Chapter 3 – The Raven’s Call~Only in Death does Duty End~
As Rhaco and his combat squad of Ravens approached Bruj Secundus a derelict vessel registered on the auspex. This ship had remained stoically silent and all attempts to make contact met without success. Rhaco allowed himself a moment of reflection as he remembered leaving his veteran brothers behind. Captain Solari had ordered his command squad act in his stead, coordinating the actions of the 3rd company throughout the Segmentum on missions similar to Rhaco’s. Reality snapped back to him as he drew nearer to the dead ship. Seemingly adrift, there were no prow lights of any kind, only a weak vox signal emanating from within. He readied his boarding party and as the vessel drew nearer he let his powerfist snap with static and retracted the field immediately after; a habit he had picked up that had slowly turned to a pre-battle ritual. Forced entry was not necessary as automated protocols within the docking port were activated and guided Rhaco’s shuttle aboard. Something had happened to their brothers in the Fists, and Rhaco readied his men. Bolters were given final rites and Hastus checked the levels on his flamer as Rhaco squeezed his fist together. Satisfied, they released the docking seals and entered the ship.
The squad disembarked into a brightly lit docking bay; however, years of training sent them silently to the shadows. Auspex readings showed only one source of activity aboard the ship; the bridge itself. Rhaco needed answers and the deck officer’s log would aid him in uncovering the truth. They moved with purpose towards the bridge and as they entered the central junction, Rhaco’s suspicions confirmed. Here the ship took on a grossly different form. The corridors darkened and what little light there was passed through a noxious haze, turning bathing the corridor with a sickly hue. Even through his respirator Rhaco could taste the pungent copper tinged medley of bile and blood in the air. The squad’s boots which had been successfully muffled to this point, now slid through a grueling paste of excrement. The beacon suddenly stopped transmitting and Rhaco knew, they had fallen into a trap.
The first to fall was Graccus, bolter rounds tore through his armor and disciplined fire from the darkness forced Rhaco to fall back into the transit shaft of the ship. He could easily hear the sloshing of boots on the deck plating as he gave the order to fallback and rally at their shuttle. Not 30 m down the shaft they found their way to the shuttle blocked by grotesque, vile marines, if they could even still be called so. With their white armor split at several seams and hemorrhaging humours, they looked as though their bodies would soon overtake their power armored shells. They moved with a speed belying their size quickly closing the gap to Rhaco’s squad. But the Ravens were faster and more agile. They tore through the marines, boltguns barking and combat blades tearing at bloated flesh and ceramite. To their frustration, damage that should have felled an astartes scarcely slowed their attackers. Their rotted forms afforded them more protection than Rhaco anticipated and his squad fought for every inch they gained. The squad approached the docking back and Rhaco ordered Hastus to hold the traitors at bay with the deadly flame weapon as he let loose with his storm bolter. Rhaco checked his combat overlay within his visor, confirming that Graccus had succumbed to his injuries as his vitals icon went black. Dessius had been split off from Rhaco and Hastus during the fierce fighting yet his icon still blinked battle ready.
Throughout their retreat Rhaco had made several attempts to raise vox communication with the fleet but he could not confirm his messages were being received. As they neared the final seal before the docking back Rhaco made a final attempt to establish contact in vein as he felt a sudden drop in ambient temperature. With the dreaded plague marines cleansed by holy fire, Rhaco opened the final seal and entered into what should have been the docking bay; however, the space had shifted into something else as though a powerful force had reconstructed the ship.
Through the haze in the docking bay Rhaco heard something far more dangerous than the plague marines they had fought, the slow heavy tread of walking tanks. His gene enhanced body quaked in rage as five hulking brutes clad in dilapidated terminator armour moved to block the obvious escape routes. His brain quickly contemplated their options few as they were; the battle clearly pitched. Without knowing whether his vox commands were making it back to the fleet, and the loss of the docking bay, there was only one option.
While those strong of character may rise to become lords, those strong of purpose can be sidetracked by such single-mindedness. Among the Emerald Fist traitors, those who fully embraced the touch of Nurgle and fought for prominence among their peers were granted the gift of tactical dreadnought armour. The terminator armour fashioned by the Dark Mechanicus on Juro IV is a gross interpretation of the STC and appears to encourage integration of its wearer's flesh with the outer shell. Once encased within the battle plate, the wearer quickly begins to bond with the ceremite; warping its plates and penetrating breaches with warped flesh. Although the armour appears compromised by disrepair, plasma burns and bleeding metal, the hulking mass is all but impossible to stop with anything short of antitank weaponry.
