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Suffer Not the Mutant. Part 3 Posted

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Suffer Not the Mutant. Part 3 Posted

Postby Squiggle » Thu Jun 15, 2017 8:51 pm

FOR THE SPACE Marines of the Black Dragons 5th Company the war began like so many others. It began amongst the foetid marshlands of their homeworld. It began on Styx.

‘Brooding again, ancient wizard? War is brewing, I can sense it.’

Epistolary Graven Irkusk glared at the figure standing in the entrance to his tent. Captain Vizar Kyta’s black armour was dulled by grime and smoke, but Irkusk could still make out the swirling shapes of the reflected flames from his fire. He swept his mane of grey hair away from his face and scowled, leathery features creasing along well-defined age-lines.

‘Kyta!’ he replied, ‘What makes you think I have not already foreseen the outcome?’

Kyta stepped into the tent and automatically extended his hands towards the fire. Stygian nights were bitterly cold, and the action was a reflex, long since made redundant by both his power armour and his enhanced metabolism. The fire wasn’t there for heat however; Styx’s dour, miserable marshlands were occupied by vast serpentine drachnya possessed of gaping maws and poisonous fangs and fire was about the only thing that would discourage them. But even the blazing flames were no guarantee of safety and Kyta knew good men – Astartes even – who had perished guarding the camps.

‘If your foresight was that keen, you would have known I was coming and not been caught slouched over your fire like a drunken novitiate.’

Irkusk snorted and allowed a smile to soften the lines of his face. Strong, sharp yellow teeth flashed in the gloom.

‘I have already seen your fate, oafish warmaster. You will die alone and soon.’

‘As ever, brother, your kind words bring me comfort on a cold night.’

But Kyta’s feral, toothy grin faded swiftly. The words were said in jest, he thought, and yet they rang true. Deep down, the divides within the Black Dragons Chapter troubled him more than he would admit. They were sundered, tribal and on the decline. Perhaps it was time to act.

‘You are troubled.’ Irkusk said. It was not a question. The two Astartes had fought side by side for over a century, and Irkusk needed no psyker’s tricks to read Kyta’s thoughts.

‘Our triumphs have been lean of late. Our numbers fall, and more initiates than ever before are touched. I fear for our future.’

‘We are being sorely tried, yes. Our resolve, our mettle, tested.’ Irkusk replied. ‘We do the Emperor’s work, Vizar, and in his way, he offers up his own challenges.’

Irkusk got easily to his feet and plucked a crystalline vial from a rack at the foot of his cot.

‘Come. The Emperor’s word is more clearly read against a starlit sky.’

Outside, Irkusk’s breath created a cloud of steam as he surveyed the circle of tents huddled around the smouldering cooking fire. A group of scouts tended the flames, their faces blackened from the smoke. A drachnya carcass lay nearby, gutted for eating. More experienced marines, seniority quickly established by the battle honours engraved on their deep black armour, sat on khaki ammo crates and traded stories whilst performing maintenance rites on their weapons and armour.

Irkusk crouched and removed his gauntlets. The pale skin of his hands was heavily tattooed with close swirls of black and red that shifted as he flexed fingers ending in long, talon-like nails. He scraped away a thin layer of snow to create a simple hollow in the earth and emptied the contents of the vial into it. Pale blue liquid flowed from the container and created a shallow pool. Irkusk passed one hand over it and the surface surged with unnatural ripples and crackled with incandescent discharges.

Kyta squatted nearby and surveyed Irkusk over clasped hands. He briefly closed his eyes, muttering a simple litany of faith to banish the unwelcome thoughts that threatened to cloud his judgement. His scalp itched as it always did in the presence of psychic energy, and Irkusk was a fair conduit of that. Irkusk lent forwards and spat into the pool. The globule of saliva dissipated rapidly, stringy tendrils mingling with the rapidly freezing liquid.

Kyta leaned forwards, despite himself. He could never quite grasp the processes at work in this ritual; Irkusk wasn’t even looking at the pool. He was leaning backwards and staring at the stars. It was a clear night and his lips were moving as he catalogued and considered the major constellations. Purple eldritch energy coursed and sparked across his armour and the tattoos on his hands glowed white-hot. Kyta knew they would be scorching to the touch - he had made that mistake decades before - Librarian Omersik had become agitated in the midst of a divination and the young, utterly ignorant Kyta had grabbed the thrashing man’s hands to try and calm him. He still bore the scars and could still recall the acrid stink of his own scorched flesh.

