Category Archives: Last Son of Caliban
Master Cain had mustered the company. The Chapter recruiting base on Molov close by the Cicatrix Maledictum had become a major marshaling point. The 5th stood in ranks in the hard rain, under a dark sky shot through with the otherworldly purple and green light of the tear in space. Chaplain Zadok brought his fiery harangue to a thunderous crescendo, extolling the virtues of the company and demanding more of them in the upcoming battles.
Nearly a quarter of the men in ranks were new to the company. More than a dozen dead, another bunch rotated to serve as vehicle crew or replacements to other companies, or to serve in the Ravenwing. In the ranks the new members stand at the end of their squads, their armor freshly repainted with the markings of the 5th. The rain washing down them, sleeting from the heavens made them appear as weeping statues. The puddles shook. a tremor washed over the company.
Master Cain spun, his senses pointing him directly to the source. Through the weirdly lit gloom a hulking shape approached, the full-throated, brassy notes of warhorns. A Crusader-Class knight, in black and bone. And what appeared to be deep green.
“Oh no” breathed Bors over the company vox.
Cain focused and a burst of lightning highlighted the name “Broin” on the knight as it came close, still half a kilometer away it towered over the vehicle park as it tromped forward between the lines of vehicles as if they stood honor guard for him.
The company stood, still and silent, facing away with perfect discipline. Cain admired them for that. Still he could feel every pair of eyes in every helmet straining to see the sight. Most knights walked with a noble gait, this one tromped with intent, but no grace. “Bors, what do you know”
“If this is the Broin I know this will be a trial, master.”
Cain looked at his Lieutenant, his hammer twitching in his hand.
“Is he that bad Bors?”
“He is a fine warrior, but if he was a tenth the warrior he thinks himself to be we could take up farming, or embroidery.”
As Cain stared at Bors, trying to detect any trace of falsehood in his odd comment, the Knight swung ponderously around behind the Chaplain, taking the place of honor as if to address the company. The horns sounded, deep and thunderous.
“Warriors of the First Legion” bellowed the speakers on the knight. “Congratulations on your fortune this day! Today you join forces with the glorious Broin the Mighty!”
Cain looked on in amazement. He could hear vox-clicks from his sergeants and Chaplain Zadok’s vitals were spiking.
As Broin’s speakers cut in to continue his speech, Master Cain stepped forward “Broin, we of the First Legion greet you. Tonight my Lieutenants, Bors and Nabbuk have prepared a feast, in your honor. We look forward to hearing your tales and to working with you. For now we must prepare for tomorrow’s embarkation!”
Bors looked at him, hate seething off him in waves. Even the unflappable Nabbuk seemed bemused. Cain clicked over to the command vox. “Seat him between Joab and Uriah. Adjust the tables so our head table meets at an angle to theirs at the front of the hall. We must not insult our new ally.”
“-and I look forward to our feasting and fighting as glorious brothers!” Broin was finishing even as Cain re-enabled outside audio.
The knight stomped away, to the head of the vehicle column, where a support crew in black livery waited to aid him down. Bors voiced a thought that clearly troubled him “Why is his livery on his shield so close to ours? Before it was simply halved, now it’s quartered with our green, though not quite the company pattern.”
Zadok sighed “I suspect it is one of Sapphon’s little games. He likely sent him the information on our company and suggested he incorporate pieces of it. He seems to enjoy… pushing decorum at times. See how we react. Testing us.”
“This will test us. Master, with your permission I’d like to head over with Nabbuk and prepare room at the feast.”
“Of course, Bors. I will see you tonight. See if they have banners or such to hang for the feast as well.”
“Of course.” Bors and Nabbuk saluted and stalked away, bristling with rage.
Bors barreled his way through the hallways of the Chaos-infested ship. The mockery of his Imperium fed his rage and the massive thunder hammer in his hand provided his only outlet. He smashed at the thralls and traitor marines with equal abandon, the cataclysmic smashing of his weapon echoing on the bare metal. Behind him, the inceptors of Sergeant Uriah towered, their massive armor letting them see clean over their smaller brother, and their twin assault bolters hammered any knots of resistance, paving the way for the white-hot fury of the Lieutenant.
Bors lived two lives on the ship. At once the winged angel of vengeance, hammer and combi-melta dealing out potent justice to the traitors and at the same time a detached, brilliant commander of half of a company of the Emperor’s finest. Swiftly he pushed his force along, corralling the enemy into a trap to be sprung at the perfect moment. Bors knew in his hearts that the 5th was his. He had served in the Ravenwing and the Deathwing, rising to be a sergeant in the Deathwing Knights, he had been on the cusp of rising to be the Master of the 5th when Guilliman had turned his interest to the Unforgiven and asked very pointed questions that had changed everything. He did not blame Master Cain or Supreme Grand Master Azrael. He knew the pressures and demands both worked under, and he was not a weak mind to suffer jealousy. He served his Master and his Legion to the limit of his abilities, and his limits were very high indeed.
He checked the position of his demi-company one last time before plunging down a side passage. Scattering the thralls and crew of the ship they broke onto a gantry overlooking a wide gallery. Behind him the Inceptors stomped around to cover the other entrances with their rapid fire, short ranged assault bolters. The smaller Astartes tactical squads and Primaris inceptor squad in the demi company lined the railing, while the two Devastator squads lined up on either side of the Lieutenant. One of the devastator squads carried the Plasma Cannons so beloved by the Dark Angels. The other carried missile launchers and Multi-Meltas. They stood at the inboard bulkhead, facing down at the back of the bulkhead of the room just inboard of the rest of the company.
“Fire” ordered Bors over the Vox. The powerful melta guns roared, missiles screamed from the launchers, and the bulkhead shattered under the assault. The Iron Warriors on the other side of the bulkhead were some of the toughest defenders, and most determined attackers, of all the astartes created, but they didn’t shift between plans easily. Undisturbed they could have mown down Cain’s company as they broke out from their lodgement. Now they faced heavy weapons in superior position thanks to Bors swift assault. They began to move, but the rest of Bors strike force got in a massive first salvo. The Plasma guns launched blue bursts of starfire while the Bolters and Bolt Rifles of the marines lining the sides engaged targets bereft of cover, many still facing the wrong way.
