So many had failed. The Chaos scourge still ran uncontested over now two planets, grey-armoured tides of vermin grinding down loyal and honourable soldiers. On the other hand, they had apparently managed to dupe an ambassador of the childish and naïve Tau Empire somehow, and that amused Capitan Roderigo Pelayo, leader of the Crimson Fist strike force sent on the warship Asturias to lead a retributive strike to avenge the long-lost Capitan De Rada.
Pelayo watched two servitors with minute pigment-jets in their skeletal fingers painting his shield with a blood-red fist,while long arcing tendrils from their necks laser-etched In Memoriam De Rada on its blazon. The enemy, it seemed, were en route to a space port, aiming to leave their foul homeworld to take the fight to the insane Greenbeard – a vengeful, unhinged Ork who, in time, would die like the others of his kind.
Again he watched in his augmented eye the ultimatum from the Tau ambassador. How she had, quite calmly, praised one of the Dark Gods. He was still pondering this. Even Inquisitrix Stahl, formerly attached to the Death Korps and now apparently quaking on her Black Ship as rabid, unsubtle Flesh Tearers frothed at the bit around her, had no precedent in her books for this. The Tau were supposed to be nulls, untaintable. Which meant that – of course! Pelayo knew what he was dealing with here. The Mykene Legion. Like the Alpha Legion, like the Iron Warriors, like countless other of the worst kinds of heretic, they still thought they were right. Chaos was a formality to them, a tool they tried to bind in machines and wield scalpel-precise not as a filthy sledgehammer of corruption. That Tau was reading from a script, probably brainwashed not with warp-fuelled psychic witchery but with nothing more than subliminal suggestion and drugs. A quaint parlour-trick. But he had fought Tau. They crumbled. Their guns were impressive yet possible to deal with, their powered suits flimsy things compared to his own ancient suit of Terminator Armour.
He wondered what he would fight today. There were no end of rumours of the enemy’s capabilities; he had learned much from past defeats of other armies.
“Amanuensa Ramiro?” The arrival of the Librarian surprised Pelayo.
“Preparations are completed. We are ready to begin drop-pod operations.”
“Then do so.” The shield was not complete, two fingers of the fist still burnished, dull metal. Pelayo figured that the blood of heretics would finish the painting.
Cadre Leader Si’la had no desire to complain about her new masters. They were taciturn, strategically knowledgeable and provided simple orders that could easily be obeyed. Today’s order was to defend an office-building and so she was sat with her team on its roof, a fire lit and ration-packs warming on it. She watched a gun drone bobbing about, the thin sun shining off its blue dome, and flicked a stone at it.
The stone hit the thing’s leftside pulse carbine and sent it spinning on its axis erratically until with a flurry of angry beeping it righted itself.
Down below – three comically huge stories down – she could see Ru’luc – no, she corrected herself, Shas’O Zero now – waiting in parade formation with his personal cadre of battle-suits. The Mykene forces milled around, as if waiting for an attack to come.
But until it did, they could wait and maybe even relax.
Down below, Acheron could not have been happier. Vogler’s plan – insane as it had seemed – to enslave the aliens had worked better than he could have imagined. Their firepower was significant, and above all they were promising reinforcements within the month.There was but one bizarre thing that bothered him; this battle. The Panopticon had scryed that his armies would crush the Space Marines here, but his future was apparently uncertain.
And so he had taken every precaution; brainwashed Tau mercenaries holding high ground. A siege tank, its titanic cannon jutting squatly from its sloped, ancient hull. Concealed force-field generators in all the buildings to protect his forces.
The battle-line the Crimson Fists would face was a perfect killing ground.
The first sign of the Space Marines’ attack was when the sky filled with engines. A Thunderhawk had touched down outside the city and disgorged a Land Raider tank which made its lumbering way towards the Mykene lines. Actinic lasers flared out and grazed against the siege tank’s hull to no effect, punching through the walls of an old refectory-building.
Moments later, drop pods, giant eggs in crimson-and-blue, slammed into the library where half the Iron Masks waited, and the Hell Cross just outside. Pelayo was leading the first wave himself, and his veteran brethren had barely broken from their harnesses before opening fire with a wave of plasma and carefully-chosen acidic ammunition at the heretics they had surprised. Three died in an instant, but not before one had felled one of Pelayo’s own men.
A dozen or so metres away, with similar precision, the second pod landed outside the building where Si’la’s cadre waited. Their own guns cut all but one of Acheron’s heavy weapon team apart with similarly drilled fire; the very model of the steel rain tactic he had learned decades previous. Yet when Ramiro began his own incantations to call holy fire forth, the power failed and nothing resulted. Something was disrupting the warp, and Pelayo was certain it was the Tau’s own trickery.
The loss of the Corroded Ones bothered Acheron; he had hoped their firepower would be proof against the Space Marines’ light vehicles. On the other hand, their tanks – the serried ranks of blue-and-red boxes he had watched grind Tyranids beneath their treads on the Panopticon – were absent.