Irkusk fell forwards and planted his hands in the snow either side of the hollow. There was a faint hissing sound and steam crept out between his fingers where the snow was instantly vaporised.

His head snapped up.

‘There will be a reckoning,’ he intoned, in a voice far deeper than his usual drawl.

‘There will be war.’ His right hand snapped up, first finger extended towards the sky. ‘Death will visit distant Garochete. The Reborn await us there, born on wings of hellfire, led by the Ragged Phoenix.’

Tears froze on his cheeks at the bloody massacre he foresaw.

Kyta had seen enough; the Black Dragons would wage war once again.
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Re: Suffer Not the Mutant. Part 1.

Postby Obscura Boy » Mon Jun 19, 2017 2:39 pm

Hi Squig! Couldn't help but notice a lack of comment-age on this snippet, so I thought I'd take the first crack at it.

‘Brooding again, ancient wizard? War is brewing, I can sense it.’

Epistolary Graven Irkusk glared at the figure standing in the entrance to his tent. Captain Vizar Kyta’s black armour was dulled by grime and smoke, but Irkusk could still make out the swirling shapes of the reflected flames from his fire. He swept his mane of grey hair away from his face and scowled, leathery features creasing along well-defined age-lines.

‘Kyta!’ he replied, ‘What makes you think I have not already foreseen the outcome?’


I feel like this opening exchange could be sharpened up a little bit. Since Kyta's first line of dialogue contains two separate and distinct thoughts - his greeting to Irkusk, followed by his sense of foreboding - I think it would make more sense to split it up, perhaps by placing the second sentence after the descriptive paragraph. I feel like it would make his first remark a bit more snappy.

In addition, this may just be a personal preference, but I think that having Irkusk address Kyta by name feels a bit stiff and, again, slows things down a touch.

‘If your foresight was that keen, you would have known I was coming and not been caught slouched over your fire like a drunken novitiate.’

Irkusk snorted and allowed a smile to soften the lines of his face. Strong, sharp yellow teeth flashed in the gloom.

‘I have already seen your fate, oafish warmaster. You will die alone and soon.’

‘As ever, brother, your kind words bring me comfort on a cold night.’


I really like this exchange. It gives both characters a touch of humour and humanity that is often so lacking in Astartes, and establishes their relationship really nicely.

But Kyta’s feral, toothy grin faded swiftly. The words were said in jest, he thought, and yet they rang true. Deep down, the divides within the Black Dragons Chapter troubled him more than he would admit. They were sundered, tribal and on the decline. Perhaps it was time to act.


There's something about that last sentence that makes me think it should go. I think it's a little on-the-nose, whilst also being a bit of a cliché.

‘You are troubled.’ Irkusk said. It was not a question. The two Astartes had fought side by side for over a century, and Irkusk needed no psyker’s tricks to read Kyta’s thoughts.


I don't think you need the 'It was not a question', since it's obvious enough from the lack of a question mark, and all this sentence really does is point out that Irkusk knows Kyta really well, which you do a better job of explaining in the following sentence.

Outside, Irkusk’s breath created a cloud of steam as he surveyed the circle of tents huddled around the smouldering cooking fire. A group of scouts tended the flames, their faces blackened from the smoke. A drachnya carcass lay nearby, gutted for eating. More experienced marines, seniority quickly established by the battle honours engraved on their deep black armour, sat on khaki ammo crates and traded stories whilst performing maintenance rites on their weapons and armour.


This passage sets the scene really nicely, but it also raises some questions for me. What is a force of Marines doing camped out in the marshes of their own homeworld? Are they hunting drachnya? Undertaking training exercises? Just chillin'? ;) I understand these details aren't necessarily important to the story as a whole, but since you're giving us this little intro-y section it'd be nice to have more of an idea what these Marines are up to when Irkusk receives his vision. Otherwise it feels like they're just hanging around waiting for the plot to begin.

Irkusk crouched and removed his gauntlets. The pale skin of his hands was heavily tattooed with close swirls of black and red that shifted as he flexed fingers ending in long, talon-like nails. He scraped away a thin layer of snow to create a simple hollow in the earth and emptied the contents of the vial into it. Pale blue liquid flowed from the container and created a shallow pool. Irkusk passed one hand over it and the surface surged with unnatural ripples and crackled with incandescent discharges.

