Re’Tahn ducked momentarily as the tell-tale whine of an ordnance shell flew overhead. Without losing step he continued along a slight ridge littered with spent shell casings, discarded weaponry and bodies of the fallen. The stench of gore and mud was strong, even through the filters of his battle helm, and he found himself grimacing slightly at the iron tang that hung in the air.
The rain was falling hard again, turning the mud into a sucking quagmire and making the smoke from the rounds of ammunition being fired a dense cloud, as though trying to hide the sight of the bloodied battlefield from view. Re’Tahns enhanced vision could see through the battle smoke as though it were glass and he could see the explosions of cannon fire throwing up vast gouts of mud high into the air. He could hear the shouts of squad commanders issuing orders, and the screams of dying men all around. This was the sound of war. This was the sound of hell.
A heavy stubber peppered the ground around him, and one shot clipped his shoulder pad as he jumped down into a trench. The trench had been dug out by engineers of the Imperial Guard, and as such, had not been made to accommodate an Astartes comfortably. The bottom of the trench had wooden planks set down, but the rising water level was threatening to turn the bottom of the trench into a muddy river. He followed a couple of bends round before his squad came in sight. They were helping some Guardsmen re-fortify a section of the trench wall that had fallen in after a salvo hit. As he approached they turned and gave the sign of the Aquila.
‘At ease, brothers, we have no need for formalities right now’ quipped Re’Tahn.
His battle brothers turned and resumed work on the trench wall while his first sergeant remained at his side.
‘What is the current status, Da’Kien?’
‘Grim, Brother-Captain. It would appear that the traitors have some kind of void shield generator, although from the reports I have received so far, it doesn’t sound like any defense system I am familiar with.’
‘And what are your thoughts on this?’ asked Re’Tahn.
‘I know not at this time, although I fear that the rebel Mechanicum adepts may have a hand in it. Who knows what warp magic they have employed?’
Re’Tahn turned and stared at the fortified citadel on the horizon, its peak disappearing into the low clouds, as though impaling the very heavens themselves.
‘We have been throwing troops and bombardments at that emplacement for six weeks now, and we are barely any further forward than when we made planetfall.’ He thought aloud. ‘The valiant Guardsmen have taken seventy five percent casualties, and we are down to six squads of brothers. This has to end now!’
‘From the intelligence we have received thus far…’ answered Da’Kien ‘…we now know there is a bunker a half kilometer from here. It is inside that bunker that we will find the main generator for the void shield. From what has been ascertained so far, there is at least one squad of Terminators and a dreadnought protecting it, and that was all that was transmitted to us before the vox went dead. Whatever it is, they are ready for us to come looking for it, Brother Captain’
‘Then we shall not disappoint, Da’Kien. Form up the squad and brief them while I look over the co-ordinates.’
‘As you wish, my Captain’.
As Re’Tahn pored over the data slate he wondered to himself how much longer this assault would last. They had followed a splinter of the renegade Warmaster Horus’ forces to this planet after news had reached them of the massacre at the drop site on Istvaan. It was thought that this would be a quick and easy seek and destroy mission, but it was turning into a tactical nightmare quickly.
Memorizing the co-ordinates, Re’Tahn closed his eyes for a moment, uttering an oath to the Emperor and to his Primarch, Vulkan. Then, he checked his combi-bolter, then his chainsword, before holstering them and turning back to his squad.
‘These traitorous bastards have had long enough to cower in their fortress, brothers, it is time to show them the full wrath of the Emperor!’
The squad hailed in unison, before First Sergeant Da’Kien turned to them.
‘Now listen up. We will be heading straight onto the mouth of the beast. The valley we are currently in is a natural defense for them. They have gun emplacements on both flanks of our approach to the bunker. We need to move swiftly so they cannot get a lock on to us. We have a handful of smoke grenades which should help us at least part way. I suggest selecting your targets and assaulting as we proceed. Brother Ka’Den will hit the emplacement with the multi melta. Let us hope that this will be enough to bring the structure down and with it, the generator.’
‘I’ll be seeing you brothers inside the citadel! Don’t make me wait!’ Announced Re’Tahn.
‘You know how impatient the Captain can be’ quipped Ka’Den with a chuckle, hoisting the heavy multi melta aloft.
Re’Tahn then raised his arm and shouted ‘Unto the fires of battle!’
‘Unto the anvil of war!’ came the reply in unison from his squad.
