Dying candles had been lit in each crook of the chilled room.
Their luminosity was the only illumination to grace the Farseer’s face.
Vacant chimes of the bone-singers were distant from the isolated space.
Their hymns were the only inlet to dispel the pit of silence.
An anaemic, waning crimson sprit-stone was clasped in her soft hands.
Its power, pathetic as it may have seemed, stalled that vast barrenness within the red-eyed Farseer.
The chosen of Khaine lay lifeless and inert before her, quiescent upon a bed of finest white silk. He clutched the one weapon her forces had managed to bring back, a chakram that no longer buzzed with the Moon Howler’s physic power. But before the Farseer could touch it, the wraith-bone that the bed composed of inaugurated to deploy itself. It swelled and seeped through the broken fissures of his chunky and oversized power armour. It shrouded and consumed his vastness, that pale wraith-bone, gently cocooning that grey titan as a spider might wrap its web around its home. With each new flicker of the candles, a new portion of Half’s armour had swept under the sea of that pallid substance.
With one graceful movement of her right hand, she fixed the gem upon the forehead of the skull stuck upon his breastplate; it was only fitting, as Half had been a warrior of two races, little had he known of such destiny. But this fate was not one the Farseer had envisioned. Half had the power to save the Dragoons from the brutish Orks and with that other Chosen of Khaine, would have discovered the Third, who remained to be of mystery and concealment.
She had seen the trio re-create Khaine. Half would have been the one to lead Man and Eldar to a New Age of Peace. But such hope was gone, replaced by emptiness of despair...codex-black despair that rent her insides. Her scream silenced the chimes of the remote bone-singers, extinguishing the light of the candles of her collapse to the floor. Hot tears poured upon the young face of the lost Moon Howler. She wept until she was sundered right in two, hunched over the glowing scarlet insignia of the marine, long hair binding her gaze of the bright gemstone.
Through words barely tangible to distinguish in her ruined state she spluttered out;
“...this is...not how it was...supposed to be...my child...”
A torrent of emotions overwhelmed her.
She wept. She wept for a long time.
In the darkness she felt as if she had lost so much. So alone. Only accompanied by the echoes of her sorrowful sobs and the dying embers of her titanic child. Memories of his birth rippled through her mind, of how much pain she had felt when she abandoned him to Wulfaz to be reinstated by the Wolf Pack Chapter. Yet she put all her anxiety aside because of her vision. But the vision had broken, hope had faltered and the will to endure was fading.
Once the Farseer cried tearless, empty coughs, the Harlequin entered the floor of sorrow. Her mellow steps were not even heard on that plane of equanimity. The Farseer chanted softly, as a mother might to a dazing toddler, only now this lullaby was of bereavement and pronounced with as much grace as the harsh Westerly Wind in the darkest of winters:
“For in the black sea, you lay,
I am sorry my god, my lord Khaine,
For my golden child, is left grey,
I know my tears are, in vain,
For all my perception, now a haze,
For all my prescience, now a mist,
For all my prudence, now a shroud,
I know that my sight, is a curse,
Not even Isha’s tears, will, averse,
But I ask you Khaine, strike them down,
May the sky fill up, with their pain,
Kill that beast and shatter, his crown,
For my life is but, a ruin,
My life is forfeit, a given.”
The Seer forced her face into the fabric of the bed, holding the marine’s weighty right hand in her graceful fingertips. She respired lethargically yet with purpose, trying to recuperate her resolve in the face of affliction. The Harlequin extended over Half’s face and drew those eyelids over those chestnut eyes, as the song of the bone-singers echoed back into the room.
“What would bring you here?” The Farseer slowly questioned with an air of malice, “I said to be left alone. I have nothing now.”
“You have not lost...everything...Farseer,” That Dancer of Death counteracted with undaunted transparency, “The soul of your child was recovered long after his passing, not to be devoured by She Who Thirsts. The other Chosen-”
The Farseer rose in response, “Are you blinded by your Laughing God? My child’s soul is weeping away from his sanctuary and we do not have the resources to reach the Webway, as the Mon-Keigh fools have damaged our ship nearly beyond repair. Tell me of what hope still remains, Harlequin. My gaze failed us all, I should have intervened...I...”
“But the other Chosen still breathes air. He lives. There must be some reason in that. Why would destiny allow the Moon Howler to save the Dragoon?”
“I do not know Katt!” She roared, “But I know he is useless. A loose end. Without my son he is nothing.”
“He can’t wear-” Katt began.
“No, he cannot wear the Mask of Khaine. Only Half had the power to withstand the pressure of Khaine.”
“Are you certain?”
“I am certain, I know this-”
An angry tremor. The two of them were nearly swept off their feet.
Katt cried, “The Wolf Pack? But the Orks that were a distraction-”
“No, no, no!” The Farseer screamed, clutching the air with her fists.