Kyta squatted nearby and surveyed Irkusk over clasped hands. He briefly closed his eyes, muttering a simple litany of faith to banish the unwelcome thoughts that threatened to cloud his judgement. His scalp itched as it always did in the presence of psychic energy, and Irkusk was a fair conduit of that. Irkusk lent forwards and spat into the pool. The globule of saliva dissipated rapidly, stringy tendrils mingling with the rapidly freezing liquid.

Kyta leaned forwards, despite himself. He could never quite grasp the processes at work in this ritual; Irkusk wasn’t even looking at the pool. He was leaning backwards and staring at the stars. It was a clear night and his lips were moving as he catalogued and considered the major constellations. Purple eldritch energy coursed and sparked across his armour and the tattoos on his hands glowed white-hot. Kyta knew they would be scorching to the touch - he had made that mistake decades before - Librarian Omersik had become agitated in the midst of a divination and the young, utterly ignorant Kyta had grabbed the thrashing man’s hands to try and calm him. He still bore the scars and could still recall the acrid stink of his own scorched flesh.


I really like the earthiness of Irkusk's divinatory process, and the more 'primitive' (for want of a better word) touches like having to read the stars themselves. It adds a touch of drama to the scene and further characterises both Irkusk and the Black Dragons as a Chapter.

Kyta had seen enough; the Black Dragons would wage war once again.


Again, I'm a little confused. Is there any particular reason they've stopped waging war? I understand there may be something in their established lore that I'm missing that would give this line some context, but as it is I can't really appreciate its significance.

I hope my criticisms make sense. Overall it's a strong opening and I'd be really keen to see these guys get to Garochete and get stuck into some action! :D
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Re: Suffer Not the Mutant. Part 1.

Postby Squiggle » Mon Jun 19, 2017 3:41 pm

Thanks Obscura.

I think your points are all valid.

- They are camped out in the marshes because the chapter is in schism and it has all gone a little awry - so I should probably explain this(!)

More up momentarily
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Re: Suffer Not the Mutant. Part 1.

Postby Chun the Unavoidable » Wed Jun 21, 2017 7:30 pm

Have I read this before? It seems familiar.

Anyways, Obscura Boy's comments cover things admirably, and I have little to add to them. There do seem to be background matters that need explaining, but of course there's time yet. A solid enough intro that, while not grabbing me by the danglies, will have me continuing when you post something for me to continue with.
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Re: Suffer Not the Mutant. Part 1.

Postby Squiggle » Wed Jun 21, 2017 9:52 pm

You may have yes. It was a failed Black Library submission that I actually wrote up into a full length short.
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Re: Suffer Not the Mutant. Part 2 Up. 21/06/17

Postby Squiggle » Wed Jun 21, 2017 10:05 pm

Novitiate Urulokë crept silently into the ruined stronghold. His dilated pupils flicked rapidly from side to side as he scanned the shadowy corners of the shattered atrium. Nothing moved. The air was still, the silence broken only by the discordant hum of damaged machinery. He dropped to a crouch, combat shotgun raised to his shoulder. Cautious and quiet, he took his left hand off the weapon and formed a fist. Hold. His enhanced hearing picked up the rest of the five man squad settling into covering positions behind him.

He took a shallow breath and stilled his nerves. The only light was a pale, greenish glow emanating from the screen of a cracked cogitation device. It was probably salvageable, Urulokë thought. But that was not their purpose here. The atrium narrowed into a passageway which ended in a set of ruined doors, casually ripped open and hanging from their hinges.

Urulokë paused again and glanced back to see the squad taking up positions against the walls, making use of what cover there was. Apala was closest, his gloved hands wrapped around a bolt pistol. Chua and Heren squatted behind him; their sniper rifles were slung across their backs and combat knives glinted in their hands. Sergeant Ormr brought up the rear, hefting his heavy bolter. They were each clad in deep black scout armour and fatigues, their skin darkened with smears of paint. Behind them, lurking in his full Mk VI plate, Apothecary Veles was a bulkier, menacing figure.

An irregular, metallic clatter whipped Urulokë’s head around and he brought his gun up.

