BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Part 1, complete)

Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim, dark future there is only war.

BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Part 1, complete)

Postby kurisawa » Fri May 18, 2012 8:16 am

So, here is a failed novel. It is complete, but aware of how off-putting long chunks of text can be, I'll post it a chapter at a time and trust to my great cliffhangers and compelling story to keep people coming back. :lol:

I had been toying with the idea of making it a free PDF file for e-readers, but it seems this is my best shot at getting some readers. Thanks to one and all who can take the time to read as much or as little as you fancy...




BLACK SHIELDS
INCOGNITUS


Part One: Records Expunged



= I =
Hunters



‘HOLD YOUR FIRE, Neophyte Markius,’ the Father-Chaplain’s voice exuded power as it rattled from the vox-bead in his ear. Markius paused. The boltpistol poised in his grip was a precious relic, forged in a bygone age and reverently passed down through generation after generation, and now it had become Markius’s ward. He shared a born warrior’s keenness with the ancient machine-spirit enshrined within its hammer-like housing of fashioned steel. The Father-Chaplain thinks I will miss, Markius scowled.

An image of the mass-reactive bolts roaring and destroying their prey flashed across his mind’s eye. He was an excellent marksman. How many times had he proved it to the veteran-sergeants during firing rites? He could strike this target. That would impress the old grouch. The Father-Chaplain spoke again, ‘The mission, Neophyte. We must find the nest before the alarm is raised. No bolters; blades only.’

‘Acknowledged, Father-Chaplain,’ whispered Markius, sighing before holstering his boltpistol, his first opportunity to kill real prey with the weapon denied. I will consecrate you in time, he promised the machine-spirit within. He unsheathed his combat blade, its diamantine edge honed to a monomolecular razor that carved through flesh and bone. Thrust with the full might of a bio-enhanced Adeptus Astartes, the gladius could rend even ceramite armour. Its warrior-spirit, too, was awake and eager.

‘This way’ll be better, eh?’ Neophyte Rasmus growled next to Markius. Even when he whispered, big Rasmus rumbled like an ice bear. Markius glanced at his old friend, and Rasmus flashed him a crooked grin beneath a bulbous nose that had been broken too many times in close-combat rites – and too many rash challenges against the veteran-sergeant instructors. Though his balding pate had been shaved close to the skull, it did not hide that Rasmus was going a manly grey despite his mere eighteen summers. His pulse quickening, Markius grinned back then nodded to his squad.

Beads of sweat trickling from their heavy brows, the hunters stalked like sabretooths between the boulders and stalagmites of the cavern. They clung to the shadows, avoiding the hellish glare of the seething magma flows. Markius flicked his left hand in the signal they had learned in training, and the six hunters froze still, hugging the jagged terrain. Dark combat fatigues camouflaged the muscular warriors. Markius watched the half-alien things guarding the entrance to another cave, his enhanced senses detecting their foul scent. One of them turned, took a few paces, and faced their direction.

Abominations! Markius’s lips twisted into a sneer. How can such scars on humanity exist and not immolate themselves for shame? Any pity he might have felt for them was eclipsed by his hatred.

Spying through a crevice between jagged rocks, he could see the blasphemous face of the nearest one, thirty paces away. The hide of the thing’s distorted head was stained a violet pigment; a warped parody of its human ancestry. There was something unnatural about the piercing eyes, too; jaundiced, alien, evil. Markius spotted the lasgun it clutched in mutated hands that ended in three claws, and speculated whether it had any other weapons or grenades secreted beneath its tattered layers of grey cloaks.

The thing turned and Markius signaled to his brother neophytes. Three slunk away in another direction. When the time came, they pounced in silence.

Markius swooped, closing with his target as swift as an eagle. The thing whirled and its eyes widened. Its mouth opened to scream, but Markius was on it, his powerful arm wrapped about its distorted skull. He remembered at the last moment not to slice across the throat, as the gurgling when its blood flooded its esophagus could cause too much noise. He wrenched its head round and sawed his gladius through the vertebrae at the base of the skull, then twisted the blade, severing both the cerebral and carotid arteries.

‘The Emperor’s gaze burn you for an eternity,’ Markius whispered. As the prey crumpled onto the baked ground, he shivered with the ecstasy of cleansing the abomination from the Emperor’s omniscient eye. Brother Rasmus dispatched the other guard, hefting it clear from the ground before ripping its neck around, splintering its spine.

The six scouts, neophytes of the Storm Eagles chapter of the Adeptus Astartes, stared into the maw of the next cavern where their first true combat mission was about to begin.


* * *



STALKING BETWEEN MONSTROUS speleothems that had melded over the millions of years into pillars stretching up to the distant cavern roof, Markius was reminded of his homeworld; a place he had only recently discovered was actually called Prism. There, he had once ducked and dashed between giant blackwood trees of similar girth.

However, there ended any familiarity. Instead of the scents of fresh pines, his nostrils drank in the stench of burning sulfur. Instead of the freezing chills of the towering ice mountains, he haunted the roasting shadows of volcanic caverns. Instead of the frosty skies of his homeworld, the caverns were covered with fiery-red roofs of rock that danced with shadows from the smoldering fires below. Instead of hunting mammoths for food, his quarry was now the miserable xenophile deformities that hid and plotted here beneath the kilometers-thick crust.

Here they spread their vile alien-worshipping heresies like a poison through the surface city hives. Here they had escaped the planetary defence forces and Arbites’ vigils. But there is no hiding from the justice of the Holy God-Emperor, Markius thought with a grim sneer.

His carapace shoulder and chest plates felt far lighter than the tanned leather hide he had once called armour, his biogenetically enhanced body devouring the distances easily as he ran. Four of the pitiful xenophiles he had purged so far, and not one had made a sound as its wretched soul was released into blessed oblivion, save a surprised groan and a low hiss as it exhaled its final diseased breath.

‘Sergeant Markius,’ Rasmus’s excited voice, tinny and small, growled in his ear through the vox bead. ‘Holy Throne, I think that might be it, eh?’

The squad halted and hugged the shadows. Markius examined the place that Rasmus had indicated. It was a large dome, carved from the baking stone and almost the size of the Librarium at the fortress-monastery of his chapter back on Ornisgard, the moon that orbited Prism. A number of arched mouths offered shadowy entrances to its interior, standard human-sized so he and his men would have to hunch to go through them. And there were more of the half-breeds; half a dozen, keeping watch with those unnerving eyes.

Markius needed only a moment: This is it! Something in his instincts, beyond the endless hours of psycho-conditioning and brain-engram information downloads; something told him this was what they were looking for. He could almost sense the presence of the thing inside. The hunter’s instinct of a Storm Eagle space marine, he congratulated himself.

‘Father-Chaplain, this is Neophyte Markius of Omega squad: I believe we have the target in sight, roughly six hundred metres north from our position,’ Markius keyed the vox-communicator channel and tried to restrain the excitement in his voice.

‘Acknowledged, Neophyte Markius,’ came the Chaplain’s terse reply, lacking the enthusiasm that Markius felt. ‘Remember the minerals in the crust distort the signal; I need Omega squad to get to within five metres. The Emperor will bless your work this day.’

‘Acknowledged, Father-Chaplain,’ said Markius, exchanging grins with his squad at that last rare comment of encouragement.

‘Father-Chaplain, this is Neophyte Goran: I think Epsilon squad has a better line of approach to the target,’ a smooth voice crackled on the vox and Markius immediately grimaced. He resisted spitting in the custom of his old tribe whenever one heard the name of a hated enemy.

‘Can you see Epsilon squad’s position, Neophyte Markius?’ said the Chaplain.

It is the same again! Markius’s memory flashed back to the final Hunt of the Rites before the induction.

‘We are two clicks north-east of you,’ said Goran, ‘On the big slope that meets with the sandstone pillar.’

He is running through the blackwood forest on Prism, the scent of the sabretooth in his nostrils, flint-tipped spear ready and quivering in his hands. This time I will pass the test and travel to the moon of the eagle-warriors!

‘I see you,’ said Markius, controlling the hatred in his voice, checking the position as his occulobe implants enhanced his eyes’ ability to filter through the shadows, ‘Be careful! The scum will spot you if you don’t get back behind the rock.’

‘This one is mine, Markius,’ Goran is bursting into the clearing between the trees, his own spear brandished, green eyes flashing and long black hair flying. ‘It is time the Wolf-scar tribe had one of their own chosen! And it will be me!’

‘I saw him first,’ Markius growls as the two braves circle one another, ‘so the prey is mine.’


‘Father-Chaplain; request permission for Epsilon squad to make the approach. We have the better angle. Omega can cover from their side,’ said Goran.

Markius felt his adrenalin surging through his system, despite the artificial organs implanted to regulate its release. That’s not true!

‘Father-Chaplain,’ crackled a different voice, ‘Neophyte Tobias, Lambda squad. I now have the target area under surveillance.’

‘Report, Neophyte Tobias,’ said the Chaplain. Markius held his breath. He could not remember if fair-haired Tobias was from the same tribe as Goran.

‘Omega squad has the advantage,’ said Tobias, not wasting more words. The vox hissed and crackled for what seemed like a very long time to Markius. His grip tightened around his blade.

‘Neophyte Goran, Epsilon squad will stand down and give cover,’ the Chaplain’s voice finally came. ‘Neophyte Markius, we trust Omega squad to complete the mission.’

Markius punched the air and exchanged silent cheers with his squad as pride burned in his chest.

‘Acknowledged, Father-Chaplain,’ said Markius, as calmly as he could.

‘Acknowledged, Father-Chaplain,’ came Goran’s sour voice, unable to hide his disappointment.

As they approached the dome, Markius admonished himself for feeling vindicated in his revenge. That incident with Goran during the hunt had cost him three months of penitent meditation in the chapter’s Solitorium. He remembered the weekly visits by the Father-Chaplain.

‘Do not lie to me, Initiate, or I will know it,’ the Father-Chaplain is saying. ‘Do you hate Brother Goran?’

They came to within ten paces of the nearest entrance into the dome and took cover as another half-breed came into sight, patrolling around the perimeter. Markius felt as if his additional implanted Heart of Guilliman was deliberately beating extra loudly in order to betray him.

‘Father-Chaplain, what must I say?’ he is replying. ‘I do not wish to miss this season’s induction.’

Rasmus took the thing out, again cleanly and from behind, then signaled to the squad as he wiped the sickening blue blood off his combat blade on its rags. Led by Markius, Omega squad ghosted into the dome interior.

The place stank of xenos in the baking heat, a rankling stink akin to rotting piles of dead cockroaches. It scratched at Markius’s nostrils even over the acrid stench of the flickering flame-torches racked along the walls. Inside it was a warren of low, curving tunnels; just like a nest of Prismish blood-rats. Strange xenos letters were scrawled on the walls in a dubious substance, alongside despicable images of six-limbed alien beings. They danced as if alive in the flickering shadows of the torches. Despite the heat a chill ran down his back and somehow, up ahead, Markius could sense they were nearing their target.

The inquisitor-led purges of this world had destroyed hundreds of the half-breed scum over the years, but they could never quite trace the infection to its source. And so the xenophile cults and half-breeds returned again and again, sometimes with years or even decades in between purges, like a persistent cancer, to plague the Imperial citizens. If the inquisition’s information is right, this time we can end it for good, the Father-Chaplain had briefed them. We cannot let them slip through our fingers and escape again!

Two more of the half-breeds appeared around a dark corner in the tunnel, confronting the advancing space marine scouts. Their alien mouths dropped open in surprise for an instant, but Markius and Rasmus rushed them before they could shout the alarm. Despite the confined space, their martial training prevailed and silent death-blows were quickly administered, snapping necks the only sound in the flickering half-darkness.

The Father-Chaplain is sighing. ‘How many times have I come here and ministered to your spiritual well-being?’ he is saying. ‘I will return in another week. You will have another week of solitude to think upon what you must do.’ Then he is leaving again.

The tunnel opened out into an arched chamber perhaps fifty metres across. Markius estimated they were now at the centre of the dome complex. A further entranceway, this time barred by roughly hewn stone doors, lay across the other side of the chamber. The doors looked as if they rolled aside in grooves carved into the rock. More curling xenos script had been gouged into them.

Boltpistols raised and trained on the dozen gaping mouths of tunnel entranceways into the chamber, Omega squad advanced towards the doors. Markius unhooked the teleport homer from his backpack and thumbed the pre-activation rune. The ancient metal device was about the size of his forearm. Little amber lights blinked along one side of the display and glowing numbers and runes that Markius did not understand scrolled down the screen. He did know the machine-spirit within was now awake and calibrating its position ready to transmit.

Markius!’ a voice hissed from behind Omega squad, from the entrance they had arrived by, and the space marine scouts spun with weapons raised.

Markius narrowly avoided unleashing several explosive rounds from his boltpistol as he witnessed Goran and Epsilon squad entering the chamber. Markius took in a deep breath. To have used his first shots to kill a fellow space marine would have been an intolerable dishonour.

‘You followed us!’ he hissed, trying to keep his voice quiet despite his rage, aware that the heart of the xenos infection was mere metres away. ‘You disobeyed the Father-Chaplain!’

The members of each squad backed away, returning their aim to the surrounding entrances and the stone doors, as Goran and Markius came face to face and holstered their pistols.

‘Listen to me,’ said Goran. ‘The homer may not work down here; the signal is distorted, remember? This can be our chance.’

‘Our chance to what? To be expelled from the chapter for good?’ said Markius. Both men tensed, their hands hovering near their combat blades.

‘Sergeant Markius,’ growled Rasmus nearby. ‘We don’t have time for this, eh?’

‘We can take them out,’ whispered Goran, nodding towards the stone doors. ‘This time we do it together, and then we will be heroes! The Father-Chaplain will surely honour us and forgive us.’

Markius looked at the stone doors, then back to Goran. The long, thick black hair Goran had on Prism was shaved close to his skull now, but the lethal flash in those green eyes and the sneer that twisted his angular face were the same.

‘Yes, I still hate him,’ he is saying, ‘but our rivalry can be for the good, if it drives us to strive for our best to serve the Holy God-Emperor.’

‘Well done, Initiate,’ the Father-Chaplain is replying. ‘You have learned an important lesson. Your love for your fellow battle brothers, and indeed, your rivalry, will exist; but let nothing eclipse your love of the God-Emperor. Before his all-seeing eyes, allegiance to the Imperium must come first. Now come with me and return to the Assimularum.’



* * *



‘NO, GORAN,’ MARKIUS said. ‘We do not know what lies behind those doors. The mission must come first, before our glory.’

‘Damn fool!’ hissed Goran, and he launched into an attack on Markius, his hand closing into a clenched fist, punching for Markius's throat.

Markius was astonished by the swift strike, shocked that Goran would do such a thing after the months of penal solitude. But he managed to block Goran’s fist just before it struck his windpipe. He attempted to turn Goran’s arm, using his momentum against him, while their other hands locked. They wrestled for a moment on their feet, but Goran had the initiative and Markius toppled onto his back, the teleport homer skidding away.

This time I will finish him, Markius thought. This has gone on long enough. I will not back down!

The two space marine scouts scuffled in the dust, grunting quietly, neither wishing to raise the alarm and bring the entire xenophile cult down upon them. The rest of the two squads glanced between one another and the entrances to the chamber, open-mouthed, unsure how to react to this unexpected crisis.

‘Goran, stop this madness!’ said Markius, struggling under the other’s weight. Goran did not reply, grimacing as he slowly gained the advantage in their struggle. Both now applied every martial technique they had been taught, augmented with a savage hatred born of their feral past. Markius glimpsed Rasmus’s face, his hesitant astonishment. He knew the big man wanted to come to his aid, but also knew honour forbid it. This was one against one.

Markius tried to throw Goran off in a desperate jolt, but only succeeded in dislodging his opponent for a moment. His hand, momentarily free of Goran’s grip, went for his gladius, but was blocked before he could reach it.

‘Sergeant Goran, please!’ one of Goran’s Epsilon squad begged him. Goran slowly gained a lock over Markius’s arms that would allow him to get one hand free. His green eyes glinted. Markius realised one or the other of them was going to need to use their boltpistol to end this; and the violent blasts of the weapons were all the aliens needed to discover their presence.

Emotions howled like Prismish storm winds through his mind. He could not bear to give in to Goran, not after everything, but if this struggle continued the enemy may be warned of the attack. Could he take the offer and join in the heroic assault without using the teleport homer?

Markius considered the idea, but as soon as he thought of how proud the Father-Chaplain might be, he remembered the lessons he had learnt during the penitent meditation. He could never live with himself for disobeying orders, nor could he allow Goran to get away with it. But Goran was winning the fight; there was no doubt about it. He was going to be able to get a hand free, despite Markius’s struggles. Markius mentally rifled through the multitude of throws and holds he had learned in unarmed combat training since becoming an initiate.

‘Alright, Goran. Alright!’ Markius finally whispered, allowing his arms to go limp. ‘You win.’

It burned every fibre of his being to submit, went against everything he had learned back on Prism from his tribe. He imagined himself the loser of the ritual fights between the sabretooths, when the alpha-male was established. He had submitted after this challenge, and back on Prism that meant exile or servitude. It knifed him inside just to think of it. Markius prayed the God-Emperor was watching them at that moment.

Goran unhooked his boltpistol and shoved it into Markius’s face. Markius tried not to flinch. Markius said, ‘You go ahead, Omega squad will cover the other entranceways.’

‘You won’t regret this,’ Goran grinned his victory, his canine teeth looking sharper than ever. ‘They’ll sing about this for years in the chapter sagas.’