Hastus and Rhaco knew no fear and charged headlong into their adversaries; the flamer bellowing righteous fury and the powerfist arcing with power. The terminators would not be felled as readily as their powered armoured brethren; for they were clad in armour as strong as a battle tank with weapons to match. Hastus was raised from his feet in the grip of a power fist as the terminator needlessly buried a burst of mass reactive shells into Hastus’ chest before crushing him in his grip. Rhaco dashed by one of the terminators taking its right arm cruelly off in his power fist. Rhaco knew that challenging these behemoths on even ground was a fool’s errand. With swooping grace Rhaco weaved in and out of the abundant shadows of the transmuted docking bay and felled another terminator with a blow from behind. He wheeled on the others through a torrent of storm bolter fire when suddenly they stopped firing, slowly parting as another figure entered the fray. Rhaco did not pause to grant them opportunity, and leapt from the darkness. Suddenly his body stopped, his mind willing him further but his limbs unable to respond. The darkness within the room seemed to grow until only the glow of the terminator’s helms was visible. A glowing aura of decay illuminated the newcomer; a trail of rust and corrosion spreading from his feet as if the ravages of time ate away at his surroundings in an instant. Rhaco fought, willing his body to move slowly forward, baring his teeth in anger. He screamed the Primarch’s name, and as he did so, Dessius slipped through the darkness towards the shuttle; he had made his way alone to the docking bay. Rhaco could sense his presence as only a Raven could. He needed not give the order; Dessius needed to get word to the fleet. Before he could reach the ship, a permeating laughter filled the darkness, followed by a rising crescendo of buzzing. A swarm of rotted flies assailed Dessius, entering through cracks in his battle plate. The poisonous plague of filth spread through his body, rotting his gene enhanced form to nothing.
The psyker’s attention on Dessius gave Rhaco the respite he needed. He brought his fist around and fired his storm bolter with unerring accuracy despite the darkness. He was rewarded with a heavy thump as another terminator fell. The remaining terminators fired and swatted at him in the darkness, and each attempt to kill him went unrewarded as he managed to close to within a few metres of the psyker. Without the protection afforded by the Librarius, Rhaco only had once chance to strike this vile enemy down. He hurled his powerfist upward in a powerful uppercut, aimed to tear the psykers skull from its spine. But the enemy was cunning, and as the fist found its mark, a blinding light erupted from the psykers frame, hurling Rhaco backwards. The psyker turned to face him, and his gaze seemed to pierce into Rhaco’s soul. The psyker stretched out his gnarled arm, and lightning erupted from his finger tips. Rhaco’s black and white armour was wreathed in balefire, his visor screaming temperature warnings before failing completely. His armour bubbled and the black enamel peeled before his flesh and bone ignited. The inferno gathered in intensity as it consumed the last of what was once Veteran Sergeant Azinias Rhaco.
Their deaths had not been without purpose, for although Rhaco would never know he had succeeded in his mission, his hails had reached the fleet as their hurried replies were lost to the void.
Morteus, Sorcerer of Nurgle
The Schism of the Fists was not limited to line astartes. Neither Lexicani nor codicier, fused with the tainted geneseed, were immune to those blighted events. Although they may have held out longer than their comrades, secluding themselves to rigorous meditation to ward off the pressing tide of corruption, the young librarians inevitably ceded to Roscius as their battle brothers died around them. Once removed from the shackles of the Librarius’ edicts designed to protect those wielding the powers of the warp, the traitors were free to delve into the rotting wonder of the Lord of Decay. Most of these new sorcerers had not yet steeled their minds to such power and perished or worse, devolved into gibbering masses of flesh spawn. Few, such as Morteus, harnessed this power to their will. With but a look Morteus infects his victims and wracks their flesh. The sharing of his gifts with all those he sets his gaze upon has become his only impetus. Those who earn his attention are rewarded with a death experienced throughout a lifetime in a state between worlds; neither in the material world nor the immaterium, his victims suffer for an eternity at the blink of an eye before crumbling to dust at his feet. Large swaths of the population of Bruj were inevitably cursed to fates worse than death by his hand.
