tyranid ground fire at position fourteen-six-fifty. On board are mission-critical materials. Send recovery immediately. This is a-
It was hard to tell that stretch of tundra, with its burned-out buildings and short scrubby trees, from any other. But it was a site of great importance. Below the ice, in a patch of ground that countless years of elemental exposure had eroded down, a wrecked aircraft had worked its way to the surface like a beached whale. Inside it, among crates of weapons, medical supplies and rotten food, was a long black metal coffin-like apparatus, its surface engraved in fine ivory with litanies of faith and a dozen mechanical locks set along its length. The air around it was cold, colder even than the general wintry bite of the air outside.
It was that that had drawn the attention of the Mykene Legion. It was something they had lost, a very long time ago. The Black Heart Drive. Set in a special case inside that container, kept apart by a thick layer of metal engraved again with prayers and run through with control rods engraved with yet more, were two crystal cylinders, with glowing red cores. To an untrained eye they looked little unlike ordinary plasma gun fuel cells, but on a closer inspection the crystal was shot through with bubbles of a mould-like whiteness that pulsated and writhed within. This was the Black Heart Drive, a missing part of Hell Castle itself taken in a raid by the Inquisition and now found again.
An Imperial fortress complex, where thousands of the Roughnecks and almost a company of Space Marines of the Emperor’s Boot had died in their last stand against Hive Fleet Inferno, sat powerless on the horizon, cathedral-like. Its exterior defence waves pointed to the sky but had long rusted into uselessness. It seemed ironic that the Inquisitorial transport had likely been overrun within sight of the spaceport that would have got the Black Heart Drive offworld.
The Mykene Legion had been busy, calling in reinforcements to Hell Castle. Former Master of the 1st Company, now the Infernal Lord Albero of the Crushing Blow, had happily taken on the chance to recover the Black Heart from its icy tomb.
To Zagboink, Ork Warlord, the Black Heart Drive was completely immaterial. Indeed, he did not know it existed. His eyes were set on the fortress, his Meks assuring him that the defence guns could easily be reactivated. His arch-rival Greenbeard of the Bad Moons had built a massive edifice on a neighbouring world called Orktown and some of his boys were talking about a coup – bribing a Mek to put more engines on one of the Roks they had arrived on and going off to join Greenbeard.
To an Ork, the answer was simple. Build a bigger and better fortress, stomp tougher foes, and steal Greenbeard’s boys right back. Greenbeard had smashed these shiny spiky humans once but that had been long ago, before the silhouette of the annoying dragon had begun patrolling the skies, before the massive crab-clawed armoured beast that spat lightning had been evaporating all before it, and long before the demon.
Bashing in one of those big things would prove he was better than Greenbeard.
And so Zagboink’s force met Albero’s, each with different goals but both intent on slaughter.
Zagboink ordered his lads forward, keeping a safe distance from Sorkrates, the Weirdboy. The wizened ork, barely bigger than a grot and hunched over his staff, knew things. He didn’t always know the right thing to say, but that was why the boys around him would give him a kick when he said stupid things. Like If Zagboink to the Black Heart Goes, All will die!
That deserved a kick in the fruits.
One of the Gork’n Gang, insane bikers who had stuck propellors to their bikes to be able to fly, fired a rocket at something in the gloom of the early hours. It exploded harmlessly against what turned out to be a pillar.
The light from the rocket explosion was enough for Albero to see by. With a painful-looking movement a bolt of energy arced from his fists towards the approaching Orks and two of them were whipped into each other with force enough to crack ribs and cave in thick, thuggish skulls. The Legion’s finest, oldest warriors, the Corroded Legion, fired a short burst of tracer rounds in the same direction and another ork exploded in gore.
The targets marked on their visors, the remainder of the Corroded opened fire, directing the Cult of the Devil Army as well. When the shooting finally stopped, six of the orks were dead even before the sun had risen properly on the battle.
It was still fairly dark, but a greyish-orange twilight was beginning to filter past the high towers of the Imperial fortress. Enough for Sorkrates to do his thing, as Zagboink put it.
The ground beneath the Corroded turned into a massive green fist and pulled three of them under. As the Chaos forces sought out the source of the threat, fire from the Orks cut two more apart.
The Khedorans, large as they were, stood out on the snow field. They drew heavy fire but thick layers of ice and rust built up after a long night spent in ambush positions absorbed the bullets. Even the arrival of a fighter-bomber, spewing black smoke from its many engines and blazing red tracers from banks of machine guns, did little but shatter the ice and stones around Omega.