“Farseer!” It was Alpha, the Exarch of the Striking Scorpions, “It is the Order of the Iron Fire, with a Battle-Cruiser! Our Holo-Fields are diverging all the firepower, but we need to escape!”
Katt exclaimed, “But where to?”
“There are...ancient Web-Gates on Vidiek, we should be able to reactivate them, that is our only chance,” the Farseer replied, “Now help me...help me get Half through the Web – that’s an order!”
The Canoness dug her canines into the green apple.
“Fire another volley!” She yelled, voice rippling into the edge of song.
Juice of the fruit bubbled and frothed to her pale lips, glinted by the many fires on the bridge. Fires rippled upon her backpack, as did her power sword glow with hot ire in her free hand. Her battle armour composed of her Order’s colour, formidable iron and the wrathful colours of fire.
She hacked at the air and cried the order, “Send a torpedo to destroy the Eldar cowards!”
“Is that wise,” battle-sister Mintii questioned, “Their ship will perish either way.”
“Never underestimate the Eldar’s trickery. They may seem upon the verge destruction, but you can never be sure. Now send two torpedoes,” she grinned and consumed another chunk out of the green apple.
“As you command, Canoness Snooze.”
Every fresco etched upon their flame-lit walls were of scouring heretics and daemons alike, their steel armour glided along by the wrathful war-drums of the Emperor, hollering and snarling as their sharp swords sliced through defectors and bolters blasted through wretched objectors. Woman warriors bred and nurtured to be the most destructive killing machines of the Emperor, save the Adeptus Astartes. They carried fire and fear straight into the heart of their foes, the foes of the Imperium, seeking out any and all blasphemous heretics that might be cowering in the shadow of the Emperor.
They were the Order of the Iron Fire and all would dread their wrath.
Mintii frowned, as the monitor began to block up with endless digits, “Canoness, I see that we are…registering strange…power surges upon the planet…”
The Canoness devoured the last part of apple whole and gracefully strode to the mentioned monitor, “That is strange, it must be the Eldar’s infernal contraptions. The Orks they lured in to destroy the Dragoons would not have the intelligence to create such odd reading,” then added with some trepidation, “…or at that quantity…”
“What of the Dragoons?” the battle-sister queried, “Should we not send our forces down to aid them?”
“For all we know this could be a trick, a plea for assistance is relatively unheard of from the Space Marines. It lacked also an authorisation or identification code, which should be embedded in the transmission.” Snooze turned upon her heel, gliding back to the portal of glass that allowed their gaze into the stars, “We should only send scouts, as Emperor’s knows what foul evil could be strife upon Vidiek. Hopefully the Dragoons can hold fast once this inference has cleared and we can enter the fray of battle in all our glory.”
“What about the Eldar ship?”
“Send all of our firepower, by the time our scouts make landfall their ship should only be a cloud of debris-”
A blast of light blinded Snooze.
The whole Cruiser shuddered in force of the pulse.
“The readings are going off the charts!”
Snooze clawed away the tears streaming from eyes at the sudden surge of light. Her eyes could barely focus on anything further than her hand, yet she could perceive through the super-thick glass that a ball of fire now remained of the Eldar ship. It had been destroyed. But not by the Adeptus Sororitas. Something else had obliterated the injured ship with a single and inevitable blow.
“Our Warp Shields are down!” Another Celestian cried as another shudder, one so potent that it toppled Mintii, Snooze and all the other Battle-Sisters at the Bridge, “Hull breaches on decks nine to eleven!”
The Canoness could not accept this. Their Battle-Cruiser had been paralysed and was defenceless against this foreign might. Could she really edict her sisters to flee from their ship to the planet below? Any genus of innumerable enemies could be on the Dragoon’s home world, one that could crush her forces in an instant if they were to deep strike into the enemy’s firing line. Yet as her mind scrambled to a resolution, when all eyes of her sisters and cloaked servitors were stuck upon her face, another misfortunate befell the Order.
“I’m picking up another signal!” Mintii yelled, smashing the monitor in frustration at its lack of co-operation, “I think – I think it’s -”
“Chaos,” The word slipped out of the Canoness’ cherry lips as airborne malevolence. The massive Battle-Barge of the heretics’ ship appeared as a dot against the nearest star, but its presence could be detected the millions of miles away by the pure souls of the Battle Sisters.
“What shall we do, Sister?” Mintii asked, readying her bolt pistols.
Another blast from the planet threw them all to the ceiling. When they all smacked back down to the tiles, the Canoness wiped the blood from her lips and proclaimed: “Get to the Drop Pods, now! There is no hope for us here; we shall withdraw to the planet so that we may fight the good fight!”
“Is Chaos to blame for the fire from the planet?” A Battle-Sister cried.