Goran shoved himself away from Markius, keeping his boltpistol trained on his face. Markius even helped to push Goran up and away, gripping something in the other’s backpack for a moment. Goran stared down. Markius didn’t move, lying on his back and breathing heavily. How much time have we wasted? It’s a miracle we are not yet discovered.

As a final thought came to him, Goran strode across and picked up Markius’s teleport homer, lying several paces away. With one stroke he dashed it onto the hard stone ground. The solid crack as its metal casing was broken echoed harshly off the walls of the chamber and Markius winced.

‘Epsilon squad, with me!’ Goran hissed to his men, then turned back to Markius. ‘You, back off!’

Markius and his squad retreated from the stone doors to the other side of the chamber. They exchanged stunned but understanding looks with him. Shame burned on Markius’s cheeks. He couldn’t look at Rasmus.

It took moments for Epsilon squad to set frag grenades around the stone doors and they blew out seconds later, sending blinding clouds of dust and shards of stone billowing into the chamber. Goran screamed a battle-cry to his men, the alpha-male claiming his territory, and they charged into the unknown beyond the fractured doors. There was a deep, throaty growl from something beyond.

‘Cover that entrance!’ Markius barked through the dust cloud and dropped to one knee. Sounds of battle echoed through the opaque air; the shouts of the scouts and the roars of some unimaginable monsters. Markius removed from his backpack the teleport homer that he had taken from Goran just before they separated their struggle, and quickly thumbed the pre-activation rune.

‘Come on! Come on!’ he urged it.

‘Neophyte Markius, what is happening down there?’ The Father-Chaplain’s voice rumbled urgently in his ear. ‘We do not receive your teleport signal and I cannot raise Epsilon squad.’

‘Another moment, Father-Chaplain,’ voxed Markius, watching the green runes flicker across the teleport homer’s screen.

The boltpistols of his squad suddenly barked all around him and Markius flinched as their self-propelled bolts exploded into the far walls with deafening booms. He glanced up and glimpsed a swarm of six-limbed monsters surging out from the gap where the destroyed doors had been. Purestrains, he recognised from the images in his brain-engram. These were the true xenos scum, utterly inhuman, with powerful hunched bodies covered in armoured chitin plates.

Their elongated faces, blotched a deep purple, were dominated by screaming maws packed with needle-like teeth, and yellow piercing eyes. Even as he glanced up, Markius witnessed one member of Epsilon squad ripped apart by the crab-like claws of the creatures, his armour easily penetrated by their razor-sharp edges.

The rest of Epsilon squad staggered back before the onslaught of the preternaturally fast monsters, fighting for their lives, while Omega squad blasted into the fray, still half-blinded by the swirling clouds of dust.

The teleport homer burped a low note signaling the machine-spirit within was ready to transmit and Markius punched the rune. He saw Goran stumbling back towards him, carrying one of the monsters on his shoulders and trying to fend off slicing attacks from its multiple claws.

The alien caught Goran’s flailing right arm in an armoured pincer and, as Markius watched in horror, sliced right through it just above the elbow. Goran howled with fury, toppling almost on top of Markius. Blood spurted from the wound, but already the flow was starting to stem as the implanted Larraman’s Organ clotted Goran’s blood and accelerated the healing process. Markius had no time to think. The roars of the monsters and explosions of the boltpistols filled all his senses.

Markius leapt forward and rammed his boltpistol’s barrel into the monster’s jaws as they reached down to tear into Goran’s jugular. The thing’s jaundiced stare locked eyes with Markius for a heartbeat, and then he blew its head off with a squeeze of his trigger.

Markius and Goran collapsed together as the black blood and ichor of the xenos sprayed across their armour. Goran grunted as the alien’s corrosive blood also splashed into his face, burning into his scalp, and Markius quickly wiped it off with his carapace vambrace. It took Goran a moment to realise who had stepped in to aid him, but when he saw it was Markius his stare was blank. Steam rose from the scars burned into his face and scalp.

‘This changes nothing,’ Goran hissed, then he saw the activated teleport homer in Markius’s other hand. Goran started, ‘What the…?’

The temperature in the chamber suddenly plunged, and Markius felt the sweat on his brow start to crystallize with frost. Fingers of white ice crept along the walls. His sinuses ached with an inexplicable pressure. A mouldy stench grasped at the back of his throat and Markius gagged. The air shimmered and the noise of the explosions and screams were muffled. It was the stench of the warp, Markius guessed, even though his engrams had not yet been downloaded on this subject.

Then there were seven figures standing in the chamber that had not been there before: Looming figures, dwarfing even the space marine scouts, clad in terminator battle armour more akin to walking tanks. Six were painted in the deep cerulean hue of the Storm Eagles chapter, while the seventh was the distinctive ceremonial black of the Father-Chaplain, decorated with skulls and purity seals.

‘The veterans are here!’ Markius breathed.

As one, each of the armoured giants swung their stormbolters, the twin-barreled heavy weapons mounted in the servo-assisted left arms of their battle-suits, towards the aliens.

‘Get down!’ Markius yelled to his men, and both Epsilon squad and Omega squad threw themselves to the ground, leaving the clawing aliens momentarily bewildered.

The terminators unleashed their payload and the entire chamber exploded into an inferno of mass-reactive destruction. The bodies of the aliens burst apart in sprays of fire, ichor, osseous carapace and acidic blood, while the steady thump-thump-thump of the stormbolters filled the chamber like the deep beats of old Prismish mammoth-skin drums. The xenos recovered their shock and their ear-splitting shrieks cleaved the air even through the deafening fire of the stormbolters as they swarmed towards the veterans.

Markius and his squad crawled away from the maelstrom of conflict, watching as the terminators’ right fists energised into power-gauntlets wreathed in crackling lightning. The destructive power of one strike by a veteran smashed right through the first xenos animal to leap towards him and swept out of its back, pulverising its backbone and internal organs all in one stroke.

Markius looked to Goran, nearby, but the sergeant of Epsilon squad angrily shrugged off his offer of help, crawling backwards one-armed towards another entranceway to the chamber.

Then Markius witnessed the… it could only be the alpha-male of the xenos… a six-limbed brood-lord that dwarfed its clawing kindred and stood a head taller than even the terminators. Its muscle-bound frame emerged from the last dust clouds clogging the gap that was the former stone doors, and it roared its challenge to the terminators.

This is it, Markius realised. This is the source of the infection that the inquisition has been looking for all these years. We finally have it cornered!

The Father-Chaplain turned towards the scouts at the periphery of the chamber and rumbled through his vox-grate, ‘Don’t let anything get out of here alive!’

The smaller aliens, now perhaps realising they were outmatched by the terminators, scattered as the brood-lord stalked towards the Father-Chaplain. The black-armoured Chaplain brandished his Crozius Arcanum, a double-headed axe stylised as an Imperial Aquila that crackled with white electric light as its machine-spirits wreathed it in an energy field. He clomped forwards to face the monster.

The scouts added streams of missiles from their boltpistols to the punishing volleys of the terminators and together they blew apart the xenos as they desperately tried to escape. The veterans gradually closed their ring, targeting one xenos after another and detonating each with well placed bolts to thin their swarming ranks. The scouts were gradually closed out of the ring, too, left behind to guard for any single stragglers that managed to get past the contracting cordon of death.

Markius watched, holding his breath, as the Father-Chaplain confronted the brood-lord.


.
Last edited by kurisawa on Thu Jul 05, 2012 9:40 am, edited 7 times in total.
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby Mauthos » Fri May 18, 2012 9:53 am

Excellent opening chapter, full of action whilst succinctly introducing us to the main protagonists (I assume) of the story.

The description used really pulled me in and I loved the conflicting relationship between Markius and Goran and I also liked how the small flashbacks managed to build up their past subtly without using the old info-dump tactic

There were a couple of bits that I thought were a little laborious and clunky such as:

Markius swooped, closing with his target as swift as an eagle. The thing whirled and its eyes widened. Its mouth opened to scream, but Markius was on it, his powerful arm wrapped about its distorted skull. He remembered at the last moment not to slice across the throat, as the gurgling when its blood flooded its esophagus could cause too much noise. He wrenched its head round and sawed his gladius through the vertebrae at the base of the skull, then twisted the blade, severing both the cerebral and carotid arteries.


However, this is probably just a matter of taste and I'm being picky.

Overall, cracking stuff, roll on chap 2.
Simplicity is the key to brilliance.
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby kurisawa » Mon May 21, 2012 2:32 am

Thank you Mauthos. That was very encouraging!
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby kurisawa » Mon May 21, 2012 2:44 am

= II =
Battle Brothers



‘FOR THE EMPEROR!’ the Father-Chaplain booms, his Crozius Arcanum carving the air with coils of lightning. The brood-lord slides under the strike, hunched on four of its six limbs like a sinewy tundra wolf. Dagger-fangs glint in its maw as it hisses, rising and pouncing at the black-armoured warrior. Its forelimbs punch towards the Chaplain’s skull-helm, the pincer claws clenched into diamond-hard speartips.

The holy warrior staggers one step backwards, the thrusts pounding against his helmet’s mask. The midlimbs of the beast grab the Chaplain’s terminator armour, locking them in a deadly embrace. Hyper-evolved xenos muscles strain against the Astartes’ servo-assisted might. The beast and the Chaplain wrestle, backs arched.

A snakelike tongue erupts from the beast’s maw, ramming into the Chaplain’s chest armour. The blessed protection field of the Crux Terminatus flickers and sparks and the questing limb does not penetrate. All the while, the Chaplain booms battle-hymns praising the Emperor.

With herculean might coupled to centuries of battle craft, the Chaplain executes a turn, the artificial sinews in his legs grinding his ceramite boots into the stone ground. The beast is lifted, claws flailing, before the Father-Chaplain hefts it over his armoured shoulder and slams the brood-lord onto its back. The ground trembles as the gods of war tussle.

‘Die, abomination!’ booms the Father-Chaplain, and the Crozius Arcanum rears like a mythical daemon-serpent. The brood-lord, lying prone in the crater beneath its back, howls.


Markius’s eyes snapped open.

‘I exterminated four of them!’ Rasmus boasted, his grin exposing his crooked teeth beneath his bulbous nose. His oblong face wrinkled with the grin, right up to the greying pate of his shaved head. ‘You saw me get that one in the eye with my gladius, eh?’

The other scouts laughed. Neophyte Borias, the skin of his head shaved bullet-smooth, showed the scarlet welt across his cheek and said, ‘Oho, well, look at this! That’s where one tried to tickle me before I blew its head off!’

‘Oh, that’ll heal,’ grunted Rasmus. ‘You’ll still have your babyface, eh? Babyface Borias!’ The scouts laughed again.

Markius glanced up to Neophyte-Sergeant Tobias, sitting on his side of the passenger deck but at the far end, near to the doorway that opened onto the medical bay. Tobias ran a hand through his sandy-coloured hair, massaging his temple. Of all the scouts, only Tobias’s hair had quickly grown back into a sleek brush above his hawkish features. Markius caught Tobias’s eye and nodded, giving a silent thanks for his earlier judgment call. Tobias shrugged back, as if it had been a simple choice.

Bruised and battered, but nonetheless in good spirits, the neophytes traded stories and proud demonstrations of their scars, strapped into their grav-seats in the metal belly of the thunderhawk gunship. A dozen to a side, they occupied the passenger deck of the blunt craft. Markius allowed an exhausted smile to cross his face as he peered out of one of the port windows. He could see beyond the gunship’s weapon-laden wings that the thunderhawk was clutched by numerous mechanical arms inside the dull womb of a starship, called the Divine Deliverance, and this much larger vessel was carrying them home. He tried to imagine again the distances they were crossing.

The opti-aural inducers, what the neophytes referred to as the ‘brain-filling machines’, had imputed the information into his mind, but the numbers were still beyond his comprehension. It was hard enough for him to understand how many people had lived in the hive-city back on that unnamed world. Ten billion? Markius had once counted along with Rasmus everyone they had known back on Prism; all of their own tribe, including the elders that had died in their lifetime, and every enemy they had ever encountered, and it had come to less than a thousand people.

The largest number they had known was tusenberg, which was the word used in the tribal legends for the number of warriors that had come together at the famous Battle of Ten Tribes at the Ice Mountain, many years before. He now knew that number was called ten thousand. Numbers like a billion or a million or ten billion were just beyond him to imagine. It was like trying to imagine the number of ice rocks in the world: Uncountable. He knew each number was a lot, but he could not differentiate them. So he was more than happy when the Father-Chaplain had confined them all to the thunderhawk during the return journey. ‘It is only a short jump,’ the old grouch had said, ‘and you need more training with the inducers before you are ready for a tour of a starship like the Deliverance.’

Right now, Markius did not need another assault on his senses and parameters of reality that would leave him reeling and confused. He had other problems to worry about, he knew. As if on cue with this thought, Goran emerged into the passenger deck from the medical bay. A metal clamp was attached to the stump of his right arm, ready to accept a bionic replacement. His bio-acid scarred face was pale and drained, but his green eyes were dangerous as they locked with Markius’s. The brass-plated door slid back behind him with a pneumatic hiss. The banter fell into silence. Several long moments passed.

Borias shifted in his seat opposite Markius. Borias regularly shaved his head with a naked razor, accentuating its aerodynamic shape along with his short but beakish nose, which was nearly as sharp as his sense of humour. Finally he called out, ‘Oho Goran, looks like you win the prize for the best wound!’

The comment was greeted with a cheer. Another voice added, ‘Yeah, I think that one is going to leave a scar!’

One of Goran’s Epsilon squad said, ‘He’ll be boasting about that one for the next hundred years, believe me.’

Goran’s face cracked into a lupine smile and Markius felt himself relax. They had completed their mission, and that was all that mattered for now. He knew the manner of the completion was a problem, and a problem he was going to have to deal with soon. But not now. Now they were neophytes successful in their first ever combat mission. That meant full acceptance into the chapter as battle brothers. His mind swam with the joy of the honour and he tried to imagine how he would feel during the ceremony.

Goran slumped into a grav-seat at the far end of the chamber from Markius and clumsily connected together the straps with his one hand. Markius tried not to look at him, though he noticed that Goran pointedly ignored Tobias, sitting right opposite him.

‘What’s that, eh?’ said Rasmus. Everyone stopped talking.

There was a faint but deep drumming, and it sounded like it came from the exit chamber at the rear of the thunderhawk. Tobias looked down towards Markius but he could only shrug back. The scouts tensed. The sound seemed to come closer. Markius looked around for his weapons, but realised they had all plugged them into the armoury machine-spirits at the rear of the vessel. The door to the passenger deck whooshed open.

The throbbing sound was now at full volume, and it was indeed drums: The deep, mammoth-skin drums of Prism, to be exact. Six muscular figures appeared in the doorway. Markius exhaled; it was the veterans. Without their terminator armour he could see beneath their leathery skin the taut outline of the Black Carapace; the tough second skin that stretched from their waists right up to their necks. It was the last implant in the process to become full Adeptus Astartes: An implant that would soon be given to them. Markius spotted the metal ring-shaped sockets at regular intervals along their arms, legs and abdomens that allowed the marines to be connected and interface directly with full power armour suits.

The veterans wore, impossibly, genuine blue-dyed eagle-feather cloaks and headdresses that were the reserve of mighty chieftains back on Prism. Scarlet and cerulean war-paint was daubed across their cheeks. The effect was complete with traditional sabretooth-fur loin-cloths tied about their midriffs. The scouts exchanged confused glances with one another. Two of the veterans carried the mammoth-skin drums, which they beat in a slow rhythm with heavy padded batons. The four others carried wooden barrels on their shoulders. All of them marched through the doorway, one by one, in a kind of slow, ritual dance. Two steps, a long pause, and then a hop. They did not speak, and their scarred, painted faces were set in solemn scowls.

Markius looked at his fellow neophytes, unsure how to react. Although without their terminator armour suits the veterans were more or less the same size, physically, as the scouts, their presence seemed to fill up the chamber. Their age and experience still dwarfed the scouts.

Finally they were all in the chamber and the drumming ceased. The ensuing silence rang in Markius’s ears. The veterans turned in the centre of the deck, three facing each direction as if to address the scouts arrayed in their seats along each side. They stared away, above the inquiring looks of the scouts, as if looking into the distance, through the very walls of the thunderhawk and out into the starship that carried them.

Markius studied the grim, scarred face of the veteran in front of him. Metal long-service studs were implanted above his brow. Markius had learned the Storm Eagles chapter was founded four hundred years ago, again a concept difficult for him to imagine, though he was told this was in fact very young for the Adeptus Astartes. Yet these men were amongst the very first recruits. They had lived for at least four hundred years! How many battles could one have fought in such an age, Markius wondered, particularly with the strange technology that allowed them to walk between the stars in mere days?

His thoughts were dragged back to the moment when one of the veterans spoke. He said, ‘Warriors of the Storm Eagles, we are to observe today the induction of…’ he glanced around the chamber, ‘twenty-one new members into our hallowed ranks. From this day forth until the end of time, they will be honoured battle brothers, Sons of Guilliman! Immortal heroes of the Imperium!’

Markius grinned and looked at his fellow neophytes.

‘The ceremonies are beginning already, eh?’ Rasmus leaned across and whispered to him, ‘They must have smuggled the clothes on before the mission started!’

‘What are you grinning at?’ the nearest veteran snapped at Markius. ‘Do you not know when you are being addressed? On your feet, brother!’

‘Yes, brother!’ Markius replied and sprang loose his harness before jumping to his feet. The other scouts fumbled with their straps before also standing. Markius tried to compose his face to copy the solemn expression of the veteran before him, but he could feel the sheer excitement and joy threatening to spread into a stupid grin again. What happens next?