Another roar announced that Master Cain had launched his breakout. Bolter and Plasma Incinerator fire smashed into the barricades, forcing the Iron Warriors to hug their fragile shields or risk a certain death. A monstrously huge traitor legionnaire, with an armature similar to a techmarine bellowed and gestured, physically dragging some of his men into a makeshift line to offer some opposition to Bors’ fire. The Iron Warriors shook off their stunned surprise and while some executed the old plan, pouring a withering fire into Cain’s troops, still hidden by the remains of the bulkhead the rest brought their weapons to bear on the more vulnerable devastators, whose lighter armor and less resilient bodies could take far less punishment than the newer Primaris.
“Uriah, follow me! Jubal, Zebediah, cover the doorways. For the Lion! For the Emperor!” he barked brandishing his hammer before igniting his jump pack to launch himself into the enemy leader. He felt the massive impact of the inceptors as they rode their own columns of blue flame to the lower level, trying to unseat the enemy before they could truly settle in. Bors swung his hammer down even as he landed, catching the traitor Warsmith on his knee, shattering it and his lower leg. The veteran of the long war didn’t flinch, the long mechanical arm on his back grabbed the wing on Bors’ assault pack shoving him back while the chainaxe the warrior carried swung in a brutal arc. A quick mental command from Bors unclipped the ornamental wings and he ducked the axe, losing half the back of his helmet to the close call. Stunned a moment he still rolled with the blow and came up swinging, pulping a hand of the traitor before standing with a flourish, with a brutal, simple waist high uppercut swing, smashing under the armpit of his enemy. The thunder hammer discharged, shattering armor and ribcage as the traitorous leader exploded in a shower of viscera and armor.
Even as his opponent fell he grabbed his combi weapon from the mag lock on his thigh and vaporized the head of a Iron Warrior lining up on Master Cain, leading a rush of intercessors and Assault Marines to try to unify the company. Within moments a flurry of blades and bolter fire the company stood together.
“Master Cain” Bors intoned with a bow of his head.
“Brother. You and your men take the honors today I think.”
Lieutenant Nabbuk walked up, still punching information into his arm computer. “Master, Lieutenant, we have accounted for nearly two hundred and fifty traitor astartes, and at least a thousand thralls. Assuming this ship lost some men on the planet I do not think they have more than 50 astartes on board, and we can sweep the thralls away with small arms. Might I suggest we cripple the ship before withdrawing?”
Cain looked at him, then at Bors. “Lieutenant, your team will hold here. I will be with you, but I’m giving Sergeant Uriah to Lieutenant Nabbuk. He will take the other strike force to the engine room to rig demolition charges. When they are on the way back your force will extract by Thunderhawk, there should be enough time for a round trip that will let the entire force extract smoothly.”
Bors looked at the Master for a moment, then at Nabbuk before nodding and going to order his troops into position to cover the bridgehead. Bors knew he had led his men that day and many others, and that Nabbuk must prove his mettle, commanding without close supervision if his men were to trust him, and even a mission against the light opposition expected would give the much less experienced officer some seasoning.
As the reinforced strike team marched aft Bors knelt behind cover, popping off his savaged helmet. Not seeing Master Cain approaching.
“Are you wounded brother?” asked the Master, not used to seeing any of his men unhelmed in a combat situation.
“No, master, not a hair on my head is disturbed.”
“… You shave your head brother.”
“Then I do not lie. That traitor nearly tried to get at the ones still below the skin though. Another centimeter or two and he might have found a way to make me a liar.”
Master Cain shook his head. The sons of the Lion did not offer much humor, and it seemed jarring when it happened. Indeed Bors reminded him much of the sons of Russ he had served with amongst the unnumbered sons. Looking over the hastily established, nearly impregnable defenses Bors had established he could hardly argue he was any less than a full Son of the Lion, as he continued to prove with every plan, with every battle, with every duel. The heavy weapons had commanding fields of fire, yet were well protected by barricades. Their blind spots, the few that existed, were overlooked by full squads, ready to catch anyone trying to sneak up on the big guns in a hail of bolter shells. In the back of the defense, sheltered in a large barricade were a squad of veteran astartes, carrying a meltagun, and Sergeant Elias, who for this battle had brought a grav gun and power axe of his own. Cain already knew that if any attack threatened to break the line Bors would lead this force into combat, the small group carrying far more firepower than their numbers would indicate, and the acumen of the two leaders would see it employed to the fullest.
Champion Joab stood, unmoving, at the very forefront of the boarding torpedo. Already he pressed against the harness locking him in place, the front of his helmet nearly kissing the blast panel that separated him from the potent melta-charge ready to bore a hole through the hull of their target. His right hand held a massive blade from ancient Caliban. His left a shield, blessed and carefully worked, incorporating a heavy bolt pistol enabling him to vent his fury even outside the press and cut of melee.
Joab epitomised the Astartes of the Fifth in a way even Bors couldn’t. Bors outpaced them, faster, tougher, smarter, he eclipsed them clearly, almost as much as their new Primaris brothers. Their soul rested with Ancient Uriah, his banner as much a part of him as his heart or his black carapace. Joab was their avatar. The incarnation of their combative spirit.
Outside the Deathwing, the Dark Angels bore a reputation as a stolid, conservative fighting force, a moving wall of firepower, reducing their enemies to ash as they implacably advanced, or a perfect bastion of defence, sweeping away any who dared take the offensive against them. While there was truth to this, it was not the whole truth. The Dark Angels could eagerly take the offensive, unleashing devastating firepower and crushing close quarters attacks with more than the Deathwing. They lack the primal lust for carnage of the Blood Angels or the Space Wolves, or the preternatural stealth of the Raven Guard, but their tactical precision and tightly controlled fury, properly channeled, gave them their own unique flair for close combat.
Joab didn’t move. Didn’t fidget as many warriors, even Astartes might do before battle. His blade pointed straight down by his leg. His shield held at an angle, covering his body, ready to snap into aim should a target present himself. The only sign of incipient combat came from the aura around him. The air around him seemed hot and close, even in the chill atmosphere the Dark Angels preferred for their ships. The first warriors behind him seemed almost to undulate, first leaning into their idol, then away from his towering contempt and rage.