Snooze didn’t have to answer. A spark of energy sliced into the heretical Battle Barge.
“Ask those questions for later! Get to the Drop Pods!” The Canoness ordered the efficient Battle-Sisters to depart as she yelled into the ship-wide microphone, “Abandon Ship! With all the Haste you can muster Sisters! The Emperor is with us all!”
But not just the Emperor was with them.
As Snooze stormed out the Bridge to lead her Sisters, the taste of heresy was palpable. A second later, three Lichen titans appeared from the tempest of vermillion. Battle Sisters darted for cover left and right, a number of the Battle-Sisters were not prompt enough to evade the instantaneous firepower, for their endeavours to obtain suitable shielding was in vain; the grandest slaves of chaos had struck without caveat or indication. The rivets of their guns crunched through the battle armour of the newly indoctrinated warriors, imposing fist-sized punctures and transforming the angelic women into crippled and bloodied corpses. Unlike the servitors, who suffered the immediate kismet of being mashed into crimson goo, odd bits of fizzing flex and wiry wire sticking out of the vestiges of the hunched beings. Even around a foot of cover, the last shot of the grand spray hooked around and slammed into the corridor side, shrapnel gorging their way into a Celestine next to the Canoness.
She scampered away, more of a shambling hobble, with her hands desperately trying to clasp her intestines in place. The traitor marines simply let her run herself to death. After the fifteenth step she ceased to be so vociferous and collapsed onto the corpse of one of the other sisters. Snooze swore and lobbed a krak grenade right towards the three marines. As red-hot shrapnel whizzed past, Snooze signalled for all the Battle Sisters to equip their war helms and weaponry. But amongst the several women, Mintii was nowhere to be seen.
The Canoness just peeked around the corner to see the said Sister ignite her jump pack. The momentum launched her at a dizzying speed, all the while launching bolter fire from both her pistols. Her aim sliced in deep into the armour of the Traitorous Space Marines. By the time she reached the remaining heretic, it had three fist-sized holes in its chest. But to do the Emperor’s duty thoroughly, she shot the bastard in the forehead. Twice.
There was no time to celebrate.
The Battle-Sisters sprinted over the carcasses to the two drop pods on either side of the lift. But more abominations had teleported behind them. But these damnable creatures were far more deadly than the heretical marines, for they were creatures of the very Warp. Slender. Cerise. Sacrilegious. But this was the battle for one, and one only.
“Do not shoot Sisters. You have little time. Get to the Drop Pods. I will buy you time.”
One of the Sisters tried to intervene, but Snooze shoved her back.
“This is my fight. Now go.”
The Canoness turned to the Daemonettes. Their half-naked bodies appalled the Canoness, sordid slaves of a foul god born from ecstasy. Their puny bodies would be no match against her devotion to the God-Emperor. There was one, however, who had the decency to drape herself in some clothing. Snooze had heard of such a creature leading the Daemonettes. She also knew what was required of her, she had no choice but to accept the challenge in the name of the Emperor, sinful as it may seem.
“You want a dance, Slanneshii bitch? You got one!”
He wonders about the meaning of pain.
That last Dragoon woke; in what he thought was the stillness of space. Although at this point no stars blossomed, no heat appeared present and time itself seemed petrified. Yet below the miles beneath his boots, something inaugurated to enthuse. He heard it, well before his eyes detected the blast of power. One by one, oval bubbles could be seen zooming up past his helm by the glint of emerald. As that began, the sensation of being not in rule of his movement began to hasten, as if he was flying up into the golden firmament.
Then in one awful sensation, he was flung up through miles of water. His ear canals screamed pain into his brain as his body desperately tried to compensate to the absence of pressure, due to being lobbed up so rapidly. Sand flew around his flailing body, as he kicked and punched the air. After ten solid minutes of thrashing and yelling out loud has passed until that tormented sensation cease. If he not been an Adeptus Astartes he was sure he would have succumbed to death or suffered internal explosions. The mere thought of that fate was disorientating, let alone the experience he had undergone.
“What, in Emperor’s name, is happening!” He growled ferociously as the waves of the Middle Ocean crashed against the shore. The noise of the crashing seawater was thunderous to say the least and Whisky wondered if it was just his ears’ sensitivity that made the waves sound so wrathful. But as his gaze set on the blue sea, still reeling from that painful excursion, did he realise that his previous assumption had been so wrong. Sparks of light gave way to speckled and disintegrating fragments of clouds of embers in the clear blue sky.
They did not burn up.
They were far from meteorites.
They were the debris of grand ships.