The four veterans carrying the barrels slammed them down to their feet with a jolting boom that vibrated through the metal deck-plates. Only then did Markius notice they had rings of rope tied about their waists from which dangled old Prismish clay mugs. As one, the four veterans raised their bare fists and smashed down into the tops of the wooden barrels, splintering the thick lids with conclusive-sounding cracks.

‘I trust you’ve had your Oolitic kidney implant, brother?’ said the veteran facing Markius.

‘I… Yes… Yes I have, brother,’ Markius replied. He caught a whiff from the nearest barrel and thought it smelled like old Prismish ale. The veteran began dunking the mugs into the barrels and then handing them to the scouts. Markius received his mug of steaming liquid and realised this was no normal ale. The stink that filled his enhanced senses told him this had been distilled into a far more potent potion. He dared to take a sip, but the veteran before him barked.

‘We wait until everyone is ready, brother!’

‘Yes brother!’ Markius held his mug in front of him at arm’s length as he saw how the others were standing. He could barely contain his happiness as he realised what was happening. After all the grueling months of training, after all the deadly challenges, all the gene-therapy and implants to his body, after all that had changed since his simple life as a brave of the Wind-spear tribe, his dream was finally coming true. It was the veteran’s way to welcome the new recruits. Pride burst from his chest and he even momentarily forgot his hatred of Goran.

He noticed that one of the veterans facing the sergeant of Epsilon squad had a bionic arm, resulting from what looked like a similar injury to Goran’s. The veteran gave Goran a supportive gesture with a metallic thumbs-up. Soon everyone in the room was ready, filled mugs held before them.

‘Well, brothers,’ the veteran before Markius finally announced. ‘Soon we will put your Warrior’s Vigour to the real test! We have twenty eight ship-time hours before we reach Ornisgard, and it’s going to be a night to remember… or perhaps not!’

Laughter rippled through the scouts and veterans. They were laughing together, as equals, battle brothers, and it felt good to Markius. He felt drunk already, and he hadn’t even touched the ale yet.

A whoosh and waft of unguent-tainted air from his left told Markius that the door to the rear exit deck had opened again. A silence filled the chamber, and Markius could sense who was there before he saw him. The ominous figure of the Father-Chaplain filled the doorway, his terminator armour now exchanged for regular power armour, painted black and decorated as ever by the skulls and purity seals. The giant man cowed even the veterans. He still wore his helmet – Markius wondered if the old grouch ever showed his face – and the red-glowing eye sockets cast their judgmental stare around the chamber.

The veterans said nothing, but simply waited. Unsure what to do, the scouts followed their seniors and kept silent, eyes downcast. Markius felt tension well up inside him again, reminding him of the matter still unresolved back in the baking caverns of that unnamed planet. Witnessing the Father-Chaplain defeat the xenos brood-lord in titanic single combat only served to deepen his awe of the man.

‘Gentlemen,’ the Father-Chaplain’s metallic voice rumbled from his vox-grate. ‘You know who you must make your first toast to.’

The veteran across from Markius finally allowed a thin smile to tug the corner of his mouth, and raised his mug. He said, ‘Battle brothers of the Storm Eagles; the Emperor protects!’

‘The Emperor protects!’ bellowed the rest of the men in return, and as one they raised the foaming mugs to their mouths and downed the contents.

Markius coughed, surprised by the potency of the brew despite all the warnings his senses had given him. He could almost feel his Oolitic kidney already groaning inside his body, straining to deal with the toxicity of the ale. He glanced around and was relieved to find he was not the only one displaying such juvenile reactions to their first taste of the beer. The veterans cheered, stepped forwards, slapped the scouts on the backs and prepared to refill their mugs.

Skarl!’ one of the veterans said, using the old Prismish toasting cheer, ‘and to those who fell today to the xenos scum!’

Markius nodded, raised his mug and added his own ‘Skarl!’ Two of Epsilon squad had fallen on that world, in the hell of that xenos nest. Tobias’s Lambda squad had lost one man to a suicidal half-breed with a melta-bomb, too. Three neophytes that had come through every test before, but fallen before their true potential could be realised. No sagas would be sung about them. It was a reminder of how much they had all come through to earn the right to be here now. The veterans and scouts began exchanging stories of the battle with the xenos, the young neophytes eager to show off their scars and the seniors smiling like knowing, patient fathers.

‘Neophyte Markius, a word,’ the Father-Chaplain’s vox-grate attempted to hiss softly beside his ear. Markius turned and the Father-Chaplain gestured to the doorway that led to the exit chamber. Markius took a deep breath, nodded, and followed the black-armoured giant out of the passenger deck.


* * *



‘YOUR TELEPORT HOMER was destroyed,’ said the Father-Chaplain. It was not a question. ‘Yet you sent the signal, and Epsilon squad was also in the chamber.’

‘I… I can explain Father-Chaplain,’ Markius felt a panic rise in his gut. What in the galaxy could he say? Denouncing Goran was a deliciously tempting prospect, but somehow, despite all his hatred, there was still an unwritten rule of honour amongst the neophytes: A personal matter was settled personally, without tale-telling to the seniors.

There was also another point; a point that jabbed into his ribs like a jagged flint. Goran had dominated him out there, bettered him and forced him to give in. Ever since he had been made sergeant of Omega squad, Markius had believed himself capable of leadership; of being the alpha-male. It was going to be very hard to admit what had happened.

‘Well, what are you waiting for?’ said the Father-Chaplain.

‘I… I am ashamed,’ said Markius. The intense inhuman stare of the Father-Chaplain’s eye lenses seemed to bore into his soul. Markius took another deep breath and then began, ‘The signals beneath the crust were distorted. It’s possible that Epsilon squad misunderstood the last orders…’

The Father-Chaplain sighed, waving a dismissive hand that silenced Markius.

‘Proud fool!’ said the Chaplain. ‘Save your breath. I know what happened down there!’

Markius felt the panic turn to fear. Had the Chaplain spoken to Goran first? What tale had the dishonourable Wolf-scar wrangled? Markius didn’t even know what he had to deny.

‘You did the right thing, Neophyte Markius,’ rumbled the Father-Chaplain, a note of sympathy finally coming across in the metallic vox-grate voice. ‘You backed down in order to prevent the aliens escaping and to call in Alpha squad. It was a good, tactical move, and for once you forewent your personal honour for the sake of the mission! So do not dare to lie to me.’

Markius stared at him open-mouthed. The Father-Chaplain laid a heavy, gauntleted hand on his shoulder. He said, ‘It must have been a hard decision to make, but such things make leaders of us. You are a Storm Eagle now, not a sole brave hunting on his own.’

‘How could you…’ said Markius, forgetting himself for a moment.

‘Your vox-bead was activated. I heard enough to understand,’ said the Father-Chaplain.

Markius stared at him in wonder, trying to remember what had been said during the scuffle with Goran.

‘Or, you can think of it this way,’ said the Chaplain. ‘The God-Emperor is all-seeing, and it is still never any use lying to me!’

Markius blinked twice before he realised the Father-Chaplain had made a joke. It was hard to deal with the man when he never showed his face or any normal semblance of emotions. Finally realising he was not in trouble, and indeed that the Chaplain was actually happy with him, Markius forced himself to smile.

‘Go on,’ said the Father-Chaplain, gesturing back to the passenger chamber. ‘You’re missing your unofficial induction, brother.’

Markius grinned and turned to leave. One final thought struck him and he turned back and said, ‘Goran…’

‘…will be dealt with in due course,’ said the Father-Chaplain. ‘It is not of your concern.’

Markius re-entered the passenger deck to witness the veterans teaching the neophytes some new bawdy battle-song, Rasmus loudest amongst the scouts who attempted to sing along. They appeared to be drunk already. He allowed his mug to be refilled, and decided to put aside his strangely mixed emotions about Goran, for the time-being.


* * *



‘OUCH,’ MUTTERED MARKIUS, rubbing his head. ‘They weren’t wrong about testing the implants to their limits.’

He sniffed an empty clay mug and almost gagged on the scent of the potent alcohol. Still, he was not the last to awake, which gave him a small measure of pride as he witnessed the aftermath of the party around the passenger deck: It was littered with sleeping scouts, discharged from their harnesses, and even a few veterans, though the veterans were now stirring. Something had woken them, and Markius, up.

The giant figure of the Father-Chaplain stomped back in through the doorway that led to the medical bay and cockpit at the front of the thunderhawk, bringing a whoosh of the sliding door and relatively fresh air into the chamber – laced though it was with metal grease and chemical unguents. Markius identified what had disturbed him: The throb of the Deliverance’s engines, a distant hum from outside the thunderhawk, had taken on a higher pitch. The starship had translated back to real-space.

‘Alpha squad, get back into your terminator armour,’ the Chaplain hissed at the veterans. Immediately they were all grim and business-like once more, the festivities long-forgotten, and scrambling through the door to exit. The other scouts began to stir. The Chaplain continued his journey, now back towards the rear of the thunderhawk and the exit chamber.

‘Father-Chaplain, what is it?’ said Markius, as it seemed the Father-Chaplain would ignore them.

The Father-Chaplain turned his black-armoured bulk towards Markius and a frustrated groan escaped his vox-grate. But he paused.

‘No,’ he said. ‘You are battle brothers now. You have a right to know.’

Markius sat upright, and the Father-Chaplain now had the full attention of all the scouts as the veterans moved through to the exit deck.

‘There is something wrong at Ornisgard,’ said the Father-Chaplain. ‘I get no answer from the fortress-monastery, and the captain reports there is an entire Imperial battlefleet in orbit demanding to board the Deliverance.’

Markius looked around at the other scouts. Wide eyes and open mouths indicated they, too, had grasped the seriousness of the situation, but not exactly what the implications were.

‘Get your weapons and convoke the machine-spirits,’ commanded the Father-Chaplain, his voice low and conspiratorial through the vox-grate. ‘Complete the holy rites of activation and strap yourselves in. I want to slip away in this thunderhawk before the Deliverance is boarded, and take a look at Ornisgard.’

The thunderhawk began to hum and whine as its own engines coughed. Mechanical clanking from outside the port windows reported that the securing limbs were disengaging, ready to set the thunderhawk free. Stunned, none of the scouts moved.

‘Now, brothers!’ the Father-Chaplain’s synthesized voice took on its customary commanding tone once more and the hesitating scouts scrambled to retrieve their weapons.


* * *



THE THUNDERHAWK SCREAMED through the thin, artificially introduced atmosphere of the moon of Ornisgard, and Markius remembered why he hated flying. The gunship rattled and bucked sickeningly as he concentrated on reciting the rites of activation for his bolter, ignoring the mica-particles spitting at high velocity across the port window behind him. A memory flashed in his mind of the purestrain he had killed with the boltpistol. I have consecrated you as promised, he thought, but what will happen next?

‘Look at that!’ said a voice. It was Tobias, twisting and staring through the porthole behind him. Markius and the other scouts on his side of the thunderhawk peered out. Across the jagged terrain of the moon, they saw the fortress-monastery of the Storm Eagles ahead: The place the brother marines affectionately called the Eyrie, the place that had become their home: The place where they would sing and remember their many future adventures and triumphs.

Or, what was left of it.

From the distance it was hard to make out details, but through the billowing plumes of smoke and twisted shadows Markius could see the familiar towers and spires had been blasted into an almost unrecognisable pile of wreckage.

Markius’s stomach twisted, but he was not sure exactly what he felt. Holy Throne, but it was a strange experience to see your home blasted into ruins! A sudden emptiness ached in his gut. Implications suggested themselves in whispers just outside his hearing, but he was still too stunned to heed them. Later, looking back on this moment, Markius realised he had simply felt a dull awe for the magnitude of forces required to cause such destruction.

‘What by the Emperor’s Throne has happened here?’ growled Rasmus, already reaching for his combat blade.

The veterans, complete in massive terminator armour, waited in the rear deck of the thunderhawk, ready for an emergency disembark. The veterans ignored the scouts now. The Father-Chaplain clomped through the passenger deck towards the void-lock, once again in his terminator armour.

‘Father-Chaplain, are we under attack?’ said Markius, and again it seemed as if the black-armoured giant would ignore him.

‘Father-Chaplain, we are ready to fight!’ insisted Markius.

The Father-Chaplain turned slowly to address the scouts. He had to speak loudly over the roar of the descent.

‘Brothers! I have now lost contact with the Deliverance, too. I believe we got away just in time. You have seen what has befallen the Eyrie,’ he said. Markius could not read the Chaplain’s emotions through the artificial voice of the vox-grate, but he could tell events were going from bad to worse.

The Father-Chaplain continued, ‘I do not know what awaits us down there, but the commander of the Imperial fleet in orbit was a Crimson Paladin.’

Markius exchanged a look with his fellow scouts. What did this mean? He knew the Crimson Paladins were fellow Adeptus Astartes of the Imperium, but raised from a different world. Why would they attack the Storm Eagles? And the fortress-monastery destroyed? It was unthinkable. None of this made sense. With the Eyrie gone, what about the rest of the chapter? Where were the other Storm Eagles? The implications were almost too terrible to contemplate. Markius sensed his entire future slipping away from him, and a dark panic seized in his guts.

‘Now listen to me, brothers!’ said the Father-Chaplain, his voice rising even louder. ‘You are Storm Eagles now. Now is the time to show why you have earned this honour!’

‘We are ready to fight alongside you, Father-Chaplain!’ Rasmus snarled back. A battle-cry rose from the scouts.

‘No, I am afraid not, Brother Rasmus,’ said the Father-Chaplain. ‘You may well be the last of us. You are the tenth and latest company to be inducted into our noble chapter.’

Markius exchanged a horrified look with his friend, his worst fears now being confirmed by the Father-Chaplain. Rasmus shrugged his huge shoulders.

‘Now you must ensure the honour of the Storm Eagles lives on. I and Alpha squad will face whatever is waiting for us down there. If things turn violent, which I am damned sure they will, your orders are to get away. Under no circumstances are you to come to our aid,’ said the Father-Chaplain.

‘But, Father-Chaplain…’ said Goran. He looked eager for a fight, too, despite his one arm.

‘Under no circumstances!’ rumbled the Chaplain. ‘Your mission is to survive! Survive and ensure the honour of your battle brothers survives with you. Then, one day, when the time is right, you will right the grievous wrongs done to our chapter this dark day. You have undergone the most rigorous training known to mankind, you have faced many trials and tests, you have lost many friends along the way, and you have proven yourselves worthy of this honour. Will you fail me?’

The scouts all stared, open-mouthed.

‘WILL YOU FAIL ME?’ he roared the question again.

‘NO!’ Markius shouted with the other scouts, his face reddening with emotion.

‘Good,’ said the Father-Chaplain, his tone now betraying his sadness even through the vox-grate. He turned to Markius and placed a mighty gauntleted hand on his shoulder.

‘Brother Markius, I hereby promote you to acting-captain of tenth company,’ he said. ‘You will carry out these last orders: Survive, and reclaim our honour.’

Despite the desperate situation, despite the fear that everything they had trained and worked for was being taken away from them, Markius could not help but feel a small surge of happiness spread in his chest. The Father-Chaplain has chosen me! The Father-Chaplain had made him captain. It was a single bright spark of happiness that he grasped onto amidst the dark swirling emotions of fear and confusion.


* * *



THE EMBARKATION RAMP of the thunderhawk clanged down onto the grey rock of Ornisgard and the veterans, led by the Father-Chaplain, strode out towards the blasted ruins of the fortress-monastery.

The whine of the engines gradually dissipating, Markius and the scouts strained to utilise every last degree of their enhanced senses to listen from their hiding places inside the darkened thunderhawk passenger chamber. They needn’t have tried so hard, for the Father-Chaplain’s voice rang loud and deep even outside the gunship.

‘What is the meaning of this outrage?’ he rumbled.

‘They are Paladins, all right,’ hissed Goran, peeking through a port window. ‘A full company of them at least, and in terminator armour too.’

‘Get away from there before you are seen!’ Markius whispered, just before they heard an unfamiliar voice from outside.

‘Adeptus Astartes of the Storm Eagles chapter!’ the accented voice proclaimed. ‘You are hereby placed under arrest by the authority of the Ordo Hereticus. Surrender immediately!’

Markius could not help himself, pushing in alongside Goran to get a look at what was happening. The six veterans of the Storm Eagles stood in a semi-circle around the Father-Chaplain, facing at least five times their number of hulking marines in terminator armour, all painted a deep arterial scarlet and marked with a symbol on their shoulders that looked like a stylized holy cross branded across a skull. Carved images of magical beasts – dragons, griffons and unicorns – reared atop their oblique helmets, and brightly-coloured pennants fluttered from their shoulder plastrons. In the distance, scarlet thunderhawk gunships circled the ruined base like eagles above a mammoth’s corpse.

‘This is madness!’ said the Father-Chaplain. ‘Under what charge? Where is Master Lothar?’

The foremost of the Paladins, his own helmet removed to reveal a cratered face the colour of scorched earth and oily hair, ceremoniously unrolled a parchment and began to read. His dagger of a black beard twitched as he spoke, ‘Chapter Master Lothar is charged with trafficking in forbidden lore, experimenting in the diabolical arts, conspiracy to commit an abomination against our Holy Lord the Emperor, sheltering of the unclean, and is proclaimed by the Inquisition hereticus extremis daibolus.’

