The ruins of the first Mykene outpost in the beleaguered system, from long ago when they had waged war against the – once thought weak, now mighty – Greenbeard, suddenly were ruined no more. Under the gaze of the Panopticon, and the direction of the Dark Magi Lasher and Coren, a grotesque ape-like symbiote of two tech-priests in a demonic body, a mysterious device was taking shape. The plans had appeared within the Panopticon’s daily prophecies and Vogler had immediately acted.
What had emerged from the ash-desert was a spindly gantry of black metal and now the hour prophecied had come for it to be activated.
Green light flickered around the metal spars as great shafts plunged into the planet’s mantle drew livid liquid rock upwards to power the accumulators and coils.
“The Gleaning Engine… Who knows what it will do?” One head of the mutated tech-priest turned to the other. “We can guess, of course.”
That evening, the machine’s cycle was complete. Great blast-shutters had closed around the central altar-like structure within the gantry, and they fell open as the sun dropped below the horizon.
The Great General stood there, born again.
“The demon! It is risen! IT IS RISEN!” A sharp blow with the blunt end of a power sword sent the scrawny heretic crashing against the oil-slick floor of the giant lander’s brig.
“SILENCE!” Inquisitor Stahl motioned to the two Korpsmen at her side to have the prisoner learn respect. “Herr Blitz, I would have you destroy this demon. Use all necessary force.”
“It is being done. Our forward Recon-kompanies have been efficient in tracking down the cult and suppressing it, and we have discerned the location of the demon-beast. Already, the Adeptus Astartes move to finish the job.”
“And why, Herr Marshal, are your soldiers not?”
“Master Ferst was most agitated when news of the demon’s appearance circulated to him. We felt it appropriate, before your intervention, to defer to the wishes of the Space Marines.”
“I apologise for doubting you, Herr Marshal.” Stahl, however, made no sign of moving. “But should Ferst fail, it will fall on your men to right your error.”
The Great General was hunted, now nothing but prey. The demon thought dead – whose apparent destruction at the hands of the Necrons had been like a weight lifted from the sector – was now squarely in a trap. A small local garrison, enforcers of the malign cults that littered the planet’s mining colonies, would be no match for Ferst’s well-trained Marines as they waited in ambush.
Indeed, the demon itself, at the core of the enemy’s line, was a prime candidate to die first.
The gunner in the Predator tank Ara Pacis had the thing in his sights. It loomed behind an Imperial bunker.
Two bolts of pinkish, almost lilac energy whipped through the gathering sand-clouds, seemed to be striking true, and then dissipated against the same force-field that so many others – De Rada among them – had reported.
As if in response the lumbering, obese Dreadnoughts the heretics had dragged along let fly their own long-range weapons; bloody shards of bone exploded into diamond-hard shrapnel on the front armour of the dreadnought Ancient Stoll. On the other side of the line, chunks of burning rock split into burning airbursts in front of Squad Delta, but the marines dropped into defensive formation with practiced maneuvers.
At this distance it was impossible for the Great General to do much beyond vault from building to building, wings pulling against the dusty sky with frightening agility.
Scout squad India leapt from cover and took firing-positions among the pillars of a wrecked church, a tentative salvo at the advancing enemy ineffective.
Ara Pacis had lost its bead on the demon, now safely concealed behind a sandblown communications array. Instead it acquired one of the Chaos Dreadnoughts and shattered the thing’s body, its lazily swinging morning-star whipping out of control and pasting one of the Chaos Marines behind it into the sand.
A bubble of low-pressure air signalled a teleporter response, the heat-haze above a swathe of desert suddenly taking form as from the warp portal emerged the Hell Cross Division, guns blazing at the Ara Pacis. Arcane energy weapons tore through its armour and ignited its heavy bolter magazines, slabs of burning armour plate falling in a wide circle around the Terminators’ entry point.
Ancient Stoll‘s optical channels were momentarily disrupted by the teleporter signal and it failed to see the Iron Mask soldier taking aim with his plasma gun. The bolt, as if guided by the Panopticon’s machinations, hit the Dreadnought squarely in its eye-slit and the thing crumpled inert, its ancient cargo incinerated.
The Hell Cross Division expected to die. Their duty was to do little else, cursed as they were. But what they had to do before dying was kill, and they had done that. Fire from the loyalist Terminators, plasma shots from squads Delta and Golf, the relentless hail of bolts from all the gathered Space Marines, burned out their shields, wore down their armour, and at that point conditioning failed and instinct returned. They retreated to behind a watch-tower, and waited.
