Category Archives: Fiction

Last Son of Caliban: Tempering the Blade

Cain looked at his gathered Sergeants.  Sergeant Uriah, leader of the Inceptor squad had half his armor off, his face grey as his massively enhanced body fought to recover from the wounds that peppered his shoulder and upper torso.  The other Primaris sergeants stood tense, unsure even after the battle, while the older sergeants of the astartes stood relaxed, glancing around at the wreckage they had created, or watched the guardsmen collecting prisoners, or executing those too wounded to be worth interrogating.

Cain finished reviewing the battle on his display and looked at two of his sergeants.  “Micah, Shamgar, your troops were excessively slow deploying from their transport, and re-embarking to displace.  They selected adequate targets but took far too long shifting between targets once they had acquired one.  Their accuracy was good, but speed is everything brothers.”  Micah and Shamgar clenched fist to breastplate in acknowledgement of the rebukes.  He turned to the next sergeants on his list “Obed, your men deployed too far from their Rhino to re-embark swiftly, they also kept firing too long after the order to re-embark was given.”  Obed nodded sharply.

“Jonah, your men are equipped to take on vehicles, yet more than 40% of their fire was spent on soft targets while there were still tanks and bunkers to be destroyed.  Rectify this.  We can’t have Sgt Maacah punching out tanks all the time for us.”  Jonah grimaced at the rebuke, clenching his fist to his chest.  “Uriah, your men performed well, have them work on their reloading drill to better maintain their fire.  In fact every Primaris squad spent too much time reloading, and frequently had two, three, or even four of their brothers reloading at once.  Fire must be maintained brothers.  We cannot be outnumbered and not firing.”  He paused, eyes leveled at the assembled leaders.  “Lieutenant Bors, set up a series of exercises for the vehicle crews.  They need to be able to pick a route efficiently and there was far, far too much hesitation in their movements.  Especially the Repulsors.  They are hover tanks for the Emperor’s sake, how are Rhinos outmaneuvering them?”

He turned on the Guard officer who had tried to slink up behind him “And you Colonel.  The plan was for you to wait until ordered in.  My force cannot leave this planet unless there are adequate loyalists here to ensure security behind us.  You endangered that with your early charge.”  Colonel Peak looked at him a moment, face paling.

“Master Cain, you left my men none of the glory.  Your plan would have had them sitting and watching while he only good fight in the campaign was fought.  You would have us sit out the greatest battle and then spend a decade policing the hinterlands?”

“Yes Colonel, that is exactly what I would have you do, for if not your guardsmen, then my company would have to wait for another force to arrive, and that could takes years.  You would have a company of the Dark Angels sit idle for years, just for your men to claim some imagined glory executing traitors?”

Zadok pinged Cain, no verbal message, just a chime for his attention.  Cain looked closer at Peak, remembered he was dealing with mortals.

“But your men fought bravely and well.  We would be honored to fight with them again.  Your vehicle crews especially fought with determination, and your Ogryns were a hammer in the Emperor’s hand.”  He said, struggling to find the words to mollify the Colonel.

“Thank you Master Cain” she said simply, straightening to attention and offering a flowery salute.  Cain returned it with a simple gauntlet to his chest, turning to dismiss his sergeants.

Lieutenant Bors and Colonel Peak remained behind.  Bors looked back and forth between the two officers and gestured for Colonel Peak to step aside a moment.  She glared at him, before stepping a few feet away and passing on some orders over her vox bead.

“Master Cain.  The new folks need… They need some balance.  We all know they aren’t performing as well as the rest of the company.  You’ve got squads whose youngest trooper has 50 years fighting the Emperor’s wars.  Your oldest Primaris Sergeant has less than 20.  Half of them are on their first campaign with a battle company.”  The tough old veteran just topped over the Company Master’s shoulders, but his presence, and the weight of centuries of experience pressed down on Cain.

“Lieutenant, I’m not going to lie to these men about their performance.”

Bors held up a hand “I’m not saying to do that Master, but you should couch your criticism a bit more carefully.  Your words could be a mace or a scalpel.  You don’t need to crush them down, you need to cut out the weakness.”  He paused a moment.  “A leader can guide, or he can push.  The Unforgiven need guidance, not shoving.”