Cain stood behind the honor guard selected by Sergeant Shamgar. The Primaris didn’t know what to make of Joab. The torpedo rocked to the rhythm of the incoming fire. The rest of Shamagar’s men stood behind Cain. Sergeant Shamgar had been ordered to the “slack” position at the rear, charged with ensuring no opening was left unguarded, no opportunity missed in the first flurry of combat.
The odd, warbling, hollow peal of the warning bell sounded, cutting through the noise of the torpedo. Cain and Shamgar both intoned “10 seconds to launch.”
Joab didn’t move. The rest of the boarding squad braced, even Cain, veteran as old as the metal of Caliban in Joab’s hand unconsciously braced himself against the unimaginable force.
Some fraction of eternity later a hammer of force smashed the torpedo free of its launch tube. Joab didn’t move. Sensors and relays embedded in the hull of the torpedo gave them information. Peleg had pressed close, every torpedo carried an unbelievably precious cargo and Peleg had sacrificed greatly among her ship and crew to ensure they struck home. Scarce 10 seconds from launch, within seconds of the torpedo’s engine guttering out the bell pealed again.
“FIVE SECONDS” called Cain, even his normally controlled voice pitched louder as combat neared. The party leaned into their harnesses, preparing for the immense crash as the torpedo struck.
Joab didn’t move.
The light cut out and suddenly Joab’s sword was point up, so fast a soft crack cut through the cacophony of battle. A moment later the small torpedo struck the Iron Warriors cruiser, burrowing deep before the melta charge burned through As the panel disintegrated, cut to shrapnel by precise charges, Joab, unleashed, raced into the confusion.
The two Iron Warriors in the room never stood a chance, even the stolid sons of Perturabo took a moment to recover from the catastrophic blast of a boarding torpedo. Ignoring the few surviving mortals Joab ran his blade under the arm of one, the point emerging from the other as he finally triggered the generator of the relic power sword, the initial energy discharge detonating the chest cavity and armor of the millenia old warrior he had just reduced to gore and scrap. The bolt pistol in his shield barked twice, reducing the unhelmed head of the other Iron Warrior to a gory wreck before the first Primaris lifted a foot to join him.
Within moments the squad flooded the chamber, combat blades and boots silencing forever the mortals still struggling to comprehend the calamity that had befallen their fortress in the void. Beacons bloomed as the rest of the boarding parties reported and Joab turned to follow the icon Cain had selected as the rally point for the party. A large gallery that each team should be able to reach quickly. Shield raised to just under his eyes, blade up and back, ready strike Joab ran the corridors as if he’d lived a lifetime in this ship.
Joab flowed down the corridors his legs a blur, his upper body rolling in the graceful rhythm of a swordsmen, always in perfect balance over his hips. They erupted into the first blocking position the Iron Warriors tried to put in their way, almost a score of veterans of the long war, hastily but precisely building their defense. They were not set when Joab erupted into their midst. His blade flickered and danced, he moved with precisely controlled violence, denying the Iron Warriors a chance to fire at the Primaris emerging behind him while opening precise lanes for the Primaris to lay down the withering fire of their Bolt Rifles. Any Iron Warrior hefting his bolter found himself using it to fend off a blade, anyone reading a blade found himself exposed to the fire erupting down the passage.
Suddenly an eruption of violence throws the Primaris back. A champion of the Iron Warriors and his escort bursts in from a corridor, throwing back the two Primaris covering that corridor. One crumpled, a giant power axe cleaving deep into his chest and erupting from his back. A shower of gore exploded through the room as the top of his torso flopped loosely, held by a shard of armor and a flap of flesh and gristle. The other warrior went down grappling with his assailant, combat blade and chainsword cutting at adamantium armor. The other Iron Warrior came at Cain, his Plasma pistol scorching deep into Cain’s shoulder pad, he felt the burn on his flesh underneath, smelled the charred flesh. He caught the Power Axe as it swung down on him, enfolding its haft with his power fist and snapping it. Cain jammed his own pistol under the chin of the Cultist Astartes and pulled the trigger.
Joab turned from his last victim and brought his blade up in swift salute to the traitor champion. Snapping the blade down he hefted his shield, angling it precisely. The Iron Warrior brandished his own blade. “IRON WITHIN, IRON WITHOUT!” he bellowed and swung his blade down.
Joab leaned to one side, catching the hook of the axe with the top of his shield and hooking the champion forward. His own blade cut down sharply, cutting deep into the thigh of the warrior under the armor. Strangely orange blood showered the deck.
“Blood within, scorn without!” called Joab, spinning around, hauling the axe down with his shield and decapitating the champion with a single, swift blow.
“Master Cain, Strike Force Bors requesting a landing beacon. Our escort is heavily engaged and we cannot remain in the defense envelope of the cruiser much longer.”
Cain focused on the overlay a moment. His force stood less than 30 meters from the rally point, the other boarding squads already occupied it. “Bors, they will counterattack momentarily. Breach the hull here,” he caused a beacon to blossom on a higher deck. “And bring your firepower to bear on them in the galleries inward and below your entry point.”
Joab stood still as a statue by the corridor forward, Shamgar and two of his squad stood at the rear. “Onward brothers, it will not be long before the Iron Warriors attack our lodgement. We will form the shield for them to strike, Bors will be the hammer to shatter their forces.” Without cheer or exaltation, Joab swung into motion, leading them into their fortress.
Habbakuk sat in his quarters, looking at the dagger before him. The dull green glow of the stone in its pommel seemed improbable coming from such an ill-cut lump. The stone looked like it had been shaped with crude stone tools, yet it still glowed, even in the dull candlelight of Habbakuk’s quarters. Interrogator-Chaplains lived in quarters far less spartan than the humble cells most of the Dark Angels brotherhood lived in. Their role as both spiritual leaders, and guardians came with many trappings, some easy to understand, some far subtler. Habbakuk hated the banners and the books. Habbakuk hated the litanies and the lies. Habbakuk hated the traitors and the easily led astray. Habbakuk hated everything except the pure, clean truth. But Habbakuk understood the need for shields between the true horror of the Fallen and the unprepared minds of his brothers. He hated their weakness, but he understood their potential. Habbakuk led them in the litanies he despised, steeling them that they might ascend to a higher understanding.