The charges clanged like bells inside Markius’s head, even though he did not fully understand them all. The final toll was the loudest. The Chapter Master of the Storm Eagles had been declared a heretic. Markius’s head span with the implications. Could any of the charges be true? What did this mean for the rest of the chapter? The two groups of warriors outside tensed as the Father-Chaplain took a step towards the bearded Paladin.

‘This has gone far enough,’ he said, gesturing to the blackened remains of the Eyrie. ‘At what point did our differences drive us to madness? When did we come to the point where our rivalries cause us to battle one another?’

Something told Markius that the situation was about to explode into violence. The plan was to escape from the thunderhawk through the front pilot’s ports, facing away from the enemy and so to slip away unseen, but the unfolding scene gripped Markius and held him in place.

The bearded Crimson Paladin grinned, revealing startlingly white teeth. He said, ‘It’s the great Chaplain Habrok, isn’t it? I hoped I would be the one to face you.’

The Father-Chaplain did not reply. Both sets of gigantic warriors stood completely still, like ancient statues of war-gods. Markius knew it was time for him to lead the scout company away, but still he could not tear his eyes away.

‘You’re not going to disappoint me by surrendering, are you?’ chided the Paladin.

Markius did not hear the reply. With great effort he turned from the port window and hissed to his men, ‘Time to get out of here!’

They were scrambling through the foredecks of the thunderhawk when the booms of stormbolters exploded. They were slipping through the window-ports of the cockpit when they heard the roars of giants fighting and energy-wreathed weapons clashing.

Shame burning his cheeks, Markius was leading his company into the barren wilderness of Ornisgard when the thunderhawk erupted into a super-heated fireball behind them.


.
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby Mauthos » Tue May 22, 2012 2:59 pm

Excellent cliffhanger ending to that chapter and again I am enjoying how you are fleshing out their background by way of rituals and brief snippets of information rather than info-dumping.

The only problem I have, and again it is probably a personal one rather than an actual serious problem, is that Markius and the rest of the neophytes seem to be a rather emotional bunch and have a very relaxed way of speaking.

However, not knowing much about Storm Eagles, I assume they may even be a chapter of your own design, this may be quite fitting especially as they are really still neophytes or basically newly fledged Marines and also it is a relatively young chapter.

The opening flashback to the fight with the father-chaplain really grabbed my attention. Excellently drawing me in with really vivid imagery.

I am wondering if this is to be a type of space marine battle type tale with space marine vs space marine, or watching a chapter fall into chaos or following them as they try to regain their honour, or....

So many questions, which is always a good thing, I look forward to chapter 3, great stuff mate! :D
Simplicity is the key to brilliance.
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby Mauthos » Wed May 23, 2012 7:22 am

My apologies, I do not know why my previous post has appeared 12 times, but I do not appear to be able to delete any of them.

If anyone can sort this it would be appreciated.
Simplicity is the key to brilliance.
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby Stjurmwulfing » Wed May 23, 2012 7:09 pm

Hey Kurisawa.

just finished reading this story and enjoying it so far. I am not much of a grammr freak so I leave the spelling to others.

The pace of the tale is clear and concise but might I suggest you look into making one or two of the paragraphs longer. When writing for a site like this people often write short sentances as well as small paragraphs to avoid the wall of words syndrome. However it can be helpful( especially in a story like this) where you make the effort to plan a paragraph here and there to be just that tad bit longer so as the reader can feel like he is getting into the meat of the story.

This is a personal thing of which paragraph you wish to extend. With a story such as yours it is quite easy to have rapid change over with the multiple characters. Just be careful not to make it seem like a script rather than a short story.

However on saying all this I dont think you have gone too far outside the organic feel of the story and that is more important. Its the difference between Stephen donaldson and Ian Feist. Well done and keep it up.
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby kurisawa » Thu May 24, 2012 4:58 am

Mauthos wrote:So many questions, which is always a good thing, I look forward to chapter 3, great stuff mate! :D


Hi again Mauthos, and thanks for sticking with me so far! I am particularly pleased that you singled out that opening to chapter 2, as I inserted it as part of an edit due to critique from another reader. (I originally started the chapter straight from Rasmus's boast). The criticism I received was that I had robbed the reader of the satisfaction of seeing the resolution to the previous cliffhanger. Your comment is proof that it is worth listening to criticism! :D

Thanks again (x12 :lol: ).

K.
My short stories:
1. Extraction = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2127
2. Intoxication = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2188
3. Desecration = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2294
4. Indoctrination = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3172

My novel:
BLACK SHIELDS: INCOGNITUS = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901
kurisawa
 
Posts: 352
Joined: Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:39 am


Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby kurisawa » Thu May 24, 2012 5:00 am

Stjurmwulfing wrote:just finished reading this story and enjoying it so far.


Hey Stjurmwulfing! Thanks for looking in and taking the time to give me your ideas. You make an interesting point about paragraphs. Meditate upon this, I shall. :mrgreen: <-- Yoda

K.
My short stories:
1. Extraction = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2127
2. Intoxication = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2188
3. Desecration = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2294
4. Indoctrination = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3172

My novel:
BLACK SHIELDS: INCOGNITUS = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901
kurisawa
 
Posts: 352
Joined: Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:39 am


Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby kurisawa » Tue May 29, 2012 12:43 am



= III =
Hunted



‘THIS SMELLS LIKE trouble,’ said Brother Olaf, stalking ahead on point. Markius raised his hand to give the silent signal to halt and the scouts behind him obeyed, clinging to the walls of the cave with weapons ready. Markius silently agreed with his squad-brother.

It smelt like sword-toothed, dagger-clawed trouble. Markius cursed. This is all we need! After two weeks of constant evasion and hiding, he was starting to wonder how they were going to escape the moon of Ornisgard. Patrols of Crimson Paladins were everywhere, the Eyrie was destroyed, there was no sign of any other Storm Eagles surviving, and now it seemed they had wandered into the den of a sabretooth.

Ornisgard had been a barren moon until the Storm Eagles had established their fortress-monastery there, over four hundred years ago. After the artificial atmosphere had been introduced, the beginnings of an accidental ecosystem had sputtered into being: spiky black-thorn shrubs clawed desperately into existence, unintentionally introduced from Prism and somehow clinging onto life through the negligible moisture in the air. Microscopic insects attacked the thorns, seeking the tiny droplets of life-sustaining water within, to in turn fall prey to slightly larger arachnids, and finally bacteria consumed the husks of the dead arachnids, releasing the moisture once again in the process.

The sabretooths, however, were deliberately brought up to the moon from the blackwood forests of Prism; a useful aid to survival training in the wilderness. But they could never survive in this barren environment. The marines regularly released prey animals from the fortress-monastery, healthy and aggressive to make sure the sabretooths never lost their hunting skills, or their ferocity. But now there were no Storm Eagles and no fortress-monastery. The sabretooths were facing death by starvation; and so would his scouts eventually, Markius grimly realised, though this would be after a far longer time than any normal human.

One of the huge felines had made its territory in this cave running deep into the mountainside and marked it with urine. The pheromones suggested a particularly tough one. Why had he not picked up the scent earlier? Markius berated himself. In the thin atmosphere, it would have been beyond any normal human, but a space marine’s senses were enhanced. The sudden appearance of that patrol; you were hurried into a quick decision, he told himself. A mistake. We all make them.

‘What now?’ Brother Tobias sidled up and whispered, running a hand back through his sandy-coloured hair. His fine bristles had now grown back to almost a finger’s length. He peered into the darkness ahead, hawk-nosed and hawk-eyed, his lance-like sniper rifle resting in his arms.

To go back would mean probable confrontation with the Paladin patrol, Markius considered, and it was Tobias himself who had made the discovery that had given the scouts the most hope: The Crimson Paladins still do not know we are here. The patrols are looking for landings, watching the skies, not tracking. They did not know we were in that thunderhawk with the veterans.

The Father-Chaplain had bought them the time they needed to escape and survive. He, and the veterans, had bought them all this time with their lives. Markius vowed not to make that sacrifice worthless: He would not betray their existence to the Crimson Paladins now.

‘We have to push on and hope it’s either dead or somewhere else right now,’ he said. The order was passed down the line. Markius heard boltpistols unholstered and whispered down another order, ‘No bolters; blades only.’

It was only ten paces further when the attack came. The massive feline beast, eight foot to the shoulder and standing taller than a space marine even, had found some overhead ledge out of sight. Why hadn’t he heard it breathing? Too late to worry about that now!

It snarled and pounced on Olaf, its dagger-long claws sinking into and punching right through his thigh. Olaf gasped but managed not to yell. A space marine was indoctrinated to deal with pain. Markius leapt forward, gladius brandished, but the feline was a quick one. By The God-Emperor, they can be quick when they are hungry! It batted Markius aside with a massive paw, sending him sprawling. It snarled again, bearing sword-long teeth, now pinning Olaf beneath a paw. Its eyes flashed in the darkness. Markius reached for his boltpistol, damning the consequences.

Giving his own snarl, Rasmus surged from Markius’s left, blindsiding the sabretooth. He grabbed the beast in a headlock. Desperate and ravenous, the giant feline struggled with insane strength, shaking Rasmus around like a tree branch in a Prismish ice-storm. But the big Astartes maintained his grip. More scouts rushed up to give support, but none could see an opening to shoot without risking hurt to their friends. Olaf moaned as claws clenched into his leg.

Rasmus strained, pulling with all his considerable might against the bucking beast, tightening his grip around its neck. It tried to claw at him, but he doggedly kept his position just behind its fore-shoulder, and its paws could not touch him. Come on big man! Markius willed Rasmus. Finally the crack and the sad last wheeze of the animal signaled that the scout had broken its neck. Rasmus laid the sabretooth down and faced his brother scouts. The crooked grin returned and he beat his chest in triumph. At the last moment, at a look from Markius, he refrained from yelling a feral battle-roar.

Brother-Sergeant Sören pushed past Markius and dropped to the wounded Olaf, reaching for his backpack. Then Goran was at Markius’s other side.

Perfect!’ Goran exclaimed. ‘This was a great plan! Hide in a sabretooth’s den! Just what I would have done!’

Markius felt his anger rise. It was a mistake. He had been distracted.

‘The Paladins might still be near,’ Sergeant Tobias quickly said, ‘I’ll take two men and check the entrance.’

‘Now what, Father-Captain, sir?’ chided Goran. Oh mighty Father-Captain Markius, our great leader, Markius had once heard him whisper to his squad.

Markius nodded to Tobias, then returned his glare to the dark-haired sergeant of Epsilon squad. How he wanted to challenge Goran, to break his sarcastic, insubordinate neck. But Goran was still one-armed, and Markius was supposed to be a captain now. He could not afford to fight Goran: It would look like he had lost control of his command, with the added dishonour of fighting a disadvantaged opponent.

‘He’ll live,’ said Sören, crouching by Olaf.

Markius forced himself to ignore Goran and dashed over to them. Olaf was still groaning, but Markius could see the gushing blood around the deep wounds was already congealing with the effects of the Larraman’s Organ. Brother-Sergeant Sören produced a can of temporary synth-skin from his backpack and began applying it to the wound.

‘Where did you get that?’ said Markius, impressed.

‘Before we left the thunderhawk, I thought we might need some things so I raided the medical bay and grabbed what I could,’ shrugged the golden-haired sergeant of Zeta squad.

Markius first felt annoyed. Why didn’t I think of that? Am I not supposed to be the captain? He checked himself. It was a good thought, and he should be happy one of his men thought of it, particularly Sergeant Sören. Tall, handsome Sören, who had bested all of them in close-combat training rites: All of them except Rasmus, of course. Sören had outperformed them all in firing rites, too: All of them except Tobias, of course. Sören, who once looked and behaved with the confidence that he was born for future leadership.

Sören and his Zeta squad had been selected as the reserve during the mission to cleanse the xenos, and now he thought of it, Markius didn’t think Sören had contributed anything to their survival since, until now.

Olaf struggled to his feet. The wound would heal, but he would be limping for several weeks.

‘Thank you Brother-Sergeant,’ he said weakly to Sören, who blinked his ice-blue eyes once in acknowledgement.

‘So, here we are letting sabretooths wipe us out quicker than the Paladins!’ said Goran, rather too loudly.

An uncomfortable silence spread amongst the scouts as Markius rounded on him.

‘What do you propose?’ he snarled. ‘That we march out there and take on the whole chapter?’

‘No, no,’ Goran held up his hands in mock supplication. ‘You are our Father-Captain, sir!

How Markius cringed every time Goran called him that, but Goran continued, ‘I absolutely think this plan of running and hiding and doing nothing at all is the best idea, Father-Captain sir!

‘Maybe we could surrender? Maybe they would show mercy?’ said Sören. Both Goran and Markius turned burning stares on him. Any respect Markius had felt for Sören’s medical resourcefulness a moment earlier evaporated in the heat of contempt. He guessed Goran felt the same way.

The suggestion did not even merit a reply.

Tobias returned, breathing quickly. He said, ‘Thank the God-Emperor, they didn’t hear anything. The patrol has moved on. We’ll be safe here, for now.’

‘Right then,’ Markius raised his voice. ‘Lambda squad, you take first watch at the cave entrance; keep yourselves out of sight! Epsilon squad, split into pairs and check out every nook and cranny along the length of this tunnel. I want to know if there are other entrances in or out. Zeta and Omega squads, make camp along here.’ Markius gestured to the dead sabretooth. ‘And finally, we have something to eat.’

The other marines all looked at him.

‘Move out!’ he shouted.

Rasmus gave him a strange look then moved to obey the orders. Goran glowered at him, the bio-acid scars standing out against the black fuzz on his scalp, but remained thankfully silent as his squad departed.

‘Yes, Father-Captain, sir,’ Sören mumbled, and Markius cringed again.


* * *



BROTHER-SERGEANT TOBIAS came to relieve Markius on watch at the tunnel entrance around second-dusk. The pale blue disk of planet Prism sank gracefully behind the dark horizon. The sight still drew out emotions in Markius. He could see across the planet’s surface the crinkly patterns that looked so tiny now, yet remembered they were indomitable ranges of massive ice-mountains – gigantic chunks of ice frozen since the beginning of time, that his tribe had called bergs, towering into the heavens and covering two thirds of the cold world.

Where once the tribal elders had watched and pondered the strange rippling lights that painted the skies of Prism, Markius now knew it was simply the effects of the wan sunlight filtering through the thin atmosphere and reflected by the hard-frozen ice. He spotted the hazy, rainbow-coloured auroras above the planet surface that had inspired its Imperial name; Prism.

It was still strange to think that he now looked down upon his former home from Ornisgard, the mythical realm of the Storm Eagle Ancestor Spirits. His tribe had peered at and worshipped Ornisgard in the lightning-wracked skies. Yet here he was and Ornisgard, the land of the sky-warriors, was not the place he been raised to believe in. Markius’s universe had become very different, and much more complicated.

A keening howl across the rocky landscape informed Markius one of the frequent dust storms was blowing up again somewhere in the juvenile weather systems. As he exchanged smiles with Brother-Sergeant Tobias they could have been on one of the many search-and-destroy or evade-and-survive war-game missions they had played out here as initiates.

‘There’s some carcass left for you,’ said Tobias.

Markius grimaced. Raw sabretooth bones were hardly a gourmet treat. But the marines had nothing to burn in order to cook it, and the smoke would have been an immediate giveaway to their existence. Sabretooth bones were not exactly edible for humans either, but they were Adeptus Astartes. Their teeth were reinforced like the rest of their skeletons, and their stomachs were augmented with glands able to digest almost any source of protein. And they really needed the protein at this time. This was no war-game or training exercise.

Markius turned back before leaving as he thought of something. He said, ‘I thought you already took the first watch.’

‘Epsilon squad are still mapping the caves – there’s more to the network than we thought – and your boys took the last shift,’ Tobias said.

‘Didn’t Sören volunteer?’ said Markius. He snorted as he realised the question was stupid. Sören never volunteered for anything. Tobias only shrugged.

‘What’s the matter with him, anyway? I thought he was the son of a chieftain back on Prism! He doesn’t much act like a leader anymore,’ said Markius.

Tobias paused and Markius realised he was going to give a serious answer. Tobias said, ‘Sören’s used to being the alpha male. He’s uncomfortable having to fight to assert himself – everything has always come easily to him. This… confrontation… between you and Goran is stifling him.’

‘I see…’ said Markius. He considered this for some moments. Tobias, once again, was proving a good advisor: He seemed to have the ability to see things with a perspective that others, like Rasmus, just didn’t seem capable of. It was like he could scope the situation in the same way he took a strategic vantage point and scoped a battlefield with his sniper rifle.

Sören, on the other hand, was a weak link. And they had all thought popular, handsome, clever Sören would make captain before any of them. But I was the one who made captain first! Markius started to move off.

‘Captain Markius,’ Tobias whispered. ‘Can I speak freely with you for a moment?’

‘Of course,’ Markius said, enjoying just for a small moment being addressed as captain, this time with respect. Tobias paused before continuing.

‘It is just some advice, if you want to hear it.’

‘What’s on your mind, Brother Tobias?’ Markius gently pressed.

‘Well, I wanted to suggest that you didn’t bark orders at the men, as if you were enjoying this,’ Tobias said. ‘Your tone does not help their morale.’

‘You think I am enjoying this situation?’ Markius said, stunned.

‘No, of course not, it’s just that… we are not used to taking orders from you and… you seem to try to sound like one of the old instructor-sergeants sometimes…’

‘Do I have to remind you that the Father-Chaplain chose me – Me! – to be captain of this company? He did that because he trusted my judgment most of all,’ Markius interrupted, his whisper rising into a hiss.