‘Contact right,’ he murmured into his vox bead. He slipped stealthily through the doorway and focused on a body that lay mere metres from his position down a side passage.

‘Secure the perimeter,’ Ormr instructed, ‘Urulokë, update?’

Urulokë edged up to the body, covering it with his shotgun. It was an Astartes, clad in bright yellow plate now despoiled with dust and the ragged, characteristic tears of chain blade damage. His right leg was severed at the knee and trailed stringy flesh across the floor. His left arm was broken, the vambrace shattered. The clenched, black gauntlet emblazoned on his left pauldron told of his heritage; an Imperial Fist. As Urulokë watched, the Marine jerked and his right gauntlet rattled against the hard ferrocrete floor.

‘Veles,’ he barked, ‘a brother still lives.’

The Apothecary was quick, barely giving Urulokë time to secure the area beyond the fallen Astartes before he was crouched over the body, scanning with a medical auspex.

‘He’s dead,’ Veles said. 'These movements are the misfiring synapses of a stubborn brainstem.’

The next noise Urulokë heard was the whine of Veles’s reductor assembly as he prepared to remove the Astartes’s sacred gene seed, contained within the progenoid glands in neck and chest. The whirring blade juddered and screeched as it struggled to cut through the toughened ceramite plastron. Urulokë started as he saw the Imperial Fist’s right hand open and lift up off the floor, grasping weakly at nothing before falling back to the ground. Apparently oblivious, Veles reached into the exposed chest cavity and removed a blood-slick organ before placing it reverentially into a cryo flask.

‘We will return it to the ‘Fists?’ Urulokë asked.

Veles looked up, the green tinted eye lenses of his helmet an emotionless mask.

‘I will do what is in the best interests of the Chapter, Scout.’ he replied, clamping the flask to his kit belt.

Urulokë looked beyond the impassive figure of the apothecary and met Ormr’s measured gaze.

‘We go on,’ the sergeant said. ‘Our primary task here is not yet accomplished.’ He slung his heavy bolter across his broad shoulders and unclipped an auspex from his belt. He studied the device for a couple of seconds, his flat features backlit green by the screen. He caught Urulokë’s eye and gestured for him to lead the squad deeper into the complex.

Urulokë settled back into the point position and moved purposefully down the corridor, past the final resting place of the Imperial Fist and towards the target coordinates. As he edged forward, his mind whirled with what he had just seen. Every ounce of his being, every fragment of his soul told him that it was wrong, told him that Apothecary Veles had murdered a loyal Astartes in cold blood in order to strip his progenoid glands.

But that couldn’t be. Urulokë knew Veles was an experienced apothecary, and how could he, a mere scout, cast such a judgement? Yet his mind kept returning to those clutching, desperate fingers, movements Urulokë would later swear had happened, movements that were utterly incongruous with the behaviour of a corpse. The young scout shook his head, as if this mere physical action could cleanse his tangled thoughts, and dragged his attention back to his immediate environs. Muttering a simple catechism for purity of thought and spirit, he led the scout squad deeper into the abandoned stronghold.

Urulokë was not prepared for what he found. The fortress had been held by the retreating chaos forces, a warband of renegade Astartes known as The Reborn. Though the bombardment and subsequent violent assault by the combined Imperial Fists and Black Dragons had driven them into a full blown rout, the fallen Astartes and their contemptible followers had still left their mark. Heinous graffiti and blasphemous shrines would require the attentions of flamer-equipped Adepta Sororitas purification squads. Despite the defeat of the forces that had occupied the stronghold, Urulokë’s keen senses could still pick up the foul stench of chaos. This
was a dark place.
The narrow outer passages opened into a large domed central chamber. Urulokë quickly identified it as a strategium, now carpeted with a thick layer of dust and scattered with debris. He crouched in the doorway; there were broken bodies strewn across the floor; a mess of tangled limbs, congealed blood and rotten, stinking organs.

Ormr pointed across the chamber with one black gloved hand. ‘Our first objective,’ he murmured. Urulokë followed the line of the sergeant’s outstretched finger. In the centre of the room, a raised plinth of black stone supported the bulk of a holothic chart table. It was the focal point of the strategium. It was broken in two around a black armoured body. The Reborn wore ancient, corroded power armour of a style no longer manufactured by those loyal to the Imperium. This was not one of their dead, nor was it an Imperial Fist. This was a Black Dragon. The progenoid glands and armour needed to be recovered; the company had few suits of fully functioning power armour as it was, without the dead taking theirs to the afterlife.