He contemplated the dagger. A weapon of old earth, brought to Caliban and saved from the wreckage of Caliban’s destruction by the watchers in the dark. The Khazd had crafted the stone in ages long forgotten. Habbakuk knew that if he picked up the blade the stone would glow even brighter, responding to the strength deep within him despite its humble-seeming carving. The Khazd must have been master craftsmen, but according to the documents that went with the stone they had been weak. While commissioned to place this stone and other great ones into a necklace they had tried to steal it from a great king of the Telar resulting in a great war. The necklace had been lost but the stone recognized when discovered in the early days of the Emperor’s reign. A thing seemingly crude, yet possessed of a subtle strength it carried a powerful message. One which Habbakuk wished to use.
Every warrior of the Dark Angels possessed a reliquary of weapons. From the humble Neophyte with his noble bolter and simple carapace to Supreme Grand Master Azrael with an arsenal fit to arm a full company in splendor, the warriors of the First venerated the instruments of war, and Habbakuk was no exception to the rule. The Inquisitor-Chaplain had fought for decades before ascending to the chaplaincy, and decades more before taking up the keys and blades of an Interrogator. He brought with him weapons, armor and artifacts dating back to the dawn of the Empire and before. Not to bear to war, his wargear he kept simple, but to use as tools in his quest to save the Unforgiven.
The door chimed as Master Cain requested entry. Habbakuk signaled assent and the door slid aside with a soft chuff. Rising to his full height the Interrogator refused to look up at the towering figure before him. “Master Cain, you have come into much knowledge that we guard most jealously.” He paused a moment. “We protect the spirit of our brothers most zealously” he spat out in a voice suitable to grind rocks.
Master Cain looked back impassively. Looking at the glowing coals of Habbakuk’s eye slits. Even here in his quarters the Interrogator Chaplain sat prepared for war. As if sensing the Master’s thoughts Habbakuk went on, grinding out the sentences. “You must guard this information well, yet use it. You must guide your brothers and your warriors, prepare them for their own day of enlightenment. Grand Master Ezekiel and I hunt the Fallen. You carry out your mission and help us guard the secret. That is all you must do. That is all you shall do.”
Master Cain glared into the lenses, his presence potent. Habbakuk ignored it as a boulder ignores a wave crashing over it. In a flash Habbakuk snatched the dagger by the handle, flipped it and hurled it at the Primaris. Keyed up by Habbakuk’s hostility the Master snatched the dagger by the blade even as its tip pricked his chest. Only his arm had moved, his gaze still locked on the black avatar of hate before him, he lifted the dagger to look at it before unfreezing to examine the beautifully crafted weapon, and the brilliant gem in its pommel.
“This is Nargond’s dagger. The stone comes from old Earth, the blade from Caliban. It has two loyalties, two homes. It serves one Master. Contemplate it as you master your new duties. That is all.”
Interrogator-Chaplain Habbakuk paced his small cell. Behind his quarters stood four Deathwatch members in full battleplate, Thunder hammers charged, storm shields crackling. Two faced Habbakuk, two stood at their backs, facing into the cells. The 5th company patrolled the planet below, each squad scouring sectors long since cleaned of foes, pushing them hard while Habbakuk and Ezekiel struggled to explain the disaster unfolding before them.
“It cannot be coincidence Master Librarian. Someone must have orchestrated this. How else could the Fallen have sent one of their own, one who knows the Company Master sent on this mission here before he was even assigned to command OUR mission. There is treason at work! I must be free to interrogate BOTH of them. You must grant this, yes and bless it!” he growled. His basso voice grinding in the stonework and metal of his quarters on board the Tempus Occidere.
“Must Inquisitor-Chaplain? I was not aware that an Inquisitor-Chaplain could tell the Grand Master Librarian, the Holder of Keys, and the bearer of the Book of Salvation what he must do when it comes to the fallen. I grant that you have your own expertise. In fact I requested you specifically when Grand Master Sapphon presented me with his choices to accompany us. But do not think that my support for you means you can tell me what I must do. Interrogate the Fallen. I will question Master Cain. To date he has done nothing himself warranting suspicion beyond admitting knowing our wayward ‘brother’ and he has been very forthcoming with that knowledge himself. When you are done with your prisoner we will question Cain together. QUESTION I say. Remember, it was only by his actions that this Fallen was captured by us. Develop your questions and we will ask, ASK them.” Ezekiel said. He stood motionless before the door to the quarters, as still as Habbakuk was agitated in his pacing.
Habbakuk glared at his brother before jamming his helmet on sharply turning towards his cells he shouldered the gigantic Deathwing guardian aside as he went to collect his confession. Ezekiel watched him disappear into the soundproofed cell, then advanced himself down to the cell opposite it, where Master Cain waited, still in his robes as Master of the 5th Company, but nevertheless detained.
Master Cain stood in the empty cell. The unadorned room was designed to be uncomfortably small for an astartes so incarcerated. For a Primaris every dimension seemed downright torturous. Master Cain hunched over, the top of his spine pressed to the ceiling, along with his neck and the back of his skull. His arms folded across his chest as if he was totally at ease.
“Grand Master Ezekiel. We have had this discussion many times. I have told you what I know of my cousin. I have told you many things I am not certain of about my cousin. I have told you of my complete lack of knowledge regarding the Fallen. I have expressed my disappointment in so many… indeed practically all of those inducted with me if, IF what you have told me is to be believed. How long must I answer for the crime of capturing this Fallen for you.”
Master Ezekiel sighed. He knew the fairness of Master Cain’s questions. He understood the rage of betrayal hidden so long, exposed so suddenly. He knew equally that he could not free the Company Master to his duties, or even beyond these rooms until Habbakuk, Master Cain, and Ezekiel himself understood what exactly had happened, and how much they should tell the company. Ezekiel reached behind him, grabbing a pair of simple metal stools. Setting them in the room wordlessly they sat, so close their knees nearly rested in the other’s groin in the tiny cell.