Cain paused a moment.  The spoke carefully “Guilliman brought back the rank of Lieutenant to fill in the gaps in leadership.  He wanted line officers to lead strike forces, and he wanted leaders to watch the back of Captains who couldn’t see everything at once.  The Unforgiven have not wholeheartedly embraced the rank, but I think, today, that you have proven his wisdom Bors.  Thank you.”  He finished haltingly.  He looked down.  “Tonight we’ll have a feast.  You are right about one thing, this was the first battle for many of our Primaris in the Fifth. We will feast the start of the campaign.  Celebrate their success; and afterwards I’ll have a word with the Sergeants.”

Lieutenant Bors snapped to attention; crashed his fist hard to his breastplate and spun away, already dictating orders to their accompanying serfs to ready the feast.  Cain looked over his shoulder, catching Peak turning away “And you and your company commanders can join us Colonel.  I am not skilled at the diplomacy and the art of dealing with our mortal allies.  We are leaving you to a hard, long, difficult task, with no glory, you are correct.  You deserve your moment of honor, and I regret my harsh words.”

Colonel Peak looked at him a moment “Thank you Master Cain.  We look forward to your hospitality.  With your permission, some of my men distinguished themselves today.  I beg the honor to present them to you at this feast.”  She paused, planning her words with care.  “It would remind them of their glory during the long years ahead, remembering being presented to a Master of the Dark Angels chapter.”

Cain nodded.  He didn’t fully understand the need but Bors had convinced him that he should listen to those under him.

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First Contact

3 Weeks Later.  Godswinson Foothills.  Skagerrak III

Cain watched his company race from the treeline, bikes racing forward to screen a line of Rhinos, Razorbacks and Repulsors.  Scouting Land Speeders had reported the ridgeline ahead of them to be clear, and Cain intended on taking advantage of that mistake.  He watched as the Razorbacks and Rhinos pulled ahead before easing off as they reached the foot of the steep slopes.

As soon as they’d started their climb they had gunned their engines and raced forward.  The Repulsors were more hesitant.  Carefully selecting slopes that were more manageable they struggled to catch up to the Rhinos as they neared the crest.  The doors and ramps of the Rhinos and Razorbacks were opening before they even stopped below the crest, and the marines within charged out, throwing themselves into position peeking over the crest without skylining themselves before the doors of the Rhinos were even fully open.  The Repulsors pulled in at the far left and the doors opened.  The Primaris marines spilled out and took positions, far more hesitantly and continued shifting up and down the line, the last of them not settling for nearly 20 seconds after their conventional brothers had frozen in place.

Looking to his right he saw the devastators Razorbacks and his command squad.  The devastators set up on a little knob just off the ridge’s shoulder, targeting scanners already reaching to select targets.  He left them to Lieutenant Bors and ordered his vehicle to the right of the Razorbacks at the crest.  The bikes gathered on the left of his line, ready to strike as he ordered a skull-drone to pop up to give him a view of the enemy.

The traitorous guard regiment spread in entrenchments for nearly a mile starting just off the foot of the ridge, a company had started to climb the slope to fortify this last weakness in the line, they were looking up in confusion at the sound of the engines and the clatter of battle plate coming down the slope from his so far unseen company.  Everything was positioned as he had planned, his plan would work perfectly.

“Swords and Bolters brothers!  For the Lion and the Emperor!  ATTACK!” He called into the vox, ordering the Repulsors over the ridge.

“Repent, for Tomorrow you Die!” Intoned his company as they crested the ridge and opened fire.  Trusting Lieutenant Nabbuk to direct the Repulsors guns he watched his company fight through the vehicles auspex array.  The veteran marines fought flawlessly.  Covering each others reloads, blasting down any targets that moved to threaten them, pressing back the shrinking company with a hose of fire.  The larger guns of the Primaris blasted holes in the ranks of their enemies but their fire was uneven.  Reloads weren’t timed, targets were selected, but fire was not maintained well.  The bikes gunned from around the far end of his line and the screaming engines of his assault squad and Inceptors striking deep in the entrenchments beyond, preventing them from reinforcing the devastated company caught out on the slopes.