The dragon had been waiting for the first enemies to appear, and dived into the library to set upon Pelayo’s retinue. Four were caught in its white-hot claws and then with a wrenching twist it dislocated its neck to vomit molten metal – the same horrific fate Pelayo had read about in De Rada’s report – on Ramiro’s squad. Four of them died too, the rest saved if anything by the bulk of the drop pod against which much of the torrent of livid heat splashed and dissipated.
Deep within the city-streets, the second unit of the Iron Masks had been delayed by their tank throwing a tread in a thick mire of sludge from a corrupted fountain, and ran towards one of Acheron’s prepared energy fields for cover. They would face down the Land Raider and destroy it, armed as they were with thermal weaponry. Still, there was no reason not to begin the barrage, and the Tau opened up on the advancing behemoth – quickly followed by the siege tank’s own bombardment. Yet nothing had an effect on the thing’s thick shell.
Si’la fired down from her perch at the humans beneath her, and watched as one’s head exploded in a puff of red gore. The rhythm of the pulse rifle was beautiful, each press of the trigger a blue dart that played like a sprite in the air before hitting its target.
Below her, Gen’kai, leader of Zero’s personal guard, led his unit in opening fire. Striking a pose, his suit’s chest thrust forward and his missile-launchers aimed to the sky, smoky streaks danced in wide spirals to beguile the enemy before exploding with purplish domes against a wall of force conjured at the last moment by the Librarian. While it was enough to protect his squad, it must have taken a heavy toll on his mind for no sooner had the barrage ended he collapsed to one knee, blood seeping from around his eyes and nose.
Acheron had seen all this and knew he could finish it now. Was this why it was so blurred, his future? Because it would fall to him to make it clear? He ordered the Iron Masks and Hell Cross to combine fire on the royal-blue form before him, and when the fire cleared only their leader remained. His Terminators charged in, and it should have ended there – his two swords swung again and again at Pelayo.
But the Crimson Fist took all the blows on his shield, not yielding a step and then as Acheron paused to find an opening the Sorcerer’s helmet was crushed like soft fruit as a crimson hammer-head continued on an inexorable course downwards. Pelayo had seen his brothers dead, his armour scorched and scarred by plasma-fire, his shield-arm burning with pain from broken bones, but if he was to die he would kill the arch-heretic first.
The next wave of drop pods and reinforcements had been separated by the dragon’s arrival. It had forced the Storm Raven gunship Reconquista to circle around and find a new vector, and so the dreadnought Alfonso III was sent in alone. Fearing the Khedoran Obliterator lurking in the ruins to one side and the approaching Tau suits, it looped around to support Pelayo and sent flame licking into the library-building to kill one of the Iron Masks. As if invigorated by this, Pelayo continued his methodical hammer-rhythm, each blow crushing the skull or ribcage of one of the Hell Cross Corps until none survived. He knew he would not last much longer; there were too many surrounding him. But he would kill in the Emperor’s name until he died.
Ramiro, still reeling from the mental effort needed to stave off the Tau missiles, ordered a salvo of bolter-fire back at them but the shots failed to touch the alien armour. In time, though. They would not last against Alfonso.
Zero had rendezvoused with the Iron Masks. An ungainly, cratelike human vehicle was before him and he knew only one solution to it. His suit’s sensors flickered up red warnings to inform him the Ryu’ou could barely dent the thing’s armour, but he had another plan. Tapping at the panels before him, he selected the seldom-used fourth ammunition type for the gun and waited for it to install. The gun spat fire, bluish darts that thudded into the Land Raider’s armour before flicking out into a nest of antennae which engulfed it in a corona of light. Stunned momentarily, the vehicle suddenly began to smoke as its engines overheated, buying time for the Mykene to press the attack.
Their combined barrage tore into the Land Raider, stripping armour from it – yet it still moved, and still was in a position to disgorge its cargo of Terminators.
The dragon spun elegantly in the air and with a flick of its talons cast Ramiro up into the sky. The Librarian had much time to reflect on what was happening to his unit as it fed on them, as he fell hundreds of feet toward the ground.
Pelayo saw this grotesque sport – saw the Chaos cultists sheltering with their foul alien brethren laughing at it and, he shuddered at the thought, betting on Ramiro’s fate. Yet his conviction to avenge the Librarian did not translate into holy fervour but instead hesitation, and as plasma-fire from the Iron Masks bit through his storm shield and into his body, he realised he had made an error.
Alfonso continued to wade through the ruins and, in order to arrest its progress, the siege tank’s gunner fired an almost perfectly-aimed shot which tore the walkers’ chainsaw-arm into shreds. It still moved, for sure; none of the accursed Crimson Fist vehicles had died and even their idiotic drop-pods were spitting ineffectual bolter-fire at the Iron Masks – but it was wounded.
The Reconquista was still delayed. Pelayo was dead and Ramiro too. The drop-pods fired automatically at the closest targets yet their servitor-brains could not determine good firing angles and the bullets ricocheted off concrete balustrades and pillars.
Hope seemed to come from Alfonso III; it turned and almost in mockery of the Tau suits’ fluid motion and arcing missiles spat two smudges cored with fire at them. Each found a target and Gen’kai’s wingmen were swatted from the sky in an instant.
