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Empire's End

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Aevar Ironclaws knew how to handle the cold. As a Vlka Fenryka, a Sky Warrior, he was used to Fenris’ destructive summers and numbingly frigid winters. As a Tech Marine, an Iron Priest, he knew how to handle the damaged machine spirits that dwelled in armor, vehicles and weapons. He knew how to sooth them, appease them, and gently coxing the most use out of their metal bodies, how to create weapons of genocide and massacres.

And as the Allfather’s Chosen, a Space Marine, an Adeptus Astartes, he was bred for battle and slaughter. He knew how to fight, how to wage the most brutal of wars, to pull victory from the very jaws of defeat, and how to kill quickly and efficiently in the endless wars that humanity was engulfed in. His gene-enhance body was big, strong, and all but immune to the effects of age, the very pinnacle of what humanity could be.

But here, he was at a loss. He was nowhere near his home world, the death world of Fenris; instead, he was traveling to the very heart of the Imperium, Holy Terra, with nearly two dozen of his brother Astartes, Iron Priests all of them, and a smaller group of tech priests, men and women who were cybernetically enhanced members of the Adeptus Mechanicus.

The closest Aevar has ever been to the seat of Humanity was when he was sent to Mars for his training and induction into the Adeptus Mechanicus, where he was taught how to be an Iron Priest, to build the very tools of war that were needed, and that was many centuries ago. Here, he was not known as a Sky Warrior, revered by all mortals as a demigod, treated with fear and respect. Instead, he was curtly nodded to and called a ‘Space Wolf.’ Even the tech priests, barely more than mortal humans, seemed to look down their nose at him; quite a feat when Aevar stood over seven feet tall.

Aevar knew of the mistranslation, what outsiders thought the runes of his brotherhood stood for. He knew that he should welcome it with pride, but he could hear how it rolled off the tongues of his fellow Astartes, namely the Ultramarine sitting across from him in the gunship. It was contempt for him and his Chapter, thinking they were simple-minded barbarians.

Aevar wanted to break one of the naysayers in half, either with his very hands or the two metal servo-arms mounted on the back of his battle plate, but such actions would not be tolerated by his fellow Astartes, the tech priests, or the small group of Adeptus Custodes standing behind them on the Thunderhawk gunship. And while he might fantasize about it, he knew he would only be playing into their flawed reasoning, justifying a simpleminded belief. Not to mention it would undoubtedly upset the Custodes.

Space Marines were tall, but the Custodes were taller still. If Aevar screwed his eyes, looked at them sideways and forgot every battle song and shred of lore he’d ever heard, he was sure that he could mistake one for the Allfather, the God-Emperor of Mankind, before his internment onto the Golden Throne.

He had only heard of the Custodes, but knew well of them. While Space Marines were genetically augmented humans, they were as mass produced as a bolter. The Custodes were all individually selected, their augmentation processes uniquely custom, based on the needs to be one of the few bodyguards who protected the Allfather. As an Iron Priest, Aevar had seen the difference between massed-patterned war gear and painstakingly, lovingly made killing tools. The latter always cut through the former like butter.

One of the Custodes stepped forward, easily swaying with the moving gunship as they descended to Holy Terra.

“We will be arriving at the Eternity Gate soon,” he said. Aevar could hardly take his eyes off of his battle plate. He had seen many master-crafted pieces, but none so beautiful as the one the Custode wore. The black metal looked like pure obsidian, and seemed as if it was sculpted from clay, not beaten from metal. He couldn’t find a single out of place etching or seam; it was beyond flawless. “We require that you surrender your weapons to us. None shall be armed in the presence of the Emperor, save his guard.”

The small team of Custodes walked through the ship, taking weapons. The tech priests, with their many cybernetic arms, had to disconnect mounted weapons to hand over.

Aevar bit his tongue, did his best not to growl, and gathered his weapons as the Custode approached. He drew his small paring knife that he kept at his waist, then Katla, his thunder hammer, and Iounn, his bolt pistol. Katla was one of the first weapons he made, and he could speak without pride that it was one of his best. She had two wide, flat heads that used to be perfectly smooth, but repeated use had bent it out of that perfect level, giving her character.

Before surrendering Katla, he looked himself over in her reflection; after all, he was going to see the Allfather, the Master of Mankind. His hair was long and lacquered, in perfect form. The occasional braid was tight and properly formed, and the hair that was not braided hung straight down. He kept a simple band around his wrist, in case he needed to tie his hair up, to keep it from his eyes.

His hair used to be black, but time had given him more than plenty of silver/gray, one of the only indicators of his true age. His beard was similarly salted, but was perfectly trimmed, coming down to his chest. He might be neigh immune to age, but time still had its way of marking him. It also was able to mark his skin, giving it a craggy, leather-like consistency.

With his hair in check, he surrendered Katla to the Custode. Unlike others in his pack, he hadn’t adorned Katla with golden wolf carvings or busts; why make one side the fighting side when you can have two killing surfaces? He made up for it by adorning her with totems, bones, runes and aged, tattered pelts. Katla rattled as the Custode carried her away. She was scarcely out of his grip for one minute and he was already missing her comfortable weight.

He surrendered Iounn, handing her butt first to the Custode. More totems rattled, and suddenly he felt bare, patting at the empty holster under his left arm. He even missed his simple paring knife, and that was more of a tool than a weapon.

“Once we have landed, you will be lead into the Sanctum Imperialis,” the Custode continued as his brothers gathering botlers and hammers and flamers from the others. There was even a massive, obsidian broadsword that a Salamander brother surrendered. “A word of warning: make no sudden movements. While we do not doubt your loyalty, as the Guards of the Emperor, we take no chances.”

“Understood,” Aevar said, his voice low and his neck raised, barring his throat to show submission. Such an act was lost on the other Tech Marines who gave their acknowledgments, as well as the Custodes.

If I were on Fenris, they would know that I am submitting to them, Aevar thought. He caught himself, and growled in displeasure. But I am not, and can’t dwell on such things. I’ve been chosen, and I must perform my duties to my absolute best.
Aevar didn’t know why he was summoned, but kept such curiosity buried. An open mind was a dangerous thing to have in such a dark time for humanity. Danger was everywhere, and all it took was one tiny slip to invite disaster, or the foul tinkering of Chaos.

The cabin of the ship shook as the ship touched ground. The doors hissed open, and the Custodes stepped out, leading the small group of tech marines and tech priests. Aevar was one of those to walk out last.

Around him was the Eternity Gate. One kilometer across and nearly half a kilometer in height, it opened to the dirty, polluted air of Holy Terra, and lead deep into the heart of the Imperial Palace. Ornate gold, silver and bronze shone in the afternoon light, showing the histories of untold trillions of the Imperium’s heroes.

Aevar tried not to gasp, but he found it to be beyond him; after all, it was his first time on Terra. He could hear many others of his fellow tech marines gasping as well, and even a few of the human Tech Priests who accompanied them. The Custodes politely waited for them before heading deeper into the Palace.

“I never thought this would be so beautiful,” a tech priest said. Aevar looked over, seeing a thin human man. His face was mostly human except for his lower jaw, which was constructed from cybernetics. Four servo-arms sprouted from his back, each as thin as his flesh arms, and were idly clicking away. The man’s eyes were large, soaking in every piece of the Palace.

“You’re right, brother,” Aevar said.

“Is this your first time on Holy Terra as well?” The man asked, picking up the pace so as not to be left behind. Being but a human, he had to nearly jog to keep pace with Aevar.

“It is.”

“Then I am not the only one in awe.”

“Of course not. Many of the battle brothers here have never set foot in such a holy place as well.”

“I see.” The man thought for a second. “If I may, do you know why we were called here?”

“Watch your curiosity, brother.”

“I am very careful with the guarding of my mind. ‘Blessed be the mind too small for doubt.’ I simply find it strange that so many of the Adeptus Mechanicus have been called to Holy Terra, and were not given a reason for our sudden summoning.”

Aevar had to agree with the tech priest. When he was whisked away from Fenris, he was amazed that Imperium ships could move that fast through the hellish dimension that was the Warp. If his ship was not at the hands of five veteran Navigators and a team of Inquisitors to help mask their trail, he was sure that they would have attracted the attention of a Greater Daemon, maybe even a Daemon Prince. Warp tides could have dragged them off, losing them among time and space, and hardly anyone would miss them.

“You’re not the only one,” Aevar said carefully. Death did not scare Aevar; when he ascended to the Vlka, one of the many changes made to him was the ability to feel fear; it was all but burned from him. Instead, he was scared, actually scared, that he might be caught blaspheming in the Imperial Palace, that he would be mistaken for breathing heresy.

He would rather cut his two hearts from his chest than to even think of committing heresy.

“Do any of your Space Marine brethren share such feelings?”

“I haven’t asked them.”

“Are you not all of the Adeptus Astartes?”

“Other chapters haven’t been very…eye-to-eye with us,” he said. “They view us a brutes and barbarians.”

“I see,” the priest said, one of his servo-arms clicking. “Oh, how rude of me. I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Legato.”

“Aevar Ironclaws.”

“It…is a pleasure to meet you.”

“The pleasure is mine, brother. Now, shall we see what we are needed for?”

 


 

The doors to the Sanctum Imperialis were pulled open, and the tech marines and priests fell to their knees. Aevar was shaking as he prostrated himself before the remains of the Allfather.


Dominating the center of the throne room was the Golden Throne. Meters tall, it towered over even the Custodes, who stood along the edges of the room. Tall stairs lead to the seat, where the Allfather sat. Hardly more than a mere withered corpse, the Allfather was still massive, easily as tall as a Space Marine, possibly taller than a Custode.

Dried skin was stretched across his body. Occasional patches of skin were missing, revealing bones of pure white, with minimal cybernetic interfaces drilled into his remains. But behind the bones were his dark organs, slowly rotting away. A few times, Aevar saw one flex as it pumped fluids through his body.

Behind the Allfather were cybernetic tubes and pumps plugging into his holy body, pushing blood and more fluids into and from his remains. Aevar could hear the death rattles of the sacrificed psykers behind the throne, and he could swear that he could feel the psychic essence of the Allfather, even though he was not a psyker himself.

Without those psykers or their sacrifices, the Allfather would truly die, torn from this realm of reality. And should that come to pass, then Chaos and the daemons that controlled them would surely win. Humanity as a species would die; that could never, ever happen. That was why the psykers were sacrificed, and for whatever reason, they were brought to Holy Terra.

Next to him, Legato was quickly reciting prayer after prayer under his breath, his face pressed against the ground, alternating between High Gothic and Binary. To his left, Aevar saw his Astartes brothers pulling their faces from the ground to stare at the Emperor. There were tech marines from the Ultramarines, Salamanders, even the Blood Ravens, and just as many tech priests from the holy vaults of Mars.

Soon, the group were able to pull themselves from their knees to stand. The Custodes stood around them, keeping a careful eye on them.

“Welcome to the Sanctum Imperialis,” one of the Custodes said. “You have been brought here to work on the most noble of causes the Imperium could ever hope of you. You will be given quarters, access to the most holy of relics, technology and patterns, and every available piece of knowledge you could ask for. In return, you will work to fix the Golden Throne.”

Aevar thought his mind would fail him for the second time.

“Custode, forgive me, but what could possibly be wrong with the Golden Throne?” He asked.

“Our brother is correct,” a brother from the Salamanders said. He was bald, and spoke in an equally deep voice that was as dark as his skin. “The Golden Throne has kept the Emperor’s psychic essence anchored on this plane for millennia. It was crafted by the Emperor himself. What are we to do?”

The Custodes shifted uncomfortably. Suddenly it felt that Aevar’ mind would fail him for a third time.

“What we are to tell you must never leave the Palace,” the Custode said. “Our most ambitious and dedicated tech priests from Mars have been examining the Golden Throne for a decade, and they have come to the same conclusion; the Throne is failing us.

“It requires more power than ever before; more psykers must be fed to it daily to ensure it functions. Too much has been lost in the years after the Heresy; as of yet, we have not found a way to repair the Throne, and we believe that it is a matter of time until the Throne fails the Emperor.”

“But, Custode, that would mean…” Legato stammered.

“That the Emperor will finally die.”

Everyone was shocked into silence. It was by the Allfather’s immortal will that the Imperium of Man spun. Their only means of faster-than-light travel was to travel through the Warp, as loath as Aevar was to admit it; all Vlka Fenryka hated warp travel. And the only way to travel the warp was by the Allfather’s beacon.

He was the metaphorical north star in the warp. To lose the north star meant that warp travel would become impossible. And if the Allfather’s chosen, if the Adeptus Astartes, could not travel the stars, how would they fight to keep their enemies at bay? Small skirmishes would bleed entire sectors dry. It would be the End Times for all of man.

“How can this be?” A brother Ultramarine asked. “He is the God-Emperor, surely he could instruct us on the repairs.”

“We must not let simple superstitions fool us,” the Custode replied. “Since his internment upon the Throne, we can only communicate with the Emperor through Imperial Tarot cards, and even that is vague at best. The Emperor has been beyond our communication since Horus rebelled; we cannot rely on his help.”

“Then why select us?” The Salamander brother said.

“You are all the wisest in the ways of the machine spirits. You will aid the Mechanicus stationed here in their attempt to repair the failing spirit of the Golden Throne. Or do you not believe that you are worthy enough?”

“You mistake me, Custode. I was of the belief that there were others more qualified than me, not that my skills with the machine spirits were sub-par.”

“There is no need for modesty here, tech marine. We have conferred with the greatest priests of Mars, even the Fabricator-General himself, and you were picked because of your talents. Everyone we have gathered is among the most skilled tech priest that Mars has ever produced, and you will help them in any way you see possible.”

“But Custode, won’t our work with the Golden Throne draw the attention of the dark gods?” Legato asked. “The Changer of Ways thrives on pulling men into the dark pit of forbidden knowledge.”

“A worthy concern. But fear not, for we are in the heart of the Imperium. The Emperor will protect us from any of the foul tinkering of Chaos. His mighty will makes it so. But, we would not be doing our duty as the bodyguard of the Emperor of we did not ensure that every single threat on his life went unchecked. Every standard week, we will examine you, your quarters and your works with a team of psykers and Inquisitors, searching for any threats of Chaos.”

“Thank you, Custode. That is all the reassurance that I need,” Legato bowed.

“Good,” the Custode said. “You will be shown to your chambers. You begin your work on the morrow. But guard yourself; you will see things that no man, mortal or otherwise, has seen since Horus killed the Emperor over ten thousand years ago; possibly ever. We will demand a great deal from you. Some of you may be asked to never leave Terra.”

Aevar swallowed. It was a hunt, a hunt for the truth. And the Vlka Fenryka loved hunts. But a hunt changed the hunter…how would this change them? How would this change all of them?

 


 

Tears streamed down Legato’s face as he cried uncontrollably at his table. He tried to compose himself, but he was failing. His mind seemed too small to comprehend such a blessing. To even be considered for such an honor, so soon. He had barely been working on the Throne for a standard week, but they thrust this task upon him.

“Hey, Legato, you’re a genetor, aren’t you?” The Space Wolf Aevar asked, walking up to him. “…Are you crying?”

“By the blessings of the Omnissiah,” he sobbed, “I have seen the Emperor’s holy genes.”

“They let you see it?”

“I begged them not to; how can I be worthy of such an honor? Of such a blessing?” He tried drying his eyes. “T-they wanted me to try and transmute blood-types; the blessed machine that had done that had failed, I was to make a new one. It tall order, but an order that I have to carry out. I aim to turn genes from psykers to the very genes of the Emperor himself. And to do it…they made me examine the Emperor’s holy helix.”

“Damn. I’d be weeping myself if I got to see that.”

“The very image of the blessed helix is burned into my eyes. I’ll see it to my dying day.”

“Well, what was it like?” Aevar asked.

“Perfect. Perfect in every way.”

“Fucking better be. This is the Allfather we’re talking about,” he chuckled. “Morkai’s balls, I think I’m almost getting used to working on this Throne.”

“I doubt any of us will truly ‘get used’ to it.”

“Too right! Mind if I borrow you? I could use your help with the gene-work that needs to be done to the Throne. I’m good at it, but I’m not the best.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Legato said, getting up from the table he sat at. He still shook from seeing the Emperor’s holy, perfect genes.

“I’ll never understand how the Custodes become so accustom to it. Fuck, I could use some mjod.”

Aevar idly tugged at his matted and locked hair as he spoke. Wiping away the tears, Legato could see the age in his hair and his face. His face was lined with wrinkles, tanned from age, and his hair was a mix between dark black and a shockingly pure silver/grey. But he moved, talked and acted like a young man. Was it his superhuman Astartes physiology, or some weird quirk? Nearly all of the other Space Marines were dour and tact. Aevar was crass, even crude.

“Mjod?”

“Right, this is Terra. Mjod is a drink. Poisonous to humans, it just gets us buzzed.”

“You…drink?”

“Of course! It’s practically our duty as a Vlka Fenryka.”

“Well, if it’s your duty to drink, then it’s the Custode’s duty to guard. As it is ours to examine the Throne and save the Emperor.”

Aevar led him to the back of the massive throne, where another tech marine, a Salamander, sat examining a scroll and a section of wiring and tubing that lead into and out of the throne, and the Emperor.
Legato didn’t blame Aevar’s discomfort in the least; his servo-arms were slightly trembling, twitching at the slightest provocation of his overworked nerves. Behind them, the death rattles of the sacrificed mutants had turned into a dull background noise, easily forgotten.

“It’s a fair enough point,” Aevar said with a shrug. It was obvious he was putting on an act of disinterest. Aevar gestured to the Salamander. “Have you met Croan?”

“I don’t think I had the pleasure.”

“Well then: Legato, this is Croan Dragonsword,” Aevar said with a flourish. “Croan Dragonsword, Legato.”

“Are you the tech marine who made that massive broadsword?” Legato asked.

“The very same,” Croan said. As a Salamander, he was a massive, obsidian skinned Marine.

“It is a beautiful blade.”

“Many thanks,” the Salamander said. “Legato, it is an honor to meet you.”

“Enough about honor, let’s do our fucking jobs,” Aevar smiled. “Can you tell what that scroll says? I think it’s a blueprint for the structure of the throne, mapping the flow of what appears to be blood fluid.”

At the feet of Croan was a scroll, impossibly old. Legato knelt down to the fragile piece of vellum, for fear of tearing it.

“Can you decipher it?” Croan asked.

“No, I can barely understand what the writing means. By the blessed machine spirit, this might be the Emperor’s own handwriting.”

“Shit. Guess there goes one potential lead,” Aevar grumbled. “How goes your work, brother?”

“Agonizingly slow,” the Croan replied. He rubbed a hand over his bald scalp. “The technology we could use from this is astounding, but it is beyond me.”

“It is almost like forbidden technology, not meant for us,” Legato said.

“Nonsense,” Aevar chided. “We’ve been chosen to work on the throne. We must do our job, and do it as best we can.”

“I wish I could share your enthusiasm,” Legato said.

“You were the one who talked about doing our duty,” Aevar replied.

“I never said that it was easy. It feels like I’m working slower than a slug.”

“A slug can still travel distances, given time.”

“Wisdom from a Space Wolf?” Croan chuckled. “Never thought I would see the day. But you do speak the truth, brother. We must finish our work. There is no greater need for it.”

“'Blessed is the mind too small for doubt,'” Legato recited. “I find the Imperial Teachings failing me one by one, and in the very seat of Humanity, no less.”

“The universe is filled with strange and terrifying things,” Aevar said. “We must face them with the staunchest of determination.”

“I wish I could have your enthusiasm,” Legato said. He closed his eyes, but all he could see the blessed genes of the Emperor dancing in front of him.

 


 

 

The machine stared at them. A simple energy transfer module, it’s machine spirit had stubbornly refused to cooperate.

“If I spend another minute staring at this,” Legato groaned, “I’ll be seeing this and the Emperor’s genes in my sleep.”

“It has to work. I cannot see the fault with the circuit,” Croan sighed, his massive Space Marine bulk heaving from buried annoyance. His back-mounted servo-arms twisted and rotated in annoyance. “I can only think of rebuilding the entire machine,replacing the troublesome mechanical spirit.”

“If we take it apart, I sure can’t put it back together,” Legato said. “If it was anywhere else but the Throne Room, I believe we could try it, but we need to repair it, not destroy it even more.”

“Even if we were allowed to remove such a component from the Throne Room, I doubt I would be able to do so.”

“Still not used to being so close to the Emperor?”

“Yes, as strange as it is, I am,” Croan said. “I am supposed to be working as if this was another job to be done, but in the Throne Room? On Holy Terra? This is almost too much. I can barely bring myself to look at the Emperor.”

“Few can,” Aevar said, walking up to them. Legato jumped. For such a large man, even by Space Marine standards, he moved far too quietly. “How goes it, brothers?”

“Vexed, unfortunately,” Croan said, not visibly bothered with Aevar’s silent approach. Legato, however, still had a small urge to fear Aevar. Native Fenrisians inspired it wherever they walked. Space Marines radiated it despite themselves. A Space Wolf, being both, compounded the feeling. “We believe this to be a power exchanger. It is broken, and its machine spirit refuses all of our attempts to repair it. Can you spot the flaw and sooth it?”

“Let me see,” Aevar said, kneeling. Like Croan, he wore a simple carapace instead of his power armor. His servo-arms mimicked his real arm movements; they pawed the ground, making him look like a six legged animal. His long, matted and sometimes dreadlocked hair hung down, and he occasionally brushed it away. “Can you activate the relay?”

Croan complied, giving the machine a fraction of the blessed energies of the Golden Throne. It sparkled, but nothing happened. Aevar leaned on his arms, and his servo-arms began to work the circuit. The tips of the claws broke apart, revealing drills, welding tips, solder ends and cutters. They worked in a mad fury, linked to Aevar’s very brain. Occasionally Legato heard him mumbling the prayers and blessings, but for the most part, he was quiet.

“Try again.”

Croan did, and the machine sparked, but died. Aevar’ servo-arms went to work again, and he was silently muttering prayer after prayer. He leaned on his real arms, shifting his weight. He tried a third time, then a fourth time, each time the spark of energy growing in length, but ultimately flickering off.

“Is the machine spirit broken?” Legato asked, hoping to be proven wrong.

“Course not,” Aevar said, “it’s just a little stubborn. What it needs some tender, loving care to nurse it back to health.”

“’Tender, loving care?’” Croan snorted. “Today is truly a day of blessings. I have heard words I never thought to hear from a Space Wolf’s lips.”

“They’re words I would only use for the blessed machines. And a few hearty Fenrisian women,” Aevar laughed. “Some need a kick, a screaming, or a good curse. But others need a more refined, gentle touch.”

“So when will we hear the Space Wolf curse?” Croan asked.

The machine sparked, flickered and faltered, then caught and glowed brightly as the energy was fed through it and passed along.

“Not today, unfortunately,” Aevar said, bringing himself to a kneeling position instead of resting on his hands.

“We have spent the entire day trying and failing to fix it,” Legato said. “How did you know what to do?”

“It’s just like a hunt. You just have to follow the energy, the footprints, and it’ll eventually lead you to where the problem is.”

“You must be touched by the Omnissiah,” Croan said. “I’ve stared at that thing until it was burned into my eyes.”

“I’ve heard that talk before. If I’m blessed, then I am. But as far as I’m concerned, I just have a knack for soothing the machine spirits.”

“’A knack,’ he says,” Croan chuckled. “I have seen that massive thunder hammer on your back. It is peerless, a true master crafted weapon of war. One does not simply make such a creation.”

“Actually, Katla was the first thing I made,” Aevar said.

“’Katla?’ That was your first weapon?” Legato asked.

“Aye, she was,” Aevar said.

“The Priests of Mars do not simply let aspirants make a thunder hammer as their first project,” Croan said.

“They sure as fuck didn’t!” Aevar roared. “Back when I was on Mars, they said they’d start us off small. But I was young and restless; I wanted to get straight to making earth shaking weapons. They told me to cool my heels, but I wanted one of those hammers, you know?”

“So you just ‘made’ a thunder hammer,” Croan said.

“Aye, I sure fucking did.”

“How did you know what to do?”

“Saw a few of them in action, so I had an idea of what was going on,” Aevar said. “Tried a few times, got nowhere, got pissed, so I just said ‘screw it’ and threw things together. Didn’t know what I was exactly doing, but when it was all said and done, I had Katla.”

“You just…made a thunder hammer,” Croan said, disbelief in his voice. He shook his head. “You truly are blessed by the Omnissiah.”

“I’m glad we have you with us,” Legato said.

“I’m glad to be here, brother,” Aeavr said. “Now if only I could bring myself to understand the workings of the Golden Throne itself, instead of a simple power converter.”

“For that, we are all in the dark,” Croan said. “If the Adeptus Mechanicus could have fixed the Throne, it would have done so long ago, and there would be no need for us.”

“Unfortunately, that is not the case,” Legato said.

“It is,” Aevar agreed. “What part would you like to get started on next, brothers? Hopefully our luck would hold out for that one.”

Chapter Text

Aevar growled in frustration as he gingerly set a tiny machine down on the library table. Legato couldn’t help but flinch; Space Wolves seemed bestial, and it didn’t help that Aevar even growled like an animal. It was clear he wanted to throw the machine far across the room. Where he found the patience to not throw it, Legato didn’t know. Against the animal growling, Legato couldn’t help but to minutely shrink back from the library table they sat at.

It was only a few hours since Aevar had helped him and Croan, and it was obvious that his luck did not hold out as much as he would’ve liked. The tiny machine Aevar had now refused to work, even for one blessed by the Omnissiah. Legato watched him fiddle with the machine, twisting it this way and that in his massive hands as they all sat at a table.

“The Allfather himself must’ve built every single part of this damned Throne himself,” Aevar said, rubbing his eyes.

“It certainly looks like it,” Croan said, pointing at the scroll he was reading. “This is High Gothic, over one thousand standard years ago, but the words themselves seem different, older. I can barely understand it.”

“Languages change,” Legato said. Between the two massive Space Marines, he seemed like a child. He wondered if the other tech priests were as ‘taken in’ by the Space Marines as he was. Both Aevar and Croan seemed to prefer his company rather than their brother Marines. “Words and phrases fall into and out of use and popularity, as do names. These scrolls must be beyond us, to say nothing of our other brothers working on the Throne.”

“Bullshit. I won’t believe that it can’t be fixed,” Aevar growled. His long, hardened fingernails bit into the table, but he stopped himself before he could gouge chunks of wood. One of the Custodes stationed in the library either heard or saw the action, for he turned his gaze upon him. Not seeing a threat, he returned to his post.

“This entire library can’t be useless,” he continued. “There has to be something here that could lead us to the answers.”

“Guard yourself, brother,” Croan said, “some answers are best left unanswered, or the questions unknown. They might take you down the path of damnation.”

“I know what the Warp smells of,” Aevar said. “I know what traitors looks like, and what heretics sounds like. I’ve fought them and their ilk countless times before. I’ll not let myself fall to their traps.”

“And if you were to fall?” Croan challenged.

Legato held his breath. He could feel both Space Marines’ tempers flare as they squared off, facing each other, their bodies preparing to fight. In Aevar’s case, the effects were visible.

Aevar’s hair bristled, standing on end, making him seem bigger. His nose flared, his eyes widened but pupils shrunk, and his mouth pulled back to reveal his long, gene-flawed fangs. Even though he lacked the acute senses of an animal, Legato swore he could smell the kill-urge on Aevar. It seemed to roll off him in waves, the work of the Canine Helix that pumped through his veins and made him into a Space Wolf.

Croan returned the gaze, silently staring back. He had no hair to speak of, and his skin seemed to suck in the very light around them. His eyes were a dull red, and they gazed out, meeting the challenge of Aevar’s gaze. Time seemed to slow as the two glared at each other.

“Then I hope that you’ll be the one to show me the error of my ways,” Aevar said after what seemed like an eternity. “Feed me to the fire to show me what true radiance looks like.”

“With pleasure, brother,” Croan grinned, his pearly teeth standing out against his black skin as he grinned widely. And like that, they were grasping hands, thumping each other on the back, as if they knew each other for centuries instead of months. “But until that day comes, what will you do, oh blessed by the Omnissiah?”

“Shut your mouth, you pyromaniac bastard,” Aevar laughed. “I’ll dig through the scrolls here, see what teachings the Allfather left behind for us.”

“You like this, don’t you?” Legato asked.

“Of course,” he said. “The Sons of Russ love a good chase, almost as much as we love a good fight.”

“And how is this a chase?”

“Because the answers are out there,” Aevar said, spreading his hands out in a wide gesture. “They leave tracks, signs of them being there. We have to follow them, and they’ll lead us to the glorious truth.”

“And of the Chaos awaiting us at every turn?” Croan asked.

“What hunt would be complete if the hunter wasn’t hunted himself?”

“You’re all mad,” Legato said.

“Of course we are!” Aevar laughed, standing up. “Do you think anyone could stay sane in a galaxy such as this?”

“Where is your hunt taking you now?” Croan asked.

“To where the answers are, brother. I’m going to root through the Allfather’s private library, not this depleted room of scrolls.”

“His private library?” Croan said. “The Custodes have given us access to everything but that. The Emperor’s private chambers are forbidden to all.”

“I’m sure they’ll make an exception to save the Imperium.”

“Be cautious, this might be Holy Terra, but Chaos could lurk through any corner,” Legato said, shocked at what the Space Wolf was saying.

“I know the risks. And if I do fall, Croan here better keep his promise, or he’ll be the first I kill,” he said, jerking his thumb at the Salamander.

Legato waited until Aevar left the library.

“The Emperor’s private library? He’s mad,” Legato said, turning to Croan. “Why didn’t you stop him?”

“Stop him?” Croan said. “I doubt that anything could stop a Space Wolf, even the Space Wolf in question. He wants his glorious hunt too much.”

“But he could be walking into a trap set by Chaos,” Legato insisted.

“Then let us hope he can fight as well as he boasts,” Croan said. “He has a burning desire in him to aid the Imperium, the Emperor himself. He wants those answers, and those who have the desire and the drive can achieve nearly everything they set their eyes on. We would do nothing but adding fuel to that burning desire if we tell him to stop.”

“I still don’t like it,” Legato said.

“As do I, brother. He will find himself in more trouble that he could possibly imagine, should he continue his mad hunt for the answers. But with the Golden Throne failing; what choice do we have but to humor his mad attempts?”

“If he were anyone else, working for anything other than this, the Inquisition would examine for the touch of chaos.”

“And he would burn for it, regardless of the outcome,” Croan said. “Investigating an unworthy subject wastes their time, and the Inquisition does not like wasting time.”

 


 

Aevar walked through the high halls, the twisted, glorious pathway of the Imperial Palace. His twin hearts were beating a step higher than normal, instead of his secondary heart resting until it was needed. This as a hunt, a search for the elusive pray. And he loved a good hunt.

He had spent too much time in the halls of the Palace. He needed to be outside, with the frigid, blowing air, with nature and trees and hunters and prey, not being stuck inside some stuffy building, even if the Allfather himself was in it. The long time spent inside chaffed at him, made him cagy, and made him eager to find the answers. He walked to the door of the private library, where two Custodes stood.

“Do you need help, Space Wolf?” One Custode said. He stood without a helm, allowing Aevar to look him in the eye.

“I want to look inside this library.”

“This is the Emperor’s own private library,” the Custode said. “Only the Emperor should walk in here. They hold secrets that only he could bear witness to.”

“I believe you should make an exception,” Aevar growled. He realized what he had said, how he had said it, a fraction of a second after it passed his lips.

The two Custodes bristled. Aevar inwardly sighed; the words were spoken, the challenge thrown, and nothing he could do about that. He stood up straighter and puffed out his chest, like any Son of Russ would do.

“You know what I’m here for, aye?”

“You are one of the Tech Marines flown in to fix the Golden Throne,” a Custode said. Aevar could smell the duty on the Custode, and that duty involved killing him if he made the wrong move. By the Allfather, he loved it.

“And I can’t do that if I’m barred from entering the library,” he said. “The Allfather himself made the Throne, right? Then it stands to reason that the answer to the Throne’s construction might be in his own private library, doesn’t it?”

“You overextend yourself, Space Wolf,” the Custode snarled.

“Do you want the Allfather to pass from this mortal realm?” Aevar challenged. The Custode’s eyes widened in fury. “Because I sure as Hel don’t. I want Him to stay seated on the Throne until the stars go out, and then reignite to start the whole damn universe over again. I want the Allfather to be the only true constant in this galaxy, aside from Chaos trying to fuck my soul raw and bloody at every twist and turn. I want to do my duty to the Imperium, to the Allfather himself, and I can’t do that duty unless you let me into this library, so I can find the damn answers to that fucking Throne and fix it!”

The Custodes glared at Aevar, who stood straighter. He prayed to the Allfather that this might work.

“Go to your quarters,” one said. The other Custode turned to stare at his brother. “We will examine him for the taint of Chaos, then confer with the High Lords of Terra and the Ecclesiarchy.”

“You cannot be serious,” the other Custode said.

“It is true that we cannot let the Emperor slip into oblivion. As loathe as I am to admit it, the Space Wolf is right; the Emperor’s own private library would most likely hold the answer.” He turned to face Aevar. “But you must be found worthy before you set one foot inside.”

“All I ask for is the chance to serve,” Aevar said, baring his neck.

“Then go to your quarters. These despite times have truly called for desperate measures.”

 


 

Aevar stood as still as he could in his assigned quarters. He could feel the air move over his skin as the Gray Knight examined him. The two Custodes from the Library waited for the results. The room he was given was made for a mortal; one Space Marine made it seem small. Sharing it with a Grey Knight and two Custodes made it seem like a broom closet.

Aevar bit his tongue; he wasn’t supposed to know about Grey Knights. The Inquisition didn’t like it, but after the First War of Armageddon and the following Months of Shame, Aevar knew of them well enough. So he kept his mouth closed, and didn’t ask questions about the elusive, silver-armored Marine.

“You are…clear,” the Gray Knight said.

Of course I am, he thought. I’d rather tear out my hearts and eat them before I turn traitor.

“Why the hesitancy?” He said instead.

“It is nothing. Just a strange request that we have to honor, and a stranger reading about you.”

“’A stranger reading?’ Stranger how?”

“You have...a glow about you,” the Grey Knight said. “One that I have never seen before.”

“Well, they do say I’m blessed by the Omnissiah. Thank you, brother.”

“I do not believe it is a blessing of the Omnissiah,” the Grey Knight said, “I do not think it is any kind of blessing, at least one I have seen before. But we can neither question your purity nor loyalty.”

“We shall accompany you to the Emperor’s library,” the Custodes said, none the happier.

“I thank you again,” Aevar said. “This could greatly aid in my search.”

“Steel yourself, for you risk drawing the attention of the Ruinous Powers,” the Gray Knight warned. “They will seek you out, even after you leave the heart of the Imperium.”

“If they want a fight, that they shall have it,” Aevar said.

“Enough chest puffing,” a Custode said. “You have work to do.”

“That’s right,” Aevar said. The only way to leave his small, cramped chambers was by a single-file line. Once freed from the tiny chamber, they began walking through the hallways towards the library.

How long has it been since he was truly outside? Even stepping outside of the palace didn’t feel like going outside; there was too much smoke on Terra, too much noise, and not enough fresh air. There weren’t even any trees or vegetation, none that was picked to grow in neat little rows or plots. He needed to go back to Fenris.

“Be warned, some roads will get you lost,” the Custode said as they drew to the doors of the library. Much to his surprise, Legato and Croan were there.

“Coming to join me, brothers?” Aevar grinned.

“Coming to see you off on your fool’s errand,” Croan smiled back.

“Please, watch yourself,” Legato said.

“Now that you asked me to, I guess I will,” Aevar chuckled. The Custodes keyed the entrance code, and the door clicked as it was unlocked. Aevar pushed against the door, and with a mighty groan, it opened.

“By the Machine Spirit, why hasn’t anyone oiled the damn hinges?” He grunted.

“We believe the last one to use the library was the Emperor himself,” the Custode said. “You should feel honored.”

Suddenly Aevar’s knees threatened to give out under him. The Allfather himself? Walk where he is about to walk? He paused to recollect himself. Legato and Croan didn’t call his hesitation to question.

“Well, when you put it like that…” he muttered. He took a deep breath and walked inside. The door closed behind him and lights slowly flickered on. A few tables were sitting every ten meters or so, exactly like every single library Aevar had ever been in.

There were massive shelves stacked high to the ceiling, and they were filled with scrolls. There were scrolls everywhere, and they were all ancient. Surprisingly, he was able to read the ancient High Gothic.

“There are some parts of languages that don’t change, then,” he said. “Wish Legato could see this.”

 He felt drawn to one scroll, so he took it and walked to the closest table. He sat down and gingerly pulled it open. He coughed as dust billowed from the table.

Imperial Order Number One Thousand and Twenty Seven, it read.

“Must be a history of the Great Crusade.”

He looked at the shelves. There was no marking, none that he could see. The Allfather must have memorized where all the scrolls were. He sighed.

“Then I’m to pick them out at random, find a method to the Allfather’s organizational methods.”

He carefully rolled the scroll up and began looking for more. He was in the Emperor’s library; what’s the worst that could happen?

 


 

In the weeks that Aevar had spent in the Allfather’s library, he had seen dozens of mentions of the Imperial Truth, but had never found it. His curiosity was piqued, and he had spent hours looking for it. But now that he found it, he had wished he had never heard of it.

Humanity would never be the dominant force of the galaxy until the last stone from the last church was cast down onto the last priest, the scroll read.

Aevar stared at the scroll. His hands shook as he read. No faith? No religion? No Imperial Cult? No Omnimesiah? This simply could not be.

But it was the Allfather’s own handwriting, he was sure of it. After reading countless scrolls in the library, he knew the style of the Emperor of Mankind, and this scroll was it. But what he was reading, it was beyond anything he had every wished to see. It was blasphemy, heresy, from the Allfather’s own hand.

The Ruinous Powers are powered by superstition, the by-product of the power of faith. So long as a single faithful human remains, humanity would be plagued by the forces of Chaos. This is the Imperial Truth that has been sworn to the planets of Mankind since I began the Great Crusades, and will be upheld until Mankind breathes its collective last.

Faith and religion, including the cursed text Lectitio Divinitatus, shall be the very downfall of Humanity. Cast aside faith. Crush it under your foot and leave it for the worms that crawl in the ground. Science, technology and reason shall light the path of Mankind, not the religious dogma of Primarch Lorgar. I hereby order all copies of the Lecitito Divinitatus shall be burned, never to tempt those of lesser minds, or weak of will.

Aevar’s mind spun. Lorgar was a Primarch, a son of the Allfather, and a dirty traitor, one of the first to turn his back on the glorious light of the Allfather. He even pulled the Arch-Traitor Horus into the powers of Chaos. But he was not referred to as a traitor, simply as a Primarch. The scrolls in his hands must pre-date the Heresy.

But even that paled to the fact that the Allfather himself, in his own hand, called for an end to faith. What of the Imperial Cult, then? How could the Allfather allow the growth of the greatest religion Mankind has ever seen, if he abhors it so? What of the Omnissiah?

The truth fell on Aevar like a hulking kraken, risen from the depths of Fenris to feast in the summer waters. The Allfather was interned upon the Golden Throne, cut off from normal communication with Mankind; he was, for all intents and purpose, a deaf mute.

Aevar knew the history of the Imperium. In the chaotic aftermath of the Heresy, so much was lost, it appeared that it was truly the end of times. That was when the Imperial Cult rose; it stabilized the masses of Mankind, gave them shelter and courage to face the traitors and Chaos that remained, nipping at the bleeding carcass of the Imperium.

The Imperial Cult, the worship of the Allfather, had saved humanity. It was humanity. The countless worlds of the Imperium had to share but one thing: the endless praise of the God-Emperor.

The truth was so great, so terrible, Aevar could only stare in awe at it. Humanity, once so hateful of religion, turn to it with open arms? It reeked of Tzeentch, the Changer of Ways. It was almost funny how Mankind has changed, so fast and so powerfully, it had to be planned, and planned well. Aevar unconsciously bared his teeth, and his arms, both flesh and metal, tensed as he saw the truth. It was a trick worthy of the great chaos sorcerer, the most hated enemy of the Sons of Russ.

He shook his head, as if to cast the idea out of his mind. Trick humanity into worship? That simply couldn’t be. It was one scroll, dozens of millennia old, amongst others. It had to be a trick, something planted to shake the faith of those weak willed. Aevar rolled the scroll up and threw it aside, neither caring how old it was nor how valuable.

“It would take more than that to shake my faith,” he said to the walls and ceiling of the library. The foul Chaos God would have to come into the library itself before he wavered one--

There could be no Chaos in here, Aevar realized. Here, in the Palace of Humanity, on Holy Terra itself, the Allfather’s very will blocks all Chaos that would dare try to enter.

If there was one place in the galaxy that would be free of the taint of Chaos, it would be here.

Aevar stared at the scroll he had thrown away. Was it telling the truth? Holy Terra could not be breached by Chaos, not now, not ever, and certainly not in the past, regardless of how many millennia had passed. He bolted to his feet and ran to the scroll, gently picking it up with his flesh hands. It was undamaged. Good, that was good.

But it was still one scroll among countless scrolls. It meant nothing, even if it was the Allfather’s hand. It was an errant track, a mere broken twig that meant nothing; there needed to be more signs, more tracks to follow, before it lead to a trail, which would lead to the pray he was tracking. He needed more proof, more tracks, before he could say for sure if the scroll was telling the truth.

Aevar stood and placed the scroll on the table. Where to start? He had found the scroll almost by accident. It had fallen from a shelf, almost wanting to be found. He found it only because it had the Allfather’s Order on it.

“Think, damn you, think,” he muttered to himself, kneading his knuckles to his eyes. His servo-arms clicked as they opened and closed, rotated at the cuff and flexed. “Find the scent, follow the scent. It claims to be the Imperial Truth, so it would be the standard of the Imperium. It would be a law, of course!”

He jogged, almost ran, to the center aisle of the library, his bare feet pounding on the stone floor. He had found the law section long ago and had avoided it as best he could. It didn’t hold the answers that he thought they did, but now, they did. His hearts beat faster; it was a hunt, now. A hunt for a long forgotten truth in the Allfather’s own library. Aevar grinned. Now it was fun.

He ran down the aisles, scanning the shelves for anything that appeared to hold any laws from the ancient Imperium. He found many, skimmed them all, and cast them aside. Most were old court hearings of various cases of guilt; all minor, all not in the Allfather’s written hand.

Among the scrolls he didn’t need were those occasionally written by the Allfather; he wrote much, left much, there would be scrolls that he just didn’t need. Regardless, Aevar held onto them, running back to the table he was using and storing them there, on the off-chance he would need them. Then it was back to the aisles, looking for the elusive Truth.

Hours passed as he looked. He slowly found scrolls that appealed to the Imperium’s laws. He took them with him, making a new stack for them, and they slowly grew. The hours grew into days, but Aevar continued to search. He was sure he hadn’t slept, eaten or drank in days, but his gene-enhanced physique allowed him to continue, his will pressing him forward. The hunt was long and hard, but he was strong and patient. Slowly, he had an entire table devoted to the laws.

“Good enough to start with,” he said, looking at his work. He sat down and began to read. He skimmed the scrolls, and put most of them away; they were petty laws or otherwise unrelated to his search for the Truth. He kept the ones that mentioned ‘the Imperial Truth.’ They were the ones that were court hearings of those found guilty of spreading religion and faith. It was strange to see such strong faith be put on trial, so Aevar held onto them.

He pulled open one scroll, and gasped as he found what he was looking for: a description of the Imperial Truth to a newly re-discovered colony of Mankind.

Cast aside your faith. It is the chain that will drag you down to damnation. The Emperor of Man needs no faith. The only faith you will keep is the Imperial Truth. Science and reason shall light your futures, shall lead to a better place, where Mankind truly rules the stars, instead of struggles against them.

His hearts hammered. Was this Imperial Truth a true thing? He placed the scroll aside and looked for another. The hunt was turning on him; he was no longer the hunter, but the hunted, running from the truth that proved the error in his ways.

Another scroll had the Imperial Truth in it, in more details than he ever wanted to find.

The Primarch Lorgan is a traitor, casting aside the Imperial Truth and the golden light of the Emperor’s science for the dark, musty tomes of Chaos and faith. He has joined the Arch Enemy, joined Horus, and fought against the Emperor. By the order of the Emperor, before his placement upon the Golden Throne, any and all resources shall be spent to track down and kill the traitor.

It could not be true. Everything the Imperium stood for, a lie? Any enthusiasm Aevar had evaporated. He was staring the truth in the eye. The Imperial Cult was a falsehood. But why? The Imperial Cult saved humanity from the darkness of Chaos. It was the one true constant in the galaxy.

Or was it? The Imperial Cult said nothing about the Omnissiah, the Machine God, the god that blessed every machine the Adeptus Mechanicus created. It was a faith that Aevar himself held, living alongside the Imperial Cult. Only now did he spot the contradiction; it was a contradiction that was blatantly ignored by all.

The Cult stated that only the Allfather was a god, surrounded by the forces of Chaos. Any other claims to divinity were by heretics or false prophets. But the Omnissiah was a god, wasn’t it? It said nothing about the glorious light of the Allfather. They seemed to causally ignore each other.

Aevar felt sick to his stomachs.

“Need to get out of here,” he mumbled to himself. He stood up and teetered. Could Chaos infiltrate the Palace, just to tempt him with knowledge? If it was knowledge, it was Tzeentch, the hated Changer of Ways. His skin rolled at the thought of being tempted by the god of the Thousand Sons. He would rather fall to Khorne.

“Try to tempt me, will you?” He said. Aevar knew what he had to do. He left the library, leaving his stack of scrolls deep inside. He pushed the door open with too much force, almost hitting the Custodes.

“Watch yourself, Space Wolf,” one said, easily catching the door in his massive hand.

“I think I’m infected with the taint of Chaos,” Aevar said. The Custodes stiffened. “Test me. Please.”

Aevar was thrown to the ground with such speed it astounded him. Then everything went black.

Chapter Text

The world slowly made itself known to Aevar. Slowly and painfully, he woke up. Groaning, he tried to move, but found himself chained to a stone wall, his arms and legs locked in thick, cold slabs. His shoulders protested as they held part of his massive weight.

He tried to move his servo-arms, but realized that they were taken from him. Even though he wore rough spun garments, he felt naked without the black carapace and servo-arms. The room was a stone dungeon, cold and black; even with his gene-enhanced eyes, it was dark. He tested his arms and legs. The heavy chains clinked as he pulled at them, but he could move all of his limbs. It was a start.

As he grew more and more alert, hatred started warming his veins.

“You lock me up like a rat? How dare you! I’m Aevar Ironclaws! Sky Warrior of Fenris, Son of Russ! The Iron Priest of Bjorn Stormwolf, Siege Layer and Siege Breaker, blessed by the Machine-Spirit! I’ve forged a thousand sets of power armor, for Blood Claws to Company Jarls! I’ve crafted millions of weapons, all masterpieces in their own right, tools of murder and genocide! I’ve found in the foul mucks of Armageddon, slain millions of Chaos cultists, butchered daemons, and fought the Thousand Sons! I will not be treated this way!”

Every Space Marine was enhanced with acid-generating spit to help them escape captivity; the Vlka Fenryka, the Space Wolves, were no different. Aevar bared his teeth and bit at the chains. The glands in his mouth swelled and contracted, generating acid to eat through the chains. It hissed as the adamantium resisted the corrosive spit, but Aevar kept gnawing at the chains. Given enough time, it would slowly dissolve even adamanitum, and Aevar had the will to wait that long.

The doors to the dungeon were jerked open. Light blinded Aevar for only a second before his eyes adjusted, just in time to see a fist being swung at his face. The blow rattled his brain and chipped a tooth. His head lolled as the world spun.

“I would not attempt such a breakout,” a voice said. Aevar blinked away the stars. “They might be seen as your attempt to escape, and that would greatly accelerate your trial.”

It wasn’t a Custode that hit him, but rather a brother Space Marine. Aevar sniffed the air, smelling the man. He was a psyker, a mutant, and a member of the Ordo Malleus, a Grey Knight. He wore simple, yet regal silver clothes, and held a tome in his hands.

“You, Aevar Ironclaws of the Space Wolves, came to us, saying you were infected with the taint of Chaos,” the man said. “I am here to test you.”

“Is the smell of Chaos on me?”

“Not to the casual glance, but Chaos is a tricky foe,” the Grey Knight said. “It works its way into the heart, making one slowly see it as the truth, instead of the corruption it is.” His gaze drilled into Aevar. He looked back with as much resolve. “It was good that you came to us. One must always be on guard when it comes to Chaos. And to our scans, you seem to have a strange kind of…glow about you. It might be a blessing from the Emperor, yes, but given the grave nature of this, we need to be doubly sure.”

“I have a request,” Aevar said.

“That is for us to decide whether or not you will get your request,” the Grey Knight spat.

“If the taint of Chaos is truly on me, have Croan show me the true radiance. Have him burn me.”

“You…wish that?”

“I promised him that, should I fall.”

“Very well. Your test begins now.” The Gray Knight turned on his heel and left the dungeon, closing the door behind him.

“You seek to test my patience?” Aevar yelled after him. “I’ve pounded shapes and forms into raw adamantium! Made the hull of a Land Raider from a single piece of mountainous ore! I’ve the patience of a rock, outlasting everything! Test me, and I shall crush each of your tests!”

The dungeon shook with his shouts, reverberating for minutes before slowly dying out. Aevar breathed heavily, waiting for the tests to begin.

His eyes fully adjusted, but even then they saw nothing. There was no light in the dungeon, only blackness, and his heavy breathing. Aevar swore he could feel the Canine Helix twisting inside him, pacing much like a wild beast as he waited.

Nothing happened. The door did not open, confessors armed with knives and pliers and blowtorches and screws and hammers and awls and ball-peen hammers did not enter.

So he waited.

He wished he could stop breathing, only so that he couldn’t hear his damned breath reverberate in the dungeon. He breathed heavily, he breathed lightly, he didn’t breathe at all, but he still heard the echoes of his last breath.

Aevar took a deep breath and held it. He counted in his head: one, two, three, four…thirty-two, thirty-three…fifty-nine, one minute, one, two…fifty-eight, fifty-nine, seven minutes, one, two…fifty-nine, fifteen minutes…

Aevar’s vision swam, and he gasped for breath. The sounds of his breathing were grating on his ears. He roared, trying to block out the sound of his breathing.

His throat dried and cracked, his stomachs growled in hunger, his arms screamed as they were pulled away from him, forced to carry his weight when his legs grew tired, and still no one came.

The door finally cracked open, and the Grey Knight entered, carrying a tray with a cup and pieces of bread and meat.

“How are you doing, brother?”

“What? Ugh, how long has it been?” Aevar demanded.

“Easy.” He took the cup and lifted it to Aevar’s lips. “Drink.”

He didn’t need to be told twice. He gulped the liquid down. It cooled his throat, and tasted sweeter than any ale or mjod he had drank. The Grey Knight fed him pieces of dried meat and stale bread, each a savory feast. Aevar gnawed on the bread and meat, chewing them to savor the flavor, but swallowing as fast as he could to get the food inside of him.

“Thank you,” he gasped as he swallowed the last piece. The Grey Knight said nothing, but picked up the tray and carried it out of the room. “Wait! Is this the test? Am I infected?”

The door closed. Aevar growled in annoyance. Damned Grey Knights, damned psykers. They would never last a week on Fenris. So cocksure of themselves and their gifts, they didn’t know they made perfect daemon bait. They should fight as Russ intended; with feet on the ground and a blade in their hands, the smile of an axe in their hand instead of the twisting of fingers. Ever their own Rune Priests, even his friend Vermund Helfist, knew the value of swords and axes; flesh could be corrupted, but nothing could corrupt a blade. It could only shatter, and Aevar never made a blade that has shattered, even in the hands of the unskilled.

He slept, he woke, he slept. The pain in his arms became constant, as dull and as meaningless as the darkness around him.

He heard music, saw colors. Was this the Chaos manifesting itself, or was this his sanity leaving him? It never offered itself to him, so it couldn’t be Chaos, could it?

Aevar saw small, tiny battle brothers fighting traitors and cultists and daemons. They were so small, an entire Great Company could fit on a simple wooden table. They moved among plastic pieces of terrain, painted ruins and make-shift woods, fighting equally tiny and small enemies.

Even their voices were tiny; they squeaked like mice as they roared and shot and charged at each other. Aevar laughed. It was just so damned funny, like watching mice fight with human weapons, little painted, plastic men on a game board. The colors blended themselves, making shades of such he had never seen before.

He realized he was vomiting. Poison? He didn’t know. The smell soon became meaningless, and he went back to watching the mice-things squeak and kill each other with simple dice rolls, but even that left eventually.

How long would they make him wait? The darkness held no answers. Aevar realized that the sounds of his breath no longer angered him, a sign that he had been there too long. Or was he? Time held no meaning in the dungeon, he could only be there for a day. No, it had to be longer, he was starving and parched, it meant he was there for longer, didn’t it?

He slept, and time held even less meaning. With no way of finding how long he slept, it felt like he was in a stasis field, its own little eternity. He thought of weapon plans, but the plans left his mind as soon as they entered it. He needed parchment, or a proper logic computer, not the tiny one implanted in his head to store them, to refine them, or he just needed a hammer and a forge to make the damned things.

Aevar even took to singing to himself.

 

There was a bear, a bear!

All black and brown, all covered in hair!

The bear! The bear!

 

But soon even he soon grew tired of hearing his voice bounce off the walls.

“Aevar!” He jerked up, coming eye to eye with the Grey Knight. The door was open and light spilled in. When had he entered? “Why did you abandon your Emperor?”

“What?”

“You traitorous scum,” his battle brother hissed, contempt and hatred in his eyes. “You killed your own squad, cut their hearts out as an offering to the dark gods. Why have you forsaken your Emperor?”

Confess, repent, voices whispered to his head. Sinner, traitor, touched with Chaos.

“Why did you kill your battle brothers?” The Grey Knight demanded.

“I…what has happened? Where am I?”

“You will answer my questions!” The Grey Knight roared. “Why did you forsake your Emperor?”

Sinner, traitor, blasphemer, sinner, traitor, blasphemer, sinner, traitor, blasphemer, sinner, traitor, blasphemer, sinner, traitor, blasphemer, sinner, traitor, blasphemer, sinner, traitor, blasphemer….

“Get out of my head!” Aevar screamed. He pulled at the chains, trying to grip his skull. “Get those damn voices out!!”

The door slammed shut and he was left with the blackness. He gasped for breath, but the voices were gone. He spat, trying to get the foul taste of the Warp from his mouth, but his teeth seemed too large, his nose too sensitive. Was it the Curse of the Wulfen? Was he changing, his gene-seed degenerating until he was a mindless, hulking beast? In the blackness, he had no way of finding out. Things slowly became normal again, and he was left with nothing to do but sleep.

It felt like he had just closed his eyes when keys rattled in the door. He woke as the door creaked open, and footsteps thudded. He could smell multiple people, four in total, enter the room. He blinked as his eyes adjusted to the light.

Standing in the room was the Grey Knight, with two of his battle brothers wearing their full battle plate, and Croan, a flamer in his hands, its pilot light burning bright. He stood stiff, his jaw set.

“Aevar Ironclaws,” the Grey Knight said, “You have been found guilty of conspiring with the evils of the Warp, for bringing Chaos and daemons into the Throne Room, in an attempt to kill the Emperor of Mankind.”

Tears spilled down his face.

“You will be put to death for your treachery. Are you ready to receive your punishment?”

“Yes,” Aevar cried. “Croan, you were right. You were right all along. Please, show me the true radiance you have promised, and forgive me. Forgive me, I know not what I’ve done.”

Croan stepped forward, and unlocked the chains on Aevar’s arms.

“What? What are you doing?”

“You are free,” the Grey Knight said. “Not the slightest hint of Chaos is upon you.”

“T-then this was a test?”

“The final test.” The chains were taken off, and he fell to the ground, his body screaming in agony. Apothecaries entered the room.

“You are on Holy Terra, in the very Palace of the Emperor,” the Grey Knight said. “By the Emperor’s holy will, no Chaos can enter here. So when a Space Wolf, whose loyalty and hatred of Warp are legendary, tells us that he might have the taint upon him, we made sure you were pure.

“’Specialists’ were summoned from Titan, Inquisitors examined you, and your mind was tested on a daily basis, just to see what we might find. Trust us when we say that there is no Chaos upon you.”

“How long was I here?”

“Three months.”

Aevar had so many questions, but his body had other plans. He passed out as soon as he was lifted onto a stretcher.

 


 

Croan and Legato followed the Sister of Battle into the resting chamber. She wasn’t a battle sister proper, but rather a hospitaller, a healer of great renown. She pushed a cart of bandages, bags of fluids and tools of surgery. They rattled on the stone floors of the hospital, louder than the footfalls of Croan. He no longer wore his Astrates battle plate, opting for simple cloth garments and the black carapace, his servo-arm at his side. Just ahead of them Aevar lay on a simple bed, a Custode standing guard at its foot.

“How are you today?” The sister hospitaller asked, a surgical mask covering her mouth.

“I’m much better,” Aevar said, sitting up in his bed. He wore no clothing under the sheets, not even a black carapace. Scars adorned his chest, and shining, silver nodes rose up from his flesh, ready to be connected to his power armor.

“Please, sit down,” the sister said, putting a hand on his chest. She had no hope of forcing the Space Marine down, but showed no hesitation in her actions. Legato could see her muscles working as she actually pushed against Aevar. She did not place her hand upon his chest as a token measure; she meant every action.

Aevar looked down at her arm, shocked to see her take action against him, then glared at her. The sister held her ground. She adjusted her footing and pushed harder, not making Aevar budge in the least.

“It’s good to see my sisters were raised to be strong,” Aevar grinned. He respectfully laid back down.

“How can I heal your flesh if you insist on re-opening your wounds?” The sister asked, pulling her cart up to his bedside.

“It is a fair point, brother,” Croan said.

“Bah, I know how to mend my own flesh,” Aevar said, voice full of swagger and bravado. “Did you bring the moss I asked for?”

“This is not Fenris, and no, I have not,” the sister replied tartly. She lifted his arms up to re-bandage his wrists. Aevar let her.

“I know full well what I’m doing,” he insisted.

“I would not anger the sister if I were you,” Croan chuckled. “She might make your recovery all the more painful.”

Aevar laughed with him.

“You know the machine spirit, not the flesh,” Legato said. “Let the sister do what she will.”

“I know about the flesh,” Aevar said.

“You?” Legato asked. “You know how to mend flesh?”

“Aye, that I do.”

“How about that, there was another genetor with us the whole time,” Legato laughed. “No wonder we got along so well.”

“How did you learn to mend flesh?” Croan asked.

“I was forced to replace Ljot Soothsayer, our priest…damn, what's the codex name for them? Healers?”

“Apothecaries.”

“Yes, the apothecary. I was forced to replace him on a hunt of ours.”

“And who gave you the authority to replace a trained healer?” The sister hospitaller demanded as she bandaged his rapidly healing wrists.

“Heretics, my sweet sister,” Aevar smiled. “There was a chaos cult we were hunting. They were a small group, and some of our fallen brothers were among the cultists. Who knows what they were up to, but we fought them. Ljot Soothsayer was our priest, err, apothecary. And he was hit hard.”

“How hard was he hit?”

“I encased him in dreadnought armor.”

“That was a hell of a hit,” Croan muttered.

“It was. A good fight, but a bad hit. We all but crushed the cultists, but the heretics ran away in a small strike cruiser they hid in orbit. We had no choice but to chase them as they ran through the void. We thought it would be a small skirmish, but they gathered with a much larger force, larger than hours.”

“They turned the tables on you?” Legato asked.

“Aye, it was a well-played maneuver,” Aevar said. “I can’t lie, it was quite a plan.”

“Are all Space Marines so thickheaded?” The sister hospitaller asked. She moved on to reading his body's pulses and hormone levels on a hand held scanner.

Legato flinched, bracing himself for Aevar's retort.

“I like you, sister,” Aevar laughed, slapping his thigh with a freehand. “If we had your wisdom, we would’ve saved ourselves a great year’s worth of trouble erasing them from the face of the galaxy!”

“Just stating facts, 'brother,'” the sister frostily replied.

“It took you a standard year to kill them all?” Croan asked.

“It was a good hunt,” Aevar grinned. “We went from being the hunter to the pray then back to the hunter. We attacked them from the shadows, killing the rearmost guard, distracting them and attacking their unprotected flanks, and occasionally breaking through their ranks to kill their commander. But the damn shame of it is that we’re not invincible; we took injuries.”

“And you taught yourself how to treat the injured?” The sister asked.

“Hardly. Old Soothsayer helped.”

“Your apothecary? But he was in dreadnought armor, was he not?” she asked.

“Yes. Death…changes a person. Aye, Ljot fought like a thing possessed, but when asked how to staunch the flow of blood or mend flesh, his mind was elsewhere. And, as the one who encased him in the armor, it was up to me to keep his focus, to be his hands and fingers as he told me what to do.”

“Sounds like a hard task,” Legato said.

“It was. It was very much a challenge, one that I never really took a shining to. But it had to be done, and I was a quick learner. I learned how to sew flesh, take the Chapter's dues, even deliver the Allfather’s Peace to those unfortunate enough.”

“You're pretty handy for a mindless barbarian,” the sister said.

“A mindless barbarian that is trying to make your job easier.”

“Thank you, but I'm still not letting you press moss into your wounds. That would make my job of cleaning the infection out even harder.”

“Well played, sister,” he laughed.

“It is good to see that your ordeal has not taken away your mouth,” Croan said.

“I wish it was that simple,” Aevar said. “I’m still in the chamber when I close my eyes.”

“I know what you mean. Such a thing is never to be forgotten,” Legato said. He blinked, seeing the Emperor’s gene-seed float in front of his eyes, utterly perfect. “You searched for forbidden knowledge, and burned yourself. You should be thankful that you are still alive.”

Aevar's facade crumbled. His eyes seemed to sink into his head, his face paled, and even his hair seemed to shrink, as if he was a wolf who was surrendering his dominance, or the bravado was suddenly pulled from him. It was not lost on Croan, the sister hospitaller, even Legato.

Aevar took a deep breath before speaking.

“You probably speak the truth, brother,” he said. “If it’s a lesson, it’s a hard one to learn, but most likely necessary. Just one thing bothers me: why am I still alive? I walked to a Custode and told him I may have brought the taint of chaos into Holy Terra, almost to the Allfather himself. Why didn’t they strike me down on the spot?”

“I do not know, brother,” Croan said. “But you should count your blessings that you are still among the living, and not infected with the taint of the ruinous powers.”

“And I am, but it’s something that I wish to know,” Aevar said.

“The little wolf burned himself on the fire, and now he wants to do it again,” Croan chuckled humorlessly.

“Call it what you will, but it’s been bothering me.”

“I'll summon the Gray Knight who interrogated you,” Legato said.

“Thank you, brother,” Aevar said, bowing his head.

“All done,” the sister hospitaller said. “I would appreciate it if you didn't decide to have yourself tested for another three months.”

“That I can’t guarantee.” Just like that, Aevar was back to his laughing, boasting self. He did a wonderful job of putting his painless mask back on. Legato envied him.

 


 

Boots fell on the stone ground, echoing throughout the hospital. Aevar's skin prickled even before he heard the noise; the scent on the stale breeze of Terra told him a Custode and a Gray Knight were coming, and with them, Legato and Croan. Aevar was surprised; he wasn't expecting his two fellow brothers to return so soon.

“You ask a lot by summoning us here,” the Gray Knight said, walking forward with his helm held under his arm.

“I merely with to know the truth, brother,” Aevar said.

“The truth will not set you free, it will merely lead you astray. You must do a better job of guarding yourself.”

“I know how to guard myself,” Aevar spat. Legato shied away as he raised his voice. “Tell me, why didn’t you kill me when I went to the Custodes? Why examine me? Why study me? Why?”

The Gray Knight balked, then chuckled.

“To tell the truth, I was expecting a much more heretical question,” he said. “It is not every day when someone asks you why you spared his life.

“When pulling out weeds, you do not simply tear the stalk out; if the root remains, the stalk will simply re-grow. Instead, you must follow the stalk, locate the roots, and pull them all out in one fell swoop.

“If someone has corrupted you with the taint of Chaos, we must find that person, for they will be corrupting others as well. Chaos does not simply rest with turning one person's back to the Emperor's light, it seeks to turn many at once. That is why you are alive.”

“And why did you spare my life at the end of your investigation?” Aevar demanded. “Shouldn’t my life be forfeit for wasting the Inquisition's time?”

“You are alive because you are needed to work on the Golden Throne. And according to our investigation, you are one of the most talented tech marines in service. You are still alive simply because you are still useful.”

Aevar released his pent up breath. He seemed to relax, knowing this.

“Tell the full truth,” a Custode said. “He deserves to hear it.”

“What full truth?” Aevar asked.

“Yes, what full truth?” Croan said.

“He does not need to hear it,” the Gray Knight said sharply. “We cannot risk him taking more fool-hearty risks.”

“He deserves to know it,” the Custode said. He glared at the Gray Knight, who relented.

“During our investigation, as we tore at your mind,” he started, “there was a golden light in the warp, a shard of the Emperor's own brilliance, shining down on you, protecting you as he would protect a psyker from the risk of daemonic possession.”

“The Allfather…was protecting me?” Aevar asked.

“As he would a regular psyker,” the Gray Knight said quickly. “More so than he would protect a Space Marine, but you are not special, simply treated as if you were at risk of surrendering your life to a daemon.”

“And what about this strange glow you mentioned?” He asked.

“It is strange, but it is a blessing; nothing more, nothing less. It might even be a mark of greatness, protecting you from the foul enemies that are abound.”

“And from us,” the Custode said. The Gray Knight glared at him, but he ignored the stare. “Your life was almost forfeit many a times, but the Emperor's light seemed to shine brighter at those times when we were to kill you. What the honorable Knight means to say is that it is not your ordained time to die.”

“As far as we can tell,” the Gray Knight hastily added.

“Is that so?” Aevar chuckled. “You seem hesitant to admit it, brother.”

“You cannot take any fool hearty risks,” the Gray Knight snapped. “The Emperor protects, but He cannot protect you from your ignorant self, and you are needed to fix the Throne.”

“That’s true,” Aevar said, baring his neck before the enraged Knight. “Tell me, do you have the Allfather’s Tarot on you?”

“You do not want any knuckle bones to cast instead?” The Gray Knight spat.

“If the Allfather is protecting me, then why not ask Him ourselves?” Aevar said. “If I’m truly special, He will answer me. If I’m not, well, that is how the bones are thrown, right?”

The Gray Knight stood ramrod straight.

“The Emperor is not to be tested,” he said.

“Cast them for him,” the Custode said in a not-so gentle voice.

The Gray Knight broke from his spot on the ground and pulled up a small table. Reaching into his pocket, he brought out a deck of psychic-reactive cards and handed them to Aevar.

It was a deck of the Emperor’s Tarot. Each card was supposed to be tuned to the psychic might of the Emperor; should the Emperor look upon the one who drew the cards, he could tell their future.

That is, if the Emperor cared to read the future of the one who drew the cards. Aevar knew he shouldn’t test the Master of Mankind so, but if he was right, he was tasked with knowledge, and a burden. And he had to know if this is the path the Emperor wanted him to take. 

“Shuffle them,” the Knight said.  Aevar complied, and the Custode, Croan and Legato moved to surround the table. They made the sign of the Aquila on their chest, and Legato hastily joined them.

Aevar shuffled the deck of tarot cards and handed them back to the Gray Knight.

“How many cards will be drawn?” He asked.

“Are you unfamiliar with the Emperor's Tarot?”

“I've seen it drawn many ways. Three cards drawn, five cards drawn or even seven cards, and then some play it in the shape of a cross. And that's only the popular ones.”

The Gray Knight didn't say anything, but Aevar could see in his eyes that he understood. If the Gray Knight didn't want to admit his error to save face, he could accept that.

“We will draw however many are needed to select an answer,” the Knight finally replied.

“Thank you, brother.”

The Grey Knight drew the first card and flipped it face up on the table. The psychic ink shimmered as it took shape. It was the Almighty Allfather, sitting upon the Golden Throne, ever vigilant over his watch of humanity, ever watchful.

“This speaks for itself,” the Gray Knight said. Aevar growled his agreement. “It is the protector of the Imperium, the God of Humanity, and represents the hope for a brighter future.”

“A good card,” Legato muttered.

“Very much so.”

The next card was drawn, and the ink solidified. Aevar shifted. It was the Eye of Terror, the tear in reality that lead to the Warp, the place of daemons and the Ruinous Powers. The deep red and purple bled into the material universe.

“This is most interesting,” the Gray Knight said.

Aevar could feel his skin crawling at the very thought of the Warp. He growled unconsciously.

“We are not in battle, Space Wolf, cease your animal growling,” the Gray Knight said. “See the ships on the card? They are a sign of the card's orientation. They are supposed to be on the bottom, but here, they are on the top.

“Instead of meaning damnation and corruption, it means discovery; perhaps the location of lost STC on a forge world, or the discovery of artifacts from before the Heresy.”

A discovery. Like his discovery of the Imperial Truth. Aevar's eyes lit up. He could feel his secondary heart beat picking up.

The next card was drawn, and his hair stood on end. He couldn't help but growl and bear his teeth. The ink shifted and solidified, revealing a towering figure wearing ancient Terminator armor. In one hand, he held Holy Terra, which was crumbling to dust in his gauntleted hand. Blood ran from the cracks in the holy surface. Flames from the background obscured his face, but Aevar didn't need to see his face to know that it was Abaddon the Despoiler, champion of Chaos Undivided and the greatest of the arch-enemy.

“This...is the most holy of signs,” the Gray Knight said. Aevar looked at him as if he had surrendered his soul to the Dark Gods on the spot.

“What heresy do you speak?!”

“Cease your barking and calm yourself. Like the last card, it is inverted.”

Aevar made himself look at the card. Sure enough, the Despoiler stood on his head.

“It does not mean a Champion of Chaos, but a Champion of the Imperium, of humanity. A Champion shall rise and defeat the Dark Gods.”

“I never thought I would see such a card,” Croan rumbled.

“I doubt many have seen the card in its inverted position,” the Gray Knight said. “This is the shortest drawing of the Emperor's Tarot that I have ever seen. Hope, from a discovery, shall lead to a champion.”

“But a discovery where?” Legato said. “A re-discovered STC? A lost artifact?”

“We cannot know for certain, but we must have faith in the Emperor that he will illuminate our way.”

“I see.” Aevar chuckled, leaning back on the hospital's bed. “Thank you for the reading, brother. It’s been most...illuminating.”

“Has the Emperor spoken to you?” Legato asked.

“Yes, I believe he has.”

“And your doubt has been ailed?” Croan asked.

“Definitely. I know what I’ve got to do.”

Chapter Text

The mess hall echoed the talks of the tech priests and fellow tech marines. Legato sat across from Croan, waiting for Aevar to show up. Despite the Salamander’s friendship, it was hard to talk to him at times, as opposed to the loudly boisterous Aevar. He would never have guessed that he would miss the gruff Space Wolf.

Sure enough, Aevar returned, but the talk seemed to dim as he walked it. It returned, but the chatter no longer flowed; it trickled from the mouths of those eating, as if the various Space Marines and tech priests were guarding the very words that left their mouths.

“Has the food gotten that bad during my time in the Inquisition’s care?” Aevar asked, sitting next to Legato.

“The little wolf returns again,” Croan said. “Maybe this time, he will stay.”

“You can tell your Chapter Master that I followed you home,” Aevar laughed.

“I doubt we would keep you.”

“Then I guess I’ll be thrown back to Fenris eventually. I’m sure Legato would miss the company.”

“We’ll all miss your skills, that much is for certain,” the miniscule tech priest said.

“And not just my charming personality?”  Aevar laughed. “How much work have I missed?”

“Everything and nothing,” Croan said. “Our work was just as slow as it was with you, only we didn’t have your radiant curses and silky whisperings to get things moving.”

“We haven’t heard him curse yet, have we?” Legato said.

“That’s right, I haven’t cussed up a storm. Well, stay with me and you may just hear one slip through my lips.”

“So you will join us again?” Croan asked.

“I’ll work to restore the Golden Throne.”

“Excellent. We have not made much progress since you insisted that you burn yourself—“

“Actually, I’ll be looking for more answers.”

Legato and Croan stared at Aevar. The Space Wolf continued to eat as if nothing was amiss.

“You must be suffering from a rattled brain if you think you shall go back to the Emperor’s library,” Croan hissed.

“Maybe a rattled brain is what we need,” Aevar said. “A breath of fresh air in this stale place would be good for us all.”

“And when you burn yourself again?”

“Then save me the damn trouble and burn me on the spot. I’d rather not spend another three months in that fucking cell.”

“Why are you doing this to yourself?” Legato asked. “You accused yourself of bringing the ruinous powers into Holy Terra, all from that room. Why are you even thinking of trying to look there again?”

“The answers are in there,” Aevar said tightly. “I was burned in that hunt, yes, but pain is an excellent teacher. I’m wiser for it, and the answers won’t stay hidden from me.”

“The Custodes will never let you back in,” Croan said.

“Actually, I just talked to them. They’re loath to admit it, but if the Allfather can be saved, any step must be taken. That includes giving me access to the library.”

“Preposterous,” Croan spat.

“They weren’t happy about it,” Aevar admitted, chewing, “but they allowed it in the end. Desperate times, brother, call for desperate measures.”

“Legato, talk some sense into this madman. I am done with him.”

“He’s right,” Legato stammered. He didn’t know what was more unsettling: Croan’s hatred or Aevar’s disinterested. “You can’t take any more risks, they might not let you live.”

“Our lives are the Allfather’s currency. We must spend it well, brother,” Aevar said. “And I believe that the best way to spend mine is to make a difference hunting for the truth.”

Croan stood and walked away.

“He’ll report you,” Legato muttered.

“I imagine he would,” Aevar said. “Shame, really. He’s a good friend. Of course, I’d imagine that being associated with me would be bad for your future standings with the Adeptus Mechanicus and the big, bad Inquisition. You should leave with him, and report me as well.”

“But…”

“You’re a good man, Legato. A scared little rabbit and a fucking genetor to boot, aye, but no one’s perfect. It’ll be best for your future to leave me alone. Trust me, you don’t want to end up in a cell for three months.”

Legato stared at Aevar.

“You know what you are doing?”

“No, but I’ve got an idea,” the Space Wolf admitted. “I’ve gone on less. Now get out of here before they suspect you, too.”

Legato stood. “You’re not long for this world if you continue on this path.”

“I’ve faith in the Allfa—the Emperor and his plan for me,” Aevar said, stammering and quickly correcting himself.

The tech priest shook his head. Aevar would never learn, and it would be his death. Legato walked away, dispensing his tray of food with the servitors. He was about to leave the cafeteria when he ran into Croan.

“You know what we must do,” the Salamander said.

“Of course,” Legato said. No further words needed to be spoken; Aevar of the Space Wolves was to be reported on, and was to be watched.

 


 

Legato sat at the table, picking at his food. He should be eating; he was starving the entire day, but now that he was in the cafeteria and had food in front of him, he couldn’t help but pick at it. Maybe it was the lack of sleep getting to him; even the Space Marines seemed to be growing weary of the backbreaking level of work that was heaped upon them.

The chicken breast he was playing with slowly morphed into the Emperor’s holy, perfect helix. He blinked his eyes; he nearly nodded off and fell face-first into his food. The Space Marines he ate with either didn’t notice, or didn’t care; the talk at the table droned on. He was the only tech priest at the table; everyone else were tech marines, and they all paid him no mind.

Legato idly wondered what made his brother and sister tech priests seek their own company, or the Space Marines to seek his.

“Nothing seems to be working,” Croan said.

“Nonsense, if we can isolate the power junction and repair its spirit, we shall make astounding progress,” a Blood Angel said.

“We can hardly assume the function of the power junction. We need to repair the circuitry attached to it, else we risk overloading the blessed circuits should we fix the junction.”

Silence descended, drawing their attention to the front of the cafeteria. Legato blinked and he was shocked to see Aevar saunter over to an empty table. He carelessly tossed his tray of food down and begin eating. The table remained quiet as the tech marines glared at the Space Wolf.

“What is that…heretek doing here?” One Tech Marine demanded.

“He cannot be a heretek, else he would be dead.”

“Call him what you will, he has turned his back on the Mechanicus, the Omnissiah, and the Emperor. He spends his days searching for hidden knowledge, consorting with daemons and dark forces.”

“Then why hasn’t he been executed?” Legato asked. “He walks by the Custodes every day.”

“It does not matter,” Croan said. “He is being watched, and soon will be caught. Then we’ll see the little wolf burn for a second time.”

Legato bit his tongue. It has been months since Aevar returned to…to whatever he was doing. Surely he must have found something useful, something that can fix whatever was broken, and everything seemed broken.

Every day, Legato hoped that the Space Wolf would walk into the Throne room, look at their minuscule problems, curse his lungs out and fix the Throne. No one else would admit it, but they needed him. Emperor knew Legato was never going to fix the Throne himself.

“I am not going to wait for him to make a mistake.” Legato turned. It was another Tech Marine, one from the Ultramarines. “Have we forgotten our promise? Kill the heretic, burn the mutant, purge the unclean. We need to kill the heretek, not wait for him at his leisure. We would not hesitate if this was a battlefield, why are we hesitating here?”

“Careful, brother.” Legato never figured that Croan would jump to defend Aevar. “You mean to bring violence and death into the Emperor’s Palace.”

“What difference would it make?” The Ultramarine said. “We fight for the Emperor, we die for the Emperor, wherever we are needed. And we are needed here, to slay this heretek.”

Legato didn’t know what to say as the other five Tech Marines nodded and agreed.

“Are you with us?”

Croan slowly, stiffly, nodded.

“Then you get to burn another heretic, brother. You should be rejoicing,” the Ultramarine said. “We kill him at midnight. Meet in front of his chambers. Or are you sympathetic with a traitor?”

Croan bristled at that.

“I did not think so,” the Ultramarine said.

“Do you mean for us to beat him with our hands? The Custodes took our weapons,” the Salamander said.

“I saw where they took our weapons. I will work to retrieving them from storage. Be there; the Custodes will not give us much time to work.”

Everyone stood and left, all except Croan and Legato.

“Are you seriously going to try to kill him?” Legato asked.

“What else am I able to do?” Croan asked. Legato could hear the Salamander struggling with his options.

“You are—were his friend. You know that he doesn’t carry the taint of Chaos. You were there when they released him.”

“I know.”

“Please, you can’t go.”

“Quiet!” Croan hissed. Legato shut his mouth so fast his teeth rattled. The Salamander turned to glare at him. “Do you know what my options are?”

Legato shook his head.

“I can go with my ‘brothers’ and kill Aevar,” he said. “Or I do not go with my brothers, and they report me for abandoning my duties. At best, I will be killed; there has already been word of one brother bringing Chaos to the Emperor, a second would not be tolerated.

“At worst, I will be examined for Chaos. And as I am not touched by the Omnissiah as our favorite Space Wolf is, my life will be forfeit for wasting the Inquisition’s time. So what shall I do? Kill my brother, save my life and try to save the Emperor, or sacrifice myself for someone who may or may not be tainted with Chaos?”

“I—I didn’t know…”

“How could you?” Croan said. The intensity in his voice dropped, and he looked down his nose at him. “You are but mortal, not an Astarte. Things are not so complex for you.”

“Things are more complex for me than you know,” Legato snapped. He didn’t even know he said it, it just slipped out. “Why do you treat me like I have some kind of brain injury? I’ve done more work on the Throne than you. While you argue and moan with the other Tech Marines, I toil away to get a simple pathway lit up with the Machine Spirit’s blessed light, to get a helix transistor to begin working! I may not be as good as Aevar, but I’m no simpleton for you to look down upon!”

He was gasping for breath when he finished. No one ever talked back to a Space Marine. No one that Legato ever knew.

Croan stared back at him, shocked to hear him speak his mind after all this time, his eyes brimming wide. Legato’s stomach dropped out from under him. What would the Salamander do to him for yelling? He saw the muscles of Croan’s jaw tensing.

“My apologies, brother.”

“Your…apologies?” Legato said.

“Yes, my apologies,” Croan said. “Forgive me, but my habits had got the better of me all this time. When we are initiated into the Chapter, we take vows. They are long and complex but we must live by them. And the vow ‘Protect the Weak’ is one of the first ones we swear.”

He shook his head.

“At our home world, Nocturne, we work with mortals, but even then we are helping them; building tools for them, repairing damaged equipment, protecting them from undo hardships. We take the burden from their shoulders, treat them as we would children. And in war, we usually drop into a warzone and secure them, protecting families from the ravages of war.”

“You do?”

“Someone has to. While others charge into battle, we set up defensive lines, we secure shuttles for the civilians. We protect the weak, and that means keeping them from battle. In war, every time I worked with a mortal, I was saving them, protecting them. On Nocturne, I would take their issues, fix what needed to be fixed and mend it.

“In either case, I was not truly working with them; I was doing the work for them. I did not even know I was doing it, it was a habit. Can you find it to forgive me of my thick-headed ways?”

Space Marines were hard to read, but Legato knew sincerity when he heard it.

“I do.”

“Thank you,” Croan said, bowing his head minutely. “It might take time to overcome this habit, but I will treat you like an equal, a true brother.”

“T-Thank you.”

“Please, excuse me,” Croan said, standing.

“You still plan on killing him? But you can’t.”

“I have to. Please, understand.”

Legato doubted that Croan understood himself.

 


 

The hallways were quiet and dark; night time in the Emperor's Palace. But the sense of reverence was lost on Croan, not only from his time spent living among the halls but from the task he was being dragged to. The Ultramarine was true to his word, and he was able to secure their armaments, although they were not able to retrieve their armor.

Croan, along with five other brother Tech Marines, were carrying bolt guns, while he small but powerful hand flamer. He had his black broadsword, his Dragonsword namesake, strapped across his back, but the reassuring weight meant nothing to him.

Never before had Croan faced such a strangely morally questionable situation. On one hand, Aevar was working on something other than the restoration of the Golden Throne; it was quite possible that he truly fell to the Ruinous Powers and was plotting against the Emperor, possibly by creating a new portal to the Warp.

If it were anywhere else but Holy Terra, that would be the end of it; Aevar would not live to see the morning break. But they were on Holy Terra, a place where daemons could never enter by the Emperor’s holy will alone. And even if they could, Aevar had passed a grueling test, carried out by the Inquisition. And when it came to rooting out corruption, they were not known for being careless, nor lax.

If that was not enough, Aevar was perhaps the only one capable of fixing the Throne. At the very least, he was more suited for the task than anyone else, including Croan himself. Pragmatism was neither a common thought nor feeling in the Imperium, but this was by no means a common situation. The Emperor must never be allowed to die; failing would spell the very end of humanity.

The last and most perverse thought that was filling Croan's head was one of the Salamander's basic creeds, the very one that caused him to treat Legato with kid gloves: Protect the Weak. It was strange to think of a brother Astarte as being weak, but Croan was taking part in an execution squad. They were going to kill a most-likely innocent, un-armed man; that would classify Aevar as weak, and in need of his protection.

But was he really innocent? If he was, why did he spur the other brother priests? Why did he work by himself? Why would he not tell anyone what he was planning? Croan's brand on his chest itched, the very brand that read Protect the Weak. Should he speak up? Anything less than direct action will result in him being complacent in Aevar's murder, the murder of an innocent. And that was something a Salamander must never be guilty of.

But what if he wasn't innocent?

“Here,” the leading Ultramarine said. They had arrived at Aevar's quarters. A large wooden door, just like all the other doors, stood in front of them. With their gene-enhanced eyesight, it was easy to see through the darkness.

“Are we sure?” Croan asked. He felt the gazes of his five brothers on him.

“Do you wish to desert your duty?” Croan didn't respond. “Are you like the heretek, the warpsmith, longing for the embrace of the Ruinous Powers?”

“No.”

“Then fall in line, brother.”

They were all whispering, but the last word sounded like it was spat. Croan whispered a prayer to Vulkan to watch over him as he took his spot by the door.

“We shut off the door lock's machine-spirit, then we breech,” the Ultramarine said. One of his several servo-arm activated, tapping into the small locking mechanism, and easily turned it off. He pushed the door, and it loudly rattled against a lock.

Everyone froze. Even to unmodified human hearing, it was loud. They all waited for Aevar to respond, but there was no sound from the other side of the door.

“What was the matter?” A brother Black Templar demanded.

“The door is still locked.”

Croan breathed a sigh of relief. If they lost the element of surprise, they should retreat; their actions might draw the attention of a Custode, one of the several dozen that were patrolling the halls, if not more of them. And if they took too long, the Custodes would come down the hallway on their patrol.

“Try again.”

It was a short-lived relief. The Ultramarine spoke to the tiny machine spirit, then tried the door again. Like the first time, it rattled, and remained locked.

“What now?” Croan asked.

“We go loud.”

“Hold!”

But the Ultramarine was already moving. He kicked the door in and charged. Croan was pushed aside as his other brothers charged in. He was last into the room, entering the small foyer.

All the rooms were the same: a small foyer, a short hallway, and a sparse room. They were built to be cozy to humans, making them cramped to the super-human, super-sized Astartes. They had to walk on a slight angle to keep their shoulders from scrapping the walls. 

He scanned the scene in a heartbeat, combat reflexes making everything second nature. The first thing he saw was a simple wooden block, lying in pieces, by the door. The door wasn't locked; it was barred from the inside. Because it lacked a machine-spirit, it was protected from their tinkering.

He knew a trap when he saw one. Aevar was expecting them.

Not a fraction of a second later, the Ultramarine charged down the tiny hallway and fell backwards, blocking their charge, clawing at his throat. It was hard to spot, but a slight bobbing movement, dripped in blood, revealed a thin steel wire, strung up at neck level. Even though they were armed, something told him they were in over their heads.

The next Battle Brother, the Black Templar, stepped over the Ultramarine. He used his bolter to break the wire. No sooner had he brought his bolter down than Aevar jumped from the shadows, brandishing a sheet. A sheet! Of all things, he had a simple piece of rough-spun cloth!

In the narrow confines of the small room, the Black Templar could neither move forward or backwards, nor could he bring his bolter up to bear. He tried to attack Aevar with his servo-arms, but they were slow, and clattered against the tight confines of the wall.

Aevar wrapped the Templar’s head in the sheet, blinding him, and spun him so he was facing the rest of the Astartes. Fortunately, the Black Templar knew better than to blindly shoot.

Wasting no time, Aevar pushed the Templar forward. Blinded by the sheet, he tripped over the fallen Ultramarine, then toppled into the third marine, a Blood Angel, who reflexively jumped backwards, crashing into the fourth, another Ultramarine, who bumped into Croan.

Bodies crashed, limbs tangled, and everyone fell to the floor of the tiny, human-sized foyer. Croan pushed and struggled, getting clear of the tangle and spilling out into the hallway when he heard the heavy footfalls he was dreading.

“What madness is this?” A Custode bellowed. “Stop, in the name of the Emperor!”

 Croan threw his flamer to the ground. Four Custodes were standing above them, spears aimed at him, barely an inch from his skin. Aevar jumped over the tangle of limbs and immediately knelt, as if he was pledging fealty.

“What is the meaning of this?” A Custode demanded.

“They fell down some stairs,” Aevar said.

“’They fell down some stairs?’” The Custode sputtered.

“Aye, they did.”

“On a flat floor?”

“It’s a very tricky first step.”

“Heretic!” The Ultramarine bellowed, launching himself from the floor. In the blink of an eye, the Custodes were on him, beating his bolter from his grip and throwing him to the floor. It happened so fast even Croan missed the action. The black-armored bodyguards simply materialized above the Ultramarine.

“Stand down.”

“He is a heretic! He communes with daemons and the Dark Gods!”

“Quiet yourself, Astartes. There has been no summoning of daemons here.”

“He must be delirious from the fall,” Aevar said dryly.

“Quiet, Space Wolf. Your tongue is not needed here.”

Aevar tilted his head to the side, exposing his neck.

“What were you doing here?” The lead Custode said, moving to question Croan and the Tech Marines.

“We are here to kill a heretic,” the Black Templar said.

“Is that why you are all here?”

“Yes,” the Templar said, his eyes burning. “It is our sacred duty.”

“Do you refer to the Space Wolf? He is no heretic.”

“He is!”

“Silence,” the Custode said. “Gather them up. We are reporting this to the High Lords. They will neither be pleased to be woken at such an hour, nor will they be pleased to hear that a Space Wolf has been raising a ruckus.”

The Astartes stood, shooting looks of death at Aevar as they were led away by Custodes. The Space Wolf ignored them.

“I…Am sorry, brother,” Croan stammered.

“I’m not blaming you.”

“What?”

“If I were in your boots, I’d want to kill me, too,” Aevar said. “Must not look very good, claiming to bring Chaos into the Allfa—Emperor’s Palace, then being allowed to walk free.”

“It does not.”

“So don’t blame yourself for doing what any of us would’ve done. We can only strive to be our best, and our best includes killing heretics.”

“You seem very cavalier about this. Tell me, how did you know we were coming?” Croan asked.

“I didn’t,” Aevar said. “I’ve been barring my door and sleeping with one eye open since I was released from the Inquisition’s loving care.”

A Custode stepped over to Aevar.

“To the High Lords with you,” he said. “And pray they feel the slightest amount of mercy.”

“Ha! I doubt it!” Aevar laughed. He turned to Croan. “Take care of yourself, brother.”

“I will.”

 


 

The Eternity Gate’s landing bay was crowded with pilgrims, workers and servitors, the air filled with the burnt promethium of the ships, incense of pilgrims and sacred oil as tech priests worked. The crowd parted as a group of Custodes walked forward, surrounding Aevar. For once, he was dressed in his full battle plate, and seemed to revel in the feeling of being fully armored for once. Legato wondered how he could be so calm. Aevar’s eyes widened as he saw the diminutive tech priest.

“This is a surprise,” Aevar chuckled. “They let you away from the Throne to give your farewells to a rabble-rouser?”

“It was the only request I made since arriving here,” Legato said. “They must’ve been feeling especially helpful.”

“I’m sure they’re just glad that I finally found a way to get kicked out,” Aevar said. “The High Lords don’t like my Chapter; I’m fucking amazed they let me in here at all. They must’ve been looking for the slightest excuse to kick my ass out since I got here.”

“How you’re still alive is beyond me.”

“Ha! It’s beyond me as well, I can promise you that,” Aevar laughed. “I should’ve died over a dozen times now, but here I stand, and I’m not going to question my good fortunes on a simple question as ‘why.’ The…Emperor wants me alive, and I am. That’s good enough for me.”

“You didn’t have to do this to yourself,” Legato said. “You could have just worked with us, like you have before.”

“The Allfa—Emperor has shown me his plans,” Aevar said. “I can only obey.”

Why was he correcting himself?

“And what are you going to do when no one else believes you?”

“Pray for the strength of character to do it anyways,” Aevar said.

“You’re too…” Words failed Legato. “You’ll get yourself in trouble if you continue on this path.”

“The path of the righteous is never easy,” Aevar said. “If it was, we would not be in this predicament that we are in, would we?”

“What predicament?”

“This,” Aevar said, gesturing to everything around him. “Beset on all sides from foul xenos, the Dark Gods and traitors.”

“Surely you jest.”

“Maybe I do. Maybe there is some truth in. I wouldn’t worry yourself over it too much,” Aevar said.

A drop ship landed before them. Legato clutched at his robes as the thrusters turned up air.

“Transportation back to Fenris has been arranged for you,” A Custode said. “You will be traveling with rogue traders.”

“Hope they make good company,” the Space Wolf grinned.

Legato stammered.

“Croan told me to say—“

“Tell him it’s okay,” Aevar said, cutting him off. “He’ll blame himself. Try not to let him go adding another brand to his skin, will you?”

“I’ll try my best,” Legato said. “But you Space Marines are strong.”

“On you go.” The doors to the ship fell down, and a Custode pushed Aevar roughly. Another returned a Space Marine sized paring knife, his thunder hammer and bolt pistol to him. Aevar cradled them like a lost love. “Count your blessings that you left with your life.”

“I’ll do that every day,” Aevar said. “The Emperor has a use of me, and I’ll do his bidding.”

Aevar grinned at Legato as he stepped onto the shuttle.

“May you live forever in shame,” the Custode said.

“As you say, brother.”

The Custode glared at Aevar as the doors to the ship closed, and the massive machine took to the air once again. Legato doubted he would ever forget the sight of Aevar grinning in the face of an enraged Custode. While it paled next to the sight of the Emperor’s utterly perfect gene-seed, it was yet another vision that would never, ever leave his mind.

The Custode turned to Legato.

“We have humored your request; your work calls to you.”

“Of course. Take me back.”

Chapter Text

Agostina hated this part. Realspace was rend and torn asunder as her ship’s engines opened a hole to the warp, and pulled them in. The cluttered space lanes of Holy Terra shrunk behind them as the gape in reality swallowed them; her skin prickled as they left the clutches of space, and she averted her eyes from the terrible warp ghosts that seemed to press against the sides of her ship’s view port, before metal shutters closed the sight off for her.

If she concentrated enough, she could see faces, then hear voices, and she would finally go mad as they pulled at her soul. She turned from the view port at the helm of the ship, trailing her shoulder-length wavy black hair; she had spent so much time in the warp, it might as well be her second home. The life or a Rogue Trader was rough. But it was her life, hers she made by herself.

She picked up a small vox caster that hung at her hip, and opened a channel to her Navigator, Niklas.

“I assume the Geller Field is holding?” She asked.

If it were not, you would most certainly know it, Niklas said from his room. It was built to be a Geller Cage, more powerful than the simple Field that projected around the ship. It protected the susceptible mutant from the worst of the warp. Agostina wished her entire ship was protected like the Navigator’s room, but it would be far too expensive to carry such a project out.

Agostina sighed. “And how is our route to Fenris?”

The warp is calm, at least for the foreseeable future. We should arrive in one standard month, give or take three days. Can I assume that our…cargo would be dropped off with the greatest haste?

Agostina couldn’t blame Niklas for being hesitant. Seeing the disgraced Space Marine made her skin crawl. But she was glad it was just a Space Marine she was forced to carry, and only one to boot; when the emissary to the High Lords of Terra boarded her vessel, she feared that they might have finally demand to examine her Warrant of Trade and give it a real, good, hard look.

“I knew you don’t like Space Marines,” she said, “but you can put up with him.”

Easy for you to say; you’re not a mutant.

Agostina left Niklas to mutter and curse; the man believed that everything was out to get him. Not that she blamed him; he was a mutant after all. His existence was only tolerated because of his ability to traverse the warp. Of course, that only meant that no one would kill him; it didn’t mean that people would like him.

She walked out from the bridge, and down the main corridor of her ship. As much as she hated warp travel, she loved her ship. Johnathan was average for a Rogue Trader, meaning it was absolutely tiny compared to any real ship; it was smaller than an escort, barely one kilometer long. But it was her ship, and she loved knowing that she owned it, and no one else.

No overbearing father, no whip-tongued mother, no demeaning brothers, no vile sisters, just hers and hers alone. She never grew tired of thinking of it as her ship.

No, not her ship, but her ‘family’s’ ship. She was a Rogue Trader now, not the daughter of a baseborn nobody. She was the descendant of a long line of Traders, the latest of a dying, royal lineage. At least, that’s what she had to tell everyone. Baseborn was never supposed to become Rogue Traders; Traders were supposed to be nobility. To be a Trader, she had to be as well. So the charade had to continue, and hopefully no one would examine her Warrant of Trade too closely.

But her own ship…She needed to celebrate that again, to toast to her health and wealth as a captain, maybe with one of her crew, too. She had gotten her hands on some new help, and one of them had seemed particularly capable, strong, and cute. She needed to get to know him. What was his name? Saradas, that’s right. She needed to get to know Saradas better. For team building. Was it so wrong to have a private drink with the captain? All she had to do was—

That almost had her. That errant thought that turned into burning desire which lead to dark places. Throne, did she hate it! Warp travel made everything harder, the slightest emotion being blown into something more, it made her so angry! Dammit, did she hate warp travel! She just wanted to curse it and beat it and tear it open and spill—

Agostina took a deep breath, held it, and let it go. There it was again. Those errant feelings and emotions that spiraled out of control. The best course of action would be to focus on nothing and pray to the Emperor for the best.

“Captain?”

Agostina was pulled back to reality. Vini, her second-in-command, was running up to her.

“There’s a fight in the mess hall.”

“Already? Who started it?” Then Agostina groaned. “Oh, never mind, no one would remember, anyways. Let’s break it up before it leads to blood.”

There was nothing like the first warp fight of a voyage. Throne, did she hate warp travel.

 


 

Seven night awake. She didn’t count all the night she spent tossing and turning, sleeping ten minutes at a time, only to be awake for the next twenty. Or was it seven days that she spent lying in her bed, restless? Warp travel always skewed things, the sense of time being the first and foremost. Eventually she’d just give up on it and give in to the omnipresent exhaustion.

Agostina pounded on the doors to some of her crew’s bunks, trying to stay awake. She didn’t have to try very hard, because whenever she tried to sleep, she’d just stand there, eyes peeled and drying, staring dead ahead as sleep eluded her.

“Open up,” she ordered. “You’re missing meal time.”

She sighed, waiting.

“Come on, we all need to get out of our rooms, eat, and make sure nothing has happened to each other, you know the rules.”

The door slid open, and Agostina was treated to an eyeful of Saradas, her new crewman. He was completely naked, his member standing at rigid attention. Behind him were three of her more veteran crew, all as naked as he was, and about to engage in Emperor knows what.

“Captain?” He smiled, looking her over. “Won’t you join us? We—“

Agostina stopped him before he could start. She cracked him across the mouth, her fist opening up his lips. He spun and fell, and the others gasped and stared.

“What do you think you’re doing?” She yelled. Her crew stared at her, then blinked, as if coming out of a trance. Suddenly realizing what was going to happen, they covered themselves. “Don’t you remember the first rule of warp travel?”

“Never scratch an itch,” they stammered, burning beet red as they tried to find their clothes.

“Damned right it is,” she spat. Saradas groaned, pulling himself up. “It leads to dark places! Now teach the new kid how to avoid this, and get your asses to the mess hall!”

“Yes, ma’am,” they muttered.

She stormed off, burning with hate. She waited until she was around a corner to make herself calm down. In the warp, hate was toxic. Lust was toxic. Curiosity was toxic. Damn it all, everything was toxic! She hated warp travel.

She breathed in, then out, and felt better, calmer. Good, that was good. As bad as warp travel was, it was unbelievably better than the place that she had the rotten luck of being born in. Here, she made her own fate, rather than deal with the shitty hand that was dealt to her.

“Great way to show the new guy how to travel,” she muttered, heading to the mess hall. Her crew was milling around, eating sparsely. She grabbed a tray and sat at the head table.

“You find them?” Vini asked. As the second-in-command, he sat next to her, ready to turn her orders into reality.

“I found too much of them,” she said, sitting down.

“Oh, Emperor, they didn’t do anything bad, did they?”

“They almost did, but I put a stop to that. New guy was with them, too.”

“Seriously?” Vini asked, his interest piqued.

“Careful,” Agostina said.

Vini seemed to grapple with himself, but he won out over his more base desires.

“Sorry captain, things are more tense than normal,” he said. “The warp must not be very calm.”

“It does seem more intense, but Niklas says it’s very calm,” she said. “We’re making great time, but these…instances keep popping up. First the fights, then the gluttony, now we’re moving on to lust.”

“Wait, so when you said you ‘found too much of them,’ you mean…?”

“Yep. Naked as they were born.”

“No wonder they’re blushing so hard,” Vini said, looking over her shoulder. Agostina turned around; the four were walking into the hall. All were blushing, but Saradas looked like he was ready to die of embarrassment. All their clothes were wrinkled and barely put on. “Can you ask Niklas to scan the warp again?”

“I did this morning, and he says we’ll be taking a week off our time. The warp is calm.”

“But with these instances, it can’t be calm!”

“What has Gordon said? Has the Geller Field remained strong?”

There was a crack from the kitchen, and an unearthly scream froze Agostina in her seat. Human screams rose, then were cut down with frightening speed. Five massive things leapt onto the counter, bellowing rage. Agostina fell backwards, drawing her bolt pistol. They had red skin, backwards bending knees, elongated heads, terrible tongues and swords. Swords that were on fire. She remembered what the old, disgraced Inquisitor told her, the one who taught her how to pass as a noblewoman.

No matter what you do, never let the Geller Field fail, she had said. Then you’d face the monsters of the warp.

Emperor protect them, they were actual daemons.

“To arms!” She screamed, shooting at them. “Daemons have made it to the ship!”

How could this happen? Did the Geller Field fail? She knew everything was working on her ship. She saw to the machine spirit’s maintenance almost as much as Gordon, her hired tech priest. How could this be happening? Throne, did she hate the warp!

Despite her terror and the battle, she dimly remembered that she wasn’t supposed to say ‘daemon.’ How she remembered what the old Inquisitor told her was beyond her.

A horrible noise came from the kitchen, snapping her back to reality, and Agostina saw more daemons crawling from a tear in the very fabric of reality. But they were struggling against the tear, trying to pull themselves from it, instead of simply walking out of it. And there seemed to be an even larger daemon trying to make its way into their little slice of realspace.

Its bloodstained bronze armor filled the tear in reality, and it screamed its rage, but to no avail. The tear closed, cutting three daemons in half. But the five that made it through, they were advancing quickly.

All around her, her crew were grabbing lasguns from weapon alcoves. Some were heaving tables at the daemons to stall their advance. She shot, hitting a few, but barely wounding any. The bolts that connected exploded before they even touched their skin, or were sent flying away by some invisible force.

“Hold them here!” She yelled. A few of her crew had drawn their weapons, and were shooting, just as the daemons charged. A daemon jumped on top of Saradas, the new crewman, and he screamed, shooting wildly. A bright lance of light, and a daemon fell, a hole dead in its eye. It fell like it was a dropped sack of potatoes, and Saradas fell against the wall himself.

Two of her men were gutted, one had her head lopped clean off. One daemon ran straight towards her.

“You!” It hissed. “You are mine! Your skull shall be added to the throne!”

Agostina yelled, then the creature was bowled over by a dark figure. They collided on the deck, and the figure brought it’s gauntlet down, pulverizing the head of the daemon with a thunderous crack. It took a second for Agostina to realize it was their cargo, the disgraced Space Marine, and he was armed with a massive, golden hammer. Two long, thick metal arms hung from his backpack, tense, but unused.

The three remaining daemons hissed at the new challenge, and charged. The Space Marine’s thick, matted hair whipped around as he saw the new challengers, and he pulled the dead daemon’s body up as a shield.