“Forward, Mount up and move to your beacons!” called Cain, rapidly selecting positions at the edge of the trench line.  His own vehicle had nearly reached what remained of the traitors lead company and he ordered a door open, throwing himself out, plasma pistol already firing as his auspex sought targets worthy of its fury.  Two shots blasted melta-gun carrying troopers from a throng around a heavily ornamented officer.  With a guttural growl he lunged forward, drawing back his power fist and caved in the whole side of the enemy commander’s body.  Around him Chaplain Zadok and Lieutenant Nabbuk swung into the fight, precise blasts of fire shattering the bodies of those too far to be reaped by their energised blades.

He glanced down at the battle array cast on the backside of his gorget, showing the state of his troops and the enemy.  Pale red icons flew away down the slopes, shattering and dimming while his assault troops drew in the bright red of the next enemy company in a ring facing away from his men.  Again the Rhinos and Razorbacks were already slamming into position with abandon, the troops spilling out blasting fire while the Repulsors again lagged behind.

His own command vehicle belched fire, trying to carve a gap through to the beleaguered assault elements, wide to the left the bikes cut another furrow in the enemy lines, while to his right Bors made his firepower felt, Hellblasters, Missile Launchers, Plasma Cannons, and Lascannons from the heavy guns simply tore open one side of the ring, as well as shattering several field guns that had been slewing around to fire on the marines.

The Guard reeled in shock at the massed firepower and the veteran squads didn’t give them even a moment to recover, throwing themselves in with abandon, the Primaris behind them throwing themselves in with no hesitation.  Cain caught brief glimpses of his exposed assault element, seeing his Inceptors blasting back any threat to his assault troops, while the screaming chainswords wreaked havoc on the bodies of those near the more conventional assault troops.  The bikes circled clear beyond the ring, racing to an unseen command post and the whine-Bang of teleportation announced the Deathwing arriving at the Ravenwing’s beacons.

The vox came to life again a rich contralto calling “At them Skaggerak!  Into the traitors!” and further to his left, two companies of loyal guard raced forward in Chimeras, supported by Leman Russ tanks.  He could see Colonel Peaks, her short hair waving in the wind as she sat high in the cupola of her command vehicle.

“Bors, bring your element forward, we need to trap them from retreating!  Micah, Shamgar, get your Repulsors forward, get them behind the enemy flank to catch them as they flee.  Move!”

He continued to direct his troops through the desultory fighting that remained.  The traitors fell to the last man, his own losses were a couple dozen lightly wounded, 2 serious injuries and 2 fatalities.  He left Nabbuk to speak to Peaks, and set up security with the Ravenwing and Deathwing, meanwhile he called his squad leaders together to discuss the battle.

The Last Son of Caliban

Newly-Minted Master Cain strode down the hall of the Strike Cruiser Tempus Occidere in his simple robes.  Supreme Master Azrael, his features lined with the weight of centuries in command had just given him command of the 5th Battle Company of the Dark Angels chapter.  He was the first, and he was the last.

He was the first.  No other Primaris brother had ascended to command a company.  Some few had made it into the Ravenwing or the Deathwing, and Cain knew the reason.  He felt the distrust weighing heavily on him and on his brothers.  He knew the secrets the Dark Angels hid, and he and Azrael were working to break the self-destructive cycle of enforced secrecy and obfuscation.

He was the last.  Belisarius Cawl had intercepted him, one of the last recruits of the old Order, stolen for Cawl’s secret scheme, one of the precious few recruits that had escaped the secret rites of the Dark Angels even back then.  He had met Sar Luther, and even seen the Lion, alone amongst the Legion.  Alone amongst the Chapter.  He had been a mortal then, an initiate, not even an Astartes, and then as he slept he was stolen away, awakening ten millennia later to a galaxy shattered, promises broken, and a legion that mistrusted him.

To the Primaris he had been a symbol.  A guidon leading them through the cold distaste of their introduction, a living banner of what the Primaris could be.  Eventually he proved himself in battle and became a squad leader, then a Lieutenant.  He was one of the first to join the Ravenwing, a small, ad-hoc group of Inceptors joining the hunt.  Eventually he had ascended to the Deathwing.  His bone-white Aggressor armor spitting unbridled fury at the discovery that so many that had joined with him had turned traitor.  Indeed when he had gained permission to access what records they had he found that none of the recruits he had known had left Caliban.  All of them had been held there by Luther.  All had died as Caliban fell, or worse, joined the Fallen.