By the sludge-pool, the Terminators of Squad Castile dismounted the damaged Land Raider, leaving its crew to try and repair it. They moved towards the Mykene and with the same methodical hammer-rhythm as Pelayo crushed over half of them; yet rather than being able to finish the slaughter the Chaos forces fled and regrouped by a low wall.
The dragon spat fire at Squad Castile. The Iron Masks fired their melta-guns and bolters. Even Si’la’s cadre fired down on them, and the siege-tank joined the fray. But in their Alcazar Formation, a refinement of the traditional shield-wall, they could weather any storm.
Over at the library, where the fighting was at its worst, the surviving Iron Masks took advantage of Alfonso‘s confusion to finish the wounded beast, plasma-fire burning into its armoured core and leaving it a smoking hulk. Save for the chattering machine-guns of the drop pods, that flank was secure and the critical objectives Acheron had identified remained safe.
Zero leapt over the stalled Land Raider, and in a show of unnecessary ostentation angled himself to fire backwards at the thing with two more virus darts, which burned out the thing’s Machine Spirit completely. The tank fell silent, leaving Castile with no fire support.
Finally the Reconquista arrived, screaming in towards the dragon and unleashing laser and melta fire at its body. Yet the Mechanical Beast was too fast, diving below the turret’s depression angle and then lower still to avoid the melta-blasts. In the fury of the chaos above, Squad Castile charged the reloading siege-tank and opened it with their blows; each swing rent the vehicle’s armour and crushed its cultist crew.
If Acheron’s forces still held their core objectives, their push forward had proved fruitless. Squad Castile had fought it off almost alone, and it was only a matter of time before Zero fell to their advance.
Yet if it had seemed like that at first, Gen’kai’s actions changed that. As Zero joined the Khedoran in keeping the Storm Raven busy while the dragon sliced into it to get at the Marines inside, the Terminators found themselves under fire from multiple angles. Si’la brought one down with her pulse rifle.
The surviving Iron Masks felled another with blasts of melta-fire, melting through the Terminator’s shield and into his helmet.
Then, as three remained, edging backwards into a shield-wall, Gen’kai brought up his plasma rifle, watched as the laser designator aligned over the bulky humans, and fired. The first shot seemed to warp around the Terminator’s shield and pierce the dog-like helmet. The second bit into a Terminator’s back armour and then onwards into the fleshy body within. This was why he piloted the Crisis Suit; to see enemies die.
Taking the suit upwards, he flicked a switch on the control panel and watched triangular crosshairs flicker to life and align on the one surviving Terminator. When they all flashed green, and the words SHOOT NOW appeared on his display, he rammed the control-levers forward with a scream and a hail of missiles and beams engulfed the Space Marine to leave nothing left.
Seeing the slaughter below, the Reconquista aborted its attack run. The Crimson Fists would again leave defeated by the Mykene.
“We honour Capitan Pelayo as we did Capitan De Rada, a hero of the children of Rynn’s World who died in service, fighting to avenge the dishonour suffered by the Chapter at the hands of the traitors of the Mykene.” The new Capitan, Fernan Gonzalez, stood at the pulpit as his brothers commemorated their fallen leader. “Know, though, that as De Rada gave his life to seal the Demon, Pelayo died having slain the enemy’s sorcerer. As Space Marines you know you must die and you will die fighting. Die, however, knowing you have killed. Knowing you have done everything in your power to bring death to the Emperor’s enemies.”
There was nothing more to say. Pelayo’s shield had been recovered and was again being re-engraved. It had been decided that the Shield of the Mykene-Slayers would be a living memorial to those who these arch-heretics had killed of the Imperium; even those not of the Crimson Fists, such as Father Calimachus of the Order Cuillerian and Major-General Sturm of the Death Korps, were to be given due honour on its surface. This had gone beyond being a simple demonic incursion; it was now a plague that risked the need for Exterminatus.
Acheron was dead. The Great General was not surprised. The enemy were increasingly close to disrupting his plans and even with the forewarning of the Panopticon it was sometimes not enough. The Sorcerer’s body had been recovered, and Vogler was working to see about either reanimating it or finding some use for it, but for the moment Acheron was dead.
The quest for vengeance against Greenbeard, too, was on hold; in the meantime, a small plague of Tyranids was rapidly encroaching on Budo. The insectoid menace was currently weak enough to crush but as the orange-and-green tide of the fleet Inferno showed, a small Tyranid incursion could quickly grow to a large one and then an unstoppable one.
“Are the bio-weapons ready?” He had called Vogler to his quarters.
“Almost. Almost.” A small group of the degenerate elves known as Pain Slavers had strayed too close to Hell Castle and discovered that the Cult of Bardos were not their playthings. They had been taken to Vogler’s laboratory and experimented on, and soon the results would be unleashed on a battlefield. Between those, and Zero’s Tau forces, the General knew he could easily protect his own forces with a useful screen of alien flesh.
“Throw them against the Tyranids.”