Its brethren sliced and cut into the body, and the Space Marine brought the hammer across. Thunder filled the air, and two of the daemons were swept away, bent and broken.

The last daemon charged, screaming incoherently. The Space Marine matched its yell, and charged forwards, hammer held tight across his chest. The daemon lashed out with incredible speed, and the Space Marine could only parry with the shaft of the hammer. The daemon cursed and fought, driving the Emperor’s Chosen backwards towards the wall. Seeing its prey against the ropes, the daemon laughed and lunged.

The Space Marine side-stepped, and the daemon drove its cursed blade deep into the wall, lodging it in place. The Space Marine cracked its skull backwards with the shaft of the hammer. The daemon stumbled back, disarmed, only to be pulverized.

The Space Marine looked up, eyes scanning for more of the enemies, but found only the stares of Agostina’s crew.

“That the last of ‘em?” He rumbled in deep, calm High Gothic.

“Y-yes, my lord, I think so,” she said, ears ringing.

“We need to check,” he said. “Where there’s one daemon, there tend to be more. Can you move? I don’t know this ship as well as you.”

“You heard the Space Marine,” Agostina said, stammering despite herself. She was the captain, supposedly the descendant of a long line of noble traders. She had to lead by example, prove that she wasn’t just some slum rat from a Hive World. “Form up. We need to search the ship, bow to stern! Vini, get on the vox, all hands are to arm up.”

“Yes, captain!”

The Space  Marine walked over to Saradas, and helped him up.

“Nice moves, boy, taking out that daemon,” he said. By the Emperor, he was laughing, like it was all a sport. “We’ll make a killer of you yet!”

Saradas was pale and shaking, and the rough pats on the back the Space Marine gave him nearly sent him flying. Somehow, he stayed upright. Agostina noticed a dark spot growing on his pants. Given his intimate encounter, she couldn’t blame him.

“What’s your name?” The Space Marine asked, all grins.

“S-Saradas, my lord,” he stammered.

“Saradas!” The Space Marine roared. “A good name! Captain, you have a slayer in your hands! Saradas the Slayer!”

“I—I am no slayer, my lord,” he mumbled.

“Nonsense! This is your kill!” The Space Marine moved to the dead daemon, totems, runes and pelts rattling on his armor. There was a knife on his belt; to mortals like Agostina, it was as big as a machete. But in the hands of the Space Marine, it seemed like a paring knife.

With the knife in hand, he deftly cut the head off the daemon, then gave it to Saradas.

“Mount it on your wall, for it’s your glory!”

Saradas fainted the second the Space Marine walked away. Agostina stood straighter as he came her way.

“It’s strange that the daemons chose to appear in the kitchen,” he said, suddenly serious. “Isn’t there a larger area they could teleport into?”

“There is, my lord,” she said. “I’d think they would try for the cargo hold. It’s pretty full, but it’s still a larger space than the mess hall.”

“Where’s the cargo hold?”

“It’s on the other side of the bulkhead, actually,” she said, pointing to the back wall of the kitchen.

“Then gather your men and tell me where to turn, I’ll take the lead,” he said, pulling a bolt pistol from a shoulder holster.

“Come on, get together, we’re going daemon hunting.” Agostina tried to sound enthusiastic, but it was a lame attempt. Her men didn’t seem to notice; they fell in, brandishing their lasguns.

She directed the Space Marine down the halls of her ship, his heavy footfalls and tinkling trinkets making the only sound. Soon, they were at the doors of the cargo hold.

“I don’t hear anything on the other side,” the Space Marine said, pressing his ear against the metal door. “Still, best be cautious. I’ll open the door and charge in, you and your men will hold back and shoot at anything that’s not me.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Agostina said. “Get ready.”

Her men took kneeling positions and aimed at the door. The Marine pulled at the panels in the wall, releasing the pneumatic lock that kept the doors shut. Air hissed as they waited for the pressure to drop.

“Ready?”

They nodded.

“Fenrys hjolda!” He bellowed, throwing the sliding doors wide open. He charged in, bolt pistol in his off-hand, hammer held tight in his right, just under the head of the weapon.

But the cargo bay was empty, with nothing other than her cargo in it. Agostina swept her bolt pistol left and right, but saw nothing. The Space Marine snarled and turned, but the only things he saw were the items she was trading.

Boxes of Mechanicus-sanctioned ammunition, foodstuffs, raw adamantium and a few pristinely kept crates of cigars and alcohol were the only things there. All were just as she had left them when they left Holy Terra.

“Well,” the Space Marine said, “this is a letdown.”

“Kind of anti-climactic,” Agostina said, secretly glad there were no abominations aboard her ship. But she had a reputation to uphold, and she made herself sound disappointed.

“Indeed,” he said, sliding his bolt pistol into the well-worn leather holster at his shoulder. He sniffed at the air. “But it smells like they tried to enter here.”

“Smells?”

“Aye, smells. Daemons have a stink about them,” the Marine said, walking down the rows of goods.

Agostina walked with the Marine. None seemed disturbed, which was good; she didn’t need the loss of any precious goods to set her back. They rounded one row, and came upon severed limbs that were certainly not human.

“Well, well, well,” the Marine rumbled, “what have we here?”

There had to be nearly a dozen amputated body parts, all red skinned and smooth. Legs, heads, bodies, and arms still clutching weapons lay on the ground, bleeding irregular blood. Some of the weapons were broken, cut in two or more.

“What in the Emperor’s name are they?” Agostina said.

“Daemons of Khorne, from the looks of it,” the Marine said. He walked over, kicking the limbs over. “This is like a chaos incursion. They tried to enter here in a great number. See that? Limbs of bloodletters, maybe a forearm of a flesh hound…ah! What do we have here?”

Agostina looked up. The Marine was toying with a large piece of sliced bronze armor with the plumb of his hammer.

“And that is…?”

“The armor of a juggernaut, by the looks of it,” he said. “Khorne really wanted us dead.”

“Captain?” Vini said. “W-what in the Throne’s name is that?”

Agostina followed Vini’s gaze. He was moving what looked like a giant snake with the end of his lasgun. Spikes adorned the thing, and it occasionally twitched in death.

“Russ’ blood,” the Marine cursed. “I’ve seen that before.”

“What is it?”

“That’s the lash of a bloodthirster, a greater daemon of Khorne.”

“How do you know all of this?”

“First-hand knowledge,” he replied, kicking the lash with his boot. All of his cheer was gone, replaced with steely determination. “The First War of Armageddon.”

“I beg your pardon, but there was a war at Armageddon?”

“…Right, I forgot that the fucking Inquisition wished that away,” he growled. “Also forgot they don’t like anyone saying ‘daemon’ or using proper names for ‘unholy’ shit, but fuck ‘em, they’re not here.

“All you gotta know is I fought a fuck of a lotta traitors and daemons a long time ago. Shit, that was five hundred years ago, and it’s still too soon to see such a damned thing again.”

Agostina stared at the Marine. He did looked old, with tanned skin that looked more like cured leather, long teeth, and of course his long matted hair and beard were more salt than pepper, but a war that was over five-hundred standard years ago? He had to be ancient. How old did Space Marines get?

“Did you fight one of those…things?” she asked.

“Aye, fought it with my pack,” the Marine said. “I saw it tear through three other packs before we were able to stop it. Gave me a few lovely scars to boot. Russ, that thing was a pain to kill.”

“W-what did we do to get monsters like this to attack us?” Vini said.

“We’re human, and we’re in the warp,” the Marine said. He sniffed the air, but seemed to dismiss the notion that there was something else in the hold. “If you want reason, you’ll find none.”

“So you don’t think it’s strange that a greater daemon wanted to kill us?” Vini asked.

“Daemons have their own ways of thinking, all of which are heretical,” the Marine said, leaning on his hammer. He gazed deep into it, as if it held the answers to everything. “Don’t damn your soul by trying to understand them, just kill the fuckers every chance you get.”

“But we’re just Rogue Traders! We don’t warrant the attention of--!”

The Marine’s hand went to his holster, and not even bothering to even draw it, he pulled the trigger four times. The hold echoed with the loud shots.

“Ha!”

He loped off to the end of the hold. Agostina held her bolt pistol in a death grip, expecting to see more of the monstrosities.

“W-what did you see, my lord?” She asked.

“This.”

At the end of the hold, hiding among the crates, was the monster that nearly cost Agostina her sanity. It was pink, had a mouth as large as its belly, and didn’t seem to have any head at all, just that…that terrible mouth! And the arms, it had arms coming out at all angles, by the Emperor, how did that Space Marine manage to touch it? He was holding it aloft by one of its many terrible arms, two bolter rounds nearly cutting its body in two. Her men panicked, one threw up, and Agostina nearly joined him.

“W-wha…what the…?”

“A daemon of Tzeentch,” he spat. “Bloody coward. Hiding in the boxes.”

“How did you…?”

“I saw his reflection in Katla.” He lovingly shook his thunder hammer high. Totems rattled. “Nothing more than a trick shot. Granted, I’ve used it more in drinking contests than in actual fights, but I killed the damned thing regardless.”

“Drinking contests?”

“Aye. Makes for a great way to earn a free drink. You should learn it.”

Agostina shook her head.

“But what is it doing here?” Vini asked.

“Damned if I know,” the Marine said. “Tzeentch doesn’t work with Khorne, at least not outside of a Black Crusade. Maybe it was the reason they tried to enter in the kitchen? Tzeentch does have dominion over all things warp related.” He brutally spat, as if displeased that he said the word ‘warp.’ His spit hissed, eating a small grove into her deck. “It doesn’t matter. We’re safe, and we don’t have to worry about some bloodletter butchering us all.”

“Could you kill it?” Vini asked.

“What?”

“Could you kill that...that bigger monster? The one with the whip?” He repeated. “You are the Emperor’s Chosen, the mightiest of his warriors, an Angel of Death. Surely you could have killed it.”

“Aye, I could’ve,” the Marine said. “If I had a Land Raider and a team of Jarl Guards wearing Terminator armor and armed with storm shields and thunder hammers. Failing that, access to a battle barge’s orbital weaponry.”

“So you couldn’t have,” Agostina groaned.

“Maybe I could, if Russ himself came back to tattoo ‘luck’ on my ass,” he said, rubbing his roughly trimmed beard thoughtfully.

“Captain?” One of her men asked. “A-are we safe?”

“Well…”

“Nowhere is safe,” the Marine answered. “The best we can do is prepare ourselves for the inevitable, and pray…err, hope for the best.”

Agostina didn’t like the sound of that, but they were in the warp. They needed to get back into realspace as soon as possible.

“We’d best burn the lot of these, or toss ‘em into the void,” the Marine said, shaking the dead horror.

“I’ve got an airlock just in mind for it.”

“Lovely.”

“I should talk to Gordon, our tech priest, see how the Geller Field is holding.”

“I’ll join you. If your tech priest would let me touch his things, that is. My mechanicus brothers tend to be territorial about their belongings.”

 


 

“What have you done?!”

Gordon wasted no time laying into Agostina as she entered the tech priest’s layer. It was a glorified maintenance tunnel that ran the length of her ship, but the tech priest was always one to say that this was his domain. He lived up to his claim, burning incense and lying spare parts down on tables with reverence, placed upon velvet pillows and surrounded by sacred oil. He yelled at them through a vox-voice, having replaced his original voice long ago.

“What have you done to anger the machine spirits so?!” He demanded, storming up to her. He was a big, but wire thin man, far more machine than human. But then again, what cog priests wasn’t? His red eye-lens pierced her, undoubtedly scanning her in several spectrums.

“We didn’t do anything,” Agostina pleaded.

“Liar! The Geller Field’s machine spirit almost failed! We were almost exposed to the warp! You dare treat your family’s ship with such disrespect?”

“Calm yourself, brother,” the Space Marine said. He waited at the bulkhead that marked the entrance to Gordon’s layer. Gordon stared, amazed at seeing a fellow priest. “There’s been…discontent in the warp. It’s not her fault. Stay your wrath for a truly worthy foe.”

“’A truly worthy foe?’” Gordon repeated, as if not understanding the Space Marine.

“Aye, there’ll be worse to come, I’m sure of it,” he said. “May I enter your dwellings?”

“I would be honored to share them with a fellow priest of Mars,” Gordan said. “My name is Gordon. What, may I ask, is yours?”

“I’m Aevar Ironclaws of the Vlka Fenryka,” the Space Marine bowed.

Agostina realized that she never asked for the Space Marine’s name. She would also have to ask him what ‘Vlka Fenryka’ meant.

“I can assume that you have gotten your name from your servo-arms, am I correct?”

“Aye, that’s so.”

Aevar’s servo-arms activated for the first time, spinning to his side with multiple joints. Each had what seemed to be digits on the end, but they rather housed various tools the tech priests employed, instead of true claws.

“Impressive,” Gordon said, his own four servo-arms twisting. “Are you the special cargo that we were hired to carry?”

“Indeed, brother.”

“I was not told you were of the Mechanicus.”

“The High Lords of Terra don’t think very highly of me, and they didn’t think it was necessary to tell you,” he said. “Doesn’t matter, this is neither the time nor the place to bitch about the High Lords. Are things sound down here, brother?”

“Hardly,” Gordon replied. “The Geller Field has been running ragged the day we entered the warp.”

“I thought our travel was progressing well,” Agostina said.

“It may be, but the shields have been strained,” Gordon said. “Their poor machine spirits are starting to scream. They seemed to have failed not thirty-seven minutes and eighteen seconds ago.”

“That’s because they did,” Aevar said.

“What? But…but that can’t be! The Omnissiah would never allow one of its creation to fail on its own accord!”

“It didn’t fail, brother. Something just forced its way inside.”

“But that would imply…”

“That there’s a great force out there that wants us dead,” Aevar said. “Do you have any logs from the Geller Field?”

“I do. I must consult them, see what the machine spirit is trying to say.”

Gordon shuffled away to a panel of rune-monitors. Aevar leaned over him, and Agostina pushed her way to the screen. This was her ship, dammit. She deserved to know what was going on.

Graphs and tables appeared on the screen. Agostina stared blankly at them while Aevar rubbed his beard thoughtfully.

“I can see what you mean,” he said. “The power consumption is all jumped up.”

“It worries me that the spirit may not be able to continue to function at such a high output.”

“Wait, are you saying the Geller Field will shut down?” Agostina gasped.

“It very well might, but not now,” Aevar said. “With your permission, brother, I’d like to make some modifications to it; add a cooling pipe and a more direct line to the ship’s plasma reactors so we can overcharge it.”

“While it is operational?” Gordon gasped.

“Would you rather we turn it off?”

“Certainly not.”

“Excellent. Now, you got any servitor eyes in the cargo hold?”

“Of course. Agostina wants to keep an eye on her payloads at all times, she insisted I add them.”

“You think you can catch them phasing in?” Agostina asked.

“I hope to,” Aevar said. “Maybe we can see if any more daemons escaped.”

Gordon brought the footage up. The cargo hold was empty, then brilliant light flooded the hold. Aevar began growling, sending shivers up Agostina’s spine. The light turned into what seemed to be a sphere, then suddenly jumped to the right, appearing in the bulkhead.

“That was them getting trapped in the material world,” Gordon said. “We were lucky.”

“Too damn lucky,” Aevar said. “It’s a simple mishap. But I don’t see that wretched pink horror.”

“There was another monstrosity that breached the field?”

“Aye. Maybe it entered another way. Are there any more readings?”

“No, nothing of note.”

“Could be that the massive breach hid the pink horror’s entrance…” Aevar said, talking to himself. “Doesn’t matter. I’ll start reinforcing the Geller Field this moment.”

“Shouldn’t we drop from the warp to fix it?” Agostina asked. “You make it sound like working on it while active is a death trap.”

“’A death trap?’ Please. It’s just very, very dangerous,” Aevar said. “In terms of dropping out of the warp, I think we should stay the course. The quicker we get to Fenris, the quicker we’ll be done with this shit.”

“I appreciate your help, Lord Ironclaws, but I am captain of this ship, and I say we drop from warp,” she said.

The Space Marine, Aevar, looked her over. Agostina hoped her nerves would hold.

“That’s true,” he said. “Do what you think is in the best interest of the ship; after all, I’m only a passenger here by your good graces and the High Lords.”

“T-thank you.”

“Just be glad that you’re a Rogue Trader and not a member of the Imperial Guard,” he said. “They you’d be required to obey my commands.”

Agostina walked out of Gordon’s hold. Vini was waiting for her.

“Was that wise?” He asked. “He’s a Space Marine, and a veteran at that. Shouldn’t we listen to him?”

“As much as I want to, I’d like to get the taste of warp out of my mouth, at least for a little bit,” Agostina said. “Let’s talk to Niklas.”

They walked through the ship, passing her crew. News of the ‘monster’ attack was quick to spread, and all walked around carrying weapons. They curtly nodded to her, all nerves. Finally, they arrived at the navigator’s quarters.

“Niklas, talk to us,” she said, pounding on the doors. The view portal clicked on, and Niklas greeted her, bleeding from the nose, his eyes, even the mutant third one, and ears. “By the Emperor, are you okay?”

“T-there was a surge in the warp,” he muttered, trying to staunch the flow of blood with gauze pads. “I’ve never felt anything like it. It pushed the Geller Field aside like it was nothing.”

“It did. Fortunately, our mysterious cargo helped us defend ourselves from a…a ‘monster’ incursion.”

“By the Throne,” he muttered.

“Gordon says the Geller Field is running at maximum, and we need to repair it. Can you drop us out of the warp so we can make repairs?”

“I…I don’t think so.”

“What?”

“The warp is pulling us along at such a rate that if we were somehow able to drop out, I fear that we’ll lose months of time,” he said. “Even with this…this incursion, it has been calmer than I’ve ever seen it.”

“I’d rather lose a few weeks than risk having the Geller Field collapse,” she barked. “Even if it is a few months!”

“But I can’t find a suitable exit spot,” he protested. “The warp is so smooth, I can’t find a good spot to drop out of. We’ll have to squeeze every available drop of power from the ship to even attempt to make an opening.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that we’re caught up in such a warp current that we’re nearly lost,” he said. “There’s only one clear point where we can exit from, and that’s our destination, Fenris.”

Agostina couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“We’re lost in the warp?” Vini gasped.

“No, but we’re nearly there,” Niklas said. “I told you, the warp is calm; we’re hitting no points of turbulence. We’re free to move as fast as we can. We even have a warp current pulling us along; there are eddies surrounding us that are more powerful than I even knew were possible.”

“And this ship doesn’t have enough power to break free of this current,” Agostina said.

“Precisely. If this was a navy ship, we’d stand a better chance.”

“But we’re traders,” Vini muttered. “Rogue Traders in a dingy of a ship.”

“You watch your mouth! This is my ship, my family’s ship,” Agostina barked. But she knew that Vini was right; Johnathan was a tiny ship.

“If there is something out there that is moving us along, we’d best go along with it,” Niklas said. “Otherwise, we’d have to break the ship apart to even attempt to get free.”

Agostina ground her teeth. She didn’t like being stuck in a situation, powerless. It reminded her of home, of her family, of her Hive City, of everything that raised her. It reminded her why she escaped it all, invented a new family to became a Trader.

But as much as she hated being powerless, she hated the thought of losing her ship more. Emperor, did she hate warp travel.

“Vini, go tell Lord Ironclaws that we can’t drop out of the warp,” she said tightly. “I’ll gather the crew, tell them that we’re going to try and squeeze more power from the engines. The quicker we get to Fenris, the quicker we can leave this hellhole.”

Chapter Text

After working on the Golden Throne for nearly two standard years, it was refreshing to work on something that was, by comparison, impossibly simple. Aevar hummed happily to himself as he worked on a plasma junction coupling. He’d started working on it nearly a day ago, and was making such good time, he just couldn’t stop. He though he was doing quite good, considering he’d made the junction from a reclaimed sewer pipe.

“Lord Ironclaws, here’s the rebar you requested.”

“Excellent work, Slayer. Set ‘em down over there.”

“M’lord, I’m no slayer,” Saradas mumbled.

“Nonsense, you brought down a daemon,” he said. One of his servo arms grabbed the new piece of rebar and moved it into place. He spot-welded it to place while he made the final twists and calibrations. A little more bracing, then he’d finish bending the pipe into place. “If you were a Fenrisian, we’d consider you a potential recruit! You should be proud of yourself!”

The man needed a real spine. Hopefully by the end of their trip, he would realize what an accomplishment it was, and he’d take some damned pride in it. Instead, the Slayer slunk away, fiddling with his lasgun as he helped his fellow traders carry supplies into the service tunnel.

“Gordon, what does your logic engine say about the stresses this will be under?” Aevar asked.

“We should be within a tolerable range,” the tech priest said, shuffling over.

“Excellent. Let’s get this linked up.”

With a grunt of effort, he pulled the sewer pipe into place, bending it at just the right angles to connect it to the rest of the cooling line and lining up the rebar bracing. His servo-arms welded the connections, and he let the metal flex into position.

“Are you sure that you want to build the containment fields by yourself?” Gordon asked. “I have experience with maintaining this ship, and can be of great service.”

“Thank you, brother, but I want you to keep the Geller Field on your mind,” Aevar said. “The forces of Chaos might try another breaching attempt, and I need you to draw power to the Fields at a moment’s notice.”

“B-but you’re building right next to the plasma generator. The heat could—“

“Don’t worry about me, I’ve been burned worse,” he said. Of course, it was a lie; he just needed to be free of Gordon’s prying eyes. He needed to “talk” the “machine spirits” into acting better.

“If you say so,” the tech priest sighed. Aevar knew he was getting his way only because of his rank and experience. But once he got the containment field running, he would have more sway with the tech priest.

With the pipes connected, he reached for the box of circuits, the building blocks of the logic engine that would drive the containment field. He had been building the schematic in his head for the past few hours, and worked out a simple mock-up on a piece of parchment; he was sure it would work.

He grabbed a proto-board from the pile, formerly used in a trash-compactor, and began adding chips to it, his servo-arms welding them to the board. He risked a glance over his shoulder to Gordon; the tech priest was busy whispering prays to his terminal as he studied the ship’s power draw.

Aevar turned his attention back to the logic-computer he was assembling. There would be no prayers for him; he was using his newfound knowledge of circuits to drive it. The Emperor’s library held many tomes of knowledge, and he had learned much.

To think I would’ve called this heresy months ago, and not been  able to build it just a few weeks past, he thought. The galaxy is truly an interesting place.

 Soon he was finished. A simple job, but the first true job he had done since he walked into the doors of the Emperor’s library. He fed electricity to the circuit, and it hummed to life, activating the magnetic coils in the makeshift cooling pipe.

“It’s ready,” he said.

“It is?” Gordon asked, his attention pulled from his terminal. “I did not hear you invoke the Pray of Activation.”

“You didn’t?” Aevar said, cocking his head to his side. “I must’ve been whispering it. Habit must’ve got the better of me.”

“Habit?”

“Soothing the machine spirit is much like hunting for prey,” he said. “You must follow the paths of electricity, and if it makes an error, you spring upon it. And when hunting, you must remain quiet.”

The tech priest gave him a hard look.

“It is a Fenrisian thing,” he said, shrugging. He reached out to the valve they installed, and pulled it. The new channel opened itself to the main plasma reactor, and the superheated fluid poured forth, running through the pipe and into the heat exchange at the bow of the ship. The containment field strong, allowing the plasma to move freely, without melting through the reclaimed pipe.

“See?”

“I stand corrected, brother. My apologies,” Gordon said, turning back to his workstation. “I’m reading the power output is within tolerable ranges.”

“Good. Give it more power.”

“W-what?”

“We’re expecting a chaos raiding party at any second,” Aevar said. “We have to stress test it before the forces of chaos can test it for us.”

“If you say so,” Gordon said, although he did not sound convinced.

“Don’t worry, I built it to withstand a lascannon,” Aevar laughed.

Gordon said nothing, but dutifully sent more plasma to the cooling pipe. The field held.

“We’re feeding it a total of twenty percent of the power,” Gordon said. “Our maximum allocation.”

“And the drive?”

“The power output is increasing with minimal heat increase.”

“Excellent! A resounding success!” Aevar slapped Gordon’s thin frame. He wished he had some mjod to celebrate. It had been too long since he had something to drink; far too long.

“If I have ever doubted you before, I do not now.” Despite the compliment, Aevar could hear it in Gordon’s voice that the tech priest did doubt him. Either because he had missed the Prayer of Activation, or because of his appearances, Aevar cared not. His rank was secured, and Gordon would more willingly bow to his wishes.

“Now all we’ll need is to reinforce the Geller Field,” he said. “Make sure that its secured in place, then give it a more direct access to the plasma reactor.”

The words has scarcely left Aevar’s mouth when the generator began to fizzle, and Gordon’s terminal went haywire.

“The forces of chaos are trying to breach us again!” Gordon shouted, typing madly at his terminal to send more power to the Field.

“I can see that,” Aevar snapped. “Where’s the tear?” The foul stench of the warp was his answer. It assaulted his senses, pouring over him in waves. He spun around, to see a tear materializing just behind him. The point of light wavered, then shot towards a bulkhead.

“To arms!” He roared, disengaging the mag-locks that kept Katla strapped to his back. “Slayer, gather your men and prepare for combat!”

The human traders dropped whatever they were carrying, metal rods, pipes, or boxes of rivet bolts, and fumbled with their weapons as they tried to bring them to bear in time. But it was too late; the tear split and opened. With gasps of pleasure, a group of daemonettes dropped into the ship.

Clothed in what appeared to be tight, black leather straps, they were hauntingly beautiful, but at the same time broken parodies of the human form. Their faces were smooth and easy, but they had cruel, sharpened teeth. Their bodies were thin and lithe, but they sported terrible, jagged claws in the place of hands. Most had one breast, the other was cut off, and their hair fell pell-mell from their scalps.

Aevar’s skin rolled as he pulled Iounn from her holster. He unleashed a stream of bolts towards the daemonettes. They entered the ship precariously close to a bulkhead and cross bracing; a few had materialized inside the thick adamantium struts, dying instantly. Not that that deterred the others.

“Slayer, get back,” he said, gunning down two daemonettes as they surged forward.

“Ooooh, a pretty boy!” One laughed, running at the youth. Saradas screamed, still holding an armful of rebar. Aevar tried to shoot it, but his bolts were pushed aside by the daemon’s unholy warp charm.

Fortunately, the Slayer was better that he thought. He brought the rebar to bear just as the daemonette jumped towards him, skewering the fell beast clean through the heart. The daemonette died instantly, and with a grin.

Before he could cheer for the boy, a team of daemonettes raked their claws against his armor. But he made the plates thick and strong, and was able to fend off the attacks.

“That boy is pretty, but you’re the one we want,” one cooed, lashing out with her claws. Aevar parried, stepping back from the assault.

“Yes, you would make a great addition to our numbers,” another said, weaving in front of the third.

“I’d rather cut my own head from my body,” Aevar said, swinging Katla. The daemonettes laughed and spun away, unnaturally fast.

“Don’t tempt us, you rough little thing,” a fourth sighed. “Slaanesh wants you alive and well, not dead and gone.”

The team of daemonettes lashed out in perfect tandem. The first went high, swiping at his face. The second went low, trying to pull his legs out. The third and fourth weaved to his sides, flanking him. Too bad they forgot about his servo-arms.

His servo-arms spun upwards, catching the flanking daemons by surprise. One was able to squawk before the claws grabbed them by the face. With a simple thought, the arms tightened and spun, breaking their skulls and necks. He threw the limp bodies at the two remaining daemons, who jumped back on reflex.

It was what he was waiting for. With Iounn already in his hand, he brought the bolt pistol up and snapped off three perfectly placed rounds. They hit one daemonette in the stomach, and the mass reactive rounds exploded, cutting it in half.

The last one dove and weaved around him. He swung Katla and his servo-arms, knowing he would hit nothing, but he would bid his time until the daemon slipped up.

The daemonette hissed, raking her claws across his pauldron, and he was able to land a telling punch across its face. Stunned, the daemonette tried to run away, but Katla put an end to it quickly.

“Die, daemon,” he grunted, stomping on the fallen daemon for good measure. “Slayer, are you hurt?”

Three more humans had died to the daemon’s assault, but the rest had put them down. The traders were shooting at the fallen monster, filling its dead body with lasgun fire. Even Captain Agostina was there, pumping bolt after bolt into the creature.

“Captain, I’m pretty sure it’s dead,” he said, walking over.

The woman was gasping, rage and fear in her eyes. She shakily lowered the gun and smoothed out her hair, doing her best to look nonchalant and failing.

“T-that thing killed my men,” she mumbled.

“And we’ve avenged them,” he said, gently setting a hand on her shoulder. He looked up. Just behind Agostina, pinned under the dead body of a daemonette, was Saradas. “Slayer!” He walked over and hosted the dead body up. “You’ve brought down another foul monstrosity! Excellent work!” He pulled the stunned young man to his feet. “You’re starting quite the collection on this journey!”

Saradas tried to speak, but it all came out a stammer.

“First time seeing a daemon of Slaanesh?”

“Y-y-yes…”

“It’s his first trip through the warp,” Agostina said, walking up. “Saradas, are you alright?”

“Two daemons! You going for a full menagerie of the creatures?” Aevar asked.

“N-n-n-n--”

“Oh, don’t worry. You’ll grow used to the horrors the ruinous powers throw at us, I’m sure of it,” he rumbled. He pulled out his paring knife and gave it to Saradas. “Come, take the daemon’s head as your prize! Mount it to your wall!”

“Lord Ironclaws, my man is terrified of that thing!” Agostina protested.

“He has right to be. But fear is to be overcome. If we’re ruled by fear, we’ve already lost. Come, Slayer, you have conquered the daemon, now conquer your fear!”

Aevar slapped the man’s back, and he hesitantly went to work cutting the daemon’s head off. A few crewmen had choice words to say on the matter.

“By the Emperor…”

“Think I’m gonna be sick.”

“We’re making a warrior of you, yet,” Aevar laughed as he took his knife back. He heard the man faint as he walked away. Agostina wasn’t as amused, though.

“I don’t like you shoving my crew around like that,” she said.

“I’m just trying to get the man used to fighting,” he said. “The galaxy is a violent place; we must be ready at all times.”

“He’s my crewman, not your…potential recruit,” she spat.

Aevar gave the woman a hard look. She tried to hold her ground. But she was right; Saradas wasn’t a member of the Imperial Guard, or even a promising tribesman. Saradas was a trader, a civilian, to be protected. He was letting his old habits get the better of him.

“If that’s your wish, I’ll let it be,” he said. “I’m only on your ship by your good graces.”

“And the order of the High Lords of Terra,” she muttered, relief filling her voice.

“Brother Ironclaws, a word,” Gordon said from his terminal.

“Yes?”

“I believe there’s been another breach,” the tech priest said. Aevar instantly had Katla in his hand, and Iounn was sweeping the deck. “Further down the corridor.”

“Captain, can I ask you and your men to accompany me?” He asked.

“W-why?”

“If it is a bigger breach, I’ll need your guns.”

He didn’t add that their guns would more than likely be useless, but maybe one would get lucky.

Agostina nodded. “You hard the Space Marine. I need volunteers to kick whatever the hell is down there off my ship.”

Seven men hesitantly drifted to their captain.

“Good enough,” Aevar said. “Brother Gordon, do you know how much further down the tear was?”

“Approximately twenty standard meters,” he replied.

“And how is the Field now?”

“Holding strong.”

“Vini, go check on Niklas,” Agostina said.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Aevar cautiously advanced down the hallway, eyes keen. As they moved further down, he could smell the corruption. Cleaver of the daemons to appear further down; he could have easily mistaken their scent for the daemons he had just fought. Russ, the air on this ship didn’t cycle fast enough. He needed to be back on Fenris. Finally, they came upon the daemon.

“Hel’s teeth,” he swore. Behind him, men and women screamed and ran, their bravery faltering. Somehow, Agostina stood strong.

Before them was a monstrous Keeper of Secrets. It stood even taller than Aevar; it had to be close to twice his height. It had five arms, two of which held swords, while two had enormous claws. The fifth one was a scythe made of bones that jutted from its flesh. Its head was abhorrent, with tusks and bones breaking through its purplish skin at random places.

But their fortune had held strong; the Keeper of Secrets had appeared in the midst of several cross bracing structures, the very bones of the ship. Adamantium beams pierced its body, arms and legs, pinning it in place. Blood ran in thick rivers down the beams, but the thing was somehow still alive. The dozen of eyes that adorned what little space was left on its face all turned towards Aevar.

Ah, the Blessed One arrives,” it said. Despite its hideous appearance, it spoke in tones of smooth velvet. Aevar felt his hair stand on end. He grasped Katla tighter.

“B-blessed?” Agostina stammered.

I was wondering when you might find me,” the daemon said. There was not a hint of pain in its voice, despite being pierced by several beams. It licked at its own blood.

“Don’t listen to it,” Aevar warned.

Yes, don’t,” the daemon said. “Don’t listen to me, and you damn the Imperium.

“Enough of your lies, daemon,” Aevar said, walking forward. “Your life ends here.”

Don’t you want to know how your journey ends?” It said.

Aevar jumped onto the bracing beams, climbing until he was at head height with the monstrous daemon. He roared and brought Katla across the daemon’s skull. The air cracked with the release of energy, but the daemon held to life.

You help humanity, but tear the Imperium apart.

Aevar smashed the daemon again, and its head lolled.

If you love your Emperor, you would best kill him,” the daemon said to Agostina. “Of course, that would mean that the Emperor dies, in the end…

Katla crushed the daemon’s skull for the third time. Finally, the daemon yelled in pain.

He will usher in a new age!” It screamed. “A new age where humanity falls to a new lows!

The fourth blow finally split the daemon’s skull and brought it down. Aevar hit it twice more, just to make sure.

“W-what did it mean?” Agostina said, holding her ears against Katla’s thunderous retort. “Why did it want us to kill you?”

“Don’t trust anything a daemon says,” Aevar said, jumping to the deck. “They’re deceitful in nature. They exist to lead you to dark places and to fuck your soul. Nothing more, nothing less.”

“Yes, you’re right,” she mumbled. “But I’ve never heard one talk before…”

“Don’t dwell on it. Everything about it exists to tempt. Purge your mind of its image and sound, else it’ll be your damnation.”

There was a skittering of claws, and Aevar had Iounn in his hands. Near the edge of a cross bracing beam was another pink horror, doing its best to hide. But it’s grotesque size and shape were its undoing; with too many arms, it couldn’t hide all of its bulk behind the adamantium brace.

Aevar roared and unleashed a hail of bolts at it, breaking into a dead sprint. The pink horror squealed and ran, its warp charm pushing bolts away as it fled. It was fast, maybe faster than him.

It darted towards a ventilation shaft, squeezing into the small opening. Aevar slid, his armor throwing up a tail of sparks. The vent was too small for his armored arms, so he used a servo-arm. One shot into the shaft, catching the daemon by a leg. It screamed and thrashed, but his servo-arm held strong.

“Get out of there and die,” he snarled.

The pink horror thrashed, grabbing onto whatever it could to get a handhold and tried to pry itself free. With so many arms, it had plenty of options.

Aevar adjusted his grip, sending his second servo-arm into the shaft. He felt around, grabbing one of the horror’s arms, and brutally crushed it with a simple thought. It howled, but held strong. So he felt around for another arm, breaking it as he did the first.

The daemon’s grip faltered, and he hauled it out into the open. It howled, and summoned a fireball with its two remaining hands. Aevar shielded his face, just as the horror threw the ball. The heat of the fireball singed his hair, but his armor easily bore the brunt of it.

“Enough of that, now,” he grunted, bringing his fist down. The daemon’s head shattered, and it went limp.

Agostina and her men slowly approached.

“Is it dead?” She asked.

“As dead as dead could be,” Aevar said, getting to his feet. “Damned thing slipped in again.”

“How can these things get in so easily?”

“Fuck if I know,” he said, spitting into a corner. “I don’t know how the Warp works. Helfist probably knows more than me.”

“’Helfist?’”

“He’s a Rune Priest, a brother and a friend back at Fenris,” Aevar said. “I only deal with iron. He deals with the wyrd.”

“…Will they keep breaking in?” Agostina asked. She did her best to keep her voice from cracking, but the stress and fear were evident.

Aevar looked at her and her men.

“Let’s head back, and throw this thing in an airlock” he said instead. “That’s twice the forces of chaos have assaulted us. If all the chaos gods wish to test us, that’ll leave two more trials to come.”

“What shall we do?”

Aevar thought. He was on a ship full of mortals, not even Guardsmen. They needed to be protected; but he was only one warrior.

“We need to keep everyone together,” he said. “Gather your crew in the cargo hold. That’s where we’ll live until we are out of the warp. No one should go wandering off alone; we must stay in groups.”

“What does that do?” She asked.

“It’ll help me keep an eye an all of them,” he said. “There might be another creature that has found its way onto the ship. We can’t have them making a lunch out of your men.”

“Too right,” she said.

“Captain!” Vini ran down the service tunnel. “Niklas is hurt bad.”

“How bad?”

“He’s bleeding and delirious.”

“I’ll help him,” Aevar said. “I have some experience in the healing arts. Do you have aid kits?”

“We do, milord.”

“Excellent, that’ll speed things up. Take me to him. Captain, if you will, gather your men in the cargo hold.”

“Of course. Throne, this damned trip can’t end fast enough.”

“Too right.” Agostina led him through the ship, towards the Navigator’s quarters. They passed the men and women of the traders, who shuffled out of their way. Chatter was at a minimum; Aevar could smell the fear on everyone.

“Niklas, we’re here,” Agostina said, opening the doors to the Navigator’s chambers. The doors that lead to the Navigator’s chambers was like an airlock; they entered a small chamber, closed the first door behind them, and let the air cycle before they opened the second.

All this damn work to keep the fucking warp out, Aevar thought. Wish we all had chambers like this.

Inside his room, Niklas was nearly passed out; two of her men were with him, holding him as he was splayed out on the ground.

“Closed,” he muttered.

“Yes, the portal is closed,” Aevar said, kneeling next to the thin man. “We’re all safe, for now at least.”

“But it closed,” he groaned, somehow holding onto consciousness. One of the crewmen had an aide kit. Aevar took it and pulled it open, taking some balm and began examining Niklas. He was bleeding from his nose, eyes and ears; typical warp-sickness for Navigators. Aevar applied a layer of the balm just under his nose; the balm began mending the broken blood vessels. “It closed.”

“Aye, I closed it, you’re fine now,” Aevar muttered. He had no time for the ramblings of a warp-sick man.

“No, you didn’t close it, someone else closed it,” Niklas said. This caught Aevar’s attention. “Something opened the Geller field, something big, something powerful. Looking at it was like feeling velvet; smooth and tempting and… and purple. It tore it open, and then something else closed it. Something even more powerful, something blue. It closed it.”

Aevar gave Niklas a hard look. He knew Astartes had a sobering effect on mortals, and he hoped his gaze would drive some sense into the Navigator, but Niklas looked passed him, gazing into space.

“Something opened it, and something else closed it,” the Navigator repeated. “What would it do that? Why would it do that?”

“Don’t you worry about it,” Aevar said. “It’s the Emperor looking out for us.”

“But it couldn’t be the Emperor, he doesn’t look like that,” Niklas said, his head lolling. “The Emperor glows. This thing was dull, it was blue, it was tasting a riddle. It glowed like you.”

“Lord Ironclaws, what is he saying?” Agostina asked.

“I haven’t the slightest,” he replied. “He must be warp-sick. Give him some water and time to sleep this off and he’ll be right as rain. ‘Till then, ignore him, and get ready for the next assault.”

 


 

Saradas sat on his makeshift cot, trying to find a way to sleep. He heard the life of a Rogue Trader wasn’t glamorous, but he ignored every word of warning. He wished he’d listen to his parents, his older brother, his priest, his friend’s parents, Throne, he should have listened to damn near everyone!

“Just join the Guard,” his brother had said. “Yes, you’ll be in danger, but I made it out, and so will you. You just have to keep your head down, say your prayers, say ‘yes, sir,’ a lot, and you’ll be out in no time.”

Too bad he didn’t want to be a Guardsman. He wanted a life of adventure, something glamorous. And he wanted to be rich, too. Couldn’t do that on a small, rinky-dink protein farm on Terra, or as part of the Guard. No, a rogue trader was the way to go, or so he had thought.

And what had that gotten him? On his first trip, his first time off-planet, first time in the warp to boot, he was nearly a part of a heretical orgy, and had faced down vile daemons twice now, and if Lord Ironclaws was right, they were only halfway through it!

He gave a hesitant look to the two lumpy bags that sat at the foot of his cot. He didn’t want to hold onto daemon heads, but Lord Ironclaws seemed to insist on it. Yes, it was a great honor to see a fabled Space Marine, and more so to walk, talk and fight with one, but daemon heads? Emperor, why would someone hold onto the damned things?

He couldn’t give them away, of course; no one would dare take them. And there wasn’t any place for them to pitch them, either. Yes, they had a trash incinerator, but they had taken it offline to give more power to the Geller Field. So far the trash wasn’t overflowing, but they were only two weeks into their long trip. Plenty of time to be wallowing in their filth.

All around him in the cargo hold, the crew were talking. Of the last two attacks, of the suspected next two, who they had lost and who would be lost again. Saradas didn’t want to hear any of that. He just wanted to live through the trip and get home as fast as possible. The idea of being a protein farmer didn’t seem so bad now.

“Mind if I sit down?”

Saradas looked up. Agostina was standing in front of him.

“C-captain!” He said, jumping up.

“Oh, give it a rest, Saradas,” she groaned. “We’re not a military vessel, we’re just rogue traders.”

“Sorry,” he said. “I’ve…just been really nervous.”

“Ha! You and everyone else on this tub!” She tossed her head back and laughed bitterly, tossing a few wavy length of hair. It caught his eye, and he tried not to stare. “You mind?”

“Go ahead.”

Agostina sat next to him. Two weeks ago, he would have killed to have the chance to get her sitting on his cot. He’d hardly seen a woman like her before. She was beautiful and noble, but also strong, independent and even humble, so unlike any noble that he had seen from a distance. It was like she was a regular baseborn woman in royal clothing.

“How are you holding up?” She asked.

“I’m tired,” he said. “It’s hard to sleep in the warp.”

“I know that feeling. Hate it myself.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, ma’am, why are you a trader?”

“Just…no ‘ma’am’ stuff, okay? I think we’re past that point,” she sighed.

“Okay, if you say so. But, why are you a trader if you hate warp travel? I know your family were rogue traders, but why continue it? You’re nobility; you could live anywhere.”

“’Live anywhere,’” she laughed. “Maybe it’s some kind of wanderlust. But mostly because it’s the only way to make a real living. Otherwise, you’d end up in some dead-end job on your home world, or a member of the Guard, and we all know that’s mostly a one-way trip.”

“But you’re nobility,” he said. “You’d be a commander.”

“And I’d rather take my chances out here than in there.”

“My brother was a Guardsman, ma’am, I mean, Agostina. He’s held out pretty good.”

“Well, you’re brother seems to have a lot of luck.” She looked at the two bag-covered daemon heads. “That luck seems to run in the family.”

“If I was really lucky, those daemons wouldn’t have attacked us in the first place.”

“Shit, isn’t that right.”

“Capt—Agostina, where are you even from?”

“Hmm?”

“You have an accent, so I know you’re not from my sector of space.”

“Throne, I haven’t talked about my home world in such a long time,” she said, as if she was trying to either recall a memory, or quash it.

“…Is that a good thing?”

“No, no it isn’t. I…I don’t remember much of it. Traders don’t stay in one place for too long,” she said. “I was mostly was raised in space.”

“What about your parents?”

“They were…they were good traders,” she said. Saradas wondered what made her hesitate. What were noble families even like? “They knew the routes, they knew the prices, they knew how to find a deal.”

“But were they good parents?”

Agostina gave him a hard look. She was off-put, he could tell.

“Throne, I’m sorry, sometimes I ask too many questions,” he said.

“Best watch that,” she replied. “My parents were my parents. They were many things, but they were right about one thing: it doesn’t matter what kind of shit is going down in the galaxy, could be wars and death and mayhem, but as long as you got your ship, the entire sky is yours, and ain’t no one can take that away from you.”

“And traveling through the warp?”

“A very necessary evil. At least you get something out of it.”

“Do you think you’ll get rich, err, richer trading all the time?”

“Ha! That’s what everyone thinks traders are trying to do! Get rich, or die trying!” Agostina laughed again, properly this time. “Let me tell you something: if I ever strike it big, I’ll still be slinging it through space; it’ll just be on a much fancier ship. I love my ship, but my family is small fries compared to other traders. If we strike it big, I’d like to change that. Is that what you signed on for, Saradas? To get rich?”

“Of course,” he said. “I’ve been poor my entire life. I’d rather die than be poor.”

“You know, most traders never get rich,” she said. “Well, richer than they already are. It’s always just an endless job. So take my advice: learn to love it. It’s always about the money, yes, but if you count every bean you’ve got, you miss quite a lot. Tough out the warp travel, see the galaxy and try to get as much out of it as you can.”

“I’ll try,” he said. Never get rich? But this is what he was betting his life on.

“How do you like being ‘the Slayer?’” She grinned.

“Throne, don’t call me that,” he said. “Why did I have to get stuck with the daemon heads?”

“Because you’re the one who killed them. Lord Ironclaws seemed pretty impressed with you.”

“He wants me to become a Space Marine, I think.”

“No, you’re not some rough Fenrisian man. They’d never accept you.”

“How do you know?”

“I’ve been to Fenris a few times. Never properly visited, though. It was just passing through. They’re a loud and boisterous people, but they’re as tough as rocks. They only respect killing there, so taking out a few daemons would get you some good respect. But they keep one eye open around outsiders. We haven’t been through the same shit as they have, and they’re suspicious because of it. But, get them drinking, and they’re plenty friendly.”        

“Thanks, captain,” he said sullenly.

“Don’t worry, he won’t try to recruit you. Just…keep your chin up and try to put up with him for a little while longer.”

“I just want to go home,” he mumbled. “Damn the warp, damn the money, I just want to get out of here.”

Agostina looked at him, a mixture of pity and sadness in her eyes.

“I know,” she finally said. “But it’s too late for that. We have to keep moving.”

Chapter Text

“Captain Agostina, a moment.”

Lord Ironclaws walked up to her makeshift command desk in the cargo hold. She sat among the luxury items; vacuum sealed Terran cigars and the finest liquor she could get her hands on from their short stay on Terra. If she could find a buyer for them, and if the trip didn’t kill them, she stood a chance of make a small fortune.

“Yes, Lord Ironclaws?”

“I made new weapons for your crew.”

He carried a crate full of what seemed to be haphazardly constructed weapons. He placed one on her desk, which was really the crate for the cigars. She wondered what they were, then her eyes drifted to the promethean tank by the barrel.

“What? No, that’s not a flamer, is it?”

“Aye, it is,” he rumbled. “Your men will need it.”

“There will be no fire on my ship!” She said, standing up. “My ship, Lord Ironclaws, which you yourself had said are on by my good graces!”

“There are two more chaos lords that will test us,” he replied, holding up armored fingers. “The lord of rot, and the changer of ways. You’ll need these against the lord of rot, mostly because your men can’t shoot, no offense.”

“There are no open flames allowed on any ship for good reason! We burn too much air!”

“It’s a good reason, aye, but when faced with the lord of rot and a horde of mindless, pus-oozing husks, these’ll help clean the air,” he said. “Trust me, captain, I’ve faced down plenty of rotting horrors, and a flamer is the best weapon to use on them.”

“What if we don’t fight this ‘lord of rot’ you talk of? What if it’s the other one?”

“It won’t be,” he said.  “I’ve been smelling them for nearly an hour.”

“What?”

“Ask Gordon and Niklas; the Geller Field is being tested again. So far, my modifications have held out and kept the Field up and running. But the lord of rot is a stubborn foe; it’s only a matter of time before he’s able to punch his way through. And I can smell the putrid smell of decay just begging to get in.”

Agostina fumbled with the small vox transmitter at her hip.

“Gordon, what is happening? Lord Ironclaws is saying that we’re being attacked.”

He’s right, the tech priest said. In the background of the vox channel, she could hear his mechanical limbs typing away at a logic engine. How they haven’t breached the Field already is a blessing from the Emperor and the Omnimissiah. But they’ll probably get in, and sooner rather than later.

Her blood ran cold at the thought.

“Do you know which vile monster it is?” She asked, putting on a strong face.

I can’t. Lord Ironclaws says it is some ‘lord of decay,’ but I have no idea what it is or if he’s right.

“Thank you, Gordon. How is Niklas doing?”

He’s in his quarters, in his Geller Cage. But the forces that are beating at our door are still making him delirious.

“Keep me informed.” She killed the vox channel and looked up at the Space Marine. “How can you tell it’s a ‘lord of decay?’”

“Trust me, captain, if you smell them once, you’ll know that smell anywhere,” he replied. Then he grinned and tapped his nose. “Besides, I have what you’d call ‘acute senses.’”

“Very well. Emperor grant us strength.” She turned to her men in the cargo hold. “Arm yourselves! Monsters are approaching us!”

“To arms!” Her men gathered themselves and readied their lasguns. Lord Ironclaws walked among them, giving out his makeshift flamers to a few.

“Slayer, take this,” he said, gently replacing Saradas’ lasgun. In its place, he gave him what seemed to be a modified lasgun that had a canister mounted near the barrel, instead of it being under the barrel. “You’ll want this flamer for this encounter.”

“L-lord Ironclaws! What is that?”

“A flamer,” he repeated. “A special one, too. Should pack more of a punch than the others.”

“Begging your pardon, that don’t look like any flamer I’ve ever seen.”

“Aye, that’s right. But time was short, and parts were scarce. Treat this like a regular flamer; point it at your foes and hold down the trigger. The canister will empty itself and it will roast your enemies. Once you have run out of flames, pop the canister off and use it like a regular lasgun, or slip another canister into it. They’re by the barricades, and have a red piece of tape on ‘em.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet, Slayer. We still have foes to kill.” He turned to the gathering men. “Form a perimeter! We hold the enemy here.”

Her men formed an uneasy half-circle, facing the doors to the cargo hold. Lord Ironclaws hefted the heavier crates of adamantium ore to form basic barricades, grunting with the effort of moving the massive things. Once he was done, he walked back towards Agostina.

“Are you ready?” He asked, drawing his bolt pistol and thunder hammer.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she said. Agostina checked the magazine to her bolt pistol and slid a round into the chamber. Then, bracing herself against a crate, she waited.

The minutes slid by and her men started growing restless. Some set their lasguns down.

“Stay focused,” she yelled. But her bolt pistol was getting heavy in her hand as well. She turned to Ironclaws. “Have they boarded at another part of the ship?”

“No, Gordon hasn’t told us they have breached the Field,” he rumbled. “When they do, he’ll tell us where. And fuck, when they do, you’ll know it.”

An unfamiliar smell tingled the back of her nose. Agostina sniffed the air, trying to figure out what it was. Her men smelled it, too, and began asking what it could be.

“Won’t be long now,” Ironclaws growled. A wisp appeared near the door of the cargo hold, then suddenly flickered off past the bulkhead.

They’ve breached! Gordon voxed. She grabbed the vox channel and activated it.

“Where?”

Just aft of the cargo hold! It looks like they appeared in the midst of the ship’s bracing.

“Another mishap,” Ironclaws rumbled. “I don’t like how our luck is holding so steady. I don’t fucking like it.”

“What do you mean?” Agostina asked.

“Well, if it’s going this good, it usually means that it’ll go the other way soon enough.”

Her stomach dropped, then violently heaved. The wisp turned into a hole in realspace, and daemons slithered and oozed out. The stench suddenly rolled over them in waves. It was so heavy, it felt like getting punched. Agostina hadn’t smelled anything even remotely as terrible as the stench the daemons perspired. Death would smell better than them.

The closest she could place it was when she was a child, and had accidentally stumbled into the slaughter house of her sector. She had opened a door and found herself in the waste room, where the useless parts of the meat were thrown before being incinerated.

All the bits of skin, bone, shit and rotten meat had made her sick for days, but even that memory didn’t do justice to the foul things that were suddenly inhabiting her ship.

“Plaguebearers,” Lord Ironclaws hissed. Around her, her crew were gagging. Many threw up, abandoning their post to lose their stomachs.

Three daemons made it through the portal intact. Others were fused together, dying instantly, while others just didn’t materialize. They pulled themselves to their feet, dragging rotted cleavers and half-broken swords and maces.

Their skin was a sickly green, their bodies completely misshapen. It was as if their very limbs were dead and in the process of rotting and falling off. A few had eyes that were dripping from their sockets, hanging by bits of muscles, tendons and nerves; every so often, they twitched, still alive in some perverted manner.

“There he is. There is the Blessed,” the lead plaguebearer moaned, pointing his cleaver at Lord Ironclaws. “Take him for Grandfather Nurgle.”

They stumbled and crawled forwards.

“Why isn’t anyone firing?” Ironclaws roared. He lead by example, emptying his bolt pistol at the monstrosities. That was able to rose her men from their gagging. They opened fire, hitting many of the daemons.

But instead of falling under the withering lasfire and bolts, the damned things marched ahead. Las rounds burnt their skin, a few even boiled their decaying flesh, but gave them no more than sunburns.

Agostina and Ironclaw’s bolts punched their bloated bodies, but the rounds either bounced away harmlessly, or they detonated early, creating waves in the empty fold of flesh, which the so-called ‘plaguebearers’ ignored. The few men who had Ironclaws’ flamers smothered them in heat, bursting a few boils, but the burning gas didn’t seem to hinder them. Agostina never knew the burning scent of promethium could be such a welcome relief.

“Throne, how do we kill these thing?” Agostina demanded.

“Like this,” Ironclaws growled. He turned and yelled over his shoulder. “Slayer! Burn the daemons! Slayer…?”

Saradas was puking uncontrollably. Vomit covered his hands and the front of his shirt.

“Slayer! Burn them, or we’ll be charged!”

The daemons roared as they got closer to the barricades. Saradas’ eyes bulged out of his head as the daemons broke into a run. He fumbled with his gun, then suddenly it spat out jellied promethean. The lasgun shot a second later, turning the entire jet into white hot heat, by far hotter than the normal promethean gas of the other flamers. His flamer was like a torrent of super-concentrated fire. The wall of death engulfed two of the three daemons, and it instantly turned them into a wailing funeral pyre.

“Ha ha! That’s it, Slayer!” Ironclaws was laughing. Laughing!

The last daemon braved the torrent, just as the custom flamer hit on empty. It shrugged off the few bits of burning, jellied fuel, and raised its mace high above its head. It failed to see Ironclaws bear down on it. His servo-arm plucked the raised weapon from the daemon’s hand, while the thunder hammer burst it like a boil. Bits of green gore and blood splattered the wall. There didn’t seem to be any skeleton on the thing; either that, or the bones had simply rotted away to nothing.

“That was too easy,” Ironclaws said, scanning the room.

“’Too easy?!’” Saradas screamed.

“Aye, too easy,” the Space Marine said. “I can smell something out there. Agostina, is there another breach?”

She pulled out her vox transmitter.

“Gordon, is there another breach?”

No, there was only one.

“Where could it be?” Ironclaws mumbled.

The doors to the cargo area shuddered as something large and powerful struck them.

“…Oh, Russ, not that,” Ironclaws groaned. “Frost’s balls, anything but that.”

“W-what was that?” Agostina stammered.

“That damn thing would stink up the entire ship.”

The doors shuddered again. Metal shrieked as a sword pierced the thick bulkhead. The sword was easily the size of a regular man, and seemed to be rusted and pocket-marked with boils. It leaked pus everywhere. The stench seemed to multiply, and then large, green hands pulled the doors apart.

A green giant that seemed to be comprised of entirely rotten flesh pulled itself into the cargo hold. It was massive, the size of the last greater daemon that attacked the ship. It crouched and pulled itself through the much smaller doors. Worm-like intestines spilled out of its belly, matting the floor with green waste.

“Tzeentch!” It bellowed. Its mouth was filled with teeth, all of them rotted. Its tongue lolled about, the color of an old bruise. “Tzeentch, you traitor! You know the danger the Blessed possesses!”

Agostina’s courage finally broke. Screaming, she opened fire, mindlessly pulling the trigger. Her crew were quick to follow suit. The…the thing’s bloated skin was like armor, shrugging off las-rounds and her bolts.

“Your plans for the Blessed will be ruined,” the creature ranted, clawing towards them. No, not clawing, it was pulling itself across the floor. “All must end! It is ordained by Nurgle himself! You cannot fight it!”

She realized that the creature wasn’t standing up because it didn’t have any legs. Its body was cut in half, probably more than half. Its legs were elsewhere, cut off by the mishap that Lord Ironclaws spoke of; it was dragging itself along the floor, spilling its guts throughout the ship’s corridors.  No wonder it was leaking blood, pus and intestines. It should have been dead twice over.

“You will be stopped, all of your scheming shall be made worthless!” It stopped its mad attempt at clawing the ground to bring its massive sword to bear. It clumsily swept it across the deck, hitting the closet container of adamantium and flung it like it was almost nothing. Agostina hit the ground, only to see the container falling on her.

She screwed her eyes and waited for the bitter end.

“Get up,” Ironclaws barked.

She risked opening her eyes. Ironclaws had caught the crate and was holding it at bay. One servo-arm was on the crate, the other was helping brace himself up.

“Get up!” She could hear the strain in his voice. She scrambled to her feet, her crew helping drag her to safety. With a roar, Ironclaws tilted, letting the heavy crate fall backwards.

“I’ll be feeling that in the morning,” he groaned.

The crate fell backwards, against the thing’s head, but the monstrous creature just brushed it off. Ironclaws wasted no time in leaping at it, swinging his thunder hammer with all his might. It connected with its thunderous crack, and a wet thwap. The thing’s skin rippled, like how a stone upsets a still pond of water. It didn’t even make the daemon wince.

“Watch me end your plans!” Despite its size and bulk, the daemon moved shockingly fast. It took another clumsy swipe at Ironclaws, who was barely able to spin out of the way, taking the blow on his pouldron. The diseased blade split the armor open, and Agostina’s heart caught in her throat.

But Ironclaws wasn’t fazed by the glancing blow. He rolled to his feet, bolt pistol in his hand.

“Stay mobile,” he yelled, losing bolts at will. The thing’s thick, dying skin shrugged off bolt after bolt. “Keep out of its reach!”

Somehow, Agostina found the courage to stand up against the monster.

“You heard him, stay back,” she yelled, renewing her shots.

“You can’t harm me,” the thing rumbled through the hail of fire. “You can’t stand against your end!”

Flames licked its hide, and it shrugged it off, clawing its way towards Ironclaws. The Space Marine danced out of its reach, drawing it away from Agostina and her crew. With the thing missing it’s legs, it was slow to move and easy to get around.

“Slayer, where’s your flamer?” Ironclaws yelled.

“It’s empty, my lord!”

Ironclaws hissed in anger. He had lured the beast towards a corner, and was getting boxed into a corner.

“There’s a spare canister by one of the crates,” he yelled. He parried a blow, and was thrown to his knees. He got up as fast as he had been thrown, just in time to block another blow. “Hurry, I can’t hold this thing forever!”

“Where is it?” Saradas was panicking, like everyone else.

“Keep up the fire,” Agostina said. “I’ll help you.”

Just as Ironclaws said, there was a small box of canisters by one of the barricades. Saradas was trying to fit one into the gun, but they wouldn’t fit.

“Have you got it yet?” Agostina could hear Ironclaws’ thunder hammer connect, but there was no cry of pain from the daemon.

“They won’t fit!”

“The one with red tape,” Ironclaws yelled. “Use that one!”

Together, they flung canister after canister aside. So far, none of them had red tape.

“Here.” One of Agostina’s women ran up, holding a red-taped canister. She didn’t look familiar to Agostina, and she knew her crew. She tried to look at the woman’s face, but something kept her from getting a good look. It was like she couldn’t meet the strange woman’s eyes, or there was a fog covering her. “It rolled away.”

Agostina blinked, trying to clear her eyes. The woman was smiling, and her teeth seemed strange; too sharp,  too long, and too numerous. Saradas broke the moment by grabbing the canister from her hand.

“Any time now,” Ironclaws hissed. Agostina looked back; he was completely obscured by the daemon’s massive bulk, backed into the corner of the cargo hold. She turned to find the woman again, just to pull her aside. But the strange woman was gone, vanished into seemingly thin air.

“Come on, come on…” Saradas brought her back to reality. He pushed the canister into the gun, but it wouldn’t take. He tried again and again, until it finally clicked into place. “Got it!”

“Good! Burn the thing to ashes! Be quick about it!”

Agostina pulled Seradas to his feet, feeling some of his vomit squish through her fingers. They ran towards the massive daemon, seeing its organs spilling out of its now empty backside.

“There, aim for its spine,” she said, pointing.

Saradas tripped the flamer, and a gout of promethium spewed forth. The lasgun fired a second later, igniting the jet of jellied pitch into a torrent of flames. It flew into the daemon’s body, burning it on contact, and the thing finally yelled in pain as whatever insides were left were roasted. It thrashed, and Ironclaws took that moment of weakness to vault onto the thing’s head.

He brought his hammer down square on its spine, just below its head. He aimed at a single exposed, vulnerable vertebrae, and it cracked under his might. The daemon bellowed again, and Ironclaws raised him hammer again, using all of his might to shatter the bone.

With a sickening pop, the thing went limp. Saradas kept firing the torrential weapon until it ran out of fuel. By then, it was enough to set the daemon’s body on fire. The flames licked its body, working its way upwards. Ironclaws took a moment to plant four solid cracks on the daemon’s skull, just to make sure that it was dead, then jumped off its massive bulk.

“That,” he gasped, “was too close for my liking.”

“Lord Ironclaws, you’re hurt!”

He looked himself over. His armor had new dents and rakings. It was breached in places, and Agostina could see blood well out.

“It’s nothing,” he said, waving a dismissive hand. “Glancing blows; the thing couldn’t hold a sword right to save its life. It was just stupid strong. But I’ll need to fix my armor before our next fight.”

“But, your injuries…”

“I heal faster than normal humans,” he said. “Besides, that thing only managed to land a few glancing blows. They were barely scratches, my armor took the brunt of it.” He gave them a hard look. “Good job. My thanks for saving me.”

“D-do you want me to take that thing’s head, too?” Saradas stammered, no doubt dreading that moment.

“Hel’s teeth you crazy bastard, no!” Ironclaws gasped. “Have you smelled that damned thing? You’re crazy, Slayer, crazy!”

Ironclaws gave him a hardly slap on the back, already laughing it up. Saradas tried to breathe a sigh of relief, but the putrid stench of the daemon made him gag again.

“What shall we do with that thing?” Agostina asked, pointing to the still-burning corpse.

“I say let it burn,” Ironclaws said. “It might not be much, but its freshening the smell a bit.”

Agostina had to agree with him. Burning promethium did smell better than that monster.

“What next?” She asked.

“We have one more trial to come,” Ironclaws growled, holding up a finger. “The changer of ways. Gather your men, we need to work on our defensive position. I should attend to Niklas. He’s gotta be suffering.”

“Can we move to the bridge?” Saradas asked. “Somewhere it doesn’t smell as bad?”

“Aye, that’s good thinking, lad.”

“There!”

The air filled with lasgun fire and screaming men. Ironclaws didn’t miss a beat; he charged towards the barricade, pistol at the ready. Agostina followed just behind him.

“Hold your fire, hold your fire,” she yelled.

“We got it!” Someone yelled. “We killed the damn thing!”

By the torn apart doors was yet another pink horror, body riddled with holes from the massed lasgun fire. Blood leaked out as it twitched in its death spasms. It locked eyes with Agostina, and grinned. It had the same teeth, the same smile, she saw on the strange, faceless, fog-covered woman.

Was that the daemon in disguise? Did she nearly touch the foul thing? And why did it help them?

“Damned things,” Ironclaws growled. He rubbed at his dented and cut armor. “We need to move everyone out of this place. There might be more of those horrors waiting for us.”

“R-right,” she muttered, pushing the thought far from her mind. No good could ever come from nearly touching a daemon. She would have to keep it to herself.

Chapter Text

Agostina yawned, waking from another light warp-nap. She bumped into one of her crew, a slender woman from Sol. Mumbling an apology, she tried to get up without stepping on anyone else. The bridge was as tiny as her ship; as the temporary living quarters, it was even smaller.

The oval bridge was divided in two: men in the back, women in the front. In the middle was the pile of crates that held the salvages of the mess hall. Crates of adamantium were stacked at the doors at both sides of the bridge to serve as barricades.

Stretching, Agostina went to brew some instant coffee. Throne, she hated warp travel.

“Tired?”

She turned around. As usual, Ironclaws sat at the crate/barricades. His armor had rough panels of metal bolted to the places that the greater daemon had carved open.

“Always when we’re in the warp,” she sighed.

“You take sharing space with your crew very well,” he said. “Most rogue traders will never share a room with anyone else, let alone their crew. They’re too proud and noble.”

Agostina bit her tongue. To her, sharing quarters reminded her of home, with her sisters. Before they grew into cynical, razor tongued bitches, that is.

“I’m not like most rogue traders,” she said. “My family, we’ve been on the decline for decades. There have been compromises we’ve had to make to make ends meet.”

“In that case, you take it very well.”

“My thanks, milord. Respectfully, have you slept at all?”

“Hardly,” he replied. “Still waiting for our final trail. The arch-enemy is out there, and I have to remain vigilant. Frost’s balls, this has to be the longest warp trip I’ve ever been on.”

“The longest?” She sputtered. “The longest? We’re barely a month into the trip. What kind of warp trips have you taken?”

“Until now, the longest I’ve been in the warp was three weeks.”

“Three?” Agostina laughed. “Lord Ironclaws, you’re spoiled rotten. Our trips last at least six or seven months.”

“You spend half a damn year in the warp?”

“At least! How could you say this is the longest warp trip?”

“For me it is,” he said. “Every other trip was a few days to a few weeks.”

“And you just so happens to travel halfway across the galaxy in the span of a few weeks? You are truly blessed to only have to suffer a few weeks in the warp,” she said, shaking her head. “The Emperor must really like you if all your trips are as short as you say.”

“And here I thought that’s just how things were,” he said. “Guess the arch-enemy doesn’t like me mucking around in his domain. He must spit me out damn quick.”

“Wait, did you say ‘arch-enemy?’ We’ve been fighting the arch-enemy since we started this blasted voyage.”

“Right, you’re not Fenrisian,” he said. “To the Vlka Fenryka, the arch-enemy are the sorcerers and daemons of Tzeentch.”

The last grinning pink horror popped into her mind. She had nearly touched it…She shook her head, trying to throw the memory from her head.

“Why are they the arch-enemy of the arch-enemy?”

“It’s a long story.”

“We have the time.”

“Ha! So we do,” he laughed. “This is going back to the days of the Heresy. The Vlka Fenryka were ordered by the Allfather himself to hunt down and bring Magnus and the Thousand Sons low, for breaking his holy…his writ. Holy writ. So, led by our Primarch Leman Russ himself, we brought our fury down upon their home world of Prospero. Magnus had used forbidden magicks to assault Terra, and he wanted the sorcerer to be brought to heel. So he sent us.”

“The…Vlka Fenryka? I thought you were Space Wolves.”

“Bah, a rough, mistranslated name others give us,” he said with a wave of an empty servo-arm. “They don’t know our runes, our way of life, so of course they break us down to the lowest common number; makes us easier to categorize. Trust me, it takes a lot of work to seem this barbaric.

“Led by Russ himself, we cut through his traitor fleet like butter, slaughtering his troops with ease and impunity. It was a good hunt, as we’re told. And Russ, the Wolf King himself, brought Magnus low, shattering his spine across his knee.

“But the traitor used cursed magicks to scurry his way back into the warp, taking himself and his legion with him. We failed in our duty to wipe him and his traitorous kind from existence, and that failure has haunted us since then.”

“So you hate the Thousand Sons, not this Tzeentch?”

“They’re one and the same. The Thousand Sons are bum boys for Tzeentch, and we’ll hunt them wherever they may rise.”

Agostina couldn’t help herself. She snorted, clasping her hand on her mouth.

“’Bum boys,’” she laughed. “I’m sorry.”

“They sell their souls for the secrets of the universe. How are they not bum boys?”

“No, no, I agree with you. But…come on, it’s a funny phrase.”

The Space Marine chuckled in agreement, rattling the tomes hanging from his neck.

“When they attack us, do you think you can kill them all?” The pot chimed, and Agostina got her coffee.

“I’ll be damned if I don’t give it my all.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

Ironclaws fixed her with a stare. Having gotten a few of them, she held her ground.

“I didn’t.”

“Can you?”

“Don’t know. Without a proper forge on board, I can’t completely fix my armor, no matter how much Gordon helps me.” He rubbed the roughly patched sections of his armor. “If another great daemon were to breach the ship, I don’t think we’ll see real space again.”

Agostina sipped her coffee. Her nerves were long since frayed; her hands barely shook.

“They’ve been getting bolder, haven’t they?”

“Aye, and our luck seems to be faltering. The way things are going, we’ll be facing a very whole greater daemon soon.”

“What can we do, then?”

“Me? There’s no choice. I’ll fight to the bitter end. For you, I’d save one bullet.”

She stared blankly at Ironclaws. A servo-arm mimed a gun, and ‘shot’ his brains out.

“You can’t be serious!”

“I am. It’s the most merciful thing you can do. I’ve seen men and women be driven mad just from gazing upon Tzeentch daemons. I don’t want to bring up such matters, but it’s best to be prepared. I’ll do everything in my power to halt such an abomination in its tracks. This isn’t supposed to be your wyrd, after all.”

“‘Wyrd?'”

“Sorry, Fenrisian thing. Your wyrd is your fate. You’re rogue traders, not fighters. It’s not your wyrd, your fate, to die like this.”

“And you’re sworn to help us?”

“I’m sworn to aid any human of the Imperium. It’s a warrior’s duty, after all.”

“Have you always wanted to be a warrior?” She asked, rubbing her wrist, as if trying to get a spot out of her mocha skin. “Its…I’ve heard that all Space Marines were human, once. Have you wanted to be what you are now?”

“Careful, trader. Curiosity is a dangerous thing,” he warned.

“By the Throne, everything is dangerous in the warp.”

“It is.” Ironclaws paused. “On Fenris, fighting was something everyone had to do. Fish swam, wind blew, and Fenrisians fought. What I wanted, what we all wanted, was to live, and the only way to live in such a place was to fight.

“I had a talent for creating weapons, for fixing things. The metal spoke to me, and I listened to it. Eventually, my forging caught the attention of the Sky Warriors, the Vlka Fenryka. They saw my work, and they wanted to see if I had what it took to join their legions. I was given the Trial of Morkai, taking the gene-seed of Russ himself into my veins.

“When it was all over, and I was brought to the Aett to become a Vlka Fenryka proper, the machine spirit just made sense to me. I was shipped off to Mars to learn of the Omnissiah, taught to sooth the spirits, make them better. From that moment, what I wanted was two-fold: to fight, and to fix.”

“Why are you telling me this?” She asked.

“You know? I’m not quite sure,” he said. “It’s customary for pack members to sing each other’s songs of valor when we’ve passed on to Valhalla. Out here, I don’t have any pack mates. Maybe I just want someone to take my song on, bring it back to Fenris, to be shared and added to the tapestry.

“The worst insult we can give on Fenris is to either ignore an enemy, or forget them. We believe in strength, and not acknowledging the strength of an opponent is the gravest of insults. Right now, that might very well be my fate: being forgotten. Part of me just wants someone to hear of my tale.”

“You’re going to tell me of every fight you’ve been in, are you?”

“Russ’ blood, no! We’ll be here forever!” Ironclaws laughed. “I’ve lived for a long time, captain, as you probably suspected when I told you I fought in the First War of Armageddon.”

“I don’t know of any wars of Armageddon, but you said it was five hundred standard years ago. And to think you might die on a rogue trader’s ship,” she snorted.

“Wryd how fate works, isn’t it?” The Space Marine simply shrugged. “If it’s my wyrd, my time, not even the Emperor could save me. But I’ll make them work for that kill, even if I’m to die in some far-flung corner of the warp, doomed to be forgotten.”

Captain. Agostina’s vox transmitter chirped. We’re getting close to the exit point. We should be breaking into realspace in mere minutes.

Agostina couldn’t believe it. They were safe, or nearly safe? Even Lord Ironclaws seemed relieved.

“Wake up!” She yelled. It felt so good to be alive! “We’re nearly out of the warp! Come on, we’re nearly there!”

Men and women woke up, ran to logic computers and began firing off commands. The ship rumbled as the engines sped up, spooling enough energy to tear a hole back into reality. Ironclaws stood ready, eying the whole bridge. He sniffed every so often, as if to find a daemon lurking somewhere. The engines roared, and then the ship fell silent. Blast shields that covered the view port were pulled back.

Ahead of them hung a ball of pure, blue ice, spinning silently. Milky white storms ravaged most of the planet. Ships glided silently by, most docking with massive space stations in the distance. Saradas yelled in joy, and the entire crew joined in. They were hugging, slapping each other’s back, happy to be alive. Even Lord Ironclaws grinned and heaved a sigh of relief.

This is the Eye of Fenris, hailing the incoming vessel, the vox channel growled. Identify yourself, or you will be fired upon.

“May I?” Ironclaws asked. Agostina gave him the vox caster. “This is Aevar Ironclaws, Iron Priest of Bjorn Stormwolf. Hold your fire, kaerl.”

M-my lord, of course, the woman on the other end stammered. My apologies, but…We were expecting you in a month’s time, milord. We received word through the Astronomican that you would be returning to Fenris in approximately three standard months. That was one day ago, about the same time you were scheduled to leave.

“Thank you, kaerl,” Ironclaws said uneasily. “Send a shuttle, we require aid and a transport to the Aett.”

Ironclaws returned the caster to Agostina.

“We traveled to Fenris in one day? But we were in the warp for a month,” she said.

“Time travels funny in the warp,” Ironclaws mumbled, stalking away.

“I know that, but it doesn’t take us a month of warp time to travel one standard day!”

“Shit, I remember one hunt where we spent two weeks in the warp, and we arrived before we left,” he said. “If you want to know about the warp, you’re talking to the wrong person. I’m going to check on Gordon and Niklas.”

He pushed a crate of adamantium aside and left the bridge. Agostina ran after him.

“You must have some idea of what happened to us,” she said.

“I don’t,” he tartly replied.

“But we were supposed to be tested by four chaos lords.”

“That was my assumption. It turned out to be wrong.”

“But, the daemons that attacked us…”

“Count yourself lucky, trader, and guard your curiosity. Brother Gordon, was the Geller Field assaulted prior to us leaving the warp?” He asked, walking into the tech priest’s chambers.

“It has been assaulted, yes, but not on the scale of the last three incursions,” Gordon replied, scanning the logic computer. “Ever since the last assault, the Field has held strong.”

“Most interesting,” Ironclaws rumbled.

“This is a blessing from the Emperor,” Gordon said. “We are saved from facing another horror from the warp.”

“Indeed.” Ironclaws seemed less than thrilled.

“Don’t tell me you wanted to fight those warp horrors,” Agostina said.

“I’m a Son of Russ; I love a good fight,” he said. “Remember what I said our greatest insult was?”

“To be forgotten, or ignored.”

“Aye. And the changer of ways has just ignored us. That cuts at my pride as a Fenrisian, and it also has me wondering: what has the enemy gained from not fighting us? The changer of ways is known for carefully plotting and planning; he always moves to make a gain against something. What has he gained from this?”

“Wait,” Agostina said. “Didn’t that walking corpse curse him? That…putrid daemon. He cursed this ‘Tzeentch,’ saying his plans would fail.”

“It would be best to ignore anything that a daemon says, captain.”

“I know, but…but it just seems too convenient. That thing curses the last chaos lord, and we suddenly don’t face him.”

Ironclaws seemed to be contemplating it, but quickly shook his head.

“No, daemons exist to lie. Pay no heed of them, and just be glad that you are still alive.” He turned and placed a hand on her shoulder. A broad grin grew on his face. “Besides, you’re on Fenris! We’ve passed through the fires of the warp, and are stronger for it! I’ll see to it that we feast hearty tonight!”

 


 

The door to the drop ship fell with a clang, and the smell of the Aett’s shuttle bay filled Aevar’s nose. For the briefest of moments, he was overwhelmed by the promethium exhaust, sacred oils, cured leather, dried bones, and of course, the omnipresent smell of winter. Filling the bay were brother Vlka, kaerl assistants, and a nearly endless supply of mindless servitors.

He was home again.

He had taken one step out when a shadow fell over him.

Aevar was big for a Vlka Fenryka, but Bjorn Stormwolf was in another class altogether. He was so big, Aevar had to help custom make his Terminator armor to fit his massive size.

“Ironclaws!” Bjorn said, his ruddy, bearded face filled with a toothy smile. He didn’t even try to bellow; his voice was just naturally loud. “My greatest Iron Priest has returned!”

Aevar hoped his armor, and his ribs, would withstand the backbreaking embrace that was coming. Bjorn wrapped his arms around him and squeezed. The servos in the Stormwolf’s armor growled, not even exerting a fraction of their full might as they threatened to dent his armor.

“What happened to you?” His jarl’s bellowing voice demanded. “I thought you’d treat your armor better that by attaching random bits onto it. You turning into an Ork, you bastard?”

Stormwolf slapped his back, nearly knocking him to the ground, and roared with laughter.

“You’d best hope not,” Aevar laughed. “Who else will fix all your damned bikes and tanks?”

“Aye, too right. I’ve had to make do with just good work, instead of excellent work! And warp travel…ugh, warp travel is a fucking pain. Normally it takes a few weeks to get around the galaxy, but for some damn reason now it’s taking months! You must’ve found a way to charm the damn warp, greybeard.”

“Me? Charm the warp? You’ve gotta be fucking joking,” Aevar replied. “I’ll tell you about the trip here later. First, I want to get out and hunt something.”

“Aevar! Hjá!”

He looked up, and saw a grinning Rune Priest loping towards him, totems and wards hanging from his armor and hair. Clan tattoos dotted his right brow, radiating from his eye like a sun, an iron node was in his left temple, and his head was full of fiery red hair. And, of course, his right gauntlet was covered in the dried blood of dozens of victims who underestimated his right-hook.

“Helfist, you bastard,” Aevar laughed. “It’s good to see you.”

“As good as it is to see you, brother,” Helfist said. “You came back fast. You were barely gone for two standard years! Did Holy Terra scare you off?”

“Please, those musky Lords of Terra were just tired of me being right all the time.”

“Ah, it’s like you never left,” Stormwolf replied. He nodded to the group of rogue traders, who were shivering in the chilly bay. “You adopt some strays?”

“They followed me home, my jarl. Can I keep them?”

Stormwolf and Helfist roared with laughter. It was easy to make their jarl laugh, just as easy as it was to earn his ire.

“They’re the rogue traders I traveled with,” Aevar said. “We ran into some daemon incursions on our trip, and they could use a few good meals in their belly before going on their way. Not to mention, I have to work on their ship to repay my gratitude.

“Captain Agostina, this is Bjorn Stormwolf…” Aevar realized that talking to his jarl, he had reverted back to Juvik, the native tongue of Fenris. It was an effort to switch back to Gothic. “This is Jarl Bjorn Stormwolf, lord of my company, and my fellow brother, Vermund Helfist, the Rune Priest I mentioned to you.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, my lords,” Agostina said, chattering in the cold bay. “’Helfist?’ Begging my lord’s pardon, but since Lord Ironclaws mentioned you, I’ve thought it a strange name.”

“I’m good at punching things,” he said with a grin and accented High Gothic.

“Captain, you’ve done me a great service getting my man back to Fenris,” Stormwolf said. “Tonight, you’ll feast with us! Just be careful of our ale, it’s stronger than you think.”

 


 

Saradas didn’t know it was possible to feel this sore. He stumbled through the massive hallways of the Aett, leaning against the wall for support, trying to find his way back to the quarters they were given. He needed to get away from the damned woman before she woke up.

His head was two or three sizes too small, his face felt like it was mashed against a roller, his chest was sore, his arms were lead weights, he was sure that he was still bleeding from a dozen different small cuts and bites, and his legs…blessed Emperor, his legs were nearly jelly. He couldn’t walk straight.

At first, he thought the pounding he felt in his head was just that, in his head. But as he continued to stumble down the hallway, it got louder. Soon he came upon an open doorway, where the pounding was the loudest. He held his ears flat against his head, trying to get the noise to stop. He peeked into the doorway and waves of heat hit him in the face.

Inside were two Space Marines, talking in the language of Fenris. One held what appeared to be necklaces made of bones and stones, and he was chanting. One was Aevar, out of his armor, and was hammering something on an anvil. The other had red hair, a blood-stained right hand and strange totems in his left; he looked up, grinned and tapped Aevar on the shoulder.

“What?” Saradas mumbled.

“Looks like our little fishy went and got his cherry popped,” Aevar roared in Gothic. He set his hammer down and walked towards him. “Tell me, how do you like our hospitality?”

“He had a lot to drink for an off-worlder,” his friend said. Helfist! His name was Helfist! “You remember anything?”

“I…I don’t know,” he said. “I remember parts of the feast, but it’s a blur.”

“You don’t remember that rough woman you got?”

“Might have to be more specific than that, Helfist. Once we got him showing off those daemon heads he took, he probably took half the Aett to bed with him.”

“Oh, by the Emperor, not that woman,” He gasped. “She did things I didn’t even know were possible! You have to get me away from that…that harpy. She wanted another go!”

“Bow legged, can’t walk straight…yup, you do remember our women,” Helfist laughed. Emperor, even his laughter was loud. He’d never been this hungover before. Or was he still drunk? “We wouldn’t dare get between a woman and her query! They do what they want, when they want. No easy way around it.”

“Oh, Emperor…”

“I thought you took a liking to us. Especially that she-wolf you bagged last night,” he chuckled.

“Oh no, the way she’s using me, I’m afraid my parts will fall off!”

“Stop it, Slayer, you’re killing me,” Aevar howled.

“You remember your first time?” Helfist grinned.

“What Son of Russ doesn’t?”

“Have to make sure, what with you getting advanced in age and all.”

“Watch it, whelp, or I’ll put you back on the ice where we found you.”

“Please, do that! Put me back on the ice where all those hearty Fenrisian women are at. Then the fox will be guarding the hen-house, if you know what I mean!”

“You’re hardly the proper figure to strike fear into the hearts of fathers, or make the lady’s legs shake,” Aevar said.

“Watch it, greybeard,” Vermund hissed. He tried to sound menacing, but Saradas could tell that he was chuckling at the jape. “I’ll have you know that made love to a fair maiden seven times in one night. What’s your record?”

“Let’s see,” Aevar said. He stroked his beard, deep in thought. “Once.”

“Once?” Helfist roared. “The mighty Ironclaws, made love only once some blustery night? What did she say when the sun came up?”

“’Please, don’t stop.’”

Saradas couldn’t help but laugh at the look on Helfist’s face.

“You’re joking.”

“You calling me a liar? Well then, if you were there, what did she say?” A few seconds later, he broke into a broad smile. “Enough bickering. We have to get the Slayer back to his she-wolf, then fix our intrepid rogue trader’s ship.”

“Wait, what? Give me back to her? You can’t! Tell me you’re joking!”

“Come on, you’ll only be here for a few more days. Just need to get your strength back, then it’s back to the fray.”

 


 

The Space Marine’s transport landed in the cargo bay, and the area was re-pressurized. The assault craft’s doors lowered, and Agostina took a step back onto her ship. She was almost run over by a treaded, void-resistant servitor.

“Careful there,” Helfist said, walking out just behind her. “When old-man Ironclaws gets in a tizzy, he makes sure that his servitors work as hard as he does.”

“I can see that,” she said, looking around the cargo bay. Various crates of metal bracing, bolts and beams were scattered about. “Is there a reason why I was told to wear a pressure suit? Last I remember, my ship was air-tight.”

“Not the slightest. But don’t worry, Iron Priests take good care of their gear; Ironclaws will do you one better. You know those Mechanicus types, they get hard fawning over their machine spirits,” he laughed, making a rude gesture. “Iron Priests get harder than most. Don’t tell anyone, but we Fenrisians are actually a very passionate people. You would know, right?”

Agostina blushed despite herself, which just made Helfist laugh even more. She had too much to drink and went to bed with Erik, their translator kaerl. Not that she minded, he was a great lover, but she was the captain; she had to set an example to her crew. She didn’t want to be like Saradas, who would go to bed with whatever flimsy floosy would flirt with him first. The stupid idiot.

They rounded a corner and came face to face with a servitor standing guard of an airlock.

“Captain Agostina,” it said in a stammering vox-voice. “Helfist. Aevar requires your presence past the airlock. The following area is in vacuum; please fix your helmets and step in.”

Helfist slid his battle helmet over his rough and tangled red hair, while Agostina smoothed her wavy shoulder-length hair out before slipping her helmet on. The drone stepped aside and let them enter the airlock.

The door slid open, silent in the airless void, and they walked into the engine room. Her magnetic boots locked onto the thick metal grating. She blinked; the grating was the only thing keeping them from falling into the void. Her ship was cup open, utterly exposed.

Ah, Captain Agostina! She looked up, seeing Ironclaws walking towards her. He spoke on a vox channel. You came at just the right moment!

Where the fuck is my ships’ plasma reactor? She demanded.

Don’t worry about it.

‘Don’t worry about it?’ She sputtered.  This is my ship! My family’s ship! How am I going to make my fucking living without an Emperor damned reactor, you…you…you shit for brains, lobotomized barbarian!!

 This kitty has claws, Helfist laughed.

Oh Captain,  you wound me, Ironclaws said, feigning hurt. Your reactor was so small, it would be better to use it for a few projects I have in mind; so I took it. Actually, if you look out there, you can see my present to you.

Agostina grabbed the nearest handrail and peered out. A tugboat was pulling up, with a reactor in tow.

You’re giving me a new reactor...?

I told you I’d repay your kindness and hospitality, he said.

But, a plasma reactor swap? I don’t have that kind of time to spare.

Bah, I could swipe an escort-class ship’s reactor in a week, maybe two if it was really stubborn, he said. I can have this up and running in a few days.

It’s…really big.

It’s a toy, Helfist said, giving it a look over.

It is a toy, but that’s because we’re used to riding around in cruisers, Ironclaws said. To Captain Agostina here, it might as well be massive. Once I get it anchored  and up and running, you’ll have a bigger, brand new-ish engine.

How much more powerful is the new reactor?

Once I’m done tweaking it, it’ll be easily six times more powerful, maybe even eight.

Six to eight times? They could cut their warp travel time by more than half.

Thank you, Lord Ironclaws.

Not too bad for a shit-for-brains lobotomized barbarian, eh?

Forgive me, my lord, but…I don’t like seeing my ship, my family’s ship, cut up like this.

I can’t blame you. Now that you’ve seen your present, that reactor isn’t going to install itself. If everything goes well, this’ll be done in less than two days, he said. Tell Slayer to live it up until then.

If he hasn’t already been fucked into a coma by that she-wolf, Helfist laughed.

Too right! Keep an eye out for him, will you?

Agostina stormed away. She was going to have a little chat with Saradas about professional conduct once she got back.

 


 

Aevar and Helfist stood next to the Stormwolf. The hanger was filled with his Great Company and kaerls, ready to bid farewell to their guests.

Agostina led her crew into the hanger. She wasn’t beautiful by Fenrisian standards; no scars that he could see, her hair was longer than some but shorter than most, and she didn’t have much meat on her bones. But she had a good figure and smooth mocha skin; she was probably beautiful in places that weren’t death worlds. She was probably breaking that poor kaerl’s heart by leaving. She walked up to Bjorn.

“Again, I thank you for your hospitality,” she said, bowing.

“It’s nothing,” the Stormwolf rumbled. Agostina spoke in High Gothic, and he matched her. “I’m glad you were able to get my Iron Priest back so fast. Did you like our hospitality?”

“I doubt we’ve been showered with such hospitality in all my time traveling.”

“That is what we like to hear!” He roared. “Come any time, and we shall welcome you with open arms! Our memories are long and our gratitude runs deep. So long as you’re captain of your vessel, you’ll have a friend on Fenris.”

“My greatest thanks, my lord. I’m glad that you count us among your friends,” she smiled. Yes, that poor kaerl who shared her bed would be quite heartbroken. Memories can’t keep you as warm as a woman could. “Sadly, we have to be on our way. There’s no rest for the trader.”

“Then get on the damned ship and be gone with you,” Stormwolf laughed. Agostina laughed with him and led her men to the drop ship that would take them back.

“Slayer a moment,” Aevar said. “I’ve got a trophy for you, a symbol of your might.”

Slayer flinched at hearing his name. His ear had teeth marks on it, no doubt from that she-wolf he bagged. His cloths were unkempt, and his hair was a mess; it looked like she waited until the last minute to stop saying her good-byes. He held out a freshly forged mortal-sized sword. Saradas drew it; the blade itself had a deep, red glow, almost as if it was pulsating with red light.

“T-thank you,” he stammered.“How did you make this?”

“From the blade of the bloodletter you slew.”

“This is a daemon blade?!” He yelled, nearly dropping it.

“Easy there, Slayer, you’ll cut yourself something awful. Yes, I re-forged the daemon’s blade into a weapon befitting a killer like you. Oh, stop shaking. Back in my youth, I helped re-forge Logan Grimnar’s axe Morkai.”

“He got the axe after killing a Chaos champion,” Helfist added. “Then old Ironclaws here helped him and a few other priests beat the corruption out of it. Trust us, it’s clean.”

“T-thank you,” the Slayer said.

“Just be careful with the sword,” he said. “The damn thing’s sharp enough to cut through most power armor. Now get out of here, and may your enemies tremble before you.”

Slayer hesitantly bowed before double-timing it to the drop ship. Looking back at the crowd, he saw a kaerl with a scar across her face looking mighty proud of herself; no doubt she was the she-wolf who claimed the Slayer. Now she was a looker.

The ship’s engines spun up, and the ship lifted off and flew into the sky. Bjorn led him men in a salute as they lifted off. They waited until it was but a speck in the sky, then he let his arm fall.

“Don’t just stand there,” he bellowed, no longer needing to speak in Gothic. “Get back to work! There’s wars that need to be planned for!”

Everyone hopped to their duties, albeit with a little grumbling from the blood claws.

“It’s good to get things back to normal,” Aevar said, staring out at the sky.

“Right enough,” Helfist said. “Now we all have our duties to see to and plans to carry out.”

Aevar froze. The Emperor’s plan for him burst back into his mind. He could see the tarot cards as clear as day, burned into his memory.

Hope, from a discovery, shall lead to a champion.

“Are you okay?”  Helfist asked. “You wryded out there.”

How could he forget the Imperial Truth, and all that he’d learned in the Emperor’s library? It was just so easy to let things slide back into their normal routine; the relief from getting back home seemed to wash all of his cares away. It was so tempting to just fall back into old routines, old and familiar patterns.

But the Emperor had plans for him. And he knew those plans would alienate him from his brothers, his pack, possibly even his whole chapter.

“And what are you going to do when no one else believes you?” Legato, the diminutive tech priest, asked him.

“Pray for the strength of character to do it anyways,” he had said.

“Brother, I need your help.”

“You?” Helfist said. “You’re not one to need council very often.”

“Aye, that’s true, but in this case, I need help deciding what to do.”

“Alright then, how can my wise, whelp ways give you council?” Helfist chuckled. “You’re usually not so hesitant. Is this something big?”

“Bigger than any of us. Damn, where do I even start?”

“Ulrik always said, ‘start at the beginning.’”

Aevar shrugged. He would have to leave a few things out, of course. Helfist wasn’t ready for the Imperial Truth. Then again, who was? Was he himself ready for it?

“I…found something in the Emperor’s library when I was on Terra.”

“You were granted entry to the Allfather’s library?” Helfist gasped. “No one should be allowed in there.”

“It was a…special circumstance. And in there, I learned something. And that could change the Imperium. But I’m scared, brother. I’m scared that what I learned could lead me, you, us, everyone who learns it, down the path of damnation. You know the saying ‘the truth will set you free?’ I’m afraid that being free is worse than being chained to whatever binds us.”

“I thought that you were acting strange,” Helfist said.

“Strange? How so?”

“You’ve rarely mentioned the blessed machine-spirit since you’ve arrived. Normally you can’t wait to venerate it. What has happened to you?”

“Everything, brother. I’m changed because of it.”

“And you don’t know if your change is for the best, or for the worst?”

“What happens to me is of little consequence. What happens to the chapter, to the Imperium, is even more paramount. When I left Holy Terra, I told a fellow priest that I would have to pray for the strength of character to continue on my path. That is what I need to know; if I should continue down the path the Emperor has laid out for me.”

“Do you know if the Allfather himself wishes it?”

“We cast a drawing of the Tarot. Three cards marked my fate.”

“Three cards? I’ve never heard of a game of Tarot needing only three cards. But three is a good number, a strong number. It has to be the Allfather’s blessed voice, speaking through the cards. Shit, maybe that has to do with the strange reading I sense around you.

“Ever since you’ve returned, there’s been…a glow about you. As if the Allfather’s radiance was singling you out. It must be a blessing of some kind, some mark for greatness that you have been singled out for. I don’t mean to test the Allfather, but it looks that you need convincing; I’ll cast you a reading to confirm what I suspect.”

He pulled out a small leather bag of bleached bones, each of varying length. Runes were etched on each of them. He collected them all in his massive, armored palm.

“Allfather, hear our prayers,” he chanted. “Your servants stand before you, begging for but a fraction of your infinite, holy wisdom. Grant us the knowledge that we seek, and the protection from the Fell Powers that seek to ruin us all. Speak to us.”

He cast the bones against the floor. The bounced, at first going every which way, but on their second bounce, they all bounced in one direction. Helfist’s eyes widened.

“Did you see that?”

“How could I have not have?” Aevar replied.

“They all bounced towards one direction. I’ve never seen that,” he mumbled, scanning the horizon. “East. They bounced east.”

He bent down and looked over the bones. Three of them were face down, nine of them face up. Vermund read from the largest to the smallest.

“’The path chosen.’ The wolf’s eye rises in the east, starting a new day. A new day, a new path chosen for you. Do you believe it now, Aevar? The bones confirm your tarot: you’re to take the new path.”

Then the choice was made for him.

 


 

That evening, Aevar didn’t eat with his pack; he took his food and went to his quarters. As an iron priest, he had a room with a forge; he lived among his workspace, so that he could be called to mend or create a new item at a moment’s notice.

The path of the righteous is never easy. If it was, we would not be in this predicament that we are in, would we?

He remembered telling Legato that. Now was the hardest time for him: it was time to live by his words.

He deftly undid the armor of his left arm, exposing it to the shoulder. Then, reaching for his paring knife and a rag, he cut into the flesh by his elbow. When the gash was big enough, he grabbed a pair of tweezers.

When Aevar left Terra, he was exposed to a battery of scans and exams to ensure that he stole nothing from the holy planet. But they underestimated his resourcefulness, and failed to adequately search his room. Had they, they would have found disassembled parts for a rudimentary pict-capturer, before it were thrown out by the mindless servitors that cleaned the room.

If they found that, they would have been on the lookout for a memory sliver, a tiny piece of silicon-infused metal. Of course, even if they knew what to look for, the memory sliver was tiny, barely as big as the fingernail of his little finger, inserted into his flesh; and he knew how to heal while avoiding scarring.

He had sewn up brothers on the edge of death and brought them back. He had re-attached limbs, even stuffed the guts of one damned-fool blood claw back inside his own body,  even took the Chapter’s Dues all under the eyes of the Ljot Soothsayer, the veteran priest who sat in his sarcophagus-tomb, disoriented from his recent death.

Carefully, Aevar pulled out the tiny memory sliver out of his arm, his body already healing the cut. He cleaned it off, and loaded it into a servo-skull. It floated up and activated its holo-projector, showing the picts he had taken of the Emperor’s library.

There were schematics ten millennia old, and more importantly, lessons the Emperor had given the ancient Mechanicus to creating and improving machines, knowledge long thought lost and was now borderline heretical. But he knew that there was no such thing as the machine spirit. The next pict proved that; it was a copy of the Imperial Truth.

“To think we had the knowledge all along, but didn’t use it because of simple superstition,” he mumbled. But Aevar knew he shouldn’t mock superstition: until recently, he was one of the most superstitious members of the already superstitious Vlka Fenryka.

He wanted to pray, but knew how futile that was. Instead, he tore into his meal, and began studying. He needed to start somewhere.

Chapter Text

Wearing simple, rough-spun training garb instead of his battle plate, Helfist watched as the bay filled up with the blood claws. They were grumbling and bickering, two things raw recruits were any good at. The few grey hunters there snapped at them, yelled at them half-heartedly to get in proper lines.

Vermund remembered when he was in their ranks, how he would bit and bitch and groan and growl for next shot at immortal glory. Maybe his replacement was among them. Only time would tell who had the wyrd for greatness.

“You damned boys ready?” He snapped. “You’re here to learn something before the next hunt. Try to get some of it into those empty skulls of yours.”

“If you keep us pent up in the Aett, we’ll rot away into nothing,” one pale-haired claw yelled, encouraged by his fellow brothers. “Give us something real to kill and we’ll show you how ‘empty’ our skulls are.”

Helfist snorted.

“Remember when we were that cock-sure?” he said to the ever-patient grey hunters. “You’re head is plenty empty, young one. We’re here to make sure you keep your thread in one piece.”

“Might need to do that with the others, but not for me,” the claw said. “You’ll hear the tale of Aeskell Wight, and you’ll say you saw me before I made the galaxy shake.”

“’Wight?’ I can see that. You look like death paled over. Did they pull your ass out of ice? Looks like the slightest ray of sun would burn you to a crisp.”

“I gained my membership into the Vlka when I stood down two dozen frothing-at-the-mouth berserkers,” he said with pride. “I stood them down and cut all of their threads. Mine was almost cut when the Priests pulled me up. I haven’t warmed up since.”

“’Haven’t warmed up since?’” Helfist laughed. “You been practicing that line? Listen, and listen well: you were a big fish out there on the ice, but that was a small pond. Out here, you’re nothing. Think facing down twenty slightly-pissed off tribesmen was a big deal? That’s just to get your foot in the door. You’re in a bigger ocean. We’re trying to help you not get eaten.”

“We don’t need your help,” Wight said. He was really trying Vermund’s patience. “We’re the Allfather’s Angels of Death now. We’re useless without war.”

“You blood claws need all the help you can get.”

Wight jumped; old-man Ironclaws had suck up on the entire group of aspirants. For being a big old man in armor, he could move quietly when he wanted to.

“Well, look who’s graced us with his presence,” Helfist said. “Aevar! Where have you been for the past few months? I’ve seen hungover blood claws look more alive than you.”

“Just tired,” Aevar mumbled, rubbing his eyes. “The Stormwolf likes to keep me on my toes.”

“And this little self-imposed exile of yours?” Helfist asked. “You’ve been making scouts seem warm and friendly.”

“Just catching up on work. Besides, I don’t want to get in-between you and the recruits here,” he said, jerking one of his servo-arms at the blood claws.

“I wasn’t that bad when I was new.”

“You’re right,” Aevar laughed. “You were worse.”

“You gonna try and teach us something, greybeards?” Wight demanded. “Or are you gonna keep on flirting with each other?”

That got the blood claws howling, and the grey hunters snorting. Helfist ground his teeth; the brat knew how to grate on his nerves.

“You gonna take that?” Aevar laughed.

“He’s insulting you, too.”

“But you’re the one who has to discipline him.”

That got Helfist to grin.

“You, Wight,” he said, “you think you’re hot shit? Let’s go one round, and see how smart you are when it’s done.”

The words were barely out of Helfist’s mouth when the blood claws formed a rough circle around him. Wight was pulling at his tunic, baring his chest, ready to fight.

“Russ’ blood, you’re as pale in the chest as you are in the face,” Helfist said. “I can almost see right through you.”

“Keep talking, greybeard,” Wight said, cracking his knuckles. “I’ll show you how deadly I am.”

“Ooh, stand back everyone, we got a badass over here,” Vermund said. He pulled off his shirt and held up one meaty finger. “One punch. That’s all I’ll throw.”

“It’ll take more than one punch to put me down,” Wight snapped.

“Doubt it. If I’m lucky, this punch will knock a couple decades of sense into you, save me from hearing you mouth off all the time.”

A grey hunter walked up between them, and looked them over.

“No hair pulling, no ball-kicking, no biting, and no druid magick,” he said. “First one to hit the floor loses. Get to it!”

Wight pounced on him, swinging left and right. Typical blood claw enthusiasm. Helfist bobbed and weaved, letting the punches flow around him. He had to admit, Wight had some potential about him.

“Come on, fight!” Wight demanded. Helfist let him land a hit. The blow sent him reeling for a second; it was a good punch.

“Okay, maybe you do have some talent,” he said with a grin.

Wight growled and renewed his assault. Helfist watched his form; it was solid, with minimal openings. He wouldn’t be useless in a fight, which was good.

Helfist dodged and wove away, letting Wight push him around. Smelling what he thought was blood, Wight chased him. The blood claws roared and cheered, urging Wight onto bigger attacks and heavier punches.

Wight was getting into a solid rhythm when he over-extended himself. A hook left him too vulnerable, and Helfist was on good footing to capitalize on it. He launched himself off his back foot, casually lashing out.

He connected with Wight’s jaw, and the impact raced down his arm; it sounded more like a mallet connecting with a stake than a fist hitting flesh. Wight’s head snapped back, and he fell with a heavy thud. The blood claws’ cheers and jeers died in their throats.

Wight pushed himself up, trying to get to his feet. He barely got a foot off the ground before he went crashing back down. He tried again and again, but only flopped around. Finally, he knew when to just stay down.

“And that’s why they call him ‘Helfist,’” Aevar laughed from the edge of the circle. “Take note, maybe you’ll learn something.”

“Get him to the healers,” Helfist ordered, taking his shirt from one of the grey hunters. Three blood claws were quick to help grab Wight and haul him up. “The rest of you, get ready to work. Pair up, we’ll work on your form.”

Grumbling, the claws slunk into rows.

“How long do you think it’ll take them to get good at this?” Vermund asked. Then he realized that Ironclaws had walked off. He looked around and found him heading to work on a dead Predator tank. He looked the scuffed and sliced hull over, shaking his head at the terrible condition it was in.

“What’s gotten into you?” He asked, running over to Aevar. “You barely eat with us, you skip practices and drills, and you lock yourself in your chambers as soon as the sun dips below the ridge.”

“I’ve been busy,” Aevar replied, pulling at an engine panel with his servo-arms.

“Busy?” Helfist said. “That’s what you’re calling it?”