‘I know that, but it is just the way you speak to the others…’ protested Tobias.

‘Now you listen to me,’ Markius cut him off again. ‘I have had enough of people second-guessing my orders and methods! I am captain and that should be the end of it!’

Tobias gave a deep sigh and said, ‘Yes, Father-Captain, sir.’

It was only when he had reached the others and started to crunch on a bone from the sabretooth corpse that Markius realised Tobias had addressed him the same way as Goran did. He grimaced with annoyance. Nearby, Rasmus snored. Markius kicked him.

‘What? Eh?’ Rasmus stuttered.

Half-sleep,’ Markius barked at him.

‘I… I was…’

‘No you weren’t,’ Markius scolded, ‘even when you sleep you growl!’

Preparing to take some well-needed rest, Markius told himself he was justified in his anger with Tobias, but for the rest of that night his mind was too troubled for him to properly engage his Catalepsean Node – the zygote implant that allowed a space marine to shut off half his brain at a time and essentially sleep without becoming unaware of his surroundings.


* * *



‘OH, WHAT HAVE you done, Rasmus?’ Markius, dismayed, stared at the big man as he towered triumphantly at the entrance of the cave. The other scouts had been searching too, when it was discovered Rasmus had gone missing. Now they all silently took in this terrible vision.

He was covered in blood, sprayed across his dark-grey uniform, half his face, and even speckling his greying pate. The two great sabretooth fangs that he had taken as a grisly trophy and now wore dangling over his chest from a leather chord around his neck were streaked with gore.

‘I got one of the sons-of-mammoths!’ Rasmus declared, grinning. He tossed down several belts of emergency ration packs as spoils of victory. They were packaged in crimson with the cross and skull motif.

‘He carried these in the side-compartments of one of those damned iron-horses,’ Rasmus continued, referring to the war-bikes that the Paladins rode around on like smoke-spewing steeds.

‘You killed one of them?’ Markius breathed, disbelieving. ‘I expressly ordered you not to engage them!’

‘The Father-Captain is right!’ shouted Goran and they both turned to look at him. Rasmus was astonished, but Markius tensed as he awaited the follow-up comment to any occasion when Goran agreed with him.

Sure enough, his green eyes dangerous, Goran said, ‘By disobeying a direct order you have made the Father-Captain look like a complete idiot!’

‘You leave this to me,’ Markius hissed at him, then raised his voice. ‘All of you, get back to the deeper tunnel and prepare to decamp!’

He turned back to Rasmus and took a deep breath to control himself as the other scouts dispersed. Rasmus’s face fell, perturbed that he had angered Markius.

‘Listen,’ Rasmus held his hands up. ‘I made it look like a sabretooth got him, eh? He was alone and I jumped him before he could send any signal.’

Markius stared at the sabretooth fangs and imagined Rasmus ripping up the Crimson Paladin’s body with them. He switched his stare to look into the eyes of his childhood friend: Big Rasmus with the crooked nose that had been broken too many times, and with his fuzz of shaved hair going prematurely grey: Rasmus of the Wind-spears who, at the age of twelve, had driven off an adult ice-bear singlehanded: Rasmus who loved the ale more than any of them: Rasmus with the infectious belly-laugh. Was he still Rasmus?

‘I ordered everyone not to engage,’ Markius said quietly.

‘Those scum destroyed our home!’ Rasmus snarled. ‘Do you forget, eh? They killed the Father-Chaplain and probably everyone else, too! We can’t just sit here and do nothing!’

Markius thought Rasmus was more like a simmering volcano at that moment. His desire to tear apart the Crimson Paladins was causing him to shake with a barely-controlled rage.

‘They killed our battle brothers!’ he snarled.

‘The Father-Chaplain and the veterans died in order to give us time to escape,’ said Markius, controlling his voice. ‘We are half a company of newly-inducted scouts. We cannot fight against an entire chapter of Crimson Paladins! The Father-Chaplain told us to survive and fight back another day, when we are strong enough. Would you throw his sacrifice away so easily? Would you doom the Storm Eagles to extinction for blind fury?’

Rasmus could not look Markius in the eye as his words began to sink in. Markius waited, forcing Rasmus to endure the uncomfortable moment.

‘No, I would not. I apologise,’ he finally whispered, staring at the ground.

Markius softened. Somewhere, deep down, he rejoiced at the thought of killing one of the enemy, despite the danger.

‘He really was alone?’ said Markius. Rasmus nodded.

‘What did you do with the war-bike?’ said Markius.

‘I… pushed it over a cliff. Wrecked it… so they wouldn’t think much of the missing ration packs, eh?’ said Rasmus.

‘Then I suppose you did well,’ Markius said. Rasmus looked up sharply. Markius smiled. ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘let’s share these out and you can tell the others how you took out a fully power-armoured Paladin with your bare hands. We could do with some good news around here.’


* * *



‘OH, COME ON!’ snarled Rasmus, as they spied from the top of a cliff-edge on the two Crimson Paladins in the valley below. ‘We can take them, eh?’

‘Not this time, Brother Rasmus,’ said Markius, laying a restraining hand on the big man’s arm. Rasmus snatched it away.

‘We got away with it before! Tell me you don’t want to rip apart one of those dishonourable piles of mammoth-droppings, eh?’ he said, pointing down at them. The scarlet-armoured warriors had dismounted the war-bikes, ceremonial helmets removed as they observed another colourful setting of planet Prism in the sky.

‘I don’t think we can convince the Paladins’ command that two of their men were careless enough to be taken by a sabretooth,’ said Sergeant Tobias, crouched nearby. Rasmus glared at him.

‘They cannot even hunt them properly, using their power-lances like the cowards they are!’ said Rasmus.

‘Well, we did have spears during initiation rites on Prism,’ Markius reminded him.

‘You might have needed a spear!’ Rasmus grinned, clenching his fists in front of Markius’s face.

It really did seem as if the Crimson Paladins had been fooled by Rasmus’s subterfuge, as no moon-wide hunt had been mounted for them. Instead, much to the consternation of the scouts, the crimson-armoured marines took to hunting the sabretooths for sport, riding them down on their war-bikes and spearing them with heavy-bladed power-lances. And that had accelerated the end of the scouts’ food supply.

Tobias continued, ‘Yes, we can kill this patrol, but what will it achieve but to bring the entire chapter in pursuit of us? Look, they still don’t know we are here. Do you want the Storm Eagles destroyed forever?’

Rasmus snorted, but appeared to be calmed as he moved away from the cliff-edge. He muttered something that Markius didn’t catch, but sounded like, ‘…better than all this hiding and running…’

Markius nodded an acknowledgement to Tobias and gave thanks again that the sergeant of Lambda squad was there to back him up.

Markius sighed. Things were so much easier when he was hunting xenos scum, not evading Imperial space marines that were supposed to be their allies. And command was much more difficult than he had realised. Or perhaps he was making a mess of it. Markius swatted the thought from his mind like an annoying fly. A space marine captain does not entertain such doubts in himself.

Still, without Tobias’s calm-headed appraisals and Rasmus’s loyalty, he wondered if he could have kept the company alive this long: thirty-four days and nights they had not only avoided capture, they had avoided detection completely. The mission was still alive. He thought again of Rasmus, Goran, and Sören and wondered, for how long?

‘We have got to get out of here,’ said Tobias.

Tell me something I don’t know, thought Markius. Rasmus’s wild suggestion of commandeering a Paladin thunderhawk crept into the back of his mind again, before he again considered the factors of range and fuel, even if such an improbable feat could be achieved by his company. They had nowhere to go; even his rudimentary knowledge of space navigation told him. A thunderhawk was not an interstellar ship. And there was no sign of any other Storm Eagle survivors returning to Ornisgard. They truly were the last.

Sergeant Tobias crept away from the cliff-edge and Markius found himself praying. Not for the first time, he prayed to the almighty God-Emperor, faraway on ancient Terra, to Roboute Guilliman, revered progenitor of the Storm Eagles; and to Chapter Master Lothar, even to the Father-Chaplain, appealing to their spirits for help, as did his tribe pray to the ancestor-spirits back on Prism.

What must I do? How can I lead these men out of this situation and preserve our honour? Please, Fathers of the Storm Eagles, send me a sign!

The sign was to come that very night.


.
kurisawa
 
Posts: 352
Joined: Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:39 am


Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby kurisawa » Fri Jun 01, 2012 5:08 am

= IV =
Allies



MARKIUS SAT UPRIGHT with such a jolt that he disturbed several other scouts from their Catalepsean Node half-sleep. He blinked in the darkness of the cave. Was he dreaming? No, the voice spoke again in his head.

‘Storm Eagles command, do you receive?’

The vox-bead in his ear! Markius reached up to touch it. The voice was so clear, there was no static, it was an unusual transmission. He looked around at the others to see if they had received the message. Blank looks.

‘What is it?’ said Tobias.

‘Storm Eagles command, this is the Arcis Indicium, do you receive?’

‘Are you hearing this?’ Markius whispered.

‘Hearing what?’ said Goran, stirring nearby.

‘A transmission! It sounds like it is from off-world, and they are asking for Storm Eagles command,’ said Markius.

The others exchanged significant glances.

‘A trap!’ said Goran. ‘Do not respond.’

It was a good idea to be cautious, Markius realised. The question bit into his mind: How did they get the frequency, and why was it only his vox that was receiving? There was a pause, and as if the voice had read his mind a new message came.

‘We are broadcasting on the emergency Storm Eagles command frequency: There is no reply from the fortress-monastery. Do you receive?’

Markius thought about this. He looked to the others, ‘They say it is an emergency command frequency. Did the Father-Chaplain somehow transfer this to my vox-bead when he made me acting captain? Did he anticipate this? He…’ Markius glanced at Goran, ‘has some ways with the vox systems that we do not understand.’

‘I don’t like this at all,’ hissed Goran. ‘Do not answer.’

Markius glanced at Tobias. He shrugged in agreement and said, ‘The Paladins might be monitoring.’

‘But it may be our only chance to get out of here, eh?’ Rasmus joined the conversation as he came out of his half-sleep. ‘I say we take it and risk the consequences!’

Markius carefully reached up to the collar housing the vox channel controls around his neck. Looking at the others, he took a deep breath and keyed it twice. Click-click. A standard acknowledgement when one must be silent. He wondered if the mystery voice would have picked it up with the startlingly clear signal and lack of static. There was a pause. He imagined the owner of the voice considering the implications of his signal.

Then a reply, ‘This frequency is fully secure: sub-space bandwidth and scrambled so that only the owner of the command frequency may understand it. Is that Chapter Master Lothar?’

Markius repeated the information to the others. Goran was still not convinced, but Rasmus and now Tobias agreed that he should reply.

‘I feel in my gut that it is genuine,’ said Markius, hoping that he did not just want it to be true so much that he believed it. Time for a decision, he knew. Another deep breath.

He keyed the vox, ‘This is Captain Markius, Storm Eagles command.’

Several moments passed. The marines exchanged worried looks.

‘Captain! It is good to hear your voice. We were worried. We are in system and en route, but the standard frequencies of the fortress-monastery are not responding,’ said the voice.

Markius nodded to the others and whispered, ‘A ship, coming in! They don’t know what happened.’

‘Keep it that way,’ said Tobias, and Markius nodded understanding.

‘We’ve… had an explosion at the fortress-monastery,’ voxed Markius. ‘Do not approach… it is still highly unstable. Maintain distance beyond medium orbit, for now.’

‘Acknowledged…’ said the voice, ‘but we have business with your Chapter Master.’

Markius tried to think quickly.

‘Currently unavailable. Identify yourself,’ he said, stalling. The others mouthed silent requests for information.

‘This is the Arcis Indicium. We represent the Adeptus Mechanicus; there are requisitions,’ said the voice.

Alright, this could be an opportunity, Markius realised. The Adeptus Mechanicus were a distinct organisation from both the space marines and the Ordo Hereticus. He knew little of them, only that they were an order of tech-priests that forged and maintained the chapter’s equipment and vehicles. He had seen the strange, half-machine monks passing in passageways through the Eyrie, clad in their distinctive rust-red robes. They had overseen his brain-engram downloads and certain stages of the zygote implantations. Markius tried to think hard whether he had ever exchanged words with one of them.

So, Markius mused, there were requisitions.

‘Dropping off or picking up?’ he said. The others stared at him, begging for answers. He raised his hand, requesting them give him time to deal with the voice.

‘A little of both, actually,’ said the voice. There was something disarming about its casual tone. It was smooth and mature and Markius felt a paternal friendliness in it, like he was talking to his long-lost father. ‘We have a request for a detachment of marines.’

Markius grinned at his men. This was the first good news they had had for a long time.

‘Standby,’ he said, and then conversed with the others. After a quick and excited discussion, a plan was formed.

‘Can you get a transport to the far side of the moon? We must keep away from the fortress-monastery for safety: Coordinates to be transmitted. You will get your detachment,’ said Markius.

‘Affirmative, Captain. We await your data,’ said the voice.

Can this work? Markius asked himself. They would need to be quick. And lucky. The Paladins’ patrols had become increasingly rare, so much so that Markius was confident they had a big enough window to evacuate, but who knew what sensors had been placed to watch for incoming ships?

Still, at last, a faint glimmer of hope had been presented to his company from the end of a dark, seemingly endless tunnel of despair. Markius intended to follow its light to its conclusion.


* * *



‘I CAN HEAR it, but I can’t see it,’ Tobias reported through the vox. Markius acknowledged. None of them could.

‘Maintain positions: Keep out of sight,’ he ordered his men, then returned to searching the star-studded night.

This is impossible! The roar of the engines became louder. The transport must be right over us! At a tap from Rasmus beside him he looked back down to the sunken crater concealed beneath the ring of mountains, flat like a lake in the mouth of a volcano; a perfect place for a covert extraction. Dust swirled up from the rocky surface. Markius peered closer: Was there a shimmering in the air? Just an illusion? The pitch of the engines seemed to change note in concurrence with a landing transport, too, but where in the Chaos hells was it?

Then, right before the eyes of all the watching space marines, as if emerging from a clearing mist, a gunship shimmered into being. Markius’s mouth dropped open: It was a thunderhawk, and it was painted the deep storm blue of their chapter. It even presented their spread-wing motif in stark white on its triangular wings. By the Holy Throne, what kind of magic could produce so divine a vision? Had he witnessed some ancient sorcery that could make a ship invisible behind mystical shields?

Markius’s heart leapt for a moment, hoping against hope that a detachment of proud battle brothers were about to come marching out of the vehicle. Then he remembered with a sigh: Requisitions. The Adeptus Mechanicus were dropping off equipment for the Storm Eagles. But they also wanted to bring on board a detachment. That was a strange part of the puzzle, all his sergeants had agreed. Secreted around the rim of the deep crater given as the coordinates, they had decided to keep watch, and wait.

Presently, two quite unexpected figures emerged from the gunship, climbing down from a ladder that extended from a door at the pilot’s cockpit. Markius focused his occulobe implants in the darkness. The first was a tall man. After dropping lightly from the lowest rung to the rocky ground, he smoothed down his neatly tailored charcoal-black suit and resettled a heavy crimson mantle over one shoulder. Markius noted a healthy mane of black hair with debonair streaks of silver at the temples. The man stood straight-backed and proud; the kind of shape a young Prismish brave ought to be if he dared approach a chieftain for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Yet this man was no youth. His face was hidden by the distance, but Markius sensed age and wisdom. A pistol sidearm and a curved sabre graced a wide, silver-buckled belt.

The other man that appeared could not have been more different. A swarthy bull of a figure clambered down the ladder, though he dropped more nimbly than expected. This one was a head shorter than the tall man – he would only stand as high as a marine’s chest – but he was heavy-shouldered, with thick brawler’s arms and a wide, muscled neck like those of the bear-baiting dogs bred by the southern tribes of Prism. He wore oil-stained spacer’s overalls, covered with pockets that bulged with metal devices. A wide-gauge autogun was slung from a thick strap over his shoulders; no bolter but it looked like it might stop an enraged ice bear at short range. Short but powerful legs ending in clumpy iron-shod boots completed the picture. He was a sort of cube-shaped man, with a cube-shaped head that sprouted a pair of bristling bushes of hair curving down each cheek. Photochromatic welding goggles were pushed back over a knobby, close-shaved head.

Markius scrutinized the figures as they took in their surroundings and tasted their first breaths on a new moon. They did not look like Mechanicus to him, but that did not mean they were not some sort of ambassadorial escort for the delivery of the thunderhawk. The tall, nobly-attired man could well be an ambassador, Markius decided. Now what? Markius knew the scouts were watching and waiting for his command. He realised he had not really planned beyond this moment.

The visitors did not seem overly concerned at the lack of a welcome to Ornisgard. They strolled around the ship, the bull-necked man pointing out and discussing what might be curiosities to his companion. Markius strained his augmented ears to catch what he could of their words, but the distance was too great and they spoke in whispers.

Completing their circuit around the thunderhawk, they stopped beneath the ladder and surveyed their surroundings again. Markius was pretty sure they would guess they were being watched, and completely sure they would never spot his men. Then – and Markius could have fallen over – the tall man produced a packet of lho sticks from a pocket inside his tunic and lit one up. He offered the packet to his blocky companion, who waved it away. The shorter man proceeded to conjure a fat cigar from a compartment of his coveralls and was soon puffing purplish clouds of smoke. Laughter drifted up from the crater. Markius finally caught part of a phrase from the tall man; ‘… did you get those, or do I not want to know?’

Markius rocked. It was the voice from the vox-bead.