His stake in the Hunt was personal.  He had nearly petitioned to join the Chaplains.  Grand Master Sapphon had interviewed him and had informed him that he would make a great Interrogator-Chaplain, but his greatest gift was in command, and in command he should go.  Shortly thereafter Azrael had summoned him.  He had long known of Guilliman’s frustration that none of the Primaris had been given command in the Dark Angels.  He had received inquiries personally and was copied on others sent to Azrael.  Azrael had called him in alone, and met with him in his chambers, deep within the Rock.

Over wine and in the dim light of candles they had discussed long and deeply the frustration that he and the other Primaris had dealt with.  Azrael had been direct.  His questions blunt, even cutting, but never harsh or cruel.  Finally he had opened up.  He had admitted his frustration at the attitudes within the Chapter, within the Unforgiven as a whole.  He knew that their secret must be held, not for the secret itself for every legion had had traitors, but for the acts they had committed in covering them up.  Eventually they must come forward, admit what they had done, but they needed one last Crusade.  One mighty victory to show that their sins had been worth it.

Cain and the Fifth would lead that Crusade.  Tempus Occidere had been loaded with every sort of weapon and vehicle.  The entire Fifth Company was mechanised with transports and tanks.  Squads, bikes, and even aircraft from the Deathwing and Ravenwing had been attached giving Cain more strength than any two line companies normally held.  Even more proof of Azrael’s trust, he had been reinforced further with vehicle crews being assigned from the Marines of the 7th and 9th companies, rather than providing his own vehicle crews, this left all his squads at full strength even with the vehicles attached.

Tonight the Tempus would launch, on a course known only to Cain and the navigator.  Tomorrow he would brief his officers, and then… To the hunt!

Note – This is, of course, not canon.  I’ve given a lot of thought to how the Primaris would be integrated into the Dark Angels.  It’s a sticky problem, but a fun one, and the characterization of Azrael and his feelings about the curse of the Unforgiven is nearly entirely my own creation, although not an unreasonable one.  

Swamps of M’Boto: Of Arms and Armor

The Angels commanders entered Colonel Akinye’s tent, the Colonel and his staff were already standing.  The staff braced to attention and the Colonel bowed low and made the sign of the aquila.

“Welcome Master Balthasar.  We are honored you have returned.”  He said, with a vague questioning tone.  “We were just planning the defense of the positions you captured.  Without your astartes we wouldn’t have had a chance to hold them, but we would have fought as long as we stood, then fought on on our knees, and then fallen forward to fight in the prone!”  He raised his fist in a triumphant pump, not noticing that his speech had done little to brace the spirit of his staff.

“Well Colonel, now we are back and I doubt that will be necessary.  Have your soldiers guard the woods to the north of the position my demi-company secured several days ago.  We will secure the hill and the trees beneath it.  And try not to give too many speeches to the men.  Few words, but heartfelt is best.”  Balthasar said.  He heard a distinct click as Maccabeus turned off his vox-speaker.

Balthasar inclined his head to the Colonel and turned to leave the tent.  As they walked out into the light of the twin moons, Maccabeus voice came up over the command channel.  “That idiot had as good as given in to defeat before the battle had started, and he was more than halfway to convincing his men that they were defeated before the fighting started.”

“Why do you think I told him to not give any more speeches Brother Chaplain.”

“I nearly choked when you did.  Have we a plan?”

“I expect the Xenos to come from the Northeast.  Mostly infantry, try to blast us off the hill.  Battlesuits and Hover-tanks will rush down the road between the trees and the hill.  My demi company will defend with the Razorback squads on the north side of the hill, the Devastators will guard the peak, I’ll be with the 5th and my command squad in the trees, and the assault squad will be behind the south end of the hill, ready to counter-attack in either direction, with our Ravenwing support close to hand.  These xenos are cautious  Their first attack will not be fully blooded.  The librarian and his terminators are aboard the ship if we need them.  You will take your demi-company north to back up the main line, but do not engage if you do not need to.  I want to be ready to counter attack, and we’ll want the full company for that.”