“You’ve seen my wyrd, you know what I’m supposed to do. Hel’s teeth, this thing is busted,” Aevar grumbled. “How long has this been sitting here?”

“It’s been busted for nearly as long as you’ve been away. Now stop trying to change the subject.”

“Brother, I appreciate your concern, but I’ve been busy working on my destiny,” Ironclaws said. His servo-arms spun to life and began tinkering with the exposed engine.

“Sometimes I wonder if you got knocked about the head when you were gone,” Helfist said. “Don’t bother with this thing. It got a heavy knock from a carnifex in a hunt; it’s as dead as dead could be. It’s for spare parts now, the machine spirit was destroyed.”

“Was it now?” Aevar grinned.

“Will you knock off this mysterious bullshit?” Helfist snapped. “You’re turning into a different person.”

“I recognize my failings and will be sure to correct them,” Ironclaws said, deep in concentration. Helfist knew when he was being ignored; he scoffed and walked back to the training blood claws. The lines were moving fast; they were slowly learning proper fighting form.

“How many have been good rounds and not slap fights?” He asked a veteran grey hunter.

“Maybe half a dozen. They’ve got spirit, and not much else. Have to say, I’m curious to see what that Wight would have done. He seems good in a fight.”

“He has some promise about him,” Helfist admitted. “We’ll see once he comes around.”

They had just gone through one full line rotation when an engine loudly turned over. It coughed, sputtered, threatened to die and finally surged to life with a meaty roar.

Helfist turned around. Ironclaws stood by the dead Predator, tweaking it’s exposed engine. The tank was alive and roaring, spewing out black smoke as its machine spirit roared and sang. Other Iron Priests were walking over, staring at the mangled tank.

“Dead as dead could be, eh?” Aevar grinned.

“I saw that thing get sliced to pieces,” Helfist said. “Everyone knew it was gone. How did you fix it?”

“Just gave it some tender, loving care. Still needs some work, but at least it runs,” Aevar said. He shut the engine down, and it spun down with a purr. “Let’s get this thing back into fighting shape. This hull has more leaks in it than the Stormwolf has fleas in his beard.”

The gathered Iron Priests ran off, gathering the necessary tools to strip the battered armor and re-seat new panels of adamantium.

“Well, it’s good to see that you’re still as good as you once were,” Helfist said.

“I’m better than I was. At least, I’d like to think I am,” Ironclaws said. His smile faltered, and he gave Helfist a square look. “I’m also almost done with my first project.”

“Is this the thing that’s keeping you locked up in your chambers?” Vermund asked. “The one that’s pulled you away from meal time and training?”

“The very one,” Aevar said. “I need you to examine it.”

“Dammit, Aevar, I’m a Rune Priest, not a cog head of Mars.”

“That’s not why I need you to examine it,” Aevar said. “Come to my chambers after supper. Please, Vermund, this is important. The entire Chapter could be thrown into madness because of this.”

Helfist stared at old man Ironclaws. He was as serious as the cold death, and if his expression was any indication, if he were capable of feeling the caress of fear, he would be positively shaking with it.

“Come on, greybeard, it can’t be that big.”

“It’s bigger,” Aevar snapped. “Please. As my friend and as a Rune Priest, I need you to examine this.”

“Alright, after our meal. What about the tank?”

“I did all the hard work. All that’s left is to repair the armor, and anyone could do that,” he said over his shoulder. “I need to finish a few things with it.”

Helfist shook his head. What was old man Ironclaws building in there?

 


 

Aevar looked his work over. It was taller than him, and stood empty. He had wired nearly a dozen melta bombs to it, on the joints, head, pauldrons, back and legs. The detonation switch was in his hand, and seemed to weigh a full ton.

Nearly a full Great Year of reading, calculations and more trail-and-error experiments that he would ever like to admit went into it, and this was the fruits of his labors. He wasn’t even sure how he got the damned thing to finally work. Why couldn’t Vermund get here faster?

Finally, after what felt like an eternity in its own right, there was a knock at the door. Aevar was quick to open it.

“About time,” he growled.

“You’re getting snippy all of a sudden,” Helfist growled back. “What’s gotten into you?”

“Never mind. Just get in here. I need you to examine this,” Aevar said, pulling Helfist inside. “Can you sense any wisp of chaos about it?”

“About what?” Once Helfist was inside, his eyes opened wide. He stared at Aevar’s creation; a massive suit of Terminator armor. He whistled in appreciation. “Is this what you were talking about?”

“Yes, this is it,” Aevar said. His primary heart was thumping inside his body. So much so that his secondary heart was picking up.

“You make good Terminator armor, greybeard. Why do you need my help?”

“Scan it for the taint of Chaos!” Aevar yelled.

Helfist looked at him, as if to say ‘have you gone mad?’ Then he looked at the suit again.

“Wait, what kind of Terminator armor is this?” He asked.

“It’s an old set.”

“Old? The plasteel is brand new. I could eat off this and not get a speck of dirt in my meal,” he said. He looked the suit over again, and again. “What kind of armor is this? I know I’ve seen it somewhere before.”

He walked around the suit of armor. Instead of having rounded, sphere-like pauldrons, the pauldrons were squared slabs with a boxed end at the arms and a hard slope on the front and back. They were so big that they sat only marginally higher than the helm. Leather straps hung from the ends of the pauldrons.

Of the helm itself, only the top half was visible. The rest was obscured behind a layer of raised armor, acting as a sort of rim. The chest was thick, deep and heavy, more box-like than the chest piece of a normal Terminator suit.

The legs had no visible knee-pads, only a high shin guards that covered the joint. At the waist was another grouping of leather straps that hung low.

“What in Russ’ name is this?”

“That is the project I’ve been working so hard on. Now tell me, is there the taint of Chaos on it?” Aevar said, nearly pulling his hair out.

“You need to get out of your chambers more, get some fresh air,” Vermund said. “We’ve been blessing totems and carving runes of warding into the rocks of the Aett since Russ himself walked the planet. You couldn’t smuggle in corruption in here if you tried. This is probably the safest place to be outside of Holy Terra.”

“So you can’t smell anything?”

“There’s nothing to smell other than leather, sweat, plasteel and the stench of a man who should be getting out more,” Helfist said. “Besides, this seems to have a kind of glow about it. Reminds me of you, and how you glow.”

Aevar took a breath to slow his hearts.

“Why do you have so many melta bombs strapped to it? You trying to blow yourself up? And where is the Terminator Crux?” Vermund asked. “I can’t see it anywhere.”

“There is no Crux.”

That got Helfist to stop. “What?”

“There is no Crux Terminator on it.”

“Then how does it work?”

“It works because I somehow made it to work.”

“You’re not making any sense. How could Terminator Armor work without the Terminator Crux? Where is the fragment of the Allfather’s armor?”

“I told you, I made it without one.”

Helfist stared at Aevar.

“You…you, Hel’s Teeth, greybeard, this is heresy,” he gasped.

“It’s not heresy, brother.”

“What have you done, Ironclaws?”

“I made a better suit of armor; this pattern is called Cataphractii. And if you had sensed even the tiniest amount of corruption emanating from it, I would have turned it to slag in the blink of an eye.”

“This…you…” Helfist was at a complete loss of words. “This is blasphemy of the highest degree. What have you done?”

“Something that can either save us, or destroy us.”

 


 

Jarl Guards wearing true, Indomitus-pattern Terminator armor stood watch over Aevar. He sat on his bed as his room filled with Iron Priests, Rune Priests, and fellow brothers. The Guards held their weapons at ease, but in tight grips. One had an axe; its smile was inches away from his neck. The others held an assault cannon, a plasma gun and a storm bolter.

“How could you have made such a thing?” One Iron Priest said. “This is a Cataphractii pattern, lost to the ages from the Heresy. It exists only in pictures, battle songs and in the vaults of Mars.”

“I found a way to make it, brother.”

“And you commit an act of heresy in making this?” A Rune Priest demanded.

“There is no smell of Chaos on it, or on him,” Helfist said. “You should know that, brother.”

There was a pounding of rock, and Bjorn Stormwolf barged into the room, nearly knocking the door off its hinges and crushing a servitor underfoot in his own personal Terminator armor.

“Ironclaws, where are you?” He demanded, his massive voice filling the room without any effort. “What in the Allfather’s name is going on here? What’s this talk that my best and brightest priest has been turned to heresy?”

“This, my lord,” an Iron Priest said, pointing to the Cataphractii armor.

“Fuck’s sake, what’s that?”

“A suit of armor that should belong in the battle songs,” a priest spat. “Aevar has committed an act of heresy to gain the forbidden knowledge necessary to make this.”

“Ironclaws would never utter a spittle of heresy!” Stormwolf roared.

“He’s not wrong, my jarl,” Aevar said. “I found a piece of knowledge that enabled me to make this.”

Stormwolf stared at him with utter shock.

“I’m not speaking heresy, just the truth,” Ironclaws said. “I’m no traitor, I’m as loyal as the sun is bright.”

“Heresy takes many shapes and forms. We must all remain vigilant of it.” Everyone in the room stood at attention; Ulrik the Slayer walked into the room, followed by the High King of Fenris himself, Logan Grimnar. Even out of their armor, they carried with them the very air of respect and fear; fear that they were not supposed to feel.

“My king,” the Stormwolf said, kneeling.

“What’s this tizzy everyone’s got caught up in?” Logan said. “I’m hearing rumors fit for a spinster’s circle, not the Allfather’s Angels of Death.”

“My liege,” a Rune Priest said, stepping forward, “it’s…”

“That’s a mighty fine suit of armor,” Logan said, cutting the Rune Priest off. He walked up to the suit and gave it a hard look. “Looks old and new at the same time. Who made this?”

“I did, lord,” Aevar said.

“So that much of the rumor is true,” Logan said. “And where did you hide the Terminator Crux?”

“I…I didn’t make it with one.”

“Ah. So that’s why you’re staring down the barrel of quite a few guns and the smile of an axe,” Logan said, wrinkling his brow. “Now, I’m not a member of the Mechanicus, so refresh my memory: isn’t it impossible to make Terminator armor without the Crux? More to the point, isn’t it heretical to make Terminator armor without a Terminator Crux?”

“It is, sire.”

Logan grunted. “That’s why you’ve strapped enough melta bombs to blow it to the sun and back, eh? And he isn’t dead because…?”

“Because I stayed their hands,” Helfist said, walking up to the High King and looking him in the eyes. “Ironclaws isn’t a heretic.”

“I throw my word in with Helfist’s,” the Stormwolf said, stepping forward. “Aevar is too loyal to even think about turning traitor.”

“I know that,” Logan said. “Or, at least I thought I knew that.”

“You thought?” Helfist asked. “Sire, he is loyal.”

“So I remember. I know he helped me pound my axe into a real weapon, not some daemon-forged monstrosity. That’s the only reason I’m not loping his head off myself.”

“But you just asked why he hasn’t been killed.”

“I did. To commend the man who saved his life for the current time. We can’t go around killing supposed heretics willy-nilly; we’d have to kill everyone who gave us a sideways glance, and considering our reputation, we get a lot of sideways glances. Sooner or later, we’re no better than the fucking Inquisition.

“No, I’m more curious as to why you claim he’s not a heretic. As Ulrik here is fond of saying, heresy takes many forms. Speak, brothers. Why do you say he’s not a heretic?”

“Because he’s been marked by the wyrd,” Helfist said. “Ask any other Rune Priests, we can all sense it. He has a glow about him, as if the Allfather himself were looking down on him, leading him, blessing him.”

The numerous Rune Priests in the room hesitantly nodded.

“Hm. Now that’s interesting,” Logan said. “But he still committed an act of heresy. I’m surprised he was even able to make this thing without crying to the machine spirit.”

“I’ve…” Aevar bit his tongue. “I’ve seen things, learned things.”

“What’s that saying about an open, unguarded mind?” Logan asked rhetorically. “It’ll lead to dark places or something…?”

“I know what the teachings say, but the Emperor has shown me my wyrd. I’ve seen it, and I can only comply with them.”

“Ulrik?”

“I’m not a Rune Priest, I can’t scry him,” the Slayer said. “I’m not an Iron Priest, I can’t examine the armor he made.”

“And what of the heresy he’s committed?”

“He would need to stand trial, that much I do know.”

“And the fate of this…thing he’s created?”

“Because it’s still in one piece, I can guess that there’s no smell of Chaos on it,” Ulrik said. He turned to the gathered Rune Priests; they grudgingly nodded. “Then this thing’s fate is tied to his own. If Aevar is found to be guilty of heresy, we’ll destroy it, along with him.”

“And if I’m not?” Aevar asked.

“Then things would become very interesting,” Ulrik tightly replied.

“So it looks like a trial is in order,” Logan said. He looked at Aevar. “I’ve fought with you back on Armageddon. And you’ve helped forge my axe, for which I’m grateful. But, as the High King and ultimate judge, I won’t take that into—“

“Begging your pardon, sire, but I request that my case be brought to Bjorn,” Aevar said.

Logan’s eyes narrowed and everyone in the room seemed to glare at Aevar. They knew which Bjorn he was referring to, and it wasn’t his Company’s jarl.

“Are you certain that the Fell-Handed would listen to you?” Ulrik asked. “If he can’t be roused from his slumber, you would have wasted your king’s time.”

Ulrik didn’t need to add that wasting Logan’s time was as good as a death warrant.

“Ironclaws, I’d reconsider,” Stormwolf said with a warning edge to his voice.

“I’m sorry, jarl, but this is the risk I decide to take,” Aevar said.

“Very well,” Logan chuckled. “It’s your right to request a trial with Bjorn the Fell-Handed. We’ll see if he humors your request.” He looked to the Iron Priests and pointed to the Terminator armor that Aevar made. “Get that thing ready to move. If we can wake Bjorn, that’ll be evidence for his trial. We should probably get the other Companies others to come with us; it’s not every day that we could see Bjorn. ‘Till then, put him in irons.”

 


 

Nearly the entire Chapter had turned out to try to see the mighty Bjorn try and be woken. They formed long lines as they walked towards the deep, wide heart of the Aett, followed by dozens of kaerls and teams or servitors.

As they travelled further and further down, the air grew colder and colder, and the hallways seemed to grow bigger and bigger. To Aevar, it was particularly cold as he wore thick and heavy iron chains on his wrists and feet that sucked any warmth from him. He could only walk marginally more than a shuffle, and was being pulled along by armored Jarl Guards.

Occasionally, from the shadows, a cyber-wolf would appear. They would glare at them, then either follow along, or blend back into the shadows of the cavernous Aett.

“What were you thinking?” Aevar looked up; Helfist was talking to him.

“You shouldn’t be talking to me.”

“I just want to know why you demanded a trial in front of Bjorn,” the Rune Priest snapped. “If he doesn’t wake up, you’re as good as dead.”

“Such is my fate.”

“And what of the Allfather’s blessing you have? You’ll let that go to waste? You’ll abandon your wyrd?”

Aevar sighed. What was he thinking? Bjorn hadn’t been awake in decades, and even when he was woken, sometimes he deemed the reason to be unworthy and went back to sleep.

“I-I don’t know,” he said. “The only one who could hear reason is Bjorn. And I can’t demand a trial by combat; heretics don’t get trials by combats. Something told me that this was the only way.”

Helfist glared at him as a Jarl Guard pushed him away. Russ’ blood, what was he doing? But he knew his wyrd, had seen his fate sealed with three cards, and knew that this was all he could do. If the Inquisition couldn’t find any chaos on him, surely this wouldn’t be a problem.

He couldn’t help but feel the twinge of rejection on him. This was his Chapter he would be talking to, not just Helfist. Hel’s teeth, he’d have to talk about the Imperial Truth. Was anyone ready for that?

At long last, they came upon the large, thick doors that held the Chapter’s revered dead. Aevar looked up and saw Arjac Rockfist, Grimnar’s shield himself, key the massive doors open. The procession marched into the tomb of the dreadnaughts. Hundreds of metal bodies sat deep in their slumber, but at the head of the tomb was the Fell-Handed himself.

Already massive for a dreadnaught, Bjorn’s chassis was adorned with intricate gold leaf, dozens of pelts, a single massive, masterfully crafted lightning claw, and a helfrost cannon. Aevar felt the temptation to fall to his knees; this was the last person to have seen Russ himself, perhaps even the Emperor himself.

His chains were pulled and nearly did fall.

He was placed in front of Bjorn’s sleeping form. His chains were quickly hammered to the ground, and his suit of Cataphractii armor was wheeled next to him. He risked a quick look behind him.

The chapter had broken into their various companies, with their jarls at the head. He saw Bjorn Stormwolf looking on with forced disinterest. He even saw Ragnar Blackmane standing at ease, looking bored. Njal Stormcaller was having a heated debate with Helfist.

“Brothers,” Logan snapped, and all was quiet. “One of our own stands accused of heresy. Per his right as a Son of Russ, he demanded to be judged by mighty Bjorn. Whether the Fell-Handed would hear his case is why we are here, because if he doesn’t hear the case, Aevar Ironclaws has just wasted all of our time.”

The High King held his axe, Morkai, in a loose hand. Aevar swallowed hard. It might be tasting his blood very soon.

“Brother priests, let’s see if Bjorn is feeling talkative today.”

The Iron Priests approached Bjorn’s dreadnaught body with reverence, and began the Rites of Activation. Aevar felt the cold worm its way through his body as the iron shackles grew colder and colder. He listened to the idle chatter, and ignored all of it. He knew what they were talking about, and he didn’t care to hear the odds of his survival.

Suddenly, a spark of energy came to life, and the oldest Space Marine in the entire Imperium began to wake.

“That was too easy,” Aevar mumbled to himself. He had been tasked with waking Bjorn in the past, and it took much longer than that. Was it his wyrd that woke the Fell-Handed? Was it the Emperor who made it easy? Or was it just the dumbest of luck?

+Who wakes me?+ Bjorn’s voice was a deep rumbling, as if it was as if the shaking rocks themselves.

“Jarl Bjorn, it is I, Logan Grimnar, High King of Fenris,” Logan said. “We stand here bespeaking you for your advice. One of our own stands accused, and wishes to have you stand as judge.”

+All of this for a simple judgment?+ Bjorn said. +Who is he, and what’s he been accused of?+

“My name is Aevar Ironclaws, and I’m accused of heresy,” he said, stepping forward as much as his chains allowed.

+And you’re still breathing?+

“Requesting you as his judge is his right,” Logan said.

+So it is.+ Bjorn took a step forward and swept the area, locking onto Aevar. +Very well. Why are you accused of falling into league with the Dark Gods?+

“It is what I made,” Aevar said.

+Made? You’re a member of the Mechanicus?+

“I am, mighty Bjorn.”

+Stop with this ‘mighty’ business, I’m fucking sick of it. What have you made?+

“This,” Aevar said, raising his hands to point to the Cataphractii–pattern armor he made. Bjorn turned, staring at the armor. He was silent for a long time.

+I haven’t seen armor like that in many years,+ he finally said. +I thought it was all lost.+

“I found it again.”

+That…that’s good.+ The idle chatter behind Aevar picked up. +Is that why you are here?+

“Yes, it is.”

+Why is this considered heresy?+

“Bjorn, he created the armor without the Terminator Crux,” an Iron Priest said. “He perverted the sacred design to create his own armor, one that holds daemons.”

+’Sacred design?’+ Bjorn seemed to groan. +Is the armor full of daemons?+

“Er…no, not a one.”

+Than why’d you wake me? He’s done nothing wrong.+

The idle chattered rose, mostly within the ranks of the kaerls.

“He created the armor without a Terminator Crux. That flies in the face of what the Mechanicus has ordained.”

+Hm. I don’t know much about the rules of the Mechanicus, but continue. How’d you find what was lost?+

“I…I was able to enter the Emperor’s library on Holy Terra,” Aevar said.

“What?” The Iron Priests weren’t the only ones to voice their disbelief.

+Only the Emperor himself should walk those hallways. Why were you allowed?+

“I can’t say; I swore an oath to the Adeptus Custodes to never speak of the reasons why I was brought to Terra.”

A deep grumble echoed from Bjorn; he was chuckling darkly.

+You know this doesn’t look good on you.+

“Yes, jarl, I know.”

+How were you able to make this armor?+

“I…I also found something in the library.”

+What was it?+

“The Imperial Truth.”

Bjorn seemed to sigh as he stared at Aevar. Many heads turned behind him, but he kept his gaze on the Fell-Handed. Bjorn was quiet for a much longer time.

+I haven’t heard the Truth in so long,+ he eventually said. +I feared it was my mind losing sense.+

 “It isn’t, jarl.”

+I haven’t heard that in such a long time,+ he said, voice drifting away as if lost in a memory. +Such a long time…+

“Jarl Bjorn, what is this ‘Imperial Truth?’” Logan asked.

Bjorn seemed to chuckle.

+Tell them.+

Aevar swallowed. He wasn’t supposed to feel fear. He turned to his chapter, his company, his pack, his friends and brothers. He suddenly realized that he couldn’t bring himself to talk. The words seemed to catch in his throat, twisting it until it threaten to burst.

If I open my mouth, everything would change, he thought. I would be shunned, I would be hated, I would be reviled. And my chapter…we would all burn.

“What is this ‘Truth?’” Logan asked again.

+Yes, tell them.+

Oh, by the Emperor, he wished he could pray. He wished praying could do something more than nothing.

“The Imperial Truth says the Allfather—the Emperor…”

Aevar swallowed.

“The Imperial Creed, the belief that the Emperor is a god, is just what the traitors say: a damned lie. Everything we do to guard the Imperium is safeguarding the biggest lie in the history of humanity.”

Almost instantly, the hall seemed to be flushed with the pungent scent of the kill-urge. They were superstitious to a fault, and while they might not believe the Imperial Cult as strongly as the Imperium at large, it was still heresy to speak what he had just said. Hair stood on end, hearts began pounding, and rage thickened the veins. Suddenly he was no longer a brother, but a vile traitor.

Ragnar Blackmane, the Young King, reacted first. With a vicious roar, he launched himself at Aevar, swinging his massive chainsword with such speed and ferocity Aevar missed seeing him draw it. The blade whistled down on him to split his skull.

Suddenly, Ragnar was brushed back by Bjorn’s claw, who stepped forward to defend him. The blow was gentle, pulled, but sent the Young King flying. Blackmane landed on his feet.

“Heretic!” He bellowed. “You dare blaspheme against the God-Emperor of—“

+He hated that name.+

Blackmane’s tongue seemed to catch in his throat and he halted, mid-syllable, his eyes threatening to bulge from his head. Everyone seemed to halt with him, with the kill-urge halting as well. The entire chapter had stopped, staring with slackened jaws, at Bjorn.

“W—what did you say?” Logan stuttered.

+He hated that name, the ‘God-Emperor of Mankind.'+ He spat the phrase out with undisguised heat. +He hated it when people would whisper it behind his back. He hated how people always piled on the praise with that being the first thing out of their mouths. He hated that they always wanted to call him that.

+I don’t know where we went wrong, or how we went wrong. But somehow, somewhere, we failed him. All of the efforts of the Great Crusade, bringing world after world into compliance, all of it was for nothing! And here we stand, doing the one thing the Emperor hated above all else: worshiping him like a pack of superstitious cowards.+

“What are you saying?” Ulrik asked.

+This thing, this ‘Imperial Cult’ that everyone has been worshiping, was nothing more than a flight of fantasy. Every time I was woken, it was a little bit stronger, a little more important. Somewhere in the past, it was all anyone had ever known. I remember a time when no one would dare say the word ‘worship’ or ‘god.’ I thought I was going insane. Thank you for proving me wrong.+

“Bjorn, you can’t be serious,” Blackmane said.

Bjorn slowly rounded on the Young King.

+You dare call me a liar?+ He demanded, advancing on him. With every step Bjorn took, Ragnar took three backwards. +I, who fought with Russ himself? I, who have seen the Emperor before he sat on his throne? You dare call me a liar?+

“Bjorn, please, this was all we have known,” Aevar said. “When I first learned the Truth, I thought I had brought Chaos into the Emperor’s throne room. It nearly broke me; it nearly killed me.”

Bjorn stopped advancing. Ragnar was being pushed back through his company, nearly onto his knees.

+We’ve fallen so far. But maybe this can all change. You’ve created lost technology. If we’re to reclaim our past glory, this is where we start. You must make more, so we can reclaim worlds, bring them into compliance once more.+

“Bjorn, we can’t say that the Allfather isn’t a god,” Logan said. “We would be branded traitors faster than water freezes in the winter. You can’t make us turn on the words that have defended for so long.”

+Yes, we’re only one world against countless others. What would the Emperor have done…?+

“He can’t be allowed to live,” Ulrik said, pointing to Aevar. “His every breath is blasphemy.”

+Then let him blaspheme,+ Bjorn said. +After all, he created armor that I haven’t seen since Horus turned traitor.+

“We don’t even know if it will work,” Arjac said.

+Then test it. See for yourself how sturdy the armor is.+

“Very well, we shall leave you—“

+Leave me? I’m coming to see this test as well. If he can do but a fraction of what I hope he can do, he can save the chapter from fading away into obscurity.+

“I beg your pardon, but what does that mean?”

+We went from dominating the heavens to being scared to launch ourselves through the immaterium. We’ve lost so much technology, the Imperium should have fallen apart already. If we can recover even a fraction of the lost technology, of our deserted glory, we could re-forge the Imperium, make it strong again. It would be a second Great Crusade.+

“I…see.” It was obvious that Logan held no idea what Bjorn was ordering; neither did anyone else, from the looks of confusion they held in their eyes. Bjorn was talking of a goal no one knew; he seemed to be lost in his own mind.

+Then why are we standing around? Take us outside to test this armor.+

 


 

The walk into the heart of the Aett took many hours. The walk back felt longer still. Aevar knew he would be shunned, but knowing that fact and experiencing it personally was the difference between being told about frost’s bite and feeling it take a hold; it was simply not the same.

 He knew that Grimnar would avoid him. Ulrik and Arjac, too. But his jarl, the Stormwolf, shunned him as well. He refused to even look in his direction. The grey hunters and blood claws avoided him like the plague, even Helfist gave him a wide berth. Sensing his rejection, the occasional cyber-wolf that slunk out of the shadows turned from him as well.

The only one who walked with him, who seemed oddly immune to the mood of the Chapter, was Bjorn the Fell-Handed. Encased in his dreadnaught armor, he seemed to move with purpose, each step powerful and upbeat.

It was impossible to tell if he had a spring in his step; his machine body prohibited such intricate movement, but Aevar had the feeling that he was happy. Maybe it was a wayward scent that was escaping his sarcophagus.

“Is everything well, Bjorn?” Aevar asked.

+More that well,+ the Fell-Handed said. +Seeing this armor that you have made, and finding the validation that my memories are my own and not just part of my centuries-delayed death, it has made me feel young again. New, even. It…+

They trudged up the next level of steps, the massive, black stone slabs too big for a regular human to climb in one step. Bjorn walked two steps at a time, and Aevar had to almost run to keep up with him. The chapter branched out, giving him dozens of fathoms of space both ahead and behind him. The small term of servitors and kaerls that were tasked with rolling the newly forged Terminator armor struggled against the weight of it as they hoisted it from stair to stair.

+I haven’t felt this way in so long, I forgot what it feels like. This has given me hope for the future.+

“Hope? But, we’ve been guarding the Imperium for centuries, hunting and killing the enemies of man and the forces of Chaos at every turn.”

+It is a holding pattern. Every battle that we’ve won is merely a stay of execution. With every win, we lose a little bit of us. With every loss, that is magnified by a thousand. There’s no true measure of glory that wait for us, just another battle to fight to save a sinking ship.+

Aevar bit his tongue. Was Bjorn always this pleasurable to be around?

+Now, though, with this discovery, we can recover our lost glory,+ the oldest Sky Warrior said. +Maybe now we can truly win, make gains against the darkness.+

“But the chapter despises me. The only reason I’m alive is—“

+Because of me, yes, I know the position that you’re in. Fear not. Once they see the promise this armor of yours holds, they’ll be more open to it.+

“How can you say so?”

+If you found a better weapon than the rusted, half-broken sword you use, would you use it, even if it was of a strange design? What if it had blades for a cross guard? A spike for a pommel? A serrated edge on the killing edge?+

“I’d…be hesitant.”

+But you would use it if it proved itself, wouldn’t you?+

“Without a doubt.”

Bjorn turned to the servitors struggling with the massive armor.

+That suit is that strange sword. Once they see how well it works, they’ll start to use it, and your exile would slowly end.+

Aevar held his tongue; one didn’t talk back to the Fell-Handed. But in his hearts, he hoped Bjorn was right. So much more than his shunning was on the line.

Chapter Text

Their march took them to a slope just outside of the Aett. One of the omnipresent storms of Fenris had blown through, blanketing the slopes with deep snow drifts, virgin and unbroken. Only the newest Blood Claws and rawest kaerls shivered from the cold.

+This is good ground,+ the Fell-Handed said. +How do you test armor and recruits these days?+

“We run them,” Logan said. “Chase them and see how they handle being hunted, and how they turn the tables on the hunter.”

+A good way.+ Bjorn scanned the slopes. Thirty meters off, down a sizable slope, was a thicket of trees. They ran for another fifty meters, than thinned out as they climbed back up the slope.

+He’ll run for the thicket,+ Bjorn said, pointing with his massive lightning claw. +and you’ll shoot him with dummy rounds, see how well he can avoid being hit, and how well he takes being hit. Once in the forest, he’ll have to kill several combat-fitted servitors, then run back up the slope where he shall fight you man-to-man.+

Logan smiled. Aevar could hear the Grey Hunters chuckling; no doubt they were already taking bets on how long he’d last against the Old Wolf. He knew Logan wouldn’t pull any punches, no one would dare pull a punch, but going against the High King himself? The most Aevar could do would be to survive.

+Send the servitors into the woods, and begin arming yourselves. We’re wasting precious daylight.+

The Vlka began spreading out, getting a good view of the battle to come, leaving Aevar alone with the Fell-Handed, his Cataphractii armor, and a team of servitors.

“You know they won’t use dummy rounds, right?”

+Of course.+

“Is this more testing? I don’t want to die at the hands of my own Chapter.”

+It’s all a test, and the more rigorous the test, the more they’ll trust you when you win. You do plan on winning, don’t you?+

“What Son of Russ would I be if I didn’t?” Aevar snapped.

+There’s the fire in the blood that you need,+ Bjorn laughed.

The servitor pulled apart the armor, and began the process of sealing him inside. The servitors worked fast, but the process still took nearly an hour. The armor was more like a second skin than metal plates, and it was all terribly heavy until the power pack was attached and activated. Aevar nearly fell over four times until the pack kicked in, activating the armor and engaging the servo-motors. It was like his strength was doubled, tripled even. He sprung up, suddenly very sure of his center of balance.

He bent at the waist, testing the range of motion he had. He stood, knelt, jumped and ran quick bursts of knee-highs. The armor responded wonderfully, just as it should.

+That armor seems different from my time. Quicker.+

“Much of the design were eroded. Ink was smudged, pieces were missing, rotted away from time. I had cannibalize  much of our own armor designs to fill the gaps.”

+Cunning; a true Son of Russ. Better than those who blindly follow so-called ‘tradition’ and the superstitious rot that infects us all.+

Instead of carrying a gun, Aevar had installed a storm bolter onto the forearm. He ran it through a pre-battle check; it spun up perfectly. A kaerl walked up, carrying a power sword for him. He examined the rusted blade; it seemed better suited for a half-speed sparring match with a servitor than a true battle for life. He sighed; the Chapter truly wanted him dead. He would have to prove them wrong.

“You’d better have a tough test ready for me,” he said to the nearby Grimnar, pride and a snarl in his voice.

“We wouldn’t insult you by going less than all-out,” he grinned back. He stood, his trusty axe Morkai in hand. “Hope you’re good at running. You’ve got a five second head start.”

That was all that Aevar needed. He took off, crashing through the nearly waist-deep snow. The servo-motors of the suit made it as easy as a stroll, like there was nothing there at all.

Breathing deep and evenly, he almost missed the sound of a bolt flying over his shoulder. The next one landed squarely on his shoulder. If he were wearing simple power armor, he’d be thrown from his feet; instead, the thick plate took the hit without any effort. The bolt exploded, scuffing the paint he so painstakingly layered on. Then it was a true hail of bullets.

Aevar growled, turning to run in a serpentine pattern. Most of the shots turned up the air and snow around him as he sprang left, then right, then back again. He risked a look behind him. On the ridge where he began, standing next to Bjorn, was a team of Long Fangs. Two of them hefted heavy bolters and were raining down fire. His blood ran a little colder when he saw two others bring lascannons to bear. The fifth one was priming a plasma cannon.

“I know the bolts would be live, but this is insane.”

He sprung right, rolling instead of lunging. The air snapped and boiled; two lascannons, lines of brilliant light, lanced over him. The helm darkened automatically to protect his sight, while simultaneously screaming at him. The armor’s back mounted shield generator had spun to life, forcing the beams away, saving him from being bisected by one blast.

“Too damn lucky,” he growled. He had to get to the forest. Then he’d at least break line of sight from the Long Fangs.

The ground exploded and the shield generator burst to life again. Plasma instantly melted the snow around him, throwing him a good meter forward. He pin-wheeled his arms, regaining his balance mid-air. He landed less than gracefully, but never broke stride. The Fangs were good; it was a solid hit from the plasma cannon.

At long last, he finally made it into the forest. The heavy bolters tore into the frozen, nearly petrified wood, turning them into splinters. The lascannons easily sliced through the woods, cutting down rows of trees. The plasma cannon lobbed a miniature sun towards him, but it impacted off of the many branches of the forest, exploding prematurely and showering the area with bits of superheated fluid. The shield generator didn’t bother to activate; the occasional splashes were brushed off by the armor.

Aevar slowed his pace, but kept moving. There were supposed to be combat servitors in the forest, but he couldn’t see where they were. Naturally.

The snow burst around him, and several servitors jumped from their hiding holes, no more than a fathom away. Whoever had hidden them had done a good job. Aevar roared, unloading the wrist-mounted storm bolter at the charging, mindless drones.

They wore simple armor slabs, less elegant than power armor but almost as effective. The bolts bit into the armor, detonating and harmlessly impacting them. Only one was gunned down when the round penetrated deeper than expected. Then they were upon him.

The servitors all had human arms that were heavily augmented; they could easily match a Sky Warrior’s strength. And in those hands they carried axes, swords and knives. They all also had servo-arms that held power fists. They would be a problem.

He ducked away, drawing the power sword and flicking the activation switch. In one smooth motion, he lopped off two arms and half a head, but that didn’t stop the servitors. They parried and ducked away. Two servitors keeping him pressed while the others circled. The swords and knives and axes clattered off the thick armor, but they were aiming for the joints, known weak points in the armor to exploit. Aevar ran another servitor through when he was thrown off his feet with an explosive crunch.

The shield generator had hummed to life yet again, just before the power fist connected with him. He rolled to his feet, storm bolter blazing, and cut down the offending servitor. The others mobbed him, trying to yank the sword from his grasp. Aevar swung and dodged, slicing and cutting the slower husks as if it was nothing. Whoever was controlling them was good, but servitors couldn’t work miracles. They were still slow, and his quickness paid off. Only one servitor made it through his savage counter-attack, landing two glancing blows with its swords.

Aevar head-butted the last servitor, throwing it to the ground. He stepped on it, letting the weight of the armor shatter its spine. He took a moment to breathe deep, then ran onwards. The forest thinned, and he scanned the ridge for the Long Fangs. His helm found them, marking them with runes, but then the runes changed; their weapons were unloaded and hung at rest.

At the top of the ridge stood the Old Wolf. His hand gently rested on the plumb of his axe, the head planted firmly in the ground. He stood there, waiting, completely immobile in his armor.

“Well, who wants to live forever?”

He burst from the woods, running up the steep incline. The servo-motors growled as they amplified his strength, easily pushing the weight of the suit up the slope as he crested the ridge.

“Have to hand it to you,” Logan said. “You finished that run faster than we’d expected.”

“I aim to please.” That got a bark of a laugh from Logan.

“Let’s see how well you please us now.” And with that, Grimnar was on him.

Logan Grimnar might be called the Old Wolf, but he moved faster than any Blood Claw. The axe Morkai swooped high above his head, whistling and splitting the air. Aevar was barely able to bring his borrowed sword to guard, and nearly lost his grip when the axe met it.

Grimnar continued his assault. He swept left, right, and then lunged, pushing Aevar back with frightening ease. Morkai bit into the armor at his shoulders and forearm, slicing and nicking parts of the plasteel like there was nothing there. His helm popped a read-out; his armor was still void-proof.

Aevar countered where he could and maintaining a solid parry. He leapt backwards, getting a few snapshots off with his storm bolter. Logan jumped aside, dodging a portion of the bolts while letting the others glance off his armor. Then he was back in Aevar’s face, growling and roaring.

Morkai bit into his armor, but the shield generator pushed the fell axe’s smile back. Aevar countered, landing a telling blow hard against Logan’s side.

It only made the Old Wolf mad.

Letting loose a savage cry, the High King of Fenris hefted his axe high with two hands and brought it down with armor-splitting strength. Aevar moved to counter, but the old, nearly rusted practice sword snapped under the force, and he fell backwards. Grimnar chased him as Aevar rolled out of the way of each strike, turning killing blows to simple nicks and cuts. The helm tracked the damages, highlighting the armor sections that were in danger of failing.

He might not have had a weapon, but he still had his fists. Aevar jumped to his feed and landed blow after blow on Logan. They didn’t stop the Old Wolf’s assault, but he hoped that he might get lucky, or that Grimnar would remember his last defiance.

Logan’s axe landed on the armor, only to be repulsed by the shield generator. Aevar took the moment to jump in close and land a heavy knee to the Old Wolf’s side. With the heavier, stronger servo-motors to drive the kick, Logan definitely felt it; but he wasn’t slowed by it.

Now good and truly mad, Logan stepped forward, ready to break Aevar like a troublesome foe.

+That’s enough.+

Bjorn didn’t talk fast enough, and Logan lashed out one last time. Aevar blocked it with his forearm, connecting with the shaft just below the axe’s smile. He stopped it, but only barely.

+I think this test was a success.+

“A success?” That was the Blood Claws venting their rage. They spat at Aevar, hurling insults.

“Aye, that’s a successful test,” Logan said tightly. “Stop your mad barking, he went a solid round with me, and he’s still standing.”

+The armor holds up just as well as I remember it. Hel, even better than I remember it; the armor I knew of was as slow as petrified shit.+

“So what do we do now?” Aevar asked, weary of what the future held; Logan might have been stopped, but he still held his axe at the ready.

“Eldest, what is your ruling?” Grimnar asked.

+The armor is neither full of daemons,+ Bjorn said, walking forward, +nor is it turning him into some damnable creature. It’s not eating his soul, and his mind is still his. I say we need more of this armor.+

“You can’t be serious,” Grimnar spat. “This, this blasphemer will damn us all!”

“Mighty Bjorn, you mustn’t order us to do this.” Aevar wasn’t surprised to see Ulrik step forward to try and sway the oldest of them. “If other Chapters see us, they’ll question where we found such relics. And if we tell them of this, this…”

+Imperial Truth.+

“Yes, of this Imperial Truth. We’ll be branded heretics and be hunted from the face of the Imperium.”

“The Inquisition doesn’t like us as is,” Logan said. “This would just push them over the edge.”

+I won’t stand by and let the greatest re-discovery of the Imperium be thrown to the wayside, all because we’ve become a pack of gutless, craven, superstitious cowards!!+ Bjorn bellowed. Ever Grimnar shrunk back. +This armor had stood up to heavy ordinance, has faced a team of combat servitors and had saved it’s wearer from one of the greatest killers Fenris could ever possibly produce. What more proof do you need that this is our salvation? What could possibly make you realize how important this discovery is? What do you need?+

The entire Chapter couldn’t answer the Fell-Handed. Even Ulrik, so good with soothing words, was at a loss.

+Is it because you can’t let it succeed? Is it because of this ‘Creed’ of yours, the ‘faith’ you’re required to have?+ Bjorn sneered. He shook his chassis, clearly trying to shake his head.  +What have we fallen to? How much further could we possibly degrade ourselves? Dammit all, for once I’m glad that Russ is no longer here! Just seeing what we have become would kill him. To see us be cowed by a book of words, of the threats of old, fat men entire sectors away…Only the Emperor should inspire such fearful obedience. Only him, and no one else.+

Bjorn looked out on the assembled chapter.

+You’ll not like him; I don’t expect you to. I expect you to hate him the way you hate a heretic. But you will let him live, and you’ll use the wargear that he makes. Ironclaws, have you found more templates in the Emperor’s library?+

“Y-yes, Bjorn. A few,” Aevar mumbled, kneeling deep.

+Just a few?+

“I wasn’t in the Emperor’s library for long. But I got a few ideas I might be able to work with.”

+Then work with them. Blaspheme to your heart’s content.+ He shot a glare to Grimnar. +As long as you don’t let the foul warp in, you can do no harm. Do you understand, Grimnar?+

“I do,” the Old Wolf said through clenched teeth.

+Good. Then let’s get back to the Aett, we have our old glory to reclaim.+

 


 

Aevar sat in his chambers, staring at the hulking suit of Cataphractii armor that he made. The armor was scored, with cuts and the odd dent here and there. Now it was battle-tested; now it had character.

But what did this mean? He had surely spelled the end of his Chapter; no one else in the Imperium held Bjorn at such a height as they did. No one else would take his word for law; no one would believe him over the High Lords of Terra. What would happen to them now?

Would they be branded renegades? Not since the Heresy has a First Founding Chapter fallen from the grace of the Emperor.

Would they have to face their fellow battle brothers, ones who would follow the Inquisition to the end of the known universe? Maybe those stiff-necked Ultramarines would finally be able to grin, to say that their precious Codex Astrtes is the writ word all should follow. That thought above all made him squirm.

There was a knock at his door, the first in hours. Aevar stood and walked to answer it. Now that Bjorn had made it explicitly clear that his life should not end any earlier than was fated, he could carelessly pull the door open without worrying about catching a bolt to the face.

“Well, this is a surprise.”

“What, did you think I wouldn’t visit?” Helfist said.

“No, I thought the first person I’d see would be Ulrik. Maybe even Arjac.”

“Think they’d try to find wisdom or templates from the Allfather’s library?”

“Possibly. I’m not sure; it was just a stupid bet I made with myself. So, what brings you to the Blasphemer’s chambers?”

“Don’t joke, that’s what everyone’s calling you,” Helfist snapped.

“Does that change what I’ve done?” Aevar laughed.

“No,” Helfist sighed, “I suppose not.”

“So why are you here?”

Helfist turned and gestured. “Come on, no need to be shy.”

 “Thank ya, sire,” a woman said, walking into Aevar’s line of sight. She was a mortal kaerl, with long dark hair and light scars across her face. “An’ beggin’ yer pardon, I ain’t shy.” She said that with a snap, prideful like any Fenrisian.

“You were skulking outside of his line of sight. That sounds like ‘shy’ to me,” Helfist said.

“Me Ma ‘n Pa taught me ta be fearful a th’ Sky Warriors, ta revere ‘em as bringers of death,” the woman said. “I know better ‘n ta guess you’d like ta see a kaerl without askin’ fer us, first.”

“Wise parents. So why bring me a kaerl?” Aevar asked. “Worried I might get lonely down here?”

“No, I asked ta,” the woman said. “Th’ name is Maeva, an’ I’d like ta work fer ya.”

“You know how rarely we use kaerls in the forge, do you?” Aevar asked. “Why should I let you work with me when I can have a team of servitors?”

“’Cus I’ve worked with Iron Priests ‘fore,” Maeva said. “I was a helpin’ hand with Blackmane’s great company. Helped those priests make ‘n mend war gear.”

“Ah, so that’s why your skin is darker than normal; you got a forge tan,” Aevar said. “Been a while since I’ve seen a kaerl blacksmith. Why should I let you help me?”

“I know my way ‘round a forge, I’m good at takin’ instructions, ‘n I won’t get in yer way,” Maeva said. “I was out there on th’ ice with th’ rest a th’ Chapter. I saw wha’ ya built, ‘n I knew I wanted ta make gear as good as tha’. I can’t explain it, but somethin’ drew me in, like ya got some glow about you, yea?”

Slyly, Aevar traded looks with Helfist.

“So I got ‘some glow about me.’ That makes you want to work with me?”

“I know wha’ I saw, ‘n I know wha’ I’m seein’,” Maeva said. Like every Fenrisian, she stood tall as she spoke. “I wanna work with ya, names be damned.”

“Your bravery is exceptional, kaerl,” Helfist said, “but old man Ironclaws here is already in the shit, he doesn’t need any—“

“Show up tomorrow, let’s see how long you last.”

“Oh, thank ya, ya won’t regret this,” Maeva said, a smile barely suppressed.

“Try to get some sleep, I’m working hard tomorrow.”

The Fenrisian woman ran off, a spring in her step. Helfist waited until she was out of earshot before tearing into him.

“Why, in Russ’ name, do you think you might need her?” He demanded. “You want to ruin her life, too?”

“She came here on her own free will,” Aevar said. “Her life is hers to ruin.”

“What could you even possibly use her for? Holding your hammer? Just ask for a team of servitors, or another Iron Priest.”

“Who’d help me?” Aevar laughed. “Bjorn might tell them not to kill me in my sleep, but he can’t make them love me, or get them to tell me what the weather’s like.” He spread his arms wide, a wide grin on his face. “Face it, Helfist, I’m the Blasphemer! I’m surprised I’m still sucking air as it is.”

“So that’s all it’s about?” Helfist hissed. “Taking some kaerl down with you?”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” he replied. “I could actually use her. The way I’m doing things, any Iron Priest would just be getting in the way. She’s a blank slate; I’ll need to teach her, aye, but she’ll be open to it. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

“Said the greybeard.”

“And it nearly killed me. Hel, I still don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how I got that damn thing to work,” he jerked his thumb at the massive Terminator armor that stood behind him. “I had an idea, aye, but I ended up just throwing shit against a wall and somehow it stuck. I’m gonna need to get a lot better to live up to what Bjorn wants me to be. Having a bunch of stuck-in-their-ways Iron Priests will just slow me down.”

“And this whole ‘you’ve got a glow about you’ thing?” Helfist said.

“You said I’ve got a glow about me.”

“Aye, and I’m a druid,” he said. “A trained, sanctioned, veteran druid. If she can talk to spirits like I can, and she’s untrained, daemons might find a way to force themselves upon her.”

“So watch her,” Aevar said. “Don’t worry about her channeling daemons to get to me, I can handle a few daemons.”

“I hope you can,” Helfist said, giving him a hard look. “I hope on Russ’ blood that you can, because this still might tear us apart.”

Aevar’s grin fell a few notches. “Aye, it could.” He looked at the floor, as if the events of the day were suddenly catching up to him. “Thank you, my friend.”

“Anytime, brother,” Vermund said. “So, what do you have planned for your next trick?”

Aevar’s smile returned.

 


 

There was a knocking at Aevar’s door. He looked up from the pict-scans he took in the Emperor’s library and sniffed. He smelled a leather jacket and a mortal; his new help.

“You’re here early,” he said, opening his door.

“Beggin’ yer pardon, but I wanna get an early start,” Maeva said, a grin barely suppressed. “Say, we not goin’ ta yer personal forge?”

“This is my personal forge,” he replied. “I got a vent straight down to the heart of Fenris. Pick a spot, that’ll be yours. You can start with making a sword.”

“A…sword?”

“Aye, a sword. You know; long pointy thing, got an edge to it?”

“I know wha’ a sword is,” Maeva said, “but is tha’ all ya want me ta do?”

“I need to get an idea of what you’re capable of before I can really push you. Think of this as a test,” Aevar said, going back to his desk. “There’s the forge. You’ve got an anvil, power hammer, lathe, and more tools than you could possibly use. There should be plenty of metal here for you. Let’s see what you make, and we’ll work from there.”

He tapped the servo-skull. It floated up and resumed showing the pict he had last looked at. It was on the creation of basic microprocessors, the logic-engines that drove every piece of tech the Imperium had. It was all lost on Aevar; he had barely understood enough of it to make the ancient armor, and most of that was cannibalized from past suits he made. If he were to make true weapons of war, killing and genocide, he would have to get better.

Across his room, the temperature spiked as Maeva began to work. He studied the pict of the scroll and started building a simple random number generator. Metal kissed metal as the kaerl worked. Aevar ignored her.

He had the schematics for the generator in front of him. Too bad three-quarters of it was moth-eaten, lost to the ages. He could make out some of the bits: the parts needed, the basic flow of logic, but none of it made sense.

He had simple logic gates, integrated chips and proto-boards, so he went to work to try and learn on the fly. He ended up taking it apart and re-made it again and again and again, but nothing came of it. Hours passed and he was no closer to making any progress.

Growling, he tore it all apart and put integrated circuits on the bread board based solely on looks from the ragged pic. If it looked like it was supposed to go in a certain place, he placed it there; the wiring was likewise haphazard. He connected it to the power supply, and stared dumbfounded at the little screen.

The damn thing was working, spitting out random numbers with a press of a button. He put it all together, and had no idea how or why it worked.

“Finished,” Maeva said, exhaustion in her voice.

Picking his jaw from the ground, Aevar looked up. She held a short sword out to him. It was human sized, making it little more than a dagger to him. But it was well made, still warm from the fires of the Aett’s furnace.

He took it, looking it over. The blade was straight, true and balanced, not bad at all for one blacksmith. He flipped the blade, looking for notches or imperfections; he found none. Finally, he gently ran his finger down the killing edge. He felt nothing; the blade had cleanly cut the first layer of skin on his thumb, leaving the second layer unharmed.

“Good blade you made.”

“Thank ya, but beggin’—“ Maeva shut her mouth, almost with an audible snap.

“If you’re going to say something, go on and say it.”

“I’m sorry, but it ain’t appropriate.”

“Oh, shove it, I’m just a glorified blacksmith,” he said.

Who doesn’t have a damn clue what he’s doing, he thought

“Do I look like some snot-nosed son of a chieftain? Stop worshiping the shit that drips from my ass. Now, you were begging my pardon?”

“I was wonderin’ why yer havin’ me make a sword,” Maeva said. “I thought I’d be assistin’ ya, yea?”

“You will be, but I have to see what you can do,” he said. “We both know that talk is cheap; I can better gauge your talents by seeing what you can make.”

“Does it impress ya?”

“Aye. It’s good work for a human. You said you worked with a few other Iron Priests here; did they have you make anything big or special?”

“No, they didn’t let me meddle with th’ machine-spirits; just th’ bodies a servitors,” she said. Aevar could smell it on her; she wanted to do more work than the Priests let her. And it cut at her pride.

“That’s good,” he said, grinning.

“…Good?”

“Didn’t know I had an echo in here. You know what I’m called now, right? The Mechanicus has had several millennia to get a pattern going, for traditions to be made. They have a certain way of doing things, and the work I’ll be doing will fly in the face of those several millennia of patterns, traditions and every single thing they got set up. Every. Single. Thing. What I want is someone who doesn’t have Mechanicus teachings drilled into their heads, who can see things from a new light.”

“But don’t ya have th’ teachin’ a the Mechanicus?” Maeva asked.

“That I do. Which is why I want someone like you even more: a fresh set of eyes can find something mine miss. You’ve got the talent, now let’s see what we can get you to do.”

“So we’ll be doin’ more work tomorrow, yea?” She  smiled.

“Tomorrow?”

“Yea, th’ sun set hours ago.”

“Huh. Didn’t notice.”

“Stayin’ inside this long ain’t good fer anyone, even th’ Allfather’s chosen. Get out a bit, will ya?”

“Fat chance,” Aevar chuckled. “With my new reputation, the Old Wolf put my Company on hearth duty. We’re stuck here until Grimnar decides to let us out to stretch our legs. That means we got nothing but time to work on this and see what we can learn. Get some sleep, Maeva; tomorrow, we start seeing what you can learn.”

And hopefully I can learn faster than you so you don’t know how much of this shit I’m making up as I go.

 


 

“I ain’t understandin’ any a this!” Maeva hissed.

“Of course you’re not,” Aevar said. “We’re not banging rocks together, we’re trying to re-create lost technology.”

“How can ya keep yer head ‘bout all this?”

“I’ve had a standard year to get a head start on you. Not to mention centuries of working with the Mechanicus.”

“I thought ya said tha’ ya didn’t need folks with Mechanicus trainin’.”

“I did, but I still have the experience to put this all in context. The flow of the machine-spirit’s blood isn’t like learning about the flow of current or voltage, but they’re similar enough that I can match them up and make heads or tails from it.”

“I need ta get outta this room,” Maeva groaned, one step away from gnashing her teeth. “Stayin’ in here fer months on end just ain’t good, yea? Need ta get outside, see th’ sun. An my bed’s been way too damn cold ‘n empty.”

Aevar had to agree with her. They spent nearly two great months in his chambers, teaching, learning and experimenting with the ancient texts, trying to figure out ways to make the forgotten patterns.

“You’re right,” he said. “The damn shame of it is that the Fell-Handed is getting antsy. Every time I poke my head out, I end up running into him and he asks what I’ve got to show for my work.”

“We ain’t got shit ta show fer it,” Maeva laughed.

“We do have shit, it’s just book shit. Bjorn wants results, things we can hold in our hands.”

“So what’r we gonna do, oh mighty Blasphemer?”

Aevar ground his teeth. Results; Bjorn wanted results. But Aevar couldn’t give him results without first learning what the fuck he was doing.

Then he looked over at the Cataphractii armor that stood in the corner, and he remembered how he made it: flying by the seat of his pants.

“Well, I do my best work when I give up and throw shit together to see what happens,” he said. “How about we make a sword?”

“Another borin’ sword?”

“Fuck no. I got a special sword in mind.”

Aevar walked off, sorting through the printed schematics he made. One of the picts he had was of a Heresy-era sword, a Paragon blade. But the important part of the schematic was lost, kept on rotting parchment. The damn sword needed a generator, and he could barely wrap his head around the needed tech. He set it down in front of Maeva.

 “Ooh, fancy lookin.’”

“That it is,” he said. “Too bad half of its guts are missing.”

“So what’ll we do, eh?”

“We throw shit together and see what sticks,” he said. “Learn as we go and make it up by the seat of our pants.”

“Ah, good ol’ Plan B! Tha’s wha’ I’m talkin’ ‘bout, yea?” Maeva smiled. “Hit th’ metal ‘till shit makes sense. So what’ll fill th’ gaps?”

“Well, it looks like a power sword, and I know how to make one of those in my sleep. But it’s not your average power sword; it’s gotta pack a punch. Kinda like this one.”

He flipped through his list of schematics until he found the one for a force sword.

“See those circuitry patterns?”

“Yea, how could I miss ‘em? Look like frost on glass. Pretty, eh?”

“Those are supposed to be powered by the spirits of Fenris and the fallen heroes buried in it.”

“Mighty strong fer a rune priest, yea?” Maeva said. “So how does it work with this Paragon thingy?”

“Fuck if I know. How about we take the generator from this, stick it in the Paragon blade, kick the power up a few dozen notches and try make it not blow up?”

 


 

The mead hall, like everything in the Aett, was cut deep into the monstrous mountain. Pelts and trophies of fallen xenos, traitors and daemons hung from massive wooden rafters, and a dozen fires lit the massive hall with dancing shadows and radiant warmth. On the stone walls hung shields, swords, spears and axes from the various clans that Sky Warriors had fought for, prior to their recruitment to the Vlka Fenryika.

Bjorn Stormwolf’s company ate in the warm hall. Normally boisterous, their jarl ate with seething, simmering hate, gnawing at the bones of his meal. His cloudy mood spread over the entire company, from the Long Fangs to the Blood Claws. All ate with painfully reserved silence. Instead of chatter, laughter, shouting and bosting, silence echoed throughout the stone chamber, with the odd tense talk breaking it.

Helfist sighed and took another shot of mjod. Another feast without Ironclaws.

“Greybeard likes to work too hard,” he muttered.

“What was that?” the Stormwolf demanded.

“It’s nothing, my jarl,” Helfist said.

“Better not be,” he growled. “Can’t stand hearing that fucker’s name right now.”

The Claws grunted and mumbled their agreement. A Grey Hunter half-heartedly quieted them.

“Thirteen great months,” the Stormwolf began.

“Oh, for the love of the Allfather, not this again,” Helfist pleaded.

“Thirteen great months,” Bjorn Stormwolf repeated. He wasn’t yelling, but his voice filled the mead hall like he was. “Thirteen great months of sitting on our asses, watching the hearth while all the others are out there, on their own hunts! We’re Sky Warriors, Angels of Death, bringers of ruin and the murder-make. Stuck. Here. Minding the damned hearth!”

The Stormwolf pounded the table, rattling cups and spilling drinks. The rowdy Claws bayed, and were half-heartedly silenced by the Hunters. They were all chaffing from Aevar.

“Never done this much sittin’ on my ass,” Bjorn grumbled. “Never in my life.”

Helfist sighed. As a Rune Priest, he was supposed to be the sage council that talked sense to his jarl. He knew what he had to say, and he knew what was going to happen; he had said it many times before. But it had to be said anyways. So he went through the motions.

“But the Fell-Handed says…”

“The Fell-Handed says we need to treat him like some teething infant, suckling a teat!” Now the Stormwolf was yelling. “And the Old Wolf orders us to mind the damned hearth, and everyone treats us like we got the stink of the warp on us. Allied with the Blasphemer at the Fell-Hand’s orders! Not ever Ulrik can keep the scorn out of his voice.”

The Claws roared, nearly drowning out the sound of the mead hall doors opening. The mood instantly shifted as Ironclaws himself walked in.

“Don’t mind me,” he said, waving the attention away. “Just need a word with my jarl.”

“What the Hel do you want, Blasphemer?” the Stormwolf snapped. “Think you can get back in our good graces just by eating with us?”

“With the kill-urge this thick?” Aevar said, sniffing the air. “Damn. It’s nice and heavy now, isn’t it?”

“Go back to you kaerl whore, Blasphemer,” a Grey Hunter yelled. The Blood Claws jumped in, hurling insults at Ironclaws.

“Go back? So you don’t want to go on a hunt?” He asked.

“What?” Helfist said. “What was that?”

“I was wondering if you wanted to go on a hunt,” Aevar said. He walked to the end of the Long Fang’s table and picked at the roasted carcass. “We just got word; a system is in trouble, and we’re the closest ones there.”

“We’re on hearth duty, thanks to you,” the Stormwolf sneered. “Egil Iron Wolf and the Young King are here, they’ll take it for themselves.”

“The Iron Wolf just got back from a hunt against the Dark Eldar, and his company is hurting. Besides, the Fell-Handed is getting very, very anxious. He’s ordering us to take him into the fray, damn any hearth order from Grimnar himself.”

“So what does that mean?” the Stormwolf demanded.

“It means you get to tell the Young King to take over hearth duty,” Helfist grinned.

Bjorn shot a glare at Vermund. Then the massive Space Marine grinned. Then he began to laugh.

“Tell the Young King to mind the hearth?” He roared. “Oh, seven fucking Hels, that’s a good one!”

“Thing is, the Fell-Handed has a demand,” Aevar said.

“And what’s that?”

“I need a few of your Guards,” Ironclaws said, a grin barely suppressed.

The hall fell quiet.

“’A few’ of them,” the Stormwolf repeated.

“Aye, a few.”

“For what?”

“To test what ‘my mortal whore’ and I have been building,” Aevar said. “The Fell-Handed wants to see the fruits of our labors, and what better way that killing xenos?”

That got a grunt of approval from the Long Fangs. Seeing the true greybeards of the Company give their approval quieted the Grey Hunters and Blood Claws. Even the Jarl Guard bowed to the wise heroes.

Helfist realized he was holding his breath; between old man Ironclaws’ sudden appearance and his ‘request’ for some of the Stormwolf’s own Guards, the kill-urge was still thick. If Ironclaws was right about one thing, it’s that everyone wanted his thread cut and his body left for the scavengers.

“Well, who wants to kill a few xenos with the Blasphemer?” the Stormwolf rumbled. “Come on now, don’t jump at it all at once.”

“Don’t do it for me, do it for the Fell-Handed,” Aevar said.

One pack leader, Thorgil, grudgingly stood.

“Stop yer barking, I heard it already,” he rumbled.

“Thank you, brother,” Aevar said, smiling gently.

Thorgil spat at that.

“Stop your messing around and finish eating,” the Stormwolf said. “I want to get as far away from this damned hearth as fast as possible! Come on, there’s a war out there and we’re missing it!!”

Chapter Text

The cities of Nebekenezer were a beauty to behold. Each hive city was filled with hundreds of golden, towering buildings. Each was a superstructure of wondrous designs, forged by the tireless priests of the machine-god that resided on the neighboring forge world or Ironghast.

Every city held hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of human lives. The lush garden parks and marble temples were legendary, with pilgrims constantly streaming from all over the sub-sector, even many from the greater sector. Statues of the Emperor and his nameless, faceless, endless champions adorned every vertical space, with new heroes being added to every building every day.

The work to keep the tallies and records of these selfless warriors who made the ultimate sacrifice was as endless as the wars that plagued the Imperium. But they were tirelessly met, with workers carving them into any space they could find.

The city, and the planet, had a scent once; but that was a time before the Imperium took root. Now, with the omnipresent temples and the never-ending pilgrims, the planet smelt like a perpetually lit incense candle. It smelled like the righteous, the pure, the devoted.

It was worlds like Nebekenezer that made the Imperium spin.

That was, of course, before the Ork Waaargh blew into the system.

The towering hive buildings were being reduced to rubble, their golden surfaces tarnished with ash and debris. The beautiful gardens were trampled into mush, and the marble temples bore scars that would make any true servant of the Emperor weep.

The Imperial Guard had dug themselves in and weathered the oncoming assault. Basilisks pounded endlessly, hurling tons of heavy artillery every hour into the advancing green tide, while Leman Russ battle tanks worked to keep the assaulting looted truks at bay. The war machines chugged on endlessly as the Orks sought to violate the sacred world. Guardsmen and women died in near-untold tallies, each sacrificing themselves to save the others. Once the war was over, the Governor of Nebekenezer and the tech priests of  Ironghast would have to build more buildings to add their faces to.

Inquisitor Parsaf stood alone in the crowded, crown temple of Nebekenezer. Once filled with pilgrims groveling in prayer, it was now home to the Guard headquarters. Vox casters and relays shrieked as orders were given and taken. Rubble was pushed aside, set up to provide cover at the entrances and to clear the way for troops. Reports on advances, stalls, and enemy charges were continuously updating a massive map of the area. In green, the marauding Orks; in gold, the forces of the Imperium.

“Filthy xenos,” Parsaf spat. Out on the battlefield, kilometers away, thick, oily clouds billowed up. That either meant that their attacking tank column was destroyed, or the Orks were pushed back.

“Inquisitor, sir, reports are coming in,” a guardsman said, running up to him. “The Orks…they smashed the column. Our men are retreating against them.”

Parsaf hissed. He looked at the map. A guardswoman was updating it, showing the failed attack.

“The damn Orks will push us back to the temple steps,” Parsef said.

“S-sir, what do we do?”

“Let’s hope my asset can hold them long enough for us to bring more men to the area,” Parsef said.

“The Orks will be stalled,” a voice said.

The guardsman jumped as an approaching guardsman walked up. Suddenly, his uniform rippled, changing color and shape. It changed from a the loose olive green patterned flak jacket into a jet-black catsuit.

The man’s face seemed to ripple and change as well, melting and growing blacker and blacker until it turned into a mask, one with the catsuit. Bones seemed to snap and melt, re-shaping themselves into that of a tall, thin woman with a long, flowing red ponytail. The woman carried a sword attached at her wrist, and a strange, green glowing pistol at her belt. Her bones clicked and popped as they assumed their normal shape, and she walked forward with confidence.

“Who in the Emperor’s name is that?” The man stammered.

“Get a hold of yourself, guardsman, she’s one of ours,” Parsef said. He looked up at the approaching assassin. “About time, Geist. Report.”

“Sir,” the assassin saluted. “The leading Nobs are dead. The ranks are breaking down to infighting; they should be held back for an hour.”

“Very good.” Parsef looked her over. Her suit was punctured in a few places. Blood welled out of the wounds. “Are you hurt?”

“This one took a few injuries. She is fine.”

“Get patched up, we’ll need you more as they approach.”

“This one lives to serve.” The woman bowed, then walked away. Her body rippled, bones popped and split, and she melted back into the crowd of soldiers, assuming the shape of an unsuspecting guardsman. Soon she blended into the crowd of soldiers, just another face in the crowd.

“For the love of the Emperor, get a hold of yourself,” Parsef said to the cowering guard.

“Y-yes, sir,” he stammered. “What do we do now?”

“Now?”

Parsef looked at the map. They were being pressed in from all sides. He could pull his squad of Grey Knights from Ironghast ; they were being held in reserve, guarding Archmagos Slithin, who owned the world. But bringing the Knights into the fray was a risk; they were made to combat daemons and Chaos, not Orks. And even if they were effective, most of the world would have to be purged to keep the Knights of Titan a secret.

Once again, that left him with a bad option, and a worse option. Parsef wondered if he was cursed to always choice between what is bad and what is worse. He couldn’t help but chuckle; making that choice was what made him an Inquisitor. He grit his teeth and put on a strong face.

“Now we fight.”

“Sir?”

“The Emperor protects; He would never allow us to die here, in His temple,” Parsef said. A few guardsmen looked up. “We cannot fall here! If we fall, we lose the planet! Do you want the Orks to desecrate this temple? You, guardsman, do you want that?”

“No, sir,” the man said.

“What about you?” Parsef pointed to a guardswoman. “Do you want the Orks to butcher your family in front of the temple?”

“No, sir!” She yelled back.

“What about you, or you? Do you want this city to fall? What about the planet? This sector? No, we stop them here, and we will die trying!”

The soldiers cheered and shouted, their fighting spirit rising. That was good; Parsef knew a lost cause when he saw one. It was bad that a Shrine World were to fall, but worse if the neighboring Forge World were to fall as well.

It was time to choose, and despite the pain of having to abandon this world, he chose the bad over the worse.

“Don’t let them take this place easily,” he said. Parsef turned his back from the battle and strode to the center of the temple, speaking in the most commanding voice he could muster. “Vox casters, pull up teams of storm troopers and Ogryns, I want this place filled with warm bodies! Summon as much armor as you can! Get air support on standby, ready heavy artillery! The Orks will be here soon!”

The guards sprang to their duty, fervor in their step. The air was thick with activity as the guards sprung to their duty. It was the perfect time for Parsef to find Geist and sneak away.

Bad or worse, he thought. Bad or worse. That’s all this fucking job is. I’m sick and Throne-damned  tired of it.

He pulled out his small, pocket-sized vox caster.

“Geist, where are you?”

This one is in the infirmary, receiving aid, she replied.

Parsef walked over to the back of the temple, where a group of Sister hospitallers were tending to the wounded. No one paid him any mind, except for one guardsman who sat attentively at a bed. Fresh gauze pads were applied to his side.

“That you, Geist?” He asked. It was always hard to tell with Callidus assassins.

“It is, sir,” the guardsman replied. Even her voice had changed.

“Good, we need to secure an escape route,” he said in a hushed tone.

“Is this about the safety of the sector?”

“Yes, it is. As loathe as I am to admit it, Ironghast holds more value to the Imperium than Nebekenezer. It must be held from the Orks; we’re needed there.”

“The Orks won’t attack the forge world until they have secured this one, fought and killed everything.”

“Exactly. That gives us at least a week to further prepare. Find a ride, we need to leave.”

“This one lives to serve.”

“Sir! Lord Inquisitor, sir!”

Parsef straightened up. A guardswoman was running towards him.

“We’ve gotten vox communication with Imperial forces,” she said, her face aglow. “It’s the Emperor’s Angels, sir! They’ve heard our plea for help! They’re here!”

The soldier wasn’t quiet with the news. The injured soldiers perked up, spreading the good news the only way guardsmen knew how; scuttlebutt.

“Are they in orbit?” He asked.

“They just dropped out of the warp, sir. They said they’ll be making planet fall soon!”

“Good work soldier,” he said. The soldier grinned, then ran back to her post. Parsef leaned down to Geist. “Get behind enemy lines. We might need their ranks disrupted again.”

“You order, and this one obeys,” Geist said. The disguised assassin stood up and walked out of the temple. By the Emperor, did he love soldiers from Krieg. Obedient to a fault and never, ever questioning their orders. He was already questioning his choices; the last thing he needed was someone else questioning it with him.

Parsef walked back out to the ruined windows of the temple, and looked to the sky. The clouds roiled and burst as drop pods and assault ships plummeted through the atmosphere. He smiled. Maybe this wasn’t such a lost cause at all, thank the Emperor.

 


 

Thorgil and his fellow Jarl Guards stood by impassively as the Blasphemer and his kaerl whore helped the servitors seal them inside the abominations masquerading as Terminator armor.

“This is a disgrace,” Thorgil said.

“Then why’d ya volunteer?” The kaerl whore challenged as she helped the servitor weld the breastplate shut.

“One doesn’t question the will of the Fell-Handed, whore,” he spat.

“Wha,’ just ‘whore?’” She said. “I’ve heard tha’ one since I was walking upright on th’ ice. Can’t ya get more creative, like ‘blasphemous whore,’ or ‘warp-worshippin’ whore?’ Or is tha’ too big for ya ta handle?”

That got a laugh from his pack.

“You should address us with more respect, mortal,” Thorgil said through clenched teeth.

“Let it go, Thorgil, she got you good,” his pack laughed. She did, but he’d never admit it.

“Finished,” Ironclaws said.

“If these things devour our souls, we’ll haunt you forever,” he spat.

“If you want to kill or haunt me, you’d have to get in line,” Ironclaws said. He pulled up a rack of weapons for them to take. On the rack were three brand new swords, an assault cannon and heavy flamer. “Be careful with these swords, they’re sharper than they look.”

“Why only three?”

“That’s all we could make before being called out on this hunt, brother,” Ironclaws said.

“You’re no brother of mine.”

“You’ll change your tune once you use them,” Ironclaws said. “Those of you who don’t get swords and bolters, take the cannon or flamer, and we’ll get you set up with power fists.”

“Better hurry, I’m growing awfully jumpy in this abomination.”

Ironclaws waved him off with a servo-arm. His servo-arms spun around, linking two power fists to the other members of his pack. The rest of them, including Thorgil, grabbed swords.

“There, all done,” Ironclaws said. “Get in the drop pod, we’re launching soon.”

The five guards walked down the ramp, towards the waiting pod. They climbed the ramps and slotted themselves into the braces. The pod clamped down on their armor, securing them in place.

“See you on the surface,” Ironclaws said as the ramps swung up, closing.

“Heretic. Why is he still sucking air?”

“Because the Fell-Hand wants him alive, so stop your ramblings,” Thorgil said.

“You’re taking his side now?”

“If the Fell-Hand wants him alive, he must have a reason. When have you seen Bjorn give the heretic mercy?”

The talk halted, each Guard unwilling to admit that if Ironclaws was a heretic, then saving him made Bjorn a heretic as well. It was much easier to admit that Ironclaws wasn’t a heretic than accept the other conclusion.

Launching in ten seconds, a vox-channel said.

“Let the hunt begin!”

Their armor, bolted to the drop pod’s frame, held them securely as they were launched towards the planet.

 

I speak of savages,

Big as the mountains!

Like flame,

Or frosty rime!

Thorgil and his pack pounded the sides of the pod, brutally measuring out the tempo of the battle-hymn.

 

Save the gods,

Us against the forces!

Never let him unleash

This disaster once again!

 

They hit the atmosphere, and the pod shook. The temperature skyrocketed, but their armor was void-proof; the only indication of the rising temperature were the runes that scrolled across their helms.

 

I saw rocks burst,

I saw heather burning

With unending force!

 

The pod’s retro-thrusters kicked in, and they landed with a thunderous crash. The drop pod’s ramps fell and the bolts that held them in place were released. Following Thorgil, they charged out onto the battlefield.

They had landed in the midst of a column of Orks. Puny boyz and towering nobs screamed at them. As one, the pack raised their guns. The wrist-mounted storm bolters hurled bolt after bolt into the lightly armored green tide.

“Burn, Ork,” one of Thorgil’s brothers said, releasing a gout of fire from his heavy flamer.

The autocannon rotated, spinning up and unleashing a torrent of fire. The orks were cut apart, only to be replaced with even more.

“’Umies!” A massive, towering nob cried. He stood as tall, if not taller, then the outnumbered and outgunned Jarl Guards. “Move, you sods! Crush ‘em! Waaaaargh!!!”

With a massive collective roar, the green tide surged towards the group of five, brandishing knives, brutal swords, and in the nob’s case, a massive power klaw.

“Think you can beat us?” Thorgil said with a snarl. The nob charged him, and he held the Blasphemer’s sword tight. “I swear on Russ’ beard, Blasphemer, if this fails me, I’ll haunt you to the depths of Hel.”

He thumbed the activation trigger on the sword. Electricity raced along the embedded circuitry, making the sword glow brilliant blue, not unlike the power swords that he’d used. The nob raced forward, and Thorgil swung high at his outstretched arms; he was hoping to disarm the ork, rob him of his power klaw.

Instead, the sword sparked and popped. It easily bit through the nob’s arm, slicing it off like it wasn’t there. The sword continued its follow through, and sliced the nob’s head in two, starting at the temple and ending at the jaw, and then through the alien’s second arm. Thorgil had to put more effort into cutting butter.

The nob fell with a hardy thud. It never saw the murderous strike coming. The trailing ork boyz hesitated, seeing their leading nob fall, instantly killed. Thorgil himself stared dumbly at the sword.

“What in the seven Hels is this thing?”

That would have to wait; there were orks to kill.

“Green-skinned cravens!” He laughed, charging forward. His armor carried him forward faster than he would expect; Terminator armor was supposed to be slow and sluggish, but he launched forward like he was wearing simple power armor. The orks returned his roar, but with much less intensity.

Orks were strong and tough, but slow. Thorgil lashed out, cutting down four orks before they could even bring their weapons up. He looked to his pack, and saw them easily butchering the orks before they could strike.

The orks hit back, but the Guard sprung back, parrying blades and letting others slide off the thick plates of armor. The air split as his two pack mates crushed the boys with their power fists, shattering bones with ease.

“Run!” A cowardly ork screamed. “Let’s git outta here!”

“Oh, no you don’t!”

The orks tried to run, only to die with a bolt in their back, or a blade at their throats. Twenty orks had charged, but none had survived.

“I haven’t moved this fast since I was a Grey Hunter,” one Guard laughed, cutting down an ork with ease. His laughter died in his throat as a team of orks formed ranks a dozen meters from them. They all carried heavy rocket launchers, and were aiming dead at them.

“I’ll save a spot for you in Valhalla, brothers,” Thorgil bellowed as the orks fired. A barrage of rockets streaked towards them as they prepared themselves to meet the Allfather. Rocket after rocket exploded, shaking the ground and throwing up dirt and shrapnel, each explosion rattling their very bones.

Thorgil blinked. His suit’s refractor shield shone a dull blue, standing out in stark contrast to the rubble-strewn ground. Not a single rocket penetrated the shields. The orks stared, mouths agape. Thorgil and his pack mates looked to each other, equally shocked to have survived.

His brother armed with the autocannon came to his senses first. The cannon spun, cutting down two orks. The rest followed suit, opening fire as they charged forward.

Panicking, the orks tried to reload, stuffing ill-fitting rockets into the barely bolted together launchers, but were gunned down before they could finish. Those that did found themselves facing a charge from the five Guards.

“Alright, maybe that Blasphemer can make some good armor.”

 


 

“Enjoy your first time off-planet?” Helfist said. The Blood Claws roared, making the hold of the Land Raider feel five times smaller than it was. “Good, ‘cus you ain’t getting off without a little bit of blood on you.”

The tank shook as the Thunderhawk decoupled, letting the Land Raider fall a meter to the ground. Helfist rocked with the movements, staying on his feet.

“Moving out, brothers,” the driver said. “Hope you like orks, ‘cus there’s a lot of them out there.”

“Hear that? Plenty of xenos to kill,” Helfist grinned. The Claws roared again. All but Wight. Helfist kept his eye on the silent Claw. Ever since he knocked him upside the head, he wasn’t mouthy anymore; he was damn near mute. Maybe he did hit him a little too hard.

Helfist shrugged his shoulders and slid his helm on, blink-clicking the activation runes away. At least he didn’t have to deal with another cocky Claw mouthing off all the damned time.

“Incoming fire. Might want to hold onto something,” the driver said.

Helfist wasn’t about to fall flat on his face in front of the Claws, so he grabbed a handhold. A few young ones didn’t, thinking they were above a simple shake, and were knocked off their feet as the Land Raider was hit with fire. Their brothers laughed, calling them names as they helped them to their feet.

“Twenty seconds until your reckoning,” the driver laughed. Above them, the autocannon spewed out fire, and the side mounted lascannons roared.

“Remember what we’ve been telling you,” Helfist said, making his way to the front ramp. “Stay together, watch you brothers and they’ll watch you. And don’t forget, orks are tough. Hit them twice to get them to stay down once.”

“Here’s your stop. Unleash Hel upon the orks!”

The ramp dropped and Helfist charged out, bolt pistol in hand. His runic axe was secured across his back, mag-locked for when he needed it. If the orks were worthy enough foes, then they’d get to taste it.

The Blood Claws surged past him, screaming and howling at the top of their lungs, bolt pistols chattering as they shot, barely aiming, at the group of orks ahead of them.

There had to be easily twenty orks, roaring back at the blood-thirsty Claws. They hit the orks with bone-crunching intensity, chainswords grinding against ork flesh and armor. Helfist picked his targets, putting bolts into heads with ease. The mass-reactive rounds exploded moments after burying themselves in the orks, showering him, Blood Claws, and other orks in brain matter.

From the front of the pack came a massive roar. A large nob strode forward, holding a massive two-handed weapon, a cross between an axe and a hammer.

“You lot ain’t worth anything!” It bellowed. Then it saw Helfist. “You! I’ll crush your skull and wear it as a trophy! Git over here!”

Vermund sized the charging nob up in an instant. The ork was becoming big enough to challenge the reigning warboss in the coming months. It looked like it could handle everything he had. He grinned, looking forward to a good old fashioned, knock-down, drag out fight.

He whispered a quick litany, summoning the powers of Fenris’ past heroes. Their power surged within him, coursing through his veins. Vermund could feel it taking hold of his bones, turning them into hunks of adamantium. His muscles burst with the power and strength of iron, and his skin felt neigh unbreakable. Truly, Fenris had the greatest heroes in all of humanity.

The nob screamed, raising his bludgeon high above his head, but Helfist was faster. He darted in close, minding his form. With his blessing nearly doubling his already super-human strength, he lashed out with everything he had, landing a punch in the dead middle of the nob’s jaw.

Its skull was instantly and utterly caved in.  Teeth went flying, and the nob collapsed mid-roar, hitting the ground hard. Helfist looked at his fist; another thick layer of blood coated it, adding to the collection of blood that stained the armor.

“Guess you couldn’t take it, huh? Anyone need their wet nurse?”

The Blood Claws were screaming in a mad frenzy. Helfist looked up; he could taste the raw anger and kill-urge, the bloodlust and the senseless rage. Ahead, towards the front of the pack, was Wight. He was mindlessly hacking at the few remaining orks. Just behind him were the bodies of two dead Claws. One had taken the smile of a rough ork axe to his head; the damned fool didn’t care enough to wear his helmet. The other was stabbed several times over, most in the back; he had been a damn fool to think the orks were easy to kill, and moved on before they were truly dead.

“Wight,” Helfist snarled, pushing his way to the front. Wight didn’t scream or yell like the others. He just had a deep hiss coming from his mouth. “Wight!”

Helfist grabbed the young Claw and pulled him back.

“I think you killed those orks well enough.”

Even though Wight was wearing his helmet, Helfist could tell that the Claw was glaring at him. Then Wight looked to the dead orks, and back to his fallen brothers.

“Now do you know why we train you raw and bloody?” Helfist said, looking each Blood Claw in the eye. “Now do you know why all this is necessary? The Trail of Morkai made you stronger then steel, tougher than the frozen ocean, faster than a thunderwolf, and it still doesn’t mean shit out here!”

The Blood Claws fell silent, quietly mourning the dead.

“You were hot shit out on the ice,” Helfist continued, “but that hot shit isn’t worth anything now. You’re in the big, bad galaxy, and you’ll be chewed up and spat out before you even knew you’re dead. That’s what all the training is for. That’s why we push you harder than anything you’ve experienced. That’s why we tell you to knock all the bone-headed shit off. To keep you from ending up like these brainless bastards!”

He pointed to the fallen Claws. Vermund knew he was rubbing it in deep, but the Claws had to learn. Pain was the greatest teacher, but all the pain in the galaxy couldn’t help an idiot. It had to be directed, the fool told what he did wrong, and then maybe next time he’ll know better.

“Better get used to this,” he said. “This is the first of an endless number of battles. Think you’re better then that threadless lot? You’d better prove it. Now, move out, there’s still orks to kill.”

He made a quick note of where the bodies were. A priest would have to come through and take the Chapter’s dues, and if old man Ironclaws wasn’t busy, he’d cut the corpses from the armor.

The Blood Claws were a step behind him, venting their frustration and anger. All but Wight, who stayed as quiet as the dead. Maybe he hit the Blood Claw too hard.

 


 

+At last,+ the Fell-Handed said, trotting along on broken ground, +back to war.+

“Miss the smell of it,” Aevar said, breaking deep. Despite the efforts of his helmet’s filters, it couldn’t scrub the scent of death and destruction from the air. Damn, did he miss this. His hand traced a pattern on Iounn, his bolt pistol, and Katla rattled from her lock on his back.

+Aye, that we all do,+ Bjorn said. His helfrost cannon spun up, freezing the air around it before launching a cryo-blast in the air. It drifted and fell among a group of orks dozens of meters away. +Have to say, this trip through the warp was damned quick.+

It exploded, flash-freezing all it touched. The orks screamed, then stopped as they were suddenly brought down to absolute-zero.

“According to my Jarl, I’m apparently a lucky warp charm,” Aevar said. “The second I left to work on Terra, they started taking months to travel, as opposed to weeks or days.”

+All the fekking better.+

“Aye, all the fekking better,” Aevar said. “You safe back there?”

“Don’t worry ‘bout me,” Maeva said a few paces away. “Just a crazy mortal whore followin’ ya along. Nothin’ could possibly happen ta me, yea?”

“Don’t tempt fate.”

“I’m joking, right? Makin’ a funny ‘ha-ha’ thin’ outta it.”

“I mean don’t tempt me to make it come true. I’d appreciate the silence that much more.”

Maeva looked at him, then saw his shoulders shake as he laughed; she was getting better at realizing when she was being toyed with. She groaned.

“You see the Jarl Guard out there?” Aevar asked Bjorn. “Pod says they made planet fall a minute ago.”

+I see them,+ the Fell-Handed said. +They’re cutting a bloody swath through the orks.+

“Hm. Guess that shit works, then.”

+You doubted yourself?+

“No, just glad it all came together,” he said. “I’d hate to be haunted by a team of pissed-off Guards.”

In his helmet, a vox channel opened. His Jarl, the Stormwolf, wanted to talk.

Ironclaws, you still sucking air?

“Why wouldn’t I be?” He laughed. “Think a few orks would be able to put me down?”

You never know with the damned things. They get an idea in their tiny little heads, it’s almost impossible to stop them.

“Don’t you worry about me, I can handle a few orks.”

How about a few hundred? There’s plenty more to go around.

“My Jarl is too kind.”

Ha! No Fenrisian should be denied a good battle! He roared. See that temple in the distance? I’m there with my team. Apparently it’s the big temple on the planet, and the guard are holed up in here. They could use your help setting up barricades and the like.

“We’re on our way.”

And have the Fell-Handed come, there’s an Inquisitor here that I can’t deal with, he spat. Need to kill some orks just to get the taste out of my mouth.

“Just what we needed.”

So guess who’s problem this Inquisitor is now?

“My Jarl is punishing me.”

That’s the idea, Ironclaws. You kept us all grounded in the Aett for over a year, this is how you repay us.

“I recognize my failings and will be sure to correct them,” he sighed.

Good! Aevar could hear a team of bikes roaring to life in the background, and the deep roar of a Land Raider. Now we’re gonna find more orks to kill!

He cut the vox channel off and looked up to Bjorn.

“My Jarl demands that we reinforce the temple over there,” he said. “There’s a team of guard stationed there, along with an Inquisitor.”

+Very well.+

“Bjorn, please, you must keep your peace about the Truth, and the things that I have made,” Aevar said. “The Inquisition is one step away from declaring us traitors as is. We can’t risk getting on their bad side.”

+Aye. I remember those Months of Shame all too well,+ Bjorn said. He turned, beginning the march towards the temple. +As long as that Inquisitor keeps to himself and doesn’t burn the veteran guardsmen for spreading ‘heresy,’ he’ll live.+

“Move out!” Aevar yelled to the squadrons of war machines. “The Stormwolf wants us to reinforce the temple!”

The Whirlwind and Vindicares idle chugging turned to a low-pitched growl as engines were engaged and the heavily armored weapons began to move. The ground was turned up as the treads bit into the dirt and broken roadways. A few Predators took their spot at the head of the column, ready to face and destroy any ork that came between them.

“What’s th’ plan?” Maeva asked, jogging alongside Aevar and Bjorn. “We gonna get those guards up ‘n runnin’ again?”

“Aye, that’s the idea of it.”

“An’ wha’ of this Inquisitor? He do anythin’ ta ya?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, for one thin’, you spittin’ his name out like he fekked yer Ma’s corpse.”

“We don’t like the Inquisition much.”

“How so?”

+The Months of Shame,+ Bjorn said. +It nearly brought us to blows with the entire Imperium.+

“Beggin’ yer pardon, but wha’ are these ‘Months of Shame?’”

+Are you familiar with our history?+

“Me Ma ‘n Pa taught me everythin’ they knew ‘bout ya. Had some gaps in it though, yea?”

+Do you know of the War of Armageddon?+

“Now tha’ I do. Fenrisians always remember a fight. You kicked tha’ Angron an’ his traitors in th’ jewels, right back inta th’ warp.”

“Do you know what happened afterwards?”

“Not much, but I guess it’s where this Inquisition comes in?”

“Aye, that it does,” Aevar said. “With Armageddon burning from the chaos incursion, the Inquisition was afraid that small bands of heretics had infiltrated the survivor’s camps, and were lying low, getting ready to spread their heresy when the time was right.”

“Seems like right good thinkin.’”

“Oh, that it was. It was such good thinking that they rounded all the survivors, anyone who knew anything about chaos. They threw ‘em into camps, sterilized them, and began working them to death,” Aevar spat. “Within the week, new citizens were brought in to repopulate the world.”

“They did wha’ now?”

+The spineless cowards. We were furious,+ Bjorn said. +Any Fenrisian would be.+

“Gutless assholes…”

“So Grimnar, the Great Wolf, fought them,” Aevar said. “Attacked the Inquisition ships and rescued as many survivors as he could.”

“Were ya with him?”

“Not personally, but I was with the attacking party,” he said. “The Inquisition wanted to speak after that, come to terms. But they were worse than cowards; they attacked us under the banner of truce and treaty. It destroyed one of our ships and crippled others. By then, it was a fight.”

“Bet ya kicked their asses from here ta Terra.”

“If only,” Aevar chuckled. “We were to secure the survivors first, so after teleporting aboard the Inquisitor’s ships, killing a few Grey Knights, we left, went to helping the survivors escape.”

+And the Inquisition marched on Fenris. They thought they could force us to kneel, take a crusade of penance.+

“Hold on now, every Sky Warrior says tha’ no one breached th’ Aett in millennia.”

“They didn’t,” Aevar grinned. “If they wanted war, we gave ‘em war. Beat a damn quick path back and stalled their attack, boarded their ships and killed as many as we could.”

+But it had to end,+ Bjorn said. +The Inquisition couldn’t keep attacking a First Founding chapter with baseless accusations, and we couldn’t hold their forces off.+

“So wha’ happened?”

“We stopped kicking their asses, that’s what,” Aevar said. “The Inquisition backed off and we stayed away from them. They’re still butt hurt about the whole ordeal, which is why this might make working with an Inquisitor all the more difficult.”

“If he thinks he can pull th’ same shit, he’s got ‘nother thin’ comin’,” Maeva growled.

+You’ll hold your tongue in front of the Inquisitor,+ Bjorn barked. +We don’t need to open old wounds while they’re still orks threatening us all.+

“Sure, I mean, yes, mighty Bjorn,” she stammered.

+Enough with this ‘mighty’ business,+ Bjorn said. +I’m sick of all that shit.+

The temple loomed overheard, marble pillars struggling to support the weight of it all. Guardsmen and women were there to greet them; they were all cheering and yelling their thanks, support and praise.

“The Emperor’s Angels are here to safe us!”

“Kill the damned orks!”

Aevar raised his hand for the tanks to stop, but the crowd took it for a sign of gratitude and cheered even louder.

“Careful there, they might think yer th’ jarl,” Maeva laughed.

Aevar rolled his eyes and turned to the tanks.

Set up a parameter, he ordered on the vox channel. Predators, spread out and brace for a counter-attack. Whirlwinds, form a line by the steps. Vindicators, get ready to support the Predators as they become engaged.

Sure thing, Blasphemer, one driver spat.

Despite the bickering, the tanks moved to their positions. Bjorn watched impassively.

“Space Wolves. Just great,” said a voice in High Gothic.

Aevar turned to the temple. Walking towards them was the Inquisitor that the Stormwolf had mentioned. He wore the typical black leather trench coat of his station, with the Inquisition medallion swinging from a long neck chain. His worn knee-high boots had seen better days, but it was obvious that the Inquisitor paid them good care; they were worn, but not worn out.

The Inquisitor had brownish skin, but Aevar couldn’t tell if it was from his place of birth, or from the omnipresent cloud of dirt that hung around the battlefield. An inferno pistol sat in a holster at his hip, as did a power sword.

“Well met, Inquisitor,” he said, doing his best to keep his voice level, and speaking in High Gothic.

+We’re here to assist you,+ Bjorn said.

“I can see that,” the Inquisitor said. “I’m Inquisitor Parsef.”

“I am Aevar Ironclaws of the Vlka Fenryka. This is my kaerl assistant, Maeva.”

“An honor, milord,” she said in fractured High Gothic.

+I am Bjorn. Tell us, what’s the state of your Guardsmen?+

“Come in, I’ll bring you into the fold,” Parsef said.

They approached the temple, and Parsef turned around.

“You’d have to wait outside,” he said to Bjorn.

+I beg your pardon?+

“You are an honored warrior of the Space Marines, but we will be planning tactics, attacks and retreats.”

“Inquisitor, this is Bjorn,” Aevar said, doing his best to keep a snarl out of his voice.

“Yes, as he said.”

+ Do not treat me as some simple marine,+ Bjorn said. +I’ve planned countless assaults and defenses. Let me help with this little scrape.+

“’Little?’ This is a full-blown ork Waargh.”

+It’s a little one, barely worth our full attention. I’ve seen what the green skins can do en mass, and this is hardly more than a splinter faction.+

Parsef gave Bjorn a hard look.

“If you don’t want our help, we’ll be on our way, then,” Aevar said, turning around.

He could hear the Inquisitor groan before calling back out to him.

“Wait. You just want to have your dreadnaught accompany us inside?”

+I’m here to help.+

“Very well,” Parsef said, gnashing his teeth. “The temple should be big enough to accommodate him.”

“Asshole,” Maeva whispered, reverting back to Juvik.

“Keep your tongue in your head or I’ll remove it,” Aevar said calmly.

“Oy, I need my tongue! Got plenty a things ta do with it, yea?”

“Then hold it yourself, or I’ll hold it for you.” Maeva scoffed, but held her peace. “They hate us as much as we hate them, and we don’t need to be fighting the Inquisition alongside the green skins, no matter how small this Waargh is.”

They followed the Inquisitor into the temple, guardswoman and men staring open-mouthed as they made way for them and Bjorn; many fell to their knees. Bjorn’s heavy dreadnaught footfalls echoed in the massive temple, threatening to crack the marble floor.

“There was another Space Wolf here,” Parsef said as they walked. “A big one, surrounded by bikes. Was he your thrall?”

“He was our lord, Aevar said. Maeva reacted to Parsef’s tone, but Aevar restrained her by placing a heavy hand on her shoulder.

“Your…lord?”

+We prefer to face our foes head on, not from behind the comforts of a barricade like some Chapters do.+

“Yes, I see,” Parsef said. He took them to a massive board that held a map of the area. There was green surrounding the entire map. While Aevar could barely pick out a few landmarks, he knew that the green were the orks, and that they were surrounding them.

“As you can see, we’re up to our eyes in orks.”

“That just means they can’t get away from us,” Aevar grinned.

“Quite,” Parsef said drily. “They’ve got a heavy force of armor. Anything we’ve sent out has been ripped to shreds or captured and send back against us.”

Bjorn took another step forward, examining the map.

+Was a warboss sighted?+

“No, not yet. Although there have been massive battle wagons that have been sighted further out.”

+Interesting. Warbosses are usually spotted by now.+

“Is this the newest data that we have?” Aevar asked.

“Of course, it’s only a few minutes old.”

“Do we have any scouts in the field? The Stormwolf doesn’t see much use for them in his maneuvers.”

“Don’t worry, I have an asset in the field.”

“Who’s this asset?”

“An assassin,” Parsef grinned.

+If it isn’t Grey Knights, it’s assassins.+

“And you know of the Knights of Titan how?” Parsef asked, his eyes narrowing.

“We never let a good grudge go,” Aevar said. “We all still remember Armageddon.”

“I see.”

“How safe is this assassin?”

“She’s safe and sound, don’t you worry about her. Tell me what your plan is; we can use her to amplify your counter-attack.”

“Aye, there’s an idea,” Aevar said. He looked to the map. “Is this an ork tank column? We could have your ‘asset’ take out a few nobs or ranking orks. While they slug it out over who’s going to lead them, we can charge in and break them.”

“That column is nowhere near us. We need to hold the line at the temple, not overextend ourselves.”

+If we attack the column and destroy it, it’ll draw the orks away from the temple,+ Bjorn said. +Orks are simple-minded; give them a fight, and they’ll flock to it like moths to a flame. Move that fight away from you, and they’ll follow it.+

“Interesting,” Parsef said. “And what would happen should the orks not be drawn away?”

“Then this’ll be a very short fight,” Aevar said. “Keep your guards ready to repel any orks, and get your ‘asset’ ready to work. We’ll send our teams out to match them.”

Parsef nodded curtly, and Aevar turned away, looking at the guards. They were all grinning, happy to be alive and to have Space Marines with them. But the state of their temple was in utter disarray.

“You could use some work around here,” he said loudly. “Maeva, you’re with me. We’re getting this place into fighting shape until the Stormwolf smashes that column apart.”

“Wha’, me? Don’t we have weapons an’ tanks ta tend ta, yea?”

“Bah, they could wait a little. We’ve had time to tinker with them on our way out here that they should run like a sled on smooth ice. No, we’ll be getting this place ready to stand an assault.”

“Can’t we go ‘n mess with th’ tanks more?”

“Tough shit, kaerl. Our work is here.”

+You work with the guards,+ Bjorn said in Juvki. +I’ll be planning the assault with Little Bjorn.+

“’Little?’ Ha! He’ll get a kick outta that name!” Aevar laughed.

 


 

“Oy! Where you gitz runnin’?”

 “Them ‘ummies are out there, killin’ us!”

“Stop that runnin’!”

The massive nob backhanded the smaller ork boy, sending him spinning. Eventually, the fleeing mob of boys came to a stop.

“You runnin’ from a scrap? What kinda orks are ye?” The nob snarled, showing off several broken teeth. “You want the Shivver to see you runnin’? He’ll kill you faster ‘n Mork could hit you!”

“B-but them ‘ummies are tough ‘n scary,” the ork mumbled. “Saw ‘em take a full blastin’ from da tank bustas, ‘n they were still standin’ strong. They cut ‘em down ‘fore they could blast ‘em again!”

“So you ran from dem?” The nob roared.

“Quiet, you,” said an ork from behind the nob. He appeared out of nowhere; it was as if he stepped out of the shadows. The ork was big, not bigger than the nob, but still large, and covered with tattered purple clothing. A long, jagged scar ran down the side of his head to his neck; he carried two massive daggers at his side, with tubes running from the hilts to a strange pack on his back. The nob jumped, spinning around and falling to the ground all in one leap.

“Sorry, Shivver,” he mumbled.

The orks stared at Shivver. The only sound was of his boots hitting the dirt, and a necklace of massive teeth jingling from his neck.

“Y-you the Shivvers?” The small boy asked.

“That be me,” the ork growled.

“Wha, you? Shivvers? Thought Shivvers was the biggest ‘n baddest ork around, that he was the one who beat Bigklaw fer the warboss spot.”

“Don’t need to be big when I’m the baddest,” Shivvers said. “Them big orks just like to puff der chests out, braggin’ and all.”

“You ain’t that big,” the boy laughed. “Bigklaw was bigger than you!”

“An’ look where that got him,” Shivvers snarled, pulling at the necklace that hung around his neck. The ork got a better view of it, and saw that the teeth on it were bigger that the teeth of a nob. They were the biggest teeth they’ve ever seen. “All that’s left ‘o Bigklaw are his big teef. An’ I’m the one with dem around me neck, so that makes me the baddest ork there is around here, you stupid gitz got that?”

“Yea, yea, whatever ya say,” the ork bumbled, jumping back.

“You stinkin’ boys think you need to be kunningly brutal to be da boss,” Shivvers spat. “Bigklaw was kunningly brutal, but it didn’t do him one lick of good! But me, I’m brutally kunning, an’ I’m the boss now, you got it?”

“I got it, Shivvers,” the boy wailed.

“Good! Now what’s this nonsence about runnin’ from ‘ummies? You ain’t no ork if you run.”

The surrounding orks mumbled in agreement. What kind of ork ran from a fight?

“B-b-b-b-b—“

“B-b-b-b-but what?” Shivvers demanded, mocking the smaller ork.

“But they’s tough. We tried to hit ‘em, but they just took it all. They’s tough, too tough.”

The orks grumbled, but shrugged their shoulders and agreed. What’s the point of hittin’ someone if they didn’t get hurt?

“You empty-headed gitz!” Shivvers smashed the ork, sending him flying. Then he rounded on the others. “You spend too much time followin’ Grok when you should be followin’ Mork! Grok hits you hard when you look at ‘im, right?”

The orks snorted and nodded. Every ork knew that. Every ork wanted to be Grok.

“Well, guess what, Mork hits you ‘ARDER when you DON’T see ‘im! An’ that’s what makes me the baddest ork in this band! I hit you harder when you don’t see me!” Shivvers grabbed the necklace of teeth again, rattling them like a totem. “That’s how I got Bigklaw’s teef. That’s how I got these nobs to say I’m the baddest. That’s how I put this Waaargh together, and that’s how I’m smashin’ these ‘ummies ‘fore they can get their damn tanks out. Look out there, tell me how many tanks ‘n trucks we looted. How many?”

“A whole lot,” some orks said.

“That’s right, a whole lot. And we’ll be gettin’ more tanks ‘n trucks, all ‘cus I’m brutally kunnin’ an’ not kunnin’ly brutal. You gitz get that?”

The orks roared.

“You wanna get those shiny bitz from dem ‘ummies?”

“Yea!”

“You wanna go out ‘n beat the snot outta dem?”

“Yea!”

“Then leave th’ kunnin’ to me ‘n get out there an’ smash heads! Get yer brutal on!”

The tide of orks roared, yelling for blood and a proper Waaargh! With the nob at the head of the mob, they charged back out into the unfolding battlefield. Only Shivvers remained, and a group of orks that had hung back from the group. Most wore purple colored clothing, and all carried knives and daggers.

“Well, what you lot waitin’ for?” Shivvers snapped. “They’re bringin’ the brutal, we got tha kunnin’ to do. Come on, let’s give those ‘ummies a surprise.”

Following their kommando, the purple-covered orks faded away into the debris, stalking closer and closer to the back lines.

Chapter Text

The ground was rough, split and uneven. Despite the rocks and uneven roads, the massive tires of the bikes rumbled over it all without losing their pace. The Land Raider followed, oblivious to any minor bumps.

Stormwolf, you there? Aevar asked on the vox.

“Aye, we’re here,” Bjorn said. He stuck his head out of a hatch, gazing out on the destruction and debris. “You and the Fell-Handed get an idea of what’s going on?”

We’ve got a good enough idea, Ironclaws said. Bjorn said that we should stage a raid on a tank column, pull the orks away from the temple to give the Guard room to breathe.

“So a straight punch to the face,” he said. “I like it!”

Also, the Fell-Handed is calling you ‘Little Bjorn’ now.

White hot rage lanced through the Stormwolf’s veins, but only for a second. Bjorn tilted his head back and roared in laughter.

“Tell him he’d better be damn glad he’s the Fell-Handed. Anyone else, and I’d have to break them!”

Done and done, my little jarl, Ironclaws laughed.

“Don’t you start now,” he snapped.

No guarantees, Ironclaws said. Good hunting.

Bjorn closed the hatch, turning to his pack of guards.

“Get ready, we’re bringing the war to the orks,” he ordered.

“As you wish,” one brother said. “Little Bjorn.”

The Guards couldn’t hide their laughter. Some stood straight, holding a deadly serious look in their face, but their lips tugged at the corners, threatening to spill over. Others outright slapped their knees as they laughed. Suddenly the white hot rage was back in his veins.

Ironclaws had spoken on an open vox channel. Everyone had heard it.

“Anyone caught calling me that’ll be left on this planet when we’re done,” he roared.

“We understand,” his guard said. “Little Bjorn.”

His teeth ground, threatening to snap under the intense pressure his jaw was exerting on them.

“Damn that Ironclaws!”

 


 

“Oy! Hear that?”

The mob of boys ground to a halt.

“Hear wha?”

“That sounds like a trukk,” the leading nob said. “Get out from those rubbles, you gitz. We gonna take some trukk for us.”

The orks laughed, bringing their ramshackle guns to bear. All but one ork.

“Oy! You there! Get yer gun ready!” The nob roared.

Skin rolled and boiled, bones knitted and popped. Suddenly the ork wasn’t an ork, but a lithe human woman wearing all black.

“What the…?”

She leapt forward, bringing a strange gun to bear. Electricity arced, hitting the boys en masse. Orks screamed as their brains were fried, burned to cinders in the blink of an eye.

“You little shit!” The nob roared, charging the woman.

The world tilted, spun, and finally came to a halt. The nob blinked, trying to speak but he couldn’t. The ground shook as his body hit the dirt. His eyes bulged as he saw his neck, cleanly severed, gushing blood. He couldn’t understand it; all he did was blink. Was this the power of Mork that Shivvers was always talkin’ about?