The force it must have taken to smash a fully armoured battle brother through the chart table was a sobering thought for Uruloke as he approached. His idle musing was quickly forgotten as he gazed down on the dead Astartes. The body was shattered; a devastating wound had ripped open the marine’s chest, split his fused ribcage and torn deep into his lungs and heart. His armour had been gashed and ripped away. In numerous places the black lacquer had been stripped back to the gunmetal grey of the ceramite beneath. The man’s face was twisted into a rictus grin of absolute agony. Peeled-back lips revealed vastly lengthened incisors that extended like fangs from his upper jaw. The expression of pure pain was so severe that it cast an involuntary shudder down Uruloke’s back. It was made worse by the fact that some carrion creature had eaten away the battle brother’s eyeballs.

Uruloke didn’t take any of this in; he stared, shocked at the multiple blades that partially extended from the man’s forearms, each one sheathed in shimmering adamantium and glistening with blood and gore. One such protrusion jutting from the right arm was snapped in two exposing cream coloured bone. Beyond that, past the horrified expression, he focused on the jagged, bony crest that stood out from the marine’s forehead in the manner of some ancient beast.

Urulokë reached for the edge of the ruined table. It creaked as he leaned his weight against it.

‘This must be one of the fallen,’ he managed, weakly. ‘That is no Astartes.’ And yet, the intact left shoulder pauldron still proudly displayed the white, serpentine dragon’s neck and head that was repeated on Urulokë’s armour and that of the rest of his squad.

‘It takes us all, the first time we see it.’ Ormr was abruptly at his shoulder. Urulokë turned to see the sergeant looking down on the body, his face an uncertain mix of revulsion and pity as he started down at the fallen warrior. ‘Nevertheless, it is our curse and one we bear gladly, for those touched by the dragon’s seed are without match when the battle is fiercest.’

‘He is a mutant,’ Urulokë managed. Bile rose in his throat. It was all he could do not to vomit. Ormr grabbed his arm fiercely. His fingers dug into the young scout’s muscular flesh.

‘He was your brother and you would do well to remember that. We are not the only chapter to have… secrets. Apala will assist you in removing his armour. The body must be burned after Brother Veles has removed his gene seed.’

‘Move with haste,’ Veles interjected. ‘The discovery of the Imperial Fist’s seed has provided us with an unexpected opportunity and I must return to our encampment without unnecessary delay.’

Urulokë thought back to the grasping fist of the yellow armoured Astartes, and the calculating way Veles had excised his gene seed. Again his soul cried out at the wrongness of it. He cast away the thought, met Apala’s eye and prepared to perform this dark duty. It was clear that retrieving the armour would benefit his chapter.

But he was not satisfied. He vowed that once this mission was over, he would demand answers. He vowed he would learn the truth about his so-called brothers.
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Re: Suffer Not the Mutant. Part 2 Up. 21/06/17

Postby Kentigern » Tue Jul 04, 2017 5:03 pm

To start with, I like the concept - body snatching Astartes is nice and grim, especially with a bit of mutation thrown in. Opens up all sorts of challenging ideas - are they bad or they trying to save the Chapter? etc etc. Looking forward to seeing where it goes!

Some thoughts on various points below - feel free to ignore my random ramblings!

Squiggle wrote:Novitiate Urulokë crept silently into the ruined stronghold. His dilated pupils flicked rapidly from side to side as he scanned the shadowy corners of the shattered atrium. Nothing moved. The air was still, the silence broken only by the discordant hum of damaged machinery. He dropped to a crouch, combat shotgun raised to his shoulder. Cautious and quiet, he took his left hand off the weapon and formed a fist. Hold. His enhanced hearing picked up the rest of the five man squad settling into covering positions behind him.

I like this intro, starts to give a feeling of caution and tension. I wonder though about him being cautious and quiet - would have thought in a virtually silent room he would need to be more than quiet? Perhaps it's a reflection on the bulk of his armour etc?

Squiggle wrote:The atrium narrowed into a passageway which ended in a set of ruined doors, casually ripped open and hanging from their hinges.