“I cannot deny the truth behind your questions Master Cain. Nor will I try to. I can only defend them by saying this: The Unforgiven must protect our secrets, and honor, justice, and sometimes even the lives of our fellow servants of the Emperor must be sacrificed until we are certain these secrets are safe. We do not detain you because you deserve to be detained, but because we must isolate your knowledge from the company until we are certain what of it to share, and what to suppress.”
He paused. Master Cain stared at him for long minutes before nodding fractionally. “Now, and I hope this shall be one of the last, if not the last time. Tell me of your cousin, Japath.”
Master Cain’s eyes rolled back in his head a moment. His head hung briefly and a weariness entered his voice, even as he started repeating the story. “Japath was my father’s sister’s son. He grew up in my own household after his father perished, crushed under a tree during the great clearing to build armaments factories. We grew up from a young age, we had to work hard to help our family survive, even with the improvements the Emperor brought to our world. We were strong children, and faced the ordeal of the orders’ trials with eager anticipation.
When we were old enough we fought to go, my father wished to deny us but he had no right to do so, and we snuck away anyway. We made our way to the Order’s fortress and stood our night of vigil, silent, unmoving, feeding off each other’s strength. When the sun rose only four of more than one hundred boys remained in the field. The rest fell to weakness, of the mind or of the body. We passed through our trials and the screenings, and were about to begin the process of being transformed into astartes. At the end of the trials there were two nights of rest, separated by a day of meditation. During that day Sar Luther came where Japath and I were resting, meditating on the history of the Order. Behind him came a pair of metal men bearing the insignia of the mechanicum. Luther seemed greatly agitated. He questioned us, back and forth, probed our knowledge, tested our will. Japath challenged him. He answered with anger. Sar Luther didn’t respond to his anger, but soon after pointed at me. ‘That on’ he said. ‘That is the one the Lion will wish you to take'” Cain paused. Looked through the open door, at the closed one across the hall. “The Mechanicus adepts moved suddenly, instantly transitioning from still as statues to full speed they grabbed me with immense strength and ushered me out. They had a small ship, no more than a corvette, more like a courier ship, waiting to go. As soon as I was aboard I was placed in stasis. That was the last I saw of Japath.”
Ezekiel sat back, his hood low over his eyes. “Tell me of Japath. Tell me something about him. Not the dry history of how you came to wear the marks of our order. Tell me of your cousin the boy.”
Master Cain cocked his head. “The memories are not clear. The process of becoming a Primaris clouds our youth, much as the ways of becoming Astartes clouds your own.” He paused, weighing his words, gathering glimpses through the clouds of memory. “We had a pet. A bird of some sort. My sister. His sister? One of the other children living with us cared for it. The winter before we tested for the order the bird got out. The cold would kill it overnight. I thought it already dead the cold lay so heavily on us. The whole family huddled together under blankets. Japath couldn’t bear her moaning about the bird. He grabbed me by the collar. Dragged me from the pile. We went out together. We must have searched for hours. We found the cursed beast huddled in a nest of needles. It was shivering, not so lost to the cold that it couldn’t do that at least. Japath, he hated the thing. He thrust it at me, ‘Put it under your shirt Cain. I’m not warming the little shit up'” Cain smiled a moment. Slowly the smile slid to a grimace remembering how lost that boy was to him now. “He turned around looked back to where the snow had obliterated our trail and said ‘I hope you know where home is Cain. I found the bird, you find the house.’ He didn’t realize we’d gone out halfway to the manufactory and come near all the way back. He never could find his way in bad weather. I had us home in less time than it took me to tell you this story. When I handed… her… the bird she gave me all the thanks, and ignored Japath. I think that bothered him. I think it bothered him a lot.”
Ezekiel stayed in place, looking down, keeping the hood over his eyes. He stayed like that for a long time, not trusting his face to keep secret the thoughts in his head. Many stories of the Fallen and their history lay in the heavy book secured to his hip. None of them contained a tale like this. How to use it. How to turn it on Japath. “I think you have clarified things Cain. I must ask your patience a while longer. I will consult with Habbakuk, and with the Lieutenants. I think your little bird might just grant you flight from your prison.”
*NOTE, EARLIER SEGMENTS HAVE BEEN EDITED TO FIT WITH REVEALED DETAILS OF THE DA CODEX, CAIN WAS NEVER IN THE DEATHWING, AND DOES NOT KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT THE FALLEN*
Master Cain stood with the small coterie of commanders. Ezekiel, Habbakuk, Zadok, Bors, and Nabbuk clustered around him at the end of the column of burning vehicles and men. The rest of the company, under the supervision of their sergeants, dealt with the bodies and wargear, always alert for intelligence. Their calm, focused movements kept a wary distance from their quiet commanders.
“The traitor is near. We have his location approximated, and the hunters from the Ravenwing are covering his escape routes. We will soon be ready to strike. Lieutenant Nabbuk, Chaplain Zadok, you will each take a portion of the company to relieve our brothers at their blocking positions. Lieutenant Bors, you will take Jubal, Zebediah, Alameida, and the Librarian, and accompany Master Librarian Ezekiel, he will lead Sergeant Cole’s squad in the final strike on the traitor.”
Ezekiel nodded, his flesh and blood eye flaring, his crude implant sullen and red. “And where will you be Master Cain?”
“I will be with the command group, Chaplain Zadok has far less in the way of troops, so I will keep close to him in case of any emergency, as we discussed.” Bors shot a glance at Habbakuk. Habbakuk radiated a confident satisfaction. His face relaxed, even as his eyes danced over the other Primaris in the group. Cain looked them over, taking in the mood. “Our campaign is nearly finished. Zadok, Nabbuk, you will pit a cork in the bottle, Bors, you will flush it out. If any of you encounter trouble call out. I will bring the command group, and our Repulsor to your aid swiftly. In addition the Ravenwing has their bombers on call at a moment’s notice. Now go, assemble your troops, we leave in 10 minutes.”
“Chaplain Habbakuk, a moment of your time please.” Bors said, the Chaplain nodded, pulling the grizzled Lieutenant clear of the group. Bors took a few moments, voxing commands to assemble his convoy near their position, troops inside and ready to go. “Brother Chaplain, how much does Master Cain know?”