* * *



FORTY SEVEN STANDARD minutes, and four lho sticks later, Markius had still not decided what to do. Tobias and Goran had joined him and Rasmus at their overlooking position.

‘What do you make of it?’ said Tobias.

‘That’s a Storm Eagle vehicle,’ said Rasmus, ‘so they must be friendly, eh?’

‘It certainly confirms what they said in the transmissions,’ agreed Markius.

‘So, we get off-world and onto a ship. Then what?’ said Goran. He seemed to have dropped his Father-Captain sir routine, for now. ‘It will only be a matter of time before they find out what happened with the inquisition.’

‘Then we take control of the ship if we have to, eh?’ growled Rasmus.

‘I’m not sure that will be possible,’ said Markius. Engram-patches on the subject had not been downloaded into his mind yet, but he had seen interstellar ships from portholes, and everything he had heard so far suggested to him that they were huge, with crews of thousands. He added, ‘Even for Astartes.’

Silence. Markius sensed that a moment of truth was before him. They had taken a chance responding to the signal, and they had gone ahead and arranged to meet these people. What happened after they left Ornisgard he could not foresee. He supposed they would try and make contact with other surviving Storm Eagles, if there were any left in the galaxy. Markius sighed. In any case, they had to change their current situation, hiding and slowly starving to death. He knew his decision was made.

Markius jolted as a smooth voice spoke from his vox-bead, as loud and clear as if he had been standing right next to him.

‘Captain, are you intending to make us wait a full hour, or shall we make haste and be off?’


* * *



‘WELCOME, CAPTAIN MARKIUS!’ the tall man’s handsome face broke into a smile as the marines approached, emerging from the grey scenery.

Markius confronted the two figures, his scouts forming up behind him. He nodded at the tall man, not quite sure how he had recognised him, but not dwelling on it. As the first to approach, he was clearly the leader. Two humans may well have been distressed to find themselves faced by over twenty towering, bio-enhanced space marines, but the tall man seemed unmoved. The cubic man ached to reach for his weapon, though, Markius could tell. Markius noticed that as the tall man beamed smiles at them all, his sea-grey eyes were scrutinising the scouts, too.

‘I am William Zharn,’ said the tall man, ‘currently in command of the Arcis Indicium. And this is my… associate, Burrin Grazgsten.’

‘Aye, pleased to meet ya,’ Burrin’s voice was like crunching gravel. If he was nervous, he did not show it in his voice.

‘The Emperor protects!’ said Markius, and thought he saw a twitch of amusement twist Zharn’s smile.

‘The Emperor protects,’ Zharn returned cordially.

‘Forgive our delay,’ said Markius. ‘As reported, this moon is unstable. It would be better that we were away from here as soon as possible.’

‘That sounds like a splendid idea,’ Zharn agreed warmly, nodding to Burrin, who returned with a salute.

‘Wait,’ said Goran, and the others turned to look at him. He gestured to the thunderhawk, ‘What manner of magic can hide a gunship from our eyes? Is this warp-sorcery?’

‘Bah! Sorcery!’ snorted Burrin, but Zharn silenced him with a gesture. He smiled at the space marines.

Zharn said, ‘A gift from the Adeptus Mechanicus, rediscovered after many eons and installed in your fine new thunderhawk. As you must know, your Chapter Master Lothar was keen to utilise such arcane knowledge, hence his close working relationship with the tech-priests. Ancient devices on the hull of this ship work like the smaller holo-projectors you may have seen used for communication. Only, these project images simultaneously received from exact 180 degree orientation, making it seem to an observer or any tracking device that one is looking right through the ship as if it were transparent. Burrin has nicknamed this vessel the shadowhawk. I thought it rather apt, myself.’

Markius exchanged glances with his men that told him they, too, had not quite understood this explanation.

‘No matter,’ said Zharn, reading the silence that greeted him. ‘There will be plenty more time for discussion on board. If you please, gentlemen…’

Clambering into the passenger deck and clamping themselves into the grav-seats, the scouts heard the engines of the thunderhawk wheeze into start-up. As the scream steadily rose, thoughts circled high in Markius’s mind, like true great eagles of the Prism ice-mountains, flying before the storms, watching prey far below. What did Zharn mean, currently in command of the Arcis Indicium? The strange archaic technology was unsettling enough, but at least it confirmed that they were Adeptus Mechanicus. Yet why does he not question us at all about our difficulties with the fortress-monastery, nor even what has happened to Chapter Master Lothar? A small, uncomfortable ball of doubt hatched in Markius’s belly, little spikes growing from it to jab at his guts.

‘Get some rest on the way up,’ he called to the others after checking for ration packs in deck compartments; there were none and the gunship appeared to not have been fully fitted out yet. ‘No need to idly chat during the voyage,’ he added, and giving significant nods his men signaled their understanding: Keep quiet; we do not know who is listening.

The journey took far longer than the last transfer they had made to a starship from Ornisgard. Watching from the porthole, Markius noted that they were aiming beyond planet Tertius – the distant gas giant planet that his tribe had once known as Ishoran, Mother-guardian of winter – and he let one spike of concern at least dissolve from his ball of worry. The starship would not have been spotted from Ornisgard unless they had seen it coming in-system, and he would have expected news of this by now. That sorcerous device that cloaked the thunderhawk, or shadowhawk, would make sure the extraction was not noticed either, he hoped. As he glanced around at his scouts, most of whom were in Catalepsean Node half-sleep by now, Markius started to believe that they had actually performed a clean escape. And it happened under my command! He allowed himself a small moment of congratulation before the spikes jabbed his guts again.

He was going to have to do something about Goran, now that they were heading away from Prism and Ornisgard. Their situation evading capture on the moon had made it difficult for him to deal with the lupine sergeant properly, but now they seemed to be away. If he was a captain, he had to act like it soon. Markius reviewed his green-eyed rival’s actions and a bitter sneer curled his lip. It galled him to know that Goran would never have been so disrespectful to the Father-Chaplain, or any other commander of the Storm Eagles.

Then again, it would be difficult to pin down Goran for any one crime. He had followed orders and had addressed Markius correctly if one looked only at the words he used, but it was the way he did it. Markius clenched one hand into a fist as he recalled the sarcasm and constant ‘I wouldn’t have done it this way’ remarks.

Markius remembered that Goran had disobeyed a direct order from the Father-Chaplain during the attack on the xenos nest. That would require punishment. He had witnesses from both his own Omega squad and Goran’s Epsilon squad. But what could he do? Order a solitary meditation? Strip Goran of his rank? He realised with a jolt that Rasmus had committed the same breach of orders on Ornisgard when he had gone after that Crimson Paladin – and everyone had witnessed that.

Markius felt his guts twist as he tried to decide what to do. If he punished Goran, would he not have to punish Rasmus too? Did he want to do that to his friend? Then a small voice that hissed like a serpent whispered at the back of his mind. You are afraid to punish Goran, it said. You worry that he will not obey you, and you have no way to force him to. You have no authority here! He beat you once, and he could do it again.

Not true! He silenced the whisper, and decided to worry about these problems later. Aggressively shutting out the thoughts from his mind, he considered again the destination of their current voyage.

What was waiting for them next? As they rounded the gigantic orb of Planet Tertius, he spotted through the porthole what must have been the Arcis Indicium. At this point it was but a distant sliver of silver in the void, like a pin dropped on a pitch-black cloth. But as the hours passed and they approached, he saw it was shaped like a sword with a long blade and hooked hand-guards near its handle: A gargantuan broadsword suspended serenely above the rotating pale-yellow orb of Tertius.

Eventually, they were close enough for him to pick out details across the space. Great cathedral-like spires sprouted from its back, thousands of tiny lights twinkling. The handle of the sword looked like it housed the engines, the plasma discharge leaving a steady glittering trail behind it in space. The hooked hand-guards were in fact colossal cannons of some ancient gothic design. Though he had thought it silver from afar, then dull metal-coloured later on, Markius could now see the blade-shaped prow was actually scorched a deep rust-red colour. The other scouts were coming fully awake as they sensed the subtly altering engine-drone. They noticed a gigantic cog-toothed design painted proudly across the red prow: The symbol of the Adeptus Mechanicus.

Soon they would be aboard.


* * *



‘SALUTATION: WELCOME TO the Arcis Indicium,’ the figure said, but the voice was not welcoming.

The space marine scouts clambered from the exit ramp at the rear of the gunship into the glare of the starship hangar, stretching and flexing muscles after long hours in their grav-seats. Markius viewed his new surroundings. The hangar was huge, like one of the combat training arenas drilled under the surface of Ornisgard. Its roof rose away into braced archways, hundreds of metres above, and dozens of dazzling glow-braziers dangled from creaking chains. The smell of metal, oil, unguents and incense burners stung his nose. The metal-grilled floor space of the hangar was cluttered with steam-spewing machines and vehicles, coils of rattling piping, canisters of fuel, boxes of tools and other such items whose purpose escaped him.

He noticed another shadowhawk, also painted in the colours of the Storm Eagles and connected to dozens of writhing pipes. Then yet another lay in several sections, ready to be assembled or perhaps a source of spare parts. He even spotted an anti-grav surface vehicle designated as a Land Speeder in his recognition engrams, held within docking clamps, also painted in his chapter’s colours. Markius felt a warm reassurance at these sights. These people were surely friends.

Yet as the gigantic, 3oo-metre high blast doors clanked shut behind him to close out the voracious vacuum of space that had been held back by the invisible void shields, Markius’s questing gaze finally fell upon the figure that confronted him and his men.

‘Identification: I am Magos Xavier Gaius,’ rattled the figure. The voice was cold and metallic and issued from a vox-grate built into his neck. He did not bow, but instead extended a robotic arm at a strange angle, in what might have been a gesture of greeting. Markius stared at the robed man-machine before him. The long vermilion gown hid most of his form from view, but Markius discerned angular bumps that told him numerous augmetic alterations had been made to his body.

One hand clutched a tall staff of meteoric iron, topped with a cog-toothed amulet carved from some gleaming chrome metal, and Markius noticed this hand was still flesh – a shriveled, grey flesh. This was much more like the Adeptus Mechanicus the space marines were used to: Tech-priests so devoted to the machine that they installed bionic augmetics to their bodies as much as possible, to purge the weakness of flesh and realise the strength of mechanization. Mechadendrites like wriggling steel eels snaked from a unit on his back, each ending in glaring optical sensors or buzzing instruments.

Markius met eyes with the cyborg, and saw fully half of his head was a gleaming steel skull. The other fleshy half was pallid and bereft of pigmentation. The skin looked as if it was stretched and pinned in place and the silver skull might be lurking beneath it. The half-mouth was a taut, unsmiling straight line. Both eyes were replaced with uncaring bionic orbs.

‘I am Captain Markius, of the Storm Eagles Adeptus Astartes, Tenth Company. The Emperor protects!’ Markius saluted, then held out a hand like he had seen Zharn do on Ornisgard.

If Magos Gaius noticed this gesture, he did not acknowledge it. Instead he swiveled and burped a stream of incomprehensible electronic beeps and burbles. Markius retracted his hand and exchanged a shrug with his men as dozens of the machines and small vehicles jerked into motion.

Markius’s eyes widened as some of them started warbling electronic code back and forth to each other, while others bustled past him and extended pipes and tools towards the shadowhawk behind. He noticed these things that he had taken to be inanimate machines now all seemed to have somewhere upon their forms human-shaped metal skulls with dull optical sockets for eyes. Servitors, he realised, having seen such things at the fortress-monastery, but of very different shapes.

Servitors were machines guided by a human brain that had been lobotomised and scrubbed of higher functions in order to control robotic bodies and carry out simple functions. Sometimes servitors retained much more of their original bodies, almost like walking android-slaves, but obviously not here, Markius realised as a box-shaped machine no higher than his knees rattled past, sucking up leaked oil from a pipe that fed into the mouth of its metal cranium.

‘Xavier!’ came Zharn’s warm voice as he and Burrin rejoined the space marines. ‘I take it you have formally welcomed our new guests aboard?’

‘Confirmative, My Lord,’ said the Magos. The mode of address tweaked Markius’s interest.

‘And where are Aul and Philippe?’ said Zharn.

‘Actuality: On the bridge,’ reported Gaius. ‘Aul Vespasius monitors the astropathic choir, and Navigator Ludon…’ the Magos paused, and Markius had the distinct impression little cog-wheels were turning inside his metal skull, determining what to say next. ‘Philippe Ludon decided not to come.’

Zharn harrumphed.

Magos Xavier Gaius turned back to the space marines. He seemed to notice Goran’s stump of a left arm, his bionic eyes fixing on the metal clamp at its end.

‘Evaluation: You are damaged,’ the Magos announced. ‘We have medical facilities. Please follow this servitor.’

A servitor, this one actually with a vaguely human-shaped form with two legs and arms, stopped beside Goran. Markius had a thought.

‘Wait,’ he said. ‘Brother-Sergeant Sören, can you accompany Goran and gather what medical supplies you deem fit for the company?’

‘Er, yes captain,’ said Sören, stepping forward. Markius turned back to Zharn and Magos Gaius and said, ‘With your permission, of course…’

‘Please take whatever you need,’ Zharn smiled. Magos Gaius did not move, nor did his metal face change its expression.

‘Bah! An’ I’ll reckon the rest of ya could do with some good hot hearty food! Aye, and ale!’ Burrin growled, his voice surprisingly loud in the echoing hangar.

The appreciative moans from the space marines at this announcement gave all the answer that was needed. As the men prepared to follow Burrin, Zharn stepped before Markius.

‘Captain, I should like to take you to the bridge for a full de-briefing,’ Zharn said.

Markius nodded and said, ‘A moment, please,’ then turning to the marines he called, ‘Brother Rasmus, Brother Tobias.’

The scouts hurried over to him. Zharn moved respectfully away, and after a few moments whispered to Gaius to do the same. Markius huddled with his sergeants.

‘I’m going to the bridge with Zharn,’ said Markius. ‘And with Goran and Sören in medical, you two will be in charge.’

Rasmus should have beamed, Markius thought. With Markius as acting-captain, Rasmus was in all but name acting-sergeant of Omega squad, but this was the first time it had been stated. Instead, the big marine’s face turned into a scowl, and betrayed not just a little alarm.

‘You want me to come with you, eh?’ snarled Rasmus.

‘No,’ smiled Markius, clasping his old friend’s shoulder. ‘I need you to be with the men, lift their morale. Enjoy your meal!’

‘That’s an order I can definitely follow,’ grinned Rasmus, the old uneven-toothed grin showing again, and then he loped to catch up with the departing marines.

‘Bah! Gather from these fellas that ya like an ale or two,’ Markius heard Burrin shout across to Rasmus.

‘That is so!’ rumbled Rasmus. ‘And you too, eh?’

‘Aye, but only the strong stuff. Not sure ya lanky lads can take it,’ said Burrin.

‘Ha! Do not make the mistake of thinking you can out-drink a Storm Eagle space marine, eh?’ said Rasmus.

‘Bah! If those are real sabretooth teeth, I’ve a beautiful old power-axe versus them that says I can,’ Burrin grinned. The rest of the marines roared their approval of this challenge.

Markius smiled to himself. He noticed Brother Sergeant Tobias had stayed by his side, somehow knowing that Markius wanted to say something more to him.

‘Brother Sergeant,’ said Markius, stealing a glance to make sure Zharn and Gaius were still out of earshot. ‘Keep an eye on things. This is all starting to seem a little bit too good to be true.’

Tobias nodded understanding. He said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want a secondus to the bridge, sir?’

‘No,’ he shook his head. ‘I can look after myself, but keep vox-channel quintus-alpha open and make sure the men keep their weapons close to hand.’

‘Yes sir,’ Tobias moved away and Markius turned to face the ‘Lord’ Zharn and Magos Gaius, bracing himself ready for his first tour of an interstellar starship.


.
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby Mauthos » Fri Jun 01, 2012 10:17 am

Great movement forward and I am enjoying the not so comfortable or at ease feeling Markius is experiencing in command and on the Adeptus Mechanicus ship. Again you handle the development of the relationships between the characters well, especially with the now change dynamic of Markius's Captain status.

Only criticisms I could level at you at the moment would be that sometimes you description becomes a little laboured, bordering on info-dumping, for example the description of Zarhn and Burrin when we first saw them was a little too much in my opinion. You also mention the space marine implants quite regularly and to be honest I find that a little unnecessary after the first time, but again that is a matter of taste and others may and probably will disagree with me.

But, overall, really enjoying this piece and as usual, look forward to more.
Simplicity is the key to brilliance.
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby kurisawa » Mon Jun 04, 2012 4:11 am

Thanks again Mauthos. That's two good points for me to think about come edit time. :)
My short stories:
1. Extraction = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2127
2. Intoxication = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2188
3. Desecration = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2294
4. Indoctrination = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=3172

My novel:
BLACK SHIELDS: INCOGNITUS = viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1901
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby kurisawa » Mon Jun 04, 2012 4:19 am

= V =
Deceptions



MARKIUS GRIPPED THE brass handrail as the elevator cage rattled higher and higher within the spacecraft, ascending through a gap in the arched apex of the hangar, only to reveal more vast gothic chambers of dark metal, stretching away out of sight. He grimaced, hating himself.

A space marine was trained to put aside fear, enhanced to resist disorientation arising from altitude or turbulence, but the dizziness and feeling of apprehension was a source of deep shame to Markius. While he was indoctrinated to prevent the sensations from disrupting his physical performance, he had always guiltily concealed the fact they existed. Ridiculous! He shouted silently in his own mind. What kind of a Storm Eagles captain suffers from vertigo?