May just be me, but I'm not sure about the use of casually - I would feel you needed to witness the act to know they were casually ripped open. They could be casually hanging, but I think without seeing the actual act of destruction you want something else to describe the damage.

Squiggle wrote: Urulokë paused again and glanced back to see the squad taking up positions against the walls, making use of what cover there was. Apala was closest, his gloved hands wrapped around a bolt pistol. Chua and Heren squatted behind him; their sniper rifles were slung across their backs and combat knives glinted in their hands. Sergeant Ormr brought up the rear, hefting his heavy bolter. They were each clad in deep black scout armour and fatigues, their skin darkened with smears of paint. Behind them, lurking in his full Mk VI plate, Apothecary Veles was a bulkier, menacing figure.


Couple of operational questions here. Why do they have their knives out instead of sniper rifles? If the rest of the squad is scanning the room for threats, it would seem to me that the snipers would be taking up covering positions? Also, if the Apothecary is in full plate would they be advancing as stealthily as implied? On a side note, can you ever be menacing in white Apothecary armour? ;)

Squiggle wrote: ‘We will return it to the ‘Fists?’ Urulokë asked.


Bearing in mind that I really like the plot idea of body snatching Marines, I'm not sure why the Scout would be so quick to ask this question? I realise that there may be further info on the Chapter's struggles to come, but seems quite a bold and surprising question to ask? Maybe some more explanation of his own disquiet about whether the Imperial Fist is actually dead, or a guilty/shifty reaction from the Apothecary (maybe he mutters something about claiming what the Chapter needs?) would set the scene for the suspicion.


Squiggle wrote:Heinous graffiti and blasphemous shrines would require the attentions of flamer-equipped Adepta Sororitas purification squads.


Small thing, but would it make sense to mention the Sororitas in terms of the initial attack? Otherwise looks like they have been added in from nowhere.

Squiggle wrote: The force it must have taken to smash a fully armoured battle brother through the chart table was a sobering thought for Uruloke as he approached.


Just a note that there are a couple of places that you don't have the 'ë' on Urulokë's name, danger of using unsual characters! =)

Squiggle wrote: His idle musing was quickly forgotten as he gazed down on the dead Astartes.

I don't think it's that idle - if something could do that to a full battle brother then it's worth a thought or two for a scout ;)

Squiggle wrote: Urulokë thought back to the grasping fist of the yellow armoured Astartes, and the calculating way Veles had excised his gene seed. Again his soul cried out at the wrongness of it. He cast away the thought, met Apala’s eye and prepared to perform this dark duty. It was clear that retrieving the armour would benefit his chapter.

But he was not satisfied. He vowed that once this mission was over, he would demand answers. He vowed he would learn the truth about his so-called brothers.


Brooding end - why do I get the feeling this might not end well for him? ;) My only question would again be the speed to which he has jumped to questioning his brothers - as a Scout he will have been thoroughly indoctrinated into the Chapter, I would expect doubt to take longer. Perhaps there is space for a bit info on his prior experiences, perhaps he has seen things already to make him question?
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Re: Suffer Not the Mutant. Part 1.

Postby Squiggle » Fri Jul 21, 2017 10:49 am

Kentigern - thanks for your comments... I have posted the next part below!

#


Urulokë sat on the unyielding, cold plasteel deck of the thunderhawk gunship and frowned down at the blood and dirt now ingrained under his fingernails. The blood itself did not concern him; it was what it represented that was causing his dark mood. They had found three more Black Dragon dead after the first. After Veles had skilfully excised their gene seed, Urulokë and his fellow scouts had stripped them of their armour and weapons. Two had been what he was increasingly coming to think of as pure battle brothers, noble figures untouched by the tainted bone structure of the others.

The third had been even more twisted than the first. When Chua and Heren had removed his armour, the body underneath had been riddled with mutation; stubs of what Urulokë could only describe as vestigial wings jutted from the brother’s shoulder blades and patches of his skin had an iridescent, reptilian sheen. His spine ended in a partially formed tail and his mouth was filled with barbed fangs. For the second time, Urulokë had had to fight down the urge to vomit.