The strike cruiser Tacita Nocte approached the drifting Emerald Fist frigate cloaked beneath its reflex shielding. Although vulnerable to incoming fire with the void shields turned inward to mask their presence, the silent running protocols and reflex shielding made detection a near impossibility. The Dauntless-class frigate slowly rolled about its length in orbit and showed no response to the approaching strike cruiser. As if sensing its stalker’s presence the outclassed frigate appeared to present its underbelly as a subdued dog would to a wolf. Librarian Romitius watched from the command throne of the Tacita Nocte as the dead vessel listed by. He would recover the bodies of the fallen Ravens; their heroic actions to bring light of the Fists’ treachery had earned them this right. The recon mission to the Bruj system had not gone well thus far and Romitius vowed to alter the course of the campaign; this day would bring the Raven’s fury to the Fists. With the enlightenment of the full breadth of the Fists’ fall from the Emperor’s light, the Raven Guard would avenge their fallen brothers. Although a simple command would see a hellish barrage of lance weaponry tear the frigate apart, Romitius would not see his fallen brothers avenged so coldly. Instead he ordered a single salvo which although not destroying the vessel, its fate as a tomb for those aboard would be sealed. Bright lances of light flashed across the void from the depthless nothing created by the reflex shielding and tore into the drifting frigate Secondary explosions flared across the ship’s superstructure but it did not buckle. A sharp pain struck his mind as he felt a psychic backlash from the attack. Whatever had murdered Rhaco was a powerful if not corrupted mind and yet still lived. Satisfied that he had euthanized the Fists’ vessel, Romitius left the bridge and headed to the boarding torpedoes; he would see this mission to victory himself. Witchfire
The Emerald Fists’ vessel was of Standard Template design and its schematics were readily available within the cogitators of the Tacita Nocte. The assembled strike force led by Chief Librarian Romitius had reviewed its layout and planned their attack. From various angles the boarding torpedoes silently approached ship while the Raven Guard recited battle litanies and rites of accuracy to their bolters. Meters away from its hull retro thrusters engaged and magnamelta blasts tore through armoured plating. As one, the elements of the strike force emerged from their craft at key junctions identified before they had left the Tacita Nocte. They had chosen their entry points based on the ship’s features and, until they had forcibly docked, could not detect the crew. Life readings had been a haze and it had appeared that the entire ship was alive. Now however, with such proximity their auspex could detect large masses of life. Whether such readings indicated squads of troopers or something more horrendous could not be discerned. With a steady pace Romitius lead a combat squad of tactical marines toward the central chamber. His prescience could easily detect the Nurgle witchmind at its centre and he was sure it knew of him as well. From across the ship, two more tactical combat squads approached along two separate entry vectors. A three pronged assault would allow them to find the quickest route to the central chamber. The assault elements avoided life signs which appeared stationary and took the most direct routes they had memorized for the mission. Ever present whispers sounded down the corridors as if from chattering teeth. Morteus they whispered. Morteus Commands. As they neared the central chamber the auspex became more sonorous and seemingly at once, they had contact.
Squad Darius was met with a horde of crew, half clothed and uncountable. Squad Toren found something far more horrendous. Occupying the entirety of the corridor, giant flesh sacks with legs slithered toward them, first as glowing eyes and then their flesh seemed to illuminate as ichor errupted from bolter wounds. Romitius’ squad continued unhindered to the central chamber. He had taken a narrow gangway and made all speed. He could ill afford to be bogged down assisting his brothers. The Emperor would lend them aid. Each squad would operate independently for the mission required haste lest they be engulfed by whatever ill-fathomed creatures still roamed its decks. Darius and his command opened fire on the horde. His plasma gunner loosing a sun-hot salvo of plasma toward the mass yet onward they came. With nothing which could be described as haste, the crew shambled forward. Bolt rounds ripped cloth, flesh and limbs from the beings and yet still they closed. Darius had no wish to die on the accursed vessel against a foe unworthy of his life and ordered his squad into an ordered retreat. He voxed the other squads, alerting them sharply in battle cant. He would draw the enemy toward the periphery of the ship in an effort to clear the path for his brothers. Those dead crew, who died once more, were quickly swallowed underfoot by those behind them as the squad was pressed further and further back to the assault craft. Satisfied they could do no more, Darius and his squad boarded the torpedo and jettisoned from the ship.