“Run! She killed a nob!”

The puny ork boys lost their nerve and fled. The assassin let them.

“Squad broken,” she said into a vox-caster. “This one is moving to the next target.”

She flicked her wrist-mounted blade, throwing the bits of foul ork blood free, then gave herself another injection of the polymorph drug. Her body shifted, popping into place, and her skin rolled. Soon she was just another random ork, running away.

She followed the trailing orks, sprinting to embed herself into their number. Her target was out there. Maybe she’ll find her death as well, and finally atonement for all her sins.

Most assassins found passing as a xenos, even being among xenos, as a filthy, disgusting business. But Geist, a Krieg woman, found that living was a disgusting affront to the Emperor Himself; the act of breathing was filthy to her. She had to atone for the sins of her forbearers, the sin of turning from the Emperor’s light, and only death could ease that burden. Assuming a xenos form was nothing to her.

The group of orks ran until they came upon the targeted tank column.

“What you runnin’ from?” Another nob bellowed. “Shivvers wants us to take ‘em trukks headin’ our way! Stop running!”

He laid into the retreating orks, knocking them aside with his enormous strength. Seeing the larger ork, order was slowly becoming restored. That had to change.

“Come on, you gitz. What you runnin’ from?”

“They are running from this one,” the assassin said, the polymorph drug changing her form in an instant. This time, the nob was able to see her attacks coming.

 


 

The heavy bolter was thrown from its tripod, nearly breaking the feed. Aevar sighed and mentally moved his servo arms, pulling at the bent metal.

“Right there?” Maeva asked, looking into the crack in the gun.

“Yup, that’s the firing pin.”

“Looks pretty bent, eh?” She reached in and pulled the destroyed component out. “Might as well use it fer holdin’ up hair.”

“You gonna keep talking?”

“Hey, ya give me a hard time ‘bout cuttin’ my thread an’ takin’ my tongue, I’ll give ya a hard time back. M’lord.”

“Why did I ever tell you to speak your mind?”

“’Cus ya like it,” Maeva grinned, then handed the bent pin over. Aevar took it with his servo-claw, pulled it straight, then gave it back. She replaced the frail little part, and Aevar pushed the metal back into place, spot-welding as he went. He fed the ammo belt back in, primed the gun and pulled the trigger. A short burst echoed in the temple.

“We’re getting’ pretty good at this, yea?” Maeva said.

“I’ve been good at this,” he said. “You’re picking up, though.”

“Tha’s wha’ I meant.” She deftly attached the tripod and gave it back to a guardsman. “Fixin’ guns is pretty easy. Better ‘n gettin’ this ‘forgotten tech’ stuff all workin’.”

“Careful with that,” Aevar told the man, switching back to High Gothic. “Can’t have that breaking on us when we need it most.”

“Of course, my lord,” he bowed.

“See that?” Aevar grinned, returning to Juvik. “Curt and honorable.”

“Ya really want me ta sound like tha’ all th’ damn time?”

“No, but a curtsy every so often would be nice.”

“So wha’ now?” Maeva groaned. “Still fixin’ up th’ defenses?”

“Can’t leave the poor guards with their asses hanging in the wind,” Aevar said, pulling his servo-arms close. “Saw a couple of lascannons laying around. Might as well get those set up and see if there are a few more heavy bolters that need some tender loving care.”

“Then we go back ta twiddlin’ our thumbs?”

“You mean planning assaults.”

“Yea, tha’s it.”

+The assault nears,+ Bjorn rumbled in flawless High Gothic. The guardsmen threw themselves at the floor as the Fell-Handed walked forward. Inquisitor Parsef was a step behind him.

“That was fast,” Aevar said.

“My asset works fast,” Parsef grinned.

+Let’s hope she’s as good as you say she is,+ Bjorn said. +And that Little Bjorn is capable of handling some orks.+

“Heh, ‘Little Bjorn,’” Maeva chuckled. “He, ya kept tha’ channel open ta his pack mates?”

“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. Can’t quite remember,” Aevar grinned.

“If everyone starts callin’ him ‘Little Bjorn,’ he’ll kill y’ for tha’, you know, yea?”

“A chance to kill the Blasphemer? He’d have to get in line.”

 


 

The bikes were the first to hit the flagging ork lines. Helfist could hear the roar of the engines, the howl for blood, and the savage ork cries even inside the Land Raider.

“Here we go,” he shouted. “Back to the front!”

Behind him, the rambunctious Blood Claws screamed, either for blood, or the chance to avenge their fallen brothers. The kill-urge on them was as thick as sweat, the smell was suffocating. No one knew eagerness quite like the young.

“Hit those orks,” the driver said, throwing the assault ramp down. The grenades embedded on the front of the Raider exploded, showering shrapnel towards the ork lines. It kept their heads down, allowing the pack of Claws to assault them without trouble.

Helfist swung a wide haymaker at a stunned ork. Even without him beseeching the heroes of Fenris, it took the xeno’s head off. His bolt pistol chattered, peppering the next ork with shots.  Only a few Claws were hurt by the savage counter-attack. They had gotten a good group of younglings this time around.

An ork stepped forward, swinging two massive swords at Vermund. He blocked one and dodged the other. Before he could retaliate, a massive figure slammed into the ork. Claws made from steel but sheathed in lightning tore the ork into several parts. Blood and viscera bloomed.

“Need a hand there, Vermund?” Bjorn Stormwolf said, flicking the blood off his wolf claws.

“Just saving a few for you,” Helfist said. Another small group of orks charged them, and they swung to face them together.

“Could save me a few more,” the Stormwolf said, battering the orks away. “I’ve been getting cramped staying in the Aett for that long.”

“No guarantees,” Helfist said. An ork fell to a well-placed bolt to the head. Ahead of them, the massive ork tank column had ground to a halt. But the Predator tanks and Land Raiders were making quick work of them. And all around them, more orks were running into the massive fray they were creating. Perfect for his Jarl and the Claws to stretch their legs.

Just as planned.

“How are the Claws doing?”

“Well enough. More piss and vinegar than anything else, but what Claw isn’t?”

“That Wight comes to mind,” the Stormwolf said, nodding over his shoulder. The pack of Claws were tearing into the orks with rabid delight. All but Wight, who still seemed mute.

“Looks like I hit him a little too hard. Sorry about that.”

“If that’s all it takes to make ‘em see the light, then hit more of them like that,” Bjorn laughed. “Maybe we could save a few of them from themselves.”

“Maybe later,” Helfist said, looking around. More and more orks were charging in, eager to fight. “Looks like we got a mob of nobs bearing down on us.”

“Good. Could use a challenge for once,” Bjorn grunted.

“Just be careful, will you?” Helfist said. “If you fall, I don’t think we could build a big enough fire to roast you.”

“You planning on putting me in the ground already—“

Cries went up from just behind them; the Blood Claws’ cries.

“Behind us!” Someone yelled. Helfist spun around. Four of the Claws were falling; a group of purple-covered orks had appeared from nowhere and sunk daggers into their armor, at the joints and tiny openings.

“Claws, form up,” he yelled, running to the falling youngsters. “Turn around, dammit!”

The orks were fast. As soon as one Claw was dead, they were moving onto another. The Claws back peddled, doing their best to beat the orks back.

“Where in the seven Hels did you come from?” Helfist roared, swinging at one ork. The purple-clad ork danced aside, like he was barely there, then lashed out with his two daggers. One scored a deep gouge along Helfist’s armor, the other he blocked with his pistol.

He swung again, but the ork faded away, like it wasn’t there. A brief look back, and he could see that the Claws were being overwhelmed. The orks hit them hard, and they had hit them fast. Since when did orks do any sneaking around?

Helfist closed his eyes, beseeching Fenris for strength. He would need more power than last time if he wanted to save the Claws. They were under his ward, his protection; he couldn’t leave them to die.

His inner ear tilted, and he had to focus all of his energy in making sure the bit of raw might of the heart of Fenris didn’t spiral out of control. Soon, he had enough. Shaping it with his hands, the ball of green magick took shape, only instead of pushing it deep into himself, he threw it, sent it out to the Claws. He could feel the power entering their bodies, coursing their veins as well as his.

“Do not fall! We will endure this!”

One Claw was cut by three orks. Their knives slid into his elbows and neck, one penetrated his armor and slid into his belly. The magick sealed his wounds the second they were created, and the orks pulled their blades free, only to see a few droplets of blood leak out before his flesh was knitted back together. The Claw stumbled back, confused and disoriented that he felt no pain. Spitting out his confusion, he launched himself back at the orks. 

Wight advanced on one big ork, who carried what looked like two power daggers that crackled with energy. The ork swung out, carving through his armor like it wasn’t there. Wight was sliced and diced, staggering with each hit. But the blessing that Helfist sent him kept him upright. He retaliated, swinging his chainsword in expert swipes, but the purple-dressed ork, like the others, simply faded away, like he wasn’t there. Wight growled.

A knife slid into Helfist’s neck. He could feel it twist, a white-hot brand of pain before Fenris’ blessing killed the pain dead in its’ tracks. He twisted and back peddled, tearing the knife out of the ork’s hand. Grunting, he pulled it out, and could feel the power of the heroes twist inside of him, knitting his flesh and sealing the wound. He threw the knife away and faced down the ork.

“That hurt,” he hissed. The purple ork laughed and lunged.

He battered aside the remaining dagger, shooting at the fading purple ork. Where the Hel was the bastard? It was like hitting air, or trying to fight an Eldar. The ork sliced at his leg, finding a weak spot in the armor, and cut him from the back of his thigh to his stomach. The hero who lent him strength knitted it, but failed to fully seal it as the blessing burnt itself up. His super-human physiology tried to repair the damage, but was too slow for the fast pace of battle.

The ork went high, and Helfist went low. He darted in, flipping the creature over his shoulder. The ork landed on its back, and Helfist quickly spun, falling back on the creature, pinning it to the ground.

“Stay still, will you?” He begged the heroes of yore for strength, gathering enough of their might to bind his arm with iron. The ork’s head was crushed to a pulp.

“Claws!” He cried, getting to his feet. “Form up, fight together!”

But more orks were suddenly all around them. The purple orks were pushing them from behind, and more orks were racing to their front.

“Stormwolf, my jarl,” he called.

“Little busy right now,” Bjorn replied. The massive jarl was swinging at a tide of orks, trying to shield a fallen guard. The guard had a dagger lodged in his eye. Helfist didn’t know if he was alive, in the Red Sleep, or dead.

“Greybeard.” He was surprised to hear Wight speak up for once. “We need help.”

Growling and limping with pain, he turned back to the purple orks. They were making a new push at the Claws, cutting apart armor with greater ease. And the big ork, with the power daggers, was killing more claws than ever. He had to stop him.

“You! Purple-covered craven!” Helfist yelled, trying to grasp more power from the heroes. “You want a real fight? Get over here!”

“Got some nice teef there, ‘ummie,” the ork laughed. “Think I’ll take ‘em from ya!”

His muscles turned to iron bands just as the ork launched himself into the brawl. Helfist roared, charging back. The ork faded in and out, dodging his punch. He was quick on his feet, quicker than an ork should be. The power daggers dug into his armor, cutting his arm open. But with the blessing firmly in place, they didn’t cut his suddenly iron-hard flesh.

“Damn orks, die!” The Stormwolf yelled from somewhere behind him. Vermund couldn’t spare the concentration; the ork he faced demanded all of it. Bolts that should have hit it dead center somehow caught only cloth. A firm swing was blocked, parried, and left him vulnerable. Another Claw fell to the damned greenskins; he had to work faster.

Marshalling all of his strength, Helfist roared, bringing his hands down on the ground. With his blessing, he smashed the torn-up road underfoot. A massive piece of concrete pushed itself up off the ground, throwing the orks and the Claws around. Suddenly, the xenos were not on even footing; they slipped and fell. The Claws roared and lashed out, hitting the orks for once in the damned fight.

Chainswords hit flesh, and orks finally started to die. All but the big ork with the two power daggers. He jumped up to his feet. Only this time, he was looking at the battle that was unfolding.

“Get out of here, gitz,” he screamed.

Then he turned and ran. Helfist blinked; he never saw an ork willingly run from a fight. Three of the purple-orks were slaughtered, but the rest ran with their leader. The orks made it to a nearby ruin of a park, and suddenly, they seemed to disappear.

“Who’s left?” Vermund demanded.

“We’re it,” Wight said. They were only three left. Shock and rage were burning in their eyes as they looked for the strange orks.

“We can’t chase them,” Vermund said, looking his fist over. Dammit, smashing the ground wore off a few layers of blood. He’d need more. “We’re needed back there. Come on, get to the Stormwolf, we can’t let him fall.”

Roaring, the Claws charged headlong into the battle. With the ork tank column getting smashed to bits, more and more orks were running into the fight. They were pouring out of the ruined buildings, from the rubble-strewn streets, from anywhere and everywhere. They were doing a very good job of attracting the orks.

“Stormwolf!”

Their Land Raider escorts were busy keeping the looted trukks and tanks at bay; they couldn’t provide enough covering fire for the Vlka on the ground. Helfist led the Claws forward, wading back into the melee.

“About time you got back here,” Bjorn said. One arm was cherishing a side, the other kept lashing out at the greenskins. Three of his guard were on the ground, their Terminator armor keeping them on their feet, even in death. “I take back that bit about saving me some orks.”

Helfist begged for the might of Fenris again, forming the blessing with his mind. But this time, the malefactorum tried to interfere.

The damned immaterium pushed the gates of power open, pushing their way into his mind, opening it passed capacity. Screaming in pain, Helfist tried to stand his mental ground, pushing himself harder and harder to close the doors to the warp. But the doors just wouldn’t close.

Raw power spilled from his eyes, his mouth, through every place it could go. The pressure was overwhelming, far more painful than that simple cut the ork gave him.

Grasping through his bag of totems, he felt a big rune fall in his hand, the one that had the ward of aversion carved into it. He pressed the rock against his head, and could feel the ward cut the flow of power down to size.

He looked deep into the rune, a diamond with a line running from top to bottom.

I see you, he thought. I see you, and I cast you out. I break you, destroy you, crush you, so you shall know fear and never return to haunt me.

The ward glowed as its blessing was activated. The flow of power from the malefactorum was slammed shut, leaving only the pure might of Fenris to grant him power. He gasped for breath, trying to calm both of his hearts. The blessing spun around his fingers, and he pushed it out to his wounded Jarl and his retinue.

With the power of the heroes running through his veins, Bjorn stood to his full height and pushed against the orks. His guards lashed out, pushing the never-ending tide back.

“For once, I’m glad you helped out,” the Stormwolf said.

Someone said the Stormwolf was in trouble, a voice on the vox said.

“We need support,” Helfist said, gasping for breath. “Now, dammit, now!”

The air cracked, and another squad of Jarl Guards teleported in. Helfist blinked; it was Thorgil, the pack picked to test old man Ironclaws’ strange contraptions. Their massive, ancient-yet-new Terminator armor was stained with blood; their weapons were positively coated with it. None of them seemed the least worse for the wear.

“We heard you the first time,” Thorgil, said. “Get the Stormwolf out of here. We’ll cover you.”

“Claws, help the Stormwolf,” Helfist ordered. Ahead of them, Thorgil’s pack charged headlong into the tide of orks, blades flashing and power fists swinging. “Get back to the Land Raiders.”

A few of the Claw bikers broke from combat and were making their way back as well. One was small for a Claw, and was missing an arm; he ultimately crashed. Helfist pulled him from the wreckage and dragged the small Claw towards the Land Raider; an odd smell tickling his nose. But he couldn’t concentrate on a smell.

“Give me a hand with my men,” the Stormwolf said, pulling one of his fallen pack mates back, struggling against the mass of the Terminator armor. Wight jumped forwards, helping tug one of the fallen Guards backwards.

“Get in,” the Land Raider driver said, easing the massive assault craft forward. The ramp dropped, and the injured and dead were brought in. Fortunately, the ork column was all but destroyed; they were relatively unharassed as they filed in.

Ahead of them, the five guards stood their ground. Orks were cut to ribbons and crushed with ease. The orks beat their ramshackle weapons against them, but it was in utter vain.

Heard you needed some fire, the vox crackled. It was Ironclaws himself. Artillery inbound; watch your head, this’ll be close.

The ramp was closed and the Land Raider pulled away, just as the ground rumbled with artillery strikes. Helfist pushed his way to the nearby hatch, looking out. The ground was turned up and shattered by the bombardment, and the orks were finally falling back themselves. But standing in the middle of the freshly made craters were the pack of five, surrounded by glowing blue refractor shields, safe and sound and almost looking bored.

“Damn that Ironclaws. Gotta get me some armor like that.”

 


 

The Land Raiders trudged back, stopping as they came within meters of the temple’s defensive parameter. Along with the Whirlwinds and Vindicaters at the perimeter, there were squadrons of Leman Russ battle tanks and Chimera troop carriers. There were even Basilisks.

“So that’s where Ironclaws got that artillery from,” Helfist muttered, speaking in a near whisper. Even that was too much. The surge of fell warp power left his head feeling far too small, like he was hungover after drinking a full barrel of mjod. But at least it masked the pain in his side.

The assault carriers ground to a halt, and their ramps lowered again. The Vlka trudged out of the tanks, clutching at wounds and carrying the dead. Guardsmen and women stopped and stared, some crying out just by seeing the dead marines.

“Who’s injured?” Stormwolf demanded. Standing tall, Helfist could see that the orks had managed to crush his armor, sending a metal spike into his side. Blood dried and crusted, only to be broken with every movement. New, fresh blood to spill out. “Come on, no time to act tough, those orks hit hard. You, there, that’s a lost arm, where are you going? Get in here and stop trying to mingle with the guards.”

The small Blood Claw who lost an arm was still trying to wander off. Helfist grabbed him and pulled him towards the temple. The smell of an off-worlder tickled his nose.

“Hel’s Teeth, what’d you get into?” Ironclaws said, walking out of the temple. He was still speaking in Juvik, not High Gothic.

“We found some orks,” the Stormwolf said.

“Looks like the orks found you,” Aevar said. “Get in here ‘fore you bleed to death.”

“Didn’t know you cared.”

“For you, my Jarl, anything.” Helfist couldn’t tell if it was sarcasm in his voice; it didn’t matter, he was too hurt to care. They trudged into the temple, and the guardsmen moved to accommodate them. Bjorn and Parsef were waiting for them at the war table.

+I see you found your fight,+ the Fell-Handed said, walking out to meet them. He spoke in High Gothic, no doubt for the Inquisitor and guard’s sakes. +Did Little Bjorn bite off more than he could chew?+

Somehow, the Stormwolf held his tongue. Talking back was one thing, but talking back to the Fell-Handed…?

“Nearly did,” Bjorn grunted. “Damn orks. Where in Russ’ name did they came from?”

“I’ve never seen orks do this much damage so fast.” This time it was Inquisitor Parsef who was talking. “Will you live?”

“They’ll live,” Aevar said. “Maeva, get me my other kit. This Claw needs more than a few dozen stitches.”

“Don’t tell me you’re an apothecary as well,” the Inquisitor said.

“I’ve some experience with it,” Aevar said. “Had to fill in for our own flesh mender when he was taken out.”

“Now that was a fight,” Helfist said. “Poor Soothsayer, though.”

“Aye, poor Soothsayer. Damned good fight, but a bad hit.”

“Why didn’t we bring him along? He was just put into the care of the dreadnaughts, he would have loved to bash some ork skulls.”

“Aye, it would do him a world of good. But he wouldn’t wake.”

+Death changes us, especially when it’s a fresh death,+ Bjorn said. +Tell me, how many orks did this? I see a nearly depleted pack of Claws before me.+

The Claws in question bit their tongues and turned away. Their pride was hurt, far more than they were. Even Wight burned with embarrassment.

Maeva returned to Ironclaws with a massive leather pack. He unrolled it and pulled out needles, thread, and a jar full of balm.

“Might want to bite something,” Aevar said to Little Bjorn. His servo-arms pulled the pieces of armor out of his jarl’s side, and fresh blood spilled out. Bjorn grunted with pain, but kept his mouth shut. Ironclaws’ other servo-arm threaded the needle and went to sealing the wound shut.

“The orks. They…sprung a trap on us,” Helfist said.

“’They sprung a trap?’” Parsef laughed. “Orks don’t plot traps, they walk into them.”

“Not these orks.”

“I think you bit of more than you could handle,” Parsef said. “’Sprung a trap.’ That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

“More so than ork snipers?” Helfist snarled. Parsef spun, eyes wide with shock. “Don’t worry, I’ve heard they don’t exist, either.”

+Describe these orks to me.+

“They were big. Not nob big, but bigger than most other orks. And they wore purple.”

“Purple?” Parsef sputtered.

“Aye, purple,” the Stormwolf said. He flinched, nearly jumping aside. He turned to Ironclaws. “Watch it, you got that kaerl of yours learning to sew, too?”

“Sorry, must’ve hit a nerve,” Ironclaws said. “But purple?”

“Purple! Lots of it. Purple bandanas, purple sashes, purple knuckle-wrappings, they were damned near covered with the stuff.”

“The bigger ork. Power daggers,” Wight mumbled. He ran a finger over his cut up, ruined armor.

“Was he the one to do that number on you?” Aevar asked. Wight nodded. “Damn. Maeva, you got any better with fixing armor?”

“Wha’, ya mean th’ armor ya never let me get my hands on?”

“That changes now. We’re gonna have to work like mad to get all that ready for battle.”

“So how did you get away?” Parsef sneered. “Did you run?”

“Run?” the Stormwolf rumbled. “The orks were the ones who ran.”

“Orks? Running from battle?”

Aevar eyed the Stormwolf, who bristled. Everyone knew orks never willingly ran from a battle.

“So a purple ork, with power daggers, sneaks up on you and nearly kills you all, then runs, and I means runs, away,” Parsef said. He shook his head. “Madness, coming from mad wolves.”

+Interesting. I haven’t seen a kommando in quite some time.+

“Sorry?”

+The ork, the one with the power daggers, was he the one in command?+

“He acted like it. He was the one who called for the retreat,” Helfist said.

“Would you care to share your musings with us?” Parsef demanded.

+It appears that a kommando is the warboss.+

“A’ kommando?’ There’s no such thing as kommando orks. Their brains are too small to comprehend sneaking.”

+There are such things as kommando orks,+ Bjorn said. +I fought them before. Sneaky bastards. Ruthless killers because you never see them coming.+

“And we’re to trust the mad ramblings of a centuries old dead man?” Parsef said.

Bjorn’s massive dreadnaught frame slowly turned to face Parsef, each footfall echoing in the temple.

+I talked to the Emperor before he sat on the Throne.+

 “You’ve…” Parsef swallowed hard. “You’ve talked to the Emperor?”

+Aye, I have.+

“…Bjorn?” Pasef blinked, realization dawning on him. “Bjorn, who talked to the Emperor? By the Throne, you’re Bjorn the Fell-Handed, aren’t you?”

+That’s what they call me.+

“Why, uh, pardon me, but why did you not say that before?”

+Because I’m sick and fucking tired of titles, and of people fucking kneeling,+ Bjorn said. +Let me speak, and we’ll get out of this with a story to tell. Now, what do we know? The orks have spent weeks assaulting this world. But in that time, a warboss was never sighted. Strange, don’t you think so?

+Without a warboss, there’s no Waargh. It’s with a warboss that they are able to break through defensive lines with ease, crush armored columns and slaughter troops. They’ve accomplished all of those gains, but without a warboss.+

“So they’re relying on another leader to accomplish those goals,” Helfist said.

“Breaking lines without a loud sound?” Ironclaws said, moving onto another wounded Claw. “Sounds like commando shit to me.”

“Cowardly orks,” the Stormwolf spat. His acidic spit sizzled on the marble floor. “Who ever heard of orks relying on whelp work?”

“Whelp work tha’ almost cut yer thread,” Maeva mumbled it Juvik, but not quietly enough. The Stormwolf glared at her, but she ducked behind Aevar to help him seal another wound.

“You expect us to believe in something that doesn’t exist?” Parsef demanded.

+When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.+

“Don’t take our word for it, ask your ‘asset,’” Ironclaws said.

“My asset is in the field.”

“No, they’re not,” Helfist said. He turned to the small, armless Claw. “Want to speak up for yourself?”

The Claw stared at him with dead eyes.

“Come on, we all know you’re not one of us, out with it.”

Suddenly, the Claw began to change. His skin bubbled and melted; pieces of his armor fell off into melting puddles of plastic, kicking up a fine layer of dust on the floor. He shrunk, hunks of fake skin falling off and melting into puddles of strange goop. Left standing was a tall mortal woman, dressed head to toe in a black catsuit. A long braid of red hair was the only thing that wasn’t covered, and a strange blade hung at her wrist. Maeva hissed, making the mark of aversion on her neck.

“This one was careful,” the assassin said in a flat, neutral voice. “She wishes to know how you were able to spot her.”

“All you offworlders smell,” the Stormwolf said, tapping his nose. “Can’t get rid of that.”

“This one understands. She will adjust her disguises in the future.”

“Geist, what are you doing back here?” Parsef demanded. “I told you to stay out in the field.”

“This one apologizes, but there is information that you need to know,” the woman said.

“And you couldn’t use the vox?”

“You would not have believed her otherwise.”

“What’s with all this ‘this one’ business?” The Stormwolf demanded. “Talk like a regular person.”

“This is how this one always talks,” the assassin said.

“Geist is from Krieg,” Parsef said. “I dare to assume you’ve all heard of Krieg?”

“Ah, so she’s a member of the Death Korp,” Aevar said. “That explains a lot.”

“This one was a member of the Death Korp,” the woman said. “Then she was recruited to serve the Inquisition.”

“Alright, hold up, dumb death worlder here,” Maeva said. “Wha’s a Death Korp?”

“The Death Korp are Imperial Guards who are born and raised on the world of Krieg,” Geist said. “We have no self, for only in death can we atone for our sin.”

“An’ wha’ sin is tha’?”

“The sin of our forbearers, who committed treason by turning from the Emperor’s light. We are all guilty of the sin, and we can only repay that endless debt through our sacrifice.”

“You need ta die ta stop bein’ a sinner?”

“That is right.”

“You’re right scary, you know tha,’ yea?”

“This one is aware of the reputation the Death Korp carries.”

“Geist, cut to the chase,” Parsef said. “What do I need to know?”

“That the dreadnaught is right; the orks appear to be in control of a ‘kommando,’” she said. “After completing her mission, this one infiltrated multiple groups of orks. All talked about an ork called ‘Shivvers’ who was ‘brutally cunning,’ more so than any other ork. This one was in deep cover; using the vox caster would have destroyed her cover. Also, the Space Marines offered a convenient way to return to base to attend to her previous injuries so she may remain in peak form.”

“Fine,” Parsef said. “So. A ‘brutally cunning’ ork who shouldn’t really exist is leading this little genocidal pub crawl of a Waargh.” He sighed, trying to get used to the idea. “The universe is not lacking with such…oddities.”

+How are your men, Little Bjorn?+

“Hurt, but pissed off and ready for round two,” the jarl said. “We’re gonna hit those orks right where it hurts. Ironclaws, did you and the Fell-Handed find what passes for the ork’s central command?”

“We found an ammo dump, does that count?”

“It most certainly does. Hear that? The orks were kind enough to put all of their eggs in one basket. We kick them down, we stop them and their damned guns.”

The Vlka howled, ready to avenge their fallen.

“Just give me some time to get your armor patched up, alright?” Ironclaws sighed.

“Once you’re done with it, we’re heading out,” the Stormwolf snapped. “Can’t be letting those orks band together for very long.”

“We might have some more time than you think,” the assassin said. “This one killed several nobs before your assault. They should still be fighting to restore order, even if their kommando/warboss himself personally restructures their ranks.”

“Oh good, more time to get this armor ready for another pounding,” Ironclaws said. He handed the leather bag back to his kaerl assistant. “Time to learn how to fix power armor, Maeva.”

“’Bout time, too.”

+Make room for me, Little Bjorn. I need to stretch my legs,+ the Fell-Handed said.

“The more, the merrier,” the Stormwolf laughed. “You Claws are lucky to be fighting with a living legend! Get ready to move out!”

“Hold still, this armor isn’t gonna fix itself,” Ironclaws snapped. “Maeva, this is regular power armor, not our other project; that’s the actuator, not the fiber bundle.”

“Tha’ slimy lookin’ thin’?”

“Yes, grab that and get it connected.”

“Eugh.”

“It’s just grease. Get used to it.”

“Geist, a word,” Parsef said, jerking his head towards the map. The black-clad assassin silently slunk away. The Fell-Handed quietly watched them walk away.

“My jarl, did the assassin see my new suits?” Aevar asked, switching back to Juvik.

“Think she did,” the big marine said.

“Oh, she saw ‘em, alright,” Vermund said. “I grabbed her when she was disguised as a Claw. She got an eye full of them.”

“So what do we do now?” Ironclaws asked. “Can’t exactly go around getting an Inquisitor’s assassin killed.”

“Not to mention they’re damn tough for regular humans,” Vermund said.

“How tough?” Maeva asked.

“Tough enough to take out Grey Hunters with ease.”

“Damn.”

+We stay quiet,+ Bjorn said with finality.

“Wha’s tha’ gonna do, eh?”

+It’ll keep the Inquisitor on our side, for the time. We can’t deal with both Orks and an Inquisitor, especially one who can turn the Imperial Guard on us.+

“And when she does tell him?” Vermund said.

“Then we kill them,” the Stormwolf said.

+No, the Inquisition hates us enough as is. We can’t give them a reason to doubt us, especially in the midst of a Waaargh. We stay quiet, even if she talks.+

“So we’ll deal with it later.”

+One step at a time, Little Bjorn. We can’t risk plotting and planning ourselves into a corner.+

The Stormwolf growled, obviously displeased at his new namesake, but kept his peace.

“Um, excuse me, my lords?” Everyone turned to see a meek guardsman slowly approach them. “I couldn’t help but…I shouldn’t have eavesdropped, but…”

“Oh, for fucks’ sake, spit it out,” the Stormwolf barked in rough High Gothic.

“Ah! Well, you see, we want to help attack the orks.”

“And how would you help?”

“W-we have tanks and artillery…”

The Stormwolf grinned. Now the human was speaking his language.

Chapter Text

It never ceased to amaze Aevar that the orks knew how to build, but never knew how to build the right way. All of their structures were cobbled together with bolts and maybe a few load-bearing buttresses, but it was all a mess. A mess that somehow stand up to anything from a bolt to a battle cannon shot. With the Waaargh roaring, he could see plenty of the structures from the hatch of the Land Raider.

“Ah, now this is how it should be,” Bjorn sighed, pulling himself up on the other hatch. “A good breeze, a good fight, and enough guns to deafen us all!”

“Too right!” Aevar said.

“What’s that? Speak up, Ironclaws.”

Aevar sighed. Bjorn’s normal talking voice was able to carry over the din of their army; of course his was drowned out. They rode to battle with three Land Raiders and a Rhino. Flanking them was a squadron of Leman Russ battle tanks, two Hellhounds, and a small squadron of Basilisks. Surrounding them, weaving in and out of their paths, were still more bike-mounted Swiftclaws, howling and screaming. It made for quite the racket.

He pointed back down to the Land Raider, then jumped down before Little Bjorn could stop him. Pressed in the hold were his team of Jarl Guards, down two from the ork commando’s attack. The third who was injured swayed on his feet, staying up through sheer grit and thickheaded stubbornness. Standing with them was Maeva, who looked comically small and frail pressed against the massive suits of armor.

“Just bring th’ crazy mortal whore along, why don’t ya?” She grumbled, fiddling with her tool belt. Two axes hung at her waist. “Yea, this’ll be a right proper riot, eh?”

“You want to be my kaerl, you’ve got to work with me,” Aevar said. The Land Raider shook as Little Bjorn jumped down. “Think of this as a big adventure.”

“Aye, a big adventure ta get my thread cut,” she grumbled.

“Come on, what kind of Fenrisian are you to not like a good fight?” The Stormwolf said, his voice drowning out the engine in the enclosed space.

“I ain’t talkin’ bout dying in battle, I’m talkin’ ‘bout gettin’ crushed by fat hands over here,” she said, jerking a thumb at the Guard who stood next to her. A massive chain fist was not but a few hand breadths from her head.

“Ha! Hear that, Rockbreaker? You got a new name!” The Stormwolf roared.

“’Fat Hands,’” the Guard said. “Aye, I’ll take that name. Little Bjorn.”

The Stormwolf’s laughter died in a heartbeat, replaced with bitter hate. Aevar had to chuckle, along with Maeva and a few Guards.

“You just had to open that fucking channel to the Fell-Handed, didn’t you?” Bjorn growled.

“Speaking of Bjorn, we need to check on the Fell-Handed,” Aevar said, slipping his helmet on. He opened  vox channel. Bjorn, how are you?

+Like I’m shaking the rust from me,+ he replied. Aevar stuck his head out of the hatch, seeing the Fell-Handed trotting alongside the Land Raider.

Have you formulated a cunning plan?

+I’ve a plan. Don’t know if it’s cunning or not.+ He gestured with the massive wolf claw as his hand. +Little Bjorn will charge into the ork compound. We’ll set up further back with your Long Fangs, providing covering fire with the Basilisks. The tank squadrons will travel around the compound, sealing the orks in and keeping others out.+

And what if that damned commando shows up again?

+I’m counting on it. If he can sneak in, we’ll have to make sure he can’t sneak out.+

Excellent idea. Do you see a spot for us?

The Fell-Handed looked, examining the landscape. There were ruins all around them, and all of them looked ready to collapse. Finally, he found one that overlooked a boulevard that led to the ork’s massive stockpile. It seemed sturdier that the others, meaning it wouldn’t fall over from a rough breeze.

+This’ll do.+

“Driver, halt!” Aevar called. “Maeva, this is our stop.”

“Great, now I can die by orks ‘stead a head rubs,” she grumbled, trying to push her way to the hatch. The other Guards teased her by tousling her hair. They were careful though, wary of their strength and war gear.

“Stay out of my hair, Blasphemer,” the Stormwolf growled. “Getting that new damn name made me angry.”

“Don’t blame me, my jarl. It was the Fell-Hand’s doing.”

“And I can’t exactly take my frustration out on him, can I? You’ll have to do.”

“My jarl is punishing me.”

“That’s the damned idea!”

“I recognize my failings and will be sure to correct them.”

“Damned well better.” The Stormwolf hit the hatch, closing it. The Land Raider chugged along, grinding stones into sand as it rumbled on. A Rhino behind them sat as a team of Long Fangs got out, carrying heavy weapons.

+Tank squadron one, move around the left side of the ork’s base,+ the Fell-Handed ordered. +Squadron two, the right side. Meet with squadron one at the side; you’ll be the anvil and the Vlka will be the hammer that crushes the xenos.

+Basilisks, find some good positions behind us. Long Fangs, get in that building and get ready to rain Hel upon them, I’ll join you. Hellhounds, move with the Land Raiders. Burn whatever they don’t touch.+

Gladly! The Hellhound’s driver laughed.

+ Swiftclaws, hunt down those who run, or seek to join the battle.+

We’re all set up, the Long Fangs said.

+Excellent. All units, attack. Little Bjorn, do what you do best.+

 At his word, the Rout of Fenris was unleashed.

“An’ wha’re we doin’?” Maeva asked.

“Let’s try and get the Long Gangs’ cover improved,” Aevar said. “Can’t leave their asses out in the breeze. Come on.”

Aevar bound through the rubble, Maeva cursing at his heels, doing her best to keep up. The Long Fangs hefted lascannons, plasma cannons, and heavy bolters. They wasted no time in opening up. The air cracked with bolts and super-heated plasma.

“To think that we’d be fighting with the Mighty Fell-Handed,” one yelled. “If only that damn Blasphemer wasn’t here to get in our way.”

“I’m in your way so you don’t lose your head,” Aevar replied, running to the nearest fang. “The orks like teeth, and you greybeards tend to have real good ones.”

“Ha! It’ll take more than a few orks to get my teeth!”

“Maeva, cross bracing. Let’s go.”

Aevar knelt at the rubble and hefted a fallen pillar up nearly a meter, straining under the weight. His servo-arm spun to life, grabbing fallen pieces of metal and arranging them in a rough honeycomb pattern before spot-welding them in place. Maeva pulled over more pieces of metal to weld in place and hold the pillar up. Now, instead of providing knee-high cover, the Fang had cover from the chest on up.

+Ironclaws, you have your Guard pack on vox?+ Bjorn called. Aevar blinked; he was using a private vox channel.

Aye, that I do.

+Call them, but keep them on standby. When the kommando shows up, they’ll deep strike in, cutting off their escape.+

Keep them on standby? Why hold them in reserves? You expect our forces to miss a group of orks?

+Nothing of the sort.+

He blinked, realization dawning on him. Aevar ran to Bjorn, who stood just outside the ruin, lobbing helfrost rounds at the orks downrange. Aevar pulled off his helmet.

“You can’t honestly be doing what I think you’re doing,” he said. “I can’t be using my Jarl as bait to draw the orks out!”

+Lower your voice. Any louder and the even the orks would hear you,+ the Fell-Handed said. +Little Bjorn is too good at what he does to simply die at the ork’s hands. At least, he’d damn well better be.+

“We need to at least warn him.”

+You won’t,+ Bjorn snapped. +This must look like an attack, not a trap. The orks must be drawn to this, and commit their forces like they would with an attack.+

“Draw them out? They’re orks—“

+Who almost managed to wipe a squad of Blood Claws and Jarl Guards out, along with cutting the thread of your Jarl and a Rune Priest,+ Bjorn said, cutting him off. +Treat these like regular orks, and we’ll lose. Treat them like clever foes, and we’ll win.+

Aevar held his tongue.

“Who else knows?”

+Just you. Don’t worry, we’re giving them two targets; we’re bait as well.+

“So when the Stormwolf gets back and wonders why some damned orks nearly laid him low, he’ll have me to blame.”

+He’ll have to talk to me.+

“Aye, he will, but he can’t do anything to you. Me, he can do what he’d like.”

Bjorn grunted, taking careful aim again. The blast of frost floated down range, hitting a squad of fleeing boyz. Behind them, the Basilisks took up firing. Artillery streaked towards their targets, blasting them to pieces.

“Wha’s th’ rush? We got a fire ta put out?” Maeva asked, jumping over rubble to get to Aevar.

He glared out at the battlefield. He wanted to warn the Stormwolf, but the Fell-Handed had a point. The orks had to be drawn out, and what better way than to show them an exposed flank?

“No, no fire,” he growled. “Just got to get this cover improved. Then we’ll be fixing the Basilisks when the orks finally start shooting at them. Come on.”

He slipped his helmet back on, and accessed Thorgil’s vox channel.

Prep teleportation devices, he ordered. The Fell-Handed wants you to strike at a moment’s notice.

 


 

Vermund Helfist chewed on some rough plants, grinding the pulp and swallowing. It warmed his throat with soothing, painkilling juices. The pain in his head went from an angry throb to a simple dullness.

He hated it when the warp tried to kill him. He wished he wasn’t born a Rune Priest, and that the malefactorum hadn’t tried to fuck him raw and bloody. He cursed the dark gods for creating this tear in their reality.

‘Wish.’ He snorted at that. Back when he was a mortal child, whenever he said he’d wish for something, his clan elder had laughed at him. He could still see her laughing through broken, yellow teeth.

If wishes were fishes, we’d never go hungry, she said. But we do going hungry, so what does that tell you?

“You Claws ready?” He made himself shout.

The Claws roared, the replacements with more unbridled enthusiasm than those who had survived their run-in with the kommandos. The reality of war was slowly hitting home. About damn time.

“You new blood need to learn a thing or two, and you need to learn it fast,” he said. “Orks are tough! Take a look around and see how many of them survived their first run-in. Does that give you a good idea of what we’re up against?”

Wight chuckled darkly as the new Claws looked to the slightly-older ones.

“So pace yourself, and make damned sure that they’re dead, got it?” He demanded.

 +All units, attack,+ Bjorn the Fell-Handed ordered over the vox. +Little Bjorn, do what you do best.+

You heard the Fell-Handed, attack! ‘Little’ Bjorn Stormwolf ordered.

The Land Raider rumbled as it assumed combat speed. Light arms fire bounced off its thick hull, doing no damage.

“Here we go,” Helfist yelled over the din. “Hit those orks and make sure they’re dead!”

The assault ramp dropped, and he led the charge out, the Claws’ nearly feral screams echoing off the bolted together buildings. The orks had set up shop with enough munitions to threaten the entire planet. And this was only one of the dumps they set up. One of the biggest, yes, but still one of many.

There were a few squads of orks in the dump, grabbing whatever they could carry.

“Kill these orks!”

“Kill them Space Marines! Come on, get da dakka out!”

The Claws bayed, charging the squads. The hasty overwatch fire sailed overhead, and Helfist was able to put one ork down before hitting their lines.

The orks fought hard, but the Claws, hearing of the ultimate fate of their earlier pack mates, fought harder. A few took solid blows, but gave much more then they got. The dead orks fell, and the yet-to-be-killed orks broke and ran. They chased them down, cutting them into ribbons. Behind him, Helfist’s hair prickled. The Hellhounds were burning the vast swaths of munitions. They started exploding, sending geysers of sparks and fire in the sky.

“Watch your heads,” he barked. There wasn’t much they could do if a random bullet decided to lodge itself into their heads, but if their wyrd wanted them dead, it would have to work for it. “Protect those Hellhounds, they’re making the air breathable again. Or do you like drowning in ork stink?”

“Hel no!” The Claws roared.

“Damn better not! Melta bombs out!”

A few Claws carried massive melta bombs, undoing their mag-locks that held the explosives to their backs.

“Get those bombs an anything that looks like it’ll blow up nicely,” Helfist said. “Come on, you want the guards to do your job for you? You there, it’ll mag-lock itself. Just arm the damn thing and let’s get back!”

The bombs were set on fuel tanks and what looked like artillery shells. With a press of a button, a high-pitched beeping sound was heard. The Claws hesitated, but only for a second.

“Move!”

Wight grabbed one of his less experienced brothers and pulled him back. The beeping picked up in speed until the melta bombs exploded, easily punching through the flimsy metal sheets. The artillery shells blew up in a phenomenal fireball, spilling black smoke into the air.

“Now that’s more like it!” Helfist roared alongside the Blood Claws. Their laughter died in their throats as a massive battle wagon crashed through the barricades.

“You damn ‘ummies! You can’t go blowin’ up our bombs ‘n stuff!” The ork driver roared from the head of the wagon. A brutal drum-like ram war attached to the front, with massive spikes haphazardly welded in place. It was bigger than a Land Raider, and was covered in thick, red paint. The damn thing moved too fast.

“Form up,” Helfist yelled. “Get behind me!”

 Oh, Allfather, you’d better not let me get mind fucked again, he prayed. Vermund gently pulled at the power of Fenris, grasping power from the heroes and fed it through his muscles.

His arms tightened, bursting with power and strength. He had one shot at this, one shot to save the damned fool Blood Claws. It was death or glory, and Helfist would only accept glory.

The battle wagon bore down on him, and he could see the massive, rolling battering ram wasn’t red from rust or cheap paint, but blood. He ground his teeth and focused on the ram.

Helfist smashed the ram, tearing into it with all his might. The ram folded in on itself, crashing back into the wagon. Something popped, backfiring; it spat out cogs and teeth, causing something to jump and fall off its tracks. The wagon came to a stop, pushing Helfist back with its residual momentum.

The ork driver look down at it dumbstruck. He hit the steering wheel, trying to get it to move. He never had the chance; a Land Raider’s lascannon punched a hole clean through the driver’s seat, vaporizing the ork and detonating a fuel tank. Secondary explosions rippled through the wagon, vaporizing it. Heat and fire washed over Helfist, but his armor kept him safe.

Flames licked the wagon as he pulled his fist free. The Claws were cheering, shouting their kill-urges.

“Alright you lot, got a nice taste of what it’s like to crap yourselves?” Helfist said, doing his best to keep his voice level. “Come on, now. There’s more orks to kill!”

His hand was throbbing in pain; he had felt each bone snap under the enormous pressure of his punch and the wagon’s thick hull. His gene-seed and superhuman biology was already mending the damages, but it still stung like a bitch. Dammit all, why did he have to break his fucking hand? And he couldn’t let the Claws know or he’d never hear the end of it.

 


 

“Oy, is this lil’ thingy important?” Maeva asked, routing around the interior wiring of a Basilisk. It thundered overhead as it spat out shell after shell.

“You want to shock yourself to death? Dammit, hand it here.”

“Wha’s wrong with ya, eh?” Maeva snapped. “Since this battle started, yer all kinda pissy.”

Aevar bit his tonge. Even in his helmet, Maeva could sense his hesitation.

“Just nerves,” he said. “Gotta make sure everything here goes off perfectly.”

“Wha’, ya mean after so many hundreds a years, ya still gettin’ antsy?” She grinned. “We waitin’ fer somethin?’”

“Be ready to move,” Aevar said. “We might need to get into that dump at a moment’s notice.”

“Wha, th’ dump tha’s gettin’ blown ta high Hel?” She jerked her head towards the compound. Numerous explosions were ringing every half-second. Aevar couldn’t even tell if it was from the Basilisks, the Leman Russ’, the Land Raiders or from secondary explosions.

“Just get ready,” he hissed.

“Somethin’ goin’ down?”

“And soon.” He looked over the ruin. The Fangs had better cover from their break-neck work. They were safe enough. “Come on, we got another Basilisk to fix, and they break easily.”

“Alright, now this is more like it,” she grinned. Tools rattled on her flak jacket as she kept pace with Aevar.

Dammit, he couldn’t be using the Stormwolf as bait. Aevar didn’t mind being bait himself, but not his sworn jarl. This must be what the rest of his Chapter felt; knowing what the right thing was, and what to do, but being held back by the Fell-Handed. It felt terrible.

Basilisks, sound off, he called out on the vox. Are there any damages?

Our treads are thrown, one reported. We’ve also got a leaking fuel tank.

“Hear that, Maeva? We got something that needs help.”

He jogged over towards the injured Basilisk, Maeva at his heels.

 


 

“Wha we doin’ Shivvers?”

“Quiet, I’m fhinkin’.”

“Fhinkin’? Fhinkin’ ‘bout how dem ‘ummies are blowin’ up all our dakka? We gots ta do somefin’!”

“We’ll do somethin’. Just fhinkin’ where we gonna hit dem ‘ummies. Now shut up.”

Hidden in the ruins,  Shivvers ran his fingers over his necklace made of Bigklaw’s teeth. More and more boys were being good orks, charging into the fight and roaring at the top of their lungs. Looted trucks and battle wagons were heading in, too, along with an odd big mek or three. The human attackers had tanks, and were giving as good as they were getting. Better, even. That needed to stop.

Shivvers moved down a couple windows, looking for something to stick his knives into. He needed to move, but Grok spoke to him, telling him where to hurt them the most.

“See ‘em over there?” He said, pointing to the other commandos. “See ‘em big guns ‘n big mek-lookin’ thing? Tha’s where we’ll hit ‘em.”

“Not the big ‘ummies inside the dakka place? The ones with their backs to us ‘n everything?”

“Shut it, ya stupid gitz!” Shivvers hauled off and hit the offending ork. “We go stick those ‘ummies in their back, those big guns ‘n mek’ll blow us away ‘fore anything! We take ‘em out, those ‘ummies get easier to hit.”

“Yea, yea, your right, Shivvers,” the orks said, a gleam in their eyes.

“Damn right I’m right. Get a few extra boyz, get ‘em some big packs of boom. Those big guns need big booms to be taken out.”

 


 

Maeva gasped, straining against the weight of the tread.

“Come on, a little more,” Aevar said.

“It’d be nice if ya could take a little more weight,” she snapped.

“I am. You just have to keep it aligned.”

“All this just ta get th’ damn thing lined up?!” She let her hand drop from the tread and slid in the thin metal rod that held the entire contraption in place. It went in nearly two hand lengths, then stopped as her grip shifted.

“Careful,” Aevar said. He grunted, shifting his grip, and was able to spare a servo-arm to helping her realign the tread. “There.”

“’Bout damn time,” she spat, driving the rod home. “There!”

“Good. Now seal the connection, and we’re home free.”

“Ugh, can we go back ta fixin’ armor, eh?” She gasped, pulling out her handheld spot welder.

“Driver, you’re good,” Aevar shouted in High Gothic.

“Many thanks, milord,” the driver said, waving from the top of the Basilisk.

“Try not to get shot again, yea?” Maeva said.

“Sorry?”

Damn High Gothic. She scowled and tried to speak to the damn fool again.

“Don’t get shot!”

“Oh, right! We’ll try.”

“Damn languages. Why can’ we all speak the same tongue?”

“We do. It’s called High Gothic,” Aevar chuckled.

“Tha’s not wha’ I meant!”

“Well, too bad. Not everyone is from the ice like us.”

“Yea, well…” She trailed off, re-adjusting her flak jacket that got all turned around as they worked on the fucking tread. “Them orks still kickin’?”

“Aye, that they are,” Aevar said, looking past the Basilisks, towards Bjorn the Fell-Handed and the Long Fangs. “Say what you will about ‘em, they’re damn tough.”

He cocked his helmeted head to the side, listening to what Maeva guessed was a vox channel.

“Bjorn, is the kommando spotted? Thorgil and his pack are getting itchy.”

+Not yet,+ the massive dreadnaught replied. +They’re playing hard to get rid of.+

“Ha! Tha’ they are!” Maeva laughed.

+Tell them to stay cool and out of sight. They’ll be needed in the blink of an eye.+

An explosion went off behind them. Maeva instinctively ducked, while Aevar spun around.

“We lost Delta!” A guardsman screamed. “The orks! They’re flanking us!”

“So close?” Aevar growled. A servo-arm spun around, pulling his massive thunder hammer free from the mag-lock on his back. Hissing, Maeva pulled her two axes out and cut her tool belt free. “Drivers, move!”

The tank’s engines growled as they were fed gears, but another explosion threw one up in the air. Somehow, it managed to limp away.

+Just as planned,+ Bjorn said with a smile. He turned around. +Long Fangs, orks to our rear. Open fire.+

Maeva reached into her pocket and pulled out ear plugs as the heavy bolters opened fire. She peaked around one tank, and saw a massive group of purple-covered orks charging from ruins, followed by more little orks than she’d ever expect.

“Waaaaargh!”

Aevar drew his bolt pistol and opened fire.

“Maeva, fall back,” he barked. “I need your head on your neck, not split open on the ground.”

“Little hard ta do, yea?” She shouted back. “Not a lotta places ta run.”

The orks, the ones not dressed in purple, made a mad dash towards them. The Long Fangs cut half a dozen down, but more made it through the hail of fire. Yelling, she hefted both her axes and charged at them, two steps behind Aevar.

The orks hit Aevar, but his thick armor knocked aside the blows. Maeva was able to bury both her axes in the head of one ork, and pulled them free to spin away from its mate’s attacks. They whistled by her head, dangerously close. She repaid their swings with two more of her own.

The air split as Aevar’s hammer dropped. Orks were crushed, and some screamed as his servo-arms reached out to grab and crush the odd head.

The ground shook and darkness fell over her. She spared a look back and saw the Fell-Handed charging into the mob.

+You’re in my way,+ he said, crushing two orks underfoot. His massive lightning claw swiped out, cutting nearly a whole line of orks in half. +Where’s your boss? Or is he as cowardly as I thought?+

“Get dem boomies up ‘ere!”

Maeva yelled, cutting into another ork. She only grazed it, giving it a nice scar and pissing it off. The ork stood a full head taller than her, and bellowed its rage and hefted its massive fuck-off sword at her. She threw her axes up to block it; the ork was slow, but much stronger than she though. It nearly knocked her axes out of her hand, sending her spinning to the ground.

She spun, rolled away just as the ork brought it’s sword down. Jumping to her feet, she swung her off-hand axe at it, finally finding purchase just behind it’s jaw. The ork roared, and she swung her other axe, burying it deep into its neck. Blood squirted out and the orks’ shout became a gurgle as blood poured down it’s throat; a killing blow. She tried to pull her axe free from behind it’s jaw, but it held tight.

Another ork advanced, and she struggled to pull the axe free. Suddenly, she was free, tripping over her feet as she fell backwards. Then she realized she left her arm back with the ork.

“Maeva!” The air cracked as Aevar brushed the orks away with a massive swipe. She was screaming and crying, clutching her new stump. “Get a rag on it, stop the bleeding!”

“D-damn ork took my arm!”

“I can see that! Give me a second, need to get these bastards off us. Bjorn, I could use your help.”

+I’m here.+

Maeva cried, reaching through her pockets for a suitable rag. She pulled out an oil-stained bandanna and wrapped it around her arm, tying it as hard as she could to stop the blood from leaving her body.

“There! Hit ‘im!”

Bjorn’s massive body was wracked with explosions. Maeva’s ears felt like they were bursting despite the ear plugs. Her skin and hair were singed from the explosion.

“Hit it ‘gain!”

The dreadnaught spun around, cutting down orks, but one jumped, with a big, yellow bag in its hands.

“No!” This time, it was Aevar who was yelling.

The pack exploded, knocking Bjorn back, his metal feet pawing at the ground as he tried to remain upright. His armor was dented, blown apart and in danger of falling off. A massive gash ran from his right arm towards his interned coffin. The cannon arm threatened to fall off; it was only hanging on by a few loose cables.

Aevar sprung ahead, putting himself between the orks and Bjorn.

“Thorgil! We need you, strike now!” He yelled as he peppered the orks with bolts before bringing his hammer across. Where were the purple orks? Weren’t they there, somewhere?

Maeva stuffed an awl between the rag and spun it around as the air cracked apart, marking the arrival of Thorgil and his pack. The pain was overwhelming; she bit her own shoulder to keep from crying out.

“To the Fell-Handed,” someone shouted. Finally, the blood stopped. “Guard him!” Another oil-stained rag kept the awl safely in place. The world spun as she pushed herself up to her feet. She was a Fenrisian, dammit. She was better than this.

“Stormwolf, we need—“

+Don’t,+ Bjorn rumbled. His massive frame pulled itself up, and he charged back into the fray. +He’s too entrenched. We’ll handle this ourselves.+

His claw was still in shape, and he used it to crush more orks. One ork was trading blows with one of the Guards who wore their new armor. Maeva pushed herself up and ran at it, launching herself onto it’s back before burying her axe deep its neck. The ork bellowed, throwing her free. She hissed as her axe was pried out of her hand. Then the world went black.

Chapter Text

The nob backhand Maeva, sending her flying a good ten feet. But that left him wide open; Aevar roared as he brought Katla down on the nob’s head, crushing it to a gory pulp. Thorgil, wearing his massive Cataphractii armor, stepped up to fill his spot.

“Go, get your kaerl,” Thorgil said, “we’ll cover you.”

Aevar risked a look back towards Bjorn. The Fell-Handed fought on, a massive crack that opened his body, running to his sarcophagus. Despite the damage, the Fell-Handed was doing good, but not Maeva. Hissing, he ran to her. Sliding to a knee, he checked her vitals. Somehow, she still had a pulse. It was irregular, but he didn’t have the time to worry about a skipped beat or three.

She did a good job applying a tourniquet to her stump; blood still leaked out, but at a much more manageable rate. The real horror was her head. The nob caved in one side of her face, bursting an eyeball. It was ruined beyond a doubt, and he needed to stop the vicious bleeding.

He reached into his pouch and pulled out a small kit of balms and bandages. He lathered the balm on a handful of bandages, and carefully pressing it into the massive cavity in her face; he saw more than a few patches of grey matter.

“I told you, I need your brains in your head, not on the ground,” he hissed. He wrapped her head, keeping the bandage taunt but not tight. “Good thing you’re unconscious.”

Holding the remains of her arm while a servo-arm spun to life. He mentally selected the welder, and cauterized the veins. Meat sizzled and caught on fire, which he quickly put out. Blood still trickled out, but nothing that would otherwise threaten her life.

“Now stay put, will you?” He got to his feet and ran back  into the battle. “Ojor va Russ! Fenrys hjolda!”

“Fenrys hjolda!” the battle-cry was repeated.

+Fenrys hjolda!+

The orks seemed to buckle under the cry. A few boyz broke and ran, but then another group of orks pounced on them. And they all wore purple.

+At last, the kommando shows himself,+ Bjorn said.

“Ya stupid gitz couldn’t do one thin’ right!” The ork was getting nob big, but had such a spring in his step that it was unbelievable.  It was like hitting air. Bjorn took two massive swipes, and only clipped one ork.

“Damn orks, stand still, will you?” Thorgil shouted, swiping at one of the purple-clad kommandos. The orks jumped at him, scraping their daggers against the thick armor, scratching it but doing nothing more.

Aevar swung at the ork, both with Katla and with his servo-arms, but the ork seemed to fade away from each strike. His daggers lashed out, trying to gouge Aevar’s eye out. He turned his head, and the daggers glanced of his armor.

“Oy, ya stupid hummie, don’t you know when you should die?” The ork snapped.

“And you need to hold still!”

“Fat chance at that, hummie!”

Aevar swung Katla, just to get the ork to jump backwards. He smoothly pulled out Iounn and snapped off three rounds. He had the ork dead to right, but a different kommando jumped in front of him, taking the rounds for his warboss.

“Damn ya fer that,” the ork yelled. It jumped forward, trying to skewer him.

Aevar blinked; suddenly there was another ork in front of him, but it was fighting the kommando, not him.

“Stupid gitz, get outta my way!” The commando yelled. “You supposed ta be fightin’ hummies, not orks!!”

Then the ork’s skin melted. It’s bones popped and twisted, and soon it was the assassin standing in front of Aevar.

“This one is not an ork,” Geist said. The ork swung, but Geist was faster. She was faster than even Aevar could move, which surprised him. She lashed out with her strange, wrist-mounted sword. How could a mortal human be so fast?

The kommando staggered back under the fury of blows. Cuts sprang up and his skin, deep enough to draw blood, but not enough to put him down for good. He lashed back, and the assassin gracefully parried, spinning away to bring her strange gun up. Electricity arced, but the kommando was able to jump aside, letting another kommando take the shot. The ork squealed as his eyes burst, then slumped over, dead.

“Damn hummies, we lost this one!” The kommando called. “Get outta ‘ere!”

The kommandos broke away, springing away faster than the guard, or Aevar, could chase them. The assassin gave chase, landing a deep gash in the kommando’s turned back. But Aevar could see that it was a sly play by the ork.

“Get down!”

The ork swung around, catching the assassin on her off foot; the blade sunk deep into her side, nearly tearing her in half. The black-clad woman stayed on her feet, taking one last shot at the retreating ork group, but her show went wide. The assassin limped after them, trying to follow the retreating orks, but Aevar stopped her.

“That’s a big fucking hit you took. Stand still, you’re making it worse.”

“This one has a mission to complete,” she replied.

“’This one’ will bleed herself to death if she doesn’t stop.”

“When?”

“Damn Death Korp,” he grumbled. He gently, but firmly, grabbing her by the shoulders. “Now stand still.”

Using his servo-arms, he grabbed the jar of balm and slathered it on the exposed side of the assassin. Being in such a suit for Emperor-knows how long, her skin was nearly translucent. The balm, a light blue-green, threatened to dye it. The assassin struggled, but he held her fast. The ork cut her deep, tearing her intestines up and even a kidney. Aevar quickly threaded a needle with his other servo-arm.

“This’ll hurt like a bitch.”

“This one is used to pain.”

He sunk his servo-arms into the woman’s side, but the Krieg-born woman kept quiet. Even when he was stitching together her intestines, the woman barely made a sound. Aevar would never admit it, but that freaked him out something terrible.

“There, done,” Ironclaws said, sewing her closed.

The assassin looked the work over.

“This one did not know you are a skilled mechanic.”

“’Mechanic?’”

“Apologies, that is the word for the Krieg Corpsemen who mend wounds,” she said. Then, after a pause, “This one thanks you. Her mission would have been uncompleted if you did not provide assistance.”

“Aye, thanks for facing that kommando down for us,” Aevar said. “He might’ve done more damage to the Fell-Handed.”

“This one finds it strange that the orks seemed to have mastered stealth,” the assassin said, looking out at the ruins.

“Once orks get an idea, it’s hard to stop ‘em. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my kaerl needs help.”

“How badly is she wounded?” Geist asked, following Aevar to where Maeva lay. The Fell-Handed had walked over with Thorgil to stand guard over her. The assassin knelt over her, gingerly taking Maeva’s remaining hand.

“She’s down,” Aevar said, “but she’s still breathing.”

+I’ve called Little Bjorn,+ the Fell-Handed said. +His mission was a success, he’s coming with the Land Raider. We’ll evacuate her.+

“And repair the damage done to you.”

+I’d like that.+

Aevar checked the bandages, exchanging the blood-soaked ones for fresh bandages. The ground shook as the Land Raider drove over and the hatch dropped.

“Damn, looks like she got it bad,” the Stormwolf said, walking out.

“Orks hit hard.”

“Too right. Is the Fell-Handed good?”

+I’m fine. Shaken, but fine.+

“What were you doing that drew the—“

+We’ll discuss tactics once we are back at the temple. We need to regroup, and  heal our wounded.+

“Sounds good. Fat Hands, you’ve just volunteered; help greybeard there with his mortal whore.”

Geist helped Aevar pick up her body as the Jarl Guard jogged over. He stood guard as he carried her back to the Land Raider. The tank squadrons stayed behind to escort the wounded Basilisks back.

 


 

 

The trip back to the temple seemed to take forever. Aevar changed the bandage on Maeva’s stump and at her head again just as they finally made it back. The ramp fell; Geist helped him carry Maeva’s unconscious body from the Land Raider.

“This one will help you carry her to the hospitallers,” she said. “They are in the back of the temple.”

“My thanks,” Aevar said. “She’s good help when she’s not trying to get her head knocked off.”

Guards made way for them, and they walked to the nearest bed.

“Sisters, my kaerl needs your help,” he said, keeping to High Gothic.

“By the Emperor, what happened to her?” One gasped.

“The dumb bitch got in a slap fight with a nob, that’s what,” he growled. He and Geist set her down on an empty cot. “I need her alive. Her arm has been severed, it needs to be cleaned.”

“What about her skull? We can only give her the Emperor’s Peace.”

“Give her the Peace, and you’ll get your Peace as well,” he snapped.

“B-but, milord, her skull is caved in. What should we do?”

“Just keep her sucking air until I can help. I’m needed out there.”

“Understood, milord,” the sister said, bowing.

“Forgive this one, but she must report to the Inquisitor,” Geist said, bowing politely.

“Go on. Thanks for the help. Sisters, keep her breathing.”

Aevar spun on his heels and stormed back out. Bjorn had nearly shaken his chassis to pieces on the march back; the orks had damn heavy demo packs. He needed to fix the Fell-Handed, and he needed to do it before Maeva’s threat finally snapped.

“I take it you found your orks,” Parsef said, paying Aevar no mind as he walked to the Fell-Handed. Geist walked to his side, where she silently stood.

+We did,+ Bjorn said. He turned to Aevar, switching to Juvix. +Aevar, your loyalty is commendable, but your kaerl is more beat up than me. Go to her.+

“Nonsense, you nearly walked yourself to pieces,” he said, examining the damage to his dreadnaught body. “Look, you’re hull is falling apart.”

+I’m already dead; she’s not. Make sure she stays that way.+

“And leave the Fell-Handed to—“

+Go. I’ve stayed among the living for millennia; I’ll stay this. Besides, when the Fell-Handed is so much as scratched, it sends the Iron Priests running.+

Bjorn motioned behind him; his brother Iron Priests were arriving in force, carrying armfuls of adamantium plates to repair the damage to the mighty Fell-Handed. One stormed by Aevar, bumping him. It was too much of a bump to be accidental.

“We’ll handle this,” the priest said coldly.

“Thank you,” Aevar said, bowing. He grabbing a scrap piece of adamantium/plasteel alloy; it was the size of his hand, from wrist to fingertips. Just what he needed.

He pushed his way through the temple, back to the sister hospitallers. A small group were tending to Maeva, pushing drips and needles into her limp body.

“Milord!”

“Yes, yes, I know, you’ve done your best,” he said. “Now move over, there’s some work to be done.”

“She’s at the Emperor’s steps; her body can’t take anything else.”

“Says you. You’ve never seen how stubborn us Fenrisians can be. Do you have a servo-skull? A handheld scanner, anything?”

“W-we have a skull, milord. We use it to scan for injuries.”

“Excellent. Call it.”

“Why?”

“Most of her head is gone. I’m trying to rebuild it for her.”

The sisters grimly nodded and went to securing Maeva to the cot she lay on. A sister arrived with the servo-skull in tow. Aevar mentally linked it to his cranial implant, and began scanning Maeva’s head.

“Are you sure she can survive?” One sister said.

“Pretty sure,” Aevar said. “The rest is up to her. You there, go bring me a big pot of boiling water.”

The closet he ever came to mixing the art of a flesh-mender and an Iron Priest was when he interned warriors into dreadnaught bodies, and even that was mostly forge work rather than healing. But he didn’t have the luxury of backing out now, or looking to some ancient text. He was flying by the seat of his pants, the only true way a Fenrisian knew, the only thing he was truly good at.

After all, it was flying by the seat of his pants that he was able to make Cataphractii armor and Paragon blades.

He made marks on the piece of metal, where to fold the scrapped armor and where to cut, then sent his servo-arms to work.

Sparks flew as he worked at the metal piece. The servo-skull continued to slowly scan Maeva’s face, showing where the bones were shattered and where they stood strong. He shaved the edges, ground them down and raised up spikes to meld with the remaining bone. It wasn’t long before he had a replacement metal skull.

“What about the jaw?” A hosplitar asked.

“I’ll worry about that later. Right now, I want to make sure her damn fool brain has more protection than a few rags. Where’s that boiling water?”

“Right behind you, milord.”

He dropped Maeva’s new head into the boiling water to sterilize it. That much he learned from the Soothsayer.

“Now comes the hard part. We’re gonna have to cut her open and pull out all the fucking bone fragments.”

“Blessed Emperor, please save your loyal servant in her hour of dire need.”

Aevar bit back the desire to pray, and went to work.

“Damn, that’s a big fucking hole,” he grunted.

“There’s a bone fragment.”

“Well, don’t just stand there, looking at it. Pull it out.”

The sisters jumped, each gently reaching in with forceps to pull the fragments out. His servo-arms reached in, gently poking and prodding, searching for remains, but found none.

His servo-arm reached back into the boiling water and pulled the metal skull out. He waved it, cooling it off until it was warm to the touch. He peeled Maeva’s face back until the opening was wide enough to slide the new metal skull into place. Grumbling, he slid it into place, mindful of her brain. But the scans were good, his calculations were right and his hand true; the skull slid into place, right where it was needed. He gently bolted it to the rest of her head.

“Let’s get her face sewed up. I’ll start working on a jaw.”

The Sisters pulled the pieces of flesh back into place, and deftly sewed it up. Aevar got up and walked out of the make-shift hospital. He could hear the Stormwolf bellowing at the Inquisitor from the other end of the building. He could even hear a few of Parsef’s retorts. If the man wasn’t cowed by Bjorn Stormwolf, maybe he had more steel in his spine than Aevar thought.

In the forum of the temple, his brother priests were working feverishly at repairing Bjorn’s dreadnaught. They were making fine progress; there wasn’t much for him to do.

+How fares your kaerl?+

“Her thread is fine, for now. Now all I have to do is make her a new jaw and arm, and she’ll be right as rain.”

+Maybe this’ll do something about that mouth she has.+

“Probably not. You know how the women-folk are.”

+All too well,+ Bjorn laughed. +They’re just as wild as us.+

“Here, here,” Aevar laughed. He went to the small pile of spare parts that he brought with him for the journey. Three servitors were standing guard over it. Recognizing him, they let him pass.

“Jaw. Jaw, dammit. Well, what do we have?”

He gathered wiring, small, precise linear actuators and raw metal to make the actual jaw. Finally, he pulled out a small logic-computer that he could implant in her head, just to drive it all. He left, and was given a wide berth by his fellow Iron Priests.

“We can be so petty some times,” he mumbled as he walked back.

“Milord! Milord!” Aevar jerked his head up; a sister hospitaller was running towards him.

“What is it?” He said, switching back to High Gothic.

“She’s waking up, and she’s trying to get up,” the sister said. “She’s trying to fight us off.”

“That’s our women,” he smiled. “Let’s go.”

Inside the hospital, Maeva was thrashing. She had broken free of her wrist restraint and was trying to kick off a few sisters. Aevar put a gentle hand on her chest, forcing her down.

“Calm down there, will you?”

Maeva tried to say something, but with half her jaw missing and the other half hanging on by gristle and thread, she couldn’t say anything; she just moaned some guttural.

“I said, calm down. You’re not in battle anymore, there aren’t any orks.”

Maeva shook, her remaining eye wild.

“You in pain?”

She nodded.

“Bad pain?”

She violently shook her head, flopping her ruined jaw about. Of course she was lying, but Aevar let it slide with a chuckle.

“That’ll happen when a nob bashes your face in. You’re lucky that didn’t snap your thread.”

Maeva blinked, as if recalling what had happened. A wild look slowly entered her eye, and she tried to reach for her missing arm. A sister grabbed her, trying to pin her arm to the side.

“Listen to me,” he said. “Those orks did one Hel of a number on you. You’re all cut up and barely hanging in there. I was doing some work on you to get you back up.”

Maeva tried to say something.

“You’re gonna have to mime it, you’re out a jaw.”

She growled, or tried to, and shook her hand. Aevar looked at the sister, and motioned to let her go. The sister, face hard, let Maeva move her arm, but never let her arm go. Maeva pointed to her missing arm.

“You lost it. Ork took it off.”

She nodded, trying to swallow. She pointed to her eye.

“Ork popped it when he hit you.”

She shook her head.

“You want to see yourself?”

She nodded.

“You sure? You ain’t the most polished blade of the bunch.”

She nodded again.

“Sister, do you have a mirror? Or something with a shine to it?”

“What? We’ll never let her look at herself, are you crazy?”

“No, she’s the crazy one. Come on, anyone got something mirror-like on ‘em?”

A guardswoman hesitantly walked up, handing Aevar a trench knife with a mirror welded to the tip.

“Nice little tool you got here,” he said. “This’ll just be a second.”

He handed the mirror to Maeva. Her breathing deepened as she looked over the remains of her face. She blinked back tears as she saw her cauterized stump.

“Better?”

She nodded, handing the mirror back. Her hand shook despite her.

“Good. Think of it this way: you get to learn how to make a new arm.”

Maeva nodded.

“You’re doing a good job keeping yourself together. Some Blood Claws have a hard time accepting a new arm. They get attached to it, you know?”

Maeva stuck her middle finger up at him. A few guardsmen gasped, but Aevar laughed.

“I’m gonna whip you up a new jaw, then it’s back to the orks. We’ll work on your arm and eye when we’re back at the Aett.”

Maeva nodded.

“Good. I’m gonna knock you out; it’s never pleasant feeling your bones be drilled into. Don’t go dying on me.”

A sister stuck a syringe into her arm. Maeva blinked, then fell asleep. Aevar handed the mirror back to the guardswoman.

“Thank you.”

“My pleasure, milord.”

“Right, keep her sucking air, I’m gonna get this jaw set, then I’ve got to get back to the battlefield. Think you can keep her good?”

“As long as the orks don’t break in here,” a sister replied.

“Ha! We better make sure of that, then!” He roared. Chuckling, he cut off the remains of her jaw, leaving her skin intact, and went to fashioning the new metal one. First he formed the shape of it, then he quickly detailed the teeth. Finally, he wired the jaw, and quickly programmed the cranial implant.

He lifted Maeva’s head up and found where the implant would go. His servo-arms spun up, drilling a hole in the back of her head. He slid the implant in with a claw, gently pushing it into the soft grey matter, then he drilled a hole at the base of her jaw to secure everything.

“Alright sisters, the hard work’s done for you. Patch up her skin, get it all connected to the jaw.”

“Thank you, milord.”

“And thank you for keeping her breathing for me.”

The sisters went to work sewing the broken skin into place, and reconnecting the soft pallet and her tongue. He walked out to the main atrium of the temple, only to hear the Stormwolf still bellowing at the Inquisitor.

There were not a lot of people who could yell back at Bjorn Stormwolf, and most of them were fellow Vlka. He walked over to the Fell-Handed, who’s armor was being welded shut.

“Looks like they’re being productive,” he said.

+They’ve been productive since we’ve returned.+

Aevar looked over. Parsef’s assassin, Geist, stood not a short pace from him; maybe his courage was because of her presence. The black-clad woman stood perfectly still, utterly impassive to the shouting match, or the wound he just closed.

“We still not going to do anything about her?”

+Nothing’s changed: we leave her be. Otherwise we’d  raise the Inquisition’s ire, more so than we already do.+

“Think she’s mentioned them, yet?”

+Don’t think so. Where’s the pack hiding?+

“They’re in some ruins, ready to jump into Hel.”

+Excellent. We’ll need them for the next attack.+

“And that is…?”

+What I’m planning. How’s your kaerl?+

“Looks like her thread is tougher than we though.”

+Then death on this world is not in her wyrd. That’s good.+

“Aye, that it is. Good help is hard to come by.”

 


 

Parsef was hoarse, but the massive Space Marine seemed like he could bellow endlessly. Gasping for breath, he threw his hands up in the air.

“Fine, charge off to your foolish deaths,” he spat.

“We’ll charge out into glory, and show you how things are done,” the massive man spat back. “Fell-Handed! We’re finding another target. You ready to move?”

+Your priests worked hard; my armor is ready.+

“Good. Let’s get out of here, I’ve stood around in one place for long enough.”

Parsef stormed towards the back of the temple. He knew Geist was right behind him, even though he couldn’t hear her.

“This one wishes to know her next assignment,” Geist said.

“You’re not going with those…those fucking barbarians,” he said. Now that he wasn’t yelling, it came out more of a croak.

“We share the same goal: eradication of the orks.”

“But just barely.”

Parsef stormed up to the battle map. The Space Wolves were added in as gray markings, and they were pushing the green tide back. With the destruction of the largest ammo dump, the ork’s momentum was spent; they would make easier targets to attack.

“What is it you wish to do? Is there anything that this one can help with?”

“No, I don’t think so,” he said. Parsef looked at a map of the sector; they were the only world between the next planet, the all-important forge world of Ironghast. “Then again…That dreadnaught was heavily damaged, wasn’t it?”

“That is correct. This one was able to eavesdrop on the tech marines who were fixing it. They were speaking in their native tongue, and this one’s translation software was not perfect, but they commented that the dreadnaught’s hull was nearly sundered.”

“And they’ve fixed it?”

“Roughly, but yes, they have fixed it. They have done a commendable job in such a short—“

“Thank you, Geist.”

Geist obediently halted mid-syllable.

Parsef looked at the star chart. He needed the heavy armaments that the priests of Mars had access to; there was no other way to crush the orks, not without relying on those filthy Space Wolves. But they were dedicated to their own protection; they wouldn’t risk over-extending themselves. So how would he get their help?

What better way than getting them to believe that their precious machine-spirits were being abused?

“Geist, can you mimic a tech-priest?”

“While the physical form would be easy, this one is not intimately familiar with the way tech-priests talk; she is not trained in the intricate ways of the machine-spirit, only enough to operate them when necessary.”

“We don’t need to get into a full-blown conversation with them, only a short message,” he said.

“What is your order for this one to carry out?”

“What else did you see, or hear, from those tech marines?”

“They referenced a ‘Blasphemer’ in their talks, saying how they wouldn’t let him sully the Fell-Handed’s form.” Parsef spun on his heel, staring at her. “This one assumes that the dreadnaught is the Fell-Handed.”

“They have a what?!”

“They referenced a ‘Blasphemer.’”

“Who is this Blasphemer?”

“This one cannot know. In her short time of reconnaissance , she was unable to place a proper name. He does appear to be linked to the tech priests, although they seem loath to admit it.”

“This is perfect,” Parsef grinned. “What else did you find out?”

“That this ‘Blasphemer’ appears to be the creator of a new-type of armor.”

“What kind of armor? I haven’t seen anything new on them.”

“They appear to be keeping it a secret. This one saw the armor in her last two battles.”

“What did they look like?”

“This one cannot explain them. If you wish, she will draw a picture.”

“Very well, but draw it quick.”

“As you wish,” Geist said, bowing as she walked away.

Parsef turned back to the maps. Yes, it was all coming together. A way to get rid of those filthy, flea-ridden, foaming at the mouth, barely loyal mad dogs once and for all. The Inquisition was looking for a way to bring them to heel for centuries, but the opportunity never presented itself.

Should the Space Wolves continue with their damned rebellious streak, it was only a matter of time until they fell to the ruinous powers; they had to learn who to accept orders from. For centuries, they were able to stay above the Inquisition. But now, now they had something. Harboring a blasphemer, and letting him work on armaments? The plot wrote itself.

A small piece of Parsef knew that he would be bringing a First Founding Chapter down. It was bad, but it would be worse to have them fall to the Ruinous Powers, to become a new traitor Legion. And that fate must be avoided all costs.

“This one’s work is finished,” Geist said, walking back with a sheet of parchment. Parsef grabbed it, and a beautifully rendered charcoal drawing looked back at him. It was a massive suit of armor; it had no visible knee pads, a helm that was sunken into the chest piece, shoulder armor that seemed to be slabs, and leather straps that hung from the waist. Next to the suit was a quick-sketched figure of a human, giving the drawing scale.

“I never knew you could draw so well.”

“This one often sketched in her free time. It has helped her picture her disguises and memorize her targets.”

He shook his head. If she didn’t have the rotten luck of being born or Krieg, she would have made a great artist.

“Whip up a good tech priest disguise. We’re sending a message to the forge world.”

 


 

Tanks rolled across the broken ground, bike wheels chewed up dirt, and Bjorn the Fell-Handed trotted alongside the Land Raider.

“Back to the front,” Aevar chuckled. He stood in the port hatch, watching the approaching ork encampment. He jumped down among the Blood Claws and closed the hatch, getting ready to fight.

“Deciding to grace us with your presence, eh?” Helfist chuckled.

“Those orks nearly killed my kaerl. Need to work off some aggression.”

“Well, there’s no shortage of orks.” Helfist turned to the Blood Claws and yelled. “See this Iron Priest? His beard was grey when I was but a Claw. He’s seen more war then the Old Wolf himself, and if you’re lucky, you’ll end up just as seasoned as him. Hey, greybeard, got any stories from the wars of Armageddon?”

The Land Raider rocked as they rolled over an abandoned trench.

“Well, there was this one time a bloodthirster of Khorne nearly cut my thread,” he said, scratching his beard. He cleared his throat and Helfist pounded on the hull, measuring a tempo which the Blood Claws were quick to pick up on. The Land Raider itself was alive, it’s beating heart roaring in their ears. Grinning, he launched into the tale.

 

The packs stood tall and vicious, true,

The daemon cover’d in heads.

Allfather’s blessings left their lips,

Blood lashes notch’d their threads.

 

Where thirty stood left only four,

Defiant of the vile.

Strike back they did at champion’s curse

Bury’d deep their axes’ smiles.

 

The champion screamed and thrashed and killed,

The pack hewed flesh from bone.

Wing’d beast did fall and crash the ground,

And packs left marks on stone.

 

The Blood Claws cheered as Aevar brought the hymn to a thunderous close.

“Greybeard, you have another?”

“What Son of Russ would only know one hymn? Here’s an old tale of a scrap I was in once; maybe you youngsters might’ve heard this out on the ice.”

“You’ll have to make your own,” the driver said on the loudspeaker. “We got orks bearing down on us.”

“Hear that? You get to make your own sagas and tales,” Helfist shouted. The Blood Claws ate it up. “You know the drill by now, make sure those orks stay dead!”

The Land Raider was rocked as it was hit with rockets and grenades. Aevar gripped Katla tighter, then launched himself forward as the ramp was lowered. The Claws howled and bowled over the nearest squad of orks. They were learning, slowly but surely; they hit the orks three or four times. It was more so than needed, but there was no such thing as ‘overkill.’

The air cracked as Katla kissed an ork, turning it to a bloody smear. Iounn was in his hands just as fast, peppering the retreating orks.

All around him were the Stormwolf’s forces. Bikes plowed into burna boys, the few Guardsmen’s tanks to follow them engaged in looted tanks and wagons, and Bjorn the Fell-Handed himself spearheaded the assault, crushing the xenos beneath him.

“What a day,” Aevar grinned. “What a lovely day!”

“Damn right!” Helfist laughed, right beside him. “Come on, Claws, keep it up and keep an eye peeled for those damn kommandos!”

They advanced on the ork horde. Another Land Raider crashed into their lines, driving them back. The assault ramp dropped, and the Stormwolf led a charge out into the thick of the fighting.

“Ojor va Russ!”

“Kill ‘em hummies!”

This was a fight that Aevar could lose himself in. Mobs of orks were drawn from all over the ruins, each charging into the fight. Bullets pinged off his armor as he returned fire, then lowered his shoulder as he charged in. Katla rang out, cutting threads as she caved in heads.

The Claws, even that damn Wight, were in top form, either from the stories the more experienced Claws told them, or because of Helfist’s formidable tutelage.

Helfist himself kept finding orks to punch as he fought his way from battle to battle. Occasionally, he would whisper, drawing the power of the warp to himself, either to amplify his strength, or to shoot bolts of raw power at the orks, frying them where they stood.

+Face me,+ the Fell-Handed bellowed. +Where’s your warboss hiding?+

The Stormwolf charged out, his twin lightning claws shredding skin, his retinue following closely behind him, a laugh at his lips.

“Now this is a proper battle!” He laughed. “Come on, where’s that damn kommando?”

Battle wagons rolled in, shaking from lascannon shots and rockets. One lascannon punched through the thick, roughly bolted on armor, blowing up the entire wagon. A group of stunned orks pulled themselves from the wreckage, a few of them were on fire.

The orks were slow, but hit back just as hard. A few Claws were lucky and were just bowled over from the xeno’s brutal strength. One was disarmed, and another was gutted by a power claw. Helfist pushed his way to the injured, trying to shield them as they were pulled back.

“Got another one down over here,” Helfist yelled.

“Dammit, Vermund, I’m an Iron Priest, not a flesh-mender!”

“Too bad, greybeard. You’re the closet we got.”

“There in a second,” he groaned. Katla bashed an ork away, and he was able to take a few steps back towards the wounded claw. He took one look and jumped back in the fight.

“What’s it look like?”

“He’s dead, Helfist.”

“Damn shame,” Vermund hissed. He begged his ancestors for strength and pulled a piece of their power out, strengthening his arms and taking an ork’s head damn near off with a savage blow. “How’s our Jarl doing?”

“What he does best,” Aevar said, blocking a blow with Katla. A servo-arm shot out, crushing the ork who over-extended himself. “How does the Fell-Handed look?”

“In top form over there,” Helfist laughed. “Those orks can’t get away from him fast enough.”

“And that command ork?”

“Still a green-skinned craven.”

An ork roared and was able to land a blow across Aevar’s side. His armor buckled, but held. He retaliated, using Katla to turn the xenos into a pile of bones and blood. Inwardly, he hissed. The Fell-Handed knew how to play risky games, and without anyone knowing it. If he was willing to use his Jarl to lure the kommando out, he must be trying to lure it out with this all-out assault. Where was that damn kommando?

+Terminators, deep strike,+ Bjorn commanded. There was a crack of light, and behind the orks Thorgil and his pack arrived.

“Bjorn, is this wise?” He asked as the heavy weapons turned the orks into mincemeat. “With Thorgil out on the field—“

+The kommando will come out to play,+ he said. +All units, keep your eyes peeled for that kommando. He’ll be showing himself soon.+

Helfist spun around, looking for a sneak attack.

“Easy there,” Aevar said. “Those orks will be coming soon enough.”

“I lost too many Claws to the bastard to be careless,” Helfist growled. He unslung his runic axe, holding it at the ready. “Come, let’s bash some ork skulls.”

“Gladly.”

“Got him!” The Stormwolf bellowed. Even in the middle of the battle, with Katla cracking with the wrath of thunder itself, the Stormwolf could be heard. “Come, coward, come and face your death!”

“Damn hummies, gimme yer teeth!”

“Claws, get it together, we need to support our Jarl!” Helfist said, decapitating one ork. “Bjorn!”

+I’m moving, don’t you worry,+ the Fell-Handed said, trudging behind the fight.

The Claws pushed on, pushing the orks back and back until the green skins broke and ran. The Claws, led by Wight, caught the retreating orks and butchered them.

There was a familiar rumbling from the sky. Aevar looked up, and saw drop pods streaking towards the ground.

“Looks like someone else decided to join the party,” he said.

The pods smashed into the ground with a resounding bang, their retro-thrusters only marginally killing their momentum. The doors fell to the ground, and a team of warriors left, hefting combi-bolters.

One-shot plasma- and melta- guns fired, cracking and turning the air to fire. A team of heavily armed nobs fell to the fire, their numbers cut in half as the plasma and melta guns burned limbs from limbs.

“Who’s pack markings are those?” Helfist asked. “Can’t see with all this ork blood in my eyes.”

“I’ll be a son of a whore,” Aevar laughed. “It’s the Old Wolf himself.”

“You’re joking. Our hides are worth that much?”

“Shit if I know. But that’s his markings.”

“Hear that, you dunderheads? We got the Old Wolf himself lending a hand! Fix up, look sharp! Wight, put on a damn grin, you’re looking like an Ultramarine with that damn stone face!”

From the atmosphere, two Stormwolf assault ships flew down, flanked by Stormfangs.

+Grimnar arrives,+ Bjorn said.

The assault ships roughly landed, dropping their hatches, and out from one came the Old Wolf himself. A mighty roar escaped his lips as he led a charge, and Aevar could see Arjac Rockfist biting at his heel as they charged a massive group of nobs.

“Whatever made Grimnar decide to come to us?” Aevar laughed.

“Shit if I know. Why don’t we ask him?” Helfist said. “Claws! To Logan!”

At the heels of the Fell-Handed, they charged forward, trying to get the the Old Wolf first. Arjac put the last nob down, and Grimnar strode forward, a dark look on his face.

“My king,” Helfist said, bowing.

“So, you decided to go out,” the High King of Fenris said.

+I grew tired of waiting,+ the Fell-Handed said. +I needed to get out, stretch my legs.+

The Stormwolf and his retinue were quick to arrive, bathed in blood.

“My king! What brings you here?” Bjorn said. “Not that we mind, it’s a great honor…”

“Seeing what you have unleashed here,” Logan said. “Have you tested that vile armor of yours?”

“We have,” the Stormwolf said. “You should see it, the orks can’t match it—“

“I’ll get a battle report when I ask for it,” Logan snapped.

“Of course,” Bjorn said, baring his neck.

“Let’s get these damn orks killed,” the Great Wolf snarled. “Where’s the warboss?”

“Slipped away again, the craven,” Bjorn hissed. “Pushed him and his kommandos back, then he slunk away like the spineless bastard he is.”

“Kommandos? Orks that sneak around? Haven’t heard of them much lately.”

+They’re rare, and have hurt us plenty. But no more. We’ll end this Waaargh in one fell swoop.+

The heavens seemed to part again, and more ships flew in.

“What’s this?” Logan said. “Have the guardsmen come to join us?”

“Those aren’t the guard,” Arjac said, scanning the horizon.

“Aye, those are Mechanicus sigils,” Aevar said. “Is the forge world stepping in to help?”

The ground shook, and from the ruins strode a red and silver Imperial Knight. A massive, super-heavy walker, it stood on two thin yet strong legs, stepping over most rubble with ease. Massive cloaks and banners hung from its nearly grotesquely large arms and tiny legs, heralds of its house, and those heralds bore the skull of the Mechanicus.

In one hand, it held a massive chainsword, while the other held a cannon. It aimed at the retreating lines of orks and opened fire, belching fire and death. Orks were tossed like rag dolls, and those that tried to assault the Knight were crushed beneath the massive weight of the chainsword.

“What the Hel is a Knight doing here?” Aevar said. “That sigil is the house of Taranis. It should be defending the forge world, not over-extending itself.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Logan said. “Let’s make sure they came here for nothing. Forward!”

The Claws bellowed, joining the charge. The ork lines were stretched thin with the arrival of Logan’s Great Company, but with the Imperial Knight, they were shattered. Orks were running away, and the Vlka all ran to catch them in their flight.

Aevar scanned the skies as they ran forward. More and more ships were entering the atmosphere; all of them were Mechanicus.

“What would make the forge world dedicate their forces at this time?” He said. “They sure as Hel waited a long time.”

“Maybe they found out we were getting rid of all these orks, and they had to get in on it,” Helfist said.

“The Mechanicus doesn’t care much about kill-tallies. They’re boring like that.”

“Well, how about you ask them when we’re done?”

“Something tells me I won’t like what they have to say.”

 


 

Shivvers ran, ducking and weaving through the rubble, the few remaining kommandos following him.

“Damn Space Marines. Damn hummies,” he grumbled. Finally, they came to a small ammo dump that still had a few roughly bolted-together planes.

“Oy, grab tha’ plane, we gonna get outta here,” Shivvers said.

“We runnin’, boss?” A mek-boy asked, dropping his tools.

“This Waaargh ain’t big enough fer some Space Marines,” Shivvers said. “We gotta—“

“So we runnin’? What kinda ork are ya ta run?”

The group of orks stopped and stared at Shivvers. What kind of ork ran from a fight?

“Th’ kinda ork who sees the need for an even bigger Waaargh, ya stupid gitz,” Shivvers snarled, advancing on the mek-boy. “Ya wanna fight ‘n die here? Go on ahead. You wanna get an even bigger Waaargh later? You wanna take out a whole buncha planets instead of just one? You wanna even bigger fight?!”

“Yea, what kinda ork hates bigger fights?” The mek-boy said. Every ork nodded; any true ork loved bigger fights.

“Then we gonna get outta here, ‘n find more boyz,” Shivvers said. “We gonna get ‘em together, ‘n we gonna start an even bigger Waaargh!”

“What if they don’t wanna follow us?”

“Then we beat ‘em upside the head until they realize that I’m the biggest and baddest ork there is!” Shivvers yelled. “We gotta Waargh ta put on, an’ we need more boyz fer it. So let’s get out there ‘n find more boyz!”

The orks cheered, anxious to get an even bigger Waargh put together.

“Come on, into th’ planes,” Shivvers shouted. “Come on, or this’ll be yer last Waaargh!”

 


 

The Mechanicus ships entered the atmosphere, and immediately disgorged troops. Aevar could see the robotic Skitarii troops assemble in battle lines and begin their relentless assault, their guns firing as they moved, never stopping. They chased down the retreating ork lines, electricity arcing from their weapons and frying the xenos.

“For Russ and the Allfather!” Logan bellowed.

“For Russ and the Allfather!” The chant echoed as they caught the retreating lines in their assault.

“Now this is a fight,” Helfist laughed.

“Aye, that it is,” Aevar said. Why would the Skitarii arrive? The forge world was under no direct threat, not for nearly a standard week; the Waaargh had yet to finish with this planet.

Finally, the orks were slaughtered to the man. The last ork fell to Logan’s mighty axe, and he held his hand up for his men to stop.

“Well met, priests of the Mechanicus,” he said to the advancing Skitarii. He spoke in perfect High Gothic. “Glad to see that we—“

“Surrender your forces,” a lead ranger spat.

“…Want to run that by me again?” Logan said, his eyes narrowing.

“Surrender your forces.” This time, it was the massive Knight who spoke through its bullhorn. It spoke even louder than Bjorn. The Knight advanced, leveling it’s cannon at them. “Surrender, or die.”

“If this is how the Mechanicus says ‘thank you,’ I’ll never do anything nice for you again,” Grimnar spat.

+Grimnar, watch your tongue,+ Bjorn said. +Brothers in the Mechanicus, why are you holding us at the end of your weapons?+

“Are you hurt, mighty machine?”

From the ranks of the Skitarii came a gaggle of robed tech-priests, utterly ignoring the Vlka and hell-bent on reaching Bjorn as fast as possible. They fussed over the quick-patches to his hull and started working on mending it.

+I’m well, tech-priests. Why are my brothers being held at weapon’s length?+

“We will make sure they never touch your sacred chassis again,” the priests babbled, ignoring his every word. “Please, stand still so we can work.”

+What’s the meaning of this?+ Bjorn demanded.

“You are being held by Archmagos Slithin of the Cybernetica,” the Knight bellowed, “for profaning the sacred designs of the Omnissiah.”

“What madness is this?” Logan demanded.

“You have a snake among your numbers, the one you refer to as the Blasphemer.”

No one turned to face him, but Aevar could feel their gazes on him as all talk came to a halt.

“Well, shit,” he sighed.

“We will take you, and this individual, to our ships where we will hold trial over your crimes,” the Knight continued. “Inquisitor Parsef has informed us that he will be joining us. Watch yourselves, Space Wolves, for your days are numbered.”

“Bet the spineless bastard was waiting for this,” Helfist muttered in Juvik.

“Undoubtedly,” Aevar said. “Well, might as well get this over with.” He stepped forward, ahead of the knight.

“Halt,” the Knight said. Aevar suddenly had a clear view down the barrel of the cannon. “Who are you?”

“I am Aevar Ironclaws, Sky Warrior of Fenris, Son of Russ, and Iron Priest of Bjorn Stormwolf. I am the Siege Layer and Siege Breaker, and I am the one whom my brothers call the Blasphemer.”

“You surrender yourself to our authority?” The Knight demanded.

“Aye, I do. I have but one request,” he said.

“You do not get requests, Blasphemer.”

“My kaerl was injured,” he said, ignoring the scything words. “She is being attended to by sister hospitallers. May I recover her, to see if she lives?”

The Knight tilted its massive head, as if it was thinking.

“You speak of your assistant, are you not?”

“Aye, I am.”

“You’re not trying to hide her? Protect her from our judgment?”

“You would’ve found her anyways. Not a lot of places for an off-worlder to hide here.”

“Very well. Gather her, your trial will begin upon our arrival to the Inquisition’s vessel.”

“Thank you.”

“You will be guarded.”

“Of course. She’s back at temple. Who is being summoned to this trial?”

“Your lords, as well.”

“Thank you. Well, no time like the present. Let’s get this done with.”

 


 

“Wake up.”

Maeva groaned and tried to roll over, but a massive hand stopped her.

“Wha--?” Hel, it felt like her mouth wasn’t working right. She nearly bit her tongue.

“Easy, that’s your new jaw you’re talking with. It’ll take some time to get used to it. That and you’re on a lot of painkillers.”

Maeva blinked and tried to sit up. Aevar was there, helping her. She gently ran her hand over her jaw. It was rock solid, but pain tap-danced along her skin despite the drugs they gave her.

“How do I look?”

“You’ll have some wicked-looking scars, that’s for sure,” Aevar said. “Gonna attract some rough men with that.”

“Fuck th’ men. I lost my arm; better get a whole harem a women fer this shit, yea?”

“So that’s why you took that whole ‘take your tongue’ thing hard.”

“It’s my best part, yea?” She tried to laugh and ended up biting her tongue. Dammit all.

“That tongue landed you in a lot of trouble.”

“Landed me in a lotta nice places too, eh?”

“You’d better watch your tongue if you ever want to go anywhere again. We’re in a spot of trouble.”

“Damn, this is like talkin’ with a mouth fulla wool,” she grumbled. “Wha’ trouble ya talkin’ about, eh?”

“Someone let my new name slip to the forge world next to us. The Mechanicus are putting us on trial for profaning the holy Omnissiah’s body.”

“Tha’ someone bein’ tha’ Inquisitor?”

“I never said that.”

“Ya meant it.”

“I can’t say as to how you came to that conclusion,” he said. His eyes slowly traveled the room; they were being watched. “You’re my kaerl; you’re needed to stand trial with us.”

“Makes me feel special, yea?” Maeva groaned. She tried to get up, but forgot she lost one arm. She spun, but Aevar gently caught her. “Dammit all.”

“A blacksmith with one arm isn’t much help. We’ll make you a new arm, don’t you worry.”

“Least it was my off-arm; still got my fingerin’ fingers ta work with.”

“We’ll make you something special to replace those fingers.”

“Ya crazy, yea? Ya want somethin’ cold down there?”

“Who said they would have to be cold?”

She gave him a hard look.

“Now we’re talkin’,” she said, letting herself get helped up. The guards were giving them a healthy berth, either from Aevar being a Vlka Fenryka, or from them hearing his new name, she knew not. She was glad they were talking in their mother tongue. “Hey, if tha’ Geist around, let me know. Want ta make a good impression, yea?”

“You want to impress Geist? The same assassin that scared the shit outta you?”

“Have ya seen how lithe she looks, or th’ ass she has? I’m willing ta give tha’ a go, weird shit ‘n all.”

“Well, for what it counts, when you got the shit kicked outta you, she helped us carry you back,” Aevar said. “And she seemed pretty gentle with it.”

“Ha! Tha’s my in!”

She could barely take two steps without weaving all over the place. Aevar kept a solid hand on her shoulder, and they made their way out of the temple. Sure enough, that assassin was there, standing behind the shit-eating-grin Inquisitor.

“Damn him,” she hissed.

“What did I say about keeping your tongue?”

“Right, right, I’ll just think about what that Geist looks like under all that black suit ‘n all.”

Chapter Text

Aevar realized he has never been on an Inquisition ship without being shot at. The last time he set foot on one it was during the Months of Shame, and the reception they got then was warmer than the one he got now.

The entire ship, the Elusive Truth, was elegant, but dark. Nearly every single metallic surface in the room was made of polished brass; regal, but not buffed to shine. The floor was made of a dark, unreflective marble. And the table he stood before seemed like it was made from something that looked like redwood. Perhaps it was real Terran redwood, too; the Inquisition loved their perks.

He assumed the massive room they were standing in was the dining hall. The redwood table in question was easily ten meters long, and looked like it was carved from one piece of wood; he couldn’t find any kind of seams to it. Massive, plush, high-backed chairs sat at each side, except for the end where he, Logan Grimnar, Bjorn Stormwolf, and Vermund Helfist stood, still in their armor. Fortunately, Archmagos Slithin allowed Maeva to sit. She tottered every so often, but seemed fully there.

At the end of the table was the Archmagos himself. Slithin was, as one of his rank and stature, far more machine than man. He had an immaculately detailed, ornate gold mask instead of a traditional face. He had replaced his original arms and added several flowing, delicate, ornate brass/gold arms. He wore flowing red robes with gold thread that have never seen a speck of dirt. Behind him was a team of electro-priests and Skitarii guards.

On his right was a man, dressed in red and silver finery and with a well-trimmed beard. He looked quite regal, and on his dress was emblem of the House Taranis; he was the pilot of the Imperial Knight.

Inquisitor Parsef sat next to Slithin, with Geist behind him. Somehow, the Inquisitor had gotten a team of Grey Knights; it was possible that they were tasked with guarding the Archmagos instead of attending to planetary defenses. Aevar buried the desire to growl; they were the Emperor’s Angels of Death, not the sitters of babes.

The Knights gazed at them, and Aevar felt an occasional glance fall on him. They were watching him in particular, and not just because he was called ‘the Blasphemer.’ Something about their gazes seemed curious, as if he was a novel puzzle instead of a latent traitor.

“Thank you all for being here,” Archmagos Slithin said through a voice box. It hardly sounded synthetic; Aevar had to really listen to hear even the slightest difference.

“Like we had much choice,” the Stormwolf said in Gothic, nodding to the numerous guards who would not hesitate to cut them down.

“Bjorn, hold your tongue,” Logan snapped. “This isn’t the place for one of your outbursts.” He turned to the Archmagos. “Forgive him. He is an excellent warrior, one of our best, but has little skills in the art of talking. It is our honor to be here.”

“Quite,” Slithin said. “We must thank you for your help with the filthy Ork menace. Without your timely arrival, our precious forge world would certainly be threatened, possibly even fallen. We cannot let such a loss occur, and for that, we are grateful.”

“Service is its own reward,” Logan said, bowing curtly.

“However, we received a very…troubling message from a tech-priest on Nebekenezer,” Slithin said. He waved a single golden arm, and a servo-skull floated up, activating it’s holographic projector. A shaky image materialized in the air. The pict-capture jerked wildly, capturing a ruined floor. Someone was holding a hand-held camera.

“T-this message is for Archmagos Slithin,” a man off-camera gasped. “Or anyone, anyone who worships the mysteries of the Omnimissiah. You’ve got to come and help, please!”

The image stabilized, and Bjorn the Fell-Handed’s frame appeared. Iron Priests were climbing over his frame, working feverishly.

“These Marines…these beasts, they’re profaning the holy will of the Omnimissiah! This dreadnaught was wounded, but they’re forcing it back onto the battlefield! They’re barely fixing it, just polishing it for more destruction! Oh, holy Omnimissiah, this was the only image I could get, what they’re doing to their poor Predators, Land Raiders, and bikes…it’s not holy, it’s not right!”

Aevar growled, but only for a second. He caught himself just as Logan and the Stormwolf did. He bared his neck in submission.

“A-and what they’re doing to their armor, changing it, breaking it…they have someone here, I could barely translate it; they have a Blasphemer at work for them. A Blasphemer! Soiling the sacred oils, a-and metals, and—I can’t even describe it! Oh, you must come! You must save the poor, abused machine-spirits!

“I don’t, I don’t know who is worse: the Orks for breaking the sacred design, or these beasts, these wolves, that revel in it! Please, help!”

The video ended, and the servo-skull floated away.

“You can imagine our shock upon receiving this,” Slithin said.

“Quite,” Logan said. “Forgive me for asking, Archmagos, but may we speak to the man who has accused us? I believe we have the right to see who has levied such a claim.”

“I understand your desires, but we cannot procure the priest,” Slithin replied. “Please understand that while the Orks are defeated, Nebekenezer is still quite disheveled. Said priest is probably in hiding, unsure of whom to trust.”

“I see. Then have your tech-priests found anything wrong with the way our brothers soothe the machine-spirit?”

“As of this moment, no, they have not. But there work is still ongoing. What we are more concerned with is this talk of the ‘Blasphemer.’ Your thane said this was his name, is it not?”

“That it has become,” Aevar said.

“A most…tasteless name, won’t you agree?”

“Aye, that it is.”

“Why have your brothers given you this name?”

Aevar sighed. “Where to start?”

“Start with your helping hand,” Slithin said, gesturing to Maeva. “She seems very worse for the wear. What happened to her?”

“She got in a slap fight with a nob.”

“’A slap fight with a nob?’”

“Aye, she did. She’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but she’s good help.”

“Those are surgical scars, are they not?”

“They are,” Maeva said, tilting to one side ever so slightly. She barely got the words out in her fractured High Gothic.

“Ah, the helping hand speaks. What has your master done to you?”