Ormr had been silent throughout. He hadn’t spoken since they had boarded the thunderhawk at the pre-designated extraction point. In fact, none of the scouts had spoken, and now, as the massive turbine engines rumbled into life and sent harsh vibrations through his deck-plate seat, Urulokë realised that the sergeant’s glowering silence was more telling than any shouted denial. That other members of his chapter allowed and accepted these mutants was nearly too much to bear. Murmuring quietly to himself, he again vowed to seek an explanation for this blatant deviancy.

#


Urulokë paced outside the prefabricated, adamantium shelter that housed Captain Vizar Kyta. He was in the midst of the temporary staging area used by the Dragons and the Imperial Fists as they massed their forces in preparation for a final assault which they hoped to finish the Reborn’s resistance on Garochete. The remainder of the company were deployed to the north, defending the spaceport against increasingly weaker traitor assaults. The staging area was surrounded by plasteel ramparts and gun emplacements, manned by members of the 15th Cadian Artillery. Thunderhawk gunships held sentry overhead, leaving curving, white contrails through the blue sky.

Around him engines of war grumbled and coughed. The air was rich with the stink of burning promethium, the scent of weapon oil and the sweet fumes emanating from servitor-tended incense burners.

It rankled with him that he was not with his squad, his brothers. For an Astartes, preparation for battle was not just the ritual checking of weapons and armour, it was a spiritual occasion which was accorded all due reverence. Sergeant Ormr would be leading the rest of Scout Squad Bravo in prayer in the makeshift chapel and Chaplain Bacriel would be preparing blessings for each and every battle brother prior to the engagement. Being an Astartes, Urulokë had learned, was more than just being a consummate warrior. It was the complete focus of mind, body and spirit, concentrating on the only task that mattered; that of defeating the enemies of the Emperor and the Imperium. But nothing could clear his mind for the coming battle short of an explanation of the aberrations he had so recently witnessed and Sergeant Ormr had been unable to dissuade him from demanding this audience.

Raised voices cut through the clamour of men, machinery and Astartes, and Urulokë jerked from his reverie to see Captain Falkane of the Imperial Fists striding towards him. Before either could speak, Kyta stepped out of his shelter, face set in a neutral mask.

‘Brother-Captain Falkane, what troubles you?’

‘Captain Kyta.’ Falkane said, inclining his head. The contrast between the two was pronounced. Where Falkane possessed a noble, near-flawless countenance, Kyta’s face was cruelly marked by warfare. Where Falkane’s armour was polished to a shimmering finish, Kyta’s was dirty and pockmarked.

‘How may I serve you, Brother?’ Kyta said.

‘Do not fence with me; where are Brother Ecnor’s progenoid glands?’ Falkane said.

When Kyta spoke, his voice barely raised above a whisper. ‘I do not have an answer for you. Surely the location of the glands is of concern to yourself and your apothecaries.’

‘Ecnor was lost in the recent assault.’ Falkane said, glaring at Kyta, ‘My apothecary informed me that his glands were harvested before he could attend. Your scout party entered first, along with your apothecary. I have heard the rumours about your cursed chapter’s dark practices from my own brothers. I know you are responsible. I will ask a final time. Where are Brother Ecnor’s progenoid glands?’

Kyta met Falkane’s gaze. His stare glimmered with dangerous fury.

‘Brother-Captain Falkane, are you suggesting that we have stolen Brother Ecnor’s progenoid glands?’

Falkane’s noble visage twisted with indignant rage.

‘Our dealings with your tainted brothers have done nothing to convince me otherwise. I know you have-‘

The angry blare of klaxons drowned out his words. The rattle of gunfire spoke before the vox systems could. They were under attack.

Urulokë grabbed his shotgun and sprinted towards the nearest section of the ramparts. He could already hear the dull thud of the autocannon emplacements and the raucous scream of heavy bolter fire. A guardsman ran towards him, fleeing the front line. He was dressed in blood splattered green fatigues. He had lost his helmet and was crying out with unbridled terror. Dark lightning flickered across his body and the man exploded wetly, splattering the ground with wet gobbets of flesh. A daemon coalesced in his place, swaying on smooth, pale limbs. Jewelled eyes sparkled in a glistening insect-like head. Heavy pincers hung from slender arms and a sting coiled sensuously between its legs. Strips of flimsy material barely covered its ghastly modesty.

It gestured seductively at Urulokë with its pincers. Foul tendrils slipped inside his thoughts, a myriad of overlapping sibilant whispers that fogged and slowed his mind. He looked into its multifaceted eyes and in each tiny reflection saw himself writhing in unbridled pleasure.