It mattered not to Zagboink though. He had closed, through the wall of fire, into a small copse of blasted firs. A knot of trees where the Corroded awaited. Through more intense bullet-hail yet he charged, seeing his boys blown apart and knowing they were honoured to die for him.
He ran straight into a larger, shinier Chaos Marine who wordlessly embedded a bladed claw in the Ork’s gut. As the champion began to wind up for a second swing, Zagboink headbutted him and then in the momentary confusion cut the armoured figure into two neat pieces with his own power claw. But the fight was a mad one, a confused one, and the casualties had been too steep. Even the threat of execution was not enough to prevent a rout and all Zagboink could do was keep fighting to cover the retreat. The two forces sat, both crippled and exhausted, what seemed like only metres apart in the wood, waiting for the other to make a move.
Meanwhile the Gork’n Gang thought they could finish off Omega. Until a wave of molten metal evaporated the front section of one of their bikes.
Dracodeus arrived, as it had on so many battlefields. Its claws tore one of the bikes into shreds and then a gout of boiling lead melted one of the Grot Gunboys, wobbling edifices of bolts and armour plates that sometimes made it to the front lines unscathed, into a sizzling pool. It carried on its attack, burning towards Sorkrates, but the gnomic figure leapt backwards with insane agility and neatly tripped one of its minders into the burning lake.
The Khedorans fired up at the oncoming aircraft to no effect, and battle once again raged on. Neither side seemed to be able to make headway.
Sorkrates did something and to Zagboink’s surprise the old ork – and his retinue – vanished in a puff of smoke.
They reappeared in front of Albero himself, but turned their attentions to the cultists around the wreck of the transport, killing many.
Delayed by mechanical failure, the Landcruiser, a massive juddering juggernaut on mighty wheels, showed up, crushing fences before it and disgorging a horde of orks to join the fight around the wreckage. They emerged, however, into a hail of fire that almost immediately drove them back.
Then the strangest thing Albero had ever beheld in his centuries-long career of war occurred. The surviving ork biker lazily turned in his seat and fired his last rocket up at Dracodeus.
The projectile punched through the Mechanical Beast’s soft underbelly and for a few moments nothing happened.
Then with an explosion that rained fleshy chunks, shards of bone and a fine mist of burning lead down on the snow, the beast was ripped apart.
That called for vengeance. The Khedorans continued to fire on the Ork jet, blasting one of its gun-mounts apart and sending the debris careening into the bikes as if by way of punishment.
Seeing the newly-arrived orks still closely packed and disoriented from the teleport, Albero unleashed another wave of force which imploded six of them. In the wood, the Corroded recovered from their momentary langour and, seeing weakness, annihilated Zagboink’s retinue. The Ork warlord turned to flee again but bolt rounds cut into his back and the light began to fade.
The last surviving bike put a rocket squarely into Omicron’s chest but the thing kept moving. That section of the battlefield was a shambles, units out of position and surrounded, Albero’s forces able to pick targets at will and focus them down.
In frustration at having been well out of place, sent to try and capture a bank of anti-air lasers on a ridge far to the west, the Meks of the 8th Mek Team had disobeyed orders (the boss being in no position to call them on that) and lumbered into the bunker where Albero was taking cover. Their noble charge proved entirely pointless as Albero almost singlehandedly annihilated them with gory swings of his mace.
In the wreckage of the plane, though, the cult – busily occupied recovering the Black Heart Drive, failed to suppress the approaching Ork horde well enough and were ripped apart by a surging crowd of hacking blades and heavy pistol-butts.
The Hell Cross Division had sprung their ambush by teleport, but ended up out of position; right in front of the erratically-charging Gunboys. Two of them – including the division’s leader – were eviscerated by bobbing, weaving chainsaws.
The remainder tore the ramshackle machines into shreds.
Free from the nuisance of Ork walkers, the Terminators began their long-term aim of cutting off the Ork line of retreat. The Landcruiser was visible from their new position, and so it met with precision autocannon fire aimed at its fuel tanks, turning the vehicle into little but a fireball.
Albero again sent shockwaves into the ork lines, killing two more of the squad threatening the wreckage whle the Khedorans, locked in an ungainly melee with Sorkrates, finally broke the orks bothering them and ran them into the ground.
Although parting shots from the fleeing orks finished Omega off, they were in full retreat. Victory fell to the Mykene Legion.
The orks could have tried for months to refit the fortress’s weapons and failed.
With the Black Heart Drive installed in its power core, they were online and more powerful than ever in hours.
Albero christened the fortress Budo, and now the Mykene Legion had two strongholds on the frozen death-world. Things could not have looked better.