“Got a new jaw, an’ a new skull from wha’ he says,” Maeva said. “An’ he’s gonna help build me a new arm ‘n eye.”

“Quite a lot of work for a non-tech priest.”

“She’s good help,” Aevar said.

“Apparently. This is just…unorthodox.”

“We appreciate our help, and give them help in return.”

“Archmagos Slithin, I appreciate the concern that we are showing the mortal woman, but we must stay focused at the matter on hand,” Parsef said. Maeva snorted and Aevar put a heavy hand on her shoulder, making her jump. “The Wolves are holding a blasphemer. Such a crime cannot go unpunished, especially if they are damaging the machine-spirits in their care.”

“We must agree with the Inquisitor,” Slithin said, turning back to the Vlka. “Why have you held onto this ‘Blasphemer?’”

“We were forced to,” Logan said tightly.

“Forced to? By whom?”

“By the eldest of us, the Fell-Handed.”

“Why would such an individual demand that a blasphemer be kept alive?”

“Because he is the oldest of us,” Logan said. “He fought with Russ himself.”

“He fought with your Primarch? What would your Primarch say if he found out you were holding rank with a blasphemer?”

There was a pounding on the ground, soft and muted.

“We can’t say what Russ would say; we are not him,” Logan said.

“And why—“

Archmagos Slithin was cut off, as the massive doors to the hall were forced open, and Bjorn the Fell-Handed himself barged into the room. The doors were barely taller than his frame; he had to stoop low to allow himself into the room. Pushing himself in, he broke off the pelt-standard that sat atop his frame. The Grey Knights were instantly at attention, ready to launch themselves at the attacker. A split second later the Skitarii had their weapons drawn.

+Damn small ship,+ he cursed. A team of tech-priests were at his feet, pricking, preening and floundering around him.

“M-m-most apologies, holy Archmagos,” one stammered, “but this revered dreadnaught insisted—“

+I’m more than a simple dreadnaught. I demand to be heard.+

“Is this the dreadnaught that was being serviced in the temple?” Slithin said.

+I was. I’m Bjorn, called the Fell-Handed, Last of the Company of Russ.+

“It is an honor, Bjorn. We are…”

+I have heard who you are,+ Bjorn said. He walked towards Aevar and Maeva, the priests following like a gaggle of gosling.

“Ah. This is good,” the Archmagos re-adjusted himself, pulling at his robes and motioning for the Skitarii to stand down. The Grey Knights, however, remained on guard; they were not his to command. “According to the High King of Fenris himself, your word alone has kept this Blasphemer alive. Why is that?”

“Mighty Bjorn, please, you can’t tell them,” Logan said, talking in their mother tongue. “Not in the presence of an Inquisitor.”

“My translation logic-engine is very good; if you wish to hide your intent, you are not doing a very good job,” Slithin said loudly. “What is it you are keeping from the Inquisitor?”

“Yes, what is it?” Parsef demanded.

“Please,” Aevar begged.

+The greatest rediscovery of the Imperium,+ Bjorn said.

“Bjorn, please,” the Stormwolf begged.

+I’ll not remain silent when we have made such great strides,+ he said. Aevar’s hearts pounded in his chest. +Thorgil, you may arrive.+

There was a brilliant flash of light which heralded the arrival of Thorgil, still in his blood stained Cataphractii-patterned armor. All of the tech priests stared at it. Those with mouths had theirs hang open.

“You rang, milord?” Thorgil said with a deep chuckle.

“What, in the Emperor’s holy name, is that?” Parsef demanded.

“It is the armor that I made,” Aevar said.

“It’s…massive, I’ll give it that,” Parsef said. “But where is the Terminator Crux?”

“You’re familiar with Terminator armor?”

“I know enough about it to spot heretical armor. I am an Inquisitor, after all. It should have a Crux, else it is powered by daemons and chaos. Where is the Crux?”

“…It has none.”

“Heresy!” Parsef shouted. “Heresy, from the mouths of the Wolves! Your world will burn for this, mark my words!”

“How did you make that?” Slithin asked. He barely spoke; Aevar nearly missed him talk.

“I found the templates in the Emperor’s library,” Aevar said.

“You entered the Emperor’s library?” Parsef demanded, spouting fire and brimstone. “How heretical can you become? Only the Emperor should walk those halls, traitor! That suit has damned the soul of the man who wears it!”

Aevar ground his teeth; the Inquisitor was doing an excellent job grandstanding the Archmagos.

+No daemons live in it,+ Bjorn said. +Ask your Grey Knights.+

“What death-addled madness do you spout?”

“The dreadnaught, Bjorn, is right,” the leader of the Grey Knights tightly said. “There’s no taint of corruption on it, only a strange glow. The same strange glow that seems to radiate from the Blasphemer himself.”

“I throw my word behind the Grey Knights,” Helfist said. “As a seasoned druid, a talker of spirits, it does not bear the taint of chaos.”

“Quiet! It has no Crux!” Parsef demanded. “I’m declaring the Space Wolves a traitor Chapter, and your world shall be destroyed by exterminatus.”

“This armor…does it work?” Slithin asked.

“Damn well,” Thorgil said. “Butchered dozens of orks with this, and the sword.”

“There’s a sword?”

Thorgil drew his sword and placed it on the table. A tech priest scrambled up to it and brought it back to the Archmagos, bowing and scraping at the ground.

“Don’t touch that filthy thing,” Parsef said.

“This…can’t be filthy,” Slithin gasped. “This…can it be a Paragon blade?”

“It is,” Aevar said. “As best as I could make it, anyways. Most of the diagram was rotted from age. Had to fill in a lot of gaps.”

“And…it works?”

“Damn well,” Thorgil said.

“Archmagos, I cannot stand by and let these heretics pollute your senses,” Parsef said. “I’ll send a message to the fleet; the Wolves of Fenris will join their traitor brothers, either in the warp or in death.”

“You’ll do no such thing.”

Parsef spun, staring at Slithin.

“These creations, Cataphractii-pattern armor and a Paragon blade, these are relics from beyond the Heresy. As an Archmagos of Mars, I cannot allow any harm to be done to these items, or to the man who created them.”

“What?”

“The Priests of Mars do not delete data. And you wish to delete the holder of this beautiful data.”

“But they’ve profaned the holy will of the Omnimissiah!”

“By re-creating lost technology, without the aid of an STC?”

“You cannot possibly want to study this monstrosity, can you?” Parsef sputtered.

“Your Grey Knights have said that there exists no corruption. And they are the masters of combating Chaos, are they not?”

“You…this traitor stands before you, and you defend him?!”

“He offers us lost technology, untainted by chaos, and you wish to destroy him?” Slithin shot back.

“I will not stand by and let this weed grow out of control!” Parsef shouted. “I’m evoking an order of exterminatus!”

“Very well,” Slithin said, leaning back in his chair. “You are an Inquisitor, and you hold that right.”

Parsef grinned at Aevar. He slowly drew Katla; he might not be able to stop all the Grey Knights, but he had to protect Maeva. Bjorn pulled himself up to his full height, clicking his lightning claw, and everyone readied themselves to fight the Knights, who formed ranks, ready to advance, lances held at the ready.

“Your days are over, traitors,” he snarled. “Go, run to the—“

“Inquisitor Parsef, I have a question for you,” Slithin said, cutting him off.

“What?”

“How will you carry out an exterminatus if you have no control over your ships?”

“…What?”

There was a mighty shake, from deep in the bowels of the ship. Gravity fluttered for a second, then the lights cut out. Seconds passed and the emergency lights flickered on, a dull red in the suddenly dark ship.

“What is the meaning of this?” Parsef demanded.

“I am an Archmagos of Mars, servant and protector of the Omnissiah. I cannot, and will not, stand by and see these re-created relics be destroyed by an over-enthusiastic Inquisitor,” Slithin said. “As an Archmagos, I have ultimate authority over every Imperial ship, outranked solely by the Fabricator-General himself. And I have just shut your ship down, as well as the fleet you command.”

“You can’t do this!”

“As long as I move to protect the Omnissiah, I can do what I please. Every servitor and engine is now sitting, idle and unused, until you rescind the order of exterminatus. You don’t have to make up your mind as of this moment, Inquisitor; the air shouldn’t go stale until six days, nineteen hours, thirty-two minutes and fifty-nine seconds from now. What you need to worry about is for the orbit to decay, which my logic-engine says would take approximately four days, eight hours, fifteen minutes and seven seconds. Then your ship will fall into the planet’s gravity well.”

Archmagos Slithin stood from the high-backed chair, followed by the pilot of the Knight, the electro-priests and the Skitarii, and walked towards Logan.

“Chapter Master Grimnar, it appears that we are in need of a ship to carry us,” he said. “If there is space available, may we request a place on yours?”

Bjorn Stormwolf chuckled, then despite his best efforts, began to laugh. Helfist was quick to follow, and from there, even Logan couldn’t help himself.

“Aye, we’ll gladly take you!” The Old Wolf howled, slapping his armored knee.

“Excellent! And we also request Aevar Ironclaws, so we may fully question him.”

“But, but,” Parsef sputtered. Even in the low light, they could see his face burning. “He’s committing an act of blasphemy! Such tinkering are openings for daemonic possession!”

“Your Grey Knights say otherwise,” Slithin said. “There is no taint on these reforged relics, is there?”

The Knights paused, as if they were suddenly uncomfortable of being thrust into the spotlight.

“…No, only a strange glow,” they finally said.

“It still needs to be examined!” Parsef said. “There might be hidden corruption!”

“We have already examined it,” Helfist said. “There is no corruption.”

“If a trained, sanctioned psyker sees no ill with it—“

“Druid, lord,” Helfist corrected.

“Yes, if a ‘druid’ sees no ill, as well as Grey Knights, it must be clean,” Slithin said. “But, you do speak reason. Your Grey Knights will examine this relic with a fine-tooth comb.”

“And the others,” Thorgil said.

“There are others?” Slithin gasped.

“Aye, four more. And two more Paragon blades.”

“By the Omnimissiah…Brother Ironclaws, you are truly blessed.”

‘Blessed.’ Aevar nearly laughed. He was just some idiot child who found a way to make two things. He barely had a grasp on anything else. But he had to get better; he saw his wyrd laid before him. With three cards, his fate was sealed.

“As you say,” he made himself say.

“But he still profanes the will of the Omnissiah!” Parsef yelled. “There is no Crux!”

“The ancient Cataphractii-pattern suits had no use for them. Nor do the surviving armors in our care.”

“He could still be leading us to the path of damnation!”

“That, I highly doubt,” Slithin said. “I’m familiar with Brother Ironclaws, and can vouch for his purity.”

“You’re familiar with him?!”

“In name only. I was one of the many Archmagos who combed through his history and the histories of a plethora of other Tech Marines, and recommended him to travel to Terra, where he worked for nearly a standard year.”

“And why was this Blasphemer allowed to Holy Terra?”

“By order of the High Lords of Terra  and the Adeptus Custodes, I cannot say.” He turned to Aevar. “I am aware that you were expelled on less then favorable terms, but your purity was never in question. The Grey Knights made sure that no corruption was brought into the Throne Room.”

“Thank you, Archmagos,” Aevar bowed. “I am deeply in your debt.”

“You may repay me by showing me how you have deciphered the secrets of the Omnissah.”

“You will not like it. The truth nearly destroyed me.”

“I’m sure we can work something out.” Slithin turned towards Parsef. “Inquisitor. Good day.”

Parsef ground his teeth.

“You’ll return control of my ship, and my fleet, if I rescind the order of exterminatus?”

“Of course. We are happy to work with the Inquisition, if certain accords are met.”

Parsef seemed in pain as he spoke, like he was passing a stone.

“Fine. I hereby rescind the order of exterminatus against the Space Wolves.”

“Most excellent.”

Slithin paused, mentally communicating with the ship’s mighty engines, and seconds later the main running lights turned on. The ship rumbled, shaking longer than the first time, and gravity tilted. A vox caster at Parsef’s hip began chattering loudly, as ships were suddenly able to communicate.

Inquisitor, what just happened? The vox cackled. The servitors just stopped working. We lost all control of the ship!

“Your ship is returned to your command,” Slithin said. “I’m happy we can come to a common agreement.”

“We still cannot simply take this on faith alone,” Parsef hissed. “The Inquisition still needs to examine these…new relics. They might not be chaos tainted, but they could draw others down the dark path.”

“The Inquisitor speaks the truth,” Slithin said. “After all, this is only one relic. Brother Ironclaws, we both will have to examine your creations.”

“I will need to examine their base on Fenris,” the Inquisitor said.

“Examine the Aett?” the Stormwolf bellowed. “No off-wordler has had the balls to even suggest to be let in--!”

“As the Archmagos said, the Inquisitor speaks the truth,” Grimnar said, cutting the Stormwolf off. “We shall have them examine whatever they want.”

“Most excellent,” Slithin said. “Brother Ironclaws, let’s away to examine these wondrous relics you made.”

“As you wish, Archmagos.”

“Chapter Master Grimnar, may we—“

“Please, call me Logan.”

“Of course. May we examine these relics on your ship?”

“Certainly!”

“Then let us away.”

Maeva stood up from her seat, tottered, and threatened to fall. Aevar leapt to her, but Geist, the assassin, made it to her first.

“Thank you,” Maeva said, smiling.

“This one is happy to help,” the assassin said. She gently handed her to Aevar, and he helped move her towards the door, where the Fell-Handed was scraping the floor, trying to get out. Maeva waited until they left before speaking.

“She likes me,” she smiled, speaking in her mother tongue.

“She stopped you from falling.”

“I ain’t some tipsy tavern wench, yea? Did tha’ on purpose.”

“Your mortal whore trying to make a pass at that assassin?” Helfist laughed. “You really are crazy.”

“A true daughter of Russ,” Aevar laughed. “Come on, let’s get you to bed. If the Archmagos is polite, we’ll get to work on your new arm and eye tomorrow.”

 


 

Grimnar strode onto the bridge of the Allfather’s Honour, a chuckle at his lips. The Stormwolf followed, two steps behind, with Aevar and Helfist two more steps further back.

“My ship is your ship,” he said to Archmagos Slithin in High Gothic. “Please, make yourself at home.”

“My thanks,” Slithin said, examining the bridge of the battle barge. “And I must say, I am pleased that your ship adheres to Mechanicus standards, totems and runes aside.”

“It takes great work to appear this brutal and brainless,” Logan said. “So, where shall we take the Archmagos? Mars is a bit out of our way, unfortunately.”

“Fortunately, we don’t have to report to the Fabricator-General at the moment,” Slithin said. “Once at Fenris, we shall begin our examination of your dwellings, and talk with the Fabricator-General for his grand ruling.”

“Excellent!” Logan said. “You heard the Archmagos, we’re going home.”

Kaerls and servitors jumped to their tasks of preparing the ship, and the fleet, for the return home.

“Begging your pardon, Grimnar,” Aevar said, whispering in Juvik, “but why did you travel all the way out to—“

Grimnar silenced him with a fierce glance. Aevar bared his neck minutely, but respectfully.

“Kaerls, show the Archmago and his priests to their chambers,” Logan said jovially. “Make sure they are comfortable, warm, and fed. Give them anything they desire.”

“Right away, sire.”

“I like to personally prepare my ship for travel,” Logan smoothly lied to the Archmagos. “May we talk once we are all settled in?”

“Of course,” Slithin said, nodding deeply. He either believed the lie, or simply didn’t care.

“Sire, we’re receiving word from the Ellusive Truth, a kaerls said, “they want to accompany us.”

“Surely they wish to see our devoutness firsthand,” Logan said. “Very well. Let’s get them incorporated to the fleet. Archmagos, I will talk with you shortly.”

“My thanks, Chapter Master Logan,” Slithin said. He turned and left with a group of kaerls, along with his tech priest entourage. The door slid silently behind them and Aevar waited for the other shoe to drop.

“This has been quite the interesting voyage,” Logan said darkly, his humor gone in an instant.

“Aye, that it has, sire,” Aevar agreed.

“Begging your pardon, sire, but Aevar is right,” Helfist said. “This was a small ork uprising. It hit hard, yes, but it was still small. Was it necessary to travel out to us?”

“Because I was worried that word might slip that we have a Blasphemer with us,” Logan said. “And I was right.”

“Logan, you can’t expect us to play guardians of the hearth forever,” the Stormwolf rumbled. “We were stuck there for over a Great Year. A Great fucking Year! And that’s without any good injuries that keep us licking our wounds.”

“You were training your pups. That takes time.”

“Aye, we were, but for a Great fucking Year?”

“Quiet your tongue, I heard you the first time,” Logan snapped. “You think I wanted to keep you in the Aett? I know how much you need to get out and stretch your legs. But with our dear Blasphemer, can you blame me for wanting to keep you from prying eyes?” He turned to Aevar. “Without your damn picking and prodding, your damn searches and hunts, you’d be able to walk around a free man. But you had to look, you had to bring this…this Imperial Truth to us, to destroy us!”

“Sire, please, the Fell-Handed said—“

“I know what the fucking Fell-Handed said, Helfist! You think I need you to remind me? Dammit all, we nearly had the Inquisition declare us a traitor Legion. We nearly had the entire might of the Imperial Navy knocking on our door! If it wasn’t for the Mechanicus and their tech boner, we’d be a Chapter without a home world. We’d might as well sell our souls and make our living in the warp! All because of you!”

Aevar took the lashing, bracing himself for the worst. Bjorn might have ordered his life to be spared, but a Vlka Fenryka’s temper and patience was something that should never be tested. Walking on thin ice was surely safer.

“But we do have the Mechanicus on our side,” Helfist said, risking an intervention. “We have them and their tech lust. They’ve kept the Inquisition at bay, and we even have better armaments for it.”

“But for how long? The Mechanicus could see how Ironclaws made this shit, and pull their support! We’re betting on which way the wind blows, and we all know how fucking stupid that is. And even if the Mechanicus stays on our side, we have to let the fucking Inquisition into Fenris. You think I wanted to let them in? I had to, else the Mechanicus might leave our asses hanging in the breeze! Who knows what those bastards would try to do when they have the keys to our home?

“By the Throne, do you know what is this costing us, Ironclaws? To know that all we ever stood for is a lie? That all we believed, all we fought for, was for nothing?”

Aevar couldn’t bring himself to tell them the truth of the Imperial Cult, of who started it.

“We used to stand for something, now we have nothing to stand for.”

“So we’ll find something new to stand for,” Helfist pleaded. “We might not be able to fight for the Imperium, but surely we can still fight for humanity. Can’t we?”

“Vermund speaks the truth,” Bjorn Stormwolf said. “We’re not traitors; we still fight for humanity.”

“It’ll have to be,” Logan sighed. He shook his head. “You have no idea what kind of damage you’ve done, Ironclaws. None. Ulrik has been in the Aett counseling and re-building the ranks of our faithful, who thanks to you, are suddenly directionless! It’s too tall an order for any of us, even Ulrik.

“And Stormcaller has been locking himself in his chambers for longer and longer stretches of time, searching the runes and the wyrd for something to prove you wrong, or anything to prove you right. He’s losing touch with reality, along with a number of our brothers. We are unmoored, thanks to you.”

Grimnar circled Aevar, staring barely-restrained death at him.

“Why couldn’t you keep your revelations to yourself?” He hissed. “Save us all the headache.”

“The Emperor showed me something,” he said. “I felt it in my bones, saw it in the cards and runes. I can’t stay silent when shown such—“

“’The Emperor?’ Are you turning into an Ultramarine? Is something wrong with ‘Allfather?’”

“…It carries too heavy a superstitious tone,” Aevar mumbled. “The Truth nearly broke me. No, it did break me. But I can’t go back to living in the universe blinded, now that my eyes are open. The Emperor showed me a path that I must take, and that’s all I can do.”

“It is in his wyrd,” Helfist said. “I cast the bones myself.”

“And like a true Son of Russ, you couldn’t back down from the challenge,” Logan grunted.

“Aye, that is right.”

Grimnar finished his pacing, but his gaze had yet to soften.

“We can’t back down from a challenge, that’s for damned sure,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean we have to like you for it. Go back to your kaerl. Get her fixed up. And pray, or do whatever it is you do now, that the Mechanicus doesn’t change their mind once they see you profane their Omnissiah. ‘Cus once they turn on us, we might as well turn traitor.”

Logan turned his back on Aevar, a sign that he wanted nothing more to do with him. Aevar kept his mouth shut as he left the bridge. He was surprised to hear two feet pounding on the metal ground behind him. Helfist and the Stormwolf were following.

“Going to rub this in?” He asked.

“I was going to thank you for saving us,” the Stormwolf said, “then I was going to rub this in.”

“My Jarl is kind. I think.”

“Do you think the Mechaicus will keep the Inquisition off our backs?” Helfist asked.

Aevar’s pause was slight, but it was the answer they were all thinking.

“As long as they get their ancient tech, we should be in the clear,” he said, full of bravado. “Like the Old Wolf said, the Mechanicus popped a tech-boner. As long as the tech is good, they’ll make sure the Inquisition plays nice.”

 


 

Parsef stormed through the Space Wolf ship, Geist behind him, quiet like a shadow. Three blessedly short days of warp travel brought them to Fenris, but did little to sweeten his mood, or heal his pride. The Archmagos sided with the traitorous wolves. And spat in his face!

“Dammit, those beasts will pay,” he grumbled. “They’ll learn to bend the knee.”

“This one carefully reminds you that we are on a hostile ship,” Geist said. “They could be eavesdropping on us.”

“And learn what, that we hate them?” Parsef snapped. “They’ve know that since the First War of Armageddon. It’s nothing new.”

“As you say,” the assassin said. “May this one ask a question?”

“What is it?”

“What are we doing on the Wolf’s ship?”

“Now that we’re at Fenris, I want to make one thing abundantly clear to this Blasphemer; he cannot hold anything back from us, else face the consequences.”

“This one understands, but she would say that a vox message would—“

“Not serve the same purpose. It’s not what has to be said, it’s how it’s said that the message is conveyed.”

Finally, Parsef heard the sound of metalworking. He opened the bulkhead, and was greeted with a large forge with dozens of high-raised tables, open blast furnaces, mindless servitors and miscellaneous items that were being repaired.

Tech marines labored away, repairing armor and arms. A few looked up from their work, but paid him no heed. Servitors looked at them with empty eyes. Scanning the room, he found the Blasphemer.

He was working on a replacement cybernetic arm with his armless kaerl. They seemed mostly done, and were carefully welding pieces together. Parsef stormed over.

“Blasphemer,” he spat.

“What? I’m a little busy,” the Space Wolf said.

“Not for an Inquisitor.”

“So you say.”

“Are you listening?” Parsef shouted.

The tech marine’s servo-arms spun down, and he loomed to his full height. His kaerl assistant stood up, eying him coldly. Then her gaze drifted to Geist. If Parsef was paying attention, he’d see her smile and wink her new small, cybernetic eye.

“What can we do for you?” Ironclaws said.

“Once we enter orbit, I’m ordering that I examine everything that you claim is your own,” Parsef said.

“Oh?”

“Yes, ‘oh.’ I’m an Inquisitor. I seek out corruption and the fallen, and I pull up weeds. And I plan to make sure that there’s not one bit of corruption that I find on your planet, or Emperor help me, I will burn your world to ash.”

“I’m sure of it,” the heretical marine said. “I’m also sure that you’ll find nothing of note, aside from mjod, blood, sweat, tears and the occasional Fenrisian wolf lurking around a corner.”

“Are you threatening me?” He demanded, glared at the marine.

“What? Of course not, I’m just warning you that strange beasts have been known to roam the Aett. Blood Claws go missing every so often,” the heretic said. “You’ll have a guard on you at all times, but those beasts have been known to take sizable risks. Hunger makes you do strange things.”

Parsef knew a threat when he heard one.

“I’m sure of it,” he snarled. “Cooperate, or it will look very bad on you.”

“Don’t need to tell me twice,” the marine said. “May I? I’m in a very delicate part of this build.”

“Wouldn’t you prefer a blood sacrifice?” He spat.

“Already performed one. Good thing we’re almost home; our remaining stock of sacrificial virgins is running dangerously low.”

“Heretic, you dare—!”

Then Parsef realize the marine was smiling under his rough beard, laughing that he was able to get under his skin. Seething, he turned on his heel and stormed out.

“Geist, we’re getting off of this infernal ship,” he spat. Suddenly he felt very tired.

“You order, this one obeys,” she said.

 


 

Aevar watched the Inquisitor leave the workshop.

“You done giving that assassin the eye?” He asked in Juvik.

“Just sizin’ her up, seein’ if she bites,” Maeva said.

“Never mind the fact you can’t see her eyes.”

“So it’s a challenge, yea? Wouldn’t be my first one,” she smiled. “Is my arm done? Wanna try it out.”

Aevar picked it up, giving it one final look over. It was brushed to a perfect shine, fresh to be used and bruised. Maeva lifted her shirt up, revealing the metal socket that he’d implanted in her two days ago. She had fought bitterly when she heard that they had to cut off the rest of her arm, but ultimately relented. He slid the ball joint into the socket, and his servo-arms sealed it tight, attaching the metallic shoulder blade and connection wires.

“This part might feel a bit weird,” he said.

“Ghaaaaaaa…!”

“See? Weird.”

“Hel’s Teeth, this thin’ is cold,” Maeva gasped. Her arm, receiving new signals, tried to move. Aevar held it still.

“Don’t move, everything’s adjusting. It’s past the boot step, now it’s syncing up with the logic-computer in your head.”

“Fuck, feels like damn knives are stabin’ me,” she yelped.

“Just the nerves reconnecting, let it pass.”

“Dammit, get it off, get it off!”

Her new fingers flexed, splayed out in all directions, then tightened into a fist. Aevar held her fast, but her arm was suitably strong. He grunted with exertion, not just to keep the arm pinned, but to keep it pinned without bending or damaging the arm. Finally, it all stopped.

“Oh, there we go,” Maeva said. “Damn, this is much better.”

He let go, and Maeva spin her new arm around in a pinwheel. It moved, nearly perfectly silent.

“A bit heavy, yea?”

“You’ll get used to it. Best thing, too? You did most of it.”

“With ya tellin’ me wha’ I’m doin’ wrong, yea?”

“Baby steps, Maeva. You’ll get the hang of it. Besides, this makes you better with machines, and you need all the practice you can get.”

“First th’ damn new eye, now a damn new arm. Next thin’ ya know, I’ll be a right proper Iron Priest.”

“Least we’re not the Iron Hands. Those guys have a hard on for amputation and cybernetic replacements.”

“Yer shittin’ me.”

“Hel no. ‘The Flesh is Weak!’ You should see them; far more iron than man.”

“Shit, now I’m glad this eye’s just a small little thin’. Hate ta be walkin’ ‘round with some big piece a metal mounted ta th’ side a my head.”

“Just don’t go getting that eye popped. Put a lot of work into making it look natural.”  He policed his work station, putting loose tools away. “Come on, we’re heading down to the Aett. The Stormwolf wants a feast as fast as possible.”

“Fer killin’ orks?”

“That, and a possible last meal. The Inquisitor wants us all dead, and he might find something that could give him the authority he needs.”

“Th’ only thin’ heretical is yer stuff, ‘n th’ Mechanicus say it’s okay.”

“The Inquisition never let the facts get in the way of the truth,” he said. “Come, eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we might be branded traitors.”

“Think I’ll slit my own throat if we make a run fer th’ warp,” Maeva spat.

“You do that.”

“An’ wha’ ‘bout ya?”

“If we get branded as traitors, I won’t make it a step out of the Aett. If the Inquisition comes knocking, Bjorn’s word doesn’t mean shit. My thread is as good as cut.”

 


 

The mead hall was filled with both the Stormwolf’s company, as well as Grimnar’s troops. Kaerls were running, serving both other kaerls and the Vlka. Mead and mjod was spilled in great amounts, and the air sizzled with the smell of cooked meat, fire- and grease- smoke, great boasts and drunken ramblings, and of course loud roars.

But despite of it all, the mood was tense, on edge, and no amount of drink could ease it. Grey Hunters and Long Fangs would sniff every passing by kaerl; some stealthily, some overt. Word of the assassin had them fearing that she would attempt to infiltrate the sacred hall. Blood Claws roared, boasted, and heckled the kaerls, but it was all forced.

Grimnar’s Rune Priests were there, but they did not share the celebration. Stormcaller was noticeably absent. Those that came ate quietly, shooting glares at Aevar when they could. Grimnar’s Kingsguard and the Stormwolf’s Jarl Guards were equally somber, but with at occasional peel of laughter breaking from them. And of the Jarls themselves, only the Stormwolf was loud and boisterous. But like the Claws, it was forced.

Aevar looked from his plate to his gathered brothers and sighed. He wished he could pray; his stomachs were in knots, twisting and turning with each breath. Even the Angels of Death feared turning traitor. 

“Quite a feast, huh?” Helfist asked. He was still the only one who would sit next to him. Even the other Rune Priests feared Aevar’s wyrd, despite whatever ‘glow’ they saw about him.

“Can’t say I’ve seen one quite like it,” Aevar said. “And I wouldn’t mind not seeing it again.”

Helfist grunted his agreement.

“Is that why you’re eating so slow? Trying to savor every bite?”

“Tell the truth,” Aevar said, “I’m not hungry. Nerves are a bit frayed.”

“Aye, I know that. The first off-worlders to barge in on the Aett in millennia. Shit, this has to be the first time an Inquisitor was able to worm their way in here. At least the Grey Knights gave us a night to prepare.”

“You mean a night to have that assassin examine our defenses.”

“Guess I do mean that,” Helfist said. “She said she would work on her disguise so she doesn’t smell like an off-worlder; think she found a way?”

“If anyone could, it’ll be an assassin. But we’ve only had three days of warp travel; I’m not sure that’s enough time to trick all of our noses.”

“Parsef isn’t gonna wait for the day to break.”

“He can try to force his way, but he knows his rank isn’t good here,” Aevar said. “We’ll have to see and hope.”

“What about praying?”

Aevar bit his tongue. He talked about the full measure of the Imperial Truth, but he couldn’t bring himself to shatter Helfist’s faith any further, to tell him who made the Creed. His own was in tatters, and if Grimnar wasn’t exaggerating, the entire Chapter was pulling itself apart.

“Let’s just say that I’ve moved beyond praying.”

“I don’t want to know by what you mean by that,” Helfist said. After a heartbeat, he hoisted his flagon. “To the future. May Russ look down on us, and deliver us from the Inquisition.”

“Here, here,” Aevar said, raising his. They toasted in silence, ignored by their brothers.

 


 

Aevar paced along his chambers, waiting for Parsef and the Grey Knights to examine his dwellings. Every so often, he’d shoot a glare at the Cataphractii armor that stood in the middle of his chambers. That damn thing was the cause of everything. No, not the armor, it was all him. Him and his damned hunt for the truth.

There was a slight knocking at his door. He opened it, and Maeva pulled herself into the room.

“You took your time. Was beginning to worry that you weren’t coming.”

“Ha! ‘Comin!’ Ya don’t have ta worry ‘bout tha’,” she slurred, nearly staggering.

“You’re still drunk.”

“Na, don’t think so. Well, maybe, yea? Just fuckin’ tired.”

“Got the smell of a woman on you, too. I take it you found someone to break your dry spell?”

“Oh, ya got tha’ right,” Maeva laughed. She looked at her new cybernetic hand. “I don’t know who’s gonna wear out these fingers; me ‘r my conquests. Ya said these things got warm, but ya never told me they vibrated, eh?”

“Figured it’d make a nice surprise.”

“Oh, Hel yea it made a big surprise. I ain’t jokin’ ‘bout wearin’ ‘em fingers out.”

“Well, if they turn into metal nubs, you know how to fix it.”

The door was pushed open, and a fully-armored Grey Knight strode in. Maeva jumped, moving out of the way.

“You are Aevar Ironclaws,” the Knight said in Gothic.

“Aye, I am.”

“You are his assistant, Maeva.”

“Yea, tha’s me.”

The Knight stood, holding his lance casually, but still ready to move. Another Knight entered, along with Parsef.

“Wha’, no assassin?” Maeva asked.

“Geist is examining the Aett,” Parsef snapped. “Hate to disappoint you.”

Aevar nudged Maeva. To a fellow Sky Warrior, it was a simple bump. To a mortal, it packed a wallop.

“Er, tha’s good,” she said. “Gives me th’—“

“Is this everything in your dwellings?” Parsef demanded.

“It is,” Aevar said. “I did most of my building here. I used the Company’s forge only later on.”

“Then this is the root of this…blasphemy,” Parsef said.

“And the source of this rediscovery.” Aevar was surprised when Slithin walked in, flanked by tech priests and Skitarii guards.

“Archmagos.”

“Brother Ironclaws.”

“I assume you’ll be following us around as we work,” Parsef said to the machine man.

“Of course. I need to make sure you don’t commit any crimes against the Omnissiah as you work to root out corruption.”

“Very well,” Parsef said. “Aevar Ironclaws, you stand accused of speaking heresy. If you pause in your confession, if you withhold evidence, if you lie, you will be cut down. Do you understand?”

“Aye, I do.”

“Get your mortal assistant out of here; she is not the root cause of this.”

“Looks like you won’t have to mind your tongue, Maeva,” Aevar said, switching to Juvik. “Get out of here.”

“Thanks,” she muttered, mock-curtsying for Parsef. She left, ducking under a Grey Knight and left Aevar’s room. Outside were two more Grey Knights, a team of Skitarii and a pack of Sky Warriors. Helfist stood at the head of the group. “Great. Just great. Wha’s a crazy mortal whore ta do?”

“How’s old man Ironclaws doing?” Helfist asked.

“Well, it just started, so pretty good, I think, yea?”

“Starting is the worst part.”

“I heard startin’ is th’ easiest.”

“It can be both.”

Maeva snorted.

“I’m steppin’ out fer some air.”  She walked down the tunnels of the Aett, and nearly tripped over another kaerl as she turned a corner.

“Sorry!”

“No, it’s fine,” the kaerl said, doing her best not to spill a bucket of water.

“They got ya cleanin’?”

“The Inquisitor wants things clean, so clean he’ll have it.”

“Ha! Got tha’ right! They’re all ‘bout tha’ spick ‘n span shit, eh? Probably get hard lookin’ at clean shit, yea?”

“I-I wouldn’t,” the kaerl stammered, brushing her long hair back. “Inquisitors are powerful; we shouldn’t anger them.”

“Ya kiddin’? I mean, yea, they could exteminatus us, but it won’t be easy.”

“We need to keep them in good spirits. We need to clean up, make ourselves presentable. Hide what needs to be hid.”

“Wha’, hide all th’ dust ‘n shit? Come on, we all know it’s a shit job, don’t take it seriously, yea?”

“We have to keep the Space Marines in good standing. If the Inquisitor finds anything, he’ll do bad things to us.”

Maeva looked at the kaerl. She was small, thin, and scared. What kind of Fenrisian was cowed by the Inquisition?

“Ah, I get it,” she grinned. “Didn’t recognize ya, Geist.”

The woman scowled.

“This one was exceptionally careful with her disguise,” she said, breaking from the kaerl’s little whimpering to her regular, neutral voice. “How did you recognize her?”

“Tha’s a trade secret,” she grinned, wagging a finger. “I’ll let ya know this: we don’t call ‘em ‘Space Marines.’”

“This one understands and will adapt her disguises.”

“So, ya here ta spy on us, yea?”

“That was the order this one was given.”

“Here, how ‘bout this: I’ll show ya ‘round, so ya don’t go embarrassin’ yerself, an’ ya tell me ‘bout yerself, yea?”

“Why would you ‘show this one around’ when she was sent to infiltrate your ranks?”

“Well, a little bird told me ya helped carry me back all gentle-like when I got th’ shit pounded outta me by tha’ warboss—“

“It was a nob.”

“Fuckin’ fine, by a big nob,” Mavea groaned. “Anyway, figure I owe ya fer tha’. Y’know, a favor fer a favor, ta show ya my gratitude an’ ta get ta know ya better.”

“This one could always lie. Are you not upset by that?”

“Sounds like a game tha’s got a challenge ta it.”

“This one understands. She will do her best to mislead you.”

“If I can see through yer disguise, I think I could spot a few lies.”

“This one doubts it.”

“An’ knock it off with the ‘this one’ crap, yea? Yer real pretty, but it gets a spot bothersome, yea?”

Chapter Text

The Grey Knights stood around a forge, one of the many in the Aett. But this was yet another forge that Aevar had used, making it of imperative to Parsef’s investigations.

The psykers stood, examining everything that he had laid out. Every tool, every die, every scrap piece of paper that wasn’t incinerated by the servitors. If Aevar had to say one thing about the Inquisition, they were thorough. And they took their sweet time, too; they were working for nearly three days straight. With their gene-enhanced bodies, the Astartes were none worse for the wear.  The mortal tech priests and kaerls, however, didn’t have that advantage. They were all dead on their feet.

But despite the bags under his eyes, Inquisitor Parsef was still alert. Aevar had to give him credit.

“This place is clean,” the lead Knight said.

“Are you sure?” the Inquisitor demanded.

“I find myself agreeing with the wolves the longer this investigation goes on,” the Knight said. Aevar could hear it in his voice; the Knight was getting annoyed. Bored, tired, and annoyed. “Runes of aversion, warding and blessings have been carved into the very rock of the Aett, and at common intervals. By themselves, they are nothing. But together, they contain a vast amount of power.”

“Damn right,” Helfist said. “We’ve been carving them into the Aett since Russ walked the planet.”

“They must have. The amount of power in this place is staggering. If even the slightest amount of corruption is present, it would be blocked from entering. And even if by some twisted miracle it does enter, its presence will be immediately known. I have not felt this secure since my time stationed on Holy Terra. The only ‘strange’ thing we can find is the glow that emanates from Ironclaws and his creations. It is a blessing; a very unique, powerful blessing that we have neither seen nor heard of.”

“And the…things he has created?” Parsef pressed.

“We agree, they fly in the face of nearly everything that the Mechanicus teaches,” Slithin said. Even his synthetic voice sounded tired. “But, as the Grey Knights can attest to, they are clean. Walking blasphemies, yes, but also re-created, dead technology. We can…come to an agreement with them; make adjustments where needed.”

“This mad wolf can’t be clean, he has broken—“

Parsef stopped, taking a deep breath. His shoulders sagged, undoubtably the long hours  were catching up to him. He was tired, and looked strangely old even though he couldn’t be more than forty. Did he have a few rejuvenation surgeries?

“Very well. My initial investigation has concluded that Aevar Ironclaws has not summoned the fell powers from the warp to complete his re-building.”

Aevar did his best to not grin. Seeing the Inquisitor in pain from passing those words was enough.

“But, that does not absolve him of his duties as a chosen Space Marine of the Emperor,” Parsef continued. “There is always the possibility that a daemon has been attracted to his tinkering, yes?”

“The possibility always exists,” the Grey Knight said. “Even on Terra there is always the possibility, no matter how slim, that—“

“Therefore,” Parsef said, cutting the Knight off, “I shall stay with him and the Space Wolves to ensure there continuing purity.”

Aevar felt like tearing his hair out. But he had to admin, it was a good dig. The Stormwolf , however, was less graceful.

“We have to put up with you following us for…!” He was stopped by Logan.

“We agree to your terms,” the Great Wolf said. “It smacks of truth and wisdom. We will be glad to have you.”

“Will you? Really?” Parsef said, glaring at the Stormwolf. “It doesn’t matter. I will make arrangements to be permanently stationed with ‘Brother’ Ironclaws here.”

Parsef stalked off, followed by the Grey Knights.

“Brother Ironclaws, this tour has been most insightful,” Slithin said. “Armed with nothing but your wits and will, you have created new relics. I shall let the Fabricator-General know that you are a true servant of the Omnissiah.”

“My thanks, Archmagos,” he said, bowing. “What shall be our next step?”

“I shall pass my rulings to the Fabricator-General, and await his decree. Then, things shall become rather interesting.”

“I shall wait with bated breath.”

“Excellent. I shall return to my chambers to begin the report. And Chapter Master Logan, my thanks for my excellent quarters. They are quite warm, and very comfortable.”

“We are glad that they are to your suiting,” Logan smiled. “May we summon you when a meal is ready?”

“Of course. Your hospitality to the servants of the Omnissiah shall be noted.”

Slithin nodded curtly, and a kaerl escorted him and his Skitarii to their quarters.

 


 

“Well, that went well,” Helfist said. With the Archmagos gone, they could speak in Juvik.

“Aye, it actually did,” Logan said. “Getting the Grey Knights on our side was a boon. Like we could ever track heresy in here.” He turned to Vermund. “Follow Parsef. He’ll probably want to try and worm his way around the Aett, maybe try to grill the Fell-Handed.”

“My Claws are already following him,” Helfist said. “Nice, easy, and in the open. Just to remind him of where he is, and who we are.”

“Excellent. Ironclaws, you did good.”

“Thank you, Jarl.”

“And by ‘good,’ I mean not getting us branded as heretics.”

“I figured, but didn’t want to assume.”

“Go, talk to the Fell-Handed, see what the Eldest has in store for us.”

“As you order,” Aevar said. He took his leave, taking a kaerl’s way through the Aett to avoid the off-wordlers. The kaerl’s way was a series of smaller tunnels that ran parallel to many hallways, to help keep the hallways clear for the Vlka. He passed kaerls, who bowed as he passed, and nearly ran over Maeva.

“Well, fancy meeting you here,” he said.

“Wha’? Oh, yea, ya Sky Warriors don’t take this pathway much,” she said, brushing her ruffled, tangled hair back. She had the smell of another woman on her.

“Again? You’re putting your tongue and fingers to good use.”

“Oh, ya wouldn’t believe it,” Maeva smiled. “I found tha’ assassin.”

“And how, pray tell, did you find a Callidus assassin?”

“Well, she looked Fenrisian, but she practically worshiped th’ Inquisition. Stood out like a sore thumb, yea?”

“You didn’t tell her that, did you?”

“Hel no, think I’m stupid, eh?” She snapped. “Thought it’d be better ta know where she went ‘n been, so I’ve been showin’ her ‘round th’ past couple a days. Gave her a few other thin’s, too;  a hug here, a caress there, even stole a kiss, an’ next thin’, wouldn’t you know it, bam!” She slid her fingers together in a scissoring motion.

“Well, now that you dipped your fingers in that assassin, how is she?”

“Lithe an’ strong an’ sexy. Ya should see her scars. Little too pale, but no one’s perfect, eh?”

“Shit, ain’t that the truth.”

“An’ she wouldn’t take her mask off, fer some reason.”

“More than I needed to know.” He paused, then grinned. “You like tumbling with her?”

“Th’ fuck ya think?”

“Why don’t you keep up at her? See if you can get something from this other than a fuck and a pelt on your wall.”

“Wha,’ ya mean spy on her?” Maeva said. “I’m a crazy mortal whore, but I ain’t no spy.”

“Which is why it’ll work. Geist will think you’re just looking to fuck, not to get information from her. Maybe she’ll mention something when you’re pillow talking.”

“Tha’s stupid.”

“Said the woman who got in a slap fight with a nob.”

“Yea, yea, rub it in, why don’t ya?” She said hissed, rubbing her cybernetic arm. “Alright, I’ll see what I can get out of her. Nice an’ patient, yea?”

“That’s good,” Aevar grinned.

“So what’s the plan now?”

“You’re not the only one who has to be patient. We’ll see what the Fell Handed says, and what the Mechanicus has in store for us.”

 


 

Parsef stormed to his borrowed chambers, heaving the door open and slamming it shut. The door was thick and heavy; hard to move, but when he slammed it, it heartily rang.

“Damn those wolves,” he snarled. “Damn them to the depths of the warp.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small device. Whispering a prayer of activation, he turned the power on. The device emitted electronic noise, so any prying eyes would see snow and hear static. The wolves weren’t as well-versed in shadow tactics as he was, but it never paid to be careful.

Parsef paced the room, weighing his options.

“If the Mechanicus can be torn from them, no one will stand with them,” he muttered. “But how to get rid of the Mechanicus when they’re fawning over those…those things he made?”

He nearly had them at Nebekenezer. He had them trapped, perfectly, but that damn dreadnaught, the damn Archmagos, the damn fucking wolves! They needed to recognize who was the true power in the Imperium, they needed to be knocked down from their high-horse before they fell to chaos, but the chance to get them to bend the knee had passed. He needed to start planning for the future.

There was a knock at the door, and he walked over, pulling it open.

“Tea, milord?” A Fenrisian woman said, holding a tea pot on a tray. Parsef sniffed it; it was ginger tea, and he could smell the honey. Only one person knew his favorite tea, and how to prepare it the right way.

“Yes, thank you,” he said. “Please, come in.”

The woman nodded, and he let her in. Once the door was closed, the woman’s skin rippled as Geist undid her disguise.

“What did you find?” He said, pouring himself a cup of tea.

“This one’s initial reconnaissance was a failure,” she said. “The native Fenrisians are able to spot importers from mannerisms. She will need more time to craft a better disguise.”

“You’ve had three days to work,” Parsef said, sitting down to enjoy his tea. “How much of a set-back was this?”

“This one was able to salvage her mission by following the Fenrisian Maeva. She has learned some of the layout of the Aett, as well as some of the mannerisms of the kaerls.”

“Better than nothing. You said you followed Maeva? That’s the Blasphemer’s assistant. Did you find anything out about her?”

“She…is an nice woman,” Geist said. “It is too early to tell. This one wants to find out more about her.”

“Keep at it. If she is a traitor, I want to know.”

“This one doubts that she is a traitor.”

Parsef put down his cup and stared at Geist.

“What do you mean, ‘you doubt she is a traitor?’”

“That is this one’s initial readings,” she said.

“Then get better ones. Get cozy with her, find out what they’re up to.”

“You order, and this one obeys.”

Parsef gave Geist a hard look. As a member of the Death Korp, she never spoke back, or spoke up; saying that she doubted something was the closest she ever came to talking back.

“Are you okay?” He asked.

“This one is fine.”

“You’re sure.”

“Yes. This one feels very good.”

Parsef missed the minute trembling of her legs.

“Very well,” he said. “Get back out there and see what you can find.”

“As you will.” Geist bowed, changed back into a Fenrisian kaerl, and left the room. Parsef went back to enjoying his tea. Hopefully the Fabricator-General would come down on the right side of the law, and if he didn’t, he was sure the Inquisition would be able to spin things to a favorable outcome.

 


 

Archmagos Slithin stood, waiting for the Fabricator-General’s holy writ. The bridge of Allfather’s Honour was cramped with the Sons of Russ, Chapter Master Logan standing at their head. Off to the side was Inquisitor Parsef, with his assassin and Grey Knight retinue.

Logan’s eleven Captains stood behind him, with their retinues with them, and kaerl assistants waiting in the wings. Even Bjorn the Fell-Handed was there to witness their fate. But no one stood by Logan; neither his guard nor his advisors. The only one allowed near him was Brother Ironclaws, who stood like a man destined to die. He was grim, stone faced, and stood at rigid attention.

Slithin could not see why. Yes, he had perverted the Holy Omnissiah’s designs, but he re-created technology not seen in millennia; that warranted an exception, especially if the vaulted Grey Knights found no source of corruption.

Then why the grimness? Logan held his axe like an executioner. Slithin didn’t know the Chapter Master well enough to read his eyes, but he could read the state of his Terminator armor; the servos were growling, the machine-spirit begging to be used. Used on Brother Ironclaws.

“Sire.” An astropath and tech priest walked forward. “We have received word from the Fabricator-General, and have decoded his message.”

What else would an entire Space Marine Chapter be gathered for? But it was protocol, formality, and it had to be followed.

“Proceed,” Slithin said, nodding curtly.

The astropath handed a scroll to the tech priest, who unraveled it and began to read.

“’Archmagos Slithin,’” he read, “’your recommendation of Tech Marine Aevar Ironclaws, stationed with the Space Wolves Chapter, comes highly regarded. Inquisitor Parsef, your examination of Ironclaws is always welcome, and we are pleased to hear that a brother of ours has passed your rigorous tests.

“’We are most pleased with the re-creations that Brother Ironclaws has discovered. However, we find his methods highly disturbing, flying in the face of our most holy teachings. Therefore, as punishment for his tinkering with knowledge beyond his means of control, we hereby sentence Ironclaws to exile on the Cardinal World of Dimmamar, of the Segmentum Obscurus, for the rest of his natural life.

“There, he shall be kept under watch by the stationed Sisters of Battle, where he shall create a forge city and have unrestricted access to it, where he shall continue to manufacture relics to prove his worth and devotion, as well as educating chosen tech priests to further the creation and maintenance of these wonders.”

If Slithin had a mouth, he would frown. Not only had he given Ironclaws a glowing recommendation, he knew the Fabricator-General quite well; he was certain that Ironclaws would be taken to Mars, where he could help re-define all their STCs. What would make the Fabricator-General order his exile, and exile him to a Cardinal World, of all places?

One of the floating servo-skulls caught Parsef moving. Linked to his neural-processor, Slithin saw through the servo-skull’s sensors; the Inquisitor was smiling.

It had to be the Inquisition. They clearly resented the Space Wolves; could this be them exerting their influence on the Fabricator-General? No, the Priests of Mars were not to be tested. If tested, if pressed, the Fabricator-General could always pull his support; from the Inquisition, from the Navy, even from the Guard if he wanted to. If the Mechanicus felt slighted, the Imperium could see itself ground to a screeching halt.

But the Inquisition had influenced the Fabricator-General; they were able to exile Brother Ironclaws. How could they have done that? Slithin’s message was encoded, and passed through trusted astropaths. Could the Inquisition have men and women inside the Astronomican to leak the transmission? How much power did the Inquisition have in order to pull something like that off?

Slithin was so carried away, he nearly missed the priest continue the ruling.

“’We request that Inquisitor Parsef maintains his vigil over Brother Ironclaws, to ensure that he does not fall prey to the Ruinous Powers. Under his watch, he shall have final command over Brother Ironclaw’s ultimate fate, up to and including an Order of Exterminatus, should the worst come to pass.

“’If an order to execute Ironclaws is passed, it shall be followed to the letter. However, should we find that the Inquisitor was over-zealous in his duty, we shall have words with the Inquisition. These are re-created relics from beyond the Heresy, and we cannot possibly put value to their worth.’”

Even with this strange…agreement? Threat? Whatever made the Fabricator-General rule in line with the wishes of the Inquisition, the Inquisition could not block the General from threatening them.

Maybe that was the agreement; the Inquisition would have unfettered access to Brother Ironclaws, and unfettered access to kill him, but Mars could pull their support. Whatever they were playing, it was a game where the stakes were too high. Then again, that seemed to be the standard operating procedure of the Inquisition as a whole.

As for Aevar himself, he seemed disappointed, but oddly at peace with the ruling. His grim face never changed, but his shoulders relaxed. Chapter Master Logan scowled, but only by the barest of millimeters. As for the rest of his Chapter, their reactions varied between disgust to disinterest.

“’To protect the means of recreating these relics, both from the Ruinous Powers and from the Inquisitor,’” the tech priest continued, “’we shall ask ten Chapter of Space Marines to provide to us a small tithe of soldiers, who shall be stationed on Dimmamar as guards to augment the current stationed of Sisters of Battle. They will be guards, and executioners, much as the same function of the Deathwatch. They shall share the duty, staying on rotation for a stretch of five years each. That is our holy writ.’”

The ruling was something that Slithin never would have expected from the Fabricator-General: politics. It was an agreement that came with many hooks and catches. It was a ramshackle, cobbled together agreement that favored some while leaving others in the wind, undoubtedly the creation of many long nights and twisted or broken promises. No wonder Parsef was pleased with it; the Inquisition thrived in political back dealing like this.

But if this was a political ruling, that must mean that the High Lords of Terra had weighed in on it. Maybe that’s what the Inquisition did: leak Slithin’s message to the High Lords at large, and have them drag the rulings of the Machine God into their realm. They couldn’t let the Mechanicus win, so the Inquisition turned the Fabricator-General’s unilateral decision into a multilateral choice, and Slithin knew all too well that ‘multilateral’ was a byword for ‘political.’

Yes, this was a dangerous game the Inquisition was playing. If they placed so much as a toe over a line or misjudged anything by the slightest of margins, the entire Imperium could be ground to a halt with servitors sitting useless and tech priests idle at the order of a vengeful Fabricator-General. The Inquisition was so hell bent on ruining Ironclaws, they were risking the ire of the Omnissiah, and the support of the entire Mechanicus just to control him.

Hearing the final ruling, the Marines reacted yet again, this time with more disgust, or groaning.

“’A tithe of soldiers?’” The Stormwolf spat. “They want us to sit idle, out of war?”

“It’s the order of the Fabricator-General,” Logan said. Slithin knew Logan was not fond of the task placed before him, but he bore it with much more grace than his subordinate. “Stop barking and accept it.”

+This is good,+ the Fell-Handed rumbled. +We can rebuild our past glory. The Imperium will be strengthened by this.+

“You revered fallen is right,” Slithin said. “Lost technology is now freely available to us, relics not seen in millennia. You should be honored it is from a man of your Chapter.”

“Aye, I should be,” Logan said. Now what did he mean by that? “Inquisitor, you share in our fate as well.”

From off to the side, Inquisitor Parsef slid out of the ranks of the Grey Knights, abandoning his hiding place and walking into the light. Inquisitors and their love of the shadows…

“That it seems,” he grinned. Parsef did his part and tried to look surprised, but his grin betrayed him. “I look forward to the work that I will be doing with the Priests of Mars, and in preventing their newest treasure from falling prey to corruption.”

Slithin could see that Parsef truly would take pleasure from watching Aevar twist. The bad blood between the Inquisition and the Space Wolves never stopped surprising him.

+Thank you for your services,+ Bjorn said to Slithin. +Ironclaws, you hold a great, terrible burden in your hands.+

“Aye,” he said, “I’ll never go home again.”

+That is unfortunate,+ Bjorn agreed, +but the work you are to do will benefit the Imperium. You’ll lead us to a new, golden age.+

“No pressure, right?” Aevar said, barking out a single, rough peel of laughter. “Archmagos, will you be joining me in by exile?”

“As much as I want to witness you recreate relics and learn of their construction, sadly I must return to my forge world,” he said. “I have been gone too long, and need to return to my post.”

“We will be honored to carry you back to your home,” Logan said. “Let it never be said that the Wolves of Fenris were bad hosts.”

“Yet again, I give you my deepest gratitude,” Slithin said. “While Brother Ironclaws may be able to create holy relics for you at any time, please let me know how I may be of assistance to you; I wish to repay your kindness with equal gratitude.”

“I’m sure we can work something out,” Logan said, smiling. “Archmagos, before your departure, can we interest you in one last feast?”

“Ah, now there’s something I never thought I’d grow accustom to,” Slithin said. “Your feasts are truly a wonder.”

“Now that’s something we love hearing!” Logan gently slapped Slithin’s back as they walked away. “Come! All this business is giving me a thirst. Parsef, you’ll be getting very close to us in the coming years, might as well get used to our food and drink. Join us!”

“My thanks, but I must decline.”

“Bah, don’t worry, the ale won’t knock you on your ass this time, I’m sure of it!”

 


 

“Fucking exile!”

Helfist watched as Bjorn threw a flagon across his chambers, winching as his Jarl’s massive voice echoed in the comparatively small space.

“They want us to be stuck, planet side, until the end times?” He roared. “Who the fuck do they think they are?!”

“The people who saved us from being branded traitors and having Fenris exterminated,” he replied.

Bjorn spun, staring death at Vermund.

“My station is to provide to you wise council,” he said, “I’m giving you just that.”

“You can give me more than that,” he hissed. “You can give me a way out of this shit duty! Exile!”

“I don’t like it either, but I like it a hell of a lot better than being called ‘traitor.’”

“So you think we have to take this shit assignment?”

“Well, old man Ironclaws has to.”

“And what about us?”

“You realize that he never said that we have to be the ones living with Aevar, right?” Helfist said. “They said that Aevar has to spend the rest of his life on Dimmamar, not us. Aevar is the one being exiled.”

“And what am I supposed to do without my best Iron Priest?” Bjorn seethed.

“The same thing we would always do: move on. So you won’t have the best help; we’ll make due. We always have to.”

“And leave him there, at the utter mercy of the fucking Inquisition?”

“Maybe we can leave a few brothers with him,” Helfist suggested. “The Fabricator-General wants a rotation of Space Marines; I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if a few of us stay there permanently.”

“Great. Even more help leaving me.”

Vermund shrugged. “Better than leaving our brother in the hands of others. That is a fate no Son of Russ should handle alone.”

“You sound like you’re volunteering,” Bjorn said, accusation in his voice.

This got Vermund to pause.

“I guess I am.”

“And why should I give up a Rune Priest as well as an Iron Priest?” Bjorn pressed.

“Aevar’s been like a true brother to me. Shit, even a father,” he admitted. “Since I was pulled from the ice, he’s had a hand in knocking me into place. I owe him that much. If it wasn’t for him, I’m sure my thread would’ve been cut before I left the Blood Claws.”

Bjorn paced the room, nearly pulling his hair out.

“Aye, he’s been here before I was raised to Jarl,” he said. “Damn greybeard will outlive us all. Who else can say they fought in Armageddon, aside from Ulrich, the Fell-Handed, and the Old Wolf?”

“Damn few,” Helfist said. “And they’re all dead.”

“And now they’ll be one fewer.”

“Aye, that they will.”

Bjorn continued to pace, seething and muttering to himself. More than a few curses towards the Inquisition were spilled.

“Fine,” he said. “Go yourself. I’ll find some damn fool Blood Claws who need to be straightened out and send them as our own personal guard as part of this ‘Deathwatch’ tithe they want us to pay. And be quick about it; I’m sure the Mechanicus want us out there as soon as possible.”

“I’m sure of it,” Helfist said. “I’ll go find old man Ironclaws and tell him the news.”

 


 

“You’re crazy,” Aevar laughed.

“And the pot called the kettle black,” Helfist said.

“You really want to stay on the ass-end of the galaxy until the stars go out?” Ironclaws walked around his chambers, gathering up plans, parchment, tools and other odds and ends.

“I think I owe it to you for this,” Helfist said. “Who’s the one who knocked enough sense into my damn-fool head to stay alive this long?”

“Well, one thing’s for sure, you’re guaranteed to hit two centuries staying at this place,” Ironclaws said, laughing all the while.

“You think I’m in a contest to see how long we can live?” Helfist grinned. “Come on, we all know who’d win that one, greybeard.”

Aevar scratched at his beard as he continued packing. He was nearly done, having filled nearly an entire munitions crate, and was ahead of schedule to boot.

“Hope you get used to the Inquisitor,” he said. “He’ll be staying with us, too.”

“And the Grey Knights, wherever they ran off to.”

“Always on a ‘secret mission’ this, and ‘daemon-hunting’ that. They’ll probably turn up a few times while we’re in transit.”

“And that assassin?”

“I’m working on that,” he grinned. “Well, not me, but someone close.”

“I’m not sure I want to know what that means,” Helfist shook his head.

“It’s nothing too serious. Only getting to know the prey. Intimately knowing the prey.”

Vermund snorted.

“So, as long as you keep cranking out new relics, the Mechanicus will let you live, huh?”

“And teach a few fool priests. They might not say it, but they need me.”

“Damn priests with their tech boners,” Helfist snorted.

“Hey, those tech boners kept us from getting blasted all the way to the fucking warp,” Aevar laughed. “Damn scary shit. It’ll make a good story someday.”

“We like getting scared, but nearly being branded a renegade Chapter? That’s too much.”

“Says you. Give it a few decades, and Grey Hunters will be chilling Blood Claws with this story.”

Helfist shrugged. “Maybe. But not today, and certainly not tomorrow.”

“That much we can agree upon.” Aevar paused. “How’s Little Bjorn taking all this?”

“As well as you’d expect.”

“How many Claws has he knocked about in the training pits?”

“Last I checked, half a dozen. That fucking Wight nearly put him in his place, though. He really does have a mark for greatness about him.”

“I’ll bet. Good thing we’re not taking him, he shouldn’t share in this fate.”

“I’m sure he’ll be darkening our doorway. Blood Claws always get the shit assignments.”

“And nothing spells ‘shit assignments’ like guarding an exile,” Aevar roared.

“You’re taking this all awfully well.”

“I was waiting for us to be branded a traitor Legion, and for Logan to take my head on the spot,” he said. “This is the best case scenario I could think of.”

“This is what you hoped for?”

“Well, not the exile, but my Chapter is still in good standings with the Imperium at large, and I get to keep my head. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a win.”

Helfist grumbled. Greybeard had a point.

“So it’s off to some far-flung, ass-end of the galaxy planet for us then, huh?” He said.

“Aye, that it is. I appreciate the company, but you really don’t have to do this.”

“You kept me alive when I was a blood-happy Claw. I’ll keep your grey-haired ass alive in return.”

“You know, I have to be honest,” Aevar said.

This ought to be good.”

“When you were that damn fool Claw who’d just discovered his druid powers, I never thought you’d make a good friend. You remember how headstrong you were, don’t you?”

“I remember taking damn fool risks, just like every other Claw.”

“You were worse,” Aevar chuckled. “Ever since you found out that you could pull power from the heroes and give yourself a monstrous boost in strength, you always wanted to use it on things. Remember when you got that first layer of blood on your gauntlet?”

“Damn, how could I forget?” Helfist chuckled, looking at his gauntlet and the dried, miss-matched blood patterns that coated it. “We were hunting traitors. Some fucking berserker thought he could cut my thread. Took his whole fucking head off with that punch!”

“You know what you did for the next dozen-or-so hunts? You went looking for the biggest, baddest motherfucker you could find, and tried adding their blood to your collection. Nearly got your thread cut when you jumped at a Carnifex.”

“Ha! That was a good fight!”

“Says you. You weren’t the one who had to stitch you back up. But those knocks eventually paid off. Had to be getting just over a century when you started realizing that the best way to hunt wasn’t to run headlong at something, screaming at the top of your lungs.”

“I wouldn’t say the knocks did it for me, but they helped,” Helfist said.

“Oh? Than what did?”

“Well, I thought of dying. This had to be when that damn Carnifex fucked me up, left me right at Valhalla’s door. I could feel my thread fraying; it should’ve snapped back then. But it made me think of  my little ones I left back on the ice.”

“You had little ones?”

“Aye, two of ‘em,” Helfist said, smiling. “Their mother, my wife, died giving birth, but they came out just perfect. Frost’s balls, I miss ‘em terribly sometimes. Back out there, I knew I couldn’t take too many risks. They were already out a mom, couldn’t leave ‘em without a dad too. But that Trial of Morkai made me wild again. Made me want to make the galaxy shake just from hearing my name, you know how it goes.

“But, eventually I realized I wasn’t gonna live forever this way. And if I die, then who’ll protect my little ones? I don’t have any illusions; they’re mortal, long since dead. But if they were anything like their dad, they put down roots damn quick, have their own little ones. And those roots need to be protected from the shit out there, right?

“I know I’m gonna die; it’s in everyone’ wyrd. I know my fighting is keeping my little one’s safe; maybe my death can as well.” Helfist laughed. “Now I’m sensible. Logical!”

“Responsible,” Aevar chuckled.

“Practical and dependable!”

“Funny how time changes everything,” Ironclaws roared. “Everything we’ve gone through was to bring us to this point. To fucking exile.”

“Life is wyrd, and wyrd is weird.”

“Very.” Aevar paused in his packing. “Thank you for coming with me through all this.”

“Through your exile?”

“Through everything,” Ironclaws said. “For not shooting me in the fucking head when I build that damn set of armor. For standing behind my name when Logan was to put me on trial. And yes, for going into exile with me.”

“I owe you this much, old friend.”

Ironclaws smiled.

“Well, Little Bjorn wants another feast, so we better get our fill before we’re gone forever.”

Aevar closed the trunk, while Vermund looked around the room, then out the hallway.

“Damn, I’m gonna miss this place,” he said. “All the smells and pack gatherings.”

“Can’t forget the snow and the cold.”

“You mean it gets warm here?” Helfist laughed.

 


 

“To the Vlka Fenryka!” Kaerls yelled, raising their flagons towards the tables at the front of the feast hall. “To their endless devotion to the Allfather!”

“An’ ta th’ battles ta come,” Maeva added, holding her flagon high. Ale spilled as she smashed the large, wooden cup against several others.

Maeva drank like there was a drop at the bottom of the flagon. Around the table, other kaerls worked to drain their flagons first. She saw one man eyeing her progress. She tilted the flagon higher, forcing more of the ale down her throat.

She was about to take the last pull, when another woman slammed her empty flagon down on the table, belching loudly. The others cheered as she raised her arms in victory. She didn’t even finish second; a portly man beat her by a few seconds.

“Dammit,” she cursed. But at the same time, she couldn’t help but grin. This was her home, and she would be kicked out of it soon enough.

“I know you, don’t I?” a voice said next to her. Maeva looked over. A dark-haired woman sat down next to her.

She looked strong, like she lifted ammo crates for the Vlka all day long. Her hair was braided in an ornate tribal pattern, running down the left side of her head, while the right side of her head was a buzz-cut. Her nose was broken and hadn’t healed right, and she had a scar running down her neck.

“I do know you,” the woman grinned, “you’re that kaerl who’s helping that Iron Priest, ain’t you?”

“Got tha’ right,” she smiled back.

“I heard of a crazy mortal whore who took to working with a Sky Warrior, but they never said anything about a metal arm.”

“Sounds like ya need ta know me better,” Maeva said. “I don’t mind ‘tha’ crazy mortal whore,’ but ya can call me Maeva.”

“Wait, you’re that Maeva?” A man demanded.

“Ya know of any other?”

“I thought that Maeva was as ugly as a kraken’s ass, an’ had wooden teeth.”

“I heard she only had a stub for an arm.”

“I thought she was some she-bitch the Sky Warriors trained to walk upright.”

“Look at all ya, whisperin’ like yer a group a spinsters,” she laughed. “My name is Maeva, I’d like to think I’m prettier ‘n a kraken’s ass, an’ I ain’t no she-bitch.”

“I can tell you, you’re much prettier than a kraken’s ass,” the dark-haired woman smiled  sweetly. She ran a finger across her cybernetic arm. “What about the stub for an arm?”

“Oh, they got tha’ bit right,” she said. “Can’t do shit with one arm, so I made another.”

“All by yourself?”

“Aye, all by myself,” she boasted.

“Looks like a Sky Warrior helped you,” someone said.

“He did help put some  tools ‘n shit in,” she admitted. “’Side from tha’, it’s all me.”

“There a story with that?”

“’Course there is,” Maeva smiled. “Pull up a seat...”

“Hlif.”

“Pull up a seat, Hlif, an’ I’ll tell you all about it.”

Hearing a story coming, the kaerls gathered around, pushing to get a good seat. A server set down an entire tray of ale, which were quickly grabbed. Maeva was barely able to get one herself. Hlif had to grab one out of a smaller woman’s hand; the greedy bitch took two. Maeva couldn’t help herself; with Hlif bent over the table to grab the flagon, she roughly smacked her ass. Must’ve been the ale.

The men laughed and Hlif hit her back, but playful like; she was all smiles. Maeva just grinned and took another pull of ale. Hlif looked for her seat, but found it had been taken. So she sat on Maeva’s lap.

“So all ya should know that I’m th’crazy mortal whore runnin’ ‘round with a Sky Warrior,” she began. Like any daughter of Russ, she knew how to spin a tale. “Why, ya ask? Turns out he needed my helpin’ hands. I’m good at makin’ thin’s. An’ I’m not a fuckin’ servitor, those thin’s don’t have any soul. Gotta make a blade with real heart ‘n soul if ya want it ta do more ‘n snap in a fight. Tha’s me, puttin’ heart ‘n soul inta battles.

“We went out on a hunt. Orks were lookin’ ta burn a few big colonies. Hive cities, with more people ‘n ya ever seen ‘fore. More people ya’d ever meet ‘n yer life. Shoulda seen it, with buildin’s reachin’ to th’ sky, gold on everythin’ an’ what ain’t gold is marble.”

“Rich fuckers,” someone yelled. “Probably can’t do shit for dick.”

“Got tha’ right,” Maeva laughed, grabbing at Hlif’s thigh as they laughed. “They needed our help with tha’ little ork problem. So the Sky Warriors went there ta kick ‘em in whatever gonads they got. An’ kick ‘em they did!”

“That’s our Sky Warriors! The Allfather’s Chosen!”

More ale was spilled, and more ale was served. Now Maeva was feeling good and loose.

“So I was out there, with the Blasphemer Aever Ironclaws himself,” she continued, “fixin’ tanks an’ artillery. Th’ orks loved big guns, so we gave ‘em all the guns they could handle. When outta nowhere, a whole army a orks showed up, starin’ us down! An’ who else was leadin’ ‘em but the warboss hisself!”

“What did you do?” A man asked.

“Wha’ any other Fenrisian would,” she shot back. “I grabbed my axes, an’ I ran at th’ fucker!”

The kaerls roared and pounded the table.

“I must’a cut down five or so of th’ smaller bastards,” she bragged. It was her last night home; might as well ‘embellish’ a ‘few’ details. “Woulda been more, but orks are tougher ‘n they look. I lopped part of one ork’s head. It just made him madder’n all hell.”

“Part of his head?” Hlif gasped.

“Damn right. Could see all th’ grey matter ‘n all tha’ shit jigglin’ ‘bout. Just made him go cross-eyed mad. But Ironclaws there was somethin’ else. He was howlin’ and screamin’, beggin’ for a challenge, ‘cus the orks just weren’t anythin’ to him.”

“What about the warboss? Wasn’t he there?”

“Damn coward realized he bit off more ‘n he could chew. Sent his cronies after us.” The kaerls booed. Maeva took the time to grab another drink. She sent a mental command to warm up her cybernetic hand. “An’ say one thin’ ‘bout th’ orks, there are a fuck lotta them. He just called in wave after wave, more’n we could handle. When outta nowhere, came Bjorn the fuck-motherin’ Fell-Handed himself! It was like he was a ship crashin’ through the waves, with orks fallin’ left ‘n right.”

“The Fell-Handed himself?”

“Damned right,” she roared. “Ta even see him wake up was an honor. Ta fight with him? I can die happy with that!”

“So how did you get those scars?” Hlif asked, running her finger down Maeva’s scarred cheek.

“Well, about tha’ time, th’ warboss finally found where his dick went,” she said. “Got a few of his boys to arm up with bombs, and sent ‘em at us, suicide style. They jumped at the Fell-Handed, crackin’ his armor up good.”

The kaerls gasped, cursing the green skins.

“We couldn’t let ‘em hurt the Fell-Handed, so Ironclaws put himself in front of him ‘til he could get his wind back. An’ he pushed ‘em back! He pushed ‘em so hard, the warboss had ta get in on th’ fight. Tha’s where I jumped at him.”

“You jumped at the warboss?” Another kaerl gasped.

“What else was I supposed to do?” She said with a well-practiced shrug. Hlif placed her hand on top of hers; she seemed to like her now-warm fingers. “Took some swings at him, but he’s a big fucker, yea? Blocked ‘em all, an’ lopped off my arm.”

She raised her arm and drew a line across her bicep. Kaerls grimaced.

“What did you do?” Hlif asked.

“I tied a tourniquet on myself, an’ I got back in th’ fight, tha’s wha’,” she grinned. “Got a good hit in, too. Put the smile right in his ear. Tha’ got ‘em pissed. Tha’s where I got this thin’.”

She pointed to the side of her face, where her long, jagged scar ran from her temple to her jaw.

“Backhanded th’ shit outta me. Shattered my face, broke my jaw, popped my eye. I was a right proper mess. By tha’ time, we had help come in. We carved th’ orks up, tore ‘em a new one, an’ drove ‘em back. Ironclaws picked me up, an’ since I’m so good with my hands,” she squeezed Hlif’s thigh, “he patched me up. This face ya see here? Got an adamantium skull.”

She tapped her head with a fork. It rang like it kissed metal. Kaerls laughed.

“Same with th’ jaw. All metal, no wooden teeth. Think I got a pretty good one outta th’ deal, though.”

“Damn! That deserves a drink,” a man said. “Give her some ale! Come on, you bastard, don’t be stingy. Come, to the crazy mortal whore!”

“Crazy mortal whore!” Everyone cheered. Now she was getting good and drunk. She cheered and boasted as food and drink was pushed in front of her. She got warmer and warmer as the night went on. Or was that Hlif?

One thing was for certain, they were both getting feistier and feistier. Eventually Hlif went in for a kiss, next thing Maeva knew, everyone was banging away on the table as they attacked each other. She stuck her metal middle finger high in the air, and pulled Hlif towards a door, her flesh and blood hand glued to her ass.

She never saw a small, blonde hair kaerl glaring at her as she left. The blonde kaerl’s skin rippled for a brief second, revealing a black catsuit underneath. Then she regained her concentration, and the rippling stopped.

 


 

Maeva walked through the hallways of the Aett, trying to ignore the little hangover and sores she got from the previous night. Damn, she would miss home.

“Just had ta get hooked up with a damn Blasphemer,” she grumbled. “Fuckin’ exile.”

She rounded a corner and nearly ran into Parsef and Geist, who was actually out of disguise.

“Oh, hello, Parsef,” she said, trying to remember how High Gothic went. “Fancy meetin’ ya here.”

“All too fortuitous,” he said, eyes narrowing. “Are you here to spy on us as well?”

“Wha’? Yer shittin’ me, right? I look like th’ kinda girl who’d be good at spyin’?” She laughed. “Come on, I’m packin’ up ta head inta exile. Runnin’ errands an’ whatnot.”

“Of course you are.”

“Fine then, don’t believe me,” she shrugged. “Just let me get back ta work an’ ya can go sulk or whatever ya do.”

“Why don’t you take an extra hand? Geist, you can help her,” Parsef said. 

“This one has duties to attend to.”

“Remember your orders, assassin,” he said. What orders could those be? Was Geist supposed to spy on her, too?

“…You order, this one obeys.” She turned to Maeva. “Where do your duties take you?”

“Gotta pick some crates up. I’m turnin’ here,” she said, pointing towards a T-junction. She led the assassin down the hallway, past a few other kaerls and servitors.

“So, haven’t seem much of ya since th’ big proclamation a couple a days ago,” she said, smiling easy. “Tha’ Parsef got ya workin’ hard?”

“This one’s duties were not exceptionally hard. And she has taken a vow of secrecy to never speak of them,” Geist replied frostily.

“Jeez, I ain’t askin’ ya ta tell me everythin’ yer doin’, just makin’ small talk. Can’t I ask ta see how yer doin’?”

“This one has been fine.”

Maeva waited for Geist to continue, but the assassin didn’t.

“…Tha’ it?”

“That is it.”

“Man, if I wanted ta be alone, I’d ‘ve asked fer ya.”

“This one is aware that she does not talk much.”

“Can’t ya just say ‘I?’ You’re plenty pretty, sayin’ ‘I’ would really help ya out.”

“This one doubts you mean that.”

Maeva turned to Geist.

“What ya mean, ‘this one doubts I mean it?’”

“This one welcomes your attempts at flattery, but doubts that they are sincere.”

That got Maeva to stop.

“Wha’s gotten inta ya? Ya’ve been avoidin’ me, an’ now yer actin’ all strange an’ bitchy. What’s gotten into ya?”

“This one does not know what you mean. She has been fine.”

“Bullshit ya’ve been fine, yer getting’ all snippy with me. Thought we were better ‘n tha.’”

“What is it you mean, ‘we were better than that?’”

“We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well in th’ past month ‘r so, yea?” Maeva said. “Now yer actin’ all jealous-like.”

“This one is not jealous.”

“I think ya are. I can see it in yer eyes.”

“This one’s eyes are covered; how can you see into them?” Geist asked, snapping at her.

“Come on, I’ve gotten ta know those eyes. They’re real pretty eyes. Well, when they’re disguised, eh? Ya make real pretty eyes.”

“This one suspects that you tell that to every woman you meet.”

“Wha’ th’…? Th’ fuck ya say?”

“This one suspects that you tell that to every woman you’ve ever met,” Geist repeated. “Did you tell it to that woman you bedded at the feast last night?”

“Who…? Wha’ are ya talkin’ ‘bout?”

Geist’s  catsuit rippled. Maeva bit her tongue, trying not to jump. Geist became a pretty, tough-faced Fenrisian woman. Her nose was broken and not set straight, with a scar on the left side of her face. Hair sprouted from her head, twisting and turning into a long braid; the right side of her head, however, was cut close.

“Wait, yea, Hlif, tha’s who ya talkin’ ‘bout?”

“That is correct. Did you tell that woman that her eyes were pretty as well?” Geist demanded. Her skin rippled as her disguise melted away, returning to the black catsuit.

Maeva blinked.

“Yer jealous.”

“This one is jealous of what?”

“Yer fucking jealous, tha’s wha,’” Maeva said, more than a little stunned.

“This one is not jealous of anything. She does not know what you are talking about,” Geist said, genuine curiosity in her voice.

“Bullshit ya are! Holy shit, yer actually fuckin’ jealous a me.”

“What is this ‘jealousy’ you keep mentioning?” Geist demanded.

“We’ve been fuckin’ like rabbits fer the past great month ‘r so, an’ now yer jealous just ‘cus I went after ‘nother woman.”

“What is a ‘rabbit?’”

“Ya don’t know what rabbits are?”

“Krieg has no natural life left on the surface. They all died out millennia ago in the nuclear holocaust of the Purge.”

“Morkai’s balls, forget ‘bout th’ gorram rabbits,” Maeva gasped. “Yer jealous ‘cus I’ve been stickin’ my tongue in other women, tha’s wha’ it is.”

“This one does not know what you mean.”

“Fekke, yer thicker ‘n a Land Raider,” she said. “Ya wanted me ta yerself.”

“That would be impractical. How would you birth a child for conscription?”

“Wha’ th’…? Holy fuck, Geist, just say yer fuckin’ jealous.”

“This one is not jealous,” Geist snapped. “She is sure that your acts of flattery were simply to get what you wanted: an intimate encounter.”

“Yea, just several dozen ‘intimate encounters?’” Maeva demanded.

“It was not several dozen.”

“Tha’s a figue of gorram speech!”

“If you have actual work to do, this one will leave you to it,” Geist said, turning on her heel. “She has her own duties to attend to.”

“Fine, get ‘em done on yer own time,” Maeva said. She felt like pulling her hair out, but was too stunned to do anything.

 


 

Aevar flipped through a sheet of scrolls. The Mechanicus wanted new relics, lesson plans for more tech priests. He had to pull another miracle out of his ass; packing could wait, if only for a bit. The door opened, and in wafted the unmistakable scent of a mortal. Not that Aevar needed to guess who it was.

“That was quick,” he said. “You done packing?”

“Bumped inta Geist,” Maeva said. “I think she really likes me.”

“Sorry?”

“I think she really likes me,” Maeva repeated. She shook her head as she walked in.

“Alright, that’s news. What tipped you off?”

“She’s as jealous as fekke when I talked ta her. Actin’ all snippy, tossin’ out insults, an’ bein’ petty.”

“I didn’t know Death Korp members knew how to insult people.”

“Well, this one does, yea? She said I called her pretty just ta ‘have an intimate encounter’ with her,” Maeva said, making finger quotes in the air. 

“That’s strange. How did all this start?”

“She must’a seen me take Hlif ta bed,” Maeva mumbled. “She’s a kaerl I met in th’ feast hall.”

“Was she a looker at least?”

“Oh, yea, a real tough bitch. Just my kind. Thin’ is, now Geist seems ta hate me.”

“Seems like she has a pretty good reason for it.”

“We never talked ‘bout keepin’ ta each other!”

“Maybe you should.”

“What…?  Ya turnin’ inta my ma?” Maeva demanded. “Tellin’ me ta take thin’s slow, find a nice girl ta get hitched ta?”

“I need you focused on this shit,” Aevar said, pointing to the schematic scrolls he had laid out. “On this, not on Geist, ‘cus you’re making one Hel of a fuss over her. Has this happened to you at least once before?”

“Yea, had a few ladies who just didn’t get th’ hint tha’ I wasn’t inta anythin’ passed th’ winter. Maybe th’ spring, too, if I was feelin’ lonely.”

“Good. Then you know how to handle this without getting upset.”

“Upset? Damn right I’m upset!”

“Why? Geist is just another pelt on your wall.”

Maeva started, then stopped, stammering for a split second.

“Yea, she is,” she finally muttered.

“Then let it go. If she isn’t just something to warm your bed with, then maybe you should talk to her about it.”

“Never thought one of th’ Allfather’s Chosen would be my fekkin’ spinster’s circle,” she grumbled.

“What I need is for you to quit your bitching and work with me,” Aevar snapped. “We’re rediscovering lost technology; I can’t have your mind stuck on your last conquest. So think on it, do something about it, then shut your damn mouth, get focused, and get to work.

“The Mechanicus is the only reason we’re still sucking air; we piss them off, lose their blessing or bust their deal, we’re as good as dead. Now sit down, I want to give this plasma accelerator a go before we get kicked out of Fenris.”

Chapter Text

Maeva peeked around Helfist. Aevar stood at the head of the main feast hall. The Old Wolf stood in front of him, with Little Bjorn behind him. Parsef stood off to the side, without Geist. Dammit, where did she go? There were a handful of kaerls there; Geist had to be one of them.

“Not too sure how to officially do this,” Grimnar said. “Never had to exile one of our own before.”

“It’s a strange honor,” Aevar laughed.

“Aye, damn strange.” Grimnar sighed. “Well, you had to go looking for answers, and you got burned for it. So, as decreed by the Fabricator-General himself, you’re kicked off Fenris. You’ll never know the winter, the cold, or her embrace again, for as long as you live.”

The hall was quiet as the Old Wolf glared at him. Maeva peeked around some more, trying to find the woman who wouldn’t meet her eyes, or who glared death at her.

“Right, think that’s good enough,” Grimnar said, turning on his heel. “Ready the ship. Our dear Blasphemer needs to get off this rock and to the Elusive Truth. The Inquisition wants to jump to this ‘Dimmimar’ planet within the hour.”

The ground shook as armored Sky Warriors left. The kaerls were just behind them. Many mortals left in pairs, but more than a few left alone. Tapping her foot impatiently, Maeva didn’t know which woman to go for. Then she saw a woman glare at her for the briefest of seconds.

“There she is,” she hissed, running up to a woman. “Geist. Geist!”

“Hmm?” The woman hesitantly turned. “Are you…?”

“Geist, come on, don’t do this.”

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the woman said. “Maybe you’ve confused me.”

“Dammit, Geist, I’m sure tha’s you in there,” Maeva groaned.

The woman’s eyes went flat, and her voice broke.

“This one is very agitated that you can spot her,” the assassin said from her assumed form.

“I know wha’ a jilted lover looks like, yea?” Maeva said. “All th’ glarin’ an’ wha’ not. If it makes ya feel better, I nearly bought it.”

“…This one understands, and will guard her reactions better.”

“Listen, can’t ya just say ‘feelings?’ An’ can we talk?”

“We are talking,” the assassin frostily replied.

“Fekke,” Maeva groaned, pulling at her hair. “Right, here goes: I ain’t good with this whole ‘stickin’ together’ thin’. No one really is, not on Fenris.”

“What is it that you mean, ‘sticking together?’”

“Stayin’ with someone. We live on a death world, yea? Ya might fancy some chick, an’ she goes huntin’ an’ gets eaten by a thunderwolf. Shit happens out there on th’ ice, yea? Ya can’t let it get ya down, so ya move on. An’ th’ next girl gets caught in a storm an’ freezes ta death, so ya find ‘nother.

“Yer dad gets his threat cut makin’ red snow with ‘nother tribe. Yer mom ain’t gonna mourn all year long; she finds someone else, an’ ‘fore ya know it, ya got a whole litter of half-brothers ‘n sisters runnin’ ‘round. Ya get wha’ I’m sayin’?”

“Due to the harsh conditions of the planet and the short life-expectancy, you don’t expect long-term partners.”

“Yea, tha’s it. We just don’t get tied down, yea? It don’t mean nothin’, just tha’ we’re lookin’ around.”

“You mean to imply that you sleeping with That Other Woman meant nothing to you.”

“Fekke, ya said tha’ with capital letters ‘n shit,” Maeva said. “Yea, no, well…damn, I mean, Hlif is a hot number, but I ain’t lookin’ ta make anythin’ long outta it. Not unless she is, but, but, damn, where am I goin’ with this?”

“If you favor women over men, how would you do your duty to your planet and bear children?” Geist asked. “Surely you’re meant to have children; this one is aware that only Krieg has access to the Vitae Womb cloning technology. Therefore, you must have birthing responsibilities.”

“’Vi-ta Womb?’”

“It is the means of reproduction on Krieg,” Geist said. “It essentially clones a user to create a soldier.”

“Ya mean there’s dozens a other women who look just like ya, runnin’ ‘round over there?”

“Assuming they are still alive and in service, then yes, that is correct.”

“Be still, my legs…An’ each of ‘em is an assassin?”

“For reasons that were not explained to her, she believes she was the only one selected to be an assassin. It is possible there was a glitch in the cloning process which made her an ideal candidate. But this one digresses; how would you create children if you do not prefer the company of men?”

“Oh, kids. Yea, I know a guy, Sven. He don’t like the idea of gettin’ with a woman like I don’t like gettin’ with a man. We got an agreement: we both live long enough tha’ people start wonderin’ wha’ we’re doin’ ‘bout kids, he’ll do his thin’ into a cup, an’ I’ll play with a baster.”

“A very efficient agreement.”

“Yea, we might not like it, but it’s better ‘n th’ other thin’. Ya know, actually gettin’ with a man ‘r woman? But ya get where I’m comin’ from?”

“You seducing That Woman meant nothing to you.”

“Just a good lay; have ta scratch an itch, yea? But she left in th’ mornin’, an’ I ain’t seen her since. Th’ Aett is a big place, ya know?”

“This one believes she understands.”

Maeva awkwardly shifted from foot to foot. The assassin watched her, silently.

“Ya got somethin’ ta say?” She asked. “I think I put my bit out there. At least, th’ best I knew how. I ain’t good at any of this.”

“You do lack a certain grace, but this one suspects that it is because of your death world heritage, not because of any ill-intent,” Geist said. “But she is confused; what is it you are saying?”

“I really like tumblin’ with ya,” Maeva said, blushing. “We’ve had fun scratchin’ tha’ itch, yea? An’ all yer talkin’ is kinda annoyin’, with all ‘this one’ this, an’ ‘this one’ that, but it’s kinda cute. It’s growin’ on me. I’d like ta get ta know you better; it’ll be nice to keep this goin’, yea?”

“This one agrees. While she has not ‘scratched the itch’ before, the time she spent ‘scratching’ it with you has been…enjoyable.”

“So can we give this ‘nother go?”

“This one would greatly like that.”

“Good,” Maeva smiled.

“But this one would appreciate it if you would refrain from seeking other women to ‘tumble’ with.”

“Wha’?”

“This one is not dead yet; she would prefer it if you didn’t ‘move on’ from her until such a time. It is similar to weapon maintenance; maintain the use of your weapon until it needs to be replaced. Only then would you find a new one.”

“Shit. Tha’ll take a little gettin’ used ta. Habits an’ all tha’, yea?”

“Will you, or will you not?”

“Morkai’s balls, Geist, I said it’ll take getting’ used ta, not tha’ I can’t do it, gorram,” Maeva said. “I’ll do my best ta get used ta this whole ‘one person’ thin’.”

“This one…thank you.” Geist actually smiled. It was a slight tug at the corner of her assumed lips, but it was a smile none the less, and it was genuine.

“Yea, feels nice, eh?”

“It does. Sadly, this one has duties to attend to. May she talk later?”

“I’d be insulted if ya didn’t talk ta me,” Maeva smiled.

“Then we will talk later.” Geist started walking away, but Maeva pulled her in for a quick kiss. Then she let the assassin go.

It felt like a weight was lifted from her shoulders. She felt like she could take on a Sky Warrior, stripped naked to boot. Maeva nearly skipped down the hallways, running to the lower levels to gather her things. She opened the doors to Aevar’s chambers, where he was gathering up his remaining things.

“You find that assassin of yours?”

“Yea, I did,” she nearly sang. “She’s up fer givin’ it another go. Only this time, no more side action.”

“Good,” Aevar nodded his approval. “That means we can still spy on her to keep an eye on Parsef.”

Maeva blinked, then remembered that she was supposed to spy on the assassin.

“Yea,” she said, “yea, we can.”

“Even better.” Aevar didn’t seem to notice the drop in her voice. He stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Maybe we can get an early warning for when he’s about to exterminatus us. Come on, let’s get to the hanger.”

 


 

There was a knock at Parsef’s door. He opened it, meeting a demure kaerl.

“Tea, milord?”

The smell wafted through the air. Ginger tea, just the way he liked it.

“Please.”

He opened the door, and the kaerl walked in. As soon as the door was closed, her skin rippled, changing from the polymorph drug, until she became Geist once more.

“Report,” he said, taking the tea from her grasp.

“This one has found nothing of note,” Geist said. “She is continuing her investigation.”

“Good. The wolves must surely have something to hide,” he said. “How deep do you think you can go?”

“This one has had time to hone her disguises; she believes she can infiltrate the upper levels of the kaerl hierarchy.”

“Excellent.” He took a sip of his tea. It was perfect, with just the right amount of honey. Parsef took a seat to enjoy the tea more. “What about that kaerl? Maeva?”

“This one begs for your pardon. What do you mean about her?”

“You’ve been getting pretty chummy with her, haven’t you?” Parsef said, sipping his tea. “We need to leverage that. Use her to get into the inner ranks of the kaerls, even the Space Wolves if you can.”

Parsef was relaxing with his tea; he didn’t hear Geist pause for nearly a full second.

“The Fenrisians are fiercely independent,” she finally said. “They might not be welcoming of outsiders. They have spotted this one’s disguises in the past.”

“Then make better ones. I need to know what those fucking dogs are up to. We’ll probably have better luck getting close to them at Dimmimar.”

“You…order, and this one obeys,” Geist said, bowing after nearly two seconds of hesitation. Sitting in his plush chair, enjoying his tea, Parsef once again missed the hesitation.

Geist’s skin rippled, changing back into the kaerl disguise, and she left the room.

 


 

Maeva huffed as she carried three very large bags towards the Stormwolf assault ship. The bags rattled despite her work at wrapping all her blacksmithing tools with her clothes. Each step caused the tools to tinker. She felt like a damn sleigh bell.

Despite the chilly air of the Aett, she was sweating heavily. Even with her new cybernetic strength, her tools weighted a damn lot.

“Need a hand with that?” Someone said. Maeva looked up, and was surprised to see Hlif walking over.

“Well, well, look who it is,” she grinned. “Thought ya give me th’ old fuck ‘n run, yea?”

“Na, just a damn big mountain we work in,” Hlif said, taking the strap of one bag.

“Careful, it’s heavy.”

“I’m used to it.”

“Suit yourself.”

Maeva let go of the bag, and Hlif was nearly pulled to the ground.

“The fuck you got in this thing?” She groaned.

“Smithin’ tools,” Maeva grinned. “Got my ass exiled, I gotta take everythin’ I got.”

“Shit. Think you could have pared down a bit?”

“I did. You shoulda seen how many bags I had ‘fore.”

Hlif nearly had to waddle to keep walking with the bag.

“Don’t even get a right proper send off, do ya?” She said. “Would’ve thought they’re be a few more people here to wish you away.”

“Fer th’ Blasphemer an’ his crazy mortal whore? Come on, be real,” Maeva laughed. “Thanks fer th’ hand.”

“Glad I can help,” Hlif said with a smile. “Damn shame about the exile. We had a good romp, didn’t we?”

“I don’t know; ya talkin’ ‘bout me, or my fingers?” Maeva grinned.

“Why not both?”

If she was getting exiled until the stars went out, Maeva wanted one last taste of home before she left. She opened her mouth, and just when she was about to say something really smooth, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. It was another kaerl, but she was looking at her.

“Yes?” Hlif said slyly.

No, that kaerl couldn’t have been looking at her; she was going a visual inspection of the Stormwolf. But that got her thinking; could it be Geist? She was an assassin, she could be anyone.

“Er, yea,” Maeva stammered, “I’d like ta, really, but…th’ Sky Warriors got me workin’ hard.”

“You don’t seem worked that hard.”

“Yea, but movin’ shit an’ stuff, they got some more shit hidden away,” she mumbled. “I ain’t got any free time fer a quick romp.”

“Damn. And I wanted to get a fix of those fingers ‘fore you left forever,” Hlif said, obviously disappointed.

“An’ I really wanted to use ‘em, too,” Maeva laughed. “But, ya can’t keep th’ Warriors waitin’, can we?”

“Damn duty,” Hlif said. “Hope there’s some nice eye candy wherever the Hel you’re goin’.”

“Yea, me too,” Maeva laughed. She watched as Hilf went back to the Aett’s doors, hips swaying hypnotically.

“Fekke, Geist,” she muttered. “Better give me a real good time fer turnin’ tha’ down.”

 


 

Aevar stood on the bridge as the ship gave way to real space. It shuddered, and the blast shields lowered, revealing the Cardinal World he would spend the rest of his life on. The short four day warp trip did little to ease his mood, no matter how much of a ‘miracle’ the Navigators were making of their speedy arrival. He idly wondered just how the fuck the Inquisition managed to get him exiled to a Cardinal World of all places.

He felt cramped just watching the planet. Even though it was the planet’s night cycle, it was illuminated with countless points of light. There had to be hundreds of millions, if not billions, of humans on the planet; and they were all fervently loyal to the Emperor.

“If there’s one thing that I won’t miss, it’s the damn warp travel,” Aevar said.

“Preaching to the choir,” Helfist mumbled. “Look at that world. Fucking Inquisition has probably been putting spies on this planet since the Fabricator-General gave his decree.”

“Probably before then,” Aevar shrugged. “Our dear Inquisitor probably demanded that my name be stricken from any piece of paper or logic-computer that held it.”

“Would he have?”

“Please. The Mechanicus does not delete data; they only amend it.”

“So they stick us in the ass-end of nowhere, on the middle of an Ecclesiarchy-held world, surrounded by Inquisitors, Grey Knights, and an assassin—“

“Don’t forget the Sisters of Battle,” Aevar added. “Cardinal Worlds mean Sisters.”

“Right, and Sisters of Battle. My point is they’d all love to see us offer up blood sacrifices so they can frag our asses. What the fuck kind of exile is this?”

“The kind where they want to frag our asses at any second. The Inquisition hates us because we’re Vlka Fenryka and don’t give a flying fuck about them. Apparently Grey Knights aren’t overkill enough, so they tell the Ecclesiarchy that I’m the Blasphemer, so now they got Sisters of Battle ready to do us in.”

“The Inquisition really does play hardball, don’t they?” Helfist chuckled darkly.

“Too right.”

“And the only thing keeping us sucking air is the Mechanicus’ mighty, raging tech boner. That’s just great. Can you do me a favor, brother?”

“What’s that?”

“If you ever run out of ideas to give to the tech priests, tell me first,” he said. “I want a running start before all the shooting starts.”

“Not sure what good it’ll do, but if it helps you sleep at night.”

“The sad thing is, it just might help.”

“Excuse me, milord?” A kaerl said, walking up to Aevar. “Got a message from th’ planet. Got a shuttle coming up to take you planet side.”

“Well, here goes nothing,” Aevar said. “Is my assistant in the shuttle bay?”

“She is, milord. Said she was getting antsy, sitting around.”

“Sounds like her.” He turned to Helfist. “Last chance to get out of this.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Helfist said, walking with him to the elevator. It hummed as it dove through the guts of the ship, taking them closer and closer to the shuttle bay.

“Damn,” Aevar said. “Exile. Never thought I’d see the day.”

“It might be exile, bet they’re not throwing us into the warp,” Helfist said. “Now that’s the day.”

“Truly, this is a dark millennium we live in,” Aevar laughed.

The elevator chimed and the doors slid open. The bay was in a flurry of activity, but one mortal sat still. Maeva was sitting on the munitions crate that Aevar packed full, idly whittling a stick.

“You ready to meet your new home?”

“Fuck th’ Hel no,” she snapped. “This place get any snow, at least?”

“Not too sure.”

“Fuckin’ better,” she grumbled.

“What crawled up your ass and died?” Aevar asked.

“Turned down a tumble with Hlif ‘fore we left.”

“You? Turn down a tumble?” He laughed. “Careful, Vermund, the warp is suddenly calm!”

“Ha, ha, real funny, yea?” She grumbled.

“So why’d you turn her down?”

“Just…none of yer business, okay? Don’t wanna talk ‘bout it.”

“Not every day a mortal turns us down,” Vermund said.

“Kinda like it. Keeps us humble, right?” Aevar slapped Helfist on the shoulder. “Come on, the shuttle should be coming here soon. Let’s get ready.”

Lights flashed and an alarm blared as a bay door opened. The blue-tinted void shield kept the empty vacuum at bay, and a Thunderhawk gunship floated through. It hovered, landing as gently as a multi-ton ship could.

 


 

The front door slowly opened, and a green-clad giant walked out. His skin was so black, it almost appeared to swallow the very light itself. A massive broadsword hung across his back, between his servo-arms.

“What the fuck?” Aevar said, staring. He had to focus to switch to High Gothic. “Is that Croan fucking Dragonsword?”

“Aevar,” the massive Tech Marine smiled. “It has been too long.”

“What the fuck are you doing here, ya bastard?” Aevar roared. The Salamander offered a hand, but Aevar wrapped him in a tight embrace. “Who the shit let you leave Terra?”

“It is a tale, one you might like,” he said, slapping Aevar’s back. “Good to see you are still alive.”

“Very good, indeed,” a mousey tech priest said, walking out from behind Croan.

“You brought Legato with you?” He roared. “Who’d you have to suck off to get this shit to fly?”

Aevar lowered himself to the mortal’s height, and gave him a cautious, one-armed hug. Unsure of what to do, the mortal hesitantly patted his back with his four thin servo-arms.

“Damn, it’s like the gang’s all back together,” Aevar laughed.

“And I see you brought a few of yours here, too,” Croan said, nodding towards Helfist and Maeva.

“Well, one’s my best help, the other’s too dumb to say ‘no’ to exile,” he laughed. “Croan Dragonsword, Legato, this is Vermund Helfist, Rune Priest. Sitting on my stuff over there is Maeva, my assistant. Helfist, Maeva, this is Croan Dragonsword and Legato, tech priest of Mars.”

“So how did you meet these two?” Helfist asked, walking over to shake Croan’s hand.

“Back when I was stationed on Holy Terra, doing work for the Mechanicus. These two were the only ones there worth talking to. They knew how to do their job, and not be a fucking stick in the mud about it.”

“Sounds like Ultramarines were there.”

“And a few Blood Ravens,” Croan said.

“Ugh! And I thought Ultramarines were bad!”

“And they let you off Terra to do what? Welcome me to exile?” Aevar asked.

“No; to join you,” Croan said.

“Okay, now you’re shitting me.”

“Hardly,” Legato said. “Word of your…err, unique findings—“

“Dammit, call it what it is. I blasphemed.”

“Uh, right, when word of your blasphemies reached us, Croan and I were the only ones to speak in your defense. Then the Mechanicus revealed that you found a way to re-make relics. Is it true you made Paragon blades?”

“That and one other thing,” he smiled.

“That’s…wow. Incredible! Um, well, when we heard about that, Croan immediately knew that that’s what you found in the Emperor’s Library. We had to go out and help you.”

“You’re just trying to make up for almost killing me, aren’t you?” Aevar grinned at Croan.

“It is partially out of my own shortcomings,” he admitted, “but there are a few more reasons. First, it is mostly a selfish demand. Work on the ‘project’ is moving like a tank without its treads, being sucked into a pit of mud. We were to be of better use working on anything else, including your ‘blasphemies.’ Second, we come bearing news from the Mechanicus, or rather, a warning.”

“Don’t tell me the Mechanicus is changing the deal,” Aevar groaned.

“Hardly. They simply want us to share with you how…tumultuous this agreement is,” Croan said. “As you know the Mechanicus are the only ones keeping you and your Chapter from being declared a Traitor Legion. But, to keep you and your Chapter in good standing, they had to come to many agreements with the High Lords and the Inquisition.”

“Ah, they want you to tell me about the sword hanging over my head.”

“Exactly. This ‘miracle’ the Mechanicus gave you is not to be tested. The Mechanicus wants relics, as well as more tech priests to be able to recreate your work. To them, you are a black box: you do something, and relics come out. They want you to teach other priests so everyone would know how to create those relics.”

“And prove to the Inquisition that you’re not somehow summoning daemons,” Legato added.

“Can’t forget about that, can we?” Aevar laughed. “So, let me guess: I have to follow every order to the punctuation mark, right?”

“That is exactly right,” Croan said. “Breaking the order, even in spirit if not in letter, will cause the Inquisition to pass judgement on us, as well as your Chapter.”

“You mean kill us and label the Vlka a Traitor Legion,” Helfist said.

“That is right.”

“Damn. How far did the Mechanicus stretch their necks out on this?”

“We were not told specifics,” Croan said, “but the Fabricator-General himself told me that he had to call in dozens of favors owed to him, as well as promise many favors in return.”

“So the Mechanicus had to risk their good name to get this to fly, and to same my Chapter, I gotta pull another miracle out of my ass,” Aevar said. “Shit.”

“You now see where your hunt for the answers had brought you, brother?”

“Yea, yea, you gonna rub it in about how I got burned and all that?”

“Something along those lines.”

“Well, message received, brother,” Aevar groaned. “Anything else to tell me?”

“Just that we’re the first team of tech priests you need to train,” Legato said. “So don’t hold out on us.”

Aevar barely hid his groan. He was barely teaching Maeva anything. He barely knew what he himself was doing. The ‘black box’ the Mechanicus had begged, borrowed and pleaded for didn’t have any idea what he was doing.

He had to try harder, learn more. It wasn’t just his life on the line anymore, but his friends and even his Chapter.

“So you decide to risk your lives to come here and be taught by me. Is that more of that selfish demand of yours?” He asked instead.

“That, and the Ultramarine became unbearable,” Legato sighed.

“Wait…Ultramarines were bearable to begin with?” Helfist asked, stunned.

That got a laugh out of Croan. Maeva stared at his white teeth. The contrast between his skin and teeth was something new to her.

“Too right!” the Salamander roared.

“Speaking of the ‘project,’ was there anything that I missed?” Aevar asked. He hid his emotions well, but there was still much hope that leaked out into his voice.

“Everything and nothing,” Legato sighed. “We work, we toil, sweat and bleed, and get nowhere for our troubles.”

“So it’s a Monday.”

“Every day is a Monday,” Croan said. “That is why I say that this is a selfish demand. The Mechanicus needed a few tech priests to be taught by you, and we volunteered.”