Squad Toren was embroiled in a vicious confrontation with the flesh beasts. Taking cover behind fallen debris among the corridors, the squad exchanged bolter fire with the daemon spawn who in turn ejected steaming globules of puss from fetid wounds opening on their hides at random. Although inaccurate, the acidic bile erupted along bulkheads to splash and drip onto sergeant Toren’s battle brothers. Brother Hoget fell quickly, putrid slime eating through his helmet and into the flesh beneath. The sound of dissolving organic matter quickly drowned out by the cacophony of the surrounding battle. Toren ordered his squad’s flamer to the fore and bathed the creatures with roiling promethium until its fuel canister sputtered empty. The foremost creature reeled from the attack, open wounds cauterized by the Emperor’s fury before the beast was reduced to ash. Another spawn moved forward to take its place; having been shielded from the flame by the bulk of its fallen pack member. Squad Toren fell back with discipline, avoiding the erupted mucus sacks coughed forward by the beasts. With precision and salvod bolter fire the four remaining space marines hit the spawn as one. The bolter shells buried deep into its flesh and erupted as one. A shower of rotten flesh covered the corridor; motes of decay rising from areas of impact.
Sergeant Toren alerted Romitius to the all clear over the command vox and made to the large blast door sealing the central chamber. As his squad placed melta charges Romitius cleared the gantry approaching the chamber from above. At his command, the melta charges were released and white hot metal seeped away from the door and through the floor grates. The smell of burning plasteel was overcome by the utter decay emanating from the central chamber. Against reason the odours permeated power armoured rebreathers and the space marines felt weak. The advanced constitutions of the marines and environmental regulation of the power armour should have been proof against such assault and Romitius knew this to be the work of sorcery. His aegis hood pulsed with energy and he focused his mind. Through gritted teeth on the open vox he commanded his men to steel themselves against the treachery and the psychic assault lessened. Morteus can free you . . . A whisper sounded in the back of his skull and Romitius almost turned to look for the source of the voice.
The chamber was permeated by a thick fog which Romitius had no doubt was anathema to life. Any compromise to the integrity of their armour seals would be met with an agonizing death. Within the mist a shambling horde of dead crew serfs began to stir and move toward Romitius’ position on the upper gantry. Stumbling upon one another to gain purchase and raking at his feet.
A tide of carrion beetles rushed toward squad Toren as a bow wave of clattering mandibles. Driving the onrush of insects was a creature easily dwarfing the spawn which had ended Hoget’s service to the Emperor only moments earlier. The daemon spawn was immense and nearly the size of a rhino transport, entrails trailing behind it. Toren placed his teleport homer and thumbed the activator. In an instant the encroaching mist parted as arcs of electricity jumped from the ancient device and along the grill work of the corridor and bulkhead walls. Five immense terminators of squad Naphon stood fast as the arcs of power died down and the mist returned to strangle the temporary void. Thunder hammers clashed against storm shields as the veterans of the first company formed a solid wall of ceramite and pressed toward the beast.
The daemon opened its mouths and let loose an atonal growl which seemed to emanate from within the marines’ skulls. Spittle splashed the terminators’ armour and paint bubbled and ran to the floor. It charged among them, smashing battle brothers away from its immense bulk. The marines encircled the fiend, storm shields raised and deflecting blow after blow from multi jointed limbs extruding from every direction. A misshapen hand from its hind quarter grabbed at a storm shield and tore it free before the daemon kicked backward. Its cloven hoof hit the adamantium breastplate square on and drove the terminator through a bulkhead. The armour held but the marine inside could feel his black carapace shatter and many of his internal organs liquefy from the concussive force. Sergeant Naphon had fought banished spawn akin to this daemon in his near century of service in the chapter’s first company and knew that to delay would lose more of his brethren. To divide their forces and attack piecemeal was folly as the creature was deadly from every angle. Naphon rallied the rest of his squad to his side and pressed the beast into a tunnel barely able to contain its girth. With each powerful swing of the squad’s thunderhammers the daemon retreated a step until it could move no more. Backed into a corner it was controlled yet more dangerous. Its many limbs were unable to be brought to the melee yet sensing its imminent demise it reared back and prepared to smash forward. Naphon swept forward with an upward arc of his thunderhammer connecting to the distended jaw of the creature. As one, with a practiced strike born of decades of brotherhood, Naphon’s battle brothers struck the outstretched and bulbous skull from its left and right. The head exploded in a shower of gore and rot showering everything within the passage in a viscous slime.