Leave your weapons, come to me; there is nothing for you here.

Urulokë staggered as he fought against its insidious influence. Bellowing a catechism of purity, he dispelled its pervasive hold with righteous anger and faith. He raised his shotgun and fired. The shells ripped holes through its supple flesh and shattered an eyeball. It shrieked, clawed desperately at the air and burst from existence with a thunderous bang.

Urulokë racked the slide on his shotgun, dislodging spent cartridges, and sprinted for the ramparts. As he scaled the parapet, two men climbed over it. They were traitors; their uniforms torn and their flesh sporting writhing tattoos. Urulokë fired, the close range shotgun blast turning the first man’s chest to red ruin. The other levelled his lasgun. Still moving at a run, Urulokë dropped his shoulder and smashed the man bodily into a plasteel stanchion, crushing his ribs. The traitor fell on his face and didn’t get up. Blood leaked from his ruptured abdomen.

Urulokë looked beyond the ramparts and gained his first glimpse of the enemy. The killing zone razed around the encampment at the edge of the jungle was awash with the forces of darkness. Traitorous guardsmen marched alongside twisted daemon-things. Las blasts scorched the defences and daemonic flames rippled towards him. Concentrated heavy weapons fire was cutting gashes in the horde. Urulokë slung his shotgun over his shoulder to better grab the firing handles of an idle heavy stubber. He squeezed the triggers, spraying high calibre solid-slugs into the front lines. He was joined at the parapet by an Imperial Fist who began firing his bolter at a group of charging daemons. The whoosh-crump of each round was accompanied by the ear-splitting wails of the warp-filth as they were forcibly blasted out of existence.

The Black Dragons were now flocking to the ramparts and the staccato reports of their bolter fire contrasted with the flash-bang of missile launchers. The increased fire quickly took its toll on the foul multitude and groups of the traitorous guardsmen fell back or took cover in craters and shell holes. The warp-denizens advanced regardless, but they were now few in number.

‘Enemies of the Emperor, die!’ Urulokë glanced up to see Captain Kyta gain the ramparts. The captain thrust his right fist into the air, his gauntlet augmented by five wickedly sharp spines of bone, an heirloom weapon fashioned for a previous Black Dragons hero. It looked fragile; skeletal even, but Urulokë knew its slender construction belied the damage it could wreak in Kyta’s skilled hands.

Kyta bellowed another war cry and leapt over the parapet. At his heels came a combat squad of five unarmed Space Marines, screaming cries of righteous anger. Urulokë had to look again; as they followed their captain, a multitude of shimmering blades burst from forearm-guards of each Astartes. Led by Kyta, they carved into the traitor lines, leaving piles of mutilated dead in their wake.

A trio of nightmarish, banshee wails grabbed Urulokë’s attention. Three fallen Astartes, the Reborn, hurtled towards him suspended in the air on wings of fire. Their ancient armour was the dusky crimson of fresh rust and was disfigured with rattling chains, jutting spines and rotting trophies. Urulokë wrenched back on the firing handles, tilting the barrel of the heavy stubber into the air and sending a steam of fire towards them. The leader skilfully jinked sideways and turned a neat somersault, avoiding every shot. The second was not so adept. The torrent of lead washed over him, searching for an opening in his armour plate. Several rounds hammered into the air intakes of his jump pack and the ancient device coughed and died, sending the traitor plummeting to the ground.

The remaining two dived towards Urulokë, trailing fire and smoke. He threw himself to the ground as they swept past, lashing at him with chainswords and vicious, curved blades. He rolled sideways, coming up with his shotgun in his hands. The leader of the trio pirouetted in the air and landed with force enough to shake the ramparts. His ceramite shod feet left ragged dents in the plasteel and red dust cascaded from his corroded armour plate. He thrust his growling chainsword at Urulokë who parried desperately with his shotgun. The whirring teeth tore gashes out of the plasteel stock. The force of the impact smashed Urulokë back into the parapet and drove the air from his lungs. The Reborn lunged again and this time his screeching chainsword ripped the shotgun out of the scout’s hands. Urulokë fumbled for a weapon, knowing he stood little chance of surviving this encounter, but vowing to fight to the last.
If my mind's the weapon, my heart's the extra clip

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