Habbakuk turned a bit, looking at the tall, powerfully built Master of the company. “He knows we face a traitor. He doesn’t know it is our traitor. We must, YOU must drive your force in, open a hole so that Ezekial and my forces can secure him and get him off world before any of our new… brothers are aware who it is we hunt. Stripped of his armor and drugged to his eyebrows we can pass him off as a Night Lord or a Black Legionnaire or whatever we want. You must drive HARD Bors! You must be the spear that pierces their defenses, you must blast a hole wide enough for the extraction team to drive them, and when they are there you must hold back reinforcements until our fallen brother is extracted!”
Bors nodded. He had been there when Astelan was captured, his own time in the Deathwing had been brief, his star ascendant, his own command near. Now things were less certain. Too many lights shining in too many places. He would not fail this charge. he would be the very tip of the spear, he would pierce the shield of the enemy’s defenses and form the wall preventing their reinforcements. He nodded sharply at the ominous Interrogator-Chaplain, even as they donned their helmets. “So be it. For the Lion.”
“For the Lion.”
2 hours later.
“All elements in position. Ravenwing team assembled, Assault team assembled. Lieutenant Bors, the order is yours.” Cain said, voice tense over the vox.
Lieutenant Bors looked over everything carefully, noting the position of the Ravenwing flyers, before calling out “Strike team, move to point Vengeance, for the Lion and the Emperor!”
The Predator spearheading the assault gunned its engine, close behind it Bors and the survivors of squad Jubal raced forward in their Razorback, twin assault cannons whirring as the gunner tested their servos eagerly. The rest of the vehicles raced forward with Sergeant Alameida and his hellblasters bringing up the rear in their massive repulsor. Behind the formation came the black Ravenwing, and Bone White Deathwing vehicles. Ominous shadows carefully pacing the coursing hounds sent to flush out their prey.
The predator’s autocannon barked fire, shells cracking into a Chimera staggering it before a lascannon blast shattered it. Troops spilled from the wreck straight into a stream of assault cannon fire the rest of the vehicles crowded in together, weapons firing feverishly, strobes of las fire, thudding assault cannons and autocannons as Bors directed the assault.
“Spread out, push them from their bunkers! Squads prepare to deploy. Alameida swing to the left to engage those weapon pits! Spread out by the Rock!” he called, voice pained by the close packed icons.
A tremendous concussion stunned the battlefield. Green vehicles rode the rippling ground as an earthshaker cannon fired at point blank range. Another potent blast went off inside Squad Zebediah’s rhino, turning the vehicle and its men into shrapnel and gore. Marines spilled from other damaged and broken vehicles.
“All squads assault into the bunker complex to our left front. Alameida clear those bunkers out! We will take them and open a hole for the hunters!”
“Lieutenant Bors, I am on the way to reinforce your position.” Called out Cain amid the vox-chatter.
Bors lept from his Razorback, ordering Jubal’s men forward with him. The marines went forward, bolters and melta guns firing, grenades arcing out in front of them, scouring the closest bunker and fiery balls of plasma from the hellblasters tore the roof off another. The marines dove into the bunkers, knives and bolt pistols blasting the few men still in them. The crippled Predator continued to fire, guns intimidating but not accurate after so many sensors had been blasted from its noble hull. The rest of the vehicles rested in sullen silence.
“Master Ezekiel, we have cleared the bunkers, if you move quickly you can get through to your prey!” panted Bors. “Chaplain Habbakuk, we have taken heavy losses, we could use your support holding the gap.”
“Negative, Chaplain push on, I will reinforce Bors.” called Cain. Bors looked back in shock. “Master Cain, please hold the perimeter. We can manage this, we cannot risk an escape by our foe.”
“Chaplain Zadok can hold in my absence. We will plug the line behind our hunters.”
Ezekiel called in to Bors on a secure channel. “This is acceptable. Keep him at your position.”
“Very well Master, home on my position, help us take the bunkers to our right.”
Bors set his squads in defensive positions in the bunkers, setting fire on nearby bunkers, suppressing them while the bone and black vehicles raced by. Master Cain’s vehicle came up, belching fire into the already weakened bunkers, finishing their defenders. Cain and his escorts dismounted, some clearing the bunkers, Cain observing the battlefield. The Earthshakers had been destroyed, the thin skinned vehicles less resistant to fire than even the Rhinos and Razorbacks they had ambushed. Ahead the sounds of combat dwindled a bit then flared suddenly.
“There! Heavily armed squads by that bunker!”
“I don’t see them…”
“Fire on the hedgerow”
“Swing to the left!”
“Call in the Black Talons!” so many calls from the normally quiet and reserved Ravenwing and Deathwing squads stunned Bors a moment. There was another crescendo of fire.
“There! Habbakuk to your left!” called Ezekiel, his soft voice suddenly strong, cutting through the chatter.”
“I don’t see him! Where?”
“Behind that Rhino! Ware right!” A loud explosion split the night and Bors could just make out a figure racing to a side path, away from the fight.
Bors suddenly looked further to his right. Cain’s Repulsor was nowhere to be seen. The 100 ton behemoth had glided off down the trail without him noticing.
“Chaplain Habbakuk, Master Cain has pushed forward!”
“Throne! We have to…” his channel cut out as a massive explosion shook the field. Silence reigned for a moment, as if ordinary sound was afraid to show its face following the staggering concussion. A fireball and cloud lifted over the field to Bors front.
“Master Cain! Master Ezekiel! Chaplain Habbakuk, report!” Called out Bors. Already he saw icons for the covering force moving towards him. Then the vox cut in.
“Hold traitor! Stand where you are!” Bors raced down the path towards the icon of the Repulsor tank, just in time to see a burst of gatling cannon fire rip through a knot of figures. One dove aside, rolling and coming to his feet with a speed and grace only possible to an Astartes. His black armor pocked by fire, smeared by smoke, he tried to evade, saw Bors and sprinted down a creek bed just in time to be tackled by the massive form of master Cain. The traitor looked like a teenager in the grasp of the massive Primaris marine. Still he fought back, kicking free a moment and drawing a knife, a wild feint and slash took both eyepieces off Cain’s helmet just as Bors sword crushed the traitor’s power plant deep within his backpack. Slowed by the loss of power to his armor the traitor staggered, face pale, dark hair flailing as he looked for some escape, he sat hard, thin face twisted in a wry grin.