Scout squad India’s missile-trooper, Harman, loaded a green-headed fragmentation rocket and fired into the knot of enemies around the Dreadnought’s wreckage. Only one of the traitors fell, but it was a job good enough. Immediately he sent the firing solution to his fellow snipers, and they all levelled their sights on the enemy’s leader.
But the bullets failed to penetrate his armour, ricocheting harmlessly into the ground.
Ignoring the snipers, the Iron Masks fired on the Terminators before them, the ones whose relentless gunnery had downed two of the Hell Cross. Neat plasma fire, supported by the rasping typewriter-sound of boltguns, sent one of the massive armoured suits down.
By the bunker where the Great General waited in ambush, the Dreadnought Poseidon had discovered an ambush. Five Scouts lurked beneath camoflauged cloaks, a heavy bolter on a tripod. Its magma-launcher rained shots down on them, burning them out of their position and into its hungry fists. Soon all that remained was one, whose reactions had been marginally too fast to catch with a backswing.
Dreadnought Noble Zala was doing its duty providing support for Squad Delta. It had contributed to the deaths of the Chaos Terminators.
When the Great General brought a blade of white-hot lead down, dividing the carapace like a piece of soft fruit and leaving two perfect halves which in time fell away from each other like some grotesque cartoon, it did not even have time to realise it had failed its duty.
The demon was among them. Ferst’s entire army, almost, opened fire on it, but its metal hide seemed impervious to those bullets its force-field did not simply eat.
Only Squad Golf, hidden as they were behind a bunker, did not shoot the Great General. They, with the precision and elegance only a Space Marine could bring to war, continued their exchange of fire with the Iron Masks, downing yet another.
Squad Delta then did something the Great General had not foreseen. They ran straight at it, knives and chainswords brandished high.
The demon staggered, confused, at this insanity. It was off-balance, still building up for the charge on the mortals before it. Its sword was too unwieldy to bring to bear that suddenly, but it had powers beyond mere brawn.
All it needed was to kill one, and it could do that.
As the Space Marine exploded into a boiling mixture of metal and blood, the others faltered as the Forge Blade’s curse took them. Some withstood it. Too many, in fact. But three did not, and they, as if in sympathy for their brother, melted from the inside. And as the curse wracked their bodies, the Great General fed.
Poseidon finished its prey, too. The Mykene now held the entire right flank.
Ferst’s army was in rout; his surviving Terminators were being cut down by their Chaos counterparts (although one of them was consumed from within by demonic fire as its weapon malfunctioned) and the demon was upon him.
As a Space Marine he knew his duty. Drawing a sword, he turned to the demon and made to swing at its armoured greave. The Forge Blade swung at his free hand, removing the arm at the shoulder, and that was enough to have the curse begin to gnaw at his men; as they burned, he continued his mad rush towards the ancient enemy.
“Our position strengthens. We make inroads against the fools on this world.” The Great General had called Acheron to his side. “You will lead this arm of the campaign. Lead the Hell Cross against all enemies. Vogler has his toys and schemes, they serve us well. You will be my fist.”
“As you will, Lord.”
“The Dark Eldar. Their cruelty and inventiveness would be enviable were they not so… unpredictable. Nor indeed so frail. Crush them next.”
Days passed. The Mykene fortified their positions in traditional style, with the Panopticon providing more schematics for infernal machines to build.
Then one day it arrived. A riotous rocket punched through the atmosphere, one of many. At some point it had been a Space Marine drop pod, one of Ferst’s own, in fact. It was painted now bright yellow.
The doors fell open, the engines fell off. Inside were banks and banks of loudhailers – the heads of unfortunate Noise Marines, field-telephones, vox-casters marked with Death Korps symbols, all manner of scavenged junk.
“TO… THE GREAT GENERAL OF THE INFERNAL DARKNESS wot does this say wot kind of stupid git has one of them punctuations in the middle of his name JOZAN THE you stupid squig-puff how is I supposed to read wot this says JOZAN THE WOTEVER YOU ARE OR WHOEVER IS LEADING THIS LOAD OF STUPID GITS IS YOU HARD ENOUGH TO TAKE ON GREENBEARD?”
The demon was drawn by the summons, standing on top of the battlements to survey the intrusion.
“GREENBEARD, YOU SEE, IS CHALLENGING ALL YOU STUPID GITS WOT THINKS YOUR HARD TO COME AND PROVE IT HE HAS EVEN CAPTURED ONE OF THEM wots that called the big orange thing with all the teeth wot et Maverick oh yeah ONE OF THEM SWARMLORD THINGS”
There was an awkward silence over the Chaos fortress.