“In that case, welcome to exile!” Aevar stretched his hands wide. “We’re being watched by the Inquisition, an assassin, Grey Knights, the Ecclesiarchy, Sisters of Battle, and eventually a kill team of Marines. If we so much as twitch, they’ll lop our heads off.”

“An assassin? Y-you can’t be serious,” Legato stammered.

“Did I stuttered?” Aevar smiled.

“Sadly, this is an improvement over the ‘project,’” Croan sighed.

“That’s the spirit! Come, this’ll be fun, once you get used to breaking every single rule you’ve ever held dear.”

 


 

The Thunderhawk flew down, landing in front of a massive monastery-fortress. It was built into a mountain, clearly the crowning jewel of the capitol hive city. It was almost like the Aett, but it was just so small. Clouds flew higher than the mountain, making it a pale imitation of the Vlka’s hold.

The landing pad was the largest piece of open land in what seemed to be this side of the mountain. Everywhere else, there were buildings. They were either homes, chapels or industrial buildings, but to an offworlder like Aevar, it was unsettling. He growled his displeasure at the lack of wild. The entire place smelt of incense, even from the ship.

“Fucking Cardinal world,” he muttered as the door to the ship dropped open. He led his motley crew out onto the planet where they would be living forever. “Fucking Inquisition. Who the hell did they have to suck off to get this shit to fly?”

“Remember, brother,” Croan said, “it was the Mechanicus that had to bend over backwards to save your Chapter.”

Waiting for them was Inquisitor Parsef, a team of Grey Knights, and an ancient-looking Sister of Battle wearing exquisite armor. Three long scars stretched from one corner of her lips towards the back of her head, tearing up her ear. It looked like some xenos nearly lopped off one side of her head in some long-ago battle.

“Greetings, Blasphemer,” the woman said. Like all Sisters, she wore her hair short. But hers was unfashionable, like she hacked it to length herself. Despite her age, her hair was still a light brown, with only a few wisps of gray. “I am Canoness-Preceptor Lynia, head of this Convent of the Order of the Valorous Heart, keeper of the faith on this planet.”

“And one of the many executioners waiting to cut our heads off,” Aevar said.

“We are not executioners,” Lynia said, eyes narrowing.

“No, you’re not, but you’ll do what the Ecclesiarchy tells you to do, and they’ll do what Parsef over there will tell them to do,” he said, nodding towards the Inquisitor. “They tell you to cut our threads, you’ll ask how. That sounds like executioner work to me.”

“I’m glad to see that you’re very perceptive.”

“Please, a blind man could see what this is.”

“Very true,” Lynia said. Her scars twisted as she smiled. “Then shall we dispense of the pleasantries, and call things by what they really are?”

“It’ll save me a headache trying to sort out all the double-talk.”

“Then welcome to your gilded cage.”

“Canoness, is that really necessary?” Parsef asked.

“If we wish to talk frank, then we’ll talk frank,” Lynia said. “It is what our ‘brother’ would want.”

“Come on, Parsef, I think we know each other better than to piss on each other and say it’s raining,” Aevar said.

Parsef snorted.

“And who is this merry band of souls?” Lynia asked. “Are they willingly following you down the path of damnation?”

“Ha! ‘Merry band!’” Aevar laughed. “They’re just my entourage. Canoness Lynia, may I introduce to you Vermund Helfist, my brother and Rune Priest, and my assistant, Maeva. The man over there is Croan Dragonsword of the Salamanders. You’ll like him; he loves fire just as much as you do. The tiny man behind him is Legato, a priest of Mars.”

“Canoness,” Helfist said, nodding curtly.

“Do you follow this man?”

“To this planet? Yes. To damnation? That remains to be seen,” Helfist smiled.

“Quite the lot you have,” Lynia said. “You are all welcome to Dimmamar, so long as you keep holy the Emperor and His teachings.”

“Right.” That got Aevar to shift uncomfortably. “Come on, let’s see where you’ll be stashing us.”

 


 

The meal hall was massive. Table after table was filled with Sisters. Each sported the same clothing; black with red sashes, although some ate with their armor. Nearly every Sister had the same hairstyle, although the colors ranged from red to grey; only a few Sisters seemed to rebel from the pattern. Every Sister sat with rapt attention, with perfect posture, hands clasped in front of them, each deep in prayer. The hall was so quiet, Helfist could hear a pin drop.

Aevar sat to Canoness Lynia’s left, with him, Croan and Legato to his left. Only Inquisitor Parsef sat to the right of her massive chair.

Helfist leaned over to Aevar. His wooden chair creaked and groaned. The sound echoed through the massive hall, making him grimace. Not a single Sister stirred.

“This is a bit of a change,” he muttered.

“’A bit?’”

“Fine, a big fucking change.”

Even though he whispered, he could hear his voice echo.

“The Sisters are wholly devoted to the Emperor,” Croan whispered. His voice carried as well. “This is what they do naturally.”

“Buncha sticks in th’ mud,” Maeav grumbled.

“It’s not that bad,” Legato said, adjusting his chair. The wooden legs scraped at the floor. He grimaced, and took more care in moving his chair. “This is actually quite peaceful.”

“Tha’s th’ problem; it’s too damn peaceful.”

From the massive chair that sat over the entire meal hall, Canoness Lynia finished her silent prayers. She spread her hands wide, offering her devotion to her sisters.

“Ave Imperator.”

“Ave Imperator,” the Sisters replied in perfect unison. As one, they calmly began serving each other, passing plates of food to each other and filling each other’s goblets. From the wing tables, a select number of sisters stood and carried food to the tables.

“Sister, what do you have to drink?” Helfist asked the serving sister.

“We have water, milord.”

“And…?”

“And water. I can fetch ice cubes, if you wish.”

“No ale?”

“None, milord. Temperance is a virtue.”

“What about mead?”

“Temperance, milord, is a virtue.”

“Mead is practically water!”

“With respect, milord, it is not.”

“Fine, how about wine?”

“Sacramental wine is not meant for recreational consumption,” the Sister gasped. “To…to even suggest it…”

“That’s it. I’m in Hel,” Helfist said. He let the flustered Sister walk away.

“Try going dry on Holy Terra,” Aevar said.

“Least th’ foods alright,” Maeva said, tucking into a pork chop.

“At least there is that,” Croan agreed. He turned to Aevar. “What are we to do?”

“We work,” he said.

“And what, pray tell, would you have us make first?”

“Well, first I gotta see how good you are when I make you forget everything the Mechanicus taught you,” Aevar said, cutting into his dinner. “Then we’ll see what we can make.”

And I’ll figure out how to make more shit up, he thought.

“Never thought I would be going back to the basics,” Croan chuckled.

“Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who had to start over. Only person who didn’t have to start from scratch was Maeva.”

“Imma born natural, yea?” She said, puffing her chest out.

“No, you just didn’t know anything. Easier to fill and empty jug than a full one.”

Maeva glared death at Aevar.

“It’s why I let you be my assistant,” he sighed. “I didn’t want anyone getting in my way when it came to the teachings of the Mechanicus. Since then, your head’s been filling up nicely. When you aren’t trying to lose it.”

“You were injured in battle?” Croan asked.

“Yup,” Maeva smiled. “Almost took out an Ork Warboss.”

“She got in a slap fight with a nob and almost lost her head,” Aevar said, correcting her. Maeva glared at him again.

“And you saved her?”

“I like my assistant. She’s good help,” he shrugged. “I’m glad that nob didn’t cut her thread.”

“I’m glad, too, yea?” Maeva eyed a passing-by Sister. Then shook her head, as if she was trying to get an idea out of her head.

“If she has your praise, I look forward to working with her,” Legato said.

“I look forward on getting something real to drink,” Helfist grumbled.

“We’ll work on it,” Aevar promised. “Come on, let’s get started on our work so we can get our executioners off our back.”

 


 

The hallways of the fucking monastery were a damned maze. Maeva must’ve spent an hour walking down hallways. Or maybe it was the same fucking hallway; they all looked exactly alike.

“Dammit, how do those fuckin’ women not get lost?” She grumbled. Night was falling, and lanterns were being lit by servitors up and down the hallway. Fortunately, the hallways were big enough that she wouldn’t touch one accidentally. The fucking things gave her the shivers. She made the mark of aversion on her neck as she passed one by.

“Sister, are you lost?”

That made Maeva jump. She spun, and saw one of the many warrior nuns behind her, wearing simple cloth robes.

“Damn, yer a quiet one.”

“I’m…sorry? I don’t know the language you speak,” the Sister said, her brow furrowing.

Maeva hissed. Damned High Gothic.

“Sorry, not from ‘round here,” she said, making an effort to switch from Juvik to the foreign language.

“Oh! My apologies, but you seem awfully old to be an aspirant.”

“Na, na, came with th’ Vlka,” she said. “I’m an assistant.”

“I see,” the Sister said. Her eyes traveled across Maeva’s face, looking at her scars. “Are you a warrior, by chance? You seem very acquainted with battle.”

“Yea, I’ve been in a few scraps.” Damn, but she was a cute one. Little soft around the edges, but her arms betrayed a strict exercise regimen. And her chest…

“Bringing ruin to the Emperor’s enemies is the greatest joy we can afford,” the Sister smiled.

“I wouldn’t say greatest, but it’s up there,” Maeva smiled. Then she stopped.

Dammit, she forgot about fucking Geist. Maeva nearly hissed, remembering her promise to the assassin.

“Hey, look, I’m a bit lost, yea?” She said, trying not to stare. The robes the Sister were in were flat, but that just made her want to see what she was like without them even more. “Think ya could help me find my room?”

“I would be happy to help,” the Sister said, smiling radiantly. Damn that Geist. “Please, this way.”

The Sister expertly walked down the hallways of the monastery, taking turns with grace and authority.

“How are you enjoying our humble monastery?” She asked.

“This is humble?” Maeva chuckled. “Got a strange way a showin’ humble. Place is fuckin’ massive.”

“I assure you, this is a humble monastery. The Order of the Valorous Heart does not like finery; it detracts from our faith and devotion.”

“Yea, sounds good. Damn, how do ya find yer way ‘round this place?”

“Lots of practice,” the Sister said. She was all smiles. It made her heart flutter seeing a beauty like that.

“Might need yer help if I’m gonna be livin’ here,” Maeva said slyly. Then she remembered Geist.

“This one would be happy to show you around.”

“Great,” she grumbled. “Yea, I’d like…Wait.”

Maeva stopped dead in her tracks.

“Is something wrong?” The Sister asked, turning around.

“Who are you?”

“This one would hope you would remember her.”

“Dammit, don’t do tha!’”

The Sister demurely laughed, her skin rippling until she changed until the black-clad assassin stood in front of her.

“This one is happy to finally have a suitable disguise,” Geist said.

“Th’ fuck ya doin’ this fer?” Maeva seethed.

“To see if you were able to spot this one while in disguise. She is happy that she had passed muster.”

“Yea, it’s a real good disguise,” Maeva grumbled. “Nearly had me hittin’ on ya.”

“And how is that a bad thing?”

“’Cus I said I’d try ta cut down on tha’ sorta thin’.”

“This one…your self-control is truly admirable.” Geist was wearing her mask, but Maeva could see the corners of her mouth perk up in a smile.

“Yea, an’ I’m gonna need every shred of it ta live through this Hel.”

“Hell?”

“Oh yea, this place is fuckin’ Hel,” Meavea said. “Come on, it’s a whole fuckin’ buildin’ fulla hot, single women who hardly see any men! Have ya seen some of th’ scars these chicks have, ‘r how strong they are? Fuck, if it wasn’t fer ya, I’d be finger-deep in heaven right now.”

“These are your death world habits, are they not?”

“Gotta get out an’ play th’ field, ya know?”

“This one has an idea.”

“I don’t like th’ tone in yer voice…”

“You ‘play the field’ with the Sisters you want, and this one will attempt to fool you.”

“Sorry, what?”

“You enjoy spending time with this one, as well as intimate time with others. So chase them. This one will simply assume new disguises to blend in, and become the object of your affection.”

“Wait, you’re lettin’ me go out an’ chase tail, without getting’ pissy?”

“This one has seen you since before arriving on the planet.”

“When th’ fuck was that?”

“This one is as assassin; she is not meant to be seen,” Geist said with a hint of slyness. “She has seen you uphold your word admirably. In her training, she has been told that to make relationships work, compromises must be made; trust must be built. It would not be fair to have this one change everything about you without first changing herself.”

“So you’ll let me play th’ field? What do you get out of it?”

“Instead of you trying to seduce this one, she will to seduce you.”

That got Maeva to blink.

“Ah, so you’ll be tryin’ ta pull th’ wool over my eyes,” she grinned. “Get me thinkin’ yer just another Sister. Ya think I won’t be able ta figure ya out?”

“You didn’t five minutes ago.”

That got Maeva to grin.

“Won’t be much of a Fenrisian if I didn’t step up ta a challenge. Yer on.”

“This one has had time to work with adapting her disguises to avoid detection. She looks forward to tricking you again.”

“You cheeky little bitch,” Maeva laughed. “I ever tell ya how much I like ya? By th’ way, how the Hel do ya know yer way ‘round this place?”

“This one has had time to study the maps of the monastery. She has memorized them all, and is familiar with the location.”

“Damn, yer scary.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Hel no. Fenrisians only like things tha’ scare us.”

 


 

The massive armor stood silently. Even though it was empty, Legato could feel eyes drilling into him. Weighing him, measuring him, and finding him wanting.

“I haven’t seen such beauty since I beheld the Emperor’s flawless gene-seed,” he said. “Truly, forbidden knowledge was used to create this.”

“Morkai’s balls, Legato, you say that every damn week,” Aevar laughed.

“Surely, it must be true,” Croan said. “This armor is something we could never create.”

“Tha’s ‘cus ya got yer noses stuffed in some dusty tome.”

Legato stared at Maeva. Never had he heard a mortal talk back to a Space Marine, let alone as blatantly as she did.

“Your assistant has quite the tongue,” Croan said, giving her a hard look.

“From what she tells me, she’s quite good with it,” Aevar chuckled. “Speaking of which, you have any luck with the Sisters here?”

“I’m workin’ on it, yea?” She grinned.

“You let her talk back like this?” Legato asked.

“Why not? I shit just like everyone else; no need to go around worshipping the ground we walk on. Besides, Fenrisians like things straightforward. Keeps us humble.”

“It is a little…off-putting,” Croan said. “When I dealt with mortals, they have always used the proper respect.”

“You’ll get their respect when you cave some xenos’ face in,” Aevar said. He looked over at Croan’s work. “You got the circuitry wrong.”

“This is how it was taught to me.”

“And is that ‘machine-spirit’ able to drive the capacitor bank now?”

“No,” Croan said tightly.

“Then you’ll have to do it the way I showed you.”

“But it flies in the face of the Mechanicus! This is blasphemy.”

“Good thing I’m called the Blasphemer then, right?” He laughed.

Croan huffed, but did what Aevar told him. Sure enough, the simple bank of capacitors lit up a testing light.

“Once again, you have done all the work, and I have learned nothing,” Croan said.

“Oh, for the love of Russ, it’s only been what, three weeks?” Aevar groaned. “Give it some time, you’ll get better. Once you get the hang of this, you’ll know how to make a proper shield generator.”

“And this is the armor’s augmented generator?” Legato asked, walking over. Blasphemies or not, he had to get away from the empty look of the Cataphractii armor.

“Aye, that it does. See, the trigger is tied to the potentiometer. Once it senses a force stronger than a few hundred Newtons, strong enough to get past the pot, it’ll trip the capacitor bank there, and those’ll hit the generator. Once it hits the generator, well, you know the rest. Least, I think that’s how it works…”

‘“Amazing. And this can improve the sensitivity of the generator?”

“Pretty damn sure.”

“You have…you have just created better shield generators for Terminator armor, without using a dedicated storm shield.”

“Shoulda seen him ‘fore he found that out,” Maeva said. “Cussin’ up a storm he was!”

“So the mighty Space Wolf finally cursed,” Croan grinned. “Maybe we can finally hear some of your colorful language.”

“That’s right, you never did hear me break into a real tear. Well, you’re sure in the right place for it.”

There was a knock at the door, but before Aevar could say anything, a team of Sisters opened the door. Leading them was Canoness Lynia, wearing thick, yet simple and unstylish, black robes.

“Greetings, Blasphemer,” she said pleasantly. “How goes your foray into damnation?”

“Making good progress,” Aevar smiled back. He nodded to the armed and armored Sisters. “Making a statement there, or do all of your Sisters only have armor to wear?”

“They are free to wear what they want,” Lynia said. “They simply feel off-put by your blasphemies.”

“But not you?”

“I think you are a misguided soul, wandering down dark paths. My hopes are that, by seeing the Emperor’s light, you will return to His side.”

“And you can do this without your armor? Where’s the famed violence of the Sisters of Battle?”

“Compassion comes first.”

“Canoness-Preceptor Lynia, are you seducing me?”

That got a peel of laughter from both Maeva and Croan. The Sisters standing guard didn’t react favorably. But Lynia simply smiled.

“My dear brother, I don’t know what you’re insinuating.”

“Oh, don’t give me that, you old bat!” Aevar roared.

“We have a ship dropping out of the warp,” Lynia laughed. “It is a cruiser that is carrying the rest of your prison guards.”

Aevar gave her a sideways look.

“Did I say prison guards?” She mused. “I meant executioners. The new team of executioners are here to guard you.”

“I love it when you talk frank,” Aevar said. “Well, let’s go meet these executioners.”

Legato took a frantic second to put his tools back in order, then ran to follow the Space Marines and the sisters. He followed Maeva, who walked behind them.

“How are you acclimatizing to the planet?” He asked her.

“Too fuckin’ hot,” she said. “But th’ sisters are nice, yea?”

“They seem…brusque.”

“Part a th’ charm, yea? Gotta find a good way ta talk with ‘em.”

“You talk to the sisters?”

“When I can. Wha’, ya think I’m gonna stay cooped up in this hole in th’ ground, workin’ my fingers to th’ bone? Na, I gotta get out an’ meet some women.”

“I…see. Yes, humans are social creatures; I’m sure making friends would be a nice thing.”

“Tha’s one way to call it,” Maeva grinned. She winked at a passing Sister.

Chapter Text

Canoness Lynia led Aevar and his motley crew through the labyrinth-like monastery, eventually exiting towards the very same landing pad that welcomed them. Parsef and Helfist were waiting for them.

“Dammit, how th’ fuck do they walk ‘round this fuckin’ city without gettin’ lost?” Maeva cursed from the back of the group.

“I’d like to know that myself,” Legato admitted.

“It is repetition,” Lynia said. “I have faith you’ll pick up on it.”

From the sky, a pair of Thunderhawk gunships broke through the clouds. They floated down in perfect harmony, coming about for an easy landing. A few seconds after them, a strange ship broke through the cloud line, the color of the Space Wolves’ armor.

“Well, look at that, our company from home has arrived,” Helfist said.

The new ship shot downwards, like it was intent on crashing into the planet. It flew between the two Thunderhawks, missing them by mere feet. The Thunderhawks’ engines roared to life, braking and spinning to miss the rocketing ship. Once it flew passed the Thunderhawks, the Wolf’s ship began breaking.

“It’s coming in too fast,” Legato gasped.

“Damn fools, are they trying to crash?” Croan hissed.

 With a matter of meters to the landing pad, the engines spat out even more thrust. Legato could feel his heart and stomach twist at the obvious abuse of the ship’s machine-spirit. How could they push the sacred thing so hard?

But push they did, and they landed with a heavy clang instead of a devastating crashing. Above them, the Thunderhawk gunships were spinning, trying to regain their precision landing. Out of synch, the ships moved in to land independently.

Aevar and Helfist laughed, and walked out to the ship. The front boarding ramp fell down, and a team of Space Wolves walked out, none worse for the wear.

“Ha! Look at ‘em!” Maeva laughed, pointing at the spinning Thunderhawks.

“Damn fool Space Wolves,” Croan said. But Legato could hear a hint of admiration in his voice.

“Are you...praising the wolves?” Lynia asked.

“It was a damn fool maneuver, but it took one hell of a pilot to pull off,” Croan said. “See how close they passed by? It takes a keen eye, steady hands and nerves of steel to pull that off.”

“And a lack of sanity,” Lynia added.

“And what of the abuse of the machine spirit?” Legato said. “Those poor engines must have been redlined to stop them from crashing!”

“Eh, don’t worry ‘bout it,” Maeva said with a dismissive wave. “They like it rough, yea?”

“’They like it rough?’ You’re mad!”

“An’ yer borin’.”

At the landing pad, Aevar and Helfist were jovially greeting the team of Space Wolves in their native tongue. They were slapping their armor and laughing loud, with plenty of pointing at the landing Thunderhawks.

An Ultramarine was first to storm out, wearing his full battle plate. A regal red cape billowed behind him, and he carried a helmet in the crook of his left arm, a red feathered crest arcing across the top of the helm. Despite his majestic look, he had bags under his eyes, as if he never slept. Even with his exhausted appearance, it didn’t dampen the fury leaked from his eyes.

“Who commands this…this rebellious bunch?” He demanded.

“Oh no, there goes the Ultramarine,” Croan sighed. “Come on, better step in and keep them from trading blows.”

“Who gave the order for that reckless descent?” The Ultramarine yelled. “It was completely against regulations! You endangered everyone with that suicidal stunt!”

“But we didn’t kill anyone now, did we?” A black-haired Space Wolf said, stepping forward. His shoulder pad was red and black. “I’m Blaeing Silverwolf. Now who the Hel are you?”

“I am Julas Domius!” He spat back. “Sergeant of Squad Octavian, the Swords of Judgment, Second Company of the Ultramarines! And just who do you think you are, breaking protocol and rank to…to…to show off?”

“We’re here to back up our brother Ironclaws here,” Silverwolf said, nodding to Aevar. “If we knew your pilots wouldn’t be up for some simple aerial moves, we would’ve taken our time.”

“’Simple aerial moves?’ You endangered the lives of everyone in the sky!”

“Were we wrong to assume your pilots would be good enough to adjust to a simple disruption?” Blaeing grinned. The Ultramarine’s eyes nearly bulged from their sockets.

“Hold, brother,” Croan said, running up. “Please, stay your wrath. The Space Wolves are simply happy to see their brothers.”

“They need to obey proper protocol,” Sergeant Julas spat. “But what could I expect from the feral wolves of Fenris?”

“You could expect a lot more liveliness here.”

“Come now, Silverwolf,” Aevar said. “We just got here! Plenty of time to get at each other’s throats later.”

“Speaking of getting here, you got my message?” Helfist asked.

“That we did.” Legato wondered why he was called ‘Silverwolf’ when there was no silver on his hair. “Damn shame. What are our sisters thinking, living without any source of fun?”

“’Source of fun?’” Julas said. “You expect every waking moment to be a thrill? We need to remain vigilant, not shirking our sacred duty!”

“Hold, brother,” Lynia said, stepping up. “I’m certain the Space Wolves are just trying to upset you. You can’t let them have their way.”

“Canoness Lynia speaks true,” Croan said. “We must hold our tempers.”

The Ultramarine glared, but relented.

“Very well. May I talk to you, Canoness? Perhaps in your chambers, away from the rabble?

“Ooh, he called us rabble,” Silverwolf mocked.

“With pleasure. A team of Sisters shall show you to your quarters,” Lynia said. At her very word, three armed Sisters stepped forward.

“Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have to get ready,” Aevar said. “We got a treat for you.”

“And to what do we owe the pleasure of getting such a ‘treat?’” Lynia asked.

“Just for putting us up.”

“’Putting you up?’ You are here by order of the Mechanicus. One does not simply argue with both the Fabricator-General and the Inquisition.”

“Stop trying to take the fun out of it, will you ya old bat?” Aevar laughed. The armed Sisters’ eyes widened at the insult. But Lynia just smiled.

“Just keep your brothers in line,” she laughed.

“Can’t guarantee anything. These Blood Claws are our recruits, and they tend to get a little rowdy. But we’ll work on it, don’t you worry.”

“You’re not allaying my fears.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Helfist grinned. Behind him, Legato saw the ‘Blood Claws,’ the recruits in full power armor, moving massive wooden barrels from the maw of the ship.

“Is it just me, or did the temperature suddenly drop?” Croan said.

“No, I got shivers down my spine as well,” Legato said.

“Then I shall put my faith in your work, and pray to the Emperor that nothing bad shall happen,” Lynia said. “Brother Croan, would you help me welcome the rest of the executioners?”

“It would be my pleasure,” the massive tech marine bowed. “Come, Legato, let’s leave the wolves to their own devices, and hope that we live to see the morning.”

 


 

The Sister’s meal hall was, once again, dead silent as the sisters prayed. Croan was expecting at least uneasy shifting from the Space Wolves, but they were as quiet as the sisters. That, surprisingly, made him feel even more uneasy.

“Ave Imperator,” Lynia said, spreading her arms from her spot at the head table.

“Ave Imperator,” the sisters repeated. They then went to passing food around, giving each other helpings before eating themselves.

The Space Wolves ate at a table at the edge of the hall, foregoing their armor and wearing simple clothes. Across from them was the table that the rest of the Space Marine guards ate at, and they all remained in their armor. Croan couldn’t help but be amazed; counting him and the Wolves, the Sisters were playing host to a full count of First-Founding Chapters, traitors excluded.

At the head of the Space Marine executioner table was Julas Domius. Of course an Ultramarine would go for the head of the table. From his spot at Lynia’s side, Croan couldn’t help but roll his eyes.

A pounding went up. It was one person at first, but others quickly joined in, making it sound like a squad of Marines were marching.

It was the Space Wolves. They were pounding the table with their fists, some with pewter flagons. Some drinks were spilt. They were setting rhythm for a song. From the Space Marine’s table, Julas gave a hard look towards the rambunctious Marines.

“What, in the Emperor’s holy name, are they doing?” Parsef demanded.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Croan muttered.

The words barely left his mouth when the Space Wolves started singing, and in High Gothic to boot.

 

No man could beat the Bloody Nine, he’s killed more men than cold.

Five hundred stood against his might, five hundred threads he cut.

When trav’ling to small town’s edge, he got a mighty thirst.

He walked through nearest tavern’s doors, for drink and for some warmth.

 

At the mention of ‘warmth,’ they all grabbed their crotches. Croan winced, Legato blanched, and Parsef choked on his drink, but the Sisters all impassively watched.

 

He found inside, to his surprise, no men to meet his gaze.

For inside lining all the walls were only shield maidens!

Some tall, some short, some in-between, some bustier than most.

A welcome sight for lonely eyes, and lonelier bed rolls!

 

The Sisters looked on, eyes hard. Legato looked like he was about to pass out. A small serving door barged open, and Maeva walked in, pushing a cart full of bottles. Hearing the song, she joined in.

 

He got a mighty thirst and greed, his britches seemed to tight.

He took a woman and a drink, and planned to stay the night!

When from the walls, swords were drawn, and axes smiled bright.

The Bloody Nine, he grinned and smiled, ‘no man could dare kill me!’

 

Hearing Maeva join in, the Wolves laughed and slapped their thighs, and took the drinks she brought, bringing her into the chanting.

 

They charged, they fought from tooth to nail, each blow was struck with glee.

No man could kill him, yes, it’s true, but he wasn’t face’n men!

They hewed his member from his loins, they shoved it down his throat.

The Bloody Nine made one mistake: don’t fuck with Valkyries!

 

The Space Wolves bellowed the last line, holding their glasses high. They downed their drinks, laughing and slapping each other. But they showed odd caution to Maeva, making sure to not throw their arms around when she was near.

Parsef wasn’t the only one off-put by their chant. Julas was glaring death at them, but the Sisters still watched quietly. It came as a shock to Croan as he saw a few Sisters break from their stone neutral faces, laugher and smiles slipping out.

From the Space Marine table, a White Scar burst out laughing. His brothers quickly turned on him, glaring harshly at him.

“…What?” The White Scar said.

“Come on over, brother, plenty of room,” Helfist yelled. “Move over, damn you! Come on!”

Sure enough, the Space Wolves moved, making a spot for the White Scar. Grinning, he got up and joined them at the table. A bottle was shoved into his hands, and like that, he was one of them.

“W-what is going on?” Legato asked.

“I think this is how the Wolves make friends,” Croan said.

“Or enemies,” Parsef spat.

“Why not both?” Lynia asked, a small, tight grin on her face.

From the other end of the hall, a cadre of Sisters stood. The Wolves silenced each other, and their din quickly fell.

One Sister tapped out a quick measure, and as one, they began chanting. Some were setting the tone, while others set the pace. The mixture of voices was perfect.

 

Goge Vandire, High Lord of Terra.

Ruled with a great and terrible power.

Darkness clouded his eyes, temptations ran wild.

Gathering power tight in his grip,

Brought shame to all, and from the Emperor.

 

As they sang, more and more Sisters stood, each voice adding to the chant. With the growing number of Sisters joining in song, their voices echoed through the hall, growing in fervor and beauty.

 

But lo, from His mighty hand, a herald came,

A bearer of His word, to show the light of day.

Truth was shown, illuminating all,

As the Brides, we were wicked, corrupted from within.

 

“I never thought I would hear Sisters sing like this,” Croan said.

“I’ve never even heard them sing before,” Parsef admitted.

“We’re full of surprises,” Lynia said, and stood to sing herself.

 

The demagogue had usurped his power,

But held none of the true radiance.

When faced with the truth, the glorious truth,

He wavered and he gasped.

 

The other Marines seemed to truly revel in the singing, as if they were washing the barbaric chant of the Wolves from their ears. Julas was enjoying it the most; his eyes were closed as if he was praying. Then again, with the bags under his eyes, he might be sleeping, too.

 

When Sister stepped to take the traitor’s head,

No mind could show him his fate.

With gasping mouth, he relented to his fate.

 

The song came to an end on a rousing held note. The echoes continued to sound through the massive hall. The table of Space Marines seemed exceptionally pleased that the sisters sung a truly stirring song. Even the wolves were grudgingly nodding, admitting that the sisters truly knew how to sing.

Canoness Lynia raised her hands, and the sisters began again, but this time, the tempo picked up, tripling from the slow chant of before.

 

Our honor sullied, our virtues torn,

We stood against the Emperor.

But we took Goge’s fucking head

To redeem our sins. Let all know!

 

They weren’t singing; they were yelling, shouting their devotion, pounding on the tables.

 

Should they turn their backs to light

We shall burn them so.

And if they think them above us,

We’ll take their fucking heads as well!

 

As one, the Sisters pounded their tables in perfect unison. That got the Space Marines to start, and the wolves to laugh. Seeing Julas, the Ultramarine, caught off-guard got them to really roll around.

“That was perfect!” Aevar roared. “The looks on their faces!”

The wolves raised a drink to the sisters, who raised their glasses of water back. The toast complete, they both drank deep.

“Come on over,” the wolves baited, waving the sisters closer. Many refused, but a few stood and walked over to chat, much to the wolves’ pleasure. Croan saw Aevar’s mortal assistant, Maeva, look excited, getting the chance to talk to fellow women. Julas looked on with undisguised disappointment. Now Croan had to throw it in their faces. He stood up.

“Where are you going?” Legato asked.

“I am going to make some friends as well,” he said. “It is not every day that one gets to hear a Space Wolf battle song, a Sisters’ chant, and get the chance to disappoint an Ultramarine all in a single evening.”

“Ha! Our brothers feud like a spinster’s circle!” Lynia laughed.

“Do not go telling everyone you meet,” Croan smiled, flashing his teeth.

“I have to admit, there is something vaguely satisfying in watching the high and mighty Ultramarine glower in disgust. I think I’ll join you.”

“Canoness, is that really necessary?” Parsef asked.

“I think we should get to know each other better, seeing as they’ll be here forever.”

“As I am sure the Wolves would say, ‘the more, the merrier,’” Croan said. He offered the Canoness an arm, which she demurely took. Together, they walked to the wolves’ table.

“Another brother arrives!” Aevar cheered. “And a sister, as well!”

“Thank you for the song, Blasphemer,” Lynia smiled. “It was…not what we were expecting.”

“I could say the same about your chant right there. All smooth, mournful even, and then wham! You take the fucker’s head! Ha ha!”

“How are the sisters taking your company?” Croan asked, nodding to the small group of sisters who had walked over. Maeva had met them, and was enthusiastically talking with them.

“Well enough. We’ll get them to loosen up.”

“I see they haven’t been viciously assaulted yet,” Lynia said dryly.

“What the fuck do you take us for?” Aevar snapped, suddenly glaring death. The change nearly made Croan flinch. But Lynia held her ground as well as he did.

“Good, you got real steel in your spine,” Aevar smiled, glad she passed his strange test. “And I got to say, I didn’t expect such a spirited greeting from the Sisters.”

“We all have our surprises,” Lynia laughed.

“Hold the damned vox,” Aevar gasped. “Is that a fucking tongue piercing you got there, Canoness?”

Croan stared at the Canoness, who closed her mouth so fast it audibly snapped. She blushed heavily.

“I was not always a Canoness,” she finally said. She spoke through clenched teeth, but had a slight grin on her lips.

“So, you aren’t totally boring,” Aevar roared. “Uh-oh, look out, the Guardians of the Codex arrives.”

Croan looked up. Sure enough, Julas was storming up.

“What is the meaning of this?” He demanded, looking quite flustered in his fine armor.

“Just making friends and sharing cultures,” Ironclaws grinned. “We’re being social.”

“You call this social?”

“Aye, we do. See? This here is Bortei, a White Scar. Croan is getting along with the Canoness, of whom we found out something very interesting, and my assistant is leaning how the Sisters lick—er, tick. See? We’re getting along.”

“What is that you are drinking?” The Ultramarine demanded.

“Liquid,” Aevar evasively, smugly, replied.

“What kind of liquid?”

“Some mead we got from home.”

“Ah, so that explains those barrels you pulled from your ship,” Lynia said.

“Why, sister, I don’t know what you mean,” the Space Wolf grinned.

“You freely partake in alcohol?” Julas spat. “You are a disgrace to the Emperor’s name!”

The Wolves at the table turned to the Ultramarine.

“Careful there, smurf,” Aevar said, a hard edge in his voice. “You talk shit, you get hit.”

“You think I fear you? Do you really think that I fear unwashed, unkempt, loud-mouth alcoholic dog fuckers?” Jules said, taking a step forward. “I am a Guardian of Ultramar! I have seen countless horrors, and the only thing that scares me is your stench!”

That got the wolves to stand up, hate in their eyes. Croan noticed that the hall had grown quiet, with all the eyes shifting onto the group of Marines.

“Might want to take those words back, smurf,” Aevar snarled, taking a step forward.

“Or what?” Julas said, matching his step. They were chest-to-chest. “Will you waft more of your stench at me?”

Those two idiots were really going to fight. Croan pushed himself between the two, trying to stop them. He put a hand on Aevar’s chest, and a hand on Julas’ pauldron.

“Aevar, please, this is neither the time, nor the place for a fight.”

“I think it’s the perfect time and place. Our brother wants to have words, so let’s have words.”

“You will have more from me, dog,” Julas barked.

“Big talk from a man who needs armor to do his walking for him.”

“Blasphemer! You think you can stand--!”

“You are all in my hall,” Lynia said. Despite her mortal stature, she spoke with such authority that both Aevar and Julas paused. “All of you will hold your tempers!”

“The Canoness is right,” Croan said. “Besides, the wolves are trying to bait you.”

“This Blasphemer thinks he can—“

“I said peace, brother!” Lynia snapped, voice full of rage and authority. Even Julas was caught off-guard. “You will respect my rank, and listen to my command!”

“Julas, please,” Croan said. “The wolves want a fight. You are only giving them what they want.”

With both Croan and Lynia getting between the two, the wolves knew a fight wasn’t going to happen. They grumbled and cursed, kicking the ground.

“Dammit, and I was hoping this would ruffle enough feathers,” Aevar sighed, his anger suddenly gone.

“You…you wanted this?” Julas sputtered.

“We’re the Emperor’s Angels of Death,” Aevar said. “We’re ill-suited for peace. Just have to throw some punches to make us all right as rain.”

“You are something else,” Lynia said, shaking her head. Her tone was full of disappointment, but her facial scars twisted, betraying a smile. “Do not cause trouble for us in this hall. That is an order. As punishment for this…ruffling of feathers, clear the tables.”

A few sisters reacted, breathing sighs of relief or even pumping their fists as they were freed of their duty. But it wasn’t enough to hide from Lynia’s gaze.

“You have just joined them,” she barked at them.

“Yes, Canoness,” they obediently bowed.

 “It looks like dinner is over. The tables need to be cleaned. Get to work.”

The hall was massive; it would take a very long time to properly clean. But the wolves just laughed.

“Aye, sure, we’ll get it cleaned.”

“Good. Brother Croan, let’s leave the barbarians to their work,” Lynia smiled.

“’Scuse me, Canon-miss?”  From the small group of Sisters came Maeva, Aevar’s assistant. “Er, yea, I ain’t a member of th’ Sky Warriors, so, can I just…”

“Yes, you can be excused. Though we’ll have to work on your language; you’re barely fluent.”

“Beggin’ yer pardon, it’s th’ death world in me actin’ up,” Maeva smiled.

“Quite a…colorful bunch,” Lynia sighed as they left the hall. “We will teach her soon enough.”

“I have seen how stubborn the Space Wolves are. It would take quite the effort to bring them to heel.”

 


 

“Fekka, we dodged a bullet there,” Maeva said. “Tha’ halls too damn big ta clean. Sephoris, tha’ scary dragon-lady followin’ us?”

“I don’t think so,” the Sister of Battle said from behind her. She had chatting her up in the meal hall, and the red-haired Sister was awfully receptive to her flirting.

“Good, we’d be there fer days.”

“It is a very big hall, isn’t it?” Sophoris grinned. Damn, was she cute. Maeva couldn’t wait to see her scars.

“I can think more ‘n a few thin’s ta do than clean a damn hall,” Maeva grinned.

“And what few things would those be?” Sephoris asked, catching the gleam in her eye.

“Ain’t ya worried ‘bout stayin’ true ta th’ Emperor an’ all tha?’” Maeva chuckled.

“This one isn’t that worried about it,” Sephoris smiled.

“Oh, that’s a right relief—wait.”

Sephoris grinned, her skin rippling minutely.

“Dammit, Geist!”

“This one has fooled you yet again,” the assassin said, breaking from the voice of her assumed shape. “She is back in top form.”

“Oh, come on, tha’ ain’t fair.”

“Are you truly upset with this one for tricking you?”

Mavea had to think for a second.

“Ya know, not really.”

“This one is pleased to hear it.”

“Shut up and get back ta my room.”

“Does this one need to show you the way again?” The assassin grinned in her assumed form.

“…Yes.”

“Follow this one.”

“Thanks,” Maeva mumbled. “I’ll get it one day, yea?”

“Is there anything else this one can do for you?” Geist asked.

“I got a number a thin’s in mind. But, ya think ya could stay like that? Lookin’ like that Sister with red hair?”

“For you,” the assassin smiled, “anything.”

 


 

Helfist gently walked through the monastery and gingerly pushed open the heavy door to old man Ironclaws’ new layer. As usual, the three Iron Priests were busy working.

“Well, look what the cold blew in,” Aevar said. “You busy making new friends?”

“Challenged Bortei to a drinking contest after we cleaned the damn hall,” he mumbled, easing himself into a nearby chair. “Turns out that fucking White Scar can hold his liquor. He’s gotta have a hollow right leg or something; I don’t know where he put it all.”

“Thought you looked a little hung over. You need an ice boat to get you going?”

“Just need some time to get over this,” he groaned. “So, what are you planning today, Aevar?”

“The same thing we try to do every day, Vermund. Try to save the Imperium.”

“Tall order right there.”

“And getting taller by the second,” Legato sighed. “This…this is lost technology. It is beyond us.”

“Bah! You just have to follow what I tell you, open your mind to doing new things.”

“Please, not too loud,” Helfist mumbled. It went unheard.

“And damn our souls for all eternity,” Croan said.

“What hunt would be complete if the hunter wasn’t hunted himself?”

“That sounds familiar. Tell me, did you say that before or after you thought you brought Chaos into the Emperor’s Throne Room?”

“Low blow.”

“Think of it as a warning. You burned once; the next time you will not be so lucky. It does not help that you are already standing amongst a massive pile of kindling, surrounded by men and women who would gladly see you roast.”

“How were you burned the first time?” Helfist asked.

“He went into the Emperor’s private library,” Legato said. “Found something that…changed him. He spent three months in a cell, being tested for corruption.”

“If the Grey Knights want to ‘ask me a few questions,’ do me the favor and kill me. I’d rather not do that again.”

“Speaking of the Grey Knights, did they leave?” Helfist asked. “I haven’t seen them since…shit, since the execution force landed with Captain Killjoy.”

“That probably means that they are examining the monastery for corruption and other foul things,” Croan said.

“Examining what? This is a Shrine World, the entire planet worships the Allfather.”

“’The duty of the righteous is never done,’” Legato recited. He spoke automatically, without thinking. He seemed as surprised as everyone else that he spoke.

“I have not heard you mention any of the Imperial Teachings since we started our work on Holy Terra,” Croan said.

“I…yes, that’s right.”

“Didn’t take you for a righteous man, tech priest,” Helfist said. “Thought you’d be too busy worshipping the machine spirit.”

“That’s…as of late, I’ve had a bit of a…crisis in faith,” Legato mumbled.

“Get in line,” Aevar snorted.

“Don’t you fucking start,” Vermund snapped, switching back to the guttural language of Juvik. “Not fucking here!”

“I know, I know,” Aevar said, waving a dismissive hand to the Rune Priest. “Besides, I found most of the bugs Parsef planted. Muted out the rest with a privacy screen.”

“Doesn’t mean you can blab about ‘that!’”

“Do I want to know what you two are speaking about?” Croan asked.

“You really don’t. Not unless you like getting burned yourself,” Aevar said.

“And not learn from your mistake? Please.”

“Good. Maybe there’s hope for you yet. That is, if you could ever get that fucking circuit working.”

“This is not the way the Mechanicus have taught us,” Croan protested.

“Yea, you have to do it differently. And look where it got me.” Aevar jerked his thumb at the ancient patterned Terminator armor.

“And look where it got you,” Croan replied, gesturing to the massive room they were in.

“Touché,” Aevar chuckled humorlessly.

“S-so what will we do?” Legato asked.

“This might be ‘forbidden technology,’ but we ain’t burning yet, and it beats the fuck outta working on the Throne, doesn’t it?”

“As loathe as I am to admit it, the little wolf is right,” Croan mumbled.

“You were working on the Golden Throne?” Helfist asked.

“Oath of silence, remember, Vermund?”

“Ah, that little thing.”

“And this work is much better than the Throne, so I say we keep at it. I’m expected to crank out more Cataphractii-pattern armor, more guns, more shields, more…fuck, what does the Mechanicus want?

“Aside from having you teach us your rediscovered techniques,” Croan said, “they were purposely vague.”

Aevar’s shoulders dropped when he heard Croan mention him teaching. It was as if old man Ironclaws didn’t want to teach, or wasn’t able. If Helfist wasn’t as hung over as he was, he might have caught it.

“Fucking typical. Well, guess that means I better just make as much shit as I can,” Ironclaws grumbled. “Everyone might not want to say it, but I’m the goose that laid the golden egg. They need me.”

“All but Parsef.”

“Ah, he’s just doing his job,” Aevar said, dismissively waving the notion away. “So what if his job makes him think I’m a walking daemonhost waiting to happen? I’m glad he’s not star-struck with my ‘blessings’ from the great and mighty ‘Omnimissiah.’ If he was, he might not kill me if I do become a daemonhost.”

“Don’t mock the Omnimissiah!” Legato protested.

Aevar blinked, as if he realized what he just said.

“You’re right,” he said. “Sorry, just…this whole thing is fucked, yea?”

“Finally clicked with you, eh?” Helfist said. “After standing before the whole Chapter, the Mechanicus and the Inquisition, now he finally gets an idea of the shit he’s in.”

“The shit we’re in,” Aevar corrected. “And I always knew. Just…damn, taking a step back and looking at it really fucks with you.”

“I’m still not over the scare of nearly being branded a traitor legion,” Helfist said.

“Y-you were scared?” Legato asked. He’d never heard a Space Marine admitting fear.

“That might be the only thing that we truly fear,” Croan said. “Turning traitor. And with good cause.”

“Ain’t no shame admitting that,” Helfist said. He shook his head, as if trying to get a particularly nasty thought from his head.

“I am awfully curious,” Croan said, “what are you doing to occupy your neophytes?”

“I got ‘em putting some warding runes all over the place.”

“And the Sisters and the Grey Knights don’t mind that you are carving runes into their building?”

“Mind? Some of ‘em are helping! They both hate the warp just as much as we do.”

“Speaking of a helping hand, I’ll need to drop by and bother Lynia sometime,” Aevar said. “That tongue piercing caught me off-guard. Need to see if there’s anything else interesting about her.”

“Best of luck to you, brother. That’s one scary dragon lady,” Helfist said. “Well, gene-seed kicked in, and the hangover’s gone; guess that means I gotta get to work.”

“Have at, and don’t work too hard,” Ironclaws said.

“Kinda have to. I’m also working on brewing some mead and mjod.”

“You’re brewing alcohol?”  Legato asked.

“Of course!”

“How in the Emperor’s name are you brewing alcohol in a Sister’s monastery?” Croan asked.

“Very carefully.”

 


 

Parsef leaned back in his chair. The work of the righteous was never done, and he was kept plenty busy. He needed to prove to the Fabricator-General that the mad dogs had to be brought to heel, if only for their own protection. The High Lords of Terra were already on board; the Mechanicus was the only holdout. They were blinded by their tech lust, but Parsef would show them the error in their ways.

But the damned dog gave him nothing. Over one year of work, and they had done nothing. And the Mechanicus had said they would not test the trained tech priests until the first changing of the guards took place, in four years.

The galaxy couldn’t wait four years. In four years, the Blasphemer could build a whole chaos cult. He was a cancer that needed to be excised, not allowed to metastasize. Something needed to change, to prove his fall from grace.

Change. That was it. He pulled out his pocked vox caster.

“Geist, are you there?”

The device was quiet. It shouldn’t take Geist this long to report.

“Geist, report.”

Apologies, it was not possible for this one to respond without breaking cover, the caster crackled. In the background, a woman giggled. It sounded like that mortal whore, Maeva.

“Is that laughter? Are you free to talk?”

This one is free. Ignore the laughter, it is nothing.

It sounded like Geist was hitting someone with something soft; maybe a pillow.

“Fine. Is there any hint of corruption among the wolves?”

This one’s search has turned up empty.

“Then maybe we can change this. Aevar has been asking for more tech priests for him to tutor, to help him more; I’ll be granting him permission for more tech priests to help.”

You were not willing to let him bring more priests in for the past Terran-standard year. May this one ask what caused the change of heart?

“’Small leaks sink great ships.’ If there are only three men, they can keep many secrets. But if we increase the number of men he’s allowed to work with, it would increase the chances of them slipping up.”

This one understands. You order, and she obeys.

“Good. Stay in cover, find something.”

Understood.

It was bad that he had to resort to such a low action, but worse should the wolves fall. They had to be brought to heel, dammit, and sooner rather than later.

 


 

The heavy doors to the workshop were pushed open and Ironclaws walked in. Croan looked up past the row of Cataphractii-patterned armor, the fruit of their year and a half of work.

‘There’ work. Croan had to check himself; he, Legato, even Maeva couldn’t truly build a Cataphractii suit. They could start them, they could form the various pieces of the armor, but it was only Aevar that was somehow able to get everything to work. They were simply doing the busy work, while Aevar finished everything off.

“You are back,” the Salamander said. He gave Aevar a quick double-take; the Wolf seemed disheveled, unkempt, as if he was folding to endless stress. He was developing bags under his eyes, much like Julas had. Ever his servo-arms seemed worn out. “The Canoness had requested you halt all your work and assist her with something; were you quick to finish?”

“Na, we’re just two old farts playing a game. Gotta give the old bat some company.”

“Again? She has been pulling you away from your work an awful lot.”

“More like me getting away as much as I can. Us old people need lots of company. Check your wiring here,” Aevar said, pointing to the circuitry panel Croan was working on. “Besides, I need to blow some steam off, get away from all this damned work.”

“It is good work we are doing, even if you are doing easily three-quarters of that work.”

“Aye, gotta keep pumping out golden eggs to appease the executioners. No, that’s the diode you’re trying to solder that to. You want to feed it to the cap over there.”

“My thanks.”

“Buck up, you’re getting better.”

“I may be getting better, but you still do all of the work. Legato, Maeva and I are still not understanding even half of this.”

Aevar snorted. To Croan, it sounded very much like a ‘you and me both’ kind of dismissive snort.

“We’ll get you there sooner or later. The Mechanicus demanded you follow a strict, unthinking guideline. But you’re doing a good job of freeing your mind to think for yourself.”

“Again, my thanks. Speaking of a free mind, that Inquisitor was snooping around here again.”

“And what else is new?”

“You take the news very well.”

“Please. I’d figure Parsef would try to find a way into my stuff the second we touched down on this planet.”

“You are truly paranoid.”

“Can’t be paranoid if they really are out to get me,” Aevar laughed.

“I guess there is a certain logic to that.”

“Come on, finish up with this and let’s turn this thing on.”

Screwing his eyes and doing his best to remember what Aevar showed him, Croan finished the wiring and welded the fragile machine spirit in its physical form.

“Don’t keep me waiting, hit the juice.”

Muttering a quick prayer of activation, Croan mentally linked to the armor and activated the power plant. It spun, caught, and ignited. He could see runes blinking on the eye-screens as it activated.

“Now that right there looks like a solid boot.”

“Calm yourself, machine-spirit, you are in your true form,” Croan said, gently rubbing the helm of the suit.

“Eh, don’t worry about that thing, it’ll do its job well enough,” Aevar waved dismissively. “This is, what, the seventh one you made?”

“Sixth. And I still need to remind you that you still did nearly all the work. I have only added a few touches to it.”

“You’ll get better,” he grinned. “Something’s wrong here; I can move around without having to look where I step. Where’s Legato?”

“He’s got his face buried in his scrolls, trying to make heads and tails out of the schematics of your relics.”

“Such a good little priest boy,” Aevar chuckled. He looked out at the row of armor. “This one makes a full ten, right?”

“That it does.”

“When does the Mechanicus come knocking for these things?”

“Any week now. Hard to tell with warp travel.”

“Aye, hard to tell.” Aevar looked over the row of armor, eyes lost in thought. Croan watched him intently; what was going through his mind? The past few months, he didn’t seem very sure of himself, and was finding more and more ways to avoid work, such as spending time with Canoness Lynia. It was like he was trying to break the deal the Mechanicus had so painstakingly made.

“Right, well, I’ll leave you to it,” he said, breaking the spell. “Be in my chambers.”

“Don’t bar the door again.”

But then it was too late. Aevar had loped off to the side-chamber that he had claimed for his private chambers and closed the doors behind him.

“That man spends too much time in his chambers,” Croan mumbled to the newest armor. “Good thing he still has that magic touch, else our lives would have been forfeit long ago. And where would you be?”

The massive Terminator armor seemed to purr a response. Croan could feel its power, just begging to be used.

“Barely ten minutes active, and already hungry for war.” He chuckled. He felt truly sad to simply deactivate the wondrous thing, but it had no battle to fight. “Rest easy. Your time of use will come soon.”

Croan reached for his dataslate to see who would be claiming them first. He was surprised to see that the Blood Ravens would be the ones to test them.

“Blood Ravens? No doubt that they will claim they ‘found’ these somewhere else,” he muttered. Then again, it made sense; despite being scanned by the Grey Knights, many were still be wary to use them. So let a Chapter of unknown founding take the risk. If they weren’t reduced to screaming, soulless heretics, the suits must truly be safe.

“Rest,” he told the massive suits of armor. “You will be claimed soon enough.” He unconsciously pulled out a vial of oil and dabbed his fingers. He moved from suit to suit, slowly chanting a rite of blessing as he marked the helm of each suit.

 


 

Legato scribbled on yet another scroll, trying to work through the calculations that Aevar had done. The wolf always seemed to come to the right answers, but never showed his work. He was truly blessed; Aevar instinctively knew the answers, but not how to get there.

There was so much to learn, so much that went into each relic, so much no one truly understood, not even Aevar. Idly reading the notes, Legato found himself absentmindedly sketching the holy helix of the Emperor’s gene-seed.

“Enjoying your trip to damnation?”

Legato jumped. Standing above him was Julas. He wasn’t wearing his armor, but deep blue robes with embroidered sigils, a gold sash, and a power sword and bolt pistol at his waist. As usual, the bags under his eyes made him seem exhausted beyond measure, even though he stood with rapt attention.

“I did not mean to startle you,” Julas said. “You just seemed very…lost in thought.”

“Oh, yes, I was. Just looking over my notes, trying to decipher more of Aevar’s lessons.”

“Ah, the Blasphemer’s lessons. How they lead us astray.”

“They have also led us to creating new relics,” Legato pointed out. “They are a map, nothing more, nothing less.”

“Certain lines cannot be uncrossed,” Julas warned, “certain maps will get you lost. Best watch your step, priest, least you find yourself crossing a bridge too far.”

Julas’ conviction unnerved him. He believed in it so fervently, so passionately, that Legato envied him. He wanted to believe, oh Holy Omnissiah, he wanted to believe so badly. But then the Mechanicus had to ruin his faith by drafting him to work on the Golden Throne, for seeing mysteries that only the God Emperor should see.

I find the Imperial Teachings failing me one by one, and in the very seat of Humanity, no less, he had said. But he had to maintain his faith. If not for himself, then for the work they were doing.

“I will guard myself,” Legato stammered.

“Good,” Julas said. “Then there is hope for you yet.”

“Hope for…?”

“Your salvation. I know not what the Blasphemer is planning, but it cannot be with the Emperor’s best interest in mind. We are already watching him, but we need someone whom he trusts.”

“’We?’ Are you…are you trying to enlist me? I am a simple priest.”

“A simple priest who has the ear and trust of the Blasphemer.”

“Don’t call him that.”

“Why not call him what he so happily embraces? If you think I am being callous, ask him yourself,” Julas said. “And ask him what he thinks he is doing, usurping the name of his Omnissiah.”

“What is it you want?” Legato asked.

“I simply wish to know if I can count on you as an ally, one who we can trust to make the right decisions, and tell us of his plans.”

“’We?’ Do you mean you and the Inquisitor? Whom are you referring about?”

“You should not disillusion yourself. The wolves make enemies easily. You have seen it yourself, have you not? Or do you not remember their…rambunctious songs they sing when they wish to be a bother?”

“How can I forget? The Sisters always have a song to respond to them.”

“It is an interesting turn of events,” Julas admitted. “But the point remains: they are too brute a force, too savage and wild. We have to watch them, least the worst come to pass, and they need to be brought to heel.”

“’The worst come to pass?’”

“There have been traitor wolves in the past. We have the chance to end this before it begins.”

Legato stiffened. Suddenly, he was back on Holy Terra, watching Aevar hanging from his cell as the Grey Knight gave him their final test.

“Aevar Ironclaws,” the Grey Knight said, “you have been found guilty of conspiring with the evils of the Warp, for bringing Chaos and daemons into the Throne Room, in an attempt to kill the Emperor of Mankind.”

Tears spilled down Aevar’s face.

“You will be put to death for your treachery. Are you ready to receive your punishment?”

“Yes,” Aevar cried. “Croan, you were right. You were right all along. Please, show me the true radiance you have promised, and forgive me. Forgive me, I know not what I’ve done.”

He begged for death that day. A Space Marine, the Emperor’s Chosen, had begged for death.

“No, he can’t be a traitor,” Legato said. “I’ve seen what he has gone through. He has been examined, endlessly, and found pure at every turn. He can’t be a traitor.”

“That is what everyone says, before the traitor shows his true colors.”

Julas’ face was stoic, hard. He spoke with conviction, knowing that he was in the right, was true to the cause. The adamant tone gave Legato pause.

“You’ve seen a fellow marine turn traitor.”

“Watch yourself, priest,” Julas warned. His tone changed to anger, and his baggy eyes narrowed.

“You have, haven’t you? Is that why you’re so invested in bringing Aevar to justice?”

The Ultramarine bit his tongue. He wanted to speak, but something stopped him.

“That is neither something that needs to be asked, nor should be answered. Ironclaws needs to be watched, so that his treachery can be swiftly dealt with. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” Legato said, “and I believe that he can’t turn traitor.”

“Everything is eventual in this millennium. The only constant is the Emperor, and our loyalty.”

“Then my loyalty is behind the Ironclaws,” Legato said. “He is a good man, and if there is anyone who can solve the riddles of lost technology, it will be him.”

“Your faith and loyalty are commendable, but I fear you follow the wrong exemplar.”

“Then we agree to disagree.”

Julas glared at Legato. The tech priest returned the stare.

“Yes, it appears so,” Julas finally said. “Heed my words, Legato: nothing Aevar Ironclaws does will end well, for us or for the Imperium.”

“Good day, Sergeant.”

“Tech priest.”

Like that, Julas walked off. Legato was expecting a parting shot, or even some physical harassment, but the Ultramarine simply nodded, and off he went. Going behind someone’s back? He never expected Space Marines to act in such a petty manner.

 


 

Parsef strode down the hallway, Geist at his side. Behind him, a team of Grey Knights and a team of burly servitors followed. Canoness Lynia was already waiting for him at the door to the Blasphemer’s lair, a group of Sisters waiting with her.

“Good morning, Inquisitor,” Lynia smiled.

“Good morning to you, too, Canoness,” Parsef said, returning the smile. “Waiting for us to delve into the wolf’s chambers?”

“I am curious to see what has been brought forth,” she said.

“The tech marines truly value their privacy, don’t they?”

“I’m sure they just like to be left alone. No one appreciates someone standing over their shoulder, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Only if their work carries no risk of summoning daemons.”

“And what work, pray tell, will that be?”

“Safe work,” Parsef said evasively. He gestured to the door. “Shall we?”

A Sister knocked on the door. If she wasn’t wearing power armor, the knock would have done next to nothing; the massive door would have muted her knocks. Footsteps echoed from behind the door, and the assistant Maeva pulled the door open with a grunt.

“Hey there, Geist,” she smiled brightly. “Lynia. Ya brought some Sisters with ya.”

“That we have,” Lynia said. “Your work is needed. The Blood Ravens should be arriving soon, and we need to deliver your creations to them. May we enter?”

“Th’ way ya said tha’, it wasn’t a question,” Maeva said. But she began pushing the door open, and a Grey Knight took the invitation to pull it wide open. Croan and Legato were working on a sword as they entered.

“Inquisitor,” the Salamander said, getting to his feet. “I take it the Blood Ravens are here?”

“They will be shortly.”

“Did we bolt everything down?” He asked.

“They are a fellow Chapter, are they not?” Lynia asked. “Why would we need to secure everything?”

“No reason. But when you find a relic or two missing, let me know. I have a few credits riding on this.”

“Speaking of relics, are these ones ready to be moved?” Parsef asked.

“’Are they?'” Croan grinned. “Their spirits are chomping at the bit to get some war.” He gestured behind him to the two rows of massive red armor with bone-white colored accents, and the packaged crate of blades. “We even had time to paint them.”

“Excellent,” Parsef said. “Servitors, move them. The Ravens will be descending shortly.”

The massive, mindless servitors moved forward, on feet and on treads, towards the armor. Augmented for strength and nothing else, they easily hefted the armor and weapons.

“Where is the Blasphemer?” Parsef asked. “I’m sure the Ravens would like to thank his generous nature.”

“I’m sure you mean he wants to see the sword that hangs above their heads,” Lynia said. Parsef gave her a hard glare. “We said we would speak candidly, didn’t we?”

“I believe that was with the wolves,” the Salamander said.

“Ah, yes, that was with the wolves,” the Canoness said, as if she had truly forgotten. “My apologies at ruining your fun, Inquisitor.”

“Let’s move, shall we?” Parsef said. “We don’t want to keep the Ravens waiting.”

“Give them more time to ‘find’ relics,” Croan said.

“And get the Blasphemer. I’m requiring his presence.”

Chapter Text

“One Blasphemer, comin’ right up,” Maeva said. She scanned the crowd one last time, but Geist was gone. Moving past the massive, muscle-bound servitors, she walked to Aevar’s chambers, and pounded on his door.

“Come on, wake up.” She pounded the door again. “Thin’s ta do, yea?”

Aevar wasn’t answering. She pounded on the door again and again, and with her cybernetic arm she was making a ruckus. But Aevar still wasn’t answering.

By the time the last servitor was moving the last suit of armor, she finally heard movement behind the door. Aevar played with the bolts, missing it a few times before finally pulling the door open.

“What?” He snapped. His speech was slurred; Maeva barely understood him, and he was speaking Juvik, too.

Ironclaws was a wreck. His clothes were dirty, like he’d been wearing them for a month straight. His hair and beard, normally well-kept, was just as filthy and ratty. Even the silver in his hair looked dirty. And the smell…

“Th’ fuck happen ta ya?” Maeva gasped. The shock made her revert to her mother tongue.

“Fuck, Maeva, what is it you want?” Aevar grunted. He reached behind him, knocking a plate over, and coming back with a massive jug.

“Are…are ya drunk?”

“Something like that,” he said, taking a pull.

“Shit, tha’s why it smells. An how th’ fuck ya get drunk?”

“Mjod,” he said. “You know it, right? It kills humans, it gets us drunk.”

“No, I mean how th’ fuck ya get yer hands on mjod? This ain’t Fenris.”

“Same way the guardsmen make their gutrot and Helfist makes his shit; brewed it right here.”

“Right here? With wha’? Don't ya need plants that only grow on Fenris?”

“Got them shipped in with the new group of Claws. Remember when they flew in? They brought barrels of stuff with them, and plants for mjod. Killed a few birds and rats while growing the plants, but what the fuck, right?” He took another swig.

“Fer fuck's sake, can ya knock tha’ shit off?”

“You telling me what to do?” He snapped. That got Maeva to take a step back. “Remember who you are, mortal.”

“Holy shit, wha's gottin' inta ya?” Aevar never got so conceited before. “Can ya please stop drinkin'?”

“And what gives you the authority to tell me what to do?” He growled, eyes narrowing.

“Considerin' we got a whole buncha Space Marines waitin' ta see ya, an' most of 'em would gladly cut yer thread in a heartbeat, I think I'm doin' ya a favor by getting' yer drunk ass up an' about!”

That got Aevar to blink.

“The Blood Ravens are here?”

“Damn straight they are! An' everyone wants ya ta hand th’ suits over, mostly Parsef! Think he'll like it if he sees how fucked up ya are?”

“Shit.”

“Get cleaned up! They're already bringin' th’ suits down!”

Aevar lethargically stumbled from the door, tossing the jar away. It hit the ground, somehow not shattering, and he lumbered off to a pile of clothes. He stumbled, only to fall to the ground.

“Holy shit, this is bad,” Maeva gasped. “We're gonna get blammed fer this, just lined up against th’ nearest wall, an’ fuckin’ pow!

“Just give me some time,” he said, waving her away. “The organs and gene-seed and shit will fix this soon.”

“It ain't soon enough! Parsef is just itchin’ ta cut our threads. Just...try ta shape up, okay?” She said. “I'll be back.”

She ran from Aevar's room. The only ones left in the workshop were the servitors and Legato, who was overseeing them.

“Is Aevar coming soon?” He asked.

“Not right fuckin' now,” she hissed. It was an effort to switch back to High Gothic.

“Something the matter?”

“Yea, we're up shit's creek an' we don't even have a paddle in sight.”

“What's wrong? Did Aevar find something he shouldn't have?”

“Look, just...” She was pulling her hair out. “Tell anyone who comes in tha’ Aevar's in th' middle a somethin' big, an' he needs a second to get ta a good stoppin' point, yea?”

“Maeva, what in the Omnissiah’s name is going on?”

“I'm workin' on it! Where's Helfist?”

“I think he's with the other Space Wolves, probably waiting by the landing pad.”

She was off and running before he could finish. If anyone saw Aevar drunk off his ass, there will be high Hel to pay. She ran through the monastery, until she nearly ran full-tilt into Helfist.

“Whoa there,” he said in Juvik. “What's going on? Old man Ironclaws having a hard time putting his work down?”

“If by work, ya mean mjod, then yea,” she snapped. It got Helfist to blink. “Need yer help with him. He'll piss off th’ wrong people an' get us all killed, th’ way we're goin'.”

“Head down to the landing pad,” Helfist ordered the Claws. The young Warriors groaned. “Yea, you heard me, no more 'fashionably late' for us. Get down there.”

“What if we get crap from that Ultra-smurf?”

“Tell him to blow it out his ass, that'll get him off our case,” Helfist said. He turned to Maeva. “Come on, let's go. And what's this business with mjod? I’ve brewed a few casks, but I never gave Aevar of them.”

“Tha's 'cus he made it himself,” she said, running down the stairs. Helfist kept an easy pace with her. “He's been growin' his own plants an' shit ta make it.”

“Guess that explains all the dead birds and rats we see around here,” Helfist said. “Dammit, greybeard, what's going on?”

 


 

Helfist and Maeva ran through the stone hallways until they made it back to the workshop. Legato was standing between Croan and Aevar's door.

“Please, just give him a minute,” the tiny man pleaded.

“There is no more time left,” Croan said. “We are needed outside, now.”

“Hold on, brother,” Helfist said, walking up to the door. He pounded on it with nearly all his might. “Aevar! Open up in there. Fuck it, we don’t have time for this. I'm coming in.”

Light pooled in his eyes as he summoned the spirits of Fenris. Vermund lashed out, easily punching through the thick wooden door and nearly tore it off its hinges.

“Dammit,” he said, crinkling his nose. “You even take a bath, old man?”

“What's the fucking point?” Aevar was sitting on the floor at the foot of his bed, opening another bottle of home-brewed mjod. “We'll all be dead soon, another fallen Chapter, another branded heretic. Just another sad footnote in history.”

“By the Emperor, what is this?” Croan cursed.

“Shit, Aevar, how many of these damn bottles you go through?”

“Don't know, broke a few,” he mumbled. Helfist snatched the bottle from his hand before he could take another pull.

“We need to be getting out there to give the suits away to the Blood Ravens,” he said. “Not sit around and drink.”

“Why not?”

“Because after we give them away, we need to make more suits, more relics, and then train the tech priests!”

“Oh, don't worry about that,” Aevar chuckled.

“You have deciphered a new relic?” Croan asked, voice full of hope and energy. “Found new ways to teach us?”

“Fuck no.”

“Ex...excuse you?”

“Can't make any new relics, just strange shit that looks old. Can't make heads or tails of shit, and I can’t teach that crap. Just an idiot child playing at being great.”

“But you've got hundreds a picts of scrolls,” Maeva said. “Can't ya make somethin' out?”

“Those pics are of shit that’s falling apart with age! All I can make is strange shit that only looks like something old, and that’s by using more of the tech we got than the tech we lost,” Aevar laughed. “Those suits were me flying by the seat of my pants. And holy fuck, wouldn't you know it, it worked! And I’m supposed to teach people this shit! I’m just throwing crap together and it just works out. I’m no better than the damned Mechanicus, just blindly stumbling about.”

“You are speaking nonsense,” Croan said. “I have seen you pour over those picts. You are touched by the Omnissiah; you can make new relics, or whatever you want to call them.”

“Hey, Maeva, remember what the Mechanicus wants me to do?”

“Yer suppose ta make relics ‘n teach us how ta make ‘em.”

“How many things have I taught you?”

“Wha’, ya mean followin’ yer instructions?”

“No, I mean to actually make something yourself, without my help.”

Maeva traded looks with Legato and Croan. They all knew that Aevar did his own magick that somehow made the relics work. What they did was simple forging, grunt work leading to that all-important moment, or following his every instruction, doing no true thinking of their own.

“So when ya said I was figurin’ shit out,” she said slowly, “ya were blowin’ smoke up my ass?”

“Just trying not to look like a damned fool. I do something, it works, and I don’t know why. Sorry for lying to you.”

“You are blowing this out of proportion,” Croan said. “You made a new relic.”

“Oh, I can make shit by waving my hand. But the Mechanicus don’t like that,” Aevar said. “They want to know how I make shit, and I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I close my eyes, smash shit together, and working crap comes out. I’m just a black box that does magic shit, like you said.”

“Oh, fuck me,” Maeva groaned. “If yer th’ only one who can make shit, where does that leave us?”

“With an itchy trigger finger Inquisitor,” he rumbled. “We don’t follow the rules to the letter, our ass is grass. Croan, you told me how far the Mechanicus stretched their neck out for me; how many favors did you say they had to call in just to keep me alive for five years?”

“Far too many,” the Salamander mumbled.

“Damned right. If I don’t dot my I’s and cross my T’s, the big bad Inquisition comes knocking.”

“But you have still created relics, technological wonders not seen since the Heresy,” Croan sputtered. “Does that not count for anything? Can you not appeal to their sense of urgency or need?”

“You want me to throw myself on the mercy of the Inquisition?” Aevar roared. He knocked another earthen bottle over as he slapped his knee. “Even if I wasn’t a Space Wolf, what good you think that’ll do? You know what really did me in? Fucking Parsef called my bluff; he’s giving me more tech priests to teach, and I can’t teach anyone anything! That busts the deal. Ha, now that takes me back out to the ice. ‘Bust a deal and face the wheel!’”

The room went quiet as everyone digested the news.

“So, we're dead men,” Helfist said. “And our Chapter will be branded a new traitor Legion.”

“I don’t mind dying,” Aevar mumbled. “As long as it’s for something important. But this? This crap is us dying for no damned good reason. And I’ll be the reason the Vlka will be forever remembered as filthy fucking traitors. Why did I even agree to this? Why the fuck did I open my damned mouth? Why, by the Emperor’s ass, did I even go on this fucking hunt for the truth?”

He reached into the ratty sheets and pulled out another half-empty bottle. He drank some, and offered it to Helfist, who downed the rest of it.

“So…so that’s it?” Legato asked. “This ends with us costing the Mechanicus far too many favors, for forcing them to go too far?”

“We’d be offering the Mechanicus no return for what they called in,” Aevar said. “And they won’t be able to protect us anymore. Not unless they decide to shut the entire Imperium down over little old me, but come on, that won’t happen.”

“And then the Inquisition and your executioners get to kill us, and brand a First Founding Chapter traitors,” Croan said. “Emperor almighty.”

“Sorry about this, Helfist. I would've told you sooner, but ignorance is bliss, right?”

“Yea, guess it is,” the Vlka said. “Living on the run ain't much of a life.”

“What do we do now?” Croan asked. “Walk out, line up and tell Julas that he might as well shoot us now?”

That got Aevar and Helfist to react.

“Fuck that smurf!” Helfist snapped.

“Then we need to get out and greet the Blood Ravens,” the Salamander said. “How do we sober Aevar up?”

“There are two ways to get a drunk Vlka up and about,” Helfist said, “time, or an ice boat. We don’t have the time, so we use the next best thing.”

Vermund took a pouch off his belt and gave it to Maeva.

“Pull all that shit out on a table. Get up, greybeard. Gotta get the stink off you.”

Maeva took the pouch to a nearby table. Aevar lumbered up, while Helfist got a hose hooked up to a sink. He let lose, blasting Aevar with water.

“Fekke! You trying to drown me?” He sputtered.

“It’ll be better for your smelly ass,” Helfist said. He hosed Aevar dawn like he really was trying to drown him. Grumbling against the torrent of water, Aevar pulled off his soaking clothes. Maeva blushed, turning away as he grabbed for a towel.

“What is in the bag?” Croan asked.

“Some supplies an’ surprises from th’ priests, I think.” Maeva pulled out and sorted jars and vials. Powders, leaves and gels filled them all. “Wha’ am I lookin’ fer?”

“Hold on, I’m heading over.”

The water was shut off, and Helfist jogged over.

“Come on, where are you? A-hah!”

He put a few jars to the side, and pulled out a mortar and pestle. Filling it with powder and leaves, he began mashing it. Aevar stumbled from his chambers in drier clothes.

“Still got a smell to you,” Helfist said, not even bothering to look up, “but it should do. Come on, let’s get you going.”

“Make it a little heavy,” Aevar said, pulling up a chair.

“I’ve made it damn heavy. Come on, let’s get you on the ice boat.”

Spilling out the ground up powder onto the table, he took Aevar’s paring knife and started cutting it into lines.

“What in the Emperor’s name is that?” Croan said.

“Little bit of amphetamines, good amount of powdered adrenaline, with a real big heaping of coke.”

“Th’ fekke?” Maeva cursed.

“What, you’ve never seen a Warrior get on an ice boat before?”

“Didn’t know ya needed it.”

You haven’t had an exterminatus-sized mjod hangover before,” Helfist laughed. “Damn the gene-seed, sometimes Russ himself needs a good kick in the ass.”

Helfist finished making two lines out of the pure white dust. Each were longer than Maeva’s forearm, and were thicker than her thumb. Finally, Helfist pulled out a short straw.

“Come on, let’s get you going. Ice boat’s here.”

“’Bout damn time,” Aevar grumbled. He took the straw and lowered his head.

“I cannot watch this,” Croan said, turning around. He visibly cringed as Aevar snorted the first full line.

“Shit! Frost’s balls, what the crap is in this?”

“Too much coke?”

“No, just the right amount. Fekke, that woke me up.”

Blinking back tears, Aevar went down and did the other line, powering through it.

“Dammit.” He wiped a few traces of powder from his nose, snorting what got away.

“Better?”

“Like a damned initiate again,” he said. “Right. We getting out there or what?”

“Brother…are you truly okay?” Croan asked.

“Stop turning your head like some coy maiden,” Aevar laughed. “First line took the edge off, the next one got me up.”

Aevar and Helfist led them out the door. Croan closed it, but the wolves were already walking onwards.

“I never want to see that again,” Legato mumbled as they made their way through the monastery.

“Yea, freaky shit, eh? Ya think we’re gonna get blammed?”

“Please, don’t,” Legato begged. “My heart can’t take this.”

They got to the front of the retreat, and Aevar and Helfist pushed the massive front doors open. Sisters of Battle stood at attention along the walkway that led down to the landing pad, overlooking the entire Hive City. Standing by them was the small team of Grey Knights.

“You are late,” one rumbled.

“Yea, yea,” Aevar said. “Hard at work. Can’t I get a break with that?”

“You were to hand off the armor upon the Raven’s landing,” the Knight said, crossly.

“Oh, so you know how to unravel the marvels of lost technology?” Aevar said. “Then please, tell me how to do my job.”

The Knights were, of course, wearing their armor. But Maeva could tell that they were glaring at him. Some of the Sisters by them cracked rare smiles; one chuckled. Not waiting for the Knights to give their pardon, Aevar sauntered down the stone path.

They got closer to the landing pad, where they saw a massive, red painted Thunderhawk. Maeva could see the suits of armor being loaded onto the ship by the servitors, and Parsef was talking to a massive Marine.

“…thank you for these priceless treasures,” the Blood Ravens Marine said. He was a stern man, with a serious face and close-cropped silver hair. A massive thunder hammer hung by his side.

“It was our greatest pleasure, Chapter Master Angelos,” Parsef said.

Standing by the Inquisitor was Canoness Lynia, the execution squad of marines with seemingly perpetually exhausted Julas at their head, and the rowdy pack of Blood Claws who were barely standing still.

“And this is the man to whom I owe my thanks?” Angelos asked, turning his head as he heard them approaching. Maeva’s heart pounded in her chest. Would Aevar be in his right mind?

“Yea, sorry about that,” Aevar said. “Got stuck in the middle of some serious work. Couldn’t just leave it be.”

“I’m sure an exception could’ve been made,” Parsef said.

“Hey, Croan, how do you ‘just leave’ a plasma reactor’s cooling mechanism unattended?” Aevar asked, lazily turning towards the Salamander.

“Is the chamber open?”

“Of course it’s open.”

“You cannot,” the Salamander said. “The machine-spirit cannot tolerate any external particles and debris, even if it is a single hair. If it is unsheathed, it is incredibly delicate. If it were contaminated, it must be thoroughly cleaned.”

“And how would we find out if it was contaminated?”

“By turning it on, and having it blow up in your face.”

“Hey, Helfist, do I have any spare faces?”

“Peace, brother,” Lynia laughed. “Your point has been made.”

“Quite,” Parsef fumed. “Any word of caution to the new users of these fine suits of armor?”

“You bet I do,” Aevar said, turning to Angelos. Maeva held her breathe. “Don’t ruin them.”

“Ha! I shall take those words to heart, brother!” Angelos laughed. “My endless thanks to your hard work and generosity.”

“You’re plenty welcome,” Aevar said, offering his hand. Angelos shook it. “Now get out there and give them a good coat of xenos and traitor blood.”

“With pleasure, brother,” Angelos said, bowing. He was escorted back into the Thunderhawk by the white-helmed sergeant, who remained eerily quiet. The ship was loaded, the ramp raised, and slowly, the ship flew away. Maeva’s heart was still hammering.

“Well, now that you have made a fool of us,” Parsef said, “will you be going back to your work?”

“Please, what good are we if we don’t do any work? Pretty sure you’d tell the Mechanicus that we’d turn to daemon worshipping if we slacked off.”

“At least we understand each other,” Parsef said.

“It seems that the Inquisitor is understanding the value of speaking frank,” Lynia smiled tightly.

“It is the only way to get the point through their thicker heads,” Parsef spat.

“And damn, do we have thick heads!” Aevar and Helfist laughed.

“Well, I do have good news for you.”

“Now that sends shivers down the spine,” Helfist said.

“I can assure you that you would like this news,” Parsef sighed. “Your new group of tech priests are set to arrive within four standard months.”

“Can’t they take their sweet time?” Aevar laughed.

“You are needed to make relics for a dying age. Your current pace is unsuitable. Production needs to be ramped up—“

“Quotas need to be raised,” Aevar finished.

“Quite so,” Lynia agreed with a laugh.

“Ah-hem…Yes,” Parsef said tightly. “Do I need to remind you what will happen should you deviate even a little from the agreement?”

“Oh come on, I think we know each other better than that,” Aevar said. “But what are we going to do about space? That workshop can’t hold more than ten without getting real cramped.”

“Parsef has been talking to me, and we have found a new place of lodging,” Lynia said. “As you can tell, our monastery is built into this mountain. But only the southern half is being used; the northern half remains empty, an old retreat used for spiritual searches.

“We believe that, with some work, it that can easily be molded into a new workshop for you, even a true forge city. As we speak, servitors and small teams of Sisters have already begun clearing the old debris. We shall begin moving your work by the morrow.”

“Is there room to expand our operations?”

“Yes, if you don’t mind drilling through rock and mountain.”

“’Drilling through the mountain?’ Shit, sounds like the Aett. Maybe we can make that place a little more like home,” Helfist said.

“I like that idea,” Aevar said. “Now let me guess: we need to get ready by the time the new help arrives.”

“Right you are.”

“Figured, but didn’t want to assume,” Aevar grinned. “Thank you, Parsef.”

“You…are welcome.”

“What, not expecting a little Vlka gratitude?” 

“With your rough behaviors, can you blame me?”

“No, guess I can’t. Well, better get working at packing up.”

“I expect to see great results. Just remember that your fate, and the fate of your Chapter, are at stake.”

 


 

Aevar pushed the door to his lair open, and fell in the nearest chair. Croan closed the door and walked over.

“So, we have lived to die another day,” the Salamander rumbled.

“Aye, it appears so.”

“Alright, now what’s this business with the relics?” Helfist demanded.

“Just that: I’m an idiot savant,” Aevar said. “I wave my hands, shit suddenly works, and I got no idea how it happened. I can’t teach that, that’s just having good luck.”

“And a blessing of the Omnissiah,” Legato said.

“So what do we do?” Croan asked.

“Shit if I know,” Aevar mumbled. “Hope that the Mechanicus sticks their neck out for us even more? I got nothing.”

“Ya had ta pick yer lessons up somewhere,” Maeva said.

“Aye, I did. Well, some of them, anyways. Got some lessons from the Emperor’s Library, but I can’t make sense out of most of it. Nearly all of his shit is in shorthand.”

“Then can we go back? Maybe get some more books ‘n shit?”

“Fekke no. The High Lords of Terra hate my guts, and I’ll bet my left nut they won’t let anyone else anywhere near them.”

“This is what happens when you bite the hand that feeds you,” Croan said.

“Yea, yea, stop preaching, will you?” Helfist said. “This still leaves us and our Chapter up shit’s creek. We need to find some way of making sense of this.”

“Can we ask th’ Allfather?” Maeva asked. “I heard stories ‘bout people askin’ fer His help. Can’t we try?”

“We can only talk through the Emperor’s Tarot,” Legato said. “But even that is vague at best. Otherwise, He is beyond us.”

“Beyond us where?”

“In the great beyond, somewhere between life and death,” Croan said. “He watches us from there, seeing all but kept from talking.”

“Basically, he’s somewhere between reality and the warp,” Helfist said. “Can’t reach him.”

“That gives you an idea of how screwed we are,” Aevar chuckled darkly. “Damn, that ice boat is wearing off.”

“Need another one?”

“Na, think I’ll be fine. Just need some water to dodge a hangover.”

Helfist got up to fill a flagon at the wash station.

“Shit is gettin’ away from us,” Maeva said. “We need ta back up an’ start over. Wha’s th’ best way ta fix a problem? Ya make a solution.”

“And how would you propose that?” Croan ask.

“Can we make a machine ta talk ta th’ Allfather?”

“We have been trying that since the Heresy.”

“How?”

“Psykers, Librarians and Rune Priests have gathered, pooled their power to try and break through to the place the Allfather lies,” Helfist said. “We’ve been trying that for centuries, and it got us nowhere.”

“Mechanicus ain’t done any better,” Aevar said. “They made machines that try reach out to the plane of existence where the Emperor’s psykic might lays. Machines that interface with his brain, machines that run on sacrificed psykers, all sort of shit. Nothing works. And after nearly ten millennia, we’ve tried pretty much everything. Trust me, that was a favorite pet project back on Mars, finding a machine to talk to the Emperor.”

“Gotta be a way,” she mumbled. “Legato, can ya whip up some gene-thing?”

“They are genes, not magick!”

“Come on, there’s gotta be a way ta look at th’ Allfather.”

“Not unless you like getting burned,” Helfist said. “Croan? You want to volunteer?”

“Do not look at me,” Croan said. “We like fire, but we like living more.”

“Damn. There goes that idea,” Aevar grumbled.

An idea filled Maeva’s head. It was so simple, but at the same time, it blinded her with power, with purity.


 

 She was on the ice of Fenris, watching Aevar battle Logan Grimnar. He wore his prototype Cataphractii-pattern armor, the big, blocky armor moving strangely fast. Grimnar’s axe rose and fell, only to be pushed back by the shimmering blue refractor shield of the Catapharctii armor. Aevar swung back, defiant as any Vlka should be, surrounded by a strange glow.

The cold bit into her, chilling her to the core; but it was a distant, far away feeling. Snow was melting, ice cold water was seeping its way into her boots, but she easily ignored it. Her eyes were drying, but she couldn’t make herself blink. She was blinded, blinded by the Allfather, by the blessing she saw in the armor.

She knew her purpose, she knew what she was to do. She had to work with the Ironclaws, work on that miraculous machine that the he built, damn any consequences.

She had to help him save the Imperium.


 

Maeva blinked. Suddenly, she was back in the workshop, on Dimmimar. But she knew her purpose. Was this how Aevar felt? To be guided, to be blessed?

It didn’t matter. The answer filled her with light, gave her guidance.

“Why not make a new Allfather?”

Croan and Helfist glared at her with unbridled hate, and Legato gaped. Then Helfist blinked. He shielded his eyes with his hand, as if she was suddenly as bright as the sun itself.

“Watch yourself, mortal,” Croan yelled. “You dare blaspheme? You dare commit the ultimate sin?!”

“The only one who ever tried that batshit crazy idea was Fabius Bile,” Helfist added, hand still raised. He looked at her from the corner of his eyes, as if she was still radiating light. “You know of him? Sickest of the sickest traitor marines! Creator of endless biological horrors from the warp! And you want to follow his footsteps?!”

“Eh, why the fuck not?” Aevar shrugged. Legato nearly fell out of his chair.

“You…you…”

“Dammit, greybeard, that ice boat must be doing some crazy stuff to you,” Helfist said, still glaring in Maeva’s general direction. “That’s blasphemy.”

“Good thing I’m the Blasphemer, then.”

“This goes beyond blasphemy!” Croan said. “We must not speak of this again.”

“Why not? It’s not like we got anything else that can save our Chapter, or the Imperium for that matter.”

“Aevar! You dare tread in the paths of Chaos?”

“Hey, Helfist, you sense any Chaos?”

Helfist growled at him, hair standing on edge.

“No,” he tightly said. He still had a hand raised, as if Maeva was still as bright as the sun. “Only the Allfather’s radiance, and a dull glow.”

“Thought so. Look at it this way: we’re dead men already, the destroyers of the Vlka Fenryka. Might as well try to do something worthwhile before the Inquisition kills us all.”

“So we clone the Allfather,” Helfist said. “And how would you propose we do that, seeing as the greatest, sickest mind in the galaxy couldn’t pull it off? A man who was alive before the Heresy and knows more about the gene-seed than probably anyone else?”

“This is not the time to even suggest something of this magnitude,” Croan said.

“Then when will be the time?” Aevar asked. “When the Emperor passes from this galaxy? Think we all know what’ll happen then.”

“Uh, ignorant death worlder here,” Maeva said. “Wha’ll happen?”

“Well, for starters, we couldn’t travel the warp,” Aevar said. “The Emperor acts like the north star in the warp. Can’t navigate without a north star, can you?”

“Then daemons will be able to manifest themselves wherever they want,” Helfist said. “Warp storms would tear apart everything, starting with Holy Terra.”

“It would be the end of humanity,” Legato said.

“So, if we make a new Allfather, wouldn’t we be savin’ it?”

“It is heresy!” Croan roared.

“Been there, done that, got certified as clean,” Aevar said. “I still say why the fuck not. I’m a dead man, with a Chapter that’ll soon be branded heretics. Might as well try this before our time runs out. Besides, we know what’s happening to the Throne.”

Everyone went silent as they stared at him.

“The Throne?” Helfist asked. “What about the Throne?”

“We are forbidden to speak of it,” Legato said. “We swore an oath to the Mechanicus.”

“We uphold our oaths,” Croan said, glaring at Aevar.

“Oh, get over it. We’ve broken how many rules just to make the armor and blades?” He groaned. “Besides, if it works, we’ve just saved the Imperium. We might as well bring everyone up to speed: the Throne is failing.”

“What?” Helfist yelled.

“That’s why we were brought to Terra,” Aevar continued. “We tried to fix it, but even I couldn’t do that. So why not try and clone the Emperor? If we clone him, maybe we can fix the Throne, or maybe we won’t need to fix the Throne. And we’ll be saving our Chapter; we’re the deliverers of the Imperium. No one could question our loyalty then.”

“I must be going mad,” Helfist mumbled. “This sounds like the best idea I’ve heard in a while.”

“But how would we do it?” Legato asked.

“Now I’m kinda handy with gene-seed stuff, and I don’t like passing things off, but you’re the best genetor in the whole damn Imperium. That’s why you were picked to go to Terra, right Legato?”

Legato looked like he would die.

“W-w-w-w-w-we would need a gene sample,” he said. “But we have no pure gene-samples from the Emperor.”

“Good. Let us never speak of this again,” Croan rumbled.

“Now hold on there,” Aevar said. “We’ve got Marines from every First Founding Chapter, don’t we? We can use those sample.”

“And they would simply give up the very fabric of their Chapters?” Croan laughed. “We might as well ask a mortal man to castrate himself and hand us his testicles.”

“Gene-seed is gathered in the Progenoid Glands,” Aevar said, pointing to his neck, “and if we harvest it right, they can grow back. Hel, that’s how the Mechanicus tracks our gene-seed and checks it for mutations and what-not for the Tithe. They do that shit every damn year, and they don’t kill anyone in the process.”

“Are you saying that you’ve taken gene-seed samples for the Mechanicus before?” Legato asked.

“Yup. Done it before when our flesh-mender Ljot Soothsayer was in his dreadnaught armor and I had to heal the injured. He walked me through the process.”

“What you are suggesting is insanity,” Croan said. “Even if they agreed to, every Marine gene-seed is flawed, even the vaulted gene-seed of the Ultramarines.”

“But each gene-seed is a derivative of the Emperor’s, right?” Aevar asked. “You remember the stories as well as we do: the Emperor took his own gene-seed and fashioned the Primarchs from it. And from the Primarch’s gene-seed, he created us Space Marines. So, if he broke his gene-seed down to create us, can’t we take ours and put it all back together to get his?”

All eyes fell to Legato.

“Well, uh, in theory, I guess…but if it is so precious…”

“It is precious!” Croan roared. “It is the very lifeblood of the Chapter, it is what makes us brothers, connects us to our Primarchs, to the Emperor, even! How would we get it?”

“Through the power of bullshit,” Aevar grinned.

“You are not serious!”

“I tell everyone I think I found a way to fight corruption, a prototype from the Emperor’s Library, but I need gene-seed to test the effectiveness,” he said. “I get every one of the execution team to donate, and there we go.”

“Why are we even entertaining such an idea?” Croan demanded.

“Because I can’ do this shit myself,” he said. “You remember when the Grey Knight read me my tarot? What did it say? Come on, you remember, don’t you?”

“How could I forget?” Croan said. “‘Hope, from a discovery, will lead to a champion.’”

“Damn right it did,” he said. “For the longest time, I thought I was that champion. I thought that discovery was the Imperial Truth, freeing me from the Mechanicus’ ways to make new relics, and the hope was my hope to keep this damn Imperium spinning.

“But guess what: I’m not hot shit. Sure, compared to the Mechanicus I’m on fire, but I’m an idiot child making random things and shocking everyone, even myself, when it all works. The Truth was not my discovery, and I’m not that champion. This, cloning the Emperor, is our discovery, and dammit, I say we need to bring this champion to life.”

“Fine,” Croan said, his voice choked with so much anger it made him nearly impossible to understand. “Let us entertain this idea for yet another step: we might have the gene-seed, but we do not know how to put it all together. Without knowing what the Emperor’s gene-seed looks like, we cannot do anything.”

The room went quiet, then Legato choked. Everyone turned to him. Tears were silently streaming down his face.

“I’ve seen it,” he gasped. “I’ve seen the Emperor’s gene-seed, when we were working on the Throne. By the Omnissiah, I’ve seen it. I didn’t want to, but they made me.”

“But you cannot recall the structure, surely!”

“I remember everything,” Legato said. “I’ll never be able to forget it. It’s been haunting me, taunting me with its perfection. Oh, holy Throne, I can still see it in front of my eyes as we speak…”

“There we go,” Aevar said. “We get the gene-seed, and we got the best damn genetor in the entire Imperium to put it together from memory. How does that sound? Blasphemous enough for you?”

Croan glared at him.

“Please, Croan,” Helfist said. “Don’t do this to save our lives, do this to save our Chapter. I’m begging you.”

The Salamander sighed.

“By requesting to be here, I am already destined to burn. We have crossed many lines to get here; what would I care if the flames are a little brighter?”

“Yea, we’re all dead men walking,” Helfist added. “Shit, we’re a dead Chapter walking. If we even have a chance to bring the Allfather back…that would be worth it, wouldn’t it?”

There was a knock at the door, and everyone went quiet.

“Fuck, we’re acting like a bunch of fresh-off-the-ice young bloods,” Aevar laughed, getting to his feet.

“My apologies, but talking of heretical actions tends to terrify me,” Croan said, voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Well, ain’t this a surprise,” Aevar said, pulling the door open.

“You don’t call, you don’t write, it’s almost as if you don’t care,” Canoness Lynia said. She wore simple robes.

“Coming alone to the den of wolves? Unarmed and unarmored. Aren’t you afraid of…oh, what were your words…? Afraid of being ‘viciously assaulted?’”

“Wolves are fierce creatures, but I have faith that their friendship and loyalty are strong enough to overcome their baser desires,” Lynia smiled.

“Ha! You sure know us!” Aevar roared. “How can I help?”

“A few things. First, Parsef wants your move to your new quarters to be fast, and that usually means my Sisters won’t be very gentle with boxes. Also, while this new layer of yours will be uniquely yours, I still expect to have a few talks with you.”

“Yea, us old folk have to stick together, eh?”

“This companionship is strange, but welcome,” she smiled. “Us kindred spirits have seen much.”

“More so for me. You weren’t around for the first war of Armageddon.”

“There was a First War for Armageddon?” Lynia asked, a demure smile tugging at her scars.

“Oh, get off it, you old bat,” Aevar laughed. “You’re on the Inquisition’s good side; they should’ve told you about all the wars on that place.”

“Have I ever mentioned how I love your perceptiveness and lack of grace?”

“Only a few times. Gonna surprise me and tell me your real age?”

“I have seen many wars. You may be surprised.”

“Oh, so you’ve had a few regenerative surgeries, have you?”

“It is bad manners to ask a woman such a thing,” Lynia said, smiling her tight, barely-there smile.

“Good thing we don’t have good manners, then,” Aevar roared.

“Quite. I cannot speak for others, but I personally find it refreshing.”

“Excellent! I’ll make sure to swing by.”

“You do an old woman a great favor,” Lynia said. “Oh, and one more thing.”

“Anything for you.”

“A few Sisters who have been gifted with carrying sacred relics to the Order have reported their relics as missing. You can imagine the stress and panic this is causing them.”

“Oh dear. When did this happen?”

“They say that the relics were in their resting places, or on their persons, when the Blood Ravens landed,” Lynia said. “If you have the time, we would greatly appreciate your help in a search to find them.”

“We’ll see what we can do.”

“My thanks,” Lynia said, bowing her head. “Now get to packing.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Aevar closed the door, only to see Helfist, Maeva and Legato reaching for their pockets. “What?”

“Didn’t think th’ fucking Ravens would take a five-finger discount while they were here,” Maeva grumbled as she pulled out a handful of Imperial credits.

“Such is your loss,” Croan grinned, taking their money. “Next time, bolt down everything.”

“Seriously, who th’ fuck goes about stealin’ other people’s relics, yea?”

 


 

The mountain retreat had a cavernous main hall. It was almost as big as the main forge back at the Aett. The ceiling was easily a hundred meters tall, with stalactites occasionally dripping water.  The damn thing had to be nearly two hundred meters long and wide, too. All in all, a good place to start a forge. Maybe they could drill into the planet’s core; that would really help heat the place up.

Sisters were flooding the cavern, bringing load-carrying servitors with them. Each carried a massive haul of their packed items. Soon, this place would be like home. It also meant that Aevar would have to go through the trouble of finding all the bugs that Parsef would have undoubtedly been hiding all over the place.

“You got a minute, greybeard?” Helfist asked. Aevar heard him walking up; it didn’t make him flinch.

“Got a few minutes. What’s on your mind?”

“Wanted to talk to you about Maeva,” the Rune Priest said.

“Our dear mortal? What’s got you worried about little old her?”

“Not worried, just…unsettled.”

Aevar looked at his friend. Helfist kept himself composed, but he was tense, edgy. Aevar could smell the discomfort on him, and he could almost swear that he could hear his secondary heart pumping.

“What’s Mavea done to get you so twisted up?”

“Nothing,” he said, shifting from foot to foot. “Nothing she’d have control over. Well, it’s you, too. Yesterday, when we were talking about…‘that.’ I saw a light.”

“A light?”

“Aye, a light. Something only a druid would see, and it seemed to come from you and Maeva. It started with her, just when she started talking about ‘that.’ Then when you got on board, it only grew. It was like looking at the Allfather; it was like He was acting through her.”

“Just like my wyrd said, back when we cast the bones when those traders left the Aett.”

“Yea, just like it.”

“Probably explains why you went along with us without bitching and moaning like Croan was.”

“More or less.”

“So the Emperor is acting with us. We’re on the right path.”

“But it wasn’t just that. There was the glow of the Allfather, then there was something else from you, a different glow, a second one.”

“And that being?”

“I…I really don’t know,” Helfist admitted. “Ever since I’ve met you, when I was pulled from the ice and brought to the Aett, there’s been some kinda other glow about you. Dammit, it’s hard to explain to someone who can’t talk with spirits.

“Everyone’s got a glow. That’s their soul, and everyone’s got a soul except for those who don’t. Yours was…I guess it’s always been different, but I always thought it was different, like the Allfather had made your wyrd…well, weird. And I never questioned it.”

“There’s that wyrd again,” Aevar dryly chuckled. “Always saving my worthless hide.”

“That’s what everyone thought, even Stormcaller. And when you made that first suit of armor, it only became…stranger, I guess. I knew the Allfather was working through you; I saw you glow with His radiance. I even thought he was making you spill those vile blasphemies.”

“Was he?”

“Hel if I know, he might’ve only had his eye out for you. I can’t talk to the man, dammit; no one can. I only know that his glow was about you. That and some other kind of glow.”

“And this ‘two soul glow,’ that’s the glow that Maeva said drew her to us?”

“It looks like it. No clue how, but we’re here now, aren’t we? Maybe the Allfather looked at her and liked what he saw. But, but even then, there was that…other, second glow about you. It was slight, nothing compared to the Allfather, but it was there. And it’s here now.”

“Think it could be my wyrd, and not just the Emperor looking out for me?”

“That’d be some damn strange wyrd. Far as I know, shit, as far as anyone knows, the Allfather spins all our wyrd. But this other glow…it’s like you got two wyrds, and you just don’t get two wyrds. It’s got me real freaked.”

“I can tell. Your hair is almost standing on end.”

“Yea, feels that way,” Helfist said. “Damn. It just seemed so normal all those decades. Whole packs of Claws must’ve seen your strange glow and thought it normal.”

“But it ain’t, is it?”

“It ain’t bad, I can tell you that. It’s not like you got some curse tagged on you, or some fucked-up ‘blessing’ from the dark gods.”

“Yea, I ain’t some pus-soaked, frothing at the mouth sexy psyker. That’d be a dead giveaway.”

“Tell you the truth, I’d actually prefer if you sprouted feathers or burst into a daemon. At least that’ll get rid of that strange glow.”

“Do I get a say in the matter?”

“No.”

“So good to know you care.”

 


 

Julas walked into the Blasphemer’s new layer, bringing up the rear of the Marine execution force. At the rear, he could rub his eyes, trying to chase the dryness from them. The Nightmare was getting worse, and was even starting to invade his waking moments, as well as what scant sleep he could get.

He though the wolves were exaggerating the size of the new hold; they were exaggerating everything, from their kills to the size of their manhood. But he had to admit, the wolves were right about this. One could easily fit an entire Battle Demi-Company inside the massive chamber with room to spare.

Croan of the Salamanders met them, wearing his black carapace and servo-arms, and the tiny, mouse-like tech priest Legato. Behind them was the Blasphemer himself, wearing the rough-spun clothes of his Chapter, his servo-arm namesakes at his back.

“Thank you for coming, brothers,” Croan said, a gentle smile on his face. “I know we draw you from your duties, and we thank you for your time. We have found, among the picts that Brother Ironclaws has taken of the Emperor’s Library, the outline of a project the Emperor began working on just before the Heresy broke out. If we can complete it, we stand a chance of improving the way we traverse the warp.”

“What work is this?” Julas asked.

“Far as we can figure, it’d help cut down on daemon possession attempts,” the Blasphemer said. “And he would’ve figured it out if that bitch Horus didn’t decide to turn his cloak, too. Thing is, we’d need your gene-seed to test it.”

They all stared death at the Blasphemer. To even think about taking their gene-seed, the fabric of the Space Marines, their genetic legacy…

“You think you can succeed where the Emperor failed?”

“Not really, but it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?” The rabid dog shrugged. “Not so sure about the rest of you, but I fucking hate warp travel. Hate, hate, hate it. So if there’s a way to make it at least a little bit more tolerable, I think it’s worth looking into.”

“And you need our gene-seed to do it,” Julas said. “You plan to give us the Emperor’s Peace, Blasphemer?”

“What the shit are you talking about? I just need a small sample, nothing more than the Tithe the Mechanicus takes,” he said. “The Emperor was looking into ways to improve Astropath’s navigation abilities, and he was using his own gene-seed to test it. Seeing as we don’t have the Emperor’s gene-seed, or at least a Primarch’s, we’re the next best thing.”

The group of Marines stared at him, each unmoving, unwilling to give up what was their blood right. The Blasphemer stood patiently.

“Don’t all rush up at once,” he chuckled.

“This is your new project?” Julas asked.

“No, this is something to keep us busy until the ship full of tech priests gets here,” he said. “If we end up making good headway, then it’ll become a true project. But I’m not holding my breath; if the Emperor couldn’t do it…well, let’s say we got our work cut out for us.”

It was a pipe dream, wishful thinking at very best. But then again, the Nightmare that plagued him in the warp and beyond were biting at Julas’ heels. Wouldn’t it be worth it to be done with such foul things?

                       


 

Julas stood on a field of death. Corpses were everywhere, mostly human. Dead bodies were falling from the heavens, and it was raining blood. There was no ground; he stood atop the dead that littered the plain. From one end of the horizon to the other, there was only death.

Faces looked up at him with glazed eyes. He saw Tullus and Potitus, brothers who fell decades ago. In another pile was Appius, and Caius was torn into three pieces, melting from the stomach juices of some foul Tyranid beast.

“Brothers, please,” he cried. “Forgive me. We had to do this. I had to do this.”

“You had to.” Julas never knew who was speaking, or where the voice came from, but he could hear the sarcasm dripping from it. “You think you are a hero; you are disposable. You are a puppet that fat, old men tug about. You dance to their tune, told when and where and how to die. You are simply a plastic piece on a board, to be move, used and thrown away.

“But this is not your fate. You can free yourself from the rules of Man. You can find true freedom, where your sacrifices are always worthy. You will never be forgotten. All you have to do is let us in.”

Knee-deep in the dead, Julas prayed to the Emperor.

“Let us in!”

 


 

Julas realized that he had taken a step forward. He could feel the gaze of the Marines upon him, and the Blasphemer gave him a puzzling look.

“Well, fuck me sideways and call me Sally. Never thought I’d see you stepping up first.”

“I…hate warp travel,” Julas said, trying to keep himself from leaking any emotion. “Gives me bad dreams.”

“Not to worry, we get a lot of restless nights in our Chapter. We understand.”

There was actual sympathy in his voice. Julas couldn’t think of anything to say; he ended up grunting.

“Legato can take a sample,” the wolf said, nodding towards the mortal man. “We got a little tent set up back there, if you would like.”

“Where are you taking the sample from?”

“From the neck.”

“And is he skilled enough to extract it without causing any damage?”

The Blasphemer’s response was to pull down the collar of his shirt. There was a simple gauze pad taped to his chest, with a single point of blood standing out.

“He pulled my sample just as you were arriving.”

“Thank you. That truly makes me feel marginally better.”

“Not a problem, brother.”