Bors looked on, mind racing. “See Master Cain! The traitors even try to wear our old colors to sow confusion amongst our brothers!” Trying to get the idea planted before Cain could remove his helmet and take in the full scene with his own eyes. Before he could take a step and knock the traitor out cold Cain and the fallen locked eyes. Cain’s widened in shock and horror. The fallen chuckled.
“MASTER Cain? Lapdog to the Emperor after so long? He wheezed under the weight of his broken armor.
Lieutenant Bors eased himself up over shoreline. He could see the whole column, with the last gaggle of stragglers even with him. He triggered his vox bead. “Master Cain, they are all in the kill zone”
“Warriors of the Lion!” Came back Cain’s basso profundo. “Stand to, mark your targets, and deliver the Emperor’s Fury!”
Bors looked over the targets in his sector. With a few gestures and eye movements he cross loaded targets to the Devastators and Razorbacks under his command. The Tacticals he left to their Sergeants. He had the Inceptors under his command, he plotted their advance to an area ripe with soft targets for their massive assault bolters. He waited a moment, glancing over his shoulder to where Master Cain looked over the traitor line. The crack of an autocannon ahead jerked his attention back to his battlefield.
“Fire Brothers! Razorbacks, engage their tanks! Repulsor, support the Razorbacks! Jonah, kill the command vehicle.” He paused, firing a pair of bolt rounds, exploding a pair of troopers racing for cover. “Shamgar, Uriah, with me! Jubal, Barreto advance when we get to cover. Rhinos move up for close support.”
He leaped from cover, legs pumping as he raced ahead of the taller Primaris and cautious veterans. A keening roar announced the Inceptor’s of Uriah’s squad powering up their potent jump packs as they raced off to engage a company of infantry only now reacting to the explosion of violence behind them. The heavily armored Primaris Inceptors belched flame from their Assault Bolters and Jet packs both. Every shot fired by the traitors was aimed at them, and the massive slabs of ceramite protecting them shrugged off the fire. Behind this distraction Bors and the Primaris Inceptors dove into cover behind some sparse rocks halfway to the road. Their own bolt rifles and grenade launchers opened up. Balls of plasma raced past Bors as the Devastators engaged the light transports directly in front of him.
Bors barely noticed. The Inceptors drifted to their right, closer to Bors, drawing their targets towards the Dark Angels’ lines. Las Blasts and other infantry weapons pounded their armor but they seemed to be in little danger. The heavily armored 4th squad in their heavy Mk III Plate moved with deceptive stealth, taking advantage of every scrap of cover until they reached a cluster of rocks damming a creek giving them a protected position to lay heavy bolter and plasma fire into the flank of the lightly armed infantry assailing Uriah’s inceptors.
Bors looked over the line, firing automatically at any targets to his front. To his left he noticed heavy weapons deploying around the wrecks of several tanks. Threat beacons bloomed and he triggered his Vox on the command channel “Master Ezekial, target located, displace from my grid direction 330, range 250. For the Lion.”
As he finished a pair of lascannon blasts cracked through the air, pinning a pair of Inceptors with the savage power of their beams. “Uriah for the throne get your squad away from there.” Without an acknowledgement beyond their engines racing around his rear the squad moved to a new position.
Sergeant Barreto’s voice came up on the net “Lieutenant Bors, we will need fire support.” The dour sergeant had his squad’s Heavy Bolter engaging the heavy weapons but vehicles and more were assembling to attack the now exposed Angels.
“Deliverance is at hand brothers! INTO THEM! FOR THE LION AND THE EMPEROR!” The unrestrained call to close combat came not from Bors, but from Ezekial. The explosive crack of a teleport assault sounded as the glowing, golden balls of a teleport appeared nearly in the middle of the heavy weapons. The Deathwing attacked with a speed completely at odds with their massive armor. Storm bolters chattered their rapid fire, thunder hammers emitted massive cracks as they shattered men and metal with equal ease. Before the traitors could recover Bors and his troops crested the slight elevation of the road, their Rhinos and Razorbacks covering the marines taking positions among the wrecked vehicles. Bors pulled open the door of a command Chimera looking at the flaming hellscape within. Hearing a cough he shouldered the door wide. Reaching in he grabbed a portly man from under a seat. Dragging him free Bors caught the glint of the officers heavy rank insignia.
“What kind of little bird do we have here?” Bors said in a nasty sing-song voice. “Interrogator-Chaplain Habbakuk will have to see what kind of songs you sing little birdy.” He finished, bringing the pommel of his power sword around in a calculated blow to knock the struggling officer unconscious.
“Master Librarian, Master Cain, Master Habbakuk. I believe I have the commander of their trailing battalion. I don’t think we need many more prisoners.” He grinned in his helmet. A moment later Ezekial’s voice came back, cold and harsh. “Agreed Lieutenant Bors. The fewer traitors we capture, the fewer we will have to give the Emeror’s justice later.”
The tempo of the battle raced, a crescendo of noise as the angels of death, freed from any restraint, fell on the scattered, bewildered survivors.
“Master Ezekiel, we will not catch the one we seek in the first place they look. We have dispatched our interceptors around the planet, we have ordered a complete blockade of any ship not ours. They know us to be a zealous foe, let us use that against them and be methodical, as the Lion was. We will pen him in and run him down, but not if we rush in too fast.” Cain said, fixing Ezekiel with a piercing glare.
Ezekiel looked back for a moment. Fire burned behind his eyes, he looked deep into Cain’s, and Cain could feel the pressure of Ezekiel’s psychic power, not scanning him, but pressing, potent. “You are right Master Cain. We will be patient. Your feast was a success. The local troops are quite satisfied with the honors shown to them. They will need to be managed carefully in the upcoming campaign.”
Cain thought for a minute, breaking his gaze away and looking north, where the guard regiment was encamped. “They have been good and loyal allies. We do not want them to find out things they cannot be allowed to know.”