With that, Re’Tahn and his squad climbed up the side of the trench, the mud making a sickly gurgling sound as the heavy bulk of the Astartes pushed themselves up and over the top. Almost as soon as they broke cover the gunfire increased. Heavy stubbers were unleashing upon their new targets. They were at a reasonably safe distance and as such were not too much of a concern for the squad of Salamanders. Any normal man would have been cut to pieces, but the shots were ricocheting off their power armor.
Ka’den was already running forward as he grabbed a smoke grenade and tossed it ahead of them, the plume of smoke blanketing the approach. The chatter of bolter fire from either side of him told him that his brothers were already marking their targets and taking them out.
Da’Kien saw a small number of guardsmen jump out of a fox hole and run screaming toward them, followed by another group, and another. In total there were approximately thirty or forty infantry running toward their position. Da’Kien could see that their Imperial iconography had been replaced with blasphemous runes and sigils. The bloodlust in their eyes told him that there was no humanity left as he fired upon them. The first took a bolter shot to the chest, the explosive round blowing him in two and taking out another who was right behind him. Re’Tahn was firing upon them now, and las-fire was raking at their power armor in return as the scream of hatred from the traitorous Guardsmen grew louder.
As the distance between the Astartes and the infantry closed the firefight became more intense. Da’Kien was hit several times, a couple of shots being lucky and finding weaker joint sections. Momentarily he dropped to one knee, but was back up and running seconds later screaming a battle cry as he made contact with the first of what was left of the traitor Guard. He swung his chainsword down at a sharp angle, cleaving the first from collar bone to stomach, while letting off another two bolter rounds at two more that were behind him. While these fallen soldiers were no match for Astartes, the sheer number of them were beginning to slow their approach, and if they slowed down, they became easy targets for the gun emplacements.
Re’Tahn had five guardsmen on him now. He shot one point blank in the face, his head disappearing in a cloud of blood and bone. Two more were slain on an upswing of his chainsword and the third as he brought it back around before head butting the fifth, his face bursting with a sickening crack.
More lasgun shots were firing at them, although in the confusion it was hard to tell from where exactly. Re’Tahn was now certain that there were more foxholes with more of the Warmaster’s vermin hiding in them. It was about then that he saw it. Ahead of them from behind a hastily constructed redoubt stepped a hulking monstrosity made of plas-steel. It vaguely resembled an Imperial Dreadnaught, but whatever foul acolytes had worked on it had distorted it beyond recognition. Where the sarcophagus was held in the frame, there was a twisted demonic face that constantly shifted and changed, with a look of pure hatred chiseled into its features. Instead of a close combat arm there was what could only be described as a gigantic flail, which crackled with energy, blue shimmers of power flowing over its surface. Brass symbols and sigils had been worked into the armor, which itself looked more like skin stretched over a wire frame. It was an abomination and Re’Tahns anger welled up within him to see such a defilement of a sacred machine. One thing he did recognize was the plasma cannon that was lowering and pointing at them. It fired.
The ball of super heated plasma blew across the battlefield toward them. It landed just forward of their position, but only a few meters. Enough to shake the ground violently and sending a concussive wave out, dropping the squad into the newly formed crater. They quickly got to their feet and took stock of the situation.
‘Brother Captain, we are pinned’ exclaimed Da’Kien through the vox feed.
‘Throw another smoke grenade out there to cover our postion, it’ll give us a few minutes to regroup’ replied Re’Tahn.
‘Aye’ said Ka’Den calmly before arming another grenade and tossing it over the top of the crater.
The smoke gave them a cover, under which they could pick off more of the gun emplacements forward of their position. As they were manned my humans, and not Astartes, they did not have the advantage of heightened senses and so were easy to dispatch with precise bolter shots.
The dreadnaught had turned and was walking around to their right flank. They were covered for now, but in a few moments they would be sitting in a clear lane of fire if it got any closer. The distance was closing. The whole time it had its plasma cannon trained on their position.
‘This is it’ shouted Re’Tahn. We may very well not come back from this, brothers, but we will take as many of the bastards with us as we can. It has been an honor to stand alongside you all!’
‘Look!’ shouted Ka’Den
Re’Tahn followed Ka’Dens gaze and turned around. The battlefield had become strangely quiet. They could see the explosions and strafing rounds tearing up the mud, but not one sound could be heard. From the fog that enveloped them in their temporary shelter there came an eerie greenish glow just south of their position. Even through their battle helms they could not make out the shapes that were appearing within the swirling maelstrom. There were ten silhouettes in all striding purposefully toward them. The strange green light becoming stronger. Then Re’Tahn saw them clearly, and a chill ran down his spine.