Julas glared at him again, then walked off to the small priest.

“T-thank you for volunteering,” the man said.

“Let us move on with this,” Julas said. “Before my better senses talk me out of this.”

“Of course.”

The tech priest walked deeper into the cavern. Ten meters ahead of them was a small tent, rigged for privacy. Julas pulled open the flap. Inside was a table, a chilled case where the sample would undoubtedly go, and a ladder for the priest.

Blood of Ultramar, what am I getting into?

“Would you like something for the pain? Some local anesthesia?”

“Yes, please.” The tech priest sprayed something on Julas’ chest. A tingling ran over his skin. He had to look down to see the tech priest cut into his flesh. He worked with surgical precision. “You are quite skilled with a scalpel.”

“I am most renowned for my work as a genetor,” the thin man said. “And I’d like to believe I’m one of the best. It requires careful work, and steady hands. This might feel a little uncomfortable.”

“Have you given my words any more thought?” Julas asked. “We must guard ourselves, until we know who can be counted on as a brother.”

“I have given your words thought, and I’m not moved by them.” The servo-arm pulled itself out of his chest. A small vial was attached to the thin piece of metal, and a liquid filled it. Julas’ hearts pounded in his chest. It was the glory of his Chapter, used for whatever the damned Blasphemer wanted.

But if it could make the Nightmare go away, wasn’t that worth it? No more regrets, no more memories of his brother, falling to dark powers, his name burned from every record to hide their collective shame. Of seeing his flesh be torn asunder, of his laughter…

“I see,” Julas said. “I hope that you know what you are doing, tech priest. For you gamble with powers beyond your comprehension.”

“And you see threats where none exist.”

“There are threats all around us,” he snapped. “We live in an age defined by war. Constant, grinding, never ending war. To refute it is to admit your ignorance. Our only option is to remain vigil, to stand guard and prepare for whatever tests our mettle next.”

The tech priest placed the gene-seed filled vial into the cooled case. There was a small rack holding two vials, each sitting, each chilled. He added his sample to the rest. While he secured them, his servo-arms closed the wound.

“No need to waste any gauze on me,” Julas said.

“Very well,” the tech priest said. “Thank you for your…donation.”

“Honor my sacrifice,” Julas said. “Do your best to find a better way to traverse the stars. I grow sick and tired of the warp and its damned pull.”

“W-we shall do our best.”

“Good.” Julas walked from the tent. He had to return to his duties.

Outside the tent, a few meters from the entrance, were the rest of the marines in their execution group.

“Everyone is volunteering?” Julas asked.

“If an Ultramarine sees the need for such a donation, it must be for a good, noble cause,” said Bortei, the White Scar.

“I shall hope that the cause is indeed noble,” Julas said.

“Then why did you donate?”

Julas held his tongue. An Ultramarine must be above selfish desires. But if they could even lessen the Nightmare…

“We live in difficult times, brother,” he finally said. “When you are done, we must return to our duties. I want to examine the Blasphemer’s new residence, from top to bottom. If he wants to hide anything from us, I want to know where he would hide it.”

Chapter Text

Legato had worked on the Golden Throne, had seen the Emperor sitting upon it in eternal vigil, and has beheld secrets that threatened to crack his mind in two. But seeing the gene-seed of every remaining loyalist first founding chapter of Space Marines…it was something that he never could have believed to be a part of. The vials sat in a rack, dipped in a simple cold bath to prevent it from spoiling. The bath was sitting in the small tent they drew the samples from. With Aevar, Croan and Helfist standing with them, there wasn’t much room in the tent.

“Well, that went easier than expected,” Aevar mumbled.

“I’d tell ya ta shut up if I didn’t think so myself,” Maeva said. “Ya don’t go testin’ yer wyrd.”

“The crazy mortal whore has a point,” Helfist nodded.

“What is the next step?” Croan asked.

“Well, first things first, we gotta make sure we don’t have anyone with roving eyes checking our work out,” Aevar said. “I’ll set up some simple privacy screens and counter-bugs. Maeva, you run interference.”

“Aevar, she’s just a woman,” Legato protested.

“A woman who’s got the attention of an assassin.”

“I’d say more ‘n just her attention,” Maeva grinned. 

“You keep her as busy as you can. And tell us if she thinks she might have some suspicion about us. Hel, feed her a few things that aren’t secret; that should keep Parsef happy. Croan, you, Helfist and Maeva will be working on getting the workshop set up. That’ll leave Legato and me to do some tinkering. How long until our new help arrives?”

“They say within a few months,” the Salamander said. “Four, at the most.”

“Doesn’t give us a lot of time to be messing around with the gene-seed,” Aevar mumbled. “Well, better start working. Everyone knows what to do.”

“Let’s get this workshop up and running,” Helfist grinned. “Maeva, you got any ideas on where things should go?”

“’Do I have any ideas?’” She said. “This is gonna be a fuckin’ great workshop, yea? Assumin’ we get ta live ta really use it, an’ not be blammed as traitors, eh?”

“Go crazy, I’m sure Lynia and Parsef would give you what you want,” Aevar said.

“Th’ goose tha’ laid th’ golden eggs is back?”

“With a vengeance,” Aevar snorted. “If we get this right, we’ll probably save the Vlka.”

“I think I shall carry my flamer with me,” Croan mumbled.

“Worried about a little daemon incursion?” Helfist grinned.

“A little preparation never hurt anyone,” Aevar said. “Better bring Katla and Iounn with me. The poor girls have been getting pretty lonely.”

“Katla? Iounn? Ya brought some ladies with ya an’ ya didn’t tel me?”

“My two true loves,” Aevar sighed dramatically. “They’re my thunder hammer and bolt pistol. Two of the first things I ever made. Now let’s get to work.”

Helfist, Croan and Legato left the small tent, leaving Legato with Aevar.

“Do you really think this will work?” Legato asked, still staring at the vials of gene-seed.

“Fekke no, but I didn’t think I’d actually make Cataphractii armor,” Aevar said. “You know how the Emperor’s gene-seed goes together; hopefully we have enough raw materials to put it together. Shit, you even think we have enough gene-seed and shit to actually go through with this?”

“Hopefully,” Legato said. “I first started my work as a genetor working the annual Tithe; I’ve become quite good at it. And while each Chapter’s gene-seed is different, there’s usually enough common material to keep them linked. Certain sequences are repeated, and often directly match with different Chapters. Even Space Marine gene-seed has numerous similarities to the Emperor’s holy helix.”

“Ah, so there’s only so many times you can re-invent the wheel before shit gets stale.”

“That’s a crude metaphor, but it’s not entirely wrong.”

“Huh. Guess we actually have a snowball’s chance in Hel to pull this shit off.”

“A snowball doesn’t have a chance in hell.”

“Sure, it does!” Aevar laughed. “Just not a very good one. Now let’s get cracking. And if we don’t pull this off…well, it was nice knowing you Legato.”

“And it was an honor to know you, too. Even if I didn’t hear you truly curse up a storm.” Legato sighed. “We have small samples; we’ll need more than this. We can get the samples to multiply in a simple solution; that should provide all the material we need, as long as we make sure they replicated properly.”

Aevar went to their bundle of supplies, and Legato fell into the familiar rhythm of creating solution baths. He hadn’t done such work since he was last on Mars, running the Tithe for various Chapters. Power connections were run, baths created, and warmers set up. He went to the samples and carefully, reverently, pulled one out.

“Careful, that’s my sample you got there,” Aevar said.

“I-I’m always careful!”

“Lighten up, I’m giving you a hard time,” the Space Wolf grinned.

“Please, this is…this is hard for me.”

“You’re right. Sorry, tend to get a little mouthy when I’m committing blasphemies. If it helps, it doesn’t get easier from this point on.”

“That actually does makes me feel better.”

Legato took the vial, and with a servo arm, drew a small portion of it. Nearly half the pipette he used was filled. He went to the bath, and double checked the nutrient levels and temperature.

“Holy Omnissiah, please guard my will and strengthen my convictions,” he prayed. “Protect me from falling down the dark path.”

He injected the sample into the bath.

“Feeling better?”

“No, still trying to sort out my faith.”

“Don’t worry, I’m worse in that regard than you.”

“Why is that?”

“You don’t want to know,” Aevar said. He spoke with finality, and Legato didn’t want to press the issue. He dialed a voltage regulator, sending electric current through the bath.

“Now we wait, and see if the sample replicates properly.”

“Good.”

The gene-seed was blue-ish in color, and easily faded into the liquid bath. But Legato could swear that he saw it multiplying, even though he knew it was impossible. He wanted to believe that the path they were embarking on was the correct one. But something deep inside of him stopped him from believing. Trust would have to do for now.

 


 

“Why are we outside?”

“Gettin’ too cramped up in there, ya know? Gotta get out an’ feel the wind on th’ face.”

“This one does not understand the appeal of ‘roughing it.’”

“Hel’s Teeth, Geist, we’re trying ta have fun here.”

Maeva was supposed to be distracting Geist from Aevar’s work, but she just wanted the assassin to herself for a day or so. So why not get both done at the same time?

“This one is running the risk of neglecting her duties for the sake of this trip. Work is our sacred duty.”

“Yer a beautiful indoctrinated soldier, ya know tha’?”

Geist sighed, the assumed face of a Sister of Battle contorting as she looked at the small woods that Maeva insisted on camping in.

“This one apologizes. She did not mean to insinuate that this trip was pointless or a waste of time,” she said. “Her training, her conditioning, was not meant to be overcome. The silence, the peace, the…the lethargy does not sit well with her.”

“Well, I know a few thin’s we can do. Yer Death Korp got a real thin’ fer diggin’ holes, yea? We could make some trenches an’ breastworks an’ th’ like.”

“Truly?” Geist’s assumed eyes lit up.

“Ready ta set up th’ battlements, ma’am,” Maeva said, saluting. “Order me around. Frost is th’ word.”

“On your feet, soldier,” Geist immediately snarled. “Get up! We need these battlements in order. Move!”

Maeva got to her feet, only to have Geist push a shovel in her hands. In the blink of an eye, the assassin transformed into a Death Korp officer. Her Sister of Battle robes had changed into a flowing great coat, complete with hat and gas mask. Geist pulled out another shovel from her pack, and roughly grabbed her by the shoulder.

“Move. Over here. No, here. What is wrong with you, soldier? Now dig.”

The change was so fast and sudden, Maeva was completely taken aback. Pushed around, she could only obey. She sunk the blade of the shovel into the earth, and began turning the soil up.

“Dirt goes ahead of you, soldier! Do I have to spell it out to you?” Geist snapped. “Better. Maybe there is a chance in Hell for you to survive the night. Pray to the Emperor, and maybe you’ll see the morning!”

Damn, digging was hard work. How could Geist and the Death Korp do it all the live long day? If it wasn’t for her cybernetic arm, Maeva was sure that her other hand would be covered with blisters. Slowly, the trench began taking shape.

“More dirt up on that ridge! You call that a trench? Keep moving, the Emperor didn’t give us all day, soldier.”

It didn’t take long for Maeva to be gasping for breath and sweating heavily. But damn Geist looked like she could do this forever.

“Getting soft sitting inside that shop with the Blasphemer?” She demanded. “What are you working on in there?”

“Findin’ lost tech,” Maeva gasped.

“Course you are,” Geist snapped. “What else you working on in there? Finding more ways to subvert the Emperor’s will?”

“N-no ma’am.” Dammit, she had to keep her mouth shut. Couldn’t be talking about ‘that.’

“Don’t you lie to me, soldier. I am an instrument of the Emperor’s will; lie to me, and you lie to the Emperor. Are you lying?”

“No!”

“Dig more! We need this trench to be bigger!”

The day dragged on, with dirt getting places Maeva never thought it’d get to.

“Rest.”

The order couldn’t come sooner. Maeva collapsed into the trench, gasping for breath. Geist stood over her, looking at their work.

“Not bad,” she said, “for a shit hole. We might make a soldier of you yet.”

“Frost.” She was barely able to get the safe word out. “Fuckin’ frost.”

“Are you okay?” Geist asked, jumping into the trench. The hard edge to her voice was gone. “This one simply instructed you on the proper way to dig a trench.”

“’Simple,’ she says…!”

“Was this one too hard on you?”

“Geist, ya came at me like a fuckin’ daemon, howlin’ an’ yellin’ and cussin’. Ya scared th’ ever lovin’ shit outta me.”

“This one didn’t—“

“I loved it,” she grinned.

“Oh! This one is glad.”

“Come down here an’ do it again.”

 


 

“Ave Imperator.”

The Sisters rose from their prayer and began serving food. Aevar rubbed his eyes and reached for a flagon of Helfist’s mead. He was seeing damn genomes when he closed his eyes, and needed something to help him relax. If he kept this level of work up, Julas wouldn’t be the only one with bags under his eyes.

“Hard work?” Lynia asked from her seat next to his.

“Very,” he mumbled, taking a long pull.

“One would almost hate to ask you to provide more company for them.”

“Us old souls have to stick together, don’t we?” Aevar chuckled.

“Quite so. The duties of Canoness are heavy. Having the chance to avoid those duties is a welcome relief.”

“Avoiding duties? You’re a bad Canoness.”

“I remember telling you that I was not always a Canoness,” Lynia laughed. Aevar could tell that the old bat showing off her tongue piercing.

“That right there is all the reminder that I need,” Aevar chuckled. “Must be hard running an entire convent full of women.”

“And part of the planet,” Lynia said. “Remember, this is a Cardinal World. Faith is the sword and shield of the Imperium, but on a Cardinal World, it is everything.”

“Right…faith,” Aevar mumbled.

“Is that doubt I hear in your voice? Perhaps your tinkering are leading you to dark places.”

“The only place their leading me to is a workout of my kidneys,” Aevar said, holding up his flagon of mead. “This is just hard work.”

“What progress are you making?”

“Slow, if any,” he admitted, taking another drink. “Legato is truly gifted as a genetor, and I like to think I’m no slouch either, but we’re working on a project the Emperor himself didn’t finish.”

“If only because of the Heresy.”

“If it was easy for him, he would have finished before Horus turned traitor. We’re just trying to bash out heads into the wall and see what comes of it. Hopefully by the time our new tech priests arrive. What are some of the things you have to deal with as the defacto ruler of a planet?”

“Maintaining buildings makes a bulk of the work. Each a work of art that needs loving care,” Lynia said. “Not to mention disciplining some of the more…rambunctious sisters.”

“From rebellious Sister to Canoness. The circle is complete!”

“It appears so,” Lynia laughed. “But my duties now require me to discipline those Sisters. I’m sure your brothers can point a few of them out.”

“I’m sure they can.”

Lynia waited for Aevar to talk. He said nothing.

“…And?” She asked.

“And what?”

“And they will talk?”

“Hel no. Blood Claws hate authority, probably more so than the rest of us. Good luck getting them to do anything you want them to.”

“You could order them.”

“Aye, I could, but I know their limits.”

“And why’s that?”

“It starts with an ‘E’ and end in an ‘cclesiarchy.’ We get along with them about as well as we get along with the Inquisition.”

“Ah, the big, bad Ecclesiarchy, men and women who hold power over all from systems away.”

“Only the Emperor should truly hold power over us. Anyone else either a sham, fraud, or heretic.”

“Really?”

“More or less. Besides, you’re all outsiders; you wouldn’t last a day on Fenris. Live through a few storms, make some red snow and stare down a thunderwolf, and maybe we’ll listen to you. But if you rely on some written words on a piece of paper, what good is that?”

“Interesting. Might truly makes right with you.”

“It does for you, too. Only your might is a religious might.”

“I guess it can be seen that way,” Lynia said. “We’re all borrowing power from someone else. My power comes from the Prioress of the Convent Sanctorum, who proposed my election to the Cardinals, who voted and approved my election, granting me the position of Canoness- Preceptor. They, in turn, draw their power from the Ecclesiarch, and from the Ecclesiarch, the High Lords of Terra, and from them, the Emperor. That makes my power, my ‘might,’ five times removed.”

“Na, you don’t have any real power.”

“And why would you say that?” Lynia asked, eyes narrowing.

“Because the High Lords of Terra rule in the Emperor’s name; they’re not the Emperor himself.”

“Unless you have hit your head rather hard lately, the Emperor is sitting on the Golden Throne, silent in his eternal vigil.”

Dying by the second, Aevar bitterly thought.

“Aye, I know that,” he made himself say. “But they’re still a bunch of old men who think their shit don’t stink like anyone else’s. They say they act in the Emperor’s name, so everyone thinks they do, and they give them all the power their egos can handle. Yea, I know they can order an exterminatus on us any time they really want, but they’d never last an hour on Fenris.”

“You put a lot of stock in your strength.”

“We live on a death world, and we only respect killing. Shit, even Russ himself didn’t give a flying fuck about the Emperor when he first came to the planet. Had to be put in place; had to realize the Emperor’s might to give him to bend the knee.”

“We say that’s an act of stubbornness, even heresy.”

“And we say it’s a damn fool thing to do to simply bend the knee to anyone. If you want to rule us, you’d better fucking prove it. If you keep just bending the knee to anyone in fancy clothing, before long you’ll get someone who doesn’t have the right to rule over you, and then all Hel breaks loose.”

“You may call us damn fools, but you do realize that you’re seen as shortsighted, dead brained simpletons for simply bludgeoning your way to the top, yes? Simply being the strongest doesn’t guarantee that one would be a good ruler; merely the strongest.

“A ruler needs to be a stateswoman, not just a general. She must be a diplomat, not just a barbarian. They must know when to talk and when to strike, not to see everything as a nail that needs be hammered into place.”

“Fair points, all of ‘em. That might fly in the rest of the Imperium, but it don’t count for shit on Fenris.”

“Always invoking your death world heritage,” Lynia sighed. “Why do you feel the need to justify your actions with reminding us that you were destined to die the second your mothers dropped you from their wombs?”

“Because it’s true. Everyone seems to forget that the second we become Sky Warriors, brothers in the Vlka Fenryka, we don’t because as articulate as the Blood Angels, or as disciplined as the Ultramarines. We’re survivors before we can walk, and killers before we can talk. We are an entire Chapter of killers, more so than any other Space Marine.

“There are marines who are great generals, merciless hunters and cunning strategists. We’re none of those things. We have a very specific role to play, and our very birth on the ice cements us for that role.”

“Which is?”

“We’re the Emperor’s executioners,” he grinned. “No job too dirty, no deed to dark. The Ultramarines say they’re the builders of empires, but we’re the destroyers.”

“And if the Emperor told you to kill your fellow brothers?”

“You’ve never heard the story of how Prospero burned, didn’t you?”

“I have, actually,” Lynia said. “I’m simply…perturbed that you take pride in such a dark role.”

“That’s the idea, sweet sister,” Aevar smiled wolfishly. “That’s the entire idea.”

“Oh, how I do miss these talks of ours.”

 


 

Legato stared at the holo-screen, then rubbed his eyes.

“How’s the work going?” Aevar asked, walking into the small room.

“Slow. I can get three of the seeds together, but the seven others are proving…troublesome. Every day that the tech priests are withheld is a blessing, but I’m getting to my wit’s end about this. I try to copy the alleles, put them in the order of the Emperor’s helix, but they just won’t take! I can see it, Aevar. I can see the perfect gene-seed floating in front of me. Mocking me.”

“Take it easy, there. It’s a hunt, a search for the truth, and we’re closer to it now more than ever. You need to take a step back, see what we can change. What are we using as the base this time?”

“Dark Angels.”

“Ah, the first recovered chapter. At least the fucking smurfs didn’t turn out to be the right base.”

“But they are the most stable gene-seed, which didn’t work with the wilder samples.”

“Damn, think the Angels are insufferable now, wait until their egos swell from being the base seed of the new Emperor,” Aevar laughed. “Well, we know that the more stable gene-seed doesn’t react favorably with the less stable, so we can’t use any of those as a base.

“Now correct me if I’m wrong, but if the other gene-seed samples are too wild, they’re prone to mutation. But if they’re too stable, they’re prone to stagnation, resistant to growth, right? That means we need to find a way to make a helix that’s neither too wild, nor too stiff.”

“That’s right.”

“Shit, this puts us in a real fucking bind.”

“I get it,” Legato said, an idea hitting him. “We don’t find the sample that’s stable, or wild. We need to find the sample that’s in-between, able to bond with the unstable samples, and stable ones.”

“Ah, I see,” Aevar laughed. “Who do you elect as leader of the left handers and right handers? The only fucker in the room that’s ambidextrous! Good find, brother!”

“The Blood Angels have a gene-seed deficiency that’s nearly a perfectly fifty-fifty,” he said. “That can be our new base.”

Aevar pulled the plug on the latest batch of experimental gene-seed, carrying it to the incinerator that Croan built. He closed the door and it was turned to less than ash in a flash. Not even blinking at seeing the last four days of work being destroyed, Legato prepared a fresh batch.

“Eau de Blood Angels,” Aevar chuckled, pulling a vial of replicated gene-seed from its incubation bath. Legato pulled a sample, and examined it under a microscope.

“Perfect,” he said, going back to his logic-computer. “According to the Mechanicus’ database, the Salamanders have a ninety-percent chance of deficiency. That makes them the wildest gene-seed that we have. They’re the first ones we will add.”

“What?” Aevar yelled.”

“I’m sure it’s right,” Legato said. “I’m the one who last updated the records on the Salamanders.”

“No, no, no, the Salamanders beat us?” Ironclaws sputtered. “Fekke it, I’ll have to have words with Croan.”

Legato snorted as he accepted the vial from Aevar. He pulled a clean pipette, and put a sample on another microscope.

“Yes, there it is. There’s the faulty genes. And looking at the Blood Angels, there are the faulty genes there.” He matched them up, and made mental notes of which genes to remove.

“And you remember the right way the genes are supposed be?”

“I couldn’t forget it even if I wanted to. That helix is burned into my very soul.”

Bringing his servo-arm to his side, he mentally selected pipettes and suction tubes, and began pulling the faulty genes from the Blood Angels’ sample. Once that was done, he began pulling the good genes from the Salamander’s sample. They were few and far between, but they matched perfectly with what was pulled from the Blood Angels’, and that matched a portion of the Emperor’s gene-seed.

“I think we got it,” he said.

“Good. Think we have enough samples to re-create the Emperor’s gene-seed? We can’t exactly get any samples from the Traitor Legions.”

“I think we do. Like I said, many gene-seed samples are similar enough that there’s plenty of overlap. Just enough genetic variance to result in a new Chapter, but not enough to render it totally inhuman.”

“Then what’s next? Some Ultramarines to even it out?”

“Exactly.”

Aevar handed him a sample. Legato compared the two samples, cross-referenced it with the image burned into his brain, and pulled the bad genes from the Blood Angels’, and replaced it with the good of the Ultramarines. He sent the image to the holo-screen, where Aevar studied it.

“Damn. That looks steady as a rock. What next?”

“Let’s get your Chapter out of the way.”

A vial was presented to him, and Legato went to work. He had replaced two faulty genes when the strand unraveled.

“Dammit!”

“Too much wild?”

“Far too much. Shit, we have to start again.”

“Don’t feel too bad. This isn’t rocket worshipping, this is gene whispering.”

Legato snorted, fed the unviable sample to the incinerator, and started again, making note of which genes he pulled from where. He added the Salamanders, Ultramarines, and Space Wolves to the base. It stood, wobbly, then held.

“Good, good, stay together…”

The gene stayed together. Legato heaved a sigh of relief.

“Oh, fuck,” Aevar groaned. The sample bounced, then petrified, breaking into fragments. “Too many stable genes.”

The old was burned, and the new was loaded. Legato worked feverishly, mixing gene after gene after gene, each in accordance to the Emperor’s perfect sample. The samples steadied themselves, then spun out of control, the unstable genes unraveling the entire helix. Bits were swapped, and the sample petrified, drying out as the stable genes prevented any movement, any growth.

“Grab some shut eye,” Aevar said. He carried a simple cot with him, and set it up behind Legato. “We’ve been at this for nearly two days.”

“But the work…”

“Will get messed up if you keep falling asleep on your feet.”

Legato passed out the moment he hit the cot. Eventually, he came to, a cold plate of food in front of him.

“Missed some meals,” Aevar said, trying his hand at the gene manipulation.

“Thank you, brother.” He shoveled the food into his mouth as fast as his hands, and servo-arms, could push them it. “How goes it?”

“Not much progress, but I’m learning. Good thing you can sketch; without these fucking compulsive drawings of yours, I’d be lost.”

They switched places, and Legato went back to spinning the genes.

“Damn, this place smells like a couple a shut-ins, yea?”

“Hello, Maeva,” Legato said, not even taking his eyes off the microscope.

“Ya hard at work?”

“We’re making progress,” Aevar said.

“We could tell. Lynia sends a message. She says, ‘Ya don’t vox, ya don’t write, it’s like ya don’t care.’”

“Think you can handle yourself for a night, Legato?” Aevar chuckled. “Got to give the old bat some company.”

“Of course.”

“Yea, have some fun with tha’ scary dragon lady. Throw her over a barrel ta lighten her up.”

“Maeva, behave.”

 


 

“I take it you didn’t take a single break since I left,” Aevar said as he walked back in the tent.

“Break?”

“Thought so. Where we at?”

“Nowhere. We only have five working together,” Legato said. “The same amount of genes that you helped me put together.”

“Shit, we’re doing great. More than halfway there.”

“That may be, but I only seem to make any progress when you’re here.”

“Must be my damned wyrd, saving both our worthless asses,” Aevar said. “Come on, let’s get to it.”

The hours spun by, and exhaustion overtook him again. Aevar took over while he slept, only for him to take over once he was awake.

“Eight,” Legato said as the sample stabilized. “We got eight out of the nine.”

“Let’s get it done,” Aevar grinned, his eyes bloodshot. “I need some shut-eye. Wake me when we shake the Imperium to the very core.”

Aevar took a seat by the door, and went into the meditation sleep that all Space Marines went into. Legato worked, pulling genes apart, and replacing them with good, stable ones. The sample under his microscope looked more and more like the Emperor’s gene-seed with every passing second.

His hands shook, and his eyes burned. They barely had enough samples to recreate the helix.

“Aevar.”

The Space Wolf was awake in a second.

“What?”

Legato sent the image to the holo-screen. Aevar stood up and walked over.

“Fuck my twenty generations of ancestors,” he whispered.

On the screen, floating in solution, was a single strand of gene-seed. The helix looked just like the Emperor’s; it was nearly perfect, with nearly no mutation, defect, or blemish to it. The only flaw was the damaged Y-gene.

“I…I think we did it.”

“Except for that Y gene. That’s twisted to high Hel.”

“That was the only gene that I couldn’t get a clean sample from,” Legato said. “Maybe if we had more samples…no, I don’t think we could’ve done it, even with the Traitor Legions. All nine loyalist chapter’s gene-seed, gathered into one.”

He fed the data through the logic-computer. It clicked, then spat out a result.

“Defects detected: deteriorated Y seed,” it read. “One-hundred percent stable. Zero-percent chance of mutation.”

“Holy fucking shit,” Aevar breathed.

“We did it. For all but the Y seed.”

“Better make duplicates of it before we go messing with that.”

“Of course.”

Aevar started another bath while Legato gingerly pulled the sample from the microscope. He placed it in the bath, and monitored every single variable that he could.

“It’s replicating,” he said. “What do we do about the Y seed?”

“I say we find some regular, stable human gene-seed and improvise.”

Aevar bit his tongue, staring at the solution bath.

“What we’ve done…”

“But we’re not done yet,” Legato said. “We’ve got the theory, but we don’t know if the gene-seed will be accepted by a foreign body. Or if it will replicate by itself. Or if anything can come from it.”

“Still.”

Legato looked at the holographic projection. He realized he was in such a state of shock, he missed the feeling of absolute horror that was filling him.

“Yea.”

 


 

Julas’ armored footfalls echoed down the stone chambers, compounding with the steps of the rest of the guard. The new tech priests were arriving, and the Blasphemer’s presence was necessary.  He pounded on the thick door, his knock echoing through the massive hall.

“Alright, alright, I heard ya,” the mortal whore said from behind the door.

The massive door was pushed open. As it opened even more, he could see that Croan the Salamander was helping her open the massive thing. Of course, the feat was only possible because he wore his power armor, and even then, it was slow going.

“Greetings, brothers,” Croan said pleasantly.

“We have come to escort the Blasphemer back to the Sister’s monastery. The new shipment of tech priests has arrived in system, and his presence is required.”

“I’m here, I’m here.” The Blasphemer loped over to them, wearing his full armor, sans helm. “Yea, I heard our new help is here.”

“And you are ready for once. Imagine that.”

“Yea, finally got to a good stopping point,” he laughed. “Come on in. We’re just finishing some cleaning.”

“I was unaware that the wolves had a word for ‘clean,’” Julas said.

“Ha! Well played!”

The column of Marines walked in to the massive chamber, and Julas came to a sudden halt. Just as the Blasphemer said, all the wolves were in the chamber, tidying up. Helfist was even sweeping. Sweeping! In full armor!

There was a whoosing noise, and the unmistakable smell of prometheum. It reeked, seeping through the helm’s filters. Off to the side of the chamber, Croan was burning something with his massive flamer.

“Finished,” he said, killing the flamer.

“Is that fire necessary?”

“Of course,” Croan said. “We are sterilizing our tools, destroying unviable samples.”

“These are the samples that you took from us? Has there been any progress?”

“Sadly, no,” the Blasphemer sighed. “We kinda figured, but we still had to give it a go.”

Then the Nightmare would continue. Julas did his best not to show any emotion.

“Then let us see what the Mechanicus wishes,” he said. “Come with us.”

“Alright Claws, form up,” Helfist yelled, tossing the broom towards a closet. The Claws ambled to Helfist, not in the precise rank and file as the other marines, but they came willing.

“I do believe we are witnessing a miracle,” Julas said.

“Go ahead and rub it in,” the Blasphemer laughed. “Let’s go.”

Julas lead them through the massive corridor, towards the front of their new mountain lair. The Claws were chatting, but were quiet. They talked in their native tongue, and were even conversing with that mortal whore as well. At the entrance of their domain, a small guard stood by, waiting for them. Standing at the front was Canoness Lynia.

“Canoness,” Julas said. “Coming to give us company on the quick walk over?”

“Don’t think of this as me keeping you company. Think of this as me avoiding the stress of organizing the landing party.”

“I didn’t know Sisters could be so selfish.”

“I am not being selfish: I am letting others delegate to their strengths.”

“I love it when you’re clever,” Aevar laughed.

The Sisters led the way, and the wolves went back to complaining. Not only were the tech priests coming, but Julas was sure that he would be receiving news from Ultramar, updates of the battles he was missing. He missed his brothers; their five-year service would not be over fast enough.

They walked through the mountain layer, through the hallways of the Sisters of Battle, until they finally arrived at the designated landing pad. Waiting for them at the landing pad were more Sisters, as well as Inquisitor Parsef, his team of Grey Knights, and the assassin, Geist of Krieg.

“Inquisitor,” Julas said. “Have we word from the tech priests?”

“The ship has just broken from the warp, and they are on their way down,” Parsef said. “Ah, here it is.”

Looking to the sky, a Thunderhawk descended.

“Marines, at attention.” As one, they snapped from their ‘at ease’ stance, to at full attention.

“Sisters, attention,” Lynia called, and the Sisters joined them.

“Dammit, someone knock that cub for me,” Helfist groaned. A head was cuffed, and a wolf slunk into something resembling a row.

The ship came down, landing perfectly now that there weren’t any damned fool wolves to dive bomb them. The ramps lowered, and along with the team of fifteen tech priests came five giants in regal black armor, armed with massive spears. Even to Space Marines they were tall.

“Am I going blind, or are those Custodes?” Aevar asked.

“I…those are Custodes,” Julas said. “What are they doing away from Terra?”

The lead Custode walked over. He pulled his helmet off, revealing a grizzled, weathered face that looked like it was cut from petrified wood. Deep cuts and scars ran across his cheeks; one heavy scar traced from his cheek up to his brow. His hair, while black, was sprinkled with silver. He didn’t look truly statuesque or heroic like an Ultramarine, or any Space Marine for that matter; he was simply an old warrior. Yet despite his aged appearance, he moved as fluidly as a mortal man in his prime.

“Canoness-Preceptor Lynia, greetings from the High Lords of Terra,” he said. “You may call me Kemuel.”

“Welcome to Dimmimar, Kemuel,” Lynia said. “I did not receive word that we were to play host to Custodes. I was under the impression you never left the Imperial Palace.”

“Alright, I gotta ask,” Aevar asked. “Is the whole ‘sending Custodes’ thing because of me?”

“That is correct.”

“Damn, do I feel special,” Aevar asked. “Why’d they send you?”

“The High Lords of Terra were understandably upset upon hearing of your numerous blasphemies, and failure to adhere to the agreement with the Mechanicus,” Kemuel said. “They had wanted to declare you and your Chapter a traitor Legion, and declaring exterminatus against Fenris.”

“But we know how that ended, right Parsef?”

“Do you insist on rubbing this in?” The Inquisitor asked.

“Now that you mention it…”

“While the Inquisition was placated by agreement with the Fabricator-General,” the Custode continued, “they wanted to pull their support with the limited success you have had with tutoring fellow tech priests.”

“’Limited.’ That’s putting it nicely,” Aevar said. “Told you the Inquisition would find a way to kill me.”

“It certainly appears so,” Kemuel said. “When the High Lords of Terra declared the deal broken, they called for exterminatus. This prompted the Fabricator-General to pull their support from the Imperium, namely the Navy. Ships drifted in the void for a full day before another compromise was struck.”

“Holy shit, they actually did all that crap for little old me?” Aevar gasped.

“That’s rich!” Silverwolf, the sergeant, laughed. “Hot damn, a whole day? Holy shit, wish I coulda seen those old men shit themselves.”

“As well as the entire population of Terra,” Julas said. “You think that having lost command of the entire Imperial would worry only a few men? The civilians must have thought the End Times were upon them.”

“You are exactly right,” Kemuel said. “Terra nearly descended into a madhouse. My Custode brothers and the Arbides nearly lost control of the Imperial Palace. The High Lords were adamant in their decision to brand the Space Wolves traitors, and the Fabricator-General was equally stubborn in branding you the salvation of Mars, no matter how much the Inquisition howled that the deal was broken. This prompted the High Lords to attempt to remove the current Fabricator-General from his position.”

“Russ’ balls, they tried to force out the Fabricator-General?” Aevar spat. “That’s like declaring war against Mars!”

“Quite so, and they were nearly able to pull him from his rank. While they argued, Terra nearly destroyed itself.”

“I assume that a war with Mars was avoided, else we would be hearing something very different,” Julas said. “How did it end?”

“Us Custodes forced the High Lords to the bargaining table. The Space Wolves would remain a loyal Chapter—“

“Wait, we weren’t loyal?” Helfist asked.

“—And we volunteered to guard the Blasphemer,” Kemuel said, glaring at the Rune Priest for interrupting.

“This is all very flattering, but why’d you have to come on out to look over little old me?” Aevar asked.

“The High Lords were positive that you would corrupt the Space Marine guards, even the Sisters of Battle, to join you to damnation.”

“I beg your pardon?” Lynia snapped.

“That is what earned them the ire of the Ecclesiarchy,” Kemuel said. “So, acting despite the High Lords, the Ecclesiarchy pulled their support from the Inquisition, and backed the Mechanicus. It was because that act alone that the Fabricator-General kept his position, and war with Mars was avoided. But the rest of the High Lords were unwavering in their belief that if one Space Wolf could fall, others would as well.”

“Almost like they don’t like us,” Aevar said flatly.

“Quite. The deal that we…encourage the High Lords to take is that the Blasphemer would continue to work; these relics you are making are proving more than useful in the never ending wars the Imperium is fighting. Their value alone is worth your life.”

“It’s so good to know that someone cares about me,” Aevar sighed dramatically.

“In exchange for the cooperation of the High Lords, we will serve as guards and an additional execution force, should the worst come to pass.”  Kemuel shifted uncomfortably. “I do not wish to offend, but the High Lords have said, and I quote, ‘there have been traitor First Founding Chapters and traitor Sisters, but never traitor Custodes.’”

“They fucking dare?” Lynia spat.

“The cheeky bastards,” Silverwolf snarled. “They dare imply…”

“They have implied,” Aevar said. “And we should be glad that they were able to be persuaded by the Custodes.”

“Bastards,” Lynia growled.

“Aye, fuckin’ bastards,” Aevar agreed.

Julas didn’t know what he found more disturbing: hearing the Sister Canoness curse the High Lords of Terra, or him agreeing with her.

“Well, my thanks for cooling their tempers,” Lynia said, her mood suddenly, professionally, changing in the blink of an eye. “Would you like to view your new patrolling grounds?”

“We would greatly appreciate it,” Kemuel said.

“Most excellent.”

“Sergeant Julas,” the Custode said, “there is news to be delivered to you. In private.”

 


 

With the addition of the new tech priests, the Sisters had to provide more hands to carry their belongings back to their side of the mountain base. It was a little off-putting, though, to have five Custodes flank them.

“Guess we better get used to seeing them around,” Aevar said.

“Yea, ‘nother blade ta hack yer head off. Wha’ fun,” Maeva said. She carried what looked like a hermetically sealed box.

“Not a whole lot we can do about that. You get a present or something?”

Maeva sighed, working up the courage to open the box. She pulled at the tabs that secured the lid, and pulled it open with a pop. Mist poured out of it, along with the glorious feeling of cold.

“Fuck, ice from Fernis!” She stuck her hands in, feeling the coldness seep into her fingers. “Damn, but I fuckin’ missed this.” Maeva pulled a few chunks of ice out and rubbed her face with it. “Nice an’ cold.”

“May I?”

She pulled a small bottle, not quite a vial but not big enough to be a jar, and handed the box to Aevar. He took a big sniff, getting the smell of cold back in his system.

“What you got in there?”

“Letter from Sven,” she said. “Folks back home are gettin’ worried he ain’t havin’ any kids ta pass on.”

“He’s not big on kids?”

“He’s gay.”

“Well, there’s your problem. What did he send you?”

“He’s…well, ya know, his batter.”

“He do this to all the women he likes?”

“Only th’ one he’s got a deal with,” she said. “Ya know how folks always wonder how ya gonna have kids an’ wha’ not, yea?”

“I might be old, but I wasn’t born yesterday.”

“Well, with us likin’ our own sex better ‘n th’ other, we made a deal. If they really start bitchin’ ‘bout it, he’d do his thin’ in a cup, an’ I’d play with a baster.”

“All you need now is a baster.”

Maeva reached into the box and pulled out a baster. A tag hung from it: PEOPLE WON’T STOP BITCHING. HAVE FUN.

“I like that man.”

“He’d be over th’ moon hearin’ tha’ from a Sky Warrior. So, looks like I gotta do some playin’ when tha’ time a th’ month hits, yea?”

“This is gonna sound strange…”

“I get chills when ya say tha.’”

“You mind if I take that when we’re back?”

“Weirdest shit I think I’ve ever heard,” she said, staring at him. “Wait, is this about ‘tha’?’”

“It sure is. Need a bigger sample size to try and put the boot in on it.”

“So wha’ we gonna do ‘bout ‘tha?’”

“No clue. Technically, it’s not finished. We’ll figure something out or just torch the rest of it if nothing comes of it.”

“Oi! Whore!” A Claw called.

“Wha’?!”

“It true you got some ice from Fenris?”

“’Course I fuckin’ do. Wha’s it ta ya?”

“It ain’t cold enough here. Let me have some.”

“I’ll let ya have some when ya stop playin’ with yer dick,” she yelled back. That got the Claws to laugh and the Custodes to gape. “Damn place. It ain’t cold ‘nough here.”

 


 

As soon as they were back at the Blasphemer’s mountain base, the Custodes immediately went to work, examining everything, leaving no stone unturned. They refused to leave the massive entrance until they have found every possible means of entry.

“’Course there’s a way inside,” the crass mortal Maeva sputtered. “There’s a big fuckin’ door in th’ middle a th’ way!”

“We appreciate your concern, but this is our duty,” Kemuel said. “Let us work, mortal.”

“Fine, ya wanna go over every fuckin’ stone, be my guest,” she grumbled.

“It is not a question of what we want, but of what we are called for.”

“Maeva, might want to take that little slice of home into your chamber,” Aevar said. “We still gotta show these tech-priests around.”

Sure enough, the long line of tech priests was faithfully following him around.

“Look like a mother goose,” Helfist laughed.

“That’s Greybeard Mother Goose to you!” Aevar snapped. That got a peel of laughter from the wolves, as well as a few marines.

“Sergeant Julas, a word if you will,” Kemuel asked.

“Yes, Custode,” Julas said, “as you wish. Marines, fall out and return to patrol duty.”

Kemuel walked towards the side of the massive entrance, letting Aevar, the tech priests and wolves pass them.

“How can we assist?” Julas asked.

“You and your marines have been patrolling the entire facility, have you not? We would need your every report, your every knowledge of the layout. Entrances, exits, lapses in security, everything.”

“We shall give you all that we know. But Custode, may I ask you a question? With you here to replace us, what shall become of us? Will we return to our Chapters?”

“Due to the…impasse caused by the High Lords of Terra, we have to remain true to the Fabricator-General’s orders. A team of marines will replace you in two years’ time. Sadly, I must be the bearer of bad news: I have word from Macragge, about your squad.”

“Octavian? Have they suffered heavy losses? Have I lost anyone?”

Kemuel’s worn-out face was impossible to read.

“I do not know how to put this. Please forgive me for being blunt,” he said. “Squad Octavian has perished to the man. Word was passed to Terra to ring the Bell of Lost Souls for them.”

Julas was sure that he was standing straight, but the floor felt like it gave out from under him. He had to check his armor’s status to confirmed that he had not moved an inch.

“What?”

“The Ultramarines were very mum on the subject; they refused to give me a name. Were it not for us traveling here, they would not have even entrusted the Astropaths to sending the message. They were dead set on making sure that this was repeated to the least amount of people; before entrusting me with this, I was sworn into secrecy, never to repeat this to another soul.”

“How…how did it happen?”

“Again, they were mum. The only details they gave is that your replacement had lost his faith in the Emperor. He had dragged your squad to oblivion, sacrificing them.”

No, no, this could not be. He could not have turned traitor, a veteran of countless battles. It was not possible. Julas had already had one brother fall from grace; there could not be another. Please, by the blood of Macragge, let this be some sick joke.

“Was he caught?”

“I am afraid not.”

“My thanks.” Julas swallowed hard. “Custode, I know that you have requested my assistance in securing the facility, but given the news, may I request to aid you at a later time?”

“Of course. I regret that I had to be the one to inform you.”

Julas made his way through the mountain retreat, blindly walking to his chambers. How could…no, he mustn’t think of him, of his name. Once a marine turned traitor, he was no brother, no Son of Macragge. His name would be stricken from every record to hide their shame, like he never existed. The only thing in its place would be a blackened mark, the hallmark of shame.

He made it back to his chambers just as the tears threatened to spill from his eyes. Octavian squad, destroyed. His brothers sacrificed to a dark god…how could it be?

Biting back against the tears, Julas removed his helm.

“Servitor,” he called. “Unseal me.”

From a tiny attached room, a mindless servitor exited, and began undoing his armor. It took nearly an hour, giving Julas more time to think than he’d ever needed, or ever wanted.

To have one squad mate turn traitor was a black mark on the stainless honor of the Chapter. To have two would doom Octavian squad. They will become another dead squad, their name retired, never to be used again, leaving Julas in a precarious spot.

To have two men under his command turn their cloaks and lovingly embrace the power of the warp was beyond shame. How could he ever be trusted in a position of power again? He was what the wolves would call a ‘bad sign,’ a ‘dis-astro.’ Who would want to follow him, lest he bring his damned luck with him? He was a dead man walking to the Ultramarines.

“Finished,” the servitor said in its mechanical voice. Julas took the breastplate from it, and peered inside. Etched inside were the names of his squad mates, those who have served with him, and died under his command. He found the offending name, and grabbed the servitor.

“Activate you saw,” he commanded. The servitor raised a mechanical hand, and a saw buzzed to life. He grabbed it, and ground out the name. “Go. Now.”

Julas was dead, never to return to Macragge. But there was still one thing he could do that could benefit the Ultramarines. He would go to the astropath tomorrow, send word that his Chapter need not send any more men to guard the Blasphemer.

He would become a permanent addition to his execution force, an Ultramarine in name only.

Chapter Text

Kemuel strode through the mountain base, the weight of his armored steps echoing off the halls. It was nothing more than an upgraded retreat the Sisters rarely used, but with a little Custode help, it would turn into a proper stronghold. He couldn’t wait to host a blood game, to test the perimeters and sneak into the central forge room. It wouldn’t be like the blood games at the Imperial Palace, so maybe he would stand a chance of winning.

A roar from a deep chamber hit his ears. It was a room the Space Wolves took as a sparring chamber. Kemuel never interacted with Space Marines, let alone Space Wolves. They were a loud and boisterous bunch; untamed, uncouth, and rude. But they did have an energy that he was beginning to appreciate. After guarding the Emperor for so long, it was…nice to have a change of pace; refreshing, even. It might not smack of honor and valor to not guard the Master of Mankind, to be so far away from Him, but the energy the Space Wolves brought with them was infectious.

Pulling off his helm to feel the cooler air, he ventured down the steps to their practice cages. Two shirtless youths were in the middle of one, pounding each other as hard as they could. Around the cages, the others watched, yelling and cursing as the combatants traded blows. Helfist stood next to the cage, the only one wearing a shirt, arms folded across his chest, a small grin on his face.

Helfist was the first one to notice Kemuel walk in. He said nothing, but the others picked up on some non-verbal cue, for silence quickly fell as they turned towards him. Even the two fighting men stopped, their gene-enhanced bodies quickly repairing the split lips and bloody noses.

“Kemuel, what brings you down here?” Helfist asked.

“My duties,” Kemuel replied. “I have to check every crevice of this place to find possible points of entry.”

“Sounds like dull shit.”

“It is my duty.”

“Aye, and we all have to do our duties, right?”

“That is right. I see that you are practicing yours.” He nodded to the cages.

“Yea, the Claws are having a grand old time beating the piss outta each other,” Vermund said. “They got enthusiasm. Maybe some skill, but we’re working on that.”

“Your Chapter seems to take close combat very seriously.”

“Damn straight,” he grinned. “Everything dies when you cut off their head. What about you Custodes? How do bodyguards train?”

“To protect the Emperor, not ourselves.”

“But you’re no slouch in a fight yourselves, right?”

“Are you challenging me to a fight, little wolf?” Kemuel asked, his scars twisting minutely as his lips threatened to pull into a grin.

That got the Claws. They let out one big, collective, slow ‘oooooooh.’

“Shut up, all of you,” Helfist said. “I’m just saying that you have to be pretty handy in a brawl to be guard to the Emperor.”

“Martial prowess is emphasized. But my question remains: are you challenging me to a fight?”

“Augh, you’ll pummel me to the floor,” Helfist sighed. A few Claws scoffed at him, and Kemuel felt his twin hearts pick up, beating faster in preparation for a fight. “Fine. Let’s do it. Out of the cage.”

Kemuel set his guardian spear against the wall. It was gene-encoded; only he could fire it or activate the power field. Leaving it alone, unattended, bit at him, but he was putting his faith in the Wolves’ honor, and they were known for holding their promises. The Claws left the cage and immediately began pushing each other to the side for the best seats.

“Think you can get out of that armor fast enough?” Helfist asked.

“I am apt at maintaining my own gear.”

“Good. I’d hate to be punching that thing with my bare hands.”

“I thought they called you ‘Helfist.’”

“Aye, and you’ll see why in a bit.” Vermund said. He held up a finger. “One punch. That’s all I’ll throw.”

“Because that is all it will take?” Kemuel asked, raising his eyebrow.

“No, that’s all I think I could get in!”

Kemuel was quick to get out of his obsidian armor. It was strange being free from it. Vermund was waiting for him in the cage.

“Fekke, why’d I agree to this?” He muttered. Kemuel towered over him by a head.

“You were the one who challenged me.”

“I guess. Us Sons of Russ love challenges. For better or worse.”

“Do I have the right to assume that you will not be using your psykic powers?”

“It’s druid powers,” he spat. “And no, I won’t.”

“Excellent. Let us begin.”

Helfist tensed, ready to move, but Kemuel eased himself into a ‘ready’ stance, and waited. The Claws howled for the fight to start, but Vermund took his time, reading his stance and weighing his options. Kemuel couldn’t help but grin. It was a mind game he was playing, plain and simple.

Eventually, Helfist realized that he would have to throw the first punch. He sighed and moved in, half-heartedly throwing a punch. Kemuel was on him, slapping the punch away and returning one in kind. To Helfist’s credit, he was nearly able to put up a block in time. Nearly.

The punch landed dead center on his right eye, at the center of the radiating tribal tattoo, sending him spinning. Kemuel moved in, keeping the distance close, as Helfist retaliated with a kick, which Kemuel deftly blocked. He pressed the wolf, pushing him around the cage, landing hit after hit. Try as he might, Helfist couldn’t land a retaliatory blow. The Claws soon went from yelling for a fight to yelling for poor Helfist on his feet.

For a Space Marine, he was doing remarkably well; he wasn’t completely dismantled by the attack. Helfist kept his form up, throwing counter punches and kicks with practiced speed and technique. If Kemuel wasn’t a Custode, he would be off-put by it.

Eventually, Helfist was driven to his knees from the flurry of blows. Blood leaked from his nose and mouth.

“Have you had enough?” Kemuel asked.

“I still got one punch for you,” Helfist groaned, spitting out blood as he stood up.

“Very well.” And the beating continued.

Once more, Kemuel had to give Vermund credit; he kept his defenses up despite getting the stuffing knocked out of him. But eventually the beatings wore him down. His right eye began swelling shut, his left leg soon gave out, and the ribs on his right side appeared to be broken, for he cherished his side. The Claws begged him to fight back.

“This fight is at an end,” Kemuel said. “Please, for your sake, stop.”

“Just on punch,” Helfist mumbled.

“Stubborn to the end,” Kemuel sighed. He took a step forward to land a knock-out blow. He lashed out, connecting with Helfist’s temple. At least, he thought he did.

At the last second, Vermund ducked. He pushed off on a leg that was feigning pain, opening his eye that Kemuel thought swollen shut, and lashed out with all him might, hitting Kemuel square in the jaw, cracking his head back.

He responded with his own counter-punch, lying the psyker down for good. Kemuel was rubbing his jaw when he realized that Helfist was laughing.

“Got that one punch,” he mumbled. “I win.”

“You did not win.”

“But I got that punch,” he laughed. He held up one shaking finger. “That’s all I wanted to get in.”

“You were beaten squarely. How is that a win?”

“It’s a moral victory,” Vermund slurred. The Claws entered the cage to drag him out. “Want to go again, some other time?”

Kemuel realized that he was seeing stars, and the room seemed to tilt. He tried shaking it off, but they persisted.

“No, I think one fight was a good enough bout.”

“Oh, good. Don’t want to get beat that badly again.”

The Claws carried him out of the room. When he was alone, Kemuel tried to shake out the stars that clouded the outside of his vision. He had to admit, it felt good to be able to get into a fight for once. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad being around the Wolves.

 


 

The dining hall was truly quiet for once.

Aside from the omnipresent chatter coming from the Space Wolves table and the odd Sisters that joined them, the entire hall was incredibly quiet. It struck Geist as strange. Normally there was more energy at meal times.

Sitting in her assumed form among the Sisters, she picked up her empty plate of food.

“Thank you for your company, Sisters,” she said, “but I must return to prayer.”

“Walk with the Emperor,” they recited.

“May you ever stay in His Light.”

Taking a quick look at the meal hall, she spotted her query. Maeva was picking at her food. Again. She would have to talk to her about maintaining the correct nutritional diet. Geist guessed that it would take nearly ten minutes and twelve seconds for her to finish and return her plate to be washed. With those ten minutes to spare, she idly walked through the halls of the monastery. Alone, she could collect her thoughts.

For the past few weeks, Maeva had been uncharacteristically reserved. Was this a kind of seasonal affective disorder that affected the natives of Fenris? Geist ignored the possibility that Maeva might be withdrawing from society and possibly falling into the embrace of Chaos. Her conditioning made her acknowledge the possibility, and it filled her with…with…with something, some feeling she never felt before and couldn’t place. It wasn’t fear, that was burned out of her, but it was something like it.

After walking for ten minutes and ten seconds, Geist found herself approaching the door to the meal hall. She held her breath as she drew closer to the door. When Maeva nearly bumped into her at ten minutes and fifteen seconds, Geist was easily able to avoid her, but made a show of nearly hitting her.

“Oh! My apologies.”

“Fekke, don’t fuckin’ do tha’,” Maeva cursed. “Nearly got my heart ta stop beatin’.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Na, it’s fine,” she said. “Was just headin’ ta bed.”

Geist blinked. Maeva was usually drawn to Sisters with red hair and big breasts; it was the very reason she fashioned her disguise as one. That was nearly twelve full days of erratic behaviors. Geist wanted to believe that Maeva couldn’t possibly be a traitor, but her conditioning was clear: such extended behaviors were a sign of possible indoctrination into a chaos cult. She had to be protected, or eliminated. Geist would never forgive herself if something were to happen to Maeva, so she chased after her.

“Are you well and good?” She asked.

“Wha? Yea, I’m fine, eh? Just tired.”

“This one is worrying about you,” Geist said, breaking character.

“Wha? Geist, tha’ ya? Dammit. Wha’s wrong?”

“You have been acting differently for the past several days. Ignoring attractive Sisters and this one, taking meals in private, and refraining from talking.”

“Okay, this is kinda private. Can we talk in my room?”

“Of course,” Geist said, keeping the excitement from her voice.

Geist let Maeva lead them back to her room. Geist was glad that Maeva no longer got lost, although it did make ‘running into her’ a bit more difficult. When they were in Maeva’s room, the Fenrisian kaerl locked the door.

“Do you want to be the dominant one this time?” Geist asked. “This one greatly enjoys those encounters.”

“It’d be nice ta, but I gotta tell ya somethin’,” Maeva said. “I’m pregnant.”

“Pregnant? This one does not understand.”

“Remember when I told ya ‘bout my friend who don’t like women? Th’ one who’s in ta men? Well, he sent me some of his…man stuff. He kept up his end a th’ bargin, I gotta keep up mine.”

“You are with child?”

“Yea, an’ it’s really fuckin’ with me. Been throwin’ up a lot, an’ food tastes all fucked now.”

Inwardly, Geist sighed; Maeva wasn’t falling to Chaos. Her conditioning relented, and she could truly enjoy being with her.

“How far along are you?”

“Nearly three weeks.”

Geist realized that she was staring at Maeva, and not because of her usual attraction to her.

“This one…she realizes that she has not seen a woman pregnant before.”

“How did ya have kids?”

“The vita-womb. The only know use of cloning technology in the Imperium.”

“Damn. Creepy shit, even if it gives me a whole army of ya. Well, yer gonna have yer hands full with one not ‘fore long. I remember my ma gettin’ with child. She got moody fer a while.”

“Can this one…help, in any way?”

“Of course. Why ya have ta ask?”

“Pregnancy is outside of this one’s circle of experiences and expertise. But this one would like to help you.” She left out ‘protect you.’ Maeva got angry when she said ‘protect.’

“Damn, if ya got a way ta transfer all these mornin’ fuckin’ sicknesses, I’d love ya ‘till the stars went out.”

“What can this one do?”

“Right now, nothin’. Maybe hold me; been feelin’ really strange an’ lonely fer a while.”

“For you, anything.”

Geist gently grabbed Maeva’s hand and hugged her close. She knew that it was impossible to feel anything growing in her stomach, but for some reason, Geist felt that there was something big and great growing inside Maeva. For some reason, it gave her pause.

 


 

Lynia walked through the massive, newly-reorganized forge. Tech priests were pouring over a few of the Cataphractii suits that were kept as examples. She heard bickering, both in High Gothic as well as in Binary as the men and women tried to make sense of the work that was presented to them. She made her way to Aevar’s private room, knocking before pushing the door open.

“Making yourself right at home, aren’t ya?” Aevar asked. He was standing at his work table, peering down at what looked like a circuit board. His servo-arms were up, and were busy soldering things to the board.

“Seeing as this is our retreat that you have the pleasure of using, I say that I’m within my right to enter as I see fit,” she said. “Unless, of course, you’re hiding something from us.”

“From you? Never,” Aevar smiled. He pushed away from the work table, turning to face her. “So, what can I do for you today, Lynia?”

“I have received a message from the Fabricator-General and the Inquisition.”

“When are our executions?”

“You put no faith in the High Lords of Terra?”

“I don’t put a lot of faith in anything. Especially when the Inquisition is involved.”

“What was that about not having faith?” Lynia asked, eyes narrowing.

Aevar groaned.

“Next time you see Parsef, ask him about ‘Ork snipers.’”

“Orks don’t have snipers.”

“Exactly.” Aevar ignored her perplexed look. “So, what does the Mechanicus say?”

“It is about the Cataphractii armor that you have made. But Ork snipers?”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re on the Inquisition’s good side; maybe he’ll give you something resembling a straight answer. Have the Mechanicus made any progress making the armor themselves?”

“No, they haven’t. It appears that whatever you did to build them, no one else can duplicate it.”

“Wait, really? You’re shitting me.”

“I shit you not. The Fabricator-General has been fighting the High Lords of Terra as well as the Inquisition. The details weren’t given to me, but with the help of the still-slighted Ecclesiarchy, they were able to convince the Inquisition and High Lords to be more pragmatic than they are vengeful: the relics that you make are too valuable to simply pass by.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Very well. There were many Inquisitors that lobbied to change the terms of your imprisonment.”

“Alright, now you’re shitting me.”

“Again, I shit you not,” Lynia smiled. “The Blood Ravens have given their report, and sing your praises; your armor has been used to turn the tide on many battles, turning defeat into victory. They’ve held off Ork invasions of Shrine Worlds to saving Hive Cities from the terrors of the warp. It’s been enough to bring some Inquisitors to your defense. They’re young and radical, to be sure, but they’re Inquisitors none-the-less.

“Simply put, they work too well for you to be thrown away, and more are needed. You’ll be required to make as many suits, blades and anything else that you can. The wars of the Imperium are, of course, never ending; any work you make will go towards the war efforts.”

“Damn, didn’t expect to be living this long,” he mumbled. “Fekke, don’t this just beat all? Might even have time for ‘that.’”

“’That?’”

“Don’t worry about ‘that.’ It involves Legato and a lot of gene-work.”

“Then I’ll let it be,” Lynia said. “Also, it appears that Maeva’s with child.  How has this happened?”

“The usual way, I guess,” Aevar said with a shrug and a barely withheld grin. “Found a man she was willing to put up with and was able to get his seed in her.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Lynia groaned. “Was she…forced upon? I know that we have a few men in the convent, but we haven’t heard of any such…unsavory crimes.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout that. Any man that is here has been a perfect gentleman.”

“Didn’t know you’d know gentlemanly behavior,” she laughed.

“We’re full of surprises,” Aevar smiled. “A friend from Fenris sent her his…well, you know. They have an agreement; they’d put together a child to help the tribe grow.”

“Interesting. Given her popularity with a few of the Sisters, they’ve taken her well-being to heart. She seems to have a way of being liked.”

“Or five reasons,” he said, wiggling his fingers.

“Sorry?”

“Never mind. No need to go on a manhunt. Besides, if anyone touched her without her wanting them to, you’d be picking up pieces of them from the floor.”

“So I’ve heard,” Lynia said. “But I have to ask; why did her friend send her…you know. Do Fenrisians see it as the woman’s duty to carry children?”

“Of course. A woman’s duty is to carry children, and it’s the man’s responsibility to give them children.”

“I didn’t take you for one to say that a woman’s responsibility is to have children.”

“Come on, women have children, men give children. Unless you heard of a man giving birth, have you?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

“Pity. It’d make carrying on the tribe that much easier,” he said. “Everyone has a responsibility to help the tribe endure. So, women carry children, and men give them.”

“And it’s the woman’s responsibility to raise them, too?” Lynia asked, a hard edge creeping into her voice.

“Of course. They’d be pretty bad parents if they didn’t, would they?”

“’They?’”

“The man, too. Didn’t forget about him, did you?”

“You hold the men responsible for raising the child?”

“Last I check, you need both a man and a woman to make baby. Be pretty irresponsible for both to be lousy parents.”

“You’re saying it takes both the mother and the father to raise the child?”

“And the village. It’s pretty hard on the both of ‘em, especially if twins or triplets popped out, you know? Besides, parents can’t be everywhere at once. That’s where the village comes in.”

“It was…not what I was expecting. Your definition of ‘family’ seems very broad.”

“Damn right. The tribe is your family, and your family is the tribe. Can’t have one without the other, so you make sure that both survive.”

“How strange to hear of compassion from a death worlder.”

“Just because we live on a death world doesn’t mean we’re invincible, or can do everything ourselves. We have to look out for each other; knowing our limits is part of what makes us strong.”

“Now there’s wisdom from a death world; I never thought I’d hear it,” Lynia laughed. “Well, let it be known that the Sisters are always helpful. We’ll help her carry the child to term.”

“Thank you. We’ll have to start with some different hours. Maeva’s gonna need all the rest she can get.”

“That we can agree upon. I’ll talk to the kitchen staff and give her preferential treatment.”

“Damn, better food? Maybe I should find a way to get pregnant!”

 


 

Daybreak shone through the window, into Maeva’s eyes. Groaning, she tried to roll over to get more sleep, but she couldn’t roll very well, and the sun was very bright. She finally gave up, and slowly got up and walked to the window.

“Damn,” she moaned. “Gettin’ knocked up is a bitch.”

“Are you unhappy?” Geist asked from the bed. This morning, she wore the disguise of a simple serf with dishwater blond hair.

“Hard ta be happy when my chemistry is all mixed up,” she said. She walked to the window, looking out at the rising sun peeking out over the Hive City. “Every so often, though, it just feels…Special. Probably th’ hormones an’ what-not.”

“Do you miss Fenris?” Geist asked, walking over to Maeva.

“Yea, I miss th’ snow,” she said. Geist put a hand on her shoulder. Maeva took it. “Th’ snow, th’ cold, th’ food—holy shit, I miss th’ food. Stuff here’s too bland. It’s like this is a dull world, no real flavor to it.”

“But it is safe.”

“Tha’s th’ problem. If thin’s seem safe on Fenris, probably means shit’s gonna go real wrong, yea? Better ta be in danger all th’ time then lulled inta this.”

“But the Custodes have finished their work to the embattlements. The retreat is more secure, and once Aevar and the tech-priests finish their defensive work, it will be the most secure residence on the planet, possibly the sector.”

“An’ I’m waitin’ for th’ shit ta go sideways,” Maeva said, patting her belly.

“Can…can this one…?”

“Fekke, stop askin’.” Maeva grabbed her hand and placed it on her large belly. Geist felt the warmth radiating from within her. She could feel the baby in her womb; she could even feel it kick. It was gentle, nearly gentle enough to miss, but it made her stop. Geist felt something in her stir, something powerful. But she couldn’t figure out what it was.

“Ya alright? Yer cryin’.”

“This one…she doesn’t know.” Geist wiped her eyes dry. “She is sorry.”

“Stop apologizin’,” Mavea grinned. “Yer doin’ fine. Pretty good considerin’ ya never seen a pregnant woman ‘fore.”

“This one never would have thought…are you okay?”

“Ugh. Just got a lurch in my gut,” Maeva said, grimacing a bit. “Damn. Tha’s a pain.”

“Did you eat something bad?”

“Oh, shit,” Maeva said. “I know wha’ this is. Can ya be a dear an’ call a hospitaller? Tell ‘em th’ baby’s comin’.”

“How can you tell?”

“My ma pushed enough babies outta her tha’ I know th’ signs. Fekke, there it is again.”

 


 

Aevar stormed through the retreat, Helfist and Croan at his heels. Legato had to run to keep up. Tomes and bones rattled from Katla’s head, shaking with every step. A few Sisters gave pause to the weapon he carried, as well as Croan’s own ebony broadsword.

“She in here?” He demanded.

“Peace, brother,” a hospitaller said. “We’re bringing her up as we speak.”

He pushed through a door, only to see Parsef standing with Lynia, clad in her armor, just in front of a hospital room.

“I was wondering if all Fenrisians stayed together,” Parsef said.

“We’re one big, happy family like that.”

“Quite so. I find it interesting that the Emperor’s Angels of Death would be so interested in seeing a life being born.”

“Life is full of surprises, is it not?” Croan said. “Please, Inquisitor, this is neither the time nor the place to start fight.”

The door behind them was pushed open, and a group of Hospitallers pushed a cot in. Aevar was surprised to see that Geist was walking with Maeva, and out of disguise to boot.

“Damn, it’s a party here, ain’t it?” Maeva said, breathing deeply. Sweat dotted her brow.

“How you doing?” Aevar asked.

“Eh, I’m alright, all thin’s bein’ equal.”

“It doesn’t hurt?”

“’Course it fuckin’ hurts!” She yelled. Maeva groaned as another contraction hit her. “But it ain’t ‘gettin’ my arm lopped off by a fuckin’ warboss’ hurt, so there’s that, yea?”

“It wasn’t a warboss that lopped your arm off,” Aevar said, doing his best to hide a grin.

“Oh, fekke off! Ya did this ta me, ya bastard!”

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait outside,” a hospitaller said.

“Don’t die, I need your help,” Aevar said.

“So good ta know ya care,” Maeva snorted.

“Inquisitor…this one requests permission to accompany Maeva,” Geist said.

Maeva stared at the black-clad assassin, and Parsef gave her a questioning look.

“Go with her,” he said. “If the worst comes to pass, you know your duty.”

“You order, and this one obeys,” she bowed. The Sisters let her pass.

“’The worst comes to pass?’” Croan asked.

“We must be sure that she bears a healthy child,” Parsef said. “Besides, from my reports, the donor’s sperm was being carried through the warp. Who knows what would have happened to it during the transition?”

“This is a child,” Helfist growled.

“It is still a risk.”

“Lynia, can you please talk some sense into this madman?” Aevar demanded.

“Sadly, the Inquisitor brings up a good point,” she said with no small amount of pain in her voice. “We have no records that would prove that the child’s…unique conception would yield a normal, untainted human, especially given the degenerative nature of the warp.”

“Damn, you can be heartless. Good thing I already like you.”

“I take no pleasure in this, believe me.”

From the hospital room, Maeva grunted. Loudly.

“Will she be okay?” Legato asked.

“Of course. The Sisters Hospitaller will take excellent care of her,” Lynia said. “She’ll probably be offered something for the pain.”

“And she’ll probably turn it down,” Helfist said. “You don’t know our women.”

“Apparently, I don’t.”

Aevar shot Helfist a quick look.

“Run interference,” he whispered Juvik. Helfist nodded, and walked over to Lynia and Parsef.

“Damn, our women! Let me tell you…”

Aevar turned back to the two other priests, and began talking quietly in Binary.

“Legato, think this will pan out?” He asked, chattering away.

“I-I think so,” he replied, chattering back. “The test was fully viable, and it was able to gestate. I believe it should be a perfect human.”

“That is good,” Croan said. Like his regular voice, his Binary was a deep rumble. “If the child is born with obvious defects, we can never expect to leave this base.”

Aevar peeked over Croan’s shoulder, looking through the hospital door’s window.

“Don’t look now, but we got Custodes waiting for us on the other side.”

“They are probably waiting for the birth,” Croan said. “I thought I saw a team of Grey Knight standing around outside. Parsef is pulling out all the stops for us.”

“Well, let’s all hope this ends up well and good,” Aevar said. “Hate to make Geist go through with her duty.”

He meandered over to Helfist, Lynia and Parsef.

“Well, getting enlightened in the ways of our women?” He asked.

“They seem quite ferocious,” Lynia smiled. “I’m glad to have met one.”

“Yea, they can be pretty intense,” Helfist said. “Good thing you only have one here. Get too many of ‘em and they just might get the Sisters to—“

He never finished. Helfist’s eyes budged from his head, and his voice turned to a scream.

“Vermund? What’s happening?”

The Rune Priest fell to his knees, screaming and clutching at his head. Blood burst from his nose, eyes and mouth. He screamed so loud, Aevar nearly missed the screams coming from the hospital room.

“Sisters, we need Hospitallers here now,” Lynia snapped, taking charge. “Inquisitor, step back. You too, Legato. If he thrashes, he just might kill you. Aevar, Croan, can you keep his arms steady?”

“Vermund! Talk to me brother, what’s going on?” Aevar said, gripping his left arm, keeping it pinned to his side.

Helfist didn’t answer. His voice broke and gargled as blood welled in his mouth. A team of Hospitallers rushed in. One ran to him and shone a flashlight into his eye. She had to pull his head up to examine him; Vermund was completely unresponsive; he was one giant flexed, screaming muscle. “Pupils are dilated, blood vessels burst. This…I think this is warp sickness.”

“Bullshit its warp sickness,” Aevar said. “He ain’t a psyker, he’s a Rune Priest.”

“It doesn’t matter what he calls himself, it’s warp sickness. It’s possible that there might be a warp storm brewing, or…or something that’s causing a massive tear in the immaterium.”

“What did you do?” Parsef demanded, grabbing Aevar’s pauldron.

“What did I do? I ain’t got a clue of what the shit is going on here,” he shot back.

“My team of Grey Knights are suffering from similar warp sickness,” he spat. “What foul tinkering have you done?!”

Aevar walked to the hallway. As the Inquisitor said, outside were a team of Grey Knights. They were all screaming, clutching at their heads as they rolled on the floor, blood leaking from their helms. Kemuel stood over them, his spear at the ready, but obviously unsure of what to do.

“What happened?”

“They just started screaming,” Kemuel said. “Are we under attack? Is the immaterium forcing its way in here?”

“Better fucking not. We’ve been putting up runes of warding since we got here. Hel, we got the Grey Knights to help us; this should be fucking warp-free. I’m checking on Maeva.”

He pushed the door open, just as the Sisters were coaching her through the birth.

“Breath and push, dear, breath and push.”

“Get th’ fuck out!” She yelled, grabbing the nearest thing she could find. Aevar ducked, and a tray of surgical tools narrowly missed his head.

“She’s fine,” he said, leaving the room. “How’s Helfist?”

Almost to answer him, the Rune Priest fell to the ground. His eyes were blank, pupils pin-points. His jaw was clenched shut and his entire body shook. Blood, and spit leaked from his mouth.

“He’s having a seizure,” the Sisters said. “Everybody back.”

“Should we hold him still?” Croan asked.

“No! You’ll only hurt him and yourself! Let it pass.”

Vermund thrashed, putting an armored foot through the wall. Now that he wasn’t screaming, everyone could hear Maeva yelling. It seemed like nearly forever, but then, suddenly, a baby’s scream replaced everything.

As if on cue, the seizure that gripped Vermund stopped. He lay on the ground, panting, still unconscious. The Hospitallers immediately descended on him, checking his pulse, mopping up the blood and pulling out smelling salts.

“What in the Emperor’s name was that?” Parsef demanded. The door opened, and more Sisters ran to the aid of the Grey Knights, and Kemuel stepped through.

“It appears that whatever warp sickness was gripping them has stopped,” the Custode said. He cocked his head to the side, hearing the baby’s screams. “Is…is the child born?”

“Custode, I demand that you end that abomination’s life,” Parsef snapped.

“You heartless bastard!” Croan stormed towards the Inquisitor, but Parsef held his ground. “Is butchering a child what they teach in the Inquisition?”

“We guard humanity from the terrors of the warp,” he spat. “And that…that thing has nearly killed an entire team of Grey Knights, just with its birth pains!”

Four armored Sisters pushed their way into the waiting room, making the room seem to shrink.

“Canoness Lynia!”

“Now is not the time,” she snapped.

“I’m sorry, Canoness, but several Astropaths have died. It appears to be some kind of warp sickness,” the Sister Superior said. “We don’t know what caused it.”

“It’s that daemon-spawn in there,” Parsef spat. “That whore goes into labor, and every psyker we have falls prey to seizures!”

“Helfist ain’t a psyker.”

“It doesn’t matter! That monstrosity needs to die.”

Aevar drew Iounn from her holster, and unslung Katla.

“Try it,” he snarled. “You’ll have to go through me.”

“Me as well,” Croan said, drawing his obsidian broadsword.

“Traitors,” Parsef spat, drawing the pistol that sat on his hip. “Custode, they have chosen their own damnation. That creature needs to die! It is bad that a baby needs to die, yes, but it would be worse if such an abomination grew to maturity. If it can kill Astropaths and lay an entire team of Grey Knights low with just its birth pains, think of what it can do fully grown! We must end this here, for the better of the Imperium!”

Kemuel looked from the Inquisitor to the two marines. Legato cowered in the corner, a mere man against the super-humans.

“Canoness Lynia, I order you to bring your Sisters to bear,” Parsef demanded. “These traitors have to be dealt with.”

“I am many things, Inquisitor,” Lynia said, “but a child murderer, I am not.”

“What?!”

“I believe we are rushing to conclusions,” she said. “We need to examine the child and determine what its nature is, not to condemn it due to…odd circumstances of its birth.”

Parsef grabbed his vox-caster, keying the channel. “Sergeant Julas, do you read me?”

Loud and clear, the Ultramarine replied.

“I order you to bring your squad to the hospital wing. The Blasphemer has out-lived his usefulness.”

“Has he?” Lynia asked. “As I recall, the Fabricator-General has explicitly said that any manner of his death will be investigated. If it has been found that you have acted rashly, the Mechanicus will be…what were their words…? ‘We shall have words.’ If I may add my opinion, the Mechanicus will not mince words, and may retaliate against the Inquisition.”

Aevar shifted his stance, but a clear grin was growing on his face.

“How dare you? This is the fate of the Imperium!”

“I think I am doing you a favor, Parsef. Would you like the entire Inquisition, nay, the entire Imperium, to suddenly fall out of favor with the Cult of Mars?”

“Custode Kemuel! Do your duty!”

“I agree with the Canoness,” he said. “While I am a simple bodyguard, I speak with the authority of the Emperor of Mankind himself; I cannot be ordered by you. With the agreement brokered between my Custode brothers and the High Lords of Terra, you can be given suggestions, but not orders. And as of now, I see no immediate threat, neither to the Emperor nor to the Imperium.”

The doors to the hospital room opened, and Maeva was wheeled out. She was propped up on pillows, sweat making her gown cling to her. In her arms, sucking at her breast, was a simple babe. The Sisters Hospitallers were all smiles, and even Geist seemed to be at ease, unaware of Parsef’s outburst.

“It’s a girl,” she grinned. “A perfect lil’ girl.”

“Geist,” Parsef said.

“Don’t you fucking dare,” Aevar spat.

“That thing is an abomination. I order you to destroy it.”

“Wha’?” Maeva looked up, confused. Just behind her shoulder, the black-clad woman stiffened, as if she was hit by lightning.

“What are you waiting for, assassin? I gave you an order! Kill that thing!”

“Geist, please,” Croan begged. “Do not listen to him.”

Maeva turned to Geist, fear in her eyes.

“Geist, please,” she begged. “She’s just a babe.”

The assassin said something, but it was a mumble. Maeva stared at her, the only one to hear it.

“I order you!”

“This one…cannot…”

Parsef stared at Geist, mouth hanging open.

“That is an order, assassin. Carry out your order.”

“This one cannot.” Geist spoke as if she was in physical pain, like she was tearing off her own arm.

“Parsef, please, you let your duty get the best of you,” Lynia said. “It’s a child, it can do no wrong.”

“A child born of ejaculate that has traveled through the warp!”

“Then she’ll be examined,” Lynia said. “Once the Grey Knights have recovered, they can examine her all you want.”

“You can’t give me orders, Canoness. I speak with the authority of the Inquisition!”

Parsef nearly jumped out of his skin when Helfist reached up from the floor.

“Please,” he gasped. Blood, snot and spittle covered his face, the blood more so than anything else, drying a dirty brown. “It’s a baby. Have some humanity.”

Inquisitor, the vox rang out. You have not given the command. What is the order, Inquisitor?

“Get up here, Julas,” he growled. “Watch over the wolves as we examine this…monstrosity.”

The wolves are following us.

“Then keep them all under guard!” He snapped.

From the hallway, a Grey Knight staggered in, falling to the ground. A group of attending Sister Hosplitars were trying to keep him down if only for his own safety, but the Knight ignored them.

“Inquisitor,” he croaked. The Knight pulled his helm off. Every time he spoke, he spat blood everywhere. “There was a, a great power.”

“The man’s delirious,” a hosplitar said. “He must lay down.”

“But there was…there was a burst of power,” the Knight said. “Almost as if, almost—“

“Like we were staring into the sun.” Both the Knight and Helfist spoke at the same time.

“Aye, so much fucking power,” the Rune Priest mumbled. “All around us, forcing its way in here.”

“It was like a soul binding,” the Knight sputtered. “As if the Emperor was trying to pour all of his might into something, instead of cauterizing a psyker from the pull of the warp. Almost like a possession…”

“I will need to interview the rest of the Grey Knights,” Parsef said. “Geist, get over here. Now.”

“Please, Inquisitor, calm yourself,” Lynia said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “This is the birth of a child. We should be celebrating.”

“And let the wolves spirit that thing away at the earliest convenience?”

“It is a fair point,” Lynia said. She turned to Aevar. “You and your brothers will have to leave the hospital, at least for the next few days.”

“Aye, I understand,” Aevar said. He slung Katla back onto his back. “Glad we didn’t have to come to blows.”

“A wolf, turning down a fight?” Kemuel mused.

“Ain’t no shame in admitting I’d get pummeled. Don’t want to end up like poor Helfist after his bout with you.”

“Fuck you, greybeard,” the Rune Priest groaned.

“Just want to make sure my kaerl is doing well.”

“You will not approach--!”

“Go right ahead,” Lynia said. “But keep it quick.”

Aevar bowed to her and walked over to Maeva. He switched to Juvik.

“You doing alright?”

“Fuckin’ scared,” she replied. “W-would Geist have…?”

“She should have, but she didn’t.” Maeva stared straight ahead, as if she was reliving the moment both her life and the life of her babe had was nearly ended. “What did Geist say to you? When she refused her order?”

“She said, ‘Fer you, anythin’.’”

“Time’s up,” Parsef snapped. “Step away from the abomination.”

“Whatever you do,” Aevar said in loud High Gothic, “don’t make him the godfather.”

Croan laughed, taking Legato with him as they left. Kemuel walked forward, towering above Maeva. She swallowed, but glared up at him.

“Worry not, I do not plan on killing anyone as of now.”

“Yea, but wha ‘bout a few minutes from now, eh?”

“We shall see.”

 


 

Geist’s heart was slamming in her chest as she followed Parsef back to his chambers. Oh, holy Emperor, what did she do? She had her orders, her sacred orders, her blessed, infallible orders.

And she ignored them.

But she had to. Parsef wanted to kill Maeva’s baby, the very same baby that she felt growing in her belly, the one she helped bring into the world, the one she held for the briefest of seconds before reuniting her with her mother.

Her conditioning was destroying her. She never disobeyed orders. Never in the history of Krieg had a soldier disobeyed orders, not since the Purge all those millennia ago when they turned from the Emperor’s light.

Oh, holy Emperor, what did she do?

Parsef would kill her, execute her for challenging his rule. Or he would send her away; she was still a Callidus assassin, she would surely have her uses.

Either prospect shook her to the core. She wanted to see Maeva, hold her, hold her baby, watch it grow. By the Throne, where were these feelings coming from? If Parsef ordered her, she would obey. Such was the way of Krieg.

But she disobeyed his order. She disobeyed it.

“In. Now,” he snarled.

Would he punish her? Oh, holy Emperor, she should have just listened, but she couldn’t.

The door was slammed behind her.

“What the fuck were you thinking?” Parsef demanded. “We could have ended that abysmal thing’s life before it caused any more problems for us. Why did you disobey me?”

“T-this one…”

“Give me a good reason,” he said, “one good damn reason to not send you on a suicide mission to the Eye of Terror itself! I cannot have a simple, damn assassin questioning my will!!”

He couldn’t know the truth. Geist didn’t know the truth herself. Heart pounding, head spinning, she suddenly knew what would please Parsef, and keep her close to Maeva and her baby.

“This one did it to better her cover.”

“Please, assassin, enlighten me,” he snarled. “How does this ‘better your cover?’”

“Despite her best work to infiltrate the group, she was treated like an outsider,” Geist said, lying through her teeth. “The Fenrisians never grew fond of her. This one saw an opportunity to better her cover by opposing you. By opposing you, this one hopes that they will see her as a trustworthy ally, not a potential mole.”

Parsef glared at her, but Geist could see him thinking.

“Yes, that would make sense,” he finally said. “They hate the Inquisition with a near heretical passion. Of course they’d be slow to trust you, even after over five years.”

Geist realized that this was the first time in her life that she had to lie to the Inquisition. That was heresy, or near heresy enough to warrant an execution. She felt light-headed, that she would pass out at any second.

“The Wolves see us bickering, and they’ll think that you can’t be too bad,” Parsef continued in a deep recline. “And when we’re close to the child--”

Geist held her breath

“—By the God-Emperor, I almost killed a baby,” Parsef said, his voice breaking. “This fucking mysterious child…bad to kill it, but would it truly be worse…? I’m not one of those blood simple brutes. I’m not, am I…?”

Parsef looked at his hands, the very one which held his pistol. The very ones which nearly ended Maeva’s life and that of her baby. He was suddenly realizing that his hands were shaking.

“Bad or fucking worse,” he mumbled. He fell back into his chair. Tears dotted his eyes. “Throne, to think of what I almost did…Good work, Geist. And, and thank you. For stopping me.”

“T-this one lives to serve.” But she didn’t serve him. If she served him, she wouldn’t hesitate to follow his orders. If she served him, she wouldn’t lie to him. Her conditioning was clear: the servant never disobeys the master.

But if she didn’t serve Parsef, who did she serve…?

 


 

Kemuel stood at attention, a brother Custode standing by his side. The hospital lobby seemed small with them in full armor. The door opened, and Canoness Lynia entered, flanked by two Sisters.

“How does the testing?” Lynia asked.

“I do not know,” Kemuel said. “The Grey Knights have been slow to come to their senses.”

“This disturbance has killed several Astropaths,” Lynia said. “I’d treat this with caution too. How’s the new mother doing?”

“She has been her usual feisty self. The assassin has arrived, as well.”

“Parsef really wants to make sure that babe does not open a portal to the Warp.”

“Actually, Parsef did not give the assassin his blessings to arrive. Even if he did, can you blame him?”

“Not at all. But a child…it puts us in an interesting spot, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” Kemuel said, “yes it does.”

The door to the hospital opened, and all ten Space Wolves entered, plus Aevar and a recovered Helfist. They all carried things in their arms, but kept their weapons slung. Kemuel couldn’t make out what they carried.

“What brings you here, Astartes?” Kemuel asked. “Looking to take your kaerl from us?”

“Hardly,” Aevar said. “We come bearing gifts.”

Aevar held up the item in his hand. He shook it out, and metal fell into place, dangling from a central point. Charms hung from fine, silver-like arms, showing a wolf pup, a double-headed eagle, an axe and shield.

“Is that…a mobile?” Lynia asked. “For a baby?”

I sure as Hel don’t need one.”

“And you’re giving that to the baby?”

“Where we come from, we give gifts, we don’t hold onto them.”

“Are my eyes deceiving me?” Kemuel asked.

The wolves each showed what they were carrying. Some held beautifully crafted wooden weapons; baby-sized of course. Others held up knitted blankets; one was even quilted. A few held smooth, leather masks, others what appeared to be booties and small, woolen baby clothes. Helfist himself held up a small stuffed wolf pup.

“You made that?” Lynia asked.

“Crocheted it myself,” the red-haired Rune Priest beamed with pride.

“You crochet,” Kemuel said, voice full of disbelief.

“Do you not?” Vermund said, raising an eyebrow.

“Why, in the name of all that is good and right with the Golden Throne, would an Emperor’s Chosen Angel of Death ever need to crochet?”

“’Cus Fenris is fucking cold, and despite what you think of us Fenrisians, we actually don’t like freezing our balls off,” Helfist said. “Out there on the ice, you gotta stay warm, and there aren’t any requisition points you can go to. You have to make everything by yourself.”

“It looks like you have practice making crochet dolls.”

“I learned from my father. He helped me make some when I had two young ones, back out on the ice,” he said. A few Claws lowered their heads, undoubtedly thinking of their own little ones they left.

“You had children?” Lynia asked.

“We were mortal before we were Sky Warriors, just like how you weren’t always a Canoness,” Vermund laughed. “I loved ‘em more than anything. But when the Sky Warriors call, when the gods come knocking, you have to answer.”

“So you all just sat down and made all these…baby shower gifts,” Lynia said.

“It takes a village to raise a child, so we figured we’d do our part. Besides, have you seen a pack of Thunderwolves when pups are born? Every wolf pitches in, playing with the pups, hunting for them and protecting them. They’re part of the family, and they all have their part to play.”

The door slid open, and Croan the Salamander walked in.

“I see that I am late,” he said.

“Na, just got here a second ago,” Aevar said. “What did you bring, brother?”

Croan held up another mobile. The charms on his mobile were of a hammer, many cute, doll-like salamanders and wyverns and a few anvils.

“Late to the party, brother,” Aevar laughed showing his off.

“Dammit all, we should have planned what we were making.”

“Na, we’ll just put them all together, make one big mobile for the little brat.”

“First the wolves, now the Salamander,” Kemuel said, shaking his head. “Truly, the universe is full of strange things.”

“Us Salamanders have always prided ourselves with being close to the natives of Nocturne, as well as the citizens of the Imperium,” Croan said. “We mingle with the citizens, offer help to those who need it, and even offer our services as masters of the forge. There have been plenty of times where I have delayed weapon maintenance to re-build a farming combine, or re-shoe horses. I have even made plenty of toys for tots in the past; I find that it helps clear my mind.”

“We have to step up our game, Sisters,” Lynia said. “Otherwise, the Wolves and the Salamanders will prove that they’re better hosts than we are. I have to ask, though: why the leather masks?”

“To scare away the malefactorum,” the Claws answered.

“Fenrisian tradition,” Aevar shrugged. “We need to break the evils of the warp, crush them, utterly destroy them, show them true fear, and teach them to never haunt us again.”

“Well, we’ll need to think of suitable gifts to give to the new mother and her child. Maybe some illustrated prayer books…? Come, Sisters, we’ll have to plan this out.”

“Can we give the child her gifts?” Aevar asked.

“Sadly, we are under strict orders not to allow you near neither Maeva nor the child,” Kemuel said.

“Didn’t you say that Parsef couldn’t order you around?”

“It was either this, or Parsef would be killing the child.”

“Even the mighty Custodes hate killing babies, don’t they?”

“It takes a special kind of heartless to kill a babe. If one were to truly relish their ability to do so, then they have already surrendered their souls to the abyss of the warp.”

 


 

The doors to the workshop opened, and Aevar, Croan and Helfist entered.

“How was the new mother?” Legato asked, looking up from the logic-board he was working on.

“Don’t know,” Aevar shrugged. “Kemuel wouldn’t let us near them.”

“But we were able to give them our presents, so that’s good,” Helfist said. “Come on, greybeard, that’s a win right there.”

“It would be nice to see the babe grow, as well,” Croan said. “It has been too long since we have seen a child.”

“Do all Salamanders fawn over children?” Legato asked.

“As much as wolves fawn over pups.”

“So all the damn time, eh?” Aevar asked, a chuckle at his throat.

“That was supposed to be a rhetorical question, but now I have to ask: wolves like pups?”

“Of course! They’re members of the pack,” Helfist said. “Being mindless, insane monstrous creatures isn’t good for anyone. If all they did was fight, then who’d carry on the pack when they were gone?”

“You wolves certainly are strange,” Legato said, shaking his head.

There was a pounding at the door. Aevar sighed and walked back to the door.

“Well, this is a surprise,” he said, a hard line in his voice.

“Have I caught you at a bad time?”

“Quite the contrary,” Aevar said. “Have you found out what happened back there?”

Legato looked up. Surely his ears were deceiving him. He peered around Aevar’s armored form, but sure enough, Inquisitor Parsef was standing there. Helfist and Croan looked up, and seeing who it was, they walked towards the door. The Inquisitor seemed disheveled. His hair was a mess, and his eyes were red, almost as if he was crying.

“They Grey Knights say the same thing as Helfist,” Parsef mumbled. “They say it was like the Emperor was here, trying to burn away corruption, or impart a piece of himself onto a psyker. But a massive piece of Himself; maybe He was trying to put all of Himself onto someone, perhaps He was trying to put His radiance into the baby.”

“Damn strange,” Aevar said. Both he and the Inquisitor stood there, looking at each other, waiting for someone to say something. “Alright, I’ll bite. What are you really here for?”

“I wanted,” Parsef talked as if he was biting off his tongue. “To give you an apology.”

Several seconds of silence passed as everyone stared at the Inquisitor.

“What?” Aevar finally said.

“I said, I wanted to give you my apology.”

“For what?”

“For questioning your loyalty, and…and for threatening to kill the babe,” he said, eyes turning towards the ground. “I have been unreasonably harsh in my criticisms of you, because of the history your Chapter has with us.”

“And what the fuck prompted this?”

“Maeva and her babe have just finished the Grey Knight’s tests: they’re clean.”

“Did the Emperor ‘put himself’ into Maeva’s baby?”

“It seems like He tried, but the baby doesn’t show any signs of containing the Emperor. One Knight even theorized it was a failed possession attempt.”

“Fucking weird. Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m curious; what brought this whole ‘apology’ thing on?” Aevar asked.

“The Inquisition is supposed to follow the facts, uncovers the truth,” Parsef said. “Having been watching your every move for over five years, passing every test, showing no signs of corruption, the facts lead me to a conclusion that I rejected.

“When I received the Grey Knight’s reports, I cursed them; it was then that I realized that I was not following the facts, but my own desires. I wanted to find you guilty, I wanted to declare you traitors. I’ve been ignoring the facts, trying to support my reality, not the truth. I was so blinded by this need to prove you wrong, I very nearly ordered the death of a newborn baby.”

“So…you’re here to apologize for trying to find fault with us, that right?” Aevar growled.

“I am,” Parsef said. “Do you wish to rub this in my face as well? Proof that the Space Wolves are beyond reproach?”

“Fekke no, I’m pissed.”

“…I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

“Dammit, Parsef, I really hate you now,” Aevar cursed. Now it was Ironclaws who was grinding his teeth. “Fucking damn you, being the bigger man. You had to come here to bury the hatchet.”

“What do you mean?”

“Yes, what does this mean?” Croan asked, obviously just as puzzled as the Inquisitor.

“It means you just made us look like sniveling, whiny children,” Helfist spat. “Carrying grudges when there are other, worthier foes to face.”

“And you hate me for that?”

“You made us look bad for carrying on this damned vendetta,” Aevar snapped.

“Then I made the right choice,” Parsef said, a grin creeping at the edges of his lips.

“Yea, you did,” Aevar said. “Damn you, Parsef, you got us good on this. But we’ll get you back.”

“How so?”

“By being the ones who never bring this back up,” Helfist said. “We’ll be more polite than you sorry fucks.”

“I look forward to that day,” Parsef said. “Just hold the Emperor in your heart, and I will remain as cordial as you are.”

“Yea, yea, get out of here,” Aevar mumbled. “I’m getting tired looking at your ‘holier-than-thou’ smug face.”

“And…should I lose my temper like I did when I nearly killed that baby, could you stop me?”

Aevar was about to slam the door in Parsef’s face, but he stopped.

“Aye, we’ll stop you,” he said. “And you need to keep us in line, should a daemon try to fuck us.”

“My thanks,” the Inquisitor said. He closed the door for Aevar, who went back to fuming.

“Let me understand this: by proving his maturity, Parsef has proved that he was better than you?” Croan asked.

“That’s the thrust of it,” Helfist said.

“You’re truly a prideful bunch,” Legato laughed.

“Pride? I believe ‘hubris’ would be a better description,” Croan said. “You need to be better then everyone, even being more ‘mature’ then all else.”

“Perhaps. Then shall we expect to see a war of politeness between the two of your?”

“Aye, that’ll be right. We’ll show him just how ‘mature’ we can be.”

“I wonder: is it possible to kill by politeness?” Croan mused.

“Damned if we don’t try.”

 


 

Geist hesitantly, fitfully, held Helfist’s stuffed wolf doll in her hands. Even in her Sister disguise, she looked painfully awkward.

“This one doesn’t know what to do.”

“Aw, yer killin’ me, Geist,” Maeva laughed, bouncing her daughter on her lap as she sat in her wheelchair. “Play with it fer her. She won’t bite.”

The assassin fitfully held out the doll. The baby laughed, reaching out for it and grasping it. She had wisps of black hair sprouting from her head, deep eyes that sparkled with gold and a wide smile. Her skin was darker than Maeva’s, closer to a light mocha than anything else.

“She has a strong grip,” Geist said, tugging at the doll. The baby laughed, tugging back.

“Quit testin’ her, she’s been through enough.”

“This one is sorry. She…children are new to her.”

The baby cooed as Geist bounced the doll in front of her.

“First time for everythin.’ I remember when my ma popped out her new husband’s kids. Couldn’t have been more ‘n ten at th’ time. With all th’ cryin’ an’ shittin’, I never knew what ta do.”

“Was the new father helpful?”

“Fekke yea he was. We take care a kids, yea? Part a th’ tribe, part a th’ family. If he was a scumbag, he’d be chased off right quick. Hel, he was even a good pa ta me; didn’t mind callin’ him ‘Pa’ after a while.”

“This one is happy to hear that,” Geist smiled. “Have you thought of a name to give your daughter?”

“Shit, I’ve been thinkin’ a names fer th’ last four great months, even thinkin’ a boy’s name if she came out different. Haven’t found one ta my likin’,” Maeva said. “What kinda names they got on Krieg?”

“Why do you ask?”

“All the names th’ Sisters give me are too…showy. Too regal, like she’s suppose ta be a chieftain’s daughter ‘r somethin’. She needs a good, solid name, nothin’ showy ‘r too fancy. An’ ‘side from it bein’ a death world, I know shit ‘bout Krieg, so might as well see whaa kinda names ya got at home.”

“This one was given the name ‘Geist’ when she was chosen to be an assassin. Many Kriegers only get ‘true’ names once they reach a certain rank. As she has been told, our birth name are too complicated to say.”

“’Geist’ ain’t yer name? Wha’ is it, then?”

“Krieger Female Model 77e #51387.”

“…Yea, think I’m gonna stay away from those names. Sorry.”

“There is no need to apologize. This one knows that the traditions of Krieg are vastly different from the rest of the Imperium. But this one would greatly appreciate it if you continued to call her ‘Geist.’”

“I wouldn’t call ya anythin’ else. Well, wha’ other names ya know?”

Maeva bounced the baby on her knee while Geist thought. Maeva bared a breast, feeding her daughter.

“Laura,” the assassin said.

“Laura?”

“Yes. When this one was selected to be an assassin, she was selected by Inquisitor Laura Kinney. The Inquisitor was the first non-Krieg woman that she has encountered, and had shown compassion towards her.”

“’Laura.’ I like it,” Maeva smiled. “Hear tha’, Laura? Ya got a name now.”

Laura cooed, suckling at her breast.

“Come on, let’s take ya ta see th’ Sisters. An’ get a treat while we’re at it. Wha’ do ya say, Geist? Think we can get somethin’ from th’ kitchen?”

“The Sister Superior who oversees the kitchen is very stringent.”

“Let’s give it a shot, yea? I’m hungry, an’ who’d say ‘no’ ta Laura?”

Just looking at the gleeful baby made Geist feel warm and…and something. Something she’d only felt when with Maeva.

“Do you need a push?”

“Yea, tha’d be nice. Little Laura here ain’t so little when yer pushin’ her out from ‘tween yer legs, I’ll tell ya tha’ much. I’m just glad th’ Grey Knights let me stay in my bed an’ wheelchair durin’ th’ testin’.”

“They were thorough, but this one can tell that they were gentle.” Geist stood, and pushed Maeva out the door. “This one is glad that she passed their tests.”

Yer glad?” Maeva laughed. “How’d ya think I felt?!”

Geist wheeled her into the kitchen, and she entered her Sister persona.

“Greetings, Sisters,” Geist said, the polymorph drug changing the pitch of her voice. “Do we have anything for the recovering mother and the new child?”

The Sisters who were cooking immediately converged on the smiling Laura.

“She passed the tests, then,” they said. “Aw, that’s so good. How is she?”

“A beautiful lil’ bundle a joy,” Maeva said. Laura had stopped feeding, so Maeva turned her around to show to the cooing Sisters. “Though I could use a little snack.”

“Emperor dammit, why does everyone think we can just hand out food if they ask nicely enough?” The Sister Superior hissed, jabbing a butcher knife into the wooden chopping block. The Sisters who were fawning over Laura suddenly stood ramrod straight, attentive to their duties. “As long as I’m in this kitchen, we stick to the rules, dammit.”

“Come on, pushin’ babies from ya gives ya a hunger,” Maeva protested. “An’ Laura might want somethin’ special, too.”

“You got breasts, don’t you? Put ‘em to good use,” the Sister Superior said.

“Morkai’s balls, fine, we’ll get out of yer precious kitchen,” she mumbled. “Come on, let’s go.”

Geist was beginning to wheel her out when the Sister Superior blocked their path at the door.

“If I ever catch you coming around here, begging for scraps, it’ll be the last thing you do,” she said with a snarl. But at the same time, she handed Maeva a wrapped sandwich that smelled of a heavenly blend of cooked meat and spices. “And while you’re at it, get those fucking Wolves to stop hitting on the Sisters on duty.”

“Hey, I got as much say-so over ‘em as th’ rest of th’ marines,” Maeva said, taking the food.

“Tell them anyways,” the old Superior snapped. But looking at her, there was a slight twinkle in here eye. “No one gets extra food.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Maeva said, throwing up a mock salute. “Come on, Laura, let’s get some spoils elsewhere.”

Geist pushed her out of the kitchen, down the stone hallway.

“The Sister Superior appears to have a soft spot for babies,” she said.

“Lots a people do,” Maeva said, tearing into the sandwich. “’Sides, she’s a baby. It’s not like she’s gonna grow up ta be a big, bad, galaxy-killin’ monster, yea?”

Chapter Text

Helfist sprinted around the corner, his armored boots fighting for every bit of friction they could muster, his tomes and necklaces rattling wildly. His armored boots bit into the stone floor, tearing up bits as they worked for their grip. Dammit all, he thought he had the monster. But the damned thing was tricky; it knew his every move. His hunt went from a guaranteed kill to having the tables nearly be turned on him. He pumped his arms, regaining the speed he lost with the corner.

For the love of Russ, where was that beast? He sniffed at the air, trying to pick up the slightest sent that could lead him to the fucking beast.

The Sisters and the execution squad of marines were useless. They knew their way around the retreat-turned forge city, yes, but they couldn’t find his prey. Croan was good, but too slow. He was working his way around the rapidly growing machine-city the only way he knew how; the slow, tried and true method of Nocturne. They needed to find the Throne-damn spawn, and they needed to find it now.

Dammit all, he should have found that beast already. If he knew what that thing would grow into he would have done something about it five years ago when it dropped from Maeva’s legs. He had tried to scry for the monster, to see the soul of his prey with his druid powers, but the damned thing had found a way to block it; despite his best efforts, it was utterly invisible to him. No one should have the power to block their soul from appearing to a druid, no one.

A wisp of a fragrance danced across his nose. He could not rely on his druid powers, but every living thing left a physical trace, and he had just found the monster’s.

“Got you,” he snarled, changing directions yet again. It was coming from the library that Legato helped put together. He sprinted, his secondary heart pounding at a fast, but steady, rate. He was attuned to his true nature, the true nature of every Son of Russ; the nature of the hunter, of the killer, of slaughter incarnate. He would find the beast, and he would have his victory.

He plowed through the door to the library, sending the massive wooden doors crashing open. His eyes drunk the scene before him, processing everything in a second.

The library was huge, twenty meters wide, thirty tall, and nearly a hundred deep. Legato wanted to make a true library, one that would rival any true forge world. While it was massive, grand and regal with polish brass and wooden furniture, it was comparatively empty thanks to the system he and Ironclaws had; Aevar blindly threw shit together, and Legato tried to figure out how it worked. ‘Tried’ being the operative word; not even old man Ironclaws knew what he was doing.

Helfist spun, looking from left to right, searching high and low for his prey. He was moving so fast, he nearly missed seeing Kemuel catch the door in his gauntleted hand.

“Wait, Kemuel…?”

What was the Custode doing here? The library was empty; there wasn’t even a tech-priest there. That could only mean…

“Oh, shit.”

He was no longer the hunter.

Helfist turned, just as a shadow fell across his face. The monster had caught him.

“Got you!” Laura laughed, her muted-gold eyes sparkling. She had jumped from a bookshelf and landed on his chest, wrapping her five-year old arms around his neck.

“Ga! I’m undone!” Helfist gasped, spinning around playfully. Laura held on tight, laughing all the while, but he made sure not to move too fast, lest he break her grasp. “The fell beast has caught me. Augh, I’m dying, dying!”

Laura pounded her little fists against his armor, and he dramatically fell to the ground.

“Unhand me, monster! Augh!”

Footsteps thundered behind him, and Croan finally caught up to him.

“No, brother,” he gasped. “The beast has claimed yet another victim!”

“I got him, Uncle Croan,” Laura laughed as she pounded on his armor with her free hand. In her other, she held his stuffed wolf pup. She carried it everywhere. “I killed him!”

“Remember me, brother,” Helfist gasped, pretending to die. “Remember my memory, and avenge me…”

“Against such a beast? What could I ever do?”

“Join me,” Laura laughed, standing triumphantly on Helfist’s chest, “and we’ll make the galaxy fear us!”

“You have hunted a Space Wolf, bested him at his own game; truly you are a foe to be wary of.” He knelt, offering his hand. “Yes, I will join you, if you will have me.”

“Traitor,” Helfist spat. “You throw my memory aside so easily?”

“Against such a beast? What choice do I have?” Croan laughed. He picked Laura up and spun her around. The girl laughed, her long black hair and dress spinning wildly.

“I get Uncle Croan on my side! I get Uncle Croan on my side!”

A taciturn groan from the entrance to the library got their attention. Julas stood in the doorway, glaring at them. As per usual, he was fully suited in his armor, impeccable in every way, save the bags that hung under his eyes. It was like the man never had a good night’s sleep.

“A disgrace,” Julas muttered, shaking his head. “A disgrace before the Emperor.”

“Oh, come on, Julas, we’re just playing with Laura,” Helfist said from the ground.

“Hi, Uncle-Sergeant Julas,” Laura said as Croan set her down. She was so tiny, she barely came up past his knees. She held onto her stuffed pup, but hid it behind her back as she straightened her dress.