“Not only our allies. I know we must be careful, knowledge is a blade sharper than any carried by our men, but too much cuts the wielder. You will have to be careful how you allocate your men during the hunt Master Cain.”
Cain very pointedly did not look back to the encampment of the Dark Angels. the chapter serfs were moving equipment into the camp, battle brothers ensured that supplies were cached well. “I will need guidance for this Master Ezekiel. As Chief Librarian, your insight on my sergeants will be invaluable, as will Chaplain Zadok’s. I trust you both to aid me in selecting the right strike team for the final battles. In the meantime; we must plan tomorrow’s strike.”
Ezekiel nodded, and they turned back as Master Cain summoned the leaders of the company. Within moments they were gathered in the shadows outside the camp lines. The Lieutenants flanked Master Cain, the rest of the command group stood slightly to one side. The 12 sergeants stood on the other three sides of the flexible table set up with flimplast maps. Another innovation the electrically charged, rollable plastics could be loaded with maps and graphics, making campaigns and battles far easier to communicate. The warriors stood in their cream colored robes, the traditional candles provided more than enough light for their enhanced vision.
“Brothers, we must end this rebellion as soon as possible. The battalion we fought yesterday was utterly destroyed, tomorrow at dawn we strike the rest of the regiment. They will be advancing to relieve the battalion we destroyed today. They are not aware they have nothing to relieve. We will attack them as they march up. Doctrine for this planet is to start the advance an hour before dawn. We will move out directly after this briefing, placing ourselves to pierce their line of march and split their remaining force in two just as their lead elements encounter our loyalist regiment where they expect to find friends.”
“Our chief weapon is surprise. And a lot of firepower. There will be more than three battalions, one from an armored regiment in this engagement. We must break into them and destroy them as rapidly as possible. Be on the lookout for anyone rallying or organizing their defences. If you are unable to eliminate a threat, call on the Hellblasters or Devastators. We will sear these traitors from the planet. Remember as well that we have not fully rooted out the cause of this heresy. Capturing leaders where possible is authorized. Master Ezekiel and Brother Sergeant Cole will ensure we have the prisoners we need. Call out any likely targets and we will ensure they are brought to the Emperor’s justice. Now go, prepare, we move out immediately!”
Sergeant Zebediah stalked across the field. His squads flamer belched burning promethium over groups of traitor corpses. His men carried naked blades, plunging them into any body showing any hint of life, any sign of not being mortally wounded. Zebediah stepped heavily. Deliberately crushing the skulls of traitorous corpses. The vox chime was unexpected, but never a surprise. “Brother Sergeants, bring me an officer from the traitors if one lives. Ezekial has questions.” Zebediah looked around and gestured towards a knot of bodies a short way away. He looked over where a body groaned and closed with one step, plunging his blade clean through the top of the skull of the wounded traitor, his fist fracturing the skull when it made contact.
The knot of bodies had fallen around the command group. The officer were dead, but the vox-carrier still lived. His heavy, backpack-mounted vox unit had exploded, absorbing the bolt that had been meant for him, He suffered grievous wounds, and likely would not live. Certainly not without medical care he was unlikely to receive. Zebediah grabbed him and carried him indifferently across the field to where Master Cain and the company officers gathered around the Repulsor and Razorback they rode. Ezekial was among them, speaking quietly to Master Cain. Lieutenant Bors intercepted the Sergeant.
“What is this Brother Sergeant?”
“Vox officer, master lieutenant. Best we could find.”
“It should do. There has been a mortal sergeant wandering around. See that he doesn’t interfere with any of our men.” Bors said gesturing at a squad of guardsmen gathering weapons in the sector.
Zebediah gestured to his men to fan out in that direction; “It shall be done master Lieutenant.” They stalked off in that direction, their heavy battleplate amplified by deliberately careless footfalls. The Guardsmen looked up, the sergeant crossing the front of his heavily loaded squad as they gathered weapons and munitions from the dead.
“Master Astartes, thank you for your help on the field. How can my men assist you?”
Zebediah looked over the men. They were tired and worn. Most of them carried 4 or 5 weapons. One had a full carrybag of heavy weapons munitions. Lieutenant Nabbok crossfed him a sped up feed of part of the battle. Several minutes of combat played out over a span of seconds. Zebediah twisted off his helmet. “Rest a moment men. We will summon transport to help with your burdens. Sergeant Mawlon, you fought bravely. One of the enemy commanders charged your squad. You were outnumbered, outgunned, and poorly equipped for close combat. You stood your ground when a tactical displacement might have been called for.” Mawlon and his men stared aghast at this cold, dispassionate analysis of the chaos that had engulfed the battlefield.
“We weren’t going to run from those traitors Master Astartes” said the man after a moment. Finding his voice.
“Nor should you, fellow servant of the Emperor. When their commander charged in you met him blade to blade, impaling him on your bayonet before cutting down his guards in close combat. And each of you men accounted for several of the traitors today. For this you shall be remembered. Sergeant, show me your weapon.” The confused sergeant unslung his weapon. Cleaned of the muck of battle it gleamed dully. Sergeant Zebediah looked it over silently, before plucking a purity seal from his shoulder plate. He read it to the assembled men. ‘On this day, on this world I swear to fight the enemies of the Emperor, to purge their treason, to destroy their weapons and crush their spirit. To this matter and on this weapon I swear.’ Sergeant, you and your men fought to the oaths of an Astartes of the Dark Angels.” Speaking no further he took a personal flame unit from his belt, briefly heating the wax he affixes it to the casing of the lasgun. The ribbons and seal looked ordinary on a marine, on a mortal lasgun they covered nearly all of one side of the weapon. Stepping back, Sergeant Zebediah crashed his fist to his chest in salute, his squad matching the gesture. Carefully slinging the now treasured weapon, Sergeant Mawlon and his men made the sign of the Aquila across their chests in return.
“Thank you my lord. You do me and my men honor.”
“Honor comes to those who act in the Emperor’s name, and no others. When the transport gets here, load the wargear you have gathered into it and rest. Tonight you feast with the warriors of the First Legion.”
A short distance away Ezekial dropped the drained husk of the vox-officer. Looking to Master Cain he said “The one we seek is here. He leads the traitors. He will be watching for us now.”
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.