‘By the Emperor!’ he gasped.
From out of the unearthly mist they appeared. Ten Astartes, clad in midnight black armor and adorned with icons of flame and bone, each in step with the other. The green aura that permeated from inside their armor saturated the swirling fog about them, giving them an almost ghostly appearance. Their eye lenses burned with a fury untold, as though the very fires of hell were contained within, waiting to be unleashed. One had a battle helm fashioned into a skull and carried crackling power weapon in one hand and a plasma pistol the other. His personal icon’s heraldry also depicting skeletons and fields of flame. Re’Tahn came to the conclusion that this was their leader.
Another carried a huge multi-melta which was also in line with the rest of the armor decoration, a rib cage being fashioned into the forearm guard. Another brandished a flamer while the rest carried ornate bolters from which hung various fetishes.
The squad of apparitions paused momentarily, and their leader looked Re’Tahn straight in the eye before nodding his head in his direction, the movement being barely visible. Then, with not one word being spoken, the squad continued on their way, their first volley unleashing a hell storm of fury, and bringing the deafening sound of battle back again.
‘The Dark Brotherhood!’ breathed Re’Tahn, ‘I had heard stories of them; I believed them only to be a legend!’
‘Legend or not, this may be the only chance we have!’ shouted Da’Kien, seizing the moment and snapping Re’Tahn out of his reverie.
With that, they leapt out of the crater in the wake of the Dark Brethren, who were leveling the field ahead of them. Re’Tahn was awestruck by the sight. Ka’Den noticed movement off to his right and saw the dreadnaught come into view. He managed to throw a frag grenade in its direction, blowing a hole in the ground onto which it was just about to step onto. The dreadnaught lost its footing and stumbled forward. Seeing his opportunity, Ka’Den brought up his multi melta, aimed and fired. The shriek of super heated air rang out and the incandescent beam hit home on its target dissolving the abomination into a twisted pile of slag. The demon occupant screamed its last as its fiery death sent it back to the immaterium.
The squad of Salamanders where finding it a challenge, even for Astartes to keep up with the ebon armored ghosts. They seemed to move, almost glide over the battle field with ease, where as Re’Tahn and his squad had to negotiate blast craters and hastily erected fortifications. The gave their unknown brothers supporting fire on the flanks while they tried to get closer, but every time they got within a few meters, the fog would thicken momentarily, then clear, showing the Dark Brethren further away still. Even from this distance, Re’Tahn could see the devastating fury that was being unleashed upon their enemies.
Swinging his squad round to the left flank, both of the squads made for the bunker. About 100 meters away, when a unit of Terminators appeared in front of the building. The wall of tactical dreadnaught armor reflecting the fires of war. A hail of storm bolter fire was unleashed on the approaching Astartes, taking down one of Re’Tahns squad and peppering Da’Kiens power armor. Warning sigils flashed inside his battle helm, but he pressed on regardless. The dark brothers seemed unphased by the withering volley and met the terminators head on in a violent clash of melee weapons.
The leader of the Dark Brotherhood was the first into action, swinging his power axe down in a wide arc cleaving the first Terminator through the skull before pulling it out of his chest. His plasma pistol shrieked and another terminator was shot through the leg. The unit descended upon the Terminators like a murder of ravens, the motion becoming a blur. In moments the entire unit of traitors were a smoldering pile of ceramite and plas-steel.
Ka’den unhooked his belt which had 4 melta grenades attached to them and armed them, throwing them through the bunker doorway as the multi melta Astartes from the ghostly legion unleashed a stream of super heated energy into the building. With a deafening explosion the bunker was consigned to oblivion. Re’Tahn and his squad had to turn away as the blast was so bright. Seconds later they looked back. Ka’den looked across to where the brethren had been standing. There was nothing. The smoldering remains of the Terminators were still there, but the Legion of the Damned had gone, departing as swiftly and mysteriously as they had arrived.
‘The shield is down, brothers!’ roared Da’Kien ‘The Citadel has fallen!’
Re’Tahn looked up to the first of the drop ships flying overhead to the Citadel, then turned to his men, pointing toward the tower with his chainsword.
‘Unto the breach, my brothers, this day is OURS!’