The ascension ended with the chime of a bell and the grilled doors rolled aside. Gouts of steam wheezed from pipes as they exited the cage. As the vapours cleared, Markius witnessed a chariot of fluted brass waiting for them across a metal-floored platform. Following Gaius and Zharn, Markius took a polished gilt seat in the chariot. Zharn alighted opposite him, but Gaius glided to a control panel of levers and brass-braced dials – Markius wondered, were there legs or tracks beneath that robe? With a metallic wheeze the chariot rumbled into motion and Markius saw that it rolled along a single steel track through a tunnel of glass braced at regular intervals with arches of wrought iron.

Markius could now concentrate more on the sights passing by as their chariot trundled along. His eyes must have grown gradually larger and larger as he searched ahead for their destination, the end of the ship, but it just kept on going and going.

Smiling, Zharn said, ‘You have entered a tech-priest’s paradise. The Arcis Indicium is over six kilometres length of ancient technological marvels. It will take us almost thirty minutes to reach the bridge.’

Gaius acquired the topic. He said, ‘Confirmative: The hangars take up one thousand, three-hundred and seventeen-point-five metres, protected behind the armoured prow. That is in the underside of the ship. Torpedo storage and loading bays are above, decks eighty-five through one-hundred seventeen…’

And so he rattled on, a train set in motion upon its rails. Markius’s attention wandered as he considered the debriefing that was to come. How much, or how little, of their chapter’s conflict with the Crimson Paladins should he reveal? Their unexpected allies seemed to know nothing of the fate of the Eyrie, and so also were unaware of the Chapter Master’s denouncement as a heretic. He decided these things would be better left unsaid until he and his company could formulate a plan as to what to do next. While Magos Gaius spouted reams of facts, Markius peered through the clouds of steam and purplish smoke of burning censors, catching sight of vast, metal-walled chambers.

‘What’s that?’ he interrupted, pointing.

‘Actuality: The logic stacks,’ said Gaius. ‘The Arcis Indicium carries over a trillion gigabytes of information directly copied from the Librarium Mechanicus on Mars, all directly or indirectly involving xenos… stretching across seventeen-hundred metres and decks eighteen to one-hundred seventy five…’

Markius peered at the passing avenues of cubic buildings made from unreflective black quartz, all at least ten-times higher than a Wind-spear tribe winter tent. Silver machines and floating metal skulls animated by suspensor engines buzzed up and down the shadowed aisles, and he even noticed hulking tracked machines as big as tanks, bearing heavy weapons upon hefty robotic arms and standing immobile as statues.

Zharn followed his stare and said, ‘Access to this knowledge is forbidden to all but those with the correct clearance codes, without which these servitors will destroy any intruder in an instant.’

Next there were gigantic furnaces and clanging workshops, then decks full of machines whose explanations were meaningless to Markius. Everywhere the servitors toiled in the heat and steam.

‘Ah, now these are interesting,’ said Zharn, pointing. ‘The plasma converters. You see where all those conveyor belts rise into those gigantic vats? This is one of the most marvelous things about the Arcis. You can feed just about any elemental substance into these and it will convert it to fuel for the engines at the rear of the ship – around thirteen hundred metres and twenty centimetres long,’ he winked at Markius. ‘In theory, as long as you keep feeding it asteroids, the Arcis can keep sailing indefinitely. And they say the machines that do this are too small even for us to see!’

‘Confirmative: It is one of the ancient magics of the Omnissiah,’ remarked Gaius, and even through his metallic voice synthesiser Markius noted the Magos’s reverential tone. Markius had not heard mention of this Omnissiah before and thought for several minutes before he decided he had not had any brain-engram about it either.

He noticed more metallic constructs feeding the plasma converters and said, ‘Are the entire crew of this ship servitors?’

He noticed Gaius pause and sighed as he knew another calculation was being made inside the metallic cranium.

‘Actuality: There are three-hundred seventeen thousand, four-hundred and ninety-one servitors on board, not including servo-skulls, but also four-thousand one-hundred and nineteen Adepts of our blessed order to run them, four astropaths, three navigators and of course, Lord Zharn’s staff,’ said Gaius.

Markius looked at Zharn, who smiled back and said, ‘Xavier here believes in the superiority of servitors to a human crew.’

‘Confirmative,’ rattled Gaius. ‘We have no issues with morale or insubordination. The tech-priests simply give orders and they are obeyed. We do not have to worry about sleeping quarters or food rations, only maintenance. Everything is run as efficiently as a sub-routine-loop on this ship.’

‘But they are not much good in a fight,’ Markius thought aloud, watching as a servitor caught fire from an overheating work-station and simply stood still, presumably waiting for orders. The lack of answer made him look at the others. Gaius appeared caught in mid-calculation. Zharn was regarding him thoughtfully.

‘I mean,’ said Markius. ‘They cannot act on their own initiative, like a true soldier must. If an enemy were able to board, Emperor banish the thought, servitors, no matter how well-armed, would not be able to respond and repel effectively without supervision. Emperor banish the thought.’

‘Emperor banish the thought,’ Zharn repeated, acknowledging Markius’s point with a nod. He smiled again. ‘Indeed, and that is why we are happy to have a company of Adeptus Astartes on board!’

‘Actuality: We arrive,’ reported Gaius as the chariot clattered to a halt by another platform, this one leading to another elevator cage. Markius disembarked the brass train and looked up, witnessing a dizzying spire towering above them. Markius groaned.


* * *



COMPARED TO THE steaming, clanking commotion of the ship, the bridge was an oasis of cool calm, Markius thought as he stepped out into the top of the spire. In the solemn, hushed darkness he saw banks of machines ordered in neat pews and quietly spouting reels of parchment with data columns punched across them. Each was attended by hunched servitors hard-wired into their stations, and dozens of the red-robed tech-priests patrolled amongst them.

The steel-banistered dais they walked onto looked down upon hundreds of such stations below, but it was the sight above that first seized Markius’s attention. There, through gigantic arched clerestory windows taller than trees, the majesty of space stretched before his eyes. Pale Tertius rotated on its axis peacefully above them. Sequences of runes danced along the edges of the windows, adding data streams to the visual sensors.

Markius struggled to get his bearings in the darkness of the long, cathedral-like hall, his enhanced eyes picking out too many details in the gloom. Various sub-decks led down into transepts from their platform, where sinister hooded figures huddled and whispered. Markius determined the direction that was the front of the ship, looking over the heads of the banks of data-servitors along the nave, where the largest clerestory-screen set at the far end viewed the blade-shaped prow of the Arcis Indicium thrusting ahead. That meant that the wide, curving steps leading up and away from the platform behind him were towards the rear of the ship.

Turning, he noticed with a jolt what looked like a golden throne at the top of the steps – a nest of pipes and tubes haloing it, but he was distracted from scrutinising this further as he caught sight of the thing suspended above it.

‘What is that?’ he said.

‘Approbation: Behold the face of the Omnissiah! This is an avatar of the greatest guardian of mankind,’ Gaius had trundled beside him now.

Markius stared at the Magos, then back up the stairs. The thing above the throne resembled a gigantic, disembodied head, as big as a thunderhawk itself, dozens of pipes and wires flowing away from it into the infrastructure of the ship. Two empty eyes that looked like the tail pipes of jet engines stared lifelessly over the toiling servitors below. The metal of its visage was wrought into the likeness of a human face on one half and a robotic skull on the other. Markius gaped.

‘It is the God-Machine!’ said Gaius.

‘Captain Markius, I would like you to meet the rest of my command crew,’ Zharn’s voice, a small note of urgency in it, rang across the dais. Markius turned.

Beside Zharn, two more figures emerged from the sub-decks. Markius squinted in the gloom.

‘This is Philippe Ludon,’ said Zharn, ‘my chief navigator.’

‘Philippe Ludon the third,’ the man corrected Zharn, barely acknowledging Markius with a sneering nod.

His hairless, egg-shaped head seemed too large for his skinny body. His lankiness was exaggerated by the shiny black clingsuit he wore, making him look like some kind of humanoid insect, particularly with his obsidian eyes that looked almost multi-faceted by the way they glittered within his pallid face.

Markius’s mirth at the sight of this brittle-looking man vanished as he noticed the black silk cloth that was tied in the style of a bandana around his forehead. Markius realised that what he had first taken to be some affectation of this space-faring aristocrat was in fact a disguise, and a very bad one at that. He could clearly see the outline of a third eye bulging beneath the cloth, right in the middle of the man’s forehead.

Horrified, Markius took a step back, hand hovering over his boltpistol. He looked back to Zharn, who was still smiling.

Another man shuffled up in line. This one was a shriveled corpse of a human being, wrapped in deep green hooded robes and clutching a staff of some strange black metal. Markius detected a whiff of something he recognised.

‘This is Aul Vespasius, head of our astropathic choir, and sanctioned mystic in my service,’ said Zharn.

Markius took another step back, finally identifying the stench of the corpse-man. The warp! The man, Aul Vespasius, looked up, revealing his dried prune of a face and Markius almost gasped. Where he should have had eyes, only black sutured sockets stared back at the space marine. Yet Markius sensed that this man could see him all too well.

‘William,’ rasped the skeletal Vespasius from a toothless mouth, ‘this one is still but a child in the ways of the galaxy. See, he panics!’

Zharn peered at Markius, who could control himself no more.

‘Enough!’ he shouted. ‘I do not know what you planned here, but I will not serve amongst witches, mutants and,’ he pointed at Gaius, ‘blasphemous heretics!’

Ludon sneered and cocked an eyebrow towards Zharn. He remarked, ‘And this is your secret weapon, My Lord?’

Magos Gaius stood as still as an inanimate machine, and Markius believed he was still processing his outburst. But Vespasius took another step towards him. Markius’s hand moved even closer to his boltpistol. Then he was forced to clutch his head as a sudden mind-numbing pressure twisted his sinuses. A shiver rippled down his spine as he felt the temperature on the bridge suddenly drop. The mouldy stench scraped at the back of his throat again. He could feel the corpse-man probing into his mind, as if his old rickety fingers were poking into his forehead – the touch was icy and chilling. He could not stop it. Shuddering with effort against the force, he could not draw his weapon. His whole body refused to move.

‘Desist, witch!’ he said through clenched teeth. Then Vespasius’s voice, loud and clear as a bell, rang through his mind.

+Do not consider yourself so pure, Adept of the Astartes!+

Markius howled and summoned all his willpower to thrust out the witch’s grip from his mind. He heard Zharn shout distantly, ‘Aul, stop!’ but he did not wait to listen further. He spun and ran from the bridge platform.


* * *



AFTER SEVERAL TURNS, Markius found himself in a wide, colonnaded tunnel chamber with breathtaking views of the cosmos displayed through armourcrys screens between the iron braces above. Markius realised he had made a wrong turn in his panic to leave the bridge. He mentally recalled his journey there and remembered he needed to descend a large number of floors to reach the chariot.

He keyed his vox, channel quintus-alpha, and said, ‘Brother-Sergeant Tobias; status.’

‘Ah, Captain!’ came Tobias’s voice, uncomfortably jovial. ‘This Burrin is a fantastic host, and he’s even giving Rasmus a good hunt for his prize.’

The sound of the marines cheering encouragement faintly crackled over the vox.

‘Do you have your weapons?’ said Markius.

‘Yes… yes sir, but… what is it?’ Tobias was suddenly serious.

‘Captain Markius, surely you do not want to go back and face the Crimson Paladins again?’ said a deep voice and Markius whirled. It was Zharn, following from the bridge. Markius glared at him.

‘Perhaps I should explain,’ said Zharn, spreading his arms far away from his pistol and sabre in a gesture of peace. The warm smile spread across his face again.

‘Captain?’ Tobias’s voice spoke in his ear. ‘Are you there? Is everything alright?’

‘Standby,’ voxed Markius. ‘I’ll be in contact soon.’

From opposite ends of the observatorium chamber, Zharn and Markius confronted each other beneath the stars.

After several more moments Markius said, ‘Who are you?’


.
kurisawa
 
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby kurisawa » Wed Jun 06, 2012 3:37 am

= VI =
Truths



‘DO YOU KNOW what this is?’ said Zharn, carefully lifting the rosette from where he had concealed it behind the folds of his suit tunic. Markius stared at the intricate metal-wrought flower and swayed just a little.

Of course he knew what it was. It was amongst the first of the recognition engrams that had been plugged into his mind as an initiate: The symbols and structures of authority within the Imperium, outside of the Storm Eagles command.

‘You’re…’ breathed Markius, ‘You’re an inquisitor!’

Before he knew what he was doing his boltpistol was out of its holster and in his hand, trained on Zharn. Markius stopped himself before he fired. From somewhere the words thundered in his mind: +You would dare draw a weapon on one amongst His Holy Inquisition?+

Markius shook his head. Zharn had not said those words, but they had come from somewhere. A bead of sweat dribbled from Markius’s brow and down his cheek. The inquisitor also seemed to be unsettled and in the act of composing himself. He kept his hands spread far away from the weapons at his own belt and raised them, palms towards Markius.

‘Captain, I am a friend, I assure you.’

‘What do you know of the Crimson Paladins?’ snapped Markius, not lowering his boltpistol.

‘I am of the Ordo Xenos,’ said Zharn. ‘The Paladins were working with the Hereticus, the witch hunters, a very different Ordo to my own: completely separate. I have no knowledge – or interest – in any crimes that your Chapter Master has committed.’

‘Allegedly committed!’ Markius barked.

‘Indeed, allegedly committed. The point is, as newly inducted neophytes I consider you free of any corruption that may have tainted your chapter.’

‘Then why did you not mention any of this on Ornisgard?’ said Markius.

‘Forgive me. I needed to act quickly in order to get you and your company away. After everything that had happened, you did not strike me as being ready to trust an inquisitor at that time.’

Markius considered this. It made sense, though he did not like being lied to. His boltpistol lowered a fraction, his aim wavering. He remembered the experience on the bridge and his weapon snapped back up, trained on the inquisitor’s heart.

‘What kind of Imperial inquisitor consorts with witches, mutants and heretics?’ said Markius. This man has gone rogue, he told himself. I would do a great favour to the Imperium by eliminating him.

‘Ah, I see…’ said Zharn, and to Markius’s disbelief he smiled again. ‘I must apologise; I did not know that this was your first tour of an interstellar spacecraft. There are many things you must learn of the Imperium, and of navigating it.’

‘Your chief navigator is a mutant!’ spat Markius.

‘Philippe is an incurable snob, perhaps,’ said Zharn, keeping calm, ‘but unfortunately his kind, and all of the Navis Nobilite families are a necessary link that holds the entire Imperium together.’

Markius grimaced, wanting to disbelieve Zharn, but also eagerly waiting for the explanation to follow.

‘They are not mutants as you or I know them,’ said Zharn. ‘The navigators were engineered in a distant age, more years ago than either of us can really understand, by genetic techniques that have been lost in the passing of eons.’

‘Engineered?’ said Markius.

‘Just as your extra organs have been implanted and grown within you, just as your various bio-enhancements have made you more than a human, so the navigators were altered in order to perform a service for mankind,’ said Zharn.

Markius looked down at his own body, his biomass probably twice that it had been when he was a mortal human back on Prism. It was easy to forget how much his own strength had been altered sometimes.

‘That eye he keeps hidden,’ said Zharn. ‘That is the key. For when the Gellar field is activated and the ship sails through the warp, only the navigators can truly guide a vessel safely to her destination. I beseech you to think about it, Captain Markius: The vast distances cannot be crossed by any other means! The Imperium would collapse within a generation without warp travel.’

Markius did not want to think about the gigantic numbers again; they simply made him feel dizzy. But the mention of the warp ignited his skepticism once more.

‘And what about the witch? Suffer not the witch to live!’ Markius chanted from the Catechism of Hate he had learned as an initiate.

Zharn sighed. He said, ‘It is the great paradox of our time, but the power to manipulate the warp is also fundamental to the survival of our race.’

Zharn looked Markius directly in the eye and dared to take a step closer. He said, ‘The warp that so threatens to consume us, the witches that you have been raised to hate and denounce and purge; the fact of the matter is that they are the very lifeblood of the Imperium.’

Markius shook his head, wanting to disagree, for this contradicted almost everything he had learned as an initiate.

Zharn continued, ‘Aul is a sanctioned psyker: He has been in the Holy presence of Him on Terra and cleansed, and it cost him his eyesight the experience was so traumatic. Now he carries the protection of our Lord the God Emperor as he performs his duties. The astropaths are the only way to submit and receive messages at faster-than-light speed, the only way to almost instantaneously send a message across the galaxy; through the warp.’

‘The warp,’ echoed Markius. He still did not want to believe the inquisitor, but a thought had come to him. Had not the veterans and even the Father-Chaplain used the warp to teleport right into the nest of the xenos? He had witnessed it with all his senses. Even the Storm Eagles utilised the warp! How he wished he could consult the Father-Chaplain now.

‘You would trust the authority of an inquisitor?’ said Zharn, gesturing to his rosette. Markius stared.

+Then know that this psyker is also a servant of the Emperor.+

Markius rocked. The voice had spoken in his head, just like the transmissions on Ornisgard. He staggered back a pace, then another. It had not been a trick of the vox-net. All those conversations had been…

‘You’re…’ said Markius, ‘you’re…’

‘Not a witch!’ said Zharn, ‘though things may have gone that way eventually. I was one of the lucky ones, like Aul. We were picked up by the Black Ships and deemed strong enough to serve. Yes, Captain Markius; accept this knowledge, for I am in no way unique in this regard: The Imperial inquisition employs the powers of psykers to defend mankind.’