Scores of the red-hot boulders smashed into the ocean, lobbing torrents of brackish water onto the arid region of shoreline. And they were veering too adjacent for the marine’s liking. Spontaneously he found his balance and sprinted over the mounds of sand, using his hands as much as his legs to evade the rain of fire in those first few steps. His gaze was to the sky, that appeared to be collapsing from the amount of volcanic tears, but his vision had to be to the ground too, as explosions rapt the earth in blasts of sand and metal. In places the debris fell, the sand heated so quickly it instantly formed into glass. The last Dragoon ran, ran and ran. Dived, dived and dived. The plummeting of fiery death did not desist; it cared not for the marine’s wellbeing and only appeared to intensify as time passed. Until one irrevocable object, slammed five feet to his left and its tremor knocked him clean off his boots.
A Drop Pod.
The hatches blew wide open.
Whisky had to roll to the side as the panel smashed towards him, scouring the ground over where he had just lain. The Space Marine glanced up, clearing the grains of sand from his visor to see the dark brethren stroll from the pod. Its whip lashed across the ground, kicking up clouds of dust from the force of the weapon. His boots took more grace than was to be expected from such a titan. Only Whisky realised they weren’t boots at all, but hooves. Faces, many faces, leering and snarling, were covered across his armour. The tongue of the heretic snapped and whipped around his face covered in scars, self-inflicted disfigurements at each new worthy kill. His eyes were sunken into his white flesh, flesh that appeared so pale in the golden sunlight it was as if there was only a beaten, scarred skull upon those wide shoulders.
Lucius, the Eternal.
A coil of the tormenting weapon wrapped around his throat, heaving him straight up to his knees. Whisky placed his hands around the fabric, trying to break it off with his raw strength and power fist. Yet air was fuming out his bloody nostrils, too fast, too quick, could he live, could he survive, could he win?
“Pity...I was expecting a challenge of Khaine’s child,” Lucius grinned, biting his forked tongue in pleasure. Whisky tried to grasp out a question, but it was useless when there was no air to breathe, “You’re fools aren’t the only ones to have the luxury of visions.”
Something unpleasant occurred to the champion of Slaanesh.
His face contorted, the whip relaxed and the Dragoon managed to take in a few breaths.
As the oxygen returned to his head, Whisky saw the wound at the fallen’s abdomen.
“If you have such visions, why don’t you use them?” The voice callously mocked Lucius.
He pulled the whip from around the marine’s neck and lashed at the air for the person that had inflicted such pain upon him. But with each new attack at the sparkling figures, his groans of anguish were more coarse and angry. The puncture in his body had gone through his entire chest, even despite his gifted armour. The faces on his armour were contorted as much as his own, weeping bloody tears as his wound coughed out blotches of black that stuck to the sizzling sand with a daemonic taint.
“Show yourself Harlequin! I know your name: Katt: Face my gaze, you, you,” he screamed out his pain, Whisky’s ears ringing at the awful noise, “You bitch!”
The Harlequin may have been waiting for the monofilament wires to grind up Lucius’ insides, but the Dragoon had enough of the foul traitor. He rose and backhanded the fiend with his power fist, taking the whip out of the heretic’s hand and crushing it into a ball of fire in his palm in a spark of gold fire. Lucius limped up and swiped with his power sword at the marine, but Whisky caught the weapon with his power fist and threw it aside. Then it was Whisky’s time to choke the life out of his enemy.
“I don’t need visions to see your death!” He roared as he crushed the air out of the tyrant’s throat.
“...gah...don’t bet...” the foul creature managed to pronounce before Whisky turned the whole head and neck into a bloody mush. The fact that he had just slaughtered the enemy so quickly...he found that he was pleasantly surprised to see the Commander of one of the most foul war bands – the Emperor’s Children – so quickly despite the chosen’s infamous skill, it was...very satisfying.
The Harlequin danced into his view and cried loudly, “You fool! You are damned!”
“Damned! What madness are you speaking about! I just killed one of the most hated traitors of the Imperium!” Whisky roared, popping the convulsing tongue of the creature in his fist into an explosion of scarlet gunk, “I did you favour, he may have killed both you and me, Harlequin!”
The Solitaire replied with serenity, “I am so sorry for you. You have little time. May Khaine save your soul.”
Then in a puff of heat, she vanished, before he could ask her any questions.
Lucius returned as he began to consider her words. He whispered from all directions, or was it himself? Was it the mysterious Eldar? Or that Farseer who had riddled him with confusion to begin with? He fell to the hot, hot sand and threw off his helm, spewing up orange sick over a particularly angry fire of debris. A meander of glass that slithered in heat of the impact of that round pile of debris glowed to him and he glanced at his own face.
Why! Why! Why!
“...Oh Whisky...I told you it wouldn’t be that easy...maybe you’ll be more of a challenge as I devour you from within...”
Yet as he struggled to fight the voices, he could not tell whether he saw the frightened face of his own or that of Lucius’ leering features in the stream of glass.