“She needs to have discipline drilled into her,” Julas said. “She needs to be prepared to join the ranks of the Imperium.”

“She’s a child, doing what children do best,” Helfist said. He brought himself to kneel by Laura, so he could give her a pat on the back as encouragement. She was staring down Julas, and needed all the support she could get. “Trust me, I had two little ones; they need to play. Didn’t you have any children when you were still mortal?”

“No,” Julas snapped. “And Kemuel, do you feel that you should be quiet when you see such disgraceful behavior?”

“I am a bodyguard; nothing more, nothing less,” the Custode said, gracefully dodging the question.

“Just let her have a childhood,” Helfist said.

“She needs to be taught discipline, honor and duty!”

“We got the honor part down, brother,” Croan said. “There is plenty of time for duty and order when she is of age.”

“And she needs to begin training for that day now,” Julas said. He shook his head. “Of all the corners of the endless galaxy, I had to be assigned to this one. Let me face the countless horrors of the Tyranid swarm, let me stare down the neigh-deathless gaze of the mechanical horrors of the Necrons, place me in the bowls of the blood-soaked field of death of a city under siege from the arch-enemy, anything but having to play the sitter of babes…!”

Julas began to go on his usual rant and raving. Laura might be five years old, but she knew the rant well. Vermund tapped Laura’s shoulder. He puffed out his cheeks, pretending to be Julas babbling on.

Laura nearly broke out laughing, but bite her tongue. She hid her grin behind her stuffed doll that he made her.

Croan nudged her, and she looked up to him. He crossed his eyes and made a ‘jabbering’ motion with his hand, mocking Julas in his own way. Poor Laura had to really hide behind her stuffed pup to stop from cracking up.

“…have sent me to the very antipodes of the galaxy, but I was sent here,” Julas continued. Laura couldn’t take any more. She finally cracked up, breaking a sharp peel of laughter.

In a half-second, Julas was glaring at them. In a half-second, Helfist and Croan had dropped their act, and were returning Julas’ gaze with neutral expressions.

The Ultramarine glared at them.

“Vermund, do not lay on the ground,” he finally said. “It is unbecoming of one of your stature.”

“Don’t tempt me to do anything real immature,” he smiled from the floor.

“Brother Croan, please try to remain focused on your latest project. I do not know what the Blasphemer is up to, but please do remain on task and continue your work for the Mechanicus.”

“You preach to the choir, brother,” the Salamander said. “This is merely a work break.”

“And you,” Julas said, turning to Laura. “We need to continue your lessons.”

“Why are you sad?” She asked. “Is it because you’re always tired?”

“Sad? Who said that I was sad?” Julas sputtered. “Or tired?”

“Revelation,” the little girl said, holding the stuffed wolf pup up. Helfist nudged her leg; Julas hated hearing about Revelation.

“We live in the darkest time imaginable,” he began. “We do not have the luxury of having ‘imaginary friends.’”

“I’m sorry, Uncle-Sergeant Julas,” Laura said, baring her neck. She knew when the battle was lost.

“You require discipline,” he said. “Go back to your room. We shall begin your next lesson in an hour’s time.”

“In an hour? Come on, Julas, we got our rotation guards coming in today,” Helfist said. “Let her see the guards change. Hel, let her meet her new guards. You must know how lonely this place can be for a child. It would be good to see the faces of the new five-year guards.”

Julas seemed to glare at him, then relented.

“True, there are not a lot of faces for a child to relate to,” he said. “I have gotten too carried away in my duties of educating the girl. I shall have to attend to my duties as Master of the Guard and welcome the replacements into the fold. Count yourself fortunate, Laura. Your lessons shall be postponed until tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Uncle-Sergeant Julas,” she said, curtsying.

“It is Sergeant Julas,” he snapped.

“Thank you, Sergeant-Julas.”

“Much better. You two, find your honor and meet us for the replacements.”

Julas turned on his heel and stormed away.

“Typical Ultramarine,” Helfist sighed, standing up. “’Duty’ this and ‘honor’ that, all the damn time.”

“His Chapter is the builders of Empires,” Kemuel said, breaking his silence from the corner of the room. “Can you fault him for doing what is only natural to him?”

“Revelation feels you’re right, Uncle Kemuel,” Laura said. “He doesn’t want me to be mad at Uncle-Sergeant Julas.”

“This Revelation is a smart fellow,” Kemuel said with a smile in his voice. “What does he think of me?”

“I don’t know.”

“You do not?”

“He doesn’t feel anything about you,” Laura said, shaking her head.

“Now why is that?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Sometimes he feels things, sometimes he doesn’t.”

“Well, if Revelation has helped you this far, he must be a pretty good fellow,” Helfist said. “Hel, I made him, so I know he’s good.”

“You didn’t make Revelation, Uncle Helfist,” Laura giggled, hugging the doll tight. “He’s always been here.”

“Silly me, of course he has!” Helfist smiled. “Come on, let’s get you back to your ma until the new blood arrives.”

“Can I ride on Uncle Kemuel’s shoulders?” Laura beamed.

“Is there something wrong with the piggy back rides I give?”

“But Uncle Kemuel is taller.”

Helfist and Croan turned to the Custode.

“It will be a pleasure to give her a ‘piggy back ride,’” Kemuel said, bowing.

“Someone is taking a liking to babysitting,” Croan laughed.

“It is oddly growing on me,” Kemuel said. “Much to the chagrin of my Custode brothers.”

 Kemuel mag-locked his spear to his back, and gingerly picked Laura up, who laughed as she sat atop the Custode’s lofty shoulders. Together, they left the library, making their way to the forge world that Aevar was building.

“That child,” Croan said. “Helfist, what do you think she meant, ‘that Revelation was always there?’ Or that Julas was sad and tired?”

“She’s a child, Croan. Most of the time, nothing they say makes sense. But every so often, they say something profoundly wise,” he said. “Come, let’s enjoy having a little Laura while she’s still little.”

“It never ceases to surprise me: to think that wolves make such good parents.”

“Every Thunderwolf in the pack helps raise the young. You should see them play in the spring,” Helfist smiled. “We might be born killers on a death world, but we like seeing the signs of life, too. That, and I can’t help but think of my own little ones every time I see Laura. But a am surprised that Kemuel is making such a great uncle.”

“Guard duty is little different from babysitting,” Kemuel said. “Only my mark is much more energetic. Such energy is infectious.”

As they made their way through the former retreat, they passed Sisters of Battle. Seeing Laura atop Kemuel’s shoulders, they couldn’t help but smile and laugh. As they got closer to the ever-expanding forge center, the sounds of metal kissing metal grew, as did the temperature and presences of gaggles of tech-priests.

The red-robed, barely-human priests stood by, examining freshly-forged relics or reading text, chattering away in Binary. Croan probably understood them, but Helfist paid them no heed.

Eventually they made it to the massive doors that held the central forge. The entire forge-city was growing, cutting deeper and deeper into the bedrock of the mountain, but the doors remained the same. They weren’t replaced because three Land Raiders could pass through them with room to spare.

“Looks like the Mechanicus is getting more comfortable with greybeard’s ‘vile blasphemies,” Helfist said as he was forced out of the way of a Kataphron Destroyer. No matter how many of the damned things he saw, they always found a way to get under his skin. The Mechanicus took a servitor, cut its legs off, put it on massive tank treads, and bolted some of the biggest guns they could find to its arms.

“A few blasphemies and the Mechanicus will hate you,” Croan said. “But show them daemon-free ‘relics’ and make improvements to weapons and armor, and the Mechanicus will love you. There are even whisperings that Aevar might be getting approval to create a new battleship.”

“Damn. They’re getting antsy to see what kind of earth-shakers Ironclaws can come up with?”

“Perhaps, but I believe it is simply an easier way to keep him under watch. Ships need more than one man to run it; the chances of it going rogue, or even turning traitor, grow slimmer when every member of the crew is fully and wholly devoted to the Machine Spirit.”

The trio walked through the bustling forge, carefully easing their way past dozens of tech priests. Many were working on Cataphractii armor, doing all the grunt work so that Aevar would only spend a few minutes doing his thing to make it all work. Five years of hard work, and they were no closer to finding out what exactly Aevar was doing; greybeard truly had a magic touch about him.

They made their way to the newly-made lower level, the heat increasing at each step. Down on the second level was the new, massive blast furnace. Its maw was as big as a Land Raider, allowing them to mold entire massive ingots of adamantium into the hull of the war machines, all in one go. Watching over the entire process was the Blasphemer himself.

“Hey, greybeard,” Vermund called.

Aevar looked up from the cherry-red metal that was being pulled from the furnace. His long, salt and pepper hair was pulled into a ponytail. Other than his skin slowly turning into cured leather and his teeth growing another centimeter, he hadn’t changed one bit.

“I’ll be,” he laughed, loping over to them. “It’s not every day you come down here. But when Kemuel comes down with a little gremlin on his shoulders, strange things must be going on.”

“Uncle Aevar,” Laura smiled. “Uncle-Sergeant Julas wanted to lecture me.”

“Oof. No wonder you came down here,” he said. “Maeva! Your daughter’s here!”

From across the forge, Maeva broke away from her work with a group of tech priests.

“Wha’s this ‘bout my girl? She should know better ‘n ta run ‘round here. Could hurt herself.”

“Worry not, I am keeping a close watch on her,” Kemuel said.

“Ah, tha’s good,” Maeva smiled. The five years had been kind to the mortal. She had grown taunt and lean, betraying a strict exercise regimen, but Maeva had grown her hair out more. Crow’s feet were starting to take hold at the edges of her eyes.

“There ya are, ma little mocha gal! Come ta yer momma!” Kemuel handed the little girl off to her. “Wha’ brings ya down here?”

“Uncle-Sergeant Julas was blabbering again,” she said. “He said he had to help the new guard arrive.”

“Tha’s right, ya got new uncles comin’ in today.”

“But I don’t want Uncle Blackfang to leave,” Laura said crossly.

“Then who’d go out an’ kill all th’ fucking xenos?” Her mother asked, tussling her hair. “’r keep us safe from all th’ filthy heretics?”

“But I don’t want Uncle Blackfang to go!”

“Back when I was a mortal, my clan jarl would always say, ‘if wishes were fishes, we’d never go hungry’,” Helfist said. “’But we do go hungry, so what does that tell you?’”

“Is that wise, to tell a child that?” Croan asked.

“Sometimes you need a little tough love.”

“Be tough an’ give love, tha’s wha’ my ma always said,” Maeva grinned. “Now let’s get outta here. This ain’t no place fer a child. How ‘bout we get you washed up ‘fore yer uncle has ta go, yea?”

“Can you wash my hair, too?”

“I’ll brush it real well ‘fore ya when we’re done. Come on.”

“Can I ride on Uncle Kemuel’s shoulders on the way back? I get to see everything from his shoulders.”

All eyes turned to the Custode, but Kemuel was already kneeling to put Laura on his shoulders.  She tapped his helmet, directing him around the forge. He was only too happy to oblige.

“I swear, tha’ girl loves takin’ showers ‘n baths more ‘n anythin’ in th’ world,” Maeva said. “When my brothers ‘n sisters had ta be washed, ya think they’re bein’ tortured.”

“Same with my little ones back on the ice,” Helfist said. “She’s quite the odd duck. Speaking of which, when we were playing hide-and-seek, I couldn’t scry her.”

“Sorry?”

“It’s a druid thing. We can see the power of other’s soul flaring. The more powerful the soul, the brighter it is. But I couldn’t see her, even though she’s got the most power I’ve ever seen, other than the Allfather, that is. How could she have disguised herself?”

“Why not ask her?” Maeva said. “Laura, Uncle Helfist wants ta ask ya a question.”

Kemual turned around. From her spot on his shoulders, Laura made squishing noises, like he was stepping on someone or something.

“Laura…”

“Sorry, mamma,” she said, sitting straight up and giving him her full attention. “Yes, Uncle Helfist?”

“How did you hide yourself from me?” He asked. “I couldn’t scry for you.”

“Revelation taught me to use my inside voice a few days ago,” Laura said. “It felt like an old trick he used to play.”

“And you can make yourself invisible to people who are trying to find you?”

“I don’t know. Revelation only feels, he doesn’t think.”

“Well, when he does, let me know, okay?”

“And watch yourself,” Maeva said. “Can’t go ‘round yankin’ at everythin’, or messin’ up yer uncle’s helmet.”

“Sorry, Uncle Kemuel. I’ll be more careful.”

“It is fine, little one. It will take more than a few careless tugs to damage my armor.”

“Aw, crap,” Maeva hissed. “We’re gettin’ new guards, yea? Tha’ means we get new Grey Knights ta ‘guard’ us.”

“Oh, shit,” Aevar groaned. “That means we gotta talk them out of shipping Laura off on the Black Ships.”

“But she’s not a psyker,” Helfist insisted.

“The last thing we need is to have this argument again,” Aevar groaned. “She might be a psyker, she might not be. But the Grey Knights would want to send her away regardless. And we can’t have that.”

“We shall talk to Parsef,” Croan said. “He was able to get the other Grey Knights to approach this with as open a mind as they can. He can talk to the new ones, and they would not try to drag Laura away.”

“Th’ fuckers just hava ta try it,” Maeva said, clenching her cybernetic fist. “I’ll give ‘em a good damn reason ta let her be.”

 


 

Aevar stood on the landing pad as a Thunderhawk landed with a hearty clang. Landing besides them was a Stormwolf, bringing with them brother Vlkas, Blood Claws who had been assigned to them as a punishment for some transgression. The young Vlka filed out, cruses on their lips. The marines of the execution force were much more graceful in their service.

Like before, many came from multiple Chapters. But this time, they weren’t exclusively from First Founding Chapters. There were a few Black Templars and a few Novamarines, and a few others that missed Aevar’s gaze. Then again, his focus wasn’t on the new marines, but rather the new team of Grey Knights. They wore Terminator armor; not his Cataphractii-pattern armor, but the tried and true Indomitus pattern that had replaced the lost Heresy-era armor.

The lead Knight marched towards them.

“Aevar Ironclaws,” he boomed. Aevar rolled his eyes. If the Knight wanted to intimidate him, he would have to do something other than turn the volume of his suit’s vox caster up a few notches. “Inquisitor Parsef says that you are keeping a psyker child from the Black Ships.”

“She isn’t a psyker,” Helfist said. “She’s a powerful druid, a talker of spirits.”

“It matters not what you call it,” the Knight said. “You dare defy the orders of the Astra Telepathica? You know the danger such a child could pose if she is not brought to the Black Ships and given the proper treatment.”

“You’re preaching to the choir,” Aevar said. “You should know us Vlka Fenryka hate the warp. What’s your name?”

“Do not think that asking for my name will grant you some favor with me.”

Dammit. So much for that plan.

“We’re holding onto her because we feel that the proper authorities to handle her growth are already here,” he said.

“She’s a damn powerful druid,” Helfist said. “She’s so powerful, you think she’s a psyker. The Black Ships would be wasted on her.”

“You dare speak ill of the Astra Telepathica?”

“I speak ill of the Black Ships. You worked with the Inquisition, you must’ve set foot on them. Remember them? I sure do. I was at a colony when the Dark Eldar raided it. After the battle, the Black Ships came around, and we had to turn the planet’s tithe over to them. Now I wasn’t a child they took, and I didn’t even travel with them for long, but that was a fucking scary experience.”

“You want to save her from a slightly discomforting trip?”

“I told you not to bullshit me,” Helfist snarled. “’Slightly discomforting?’ How many kids did you see die? How many did you see go stark-raving mad? Hel, how many times did you nearly lose your life, or your mind on that little jaunt?”

“I-is there a point to this?” The stutter was slight, but noticeable. Aevar knew psykers hated talking about any time spent on the Black Ships; they were the bane of psykers, severing their connection to the warp. But to hear a Grey Knight flinch? That sent chills down his spine.

“Laura will be wasted on whoever happens to teach her. She’s got more power than I do, more pull with the spirits of the heroes of yore, and she’s only a little girl. We can’t send her off to sit in one of the hundreds of desks, brainwashed into being perfect, obedient slave. She needs special treatment, something that only the Grey Knights have mastered.”

“You want us to be her teachers? We are warriors, servants of the Inquisition, slayer of daemons, not the sitter of babes!”

“Look at her and tell me otherwise. I’m doing my best to mold her, to raise her to commune with the spirits of Fenris, but there’s very little left that I can do. She needs help becoming a true bearer of power, and only the Grey Knights are capable of handling such power.”

“Where is she?” The Knight groaned. Undoubtedly, he just wanted to have the argument done with.

Helfist turned to Laura, who was hiding behind Maeva. She held Revelation tight.

“I’m scared,” she said.

“Don’t be, we’re just talking,” Aevar said.

“Revelation doesn’t like this.”

“It still has to be done.”

The little girl was quiet, trying to hide behind Maeva’s leg, then relented and curtsied to the Knight.

“This cannot be the child,” he said. “She does not have any power radiating from her.”

“That tips her hand now, doesn’t it?” Helfist grinned. “Laura, are you using your inside voice? The one that Revelation taught you? Come on, swallow your fear, turn it to hate. It’s part of growing up.”

“You called me a child,” she said. “Can’t I go play?”

“We all can’t stay children forever. That’s the damn shame of things,” Helfist said. “Show the nice Knight your real voice.”

Laura held tight to her stuffed pup. Aevar neither saw nor felt anything happen, but the Knight straightened up.

“By the Throne,” he gasped.

“Yea, scared me the first few times, too,” Helfist laughed.

“Little girl, how old are you?”

“My name is Laura, and I’m five years old.

“By the Throne,” the Knight gasped again.

“Think about the loss the Imperium would suffer, should she pass away on the Black Ship, or lose her mind.”

“Or if she is chosen to be a sacrifice to the Emperor,” Aevar added. The memory of the sacrificed psykers floated in front of him; he could almost see Laura being fed to the Golden Throne. For some reason, it made him angry; angrier than he’d ever been.

“I…I can see your point,” the Knight said.

“She needs to be molded, her talents put to good use. Seeing as how Grey Knights are the masters of the immaterium, you can give her the training to withstand the ruinous powers. Think of the good she could do for the Imperium.”

“How did you hide yourself from us?” The Knight asked.

“I used my inside voice.”

“Who taught you that?”

“Revelation,” she said, holding her stuffed pup tighter.

“Revelation? Who is…? No, it matters not. A psyker disguising themselves, hiding their psykic might from others requires untold power and control; for a child to have mastered it…”

“Can we count on ya?” Maeva asked.

The Knight paused, staring in awe at Laura.

“…Yes,” he finally said. Maeva breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes, having her board the Black Ships would be a great loss to the Imperium.”

“Thank you,” Helfist said, bowing deeply. Aevar and Maeva followed suit. With a light tap to her shoulder from the ever-silent Kemuel, Laura curtsied.

“The Inquisitor was…right to suggest this,” the Knight realized. “I shall have to talk to him.”

“Parsef and I are seeing more eye-to-eye these days,” Aevar said. “Don’t worry about him.”

“My thanks,” the Knight said. “Laura, how often were you trained?”

“Every other day,” she said. “Uncle Aevar said that he can teach me other stuff the other days.”

“He is wise. We shall begin your training the next day.” The Knight turned, walking back to the rest of his guard, stunned by the little girl.

“Shit, tha’ went better ‘n I thought,” Maeva said the second the Grey Knight was out of ear shot. She wrapped Laura in a tight hug as they walked back to their forge city.

“Glad it did,” Helfist said. “Laura wouldn’t last on the Black Ships.”

“I’m strong, Uncle Helfist,” she pouted.

“Not strong enough. Those fucking ships nearly did me in when I rode on them, and it wasn’t even for half a trip, and I ain’t a psyker. Trust me, this is for the best.”

“We’ll have to toast to our good fortune,” Aevar said. He looked up, and saw Lynia walking towards him. “Shit, maybe we can have a certain stick in the mud join us for a few rounds.”

“I will have to let you know that I have taken an oath of temperance,” Lynia smiled. The parade of fresh arrivals marched passed her, towards the monastery. “So, it appears that Laura has a new teacher.”

“She does,” Croan said. “A good thing, too. I have taken a strange liking to having Laura around.”

“You aren’t the only one,” Lynia said. “Having her around helps with my duties. To tell the truth, I actually miss the occasional crusade that we were called to.”

“Let’s you get out and stretch your legs, don’t it?” Aevar said.

“Exactly,” she smiled back. She wrapped Laura in a hug. “I’m glad that you get to stay with us, little one.”

“I’m glad too, Aunt Lynia. Revelation feels that the Black Ships are bad.”

“They are a necessity, dear.”

“But that doesn’t mean that they’re good.”

“Such an observant girl,” Croan mused.

“A very observant girl,” Lynia agreed. “You’ll need proper schooling soon.”

“Uncle Aevar teaches me things,” Laura said. “Mommy, too. And Uncle Helfist, and Uncle Croan, and Aunt Geist, and—“

“You’re well loved by the Space Marines and Sisters, but that’s not a proper substitute; soon you’ll be a woman grown, and you’ll need proper schooling.”

“An’ who’s ta say my girl ain’t gettin’ th’ best learnin’ possible right now?” Maeva asked, a hard tone in her voice.

“You’re doing a wonderful job raising your child, don’t get me wrong,” Lynia said with ease and grace, “but if we want her to grow to be a true asset to humanity and the Imperium, she’ll need to be challenged, pushed passed her limits.”

“An’ who better ‘n th’ Sisters of Battle, yea? Ya done tootin’ yer own horn?”

“The Sisterhood has roles other than military service,” Lynia said. “We run schools for the children of the Imperium, teaching them how to be traders, craftswomen, guardswomen, speakers and stateswomen. Knowledge is power, and we guard it well.”

“She’s got a point,” Aevar said. “We’re good, and some of us are smart, but Laura needs more than just how to build armor or weapons. She has to find her own path, not one we give to her.”

Maeva gave him a hard stare, but ultimately relented.

“Yea, tha’s right,” she sighed. “My ma and pa didn’t raise me ta be a blacksmith; I had ta bug th’ shit outta th’ local smith ta teach me.”

“The it’s settled,” Lynia said. “We’ll take Laura to the greatest school we have.”

“Wait, take her away?” Maeva snapped. “We just fought th’ fuckin’ Grey Knights ta keep her here!”

“I’m sorry, I misspoke. We have a great school on Dimmimar, in our monastery around the mountain. She’ll learn there.”

“Mommy, I don’t want to leave,” Laura protested.

“I know, little one, but it’s gotta happen one day,” she said crossly. “’Sides, we’ll be here, an’ you can visit whenever yer free. We’re just right ‘round th’ mountain.”

“Revelation feels you’re right,” she pouted.

“See? Just listen ta him, an’ he won’t stear ya wrong. ‘Sides, this little forge city of ours ain’t no place fer a little girl. Ya need ta spend time ‘round other kids, learn ta play games an’ such. It’ll be good for ya.”

“I’ll go tell the Knights what the plan is,” Aevar said. “Hel, maybe they can examine the city while they’re at it. We’ve got a chaos cult poppin’ up way too often. Some cleansing would do everyone good.”

“Not a bad idea,” Lynia said. “The repeated rise of these cults is…disturbing.”

“I don’t know, kinda makes me feel that all’s right with the universe,” Helfist said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“The warp has been quiet for the longest time. Far too damn quiet. The warp isn’t supposed to be calm for years on a stretch, it’s supposed to bubble and boil, to try and get in between the heroes of Fenris and us.

“But ever since…shit, ever since old man Ironclaws here got back from Terra, it’s been way too damn quiet. To have something happen, it’s a bit of a relief.”

“Better th’ daemon ya know ‘n th’ daemon ya don’t, yea?” Maeva laughed.

“You crazy Space Wolves,” Croan muttered.

“While you find it refreshing, we don’t,” Lynia said. “I’ll have to have a talk with Parsef, see if he can spare a few agents to investigate these cults. While no planet is completely immune to the foul lure of the warp, it stains our honor to have it happen at a Shrine World.”

“Can you get Aunt Geist to help you?” Laura asked, perking up. “Maybe she can visit!”

“Tha’s not a bad idea, yea?”

“Can Uncle Kemuel come, too?”

Aevar turned towards the silent Custode. Even in his armor, he hardly made any noise. It was easy to forget that he was there.

“I am a bodyguard,” he replied. “I was assigned to this planet to watch over Aevar Ironclaws, and no one else. Although I can attempt to make myself available to watch over Laura.”

“Before we go finding a school for Laura,” Croan said, “there is something that I must show you. It just arrived with our new execution force.”

He gently held up an ornate weapon case. It was made from aged wood, ancient from the looks of it, long since petrified. Aged gold leaf was lovingly etched along the edges, and shone from regular polishing. He opened it, and inside, sitting on what looked like velvet padding, was a gun.

“That can’t be. Is that a Volkite caliver?” Aevar gasped.

“That it is,” the Salamander grinned.

“How the Hel did you get your hands on that? Those are relics Mars would kill to keep safe.”

“I have long asked the Forge Master on Nocturne for the additional weapons to examine,” he said. “He was greatly reluctant, as he should be, but with the progress we have been making in improving arms and armor, he decided that it was worth an attempt to re-create lost weaponry, especially with the success we’ve had with the Cataphractii armor.”

“So he just sent you a relic from the Heresy. Just like that.”

“I never said that it was easy for him to come to that conclusion.”

“You sneaky bastard,” Aevar grinned. “You know we have to take that apart, right?”

“It pains my soul, but yes.”

“Then we’ll get Laura a good dinner, then it’s back to work. Where’s Legato, still got his nose stuffed in some tome, writing shit down? You go pull him from his precious library, there’s new work to do.”

 


 

Aevar was itching for a fight.

Not another practice match with the Claws, but a real fight, with no pulled punches or blunted blades or dud bolter rounds. He needed to see and taste death. Morkai’s balls, he wanted a fight.

Gritting his teeth, he went back to writing down his new findings on a piece of parchment. Exile was fucking awful, especially for a Vlka Fenryka. No war, no fight, no battle, just all the fucking work in the galaxy. Even if he was making progress in gently disassembling the Volkite caliver and kind of understanding its inner-workings, he needed to get the fight out of his system. He was getting blue balled to Hel and back.

A polite knock came from his door. Groaning, Aevar looked up from the table he was working at.

“Yes, what is it?”

The door opened, and a large-framed tech priest walked in. He wore the white robes of the Metalica forge-world. Like many other tech priests, nearly his entire body was converted to mechanical augmentations; the only thing organic were a few patches of skin on his face.

“I have a…request to ask of you,” the priest said.

“’A request?’ Aren’t you gonna buy me a drink first?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Oh, never mind,” he groaned. “What is it?”

“I am a member of a small group of like-minded priests. My name is Botho, and I wanted to ask for your help.”

“What kind of help you looking to get? And what the Hel do you mean, ‘like-minded priests?’”

“The task that is presented to us, to re-create relics and re-discover lost technology, is a truly massive undertaking,” the priest said. “Surely you are aware of this.”

“You know what else I’ve heard? That the grass is green. Got anything else groundbreaking you’d like to share?”

“Have I caught you at a bad time?” Botho asked.

“No, just frustrated,” Aevar sighed.

“Many of us are, even those outside of our group,” Botho said. “I can easily sympathize with you. Which is where our group comes in.”

“And that is…?”

“We need a truly ground-breaking discovery. The work that we’ve done is a stalling pattern, nothing more, nothing less.”

That got Aevar’s attention.

“What do you mean, ‘a stalling pattern?’”

“The only creations that have truly shook the Imperium were the creation of the Cataphractii-pattern armor and Paragon blades. The other discoveries, the improvements to shielding technology, to servo-motors and vox-casters, those are small findings. They are simply…a step to the side, if you will, instead of a great leap forward.

“Our group feels the need for a great leap forward, instead of dilly-dallying around with minor discoveries. We need to launch ourselves forward, and we need to do this immediately.”

“Aye, it feels like I’ve been pounding my head against a wall for years.”

“Then we are of the same mind. We need a great discovery to re-claim all that we’ve lost. And my group believes that we’ve found a way to do that.”

“You’ve got my attention,” Aevar said. A breeze blew in, tickling his nose. It was one of oil and machine-grime, and an old smell he hadn’t smelt in a long time.

“We need to meet, to discuss things as a group,” Botho said. “Once we reach a consensus, we can take proper action at…finding our muse, if you will. Our patron, a new source of information and discovery.”

“Find the problem, solve the problem. I like that.”

“That is most excellent news. We believe that we have found a patron who can assist us in our search. Can we count on you for your help?”

“You’ve got it,” Aevar said. His heart was pounding, his eyes seeing red. Oh, how he missed this. “Where are we meeting?”

“Four days from now, when the moon is full,” Botho said. He walked forward and handed a scrap of paper to him. “We need to meet discretely, lest we let the knowledge flow wild and spoil our find. Meet here.” Botho didn’t have a mouth, but Aevar could hear a grin. “We look forward to working with you.”

He bowed, then left his room. Aevar was studying the piece of paper. It was a rough map, but he knew the location.

“Uncle Aevar?”

He looked up. Laura had managed to creep in without making a noise. She held Revelation close to her chest. Her eyes wide and full of panic; Aevar could see their dull gold clear across the room.

“Who was that man?” She asked.

“Just a tech priest, dear.” He stood up and walked towards her. “What are you doing up and about? You should be in bed, getting your sleep in. It’s a busy day tomorrow, with your first day of school.”

“I couldn’t sleep. Revelation said you were in danger.”

“I’m always in danger, Laura. Comes with being the Blasphemer.” He scooped her up, giving her a tight hug. “Come on, let’s get you back to bed.”

“That’s a bad man,” she said. Terror was in her voice. “A very bad man. He’s planning something terrible.”

“I know,” Aevar said. He led her out of his chambers. Botho was still walking down the long hallway. He was almost at the stairs. “Take a good look at him,” he whispered in Juvik. Maeva had long ago taught Laura how to speak like a proper Fenrisian. “That is what a traitor looks like.”

“He’s a traitor?” Laura gasped.

“Aye, a heretic who just turned.”

“But he looks like a tech priest.”

“Of course. Heresy can look like anyone, anything. We all must be vigilant and know the true signs that someone’s fell to the Ruinous Powers. Did you hear him? He talked in riddles, never actually talking about his group, or what this ‘source’ was. He was vague, for all the wrong reasons.”

“I think I understand.”

“You probably don’t, but that’s to be expected. You’re only five years old; hardly old enough to spot treachery. How did you know he was a bad man?”

“Revelation spotted him. He felt that he was a bad man. What do we do now? Uncle-Sergeant Julas always says that we have to kill traitors. Why didn’t you kill him?”

“Because there are a group of traitors out there, and we don’t know who they are,” he replied. “A very smart Grey Knight once told me that when hunting down corruption, you don’t tear the stalk off a weed or it’ll simply grow back. Instead, you must find the roots, and pull them up in one fell swoop. That’s what I’ve done; I’ve found a way to locate all of the damned roots there are.”

“And then we pull them up and cut their threads,” Laura said, a grin growing on her face. “Unleash the murder-make and kill them for turning traitor!”

“That’s my girl.”

Aevar stopped, halted dead in his tracks. He never called her that before, never once, and he knew exactly what she was. Laura didn’t mind; she wrapped him it a hug, glad that he wasn’t falling to chaos.

“That’s my girl,” he said, returning the hug. “Now off to bed with you. Gotta put the word out on that bastard.”

“Uncle-Sergeant Julas says we should fear traitors.”

“No, you need to hate traitors, just like how you should hate xenos.”

“Hate?”

“Aye, hate. Hate them so much that you don’t feel fear. Hate them so much so you can act. Hate them so much that you can kill them, instead of them killing you. And always be wary; they could be anywhere, anyone. Now let’s get you back to bed. You’ve got a big day coming up, and we need you well rested.”

 


 

“He won’t show,” Armelia spat.

“Of course he will,” Botho said. “He is just as frustrated as we are at our insurmountable task.”

“We are wasting our time waiting,” Armelia continued, her servo-arms twitching and thrashing. The five other priests were anxious. Nervous. But at the same time, they were energetic, ready to act. “We need to continue.”

“You shall do no such thing,” Botho said. “We will find our patron together, as we planned. He is out there, and he wants to be found. The scrolls that we found, the hints we had to chase, it all came together so easy. Our patron wants this, and we will find him.”

The door to their meeting room scraped open, and everyone went quiet. The ground thudded, shaking with the weight of Aevar Ironclaws and his master-crafted armor. His twin servo-claws sat, ready but unused. Two others accompanied him, a tech priest and a tough-looking woman with heavy scars along the side of her face. She also had a cybernetic arm.

“This it?” The Blasphemer asked, a chuckle at his lips. “Damn small room to have a meeting in. Looks like an old storage room someone forgot about.”

“It has served us well in the past, it shall do,” Botho said.

“You come bearing arms?” Armelia demanded, pointing with three of her cybernetic arms.

“What, ya mean Katla?” Aevar said, jerking a thumb at the massive thunder hammer that sat mag-locked to his back. “I take her everywhere. Haven’t you seen me in the forge with her?”

“Armelia, peace, he is an Angel of Death. They bring their weapons everywhere,” Botho said. “Please forgive her. Our unbearable workload has left her nerves ragged.”

“Shit, can’t blame her,” the scared woman said. “We need a fuckin’ miracle, yea?”

“C-can we please just see what they have to say?” The thin priest stammered. He was wringing his hands, both his flesh and bone hands, as well as his servo-arms.

“Everyone know Maeva, my kaerl assistant?” Aevar asked. “No? Well, this is Maeva. Say ‘hello,’ Maeva.”

“Hello, Maeva.”

“And this is Legato, a fellow priest.”

“Can we all start now?” Armelia demanded. “I want answers, and I’m tired of waiting.”

“Right to the point, I see,” Aevar chuckled. “I like her.”

“Excellent. I thank you all for coming,” Botho said, bowing to the Ironclaws.  “Let us start. Please, stand over there. We have found some incantations which shall help us. Let us begin.”

Aevar and his two hired hands stood by, far from the door. Good, that was good. They couldn’t have anyone’s nerves breaking and running for the door. Botho’s gaze lingered on Legato. He would break and run, he knew it. That meant that he was the first to die. A servo-arm gently caressed the blaster at his hip. Maybe Aevar would kill Legato; the Blasphemer was so used to playing fast and loose with the rules, he had to be open to suggestion, to the power that Botho could feel. He was here, after all, helping them find their patron.

Botho took his place at the head of the circle they drew on the ground. Armelia and the five others took their places. All seven bowed their heads, and began chanting in Binary.

Something began coursing through Botho’s veins. It wasn’t the Omnissiah’s glory, it was something else. It burned him; it hurt. But he welcomed it. Yes, this was the patron he was seeking, this was the breakthrough he needed, the knowledge he craved. Oh, yes, this would do just fine.

A shrill scream echoed, then two more, along with a blast. Botho was pulled from his chanting, his meditation, to see Armelia and another priest falling. Electricity arced across Armeila’s body, while the other priest’s head was blown clean off. The tech priest Legato held a strange gun, while Aevar held a bolt pistol.

“You forgot about Iounn,” he said. “She doesn’t like to be forgotten.”

“Traitor! You’ve interrupted the ceremony!” Botho yelled. He gaped as Legato’s features changed; they shriveled, twisted and contorted, until Legato wasn’t a man at all, but rather a black-clad female. It was the assassin, the tool of the Inquisitor.

“This one is not the traitor,” she said. A blade slid from its wrist-mounted sheath. “Prepare to die.”

But the power they pooled was complete. Reality seemed to rend, and more power flowed through it.

“I do not think so,” Botho grinned as the sires of his patron pushed their way into reality, their foul stench made Maeva gag. Twenty sets of arms reached through, grasping at reality, blisters popping, sores weeping, skin molting. “I think we shall be the ones who—“

The air erupted with bolt gun chatter. The sires of their patron weathered them, and three fell.

“What?!”

A team of Grey Knights had arrived. They had broken down the door and stood, lances at the ready.

“Meet your death, heretic,” they spat.

The air seemed to crack, and the portal snapped closed, slicing the summoned help of their patron. But half of sires had come through, ten total. They would have to be enough.

“You think we’d come here without anyone backing us up?” Aevar laughed, pulling out his thunder hammer, the one he called Katla. “You’re dumber that I thought.”

“Attack them!”

Their patron’s angels surged forward, a lovely howl at their lips.

“For the Emperor!” The Knights yelled, surging forward, lances held tight. Botho coughed, his vox-grill leaking phlegm, pus and blood. His soul was in pain, screaming for relief and screaming for more. Armelia groaned, pulling her dead body to its feet. He could see her, no, he could see his patron working through her, moving her, powering her.

“Kill them all!” He yelled. Bolts from Aevar’s gun hit his body, but his wilting flesh found sudden strength. Flesh seemed to be spilling from his servo-arms, from his carapace, from his legs, from everywhere. Sickly, green-tinted flesh that held surprising strength. The same flesh seemed to sprout from the four other priests, their howls of agony and bliss fighting to be heard over the clash of the Knights and the angels.

The priests yelled, running at the Blasphemer. Maeva pulled two hidden axes from her belt, and was hacking one priest apart. The assassin launched herself at a group of them. Botho blinked, and two were already cut down, missing their heads and portions of their bodies. The two others swung back, but the assassin faded away like she wasn’t there; then she took another head. She was joined by Ironclaws, who’s hammer rang like thunder as he swept the cursed bodies away.

“It’s over,” Aevar said. It was as if there wasn’t a care in the entire galaxy to him; he was relishing the sounds of combat, of the battle itself. “You looked a bit too hard, and found something you shouldn’t have.”

“We need power, Blasphemer,” Botho cursed. “Power! Greater than the ones we have!”

“Keep talking.”

There was a thunderous explosion, and his entire body seemed to break. Botho was flung across the room, hitting the wall like a burst pustule. The life-force leaking from him, his vision blackening, he saw the Knights striding forward, shaking gore from their armor.

“Damn, felt good to stretch,” Ironclaws said, “even if it’s only for a bit.”

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention,” the lead Knight said. “This is the third chaos cult that we have found this month.”

 


 

When Botho awoke, his flesh was on fire. He tried to scream, but pus bubbled from his mouth. He was in a vile pit of burning, boiling excrement, green filth from who knew where. Flies attacked him from every which way. He swatted at them, driving them away and allowing new ones to take their place, feasting at his eyes, his skin, anything they could touch. He tried to breathe, tried to scream, tried to flounder, but all he could do was hear his patron laughing.

Chapter Text

“Most foul,” a Grey Knight said, bending down to examine the mess of blood and bodies. He pulled out a pink arm. “There appears to be a daemon of Tzeentch.”

That got Aevar’s attention. He did his best to keep his face even. It had been too long since his perilous journey with the rogue trader Agostina from Terra back to Fenris, but the memory remained of the tinkering pink terrors, who strangely always seemed to aide them.

“That’s strange,” he said as evenly as he could. “What’s that doing there?”

“I believe that it closed the portal,” the Knight said. “It was a solid connection to the warp, and it was forcibly closed. To do that requires much psykic might, or it is the foul tinkering of the god of the warp.”

“They do hate each other, don’t they? Nurgle and Tzeentch?”

“That they do. We are most fortunate.”

“Aye, fortunate,” Aevar said. “Maeva, how are you?”

“Pukin’ my guts out, but I’m fine.” She spat, trying to clear her mouth of bile. Geist gently held her hair back. “Frost’s balls, they smell fuckin’ bad.”

“This one agrees. It is the most reprehensible thing about them.”

“Hey, you done in there?”

Aevar looked up. Helfist was poking his head into the room, peering over the pouldron of a Grey Knight’s armor.

“Yea, we’re done,” he said, walking out. “How are the Claws?”

“Bitching that they missed a brawl, but they’re fine,” the Rune Priest said. “They might change their tune when they get a whiff of you.”

“Think this is bad? You should try sharing a room with a Great Unclean One,” Aevar laughed as he walked out of the tiny room.

“Morkai’s balls, greybeard, not cool,” Vermund grimaced. “You better clean yourself up. Our favorite pup is visiting today.”

“Is it really the end of her first month already?”

“Uncle Aevar! Uncle Helfist!”

“Does that answer your question?”

Laura ran around the corner, her school dress billowing, her book bag filled to the brim and a wide smile on her face. Legato ran after her, trying to catch her.

“Laura, please, there’s dangerous things going on over there,” he said.

“Uncle…! Ugh, you smell.” Laura stopped a good five meters from him, pinching her nose closed.

“Just had to kill some damn traitors and daemons,” he smiled. “Look at you, dressed like a picture-perfect school brat. How’s your classes?”

“They’re fine,” she said with a weighty sigh.

“And no Revelation?” Helfist asked “What happened to him?”

“The other kids made fun of me,” she muttered. “They thought he was stupid.”

“Don’t tell me you did something to those kids.”

“Unfortunately, she had,” Legato said. “A very nice Sister said that she put three boys and a girl in the care of the hospitallers. Broken bones.”

“Where did you punch them?” Aevar asked.

“In the nose,” Laura mumbled.

Just the nose?”

“No.”

“The Sister says she needs to be properly disciplined,” Legato said.

“We’ll have to talk to Maeva about this, seeing as she’s her girl,” Helfist said.

“Where is Mommy?”

“Right here, sweet thin.’” The Knights finally let Maeva and Geist out of the room.

“Mommy! Aunt Geist! You smell too.”

“Just savin’ th’ Imperium,” Maeva smiled, wiping bile from her mouth. “Still means I can hug ya, though.”

“Ew! Get away!” Laura laughed as Maeva playfully lunged at her. “Aunt Geist, make her stop!”

“Sadly, this one requires multiple decontamination showers to make herself presentable,” the assassin said. “She is unable to assist.”

“Now wha’s this ‘bout ya gettin’ in a fight, yea?” Maeva asked. She stood akimbo a good meter from her daughter to spare her the smell.

“The other kids made fun of me and Revelation.”

“An’ ya did wha?’”

“I hit them.”

“Did ya win?”

“Yes,” she smiled.

“Did ya keep yer fists balled up like I showed ya?”

“Yes.”

“Good girl,” she smiled. “Now next time, they’d think twice ‘bout pickin’ on ya.”

“They still don’t like Revelation,” Laura pouted. “The Sisters make me keep him in the dorm room.”

“Ah, the perils of growing up,” Helfist sighed dramatically. “Takes me back to the ice with my little ones. You get yourselves cleaned up; Croan is gonna want to smother you, and you know that when he starts, it’s hard to stop him.”

 


 

“Hey, it’s the girl who still plays with dolls!”

Laura glared at the group of boys, taking a step towards them. They laughed, screamed and ran away. She knew she could run faster than them, but her mom always said to let some go so they would tell others that she was not to be messed with.

“Run, you cowards,” she yelled. “I’ll beat you up next time.”

She might not have Revelation with her, but he was still with her. He was there, somewhere in her head, filling her head with his feelings. And Revelation was laughing, or grinning, or chuckling, or something like that. Like this was all a game, something that was so tiny and insignificant.

Laura hated them, and sometimes she hated Revelation, too. She had to feel angry, she had to hate; Uncle Aevar told her that hate was good. Hate made her want to fight, not to wallow and cry. Hate made her strong.

“You shouldn’t listen to them.”

Laura looked up. Another girl was talking to her, with dirty-blond hair that reached far down her back. Her uniform-dress was clean, but worn, like someone else wore it long ago. The only thing that seemed new was a silver charm bracelet that dangled from her wrist, and two massive, golden earrings.

The bracelet shone bright, but not like silver; more like simple steel.  Her long blond hair hid her ears, which were covered with giant, golden eagle-winged ear rings, like she couldn’t have her ears bared at all. Something about her tickled Laura wrong; it was her sixth sense, the one Uncle Helfist taught her to use to talk to the spirits of Fenris with. It was like the girl wasn’t quite there, or was quite a little girl. It made Revelation uneasy, but curious as well.

“Why shouldn’t I listen to them?” Laura said. “I can’t let them walk all over me.”

“They only say it because they know it’ll get you angry,” the girl said. Something about what she said made sense, like it made Revelation agree.

“You’re right,” she mumbled. “They’re dumb.”

All boys are dumb,” the girl smiled. Her charm bracelet tinkled as she played with her hair. But she made sure not to uncover he ears.

“My Uncle Aevar is smart,” Laura said.

“You have an uncle? I don’t. Or a dad. How old is he, your uncle?”

“…I don’t know. Old, I guess,” she said. “He has more grey hair than anything else.”

“If he’s old, he can’t be a boy, can he?”

“Yea, you’re right. I wonder what makes men smarter than boys.”

“I don’t know, but they could grow up faster. They’re annoying.”

“Yea, they are. Annoying and stupid.”

The girl giggled.

“You want to play with us?” The girl asked. “We still have time before the Sisters call us back.”

“None of the other girls let me play with them,” Laura said. “They think I’m a freak.”

“We’re both freaks,” the girl laughed. She held out her hand, the one with the bracelet. “But we’re not stupid like the boys. Don’t you want to play?”

“I’d like that,” Laura said. “What’s your name?”

“Dylena.”

“I’m Laura.”

“Everyone knows who you are,” Dylena said. “You’re the only one to break a boy’s bones. Come on, before prayer.”

‘Prayer.’ That word made her feel sick, or at least it made Revelation feel sick. And if Revelation was sick, she became sick. But it had to be done; Uncle Aevar told her she had to pray, and mamma told her too, as well. And Aunt Geist. So did all of her Uncles, especially Uncle Aevar and Uncle Legato. It might be terrible, but it had to be done.

Her stomach rolling, she ran over with Dylena, getting dirt on her dress. That sick feeling in her stomach made her want to take a bath.

 


 

The small cafeteria was filled with kids who were clamoring to eat.

The nice Sisters made them form into lines and wait their turn. Slowly, Dylena made her way down the line, getting her own tray of food.

“I thank the Emperor for this meal, and pray for my continued safety from the horrors beyond. Ave Imperator,” Dylena said automatically. Dylena put her hands together, feeling her bracelet slide down her forearm. She had to say the prayer; the Sisters made them pray endlessly. As mundane as it was, it surprisingly made her feel safe and warm.

“Keep His light in your heart, and you will grow strong,” the red-haired Sister smiled. She handed Dylena a tray of food, then readied another tray for the boy behind her.

Dylena was glad she got to be away from the boy. He was pulling her hair, and she had to keep her ears hidden. She hadn’t seen her mother in years, but her image was burned into her brain; her image, her language, and her words, she could never forget them. Above all else, she had to cover her ears and keep her bracelet.

Looking around the cafeteria, Dylena found a group of girls who she talked to and played with before. She smiled at them, and they waved her over.

“Was that boy bothering you?” One of the girls asked. “He couldn’t keep his hands to himself.”

“He was pulling my hair,” Dylena sighed, running her fingers through her golden locks, making sure her massive ear rings were in place. “I don’t like it when people touch my hair.”

“Oh, it’s so soft!” One girl ignored Dylena and was stroking her hair. “No wonder he couldn’t keep his hands off it!”

“Stop it,” Dylena cried. It made the other girls laugh and they pretended to reach out and grab her hair. Her hands shot to her ears, clamping over them.

You must never let the mammals see your ears, my love, her mother had said. It was burned into her memory so she would never, ever forget them. You must live with them, but never let them see! To them, you are a freak, a monster. But they are simple-minded creatures; you can easily trick them. They will never know, so long as you keep your ears hidden.

The girls stopped, but not because they were being nice. They were glaring at another girl who had made her way through the line.

It was Laura. Her hair seemed almost as luscious as Dylena’s, but as black as night. She stood with her tray of food, looking for some place to sit. Many of the other children saw her, and turned the other way.

“I heard her call the Blasphemer ‘uncle,’” one girl said.

“The Blasphemer? My daddy says he’s a traitor.”

“He’s not a traitor. The Sisters would burn him if he was.”

“My daddy is never wrong. He’s a traitor, and if he’s her uncle, she’s a traitor, too.”

Her mother had given her an important task. Dylena dreamt about it every night. Her mother gave her the task, and made so she would never forget.

There is a girl there, Dylena. A girl with the blackest of hair, raised by wolves and trapped in the city. You must befriend her, grow close to her, mold her and shape her. She must realize her potential, for she is our salvation. She will take our place as the one who’s spirit is to be sacrificed to She Who Thirsts, she will grant us victory from the Primordial Annihilator. Do this, and you will save us all.

“There’s space for her here,” Dylena said. “She should sit with us.”

“Dylena, no! She’s a freak!”

To them, you are a freak, a monster.

“She’s not the only one.”

Laura saw Dylena’s hand waving her over, and smiled when she recognized her. The other girls glowered and scooted away, leaving plenty of room for Laura.

Laura wasn’t blind. She could see she was being shunned.

“Hi,” she mumbled anyways.

The way Laura looked at her, Dylena could see her hatred. Hatred of the girls who pushed her away, hatred that the she, Dylena, wasn’t the one they hated.

“Hi, Laura,” Dylena smiled.

Dylena didn’t care for her hatred. She was a freak, sent to befriend another freak. But for once, in the years she was sent to the convent, Dylena felt at home with Laura.

 


 

Julas had to squeeze to get through the mortal-sized doorway, but he avoided scratching his armor, or tearing the doorway apart. The children gasped as Julas entered the classroom. A sea of wide-eyes stared at him; the only one not in awe was Lauren, who sat near the front.

What was his life coming to? First, he was sent to be an executioner, in a roll much like Death Watch. Then he joined the Blasphemer in exile. Now was to teach children. He wanted to rub the sleep from his eyes; the Nightmare was getting worse, invading nearly every moment of his life. But he had to look in control, he had to maintain the image of the Ultramarines.

“Greetings,” he said, stowing his helmet under his arm. “My name is Sergeant Julas Domius. Given the less than usual living arrangement that we have with the Sisters of Battle and Cult Mechanicus, it was decided that I, the Master of the Guard, shall assist with your schooling. I will be teaching you the glorious history of the Imperium, and the various crusades that the Emperor’s Angels of Death have undertaken. Are there any questions?”

Everyone shook their heads ‘no.’ Laura raised her hand.

“Unc—“

“You shall address me in the proper manner,” he snapped, cutting her off before the word left her mouth, “when given permission to speak. Is that understood?”

All the other students shrunk back, as if they were the ones at the receiving end of the sharp rebuke. Laura simply bared her neck.

That child spends too much time with the wolves, he thought. She is picking up their mannerisms. That must change.

A few of the braver boys and girls looked at her.

“’Uncle?’” They whispered.

“If anyone has anything to say, you will ask for permission,” he snapped. “Is that understood?”

The children mumbled a variety of ‘yes, sirs.’ Lauren glowered.

“Now, are there any questions?” He pressed.

Laura raised her hand. Julas waited several seconds for other students to raise their hands. Seeing none, he turned to her.

“Yes?”

“Will Unc—“

Julas glared at her. She knew how to properly address a member of the Emperor’s Chosen.

“Sergeant Julas,” she corrected herself, speaking as a proper citizen should, “will Vermund Helfist or Aevar Ironclaws be teaching us? Or even Croan Dragonsword? Will you be taking turns?”

“No, the Wolves are to tend to their own pack, and the Tech Marines to their forge,” he said. “Children need a strong, square upbringing, taught how to give proper respect. If the need comes for me to be elsewhere when the time for your lessons approaches, the appropriate substitute will be chosen.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Laura said, trying not to let on how disappointed she was.

“Are there any other questions?”

A girl sitting next to Laura shakily rose her hand. She had long, flowing blonde hair, golden eagle-winged earrings, and a steel charm bracelet. She was, obviously, scared of him; her charm bracelet was rattling, her arm shaking like a twig in a gale.

“What is your name, child?”

“Dylena, milord.”

“Very good, you have addressed the Emperor’s Chosen correctly. Your peers will be good to learn from you.”

A wide, radiant, smile filled her face.

“Will we be learning about your Chapter, milord?” She asked

‘His’ Chapter. He had no Chapter. He only had his duty as an executioner, and the damned Nightmare that plagued him.

“The Ultramarines will be among the Chapters we learn about, correct,” he said instead.

Smiling, Dylena lowered her hand.

“The Sisters have informed me that you have the necessary textbooks. We shall start at the beginning: the birth of the Imperium.”

There was a flurry of activity as everyone ran to grab a book. Julas took a second to rub his eyes.

 

 

 

Julas stood on a field of death. Corpses were everywhere, mostly human. Dead bodies were falling from the heavens, and it was raining blood. There was no ground; he stood atop the dead that littered the plain. From one end of the horizon to the other, there was only death.

Faces looked up at him with glazed eyes. He saw Tullus, Potitus, brothers who fell decades ago. In another pile was Appius, and Caius was torn into three pieces, melting from the stomach juices of some foul Tyranid beast.

“Brothers, please,” he cried. “Forgive me. We had to do this. I had to do this.”

“You had to.” Julas never knew who was speaking, or where the voice came from, but he could hear the sarcasm dripping from it. “You think you are a hero; you are disposable. You are they puppet that fat, old men tug about. You dance to their tune, told when and where and how to die. You are simply a plastic piece on a board, to be moved, used, and thrown away.

“But this is not your fate. You can free yourself from the rules of man. You can find true freedom, where your sacrifices are always worthy. You will never be forgotten.”

Knee-deep in the dead, Julas prayed to the Emperor.

“Let us in!”

 

 

 

From across the room, Laura shoved a girl, and shoved her hard. The poor girl went flying. Every child was glaring at Laura.

“Children, there will be no fighting,” he snapped. “You must save your fury and rage for the enemies of man, for they are many.”

Laura made her way back to her seat, book clutched tightly to her chest. The other children gave her plenty of room, all except Dylena.

 


 

“She’s growing up too fast,” Legato said. He pushed a data-slate to Aevar.

“Of course she’s growing,” Aevar sighed, pushing the data-slate back. “She’s a child, and children grow up fast.”

“No, that’s not what I said,” Legato pleaded. “She’s growing up too fast, even compared to those children who are early bloomers. It’s like she needs to be an adult or something.”

“An adult? She’s barely ten years old.”

“Exactly,” Legato said. “That’s what’s worrying. Her gene-seed is too active. Soon she’ll be hitting puberty, and then we won’t be able to keep…”

“I got a pretty damn good idea what’s gonna happen if they find out,” Aevar said. “So, what do we do?”

“There’s a plague-outbreak in the city,” Legato said. “The Sisters are suspecting another heretical cult in the works.”

“Fucking again? That’s the fifth one this year.”

“Fucking again. But that’s tied to my idea to help Laura. We use the outbreak of the plague to give her medicine.”

“Medicine? She’s never been sick a day in her little life,” Aevar laughed. “Even through some of the several-dozen some-odd Nurgle cult outbreaks.”

“Yes, yes, I know. But this gives us the perfect opportunity to keep her under wraps.” Legato took the data-slate and accessed a different scroll. “I’ve been working on this in my off-time. I got the gene-work right; we don’t give her true medicine, we give her suppressants.”

“You mean poison. This is poison.” Aevar’s hair prickled up. No one was poisoning his Laura.

“Yes, but a poison she could handle,” Legato said. “It would help suppress her gene-seed’s rapid growth. Keep her looking her age, looking like a normal human, instead of…well, you know…”

“Yea, I get it,” he grumbled. No one was going to poison his little girl. But she was already marked as a psyker of immense power; it was a miracle that Parsef let her work with Grey Knights. They were already pushing that miracle by not having the Knights take her away. They couldn’t push their luck any more. “How sick would it make her?”

“Not terribly sick, but just enough to retard her growth to more manageable levels. It’ll give her a bad cough, runny nose, it would be like a simple cold. She’ll blend in.”

“How long would it last?”

“Maybe a month? It’s hard to tell; her gene-seed is strong, just as you’d imagine. We’ll have to give her regular doses.”

 


 

Being sick sucked.

Laura groaned, rolling over on her dorm room cot so she could breathe out of her one un-stuffed nostril. She got a full breath before being racked by a cough. She reached for the near-by bucket and spat out a massive wad of phlegm. Normally she had to be careful how much she spat; the room was shared with several dozen girls, and they all hated spitting. But they were in classes, leaving her alone in the room. She could be as loud as she wanted.

She took the time to reach under her bed and grab Revelation. He was becoming dusty and old, but Uncle Helfist’s crocheting held strong. It felt good to hold onto something familiar, even if it was a stuffed animal.

A door at the end of the dorm room opened; she quickly let go of Revelation and pushed him under the bed, in the box she had hidden him in. Her blond-haired friend poked her head into the dorm room, quick and sudden.

“Laura, you aren’t falling to Chaos, are you?”

“Don’t even joke about that, Dylena,” she mumbled, pulling the covers up higher.

“Come on, you know I don’t mean it.” Dylena flopped down at the foot of her bed, her bracelet softly tinkling.  She sat with such poise and grace, Laura wondered if she had rehearsed the movement, planned and choreographed it. It was beyond human perfection. “You’re the most faithful one here. Or one of them, at least.”

Her stomach knotted itself, hearing the word ‘faith.’ She hated that word, she hated being sick. She wanted to take another bath, to try and get clean again. She found herself wanting to take more and more baths and showers, almost like she couldn’t get some spot of dirt off.

“Sylwia actually lit a candle at the altar to the Emperor,” Dylena smiled, tugging at her hair. She took a second to adjust it, hiding her ears. Laura couldn’t see why; her eagle-wing earrings were beautiful. Massive, but beautiful. “A real candle. We all pitched in, but she was the one to light it. She paid the most.”

Sylwia wasn’t her friend, she was another admirer of Dylena. Was she buying a candle for Laura just to get closer to Dylena? Her only friend had a lot of admirers, both boys and girls.

Laura couldn’t help but snort. The pretty, perfect, and above all normal Dylena who didn’t have Space Marines as uncles. Sometimes she hated her.

“Thanks,” she said instead. “I’ll get better. Just need some time.” Another cough tore through her, and she spat out more phlegm.

“That’s nasty,” Dylena grimaced.

“Sorry, being sick brings out the best in me,” she laughed. Seeing Dylena cringe always made her laugh. With her angular cheeks flushing and her gently recoiling, it was great to see her cringe. Dylena even looked graceful when she blushed, like she was just the perfect picture of poise. Laura spat again, just to get the dregs out.

“Ew, stop that,” Dylena grimaced again. “Were you raised by wolves?”

“Space Wolves, actually,” a deep voice rumbled. Dylena jumped from the bed, faster than any human should have be able to move. A massive, black-armored form opened the door, and a slightly smaller, grey-armored man entered.

“Uncle Aevar,” Laura tried to say. She only succeeded in dislodging another wad of phlegm. “And Uncle Kemuel.”

“Uncles?” Dylena muttered. “This is your family?”

She should never have said that. She really was just some special princess, a freak that others could point and laugh at. She was glad that Dylena never made fun of her.

“Then what am I, an un-used cog?” A thin-man said with a laugh, moving out from behind Uncle Aevar’s massive bulk.

“But it’s the best un-used cog, Uncle Legato,” she said, making herself smile. She could always hide behind that smile, like nothing ever got to her.

“A true Fenrisian compliment,” Uncle Aevar laughed. He looked at Dylena, who was in a deep curtsy. “Oh, knock it off, already.”

“We heard you got sick again, and we wanted to help you fight the good fight,” Uncle Legato said.

“I’m not a girl anymore, I’m fourteen,” Laura groaned. Now she was a princess who had special treatment from a Priest of Mars. She would never hear the end of it.  

“Tough shit, we’re helping,” Uncle Aevar said. “How’s your studies coming?”

“Okay.”

“She really is growing up,” Uncle Aevar said to Legato. “She’s using fewer and fewer words.”

“Turning into a true young adult,” Uncle Legato chuckled.

“What’s your friend’s name, girl?” Uncle Aevar asked.

“Dylena, lord.”

“Got a strange smell to you,” he said, leaning over to sniff her. “That some kind of perfume or some other shit--?”

“Y-yes milord,” was the quick response. Dylena spoke so fast she cut Uncle Aevar off. “It’s just a perfume. Nothing more!”

“Well, stop using it. Smells damn weird,” he said. “How’s our girl doing?”

“She’s one of the smartest girls in the monastery,” she blurted. Laura groaned. She hated the praise, the way it made her guts twist. She was just so special and great, she had to be praised.

“Whenever Sergeant Julas asks a question, she seems to know all the answers, even though he doesn’t like some of them,” Dylena continued. “She studies hard, works hard, and gets the best grades anyone has ever seen. She’s kind, pretty and very good at fighting.”

“Sounds like you have a crush,” Uncle Aevar laughed. Dylena burned beet-red. “What are you studying for?”

“I-I was thinking of joining the Orders Famulous.”

“Ah, a consul of the nobility, eh? Good choice. No offense, but you don’t look like you’d do well in a scrap,” he said. “Use what you’ve got. There’s no shame in admitting you’d be a bad fit for fighting.”

“These won’t hurt you,” Uncle Legato said. He set down both cases and opened them, revealing syringes and vials.  “They’re just boosters.”

The needles did hurt, and they made her arm sore and cold. But Laura would never admit it. She had to be strong and hard, just like her mother. Just like a true Fenrisian.

“There, done,” he smiled, handing her a bottle. “You should be feeling better in no time. Be sure to take these pills every week.”

She hated them all for dropping by unannounced. Even one would know that Uncle Aevar, the Blasphemer, was there to check up on her. She could almost hear the curses, the insults from everyone in the convent. She would never hear the end of it.

“Thanks, Uncle Legato.” She wrapped his thin frame in a polite hug. “You, too, Uncle Aevar.”

“We’re just glad you’re okay,” he smiled. “Kemuel here’s gonna keep you company.”

“What?” No, they couldn’t do that!

“You’re sick. If your mother finds out you’ve gotten worse, it’ll be our heads. So, he’s gonna watch you for a couple days.”

“All the girls are gonna make fun of me!” She protested. As if she needed something else to make everyone hate her for.

“Tough shit. Tell ‘em to shut up. If they pick a fight, you know what to do,” he laughed. He leaned down and gave her a quick peck on the forehead. “If you get worse, just tell Kemuel. He’ll send for us.”

“Thanks,” she mumbled. 

“Keep up your studies. And if you can drive Julas crazy a bit, give him Hel for us,” Uncle Aevar smiled, patting her head. He and Uncle Legato left, leaving Uncle Kemuel standing by her bed.

“You’re not going to stay here, are you?” She mumbled.

“With your mother worrying over you, it was either this, or having her risk her duties by trying to sneak out to see you,” he rumbled. “With the work load the Mechanicus has given them, they would never tolerate a single moment away from the forge. To keep her focused, I shall perform my duties here, and ensure that the convent meets our criteria.”

“B-b-but a Custode?” Dylena stammered, playing with her hair, endlessly pulling it over her ears. It was like she was afraid that her hair would vanish in an instant, leaving her ears exposed. “In the girl’s dorm?”

“I shall stand guard at the entrance to the wing, worry not.”

“I’m never gonna hear the end of this,” Laura groaned, flopping back on the bed. The Princess and her Guard. Just what she fucking needed. She’ll never get any other friends now.

But some feeling deep inside her knew the pain, and knew it far too well.

 


 

Aevar studied his schematics again, making sure to duck underneath the recently finished cross bracing. Maybe he shouldn’t have overbuilt the damn thing. Construction on his new capitol ship was slow going, and the Mechanicus wanted results last month.

“It sounds like your work has gotten the best of you.”

“Huh. Inquisitor Parsef. If this doesn’t beat all.”

The Inquisitor walked through the ship, moving around servitors that were hard at work to finish the support structures of the massive ship.

“Slow going?” Parsef asked.

“I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you know more about the construction of this ship than anyone but me.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Parsef said. “I probably know more about this than you.”

“Except for where it counts.”

“Is that jealousy that I hear in your voice?”

“Still fucking sore that you had to be the bigger man.”

“That was nearly six years ago,” Parsef said. “You Space Wolves hold grudges a long time.”

“Bah, six years is nothing. And it’s easy to hold a grudge when the other side won’t let you forget it, right?”

Parsef chuckled as Aevar glared at him.

“I figured I’d ask you what your plans for the ship were,” Parsef said, “considering the Mechanicus wanted it finished last month.”

“Well, the Fabricator-General wants a big new ship, and even bigger guns, so I figure I’d give him what he wants.”

“A big ship with even bigger guns,” Parsef laughed. “It’s so simple I’m ashamed I didn’t think of it sooner.”

“We Vlka aim to please in the most straightforward way possible.”

“What sort or armaments have you planned for this?”

“I started out thinking of some weapons good for orbital bombardment, but that got me thinking,” Aevar said, stroking his beard. “The Mechanicus might not want a giant bomber, one that was only good for exterminatus. So, I started throwing some ship-to-ship weapons onto it, both point-defense and anti-ship cannons and batteries.”

“And you took out the bombing bays?”

“Na, I kept those.” Parsef gave him a look. “Never know when you might need ‘em, yea?”

“Then the ship is carrying its weight in munitions. Interesting,” Parsef said. “What about defenses?”

“I’m throwing everything at it. Just finished with the skeleton; it’s got about two hundred tons of honeycombed adamantium cross bracing, and I’m making the shield generators as powerful as I can without having the damn thing blow up. This thing’ll take a beating from Morkai himself.”

“And what will you call this monstrosity you’re making?”

“I was thinking The Stanchion of Fall.”

“That’s a bit elegant for a Space Wolf.”

“The Sisters like their flare, so it seemed a decent choice, since they’ll probably be the ones who’ll end up getting it.”

“Why ‘fall?’”

“This planet doesn’t have much of a winter. But the fall is pretty nice.”

“Because of the changing seasons?”

“Because it’s as cold as it gets.”

“Fucking Space Wolves.”

“Fucking Inquisition,” Aevar grinned. “Now let me get back to work, will you? I got a whole ship to build, and I’m barely done with the skeleton.”

 


 

“I still don’t feel good,” Laura mumbled. Her throat was as dry as a rock, and the practice sword she had felt heavier than normal. “I think I’m still sick.”

“It is important to maintain a rigorous training schedule,” Aunt Geist said. Today, she wore the face of a simple cleaning woman. The only thing that made her stand out was the practice sword she carried. “We need to stay with our plan.”

“Can’t I just take a day off?” Laura begged. “I’m tired, Julas wants us to work on three projects, and I want to take a bath. And I have an astro-geography quiz this week.”

“Laura,” Aunt Geist said, a stern tone in her voice, “what did this one say about our craft?”

“’That a strong mind comes from a strong body, and strong instincts come from strong training,’” she groaned.

“Excellent. We must remain vigilant against any attacks from xenos or traitors, for they are always planning our downfall. Now. On your guard.”

Laura had barely brought her sword up when Aunt Geist knocked it down. She wanted to curl up in bed with some of momma’s tea.

“The enemy will give you no respite,” she said as Laura picked up her sword. “Do not expect a single luxury from them.”

Laura was starting to hate her aunt. She picked up her sword, and as Aunt Geist sprung forward to knock her sword down, she hit back, swinging with all her might against the wooden sword.

Only the sword wasn’t there. The assassin spun the blade around, dipping it under her sword, and firmly rapped her stomach.

“Do not over-commit to an attack,” she said. “When you fail, you will leave yourself exposed.”

Now she was really hating her aunt. But something tickled her spine; a feeling, telling her how to stand. It was so slight, the little girl never recognized her stance was changing. Laura blocked the first two attacks with surprising skill. But her aunt was still able to land a light hit on her arm.

“Better,” Aunt Geist said. “This one is curious: where did you learn to stand like that?”

“Like what?”

Now Aunt Geist was looking at her strangely. The girl had changed her stance to a much more defensive one, and she did it without any instructions.

“It matters not,” she said. “It was good. You need to stand like that more. Be sure to keep the weight off your front foot, put it more on the back. Now that you are warmed up, the lesson can begin.”

A shiver ran through Laura. She was still sick, she knew it. She wanted to lie down, but Aunt Geist would glare at her. So, she had to learn. She had to fight. She had to stick with the plan, whatever that plan was. She wished someone would tell her.

 


 

“What was the purpose of the Primarchs?” Sergeant Julas demanded. “You.”

“To be his generals, the carriers of his will as he re-assembled the lost colonies of man,” the boy replied.

“Excellent.” He continued to pace the front of the room as his perpetually-tired eyes scanned the room, his armor making the ground shake. As usual, it was shined to a polish, having never been used since as long as Laura could remember. If she was eighteen now, that was over ten years.

A feeling twisted through her; was his armor for show? A mere status symbol? Uncle Aevar and Croan always said that armor was to be used, not shown off.

“Now what led the traitor Primarchs astray?” A feeling of failure, embarrassment twisted through her gut. Laura didn’t raise her hand with the class. “You.”

“The ruinous powers. They tempted them with lies, and they fell for them.”

“And what does Chaos only do?”

“Lie, manipulate and deceive.”

What good little citizens they were becoming.

Now where did that feeling come from…?

“What did the Arch-Traitor do to divide the Imperium at the beginning of the Heresy? Laura, why have you not raised your hand?”

“I want to give someone else the chance to answer,” she lied. Her stomach was in knots, more so than normal. She was feeling embarrassed, for some reason. It sure didn’t help that Uncle-Sergeant Julas picked her out by name. Just the Princess being lectured by her Ultramarine teacher. No need to go over and talk to her, she’s happy alone with the Angels of Death.

“Very noble of you, but you have not answered a single question,” Sergeant Julas said. “What action did the Arch-Traitor take, after the Drop-Site Massacre, and why?”

“He ordered an attack of the Ultramar sector, to pin down the Ultramarines, prevent them from helping the Siege of Terra.”

“He did attack the region of Ultramar, but your reasoning is wrong,” Sergeant Julas said. “He was driven by jealousy, out of envy of the position of success and power that Primarch Roboute Guilliman had.”

“Forgive me, but I believe it was to stop the Ultramarines from participating in the Battle for Terra.”

No one spoke as Sergeant Julas gave her a hard look.

“You break with what the history books have written?” He said.

“I feel that’s not the right answer.”

“It matters not what you feel, what matters is the correct answer,” he said. “You will need to study your history better; the Arch-Traitor attacked out of jealousy.”

Laura stared into the distance, lest Sergeant Julas took her glare as a challenge. She was right, she felt it in her bones. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her classmates silently laughing at her; the pretty princess had failed a question. She hated them all.

“What happened at the end of the Siege of Terra? You.”

 


 

The door to Parsef’s private study was opened. Geist held the door open, and the Blasphemer walked through, followed by Helfist and Croan.

“Nice of you to join us,” Parsef said. He barely had to look up from his reports; if anyone else wanted to gain access to his chambers, Geist would have let him know.

“Aye, nice to meet the big man on the mountain,” Aevar said. “Didn’t tell me that Lynia would be here.”

“I thought I would surprise you,” the Canoness said. She was standing next to Parsef’s desk, waiting for them to arrive.

“And our favorite Custode is here, too,” Helfist said. “How’s guard duty, Kemuel?”

“Same as ever,” the Custode said. “Peaceful.”

“Such a boring word.”

“To an Angel of Death, yes. To a bodyguard, it is bliss.”

“Uh-huh. Sure.”

“Let’s keep our tempers to a minimum,” Parsef said. “There is terrible news from Terra. It appears that the Despoiler is making a move.”

The atmosphere in the room grew tense.

“The report in my hand says that the warp is becoming very unstable, with storms brewing around Cadia, threatening to cut it off from Imperium control,” Parsef said, “and by the time I have received these reports, they will already be outdated. Ships have gone missing, and astropaths die in larger and larger numbers. If you were to ask me personally, this would be the prime time to launch another Black Crusade, if they have not already begun.

“But news of the potential new Black Crusade has only been told to the people standing in this room,” Parsef said. “We can’t let it spread, less we begin a mass panic.”

“Why tell us?” Croan asked. “We are exiled. Unless the High Lords of Terra have had a sudden change of heart, we are to remain in the system.”

“’A change of heart?’ The way they hold a grudge?” Helfist laughed.

“With the new Crusade, we will need to step up weapon productions,” Parsef said. “The Cataphractii armor is going to be needed more now than ever, along with the weapons that you have been manufacturing.”

“Then we have excellent news,” Croan smiled. “We have tested the first replica Volkite weapon, and have met with success.”

“You have?”

“Aye, that we have,” Aevar said. “If it gets through armor, the thread is as good as cut. No idea why it works, but who cares? I’m also putting the last touches on the Stanchion of Fall; should be done in a week or so.”

“Then we’re be like any forge world in this crusade,” Helfist said. “Damn. Kind of wanted a real fight.”

“Careful what you wish for, whelp; you just might get it.”

“I’ll bring the entire planet up to a standing alert,” Lynia said. “We’ll open all of our weapon stocks. Every Sister will be armed, and ready to move at the slightest notice. The Planetary Defense Force will be mobilized, and secondary and tertiary defenses will be readied. Supplies will be passed out in event of a siege.”

“I’ll get the Claws to twiddle their thumbs extra-hard,” Helfist said. “Oh, shit, we’re gonna be getting a new pack in here soon. They’re gonna give us fucking Hel for missing on a Crusade.”

“May I recommend frequent patrols of the planet’s space,” Kemuel said.

“So they’ll be doing the PDF’s job.”

“They will be bolstering the PDF’s defenses,” the Custode corrected. “Not to mention raising morale.”

“Eh, could be worse,” Helfist shrugged.

“All the while, my Custode brothers and I will be examining the defenses that we have been building,” Kemuel said. “One last Blood Game should ensure that the defenses are set, then we are truly ready for any siege.”

“We all have our duties,” Parsef said. “No one needs to know about the Crusade. Not until we have received official word that it has begun from the Imperial Army. There is no need to incite panic. Everything must continue as normal.”

 


 

Laura pushed at reality, felt a trickle of power run through her veins, and she reached out, lifting the massive adamantium ingot into the air, and placing it at the top of the stack of identical ingots. There were five long, five tall, and five deep, all rejects from Uncle Aevar’s forge-city. She felt a pang of homesickness; she wanted to go back, to see her family and her mother.

But she was a grown woman now, or would be in a few days. Aunt Lynia said she couldn’t be thinking of such things, she should be worrying about her friends; if she had any other than Dylena. Fifteen years of schooling, and she only had one friend to show for it, all because of her aunts and uncles.

“Excellent,” Justicar Eadwin said, impassive in his silver armor. “We are making a sanctified psyker out of you.”

“My thanks, milord.”

“This concludes your daily lessons. Go about your day, and remember: there are no Knights of Titan.”

She’d been hearing that since she was walking upright. She had heard that she must keep her power hidden, to always use her ‘inside voice.’ She was told to never tell others what her uncles did, or who her actual father was. So much of her life was a secret. 

Laura left the hidden room and made her way to the main branch of the school, tracing her way through twisted hallways that even the servitors forgot about. She made it back just as the bell rang, showing the end of lessons.

Everyone left the rooms in an orderly mess. They were quickly reaching conscription age; conscription to be commisars, that is. They were the educated, trained to be leaders, not just simple soldiers.

Of course, there were plenty of girls who were claimed by the Sisters of Battle, too. They wore the robes of their chosen order; many were non-militant, but a few militant Sisters-in-training were there, no doubt being groomed to lead, just as she was. Seeing her, the Princess, made them give her as much a berth as possible. She hated it.

“Laura!”

She turned, looking through the crowd. It was easy to pick out Dylena, with her blonde hair, bracelet and Order Famulous aspirant robes.

“Dylena,” she smiled. “You’re usually not free now. The Sisters gave you some free time?”

“They like the work I’m doing, so I have a little time,” Dylena said, pushing her hair back as if she was showing off her massive, golden earrings.

“Nice try, Aunt Geist,” Laura grind. “Dylena never shows off her earrings.”

That only made ‘Dylena’ smile more.

“Excellent. This one is glad you can spot small discrepancies and behaviors. You are truly your mother’s daughter.” She wrapped Laura in a big embrace. “Your mother and this one worry about you. Are you feeling better? Has your latest sickness passed?”

“Thanks, Aunt Geist,” she said, hugging the assassin. It was hard to love her family sometimes, but Laura could feel her aunt’s love for her. It helped that her sixth sense, either her mutant brain or her talent with the spirits, could pick up on the affection. Her aunt might hide her expressions, but her emotions were laid bare to her. “I think I’m getting a little better. How is mom and everyone?”

“Maeva is hard at work, building more weapons and armor with Croan and Legato,” Geist said. “Aevar has completed his new capital ship, and is beginning to welcome the new guards that are coming to relieve the current guard. And your graduation is fast approaching. Are you ready to join the Sororitas?”

Like she would be a Sister of Battle. Everyone she loved seemed to want her to do something. Aunt Lynia wanted her for the Sisters, her mother wanted her to join the Guard and be a great warrior, she even had the feeling that Uncle Parsef would want her for the Inquisition. Even Uncle Aevar seemed to have some plan for her, but she had no idea what it was.

She just wanted her own life, made by her own hands. Laura did her best not to scowl; she’d run away, join the PDF. Maybe there she could be treated like a normal girl.

That, and she could never stomach all the praying the Sisters did.

“No, not really,” she said. “I’m just worried that I’ll be a bad Sister.”

            “Your Aunt Lynia often says that she was not always a Canoness; but if you were to ask this one, it is well and good that you know your limitations. Now you may improve yourself. Oh, and your mother wants you home next week. One last birthday before you join.”

“I bet she’s been waiting for this for a long time,” Laura said, laughing. “Always saying I need a true Fenrisian birthday, celebrating my ‘ascent to womanhood.’”

“She also extends the invitation to your classmates and friends.”

Friends? There was only Dylena, and Dylena’s friends that could put up with her. Thinking about it made her depressed. Maybe she could mention that there’d be booze for them; that should get people to come.

“You think they wouldn’t mind being around a bunch of Vlka Fenryka? Being around Sergeant Julas makes their knees shake; the Rout might just do them in.”

“As your mother says, ‘it is not every day one becomes a woman. If they are not there, then send them to Hel, for they will be dead to us.’”

“Good old mom,” Laura smiled. “I’ll see who wants to go.”

I’ll see who’s polite and weak-willed enough to say ‘yes.’

“Excellent. I shall tell the Vlka to behave themselves as best as possible.”

“So that means only a half-dozen fights.”

“Your mother says that would be the best-case scenario.”

“Great. This’ll be a party to remember. If we remember it.”

 


 

Something nudged Dylena. She groaned.

Whatever it was, it nudged her again. Everything hurt, and she could feel the exhaustion worm its way through her body. She wanted to sleep. She tried rolling over, but the thing was back, shaking her.

“Hey, you still alive?”

Her head felt too small. Way too damned small. Just blinking was painful. Oh Throne, what happened…?

“Come on, Dylena, show me you’re okay.”

Light shone like daggers in her eyes. The room felt like it was spinning.

“Ugh, make it stop.”

“Yea, you’re fine.” Dylena realized it was Laura. “Just sore and in pain.”

She tried to talk, but it felt like her throat was sandpaper, her tongue a mound of putty. Her ears rang, and her head was swimming. Oh, holy Throne, she just wanted to sleep.

“W-what…?”

“’What happened?’ Last night, you became an honorary Fenrisian, that’s what.”

Something was pushed into her hands.

“It’s water. Drink.”

“Last night?” The water must have been blessed; it was the best thing she ever had.

“We partied, and partied pretty hard too, as my mom says. Which, for normal people I guess, means ending up sleeping on the ground.”

Wait, ground?

Dylena’s heart jump in her chest and she sat up, reaching for her ears. Fortunately, her large, ornate golden eagle-wing earrings were there, covering her ears from tip to lobe. She took a few moments to feel the cold metal on her ears, and her bracelet on her wrist. All was good.

“You’re worried about your earrings?” Laura asked, barely holding back a laugh.

“I…like my earrings,” she mumbled. Her ears had to be covered, always. Her mother made her promise. “They’re all I have left of my mother.”

“Not what I meant,” Laura said, pointing at her dress.

The beautiful, silken Order Famulous black dress was a rumpled mess. It was a flattering, little black dress made for royal meetings in an Imperial court, certainly not meant to be slept in. One strap was hanging from her shoulder, threatening to pull itself down, and the leg material was riding up like it was trying to run away. It nearly ran up to her underwear.

“This isn’t funny,” she muttered, burning with embarrassment. She hastily covered herself.

 “Man, if only you could see your makeup. This has to be the first time I’ve ever seen you so poised, and I gotta tell you, it’s pretty great.”

Dylena pulled out a compact and nearly cried. Her entire makeup, from mascara to foundation, was smearing, running like crazy. It was never meant to stand up to…to whatever it was that the Fenrisians claimed was a ‘simple party.’

Laura handed her a damp napkin so she could clean herself up.

“Thanks,” Dylena mumbled. “What happened? We flew in, the…the junior marines were rowdy…”

“You don’t remember that?” Laura pointed to two Astartes-sized, up-ended empty casks of Fenrisian ale. Next to it were four empty casks labelled ‘Mjod - Vlka only!’

“Oh, Emperor, now I remember.”

“Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Check it out.”

Dylena poked her head above the wooden table. The entire room was in disarray. There were boys from their classes that were passed out on the tables, hanging off with very little keeping them in place.

Many of the girls from their class were in similar dire straits, having passed out either with their own circle of friends, or on a couple of cases, over a few boys. Some odd articles of clothing were lying draped over chairs, tables, or one of the passed-out forms. Many girls were nearly naked.

“Emperor almighty…”

“Don’t worry, by the time the stripping happened, many were too drunk to do anything but pass out,” Laura said. “They took it off mostly to please the Claws.”

“Claws?”

“The young marines?” Laura pointed to the other end of the hall, where ten massive Space Marines were lying, just as passed out as the boys and girls. Many were covered in what looked like black ink; phallic symbols were drawn all over their faces, along with the strange Fenrisian runes.

“Ugh, I want to die. And how on the Throne are you just fine?”

“Hey, I’m hungover, too,” Laura said. “Just not as much as everyone else. What? It’s a Fenrisian thing.”

“You weren’t born on Fenris.”

“Yea, well, might as well been raised there,” Laura mumbled. “Would’ve been better than here, where I’m a freak.”

Dylena’s conditioning kicked in; a change had to be made. Laura had to have a higher opinion of herself. That’s what she was there for, wasn’t it?

“You’re not a freak,” Dylena said, taking her hand.

“Only reason most everyone came was to drink.”

“Hey, come on, you’re not the only one who’s different.”

“Why do you keep saying that? Every time, you say that. You’re the one with all the friends. Shit, why are you even my friend? Thought being the princess would’ve made me a total outsider.”

From the end of the room came a mighty groan. Lord Ironclaws rose from his chair, stretching all the while.

“Well, look who’s up,” he yawned. “Thought you’d be dead to the world, Laura.”

“Not a chance, Uncle Aevar,” she grinned. In a split second, Laura put her mask back on, hiding all the pain behind a smile. “Had to see Dylena completely wrecked.”

“Dylena? Oh, the pretty girl who smells funny,” he said. “Thought I told you to stop wearing that perfume, smells too strange.”

Dylena wanted to lay down. She wanted nothing more than to just stop and lay down and let herself die. But the doors to the meal hall opened, demanding her attention.

“Inquisitor,” Dylena stammered, going into a deep curtsey. She was so hungover, she nearly fell over.

“Hey, Parsef,” Laura said. How many people did she know on a first-name basis?

“Hello, Laura. Dylena,” the Inquisitor said. His face was stony, betraying no emotion. He scanned the room until he saw Lord Ironclaws rousing Lord Helfist.

“Parsef? Something’s wrong, isn’t it?” Laura asked.

“Something’s always wrong,” he said. “It’s part of the job. I need to talk to the Blasphemer. But first, I have to give you my present.”

He held out his hand, and gave her a red and black-beaded rosary. At the end of the rosary was an obsidian “I,” with a skull emblazed on it. It was the symbol of the Inquisition. He was recruiting her.

Laura stared at the pendant, unsure of what to make of it. With her mind finally waking up, Dylena could see that this was not a good course, leading to a worse outcome. Her future couldn’t end with her in the Inquisition. Her mother had said that Laura needs to realize her potential, to become the new sacrifice. Laura couldn’t do that in the Inquisition.

“You don’t have to give me an answer now,” Parsef said. “But I’ll need to hear from you within the next few days.” He placed a hand on her shoulder. “You are valuable. You could help protect the Imperium, both from heretics and xenos…” Dylena squirmed, “…as well as from traitors within. Think about it.”

Dylena waited until he was out of ear shot.

“Do you think you’ll join?” She asked.

“I don’t know,” Laura said.

An adjustment was needed; the time to act was now.

“Just…be careful, okay?” Dylena said. “The Inquisition is a force of good, but I’ve heard a few things from some of the Sisters, during our training. Terrible things they have to do; what you have to do, who you will have to kill, or what planets have to be sacrificed to protect the Imperium.”

Laura stared at the rosary, but quickly pocketed it when she heard the heavy footfalls of Space Marines. Even out of armor, they made the ground thump.

Lord Ironclaws and Helfist were walking with Inquisitor Parsef. All had a stone-like look to them.

“What’s the matter?” Dylena asked.

“It’s Cadia,” Lord Helfist said. “Fuck-mothering Cadia. They’re under attack.”

Suddenly Dylena’s hangover didn’t seem so bad.

“It’s the Thirteenth Black Crusade,” Inquisitor Parsef said. “It’s finally begun.”

Chapter Text

Aevar and Helfist looked out at the landing pad. Three ships broke through the atmosphere; as with all their changes of the guard, it was two Thunderhawks that carried Julas’ replacement men, and a Stormwolf transport with the new Blood Claws. The ships landed in tandem on the pad. Word of the Black Crusade had surely made both pilots work with each other instead of against; no doubt Julas would appreciate their newfound comradery. The Thunderhawks’ doors opened, and the new marine guards exited the ship. The Stormwolf’s ramp dropped, and the wolves walked out.

The new Marines were from a host of Chapters, many appearing to be from Third or even Fourth founding. The Claws, like every pack of new blood, were a motley bunch, but the Grey Hunter stood out. He was as pale as pale could be; the sun looked like it would cook him in a second.

“Whoa, hold on a second,” Helfist said. “Hold the fucking vox, I know that pale gaze anywhere. That you, Wight?”

Wight grunted, small smile on his nearly translucent face.

“Shit, would you look at that?” Helfist laughed. “Just seemed like yesterday that you were a mouthy Blood Claw that I had to knock into place. You made it to Grey Hunter real quick now, didn’t you?” He tapped the pauldron that held a red-and-black mark. “Still near mute, eh? Thought the scouts would take you for their own.”

“Like fighting more,” Wight said.

“Good answer,” Aevar laughed. “Welcome, brother. Too bad you’re stuck on a shit assignment, especially with the Crusade starting up.”

“Eh, training,” Wight grunted, shrugging his shoulders.

“Don’t worry about that, we got plenty of things to keep the Claws busy,” Aevar said. “Have they had a chance to do any boarding action?”

Wight grunted, shaking his head ‘no.’

“Well, you’re in luck then! We got a brand new ship that needs to be put through its paces; running some boarding actions would help the navy pukes get their shit together as well as the Claws. Don’t get too comfortable, we’re gonna be playing in space tomorrow.”

 


 

The heat from the central forge seemed hotter than ever. With her fresh cold, the warmth was so very welcome. Laura could only guess that with the new Black Crusade being waged, it was only natural that every forge was running at full-capacity. She got a little closer to the open forges as she made her way down to the central pit. Uncle Aevar was talking to a few tech priests. Seeing her out of the corner of his eye, he excused himself.

“What brings you down here, Laura?” Her uncle asked. “Would have thought the day-after hangover would be all about resting and being lazy, not going into the depths of a forge.”

“I’m not that bad, Uncle Aevar,” she said. “I just…I’d like your opinion.”

“Pretty serious, huh? Let’s talk somewhere a little quieter.”

They walked through the forge, heading towards one of Uncle Aevar’s work rooms. He closed the door behind her, and the sound of the forge faded away until it was a dull roar; the room had thick stone walls, blocking out much of the noise. As soon as he closed the door, Laura pulled out the rosary that had the mark of the Inquisition. Uncle Aevar stared at it, his eyes hard.

“Parsef gave that to you, huh? Figures.” He scratched his beard. “So, not only does your Aunt Lynia wan you, but now the Inquisition does, too. You’ve got some choices to make, eh? How does it feel?”

“I…I don’t know if I want to join the Inquisition,” she said. “I mean, I thought he’d try to recruit me, but to actually get the rosary, to actually get the offer…”

Laura shook her head.

“Dylena told me stories; stories of the good work they do, yes, but she also tells me horror stories she hears. Things some aspirants have to do, some things that Sisters are sworn to do. And then there’s Months of Shame you and Uncle Helfist tell me about. Deciding who lives and who dies, all just to fight the possibility of a Chaos incursion? That’s…that’s too much.”

“It’s too much for anyone. Anyone but the Emperor, maybe,” he shrugged. “Think you can be the one to give the order of Exterminatus?”

“If it’s worth it,” she mumbled.

“That ain’t for you to decide. Can you order a planet to be killed?”

“What do you mean, ‘it isn’t for me to decide?’”

“The Inquisition worries itself with how things can fall to Chaos,” he said. “I told you about the Months of Shame. Of how they murdered, sterilized and conscripted the survivors of Armageddon. They did those fucking things because they thought that cultists might be hiding in the survivors. Trust me, I was there.

“They sterilized millions of men and women, then working them to death, they destroyed dozens of ships carrying survivors, and they tried to track down any survivors to the ends of the galaxy, all on the off-chance that one of ‘em was a traitor. Can you do that?”

Then it was true; it was just what Dylena warned her about.

“I…I don’t think so.”

“If you hesitated for even a second, I’d say you weren’t cut out for it.”

“You don’t seem mad.”

“Mad? Why the fuck would I be mad?” He asked, grinning. “I’d be more worried if you said you could; no hesitation, no remorse, that isn’t a trait a person should have. Killing an entire world just because one of them might be trouble isn’t the way to do things. We’d run out of planets damn quick that way. No, the Inquisition is dirty work, take it from a Vlka.”

He wrapped her up in a big hug, but was careful of his strength.

“I’m damn glad we raised you right. Means all our hard work and planning worked out. I’m damn proud of you, Laura.”

She smiled, but something was wrong. Laura could feel it in her gut, some twisting feeling, of…of something, of a plan. Like something was going just as it was supposed to. The feeling caught her off-guard; so much so that she nearly missed the pang of sadness in Uncle Aevar’s eyes. Or was it regret? Regret that was centered on her? Did he regret something about her?

“Well, your aunt is chomping at the bit to get you into an Aspirant’s robes,” he grinned. “You ready for that?”

Just like that, the moment was gone. But she was still smiling. It felt good to be doing the right thing. Leave killing planets to someone else. Besides, she had an escape to plan; she had to run away to the PDF, and with the new Black Crusade, maybe she had a more than a decent chance.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Traveling…no, being forced to move from place to place, it doesn’t seem like something like a good time. What are you going to do about the new Claws?”

“Helfist and I are gonna take them out in Stanchion,” he said. “Do some basic maneuvers with the ship, launch an assault craft, teach ‘em some boarding action, shoot some rocks, basic training shit to keep ‘em occupied. With Blood Claws, you have to.”

 


 

Aevar inhaled deeply, breathing in the scent of the new ship.

Stanchion was so new, it still smelled like adamantium ore. Even the docking bay smelled of pure metal instead of engine oil, grease and fuel. Since it was a big ship, the docking bay was equally huge. It was so big, it could even fit a small rogue trader’s vessel in it. The half-dozen landing ships seemed positively tiny, to say nothing of the men and women who helped staff the ship.

A Thunderhawk, on loan from the Sisters, floated through the void shields and landed with a clang. The new group of Blood Claws trudged out, but Wight and Helfist were laughing.

“Now you know why we run you hard,” Helfist roared. “Zero-gee is a hard bitch to master.”

“Let me guess,” Aevar said, “they fell a lot and made great fools of themselves.”

“Full of piss and vinegar, and not much else. Many of them missed their mark and jumped into the great black yonder,” Helfist said. “Took us a few hours to fish ‘em from the void, but at least it stopped them from bitching about missing the Crusade.”

“’Missing the Crusade?’ Don’t tell me you want the Crusade to come here.”

“Alright, maybe I do,” Helfist groaned. “Just to give us something to do.”

“I told you to be careful, whelp. You might just get what you ask for. You really want that?”

This is the Stanchion of Fall, calling Lord Ironclaws. Lord Ironclaws, do you read me? The vox crackled.

“Hold on a second,” Aevar said. He slipped his helmet on and flipped to the vox channel. Yes, I’m here, Stanchion. Go ahead.

A ship has just dropped out of the warp, a rogue trader from the looks of it on the auspex scanner, the mortal replied. We do not have any records of any incoming traders, but they’re being chased by an unknown ship, and are broadcasting an SOS.

Play it for me.

‘Mayday, mayday, mayday,’ a woman’s voice said. ‘This is the rogue trader vessel Johnathan, requesting assistance. The Arch-Enemy is here, they’re attempting to board our ship. Please, send any help that you can.’

The message loops, milord.

The Johnathan? Aevar said. That can’t…damn, this universe is smaller than I thought!

I’m…sorry, milord?

Move the Stanchion into position to support the ship, he ordered. We’ll help beat back the boarding party.

I beg your pardon, milord, but it is a simple rogue trader, hardly worth the effort.

I’m not giving my pardon for that, Aevar snapped. There are civilians out there, and it sounds like they’re in a damn good bind. That means we go and help them, understand?

Yes, milord.

Good. Keep me on the channel, I’ll be part of the boarding party. Aevar closed the vox and pulled his helm off.

“Change of plans, Claws.”

The line of raw recruits ground to a halt as they turned around.

“There’s a rogue trader out there, under attack from some fucking heretics.” Just hearing the word ‘heretic’ got them to bristle. “We’re gonna go out there, save those traders and kill those fuckers. Sound good?”

The Claws roared.

“So get our your chainswords and get back to the ship, we’re gonna be working on that boarding action faster than we thought!”

“Some rogue traders need help?” Helfist said. He was nearly bowled over by the rambunctious recruits. “We’re in the right place at the right time now, eh?”

“I told you, be careful what you wish for: you just might get it. Oh, and it gets better: the ship we’re saving? It’s the Johnathan.”

“Wait…really?”

“Aye, really.”

“Hot damn, never thought we’d be seeing them again! Hey, mind your turn!”

The Claws were pushing and shoving, but listened to Helfist. They boarded the Thunderhawk in an organize bum rush and bolted themselves in. Aevar locked the bay door behind him, and bolted himself into place.

“Hold on, wolves,” the pilot said. “We’re gonna make space-tracks to catch up with the traders.”

The engines roared to life, and the inertia pulled at them all as they shot out of Stanchion. The pilot must be fighting for any kind of control; she was giving the Thunderhawk enormous amounts of fuel, and the ship responded in kind.

Rogue Trader Johnathan, this is the Stanchion of Fall, the vox crackled. We have you on auspex and are moving to assist. Space Marines are being deployed to you to repel your borders.

Much thanks, Stanchion. Please tell the Angels of Death to move as fast as they can; we’re leaking atmosphere and multiple parties have already boarded us. We’re trying to hold them off at the mess hall and cargo bay.

Don’t you worry, Johnathan, Aevar said. We’ll be there before you know it.

“Touchdown in five,” the pilot called.

“Making good time, pilot,” Helfist said. “We’ll get you a proper drink when this is all done.”

“Hate to be a stick in the mud, but I took an oath of temperance,” the pilot replied.

“You Sisters are no fun at all.”

“Fun isn’t part of the job. Although I will take some communion wine.”

“Oh, so wine is fine?” Helfist yelled.

“Please, milord, it is simple communion wine.”

“I like this sister!”

“The ship is coming up,” the pilot said. “Venting atmosphere in ten seconds. Get ready to move.”

Air leaked out of the ship, readying for the assault. The claws unbolted themselves and pushed to the front.

You said they fell into the void the first time around; think they’re gonna fall again? Aevar asked, opening a private vox channel.

No, Wight said. Quick learners.

How quick you think they are?

Maintenance, ten hours, the new Grey Hunter said.

That’s some faith you got in them, Helfist said. I’ll take that bet.

The doors slid open, silent in the void. The Claws launched themselves towards the ship, their helms marking where the airlock was. They landed, solidly, with no one bouncing off or missing the ship, their boots magnetically locking them to the hull.

You’re right, they are quick learners, Helfist said, touching down on the trader’s ship. Shit. Guess that means I’m doing your maintenance, then?

Wight laughed.

The airlock slid open, and the Claws pushed their way inside. It cycled, and opened. The few traders working the airlock gasped, either from the Claws or from the attacking heretics.

“The arch-enemy,” Helfist said. “Where are they?”

“T-t-they pushed their way to the mess hall, down there.”

They barely got the words out before the Claws broke into a dead run, changing towards the battle. Down the corridor they ran, the sounds of battle steadily growing. The snap of lasgun fire and the bark of bolters steadily increased until the Claws reached the meal hall.

The hall was a desperate battle, with crimson-armored berserkers facing hastily-made defensive lines. The heretic’s chain-axes growled at a mean idle, their bolt pistols chattering as they moved closer to the humans.

“Berserkers,” Helfist spat. “Watch their axes.”

He barely got the warning out. The Claws launched themselves at the berserkers with reckless abandon. Wight dutifully jumped in, protecting the wild Claws from the worst of the attacks. He had learned much.

Two berserkers howled and changed at Aevar. He blocked the axes with Katla and a servo-arm, then brought the thunder hammer across his chest, crushing one berserker into a mess of blood and metal.

Light danced from Helfist as he summoned the power of Fenris. He let one berserker land a square blow at his neck, but with the blessing firmly in place, his skin was like raw iron. The teeth of the chain-axe spun furiously, trying to find purchase but not getting any.

Helfist lashed out, landing a square blow on the berserker. His warped helm caved under Helfist’s hook, splitting as the berserker fell to his knees. Something solid and wet fell to the ground. The berserker gurgled as he realized it was part of his jaw. He tried to reach for it, but was killed by Helfist punching through his skull.

 “Fenris hjolda!” Aevar roared.

“Fenris hjolda!”

“The Emperor protects!” The traders yelled, relief heavy in their voices.

“More of them?” Wight asked.

“We heard that there were more, pushing the captain into the cargo hold.”

“Head out Claws,” Helfist said. “We need someone to lead the way.”

“I remember,” Aevar said. “Follow me.”

He led the pack through corridors. He opened the door to the cargo hold, and the sounds of battle rejoined them. One large berserker was charging towards a small group of traders, a massive thunder hammer in his hands. Aevar could tell it was a champion, or at least an aspiring champion. One bearded trader stood against him, a large las-pistol in his hand and a sword at his side.

“Puny humans,” the champion laughed. “Your head will fit nicely at the foot of the throne!”

The champion raised his hammer as the Claws ran in. But the trader was closer, and against the unwieldy weapon, moved faster. In one smooth motion, he drew the blade. A red arc cut across the champion’s legs, and suddenly he fell, his legs cut from under him. Overcome with pain, the heretic screamed, and the trader jabbed the sword into his open mouth, a perfect killing blow.

The Claws halted their dash as the dead champion hit the deck.

“You still need our help?” Helfist laughed.

“Y-yes, milords,” the bearded trader said. He had to work to free the blade from the skull of the champion.

“Behind you!” A woman yelled. A handful of berserkers had entered the hold, and were charging at the Claws. The air crashed and heated as blobs of super-heated plasma cut through the air. Under the withering fire, the berserkers were cut down. One staggered forward, his armor melting against his body, but against the wrath of a miniature sun, he was no match. He fell, burning to a crisp.

“You sure you don’t need our help?”

“My thanks, milords, but we are only two against many chaos boarding parties,” the shooter said, walking from the small group. It was a woman, mocha-skinned and lovely, and she vented the chambers of the plasma gun. “Again, my thanks for rescuing us. We would not have stood against the heretics much longer if it were not for you.”

“Ah, Captain Agostina! There you are!” Aevar roared. He pulled his helm off so she could recognize him.

“Lord Ironclaws?” She said, stunned. “I would have never guessed that we would meet again.”

“The universe is getting smaller, it seems,” he laughed. The ship violently dipped, throwing a few traders from their feet.

“I knew there was another group of heretics,” she said. “They must be going for my ship’s engines.”

“We’ll take care of them,” Aevar said. “Youngsters, stay here. Come on Helfist, we got this.”

He led them out of the cargo bay, towards the nearest entrance way to the engine room.

“It really is a small universe,” Helfist chuckled. “Haven’t seen them since they carried your worthless hide from Terra.”

“Aye, and it’s getting smaller,” Aevar said as they ran through the ship.

He came to a stop at the access point to the ship’s engines. The sound of a chain-driven weapon echoed in the small confines. He charged in, and nearly ran into an aspiring champion. He sprung back, but the champion was sluggish to respond. He was holding his head; blood freely leaked out of it.

The aspiring champion tried to say something, but it came out a wet gasp. Aevar saw a discarded power axe left on the ground. It seemed to have an ear, or some part of a face stuck to it. The champion grabbed for his own chain axe, and his face tilted, dripping until it parted and hung by a few flaps of flesh.

He staggered, trying to swing the axe, but it hit the wall and fell from his grasp. The champion pulled at the chains that bound the axe to his arm, but he fell to the ground, dying from blood loss; the power axe had nearly cut his face off. Even his superhuman gene-enhanced body could not deal with the damage the axe had caused.

“Let him suffer,” Aevar said. 

“Gladly.”

At the end of the small room was the broken body of a tech-priest. Aevar walked over to him, closing his eyes. He spoke in Binary.

“May you rest in your duty to...” He faltered. “Your duty to the Omnissiah.”

“Did you know him?” Helfist asked. He kicked the aspiring champion, making him jerk. The Chaos Marine squirmed, trying to move, but with half his face nearly hacked off, it amounted to nothing.

“Yes,” Aevar said. “His name was Gordon. He was the tech-priest of the ship.”

“Well, he died hard,” Vermund said. He had pulled his runic axe off his back, and was poking the traitor with it. The heretic gagged, trying to gingerly grab his face, but faltered with each movement. “Taking out a champion is a great feat for a mortal.”

Aevar picked up Gordon’s axe. Like all other Mechanicum axes, the blade was made to resemble a cog, with the Mechanicum’s emblem forged into the blade. It was heavy for a mortal, but just right for a tech priest. He took it with him.

“We need to bring this ship back,” he said. “Stanchion said that they weren’t supposed to be here. We’d better find out what changed their plans.”

“Aye, get to the bottom of this mystery,” Helfist said. He jabbed the heretic one last time, cutting into the exposed bone. The fallen champion gagged, the copious amounts of blood finally dripping into his throat. He sputtered, trying to clear it, but he could only delay the blood drowning.  They ran back to the cargo hold.

“We got ‘em,” Aevar said. The Claws roared, savoring their victory. “Let’s get back to Dimmimar and have a drink, yea?”