Balthasar shrugged his shoulders, rolling them around in his armor.  “Let us go to our camp.  The Colonel will hold the hill for the night and we will advance before dawn.  Have the weapons blessed and anointed with oils, debrief the brothers of the 7th, and let us prepare for battle.”

With that he strode off alone.  A pavilion had been prepared by the M’Boton Cheetas.  It was filled with all sorts of furs and luxuries.  Balthasar placed his weapons on the table, and carefully removed his armor.  The rack the M’boton troops had provided for it groaned under the weight but bore up.  Balthasar mused on this for a moment.  A portent he was sure, the men of M’boto might bend, might creak and shudder under the weight, but they would bear it.

His weapons he oiled, a fine Relic blade.  One of the last ever made on Caliban.  The low gothic runes spelled out “Arnot” on the blade.  The bluish-black steel shined under the oil.  To his hands it felt pitted, like a worn down mountain face.  He knew better than to test it.  Even without power the ancient weapon cut through astartes armor like paper, and even tanks suffered under the powered blade.  Reverently he placed it in the cradle on the rack.  He stripped down his bolter, chanting the ancient rhymes of maintenance, reverently oiling each piece and carefully replacing them feeling each action slide in perfectly. He wasn’t sure when his next chance to prepare would be, and he rejoiced in the simple, soldierly task in the simple white robe packed deep within his simple satchel of gear for campaigns.

his armor he carefully inspected and maintained.  Starting with the boots he scrubbed the mud and dust off, checking the hinges and joints, working up the greaves and knee pads, he checked the flex-joints for tearing.  He carefully inspected the symbols of chapter and company.  The banner bearing his own personal heraldry he unrolled and placed on its pole.  He finally hefted the breastplate of his armor and cleaned it  reverently.  Carefully polishing the edges he cleaned the plastron, and checked the lining on the inside, the tubes and hoses all connected, the connections cleaned.  Finally he cleaned the blade of the Dark Angels from handle to hilt, and then the wings of the Angels and the Aquila.  Carefully he placed it back on the rack, listening to the groan as the grey wood took the weight.  He took a moment to admire the carving on the armor stand.  No simple piece, hastily assembled; it bore the marks of a craftsman.  Not an ornament for a kings hall, but a gift to a leader of warriors on campaign. He called the Chaplain one last time to check in, and, finding all to his liking he set his vox bead to wake him at any signal and cast himself on the cot carefully so as not to break it and let his awareness slip away.

Swamps of M’boto: The Return

“We are going back” Master Balthasar said.  His eyes hard on the Librarian.

“We are going back.  The Knights will take their cargo to the rock on the Strike Cruiser but we will remain here to ensure that nothing of this is spoken of where it shouldn’t be”

Balthasar glared at Herod.  The Librarian leaned back, his eyes taking a meditative cast “We will keep most of the Deathwing here, only the knights will return.  And the detachment from the 7th will be glad of the reinforcements.”

Balthasar turned his head, breathing deeply.  And again.  Focusing on the map his brain automatically created from the briefings sent from the planet below.

“Very well.  Detachment Abnell is holding the defensive complex we took a few days ago.  We will deploy there and strike the xenos through the woods to disrupt their lines facing the Guard.  I will have Captain Hanadan so inform General Middlebrooks immediately.  Will your Deathwing be ready within the hour?”

Herod nodded immediately.

“Very well, have them on the embarkation deck within the hour, we drop in sixty minutes.”  He paused to toggle his vox on “5th Company!  Gear for immediate deployment.  You have 50 minutes to be assembled by squads on the embarkation deck.  For the Lion and Caliban!”

50 minutes later, in the full panoply of war, Master Balthasar strode onto the embarkation deck.  Chaplain  Maccabeus stood at the head of the squads lined up, the vehicles were already attached to their Thunderhawks, the last of the chapter serfs fled the bay even as Balthasar crossed the threshold.  He marched to the lead Thunderhawk, then turned to his men as they stood fixed in their ranks.  “Brothers.  Embark!”