Squad Torin fell in behind Naphon and his storm shields to move on the central amphitheatre. Flashes of light could be seen within the cloud of pestilence that floated within the confines of the dome. As the marines moved to lend aid to their commander, an invisible field barred their entry. Motes of fluorescent green dust seemed drawn toward the Raven Guard enveloping them in a sickly haze even as they back away from the dome. Fingers of translucent death wrapped their limbs and sapped their strength as they backed away. The Emerald Fist witch was strong indeed; and this fight would be won or lost by Chief Librarian Romitius.
Within the central chamber Romitius and his combat squad stood abreast. Salvos of disciplined bolter fire were unleashed into the advancing horde of plague ridden crew. A wall of explosive bolt rounds was slowing the advancing undead yet they were making ground as they shambled onwards. Romitius could offer no aid for his focus was on the witch, this Morteus creature; the shattered ceramite armour of its power armour hung loose about its engorged flesh. It appeared as though centuries of life had been drained from its parched skin. The pale blue of the librarius was evident beneath beads of puss and other bodily fluids which erupted from both flesh and armour at once. Romitius scowled as he contemplated the weakness of this space marine; once a loyal servant of the Emperor of mankind. His moment of reflection was ended as bolts of aetheric lightning coruscated across his armour and arced to that of his Raven Guard. The circuitry of his psychic hood glowed a deep blue as Romitius focused his mind; mentally gathering the electricity into a ball and smothering it. The horde was getting closer, outstretched limbs of ragged flesh nearly able to touch the Raven Guard. Romitius needed to end this before he and his brothers were dragged down by the sheer volume of the foe. His combat squad tossed their bolters aside as the clips ran empty and the barrels red hot and switched to their chainblades and combat swords. They formed a wedge of determination with Romitius at its centre and pushed forward. The nearest dead erupted in flame mirrored by a fire in Romitius’ glowing amber eyes as the wedge moved ever closer to the Emerald Fist psyker. The bottomless black smoke that billowed from the smoldering undead mixed with the pervasive green smog in the chamber and as if it fought its own battle, the black smoke was choked out as the sickly air embraced the dead and smothered the flames with an armour of rot. As quiclky as the Raven Guard had begun to move so did they stop. The fire in Romitius’ eyes weakened to a dull ember as a marine to his right fell and was dragged off into the mass of flailing limbs. Romitius could not see the Emerald Fist librarian among the din of battle but he could feel his presence bolstering the vitality of the horde. Romitius turned and parried an arm with his force axe, the stump of it continuing to swipe at him as if it had not been amputated. Its eyes were not the glassy empty eyes of the dead but alight with energy and Romitius could see Morteus deep within them. His power was vast, able to translate his will onto the dead and with this power it lunged toward him. Parry after parry kept Romitius on the defence as his axe glanced off the bare limbs of the puppeted crew member as if they were adamantium. The Raven Guard were pressed back once more as they struggled to keep their pocket of resistance from collapsing around their commander and his duel. Romitius’ clenched his teeth as his force axe thrummed with infused power. A blinding light erupted from its haft as he pushed his weight from his back foot and translated it forward into a dolorous blow which cleaved the puppet in two. I will have need of you later . . . Morteus intoned into Romitius’ mind. As the Raven Guard prepared for the next wave nothing came. The air around them cleared and the shambling horde fell to the ground. Morteus had used the distraction to escape the ship; a few meagre crew but a small sacrifice.
Squads Torin and Naphon joined with Romitius and brought a small hand flamer to bare. A single burst prepared for the event. A gout of super heated flame washed over Rhaco’s rotted corpse purging the corruption so that his wargear may further fight the Emperor’s enemies. As the Raven Guard gathered their fallen and re-boarded their torpedoes, Romitius declared that the ship be scuttled for its taint could not be cleansed. Once aboard the Tacita Nocte its lance batteries ignited the upper atmosphere around the Emerald Fists ship and it nosed down toward Bruj Secundus, a symbol of the Emperor’s fury delivered straight to the enemy’s heart.