As one the assembled green troops turned and filed into the transports.  6 columns filled the dropships and vox clicks and chatter buzzed as squads and chalks checked in.

“Balthasar to all elements, final check”

“Squad 10, present and correct”

“Squad 9, present and correct”… and on until finally

“Chaplain Maccabeus, all squads are present and correct Master Balthasar”

“Brother Librarian is your element ready?”

“We are ready Master Balthasar, give the word”

“The word is given.  Captain Hanadan, open the doors and launch the Thunderhawks!”

With that the door lifted, ponderous and slow, yet smooth and the Thunderhawks lifted as one, arrowing out into the inky blackness, and turning in the double v formation that would drop them in their two demi-company groups, even as the Blade of Judgement fired her main engines to depart the system with her precious cargo.

The Thunderhawks dropped, thrusting hard even with gravity pulling them down, like homesick children desperate for the embrace of their family.  The Dark Angels were returning to war.

Swamps Of M’boto

3 Weeks prior to the battle.  Departing The Rock the Strike Cruiser Blade of Judgement climbed away, pushing towards M’boto.  The engines grumbled deep within the hull as the troopers and their naval serfs secured gear.  Master Balthasar and Chaplain Maccabeus sat in the strategium with a chart of the company hovering between them.

“Master Balthasar, I understand we haven’t been brought fully up to strength, I have to question leaving our Tactical squads so understrength.”

“Brother Chaplain we have been over this.  We could either leave every squad understrength, and risk our assault squads being short in the press, or our devastator squads short of ammunition, or we can take advantage of the Techmarines offer to grant us the use of the Razorbacks to make up the firepower our tactical squads are missing for want of battle brothers.  Now, let’s go over how we will deploy. I will take the odd squads, 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, two of the Ravenwing squads, and you will have the even squads, as well as the land Speeders.  Brother Librarian Herod will be in support, but he has his own mission and will decide which of our demi-companies he will support according to the dictates of his mission.”

“I would be more comfortable knowing more about his mission, Master Balthasar,”

“I know Maccabeus.  We believe several rebel humans have joined with the Xenos.  The Librarians and Deathwing have specific orders regarding that.  That is all you need know and more than would be wise to share, even with your sergeants.  Now, you have two full strength tactical squads, an understrength squad with a Razorback, and a full strength Assault and Devastator squad.  I will have two understrength tactical squads and one full strength.  We have enough Rhinos to transport all the Devastators and Tactical squads, and of course the Razorbacks, I will have the company command group with me, and Brother Maimonades has scared up another razorback for us.  I’m assuming you will draw a jump pack to join with your assault squad?”

“I will Balthasar.  I would like to try to draw additional weapons for that assault squad?”

“I will have a word with Maimonades.  You need all the help you can get anyway.  Oh and the final detachment with us comes from the 7th company.  Brother Librarian Abnell is bringing a pair of tactical squads, as well as a predator, and a dreadnought.  Brother Maimonades will join him.  These squads have just been assembled, and Master Ezekiah was very strict telling us to keep our hands off of them.  I plan on leaving them aboard the ship, we don’t have transports for them, and until we have a secure base they would just slow us down.  Once we have a base we will deploy them to defend it and help us secure our links to the local defenders.”

“I concur.  I’ve had a few words with the serfs as well.  Maintenance will not be a problem, we have laid in a lot of stores, and Captain Hanadan laid in a generous supply of munitions to ensure we have plenty of time for training.  I do think we should include our brothers in from the 7th in this training, in case we do need to work with them, if that is acceptable.”

“You are just hoping they make your scores look better.”

“Nonsense Master, I’m hoping they provide camouflage for your own scores, they are slipping, probably under the weight of all that ego you carry around!”

“Hah.  Speaking of which we are due for live fire ourselves.  Tomorrow we brief the sergeants.  Remember, no word of the rebel humans unless Herod or I say so.”

“Of course” sighed Maccabeus.  He stood to leave, his robes whispering as he turned to the door.  Balthasar looked sharply to the corner where a small figure darted from sight.  As he stood he grumbled to himself “Must have a word with Herod myself.  The watchers have been restless…”