‘Can you read my mind? Can you control me? Did you make me come here, to this ship?’ stammered Markius, fearing for his sanity.

‘Nothing so grand, I’m afraid,’ Zharn sighed. ‘My powers are purely defensive. I have the rather useful skill of being able to hide my mind from all enemy psykers while also being able to sense them, within a certain distance. And then, when I must, I have been trained to cast the Aegis, a shield to protect my mind from the predations of all psychic entities that attack it.’

‘But your voice, in my head…’ said Markius.

‘Indeed, something I have been developing,’ said Zharn, ‘with the help of Aul. I can project telepathy up to interplanetary distances – nothing so powerful as an astropath, but useful when conventional communications may be monitored. Though I still have not mastered it, clearly.’

Markius stared at Zharn, his eyes narrowed.

‘I cannot read or control your mind, Captain,’ said Zharn, the smooth voice disarming Markius’s hostility. ‘You came here of your own free will – and a strong will it is! Anything I may determine from you now can just as easily be divined from your voice or body-language.’

Markius finally holstered his boltpistol. He felt dizzy.

‘Why am I here, inquisitor?’ he said. ‘Why did you come and take us from that moon?’

‘A good question,’ said Zharn taking another step closer. If he had read Markius’s sigh as a loosening of tension, he halted when Markius straightened and kept his hand next to his holstered weapon.

Zharn gestured to the ship around them and said, ‘This is an explorator ship, Captain. Her mission is to sail to the Eastern Fringe, the very edge of known space, and seek out and examine the xenos that would annihilate humanity – the teeming hordes that would destroy us all. There are threats closing in on us even now, which I intend to investigate and avert.’

‘An Adeptus Mechanicus ship!’ said Markius, remembering his last point of concern. ‘You saw their blasphemous idol! Do not tell me the inquisition worships this Omnissiah too!’

Zharn spread his hands and shrugged.

‘No, there you have my agreement. The worship of the machine-god does not sit well with me either, but the tech-priests are quite precise on this piece of dogma: Their Omnissiah is but a facet of our Lord on Terra – they worship His convergence with the machine that is the Holy Throne. Xavier’s little head of worship houses one of the ancient machine-intelligences that were created in the Dark Age of Technology, and in meditation with it he is able to fly this marvel of a ship much more swiftly and effectively than any Imperial navy ship of comparable size.’

‘Little head? It is bigger than a battle tank!’ said Markius.

‘Indeed, and so it would be, for that head once sat upon the shoulders of one of the mighty titans, the god-machines that defended mankind in the ages of strife and heresy,’ said Zharn.

Markius was not convinced.

‘Wait until you get to know Xavier,’ prompted Zharn. ‘He is not quite the emotionless machine he likes to think he is. All men have their passions, and weaknesses. And for now our interests converge. This ship is the perfect tool to gather and protect information from beyond the fringe: information that it is my remit to collect and use in any way I can to serve our Lord on Terra.’

‘You did not answer my question,’ said Markius. ‘Why did you bring us here? What do you want of the Astartes?’

‘Indeed… quite,’ Zharn shifted on the spot. ‘The truth is I need a cadre of elite warriors that I can completely trust, and you have pointed out the weaknesses of battle-servitors already. No matter how efficient their tech-priest handlers may be, they are not soldiers. I would have the finest warriors the Imperium can produce when I face the unknown xenos of the galaxy. And that would be your men, Captain. I wish for a permanent covert strike force of marines to serve me.’

‘The Storm Eagles serve only the Holy Emperor’s will!’ said Markius.

‘You forget yourself, Captain,’ said Zharn. ‘Out here I am the Emperor’s will. I have the authority to requisition any of His servants for the good of mankind.’

Zharn’s expression softened. He smiled again and said, ‘But I do not wish to override your command protocols. I understand your situation and would not demand you accompany me against your will. I therefore give you a choice…’

And so it finally comes, Markius thought.

‘If you wish it, we will return you to Ornisgard, even with replenished supplies, to wait out your fate and resume your vendetta with the Paladins. But I warn you, I believe all of your chapter are gone. The Crimson Paladins are extremely thorough in their work.’

‘They missed us!’ interjected Markius, but Zharn waved away the interruption.

‘Nevertheless, my sources tell me they have successfully struck at your chapter in several coordinated strikes across the galaxy – and I have never seen a fortress-monastery of the Adeptus Astartes reduced to a ruin before.’

Markius’s gaze fell to the floor. He knew the inquisitor was probably right, but he had kept hold of that last strand of hope for so long, he was reluctant to let it go.

‘Or you can join me,’ said Zharn and Markius looked up again. Zharn gestured to the stars.

‘It would be a grand alliance between the Mechanicus, the Adeptus Astartes and the Inquisition – a unique triumvirate dedicated to the service of mankind, and the destruction of the xenos. I will take you beyond the edges of the known galaxy,’ he said. ‘You have much to learn, and my passion is collecting and harnessing the power of knowledge. I am ready to share this power with you and be your teacher. And together we will hunt and battle the xenos across the stars.’

Markius narrowed his gaze and said, ‘What’s the catch? There is something you are not telling me.’

Zharn sighed and folded his hands behind his back, ‘You are a very perceptive man, Markius. I can see why you were made captain.’

For once, Markius did not allow his ego to be flattered, but waited for Zharn to go on. The inquisitor took several long moments to choose his next words.

‘The name Storm Eagles is now tainted,’ he said, and Markius jolted. ‘You must leave it behind. You must cast off everything from the chapter. Those vehicles in the hangar will be repainted, your armour will lose its markings.’

‘Now wait just a moment,’ said Markius, the familiar ache reaching into his gut, just as when he had first witnessed the destruction of the Eyrie.

‘This is what you must do,’ said Zharn. ‘From now on your company will be incognitus. Your colours will be the black of the inquisition, your only symbol the Imperial Aquila.’

Markius experienced a swirl of emotions. He said, ‘But… our honour… our glory… I promised the Father-Chaplain. I mean… everyone… our history and sagas. Everything…’

‘Everything,’ echoed Zharn. ‘You must leave it all behind. That, Captain, is what I want – no, must demand of you. Your vendetta with the Paladins is done. And you may never return to Ornisgard or Prism again.’

Markius felt his world quake beneath the stars. A thousand voices seem to speak up at once in his mind; his old tribesmen as they spoke in awe of the sky-warriors, the instructor-sergeants during his time as an initiate: The many, many ministrations of the Father-Chaplain: Even his long-dead father, urging him to stand up straight and throw his spear hard. All his life he had been steered towards becoming a Storm Eagle space marine, and all his future life he had expected to live as one; to become one of the immortal heroes whose sagas were revered for all eternity.

Could he turn his back on that? Was that not a betrayal? He tried to think rationally. What were his last orders? What did the Father-Chaplain tell him to do? Survive and reclaim the chapter’s honour. Right now, that seemed like two conflicting orders.

‘It is not the end,’ said Zharn. ‘It is a beginning! Is this not what you were created to do? I am offering you and your men the chance to live out your purpose. You will still be the great heroes that cleanse the galaxy of the enemies of mankind!’

‘But no-one will know who we are or what we have done! We will have no honour. There will be no sagas sung of our deeds,’ said Markius.

‘Service of the Holy Emperor is its own reward,’ said Zharn, ‘and its own glory.’

Markius recognised the passage. His gaze fell, ashamed. Zharn’s rich voice had orated the words well.

You will know! Each of you will carry your own saga in his heart, and each of you will know of the others’ deeds. And in the end,’ said Zharn, and Markius almost knew what he was going to say next, ‘the Holy God-Emperor is all-seeing! He will know what we do in his service. Is that not what this is all about, ultimately?’

Survive and reclaim our honour. Markius wrestled with his emotions. Perhaps this was what the Father-Chaplain would have wanted him to do afterall. Perhaps in order to save their chapter, they had to abandon it. He glanced up at Zharn, who was waiting for a response.

‘We will need quarters; a cell for every marine,’ said Markius.

‘There is more than enough room to accommodate you all.’

‘And a chapel, dedicated to the true God-Emperor, not some half-servitor!’

‘I’m sure that can be arranged.’

Markius scowled, realising that his demands were trivial and that by making them he had already agreed to the bigger question. He berated himself: You are no negotiator!

‘One other thing,’ Markius said. ‘If we catch any hint of surviving members of our chapter, we are immediately released from your service in order to pursue contact.’

Zharn frowned.

‘That is a false hope, and it will bring you no good to cling to it.’

‘Then you will have no difficulty in granting this condition,’ said Markius.

Zharn thought this over for what seemed like a long time to Markius. Finally he said, ‘Alright, Captain. If such a situation occurs, you will be released at an appropriate time; I don’t want you abandoning me in the middle of a battlefield.’

At that moment, Magos Xavier Gaius appeared at the end of the observatorium chamber, clutching a dataslate. He rolled or glided up to the inquisitor, his robes still hiding the exact mode of locomotion from Markius.

‘Interruption: Forgive me, Lord Inquisitor,’ his synthesised voice rasped. Markius noted the Magos had somehow recognised that he could use Zharn’s true title now. ‘But Vespasius just received this – urgent from Callasia 9.’

Zharn took the dataslate and began reading.

‘Exposition: It is as we feared, the facility has fallen to the rumoured cultists,’ said Gaius.

Zharn finished reading and exhaled in annoyance.

‘Memorandum: My Lord, the… equipment. We will need to evacuate the assets.’

‘How long before we can get there?’ said Zharn.

‘Approximation: Navigator Ludon reports that the warp-tides are not with us; at least eight months ship time,’ said Gaius.

‘And in real time?’ said Zharn.

‘Estimation: The Navis Nobilite are notoriously inaccurate, but if we depart within the next three-hundred and eleven minutes, given other factors remaining stable…’ said Gaius.

‘Yes?’ said Zharn.

‘Approximately six days and four point two hours, Terran-standard,’ said Gaius.

‘Six days…’ breathed Zharn. ‘Can it be quick enough?’

The inquisitor seemed to remember Markius was there watching them. He turned to the space marine and said, ‘It seems the time has come to make a decision, Captain Markius. Do we have an accord?’

‘I will have to let you know,’ said Markius, marching past them back towards the elevator cage that would take him down to the chariot.

‘What are you doing, Captain?’ said Zharn.

‘I am not the only man you must convince,’ said Markius.


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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby Mauthos » Thu Jun 07, 2012 9:18 am

Really enjoyed those last two chapters, the conversation between Markius and the Inquisitor were a particular stand out piece for me, really embellishing both their characters.

Not much else I can say really, although, methinks the story is just really starting. :D

Great stuff, looking forward to the next installment.
Simplicity is the key to brilliance.
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby kurisawa » Fri Jun 08, 2012 12:42 am

= VII =
Talons



‘AND THAT IS why I believe we should take Zharn’s offer,’ said Markius, his voice echoing away into the background din of the hangar. He watched his men from his position standing on the hull of a Predator-class tank, realising he did not have the charisma or oratory skills of the inquisitor. He knew he could not make the offer as convincing.

‘So, we would no longer be Storm Eagles, eh?’ growled Rasmus. He had evidently triumphed in his drinking challenge for he now proudly lugged an ancient power-axe across one shoulder. The bulky weapon suited the massive man perfectly. Despite his prize, his face fell, as did those of all the space marines, Markius’s words sinking in.

‘What about the Father-Chaplain?’ said Olaf. ‘What about our honour, and the battle brothers that died for us?’

‘Our honour will be here,’ said Markius, punching his chest. ‘We will carry their memory with us as we continue the mission that we were born for.’

‘And you would be captain, I suppose?’ said a voice. It was Goran.

He stood leaning against the flank of the Predator, flexing the claws of his newly installed bionic arm. The Mechanicus had outdone themselves, for this arm incorporated a massive and intricately constructed power gauntlet. Having become used to Goran with only one arm, Markius felt the augmetic unbalanced the sergeant of Epsilon squad. But Goran was clearly pleased with it – as he should be: Such ancient and powerful devices could no longer be newly created, and were rare even among the commanders of their chapter.

‘That is correct. I would be captain,’ said Markius, looking at each of the men in turn. His gaze settled on Goran, meeting with the dangerous green eyes.

‘This must be clear and without question: We must maintain our command structure or we will never triumph on the battlefield. I require absolute loyalty from every man here,’ said Markius. He saw Goran’s lip curl and quickly continued. He had thought about this all the way back to the hangar from the bridge.

‘But also, this will be a new start, for all of us. We leave behind what happened on Ornisgard, and before. All records expunged,’ said Markius, glancing across to make sure Rasmus also understood what this proposal meant.

‘The alternative is to return to Ornisgard, and wait, perhaps forever, perhaps for nothing,’ said Markius.

‘But we are battle brothers of the Storm Eagles!’ said Olaf. ‘No-one can take that away from us!’

Markius nodded his understanding; had he not gone through this very same soul-destroying sequence of emotions?

‘The Father-Chaplain’s last orders were to survive, and to reclaim our honour,’ said Markius. ‘We can survive this way, and perhaps one day we can achieve the other, too. But I can give you no guarantee. All I know is this: We will be serving the Emperor, as we always pledged to do.’

‘Then what are we waiting for, eh?’ snarled Rasmus, stepping forward. ‘Let us take a vote on it. I for one am with you, Captain.’

‘Thank you, Brother Rasmus,’ Markius smiled, ‘but this is not a democracy. I will have no man in my company that does not step forward and swear their loyalty here and now.’

He turned to the gathered Astartes, ‘All of you must make his own decision now. Are you with me? Brother Tobias?’

There was a hush, the clanking background hubbub of the hangar throbbing all around the marines. Markius saw Tobias turning over different responses in his mind, the hawk-eyes beneath the sandy brush of hair working out angles. Come on, don’t fail me now, Markius thought. Finally, Tobias replied.

‘If every other man agrees, then I will join you.’

Markius silently cursed him. I needed you to be a leader, not just an advisor, he thought. But he controlled himself. He said, ‘Brother Sören?’

Sören ran a hand through his golden bristles of hair, then turned and looked to his squad, a ‘what do you think?’ look in his eyes. Emperor damn you! Markius fought to not let his anger rise, for he knew what they were all waiting for. He turned to Goran and forced himself to lock stares again with those green eyes. The moment of truth had come.

‘Well, Brother-Sergeant?’ he said. ‘Will you call me Captain, or will you desert the company and live as a renegade back on Ornisgard?’

Markius hoped he had not overstated the argument. It was a fine line between suggesting this abandonment of their chapter was not desertion itself. The challenge lingered in the oil-perfumed air between Markius and Goran. The meaning behind the words was clear: I would have you call me captain, but you must do it of your own free will. Markius knew he could never force Goran to respect him.

To his surprise, Goran clambered up onto the hull of the Predator. Markius took a step back, but did not stop him, for Goran offered no sign of fighting him. Instead the lupine sergeant addressed the men.

‘Yes, I would join Captain Markius,’ he said. Markius gave an inner sigh of relief.

‘But on one condition.’

Markius glared at Goran.

‘If we are to leave behind the Storm Eagles, let us choose a new name for ourselves: A new identity. Let this be a new day of founding, a new chapter, and every man here will be a member of this new first company. Let us write our own sagas and begin our own history – we cannot be a chapter without an identity!’

‘No, wait!’ said Markius, as murmurs of agreement rippled through the marines. The idea was brilliant, but as captain it should have been mine, Markius told himself. What better way to restore morale? He blasted himself viciously for not thinking of it. The scouts were looking at him, and he realised he had been about to object.

Markius took a deep breath. You object because it was Goran’s idea, not because it is the wrong thing to do, the serpent hissed in the back of his mind. And this time, at last, he accepted its verdict. He quelled the rise of emotion in his chest.

Looking at Goran, Markius said, ‘As long as we make no mention of our old chapter, it is a great idea.’

‘Then we can be the Eagles of Prism!’ rumbled Rasmus, brandishing his power-axe above his head. His words were immediately jeered by the others, but not unkindly. Rasmus’s face fell.

‘That would rather defeat the purpose of the exercise,’ Markius explained to him as animated discussion erupted through the ranks of marines.

‘How about the Wings of Doom?’ said Olaf.

‘Oho! Or the Wild Hunters?’ said Borias.

Markius smiled. Every man who made a suggestion had tacitly made the difficult choice to abandon Ornisgard and the Storm Eagles, and already their thoughts had moved on. His gambit with Goran had worked, and Goran’s suggestion to forge a new identity was inspired. Markius knew at that moment the company would stay intact.

‘How about the Sabretooths?’ said Sergeant Tobias, and a hush settled over the marines. Rasmus peered down at the fangs dangling around his chest. Olaf caressed the wounds in his leg.

Markius turned over the idea in his mind. It was a good name, and tied together with the experiences the company had been through together. However, something was not quite right about it. The Storm Eagle was a serene god-animal revered by the tribes of Prism, but the sabretooth, while respected and feared, had always been a constant threat. It was the animal the braves had to kill in single combat to be accepted as initiates.

‘That would be like we had become our own enemies,’ said Sören, and for once everyone agreed with him.

‘I have it,’ said Goran and all eyes turned to him. He flexed his bionic claws again.

‘If no-one may see the Eagles, let us be the Talons,’ said Goran, to a chorus of murmured agreement.

‘The meaning would be known only to us,’ said Tobias appreciatively.

‘And we could still use the Aquila as our symbol,’ said Rasmus, nodding.

For Goran to have the inspirational idea and to be the one with the honour of naming the new chapter was almost too much for Markius. Then an idea sparked in his mind. He took a step so that he was standing right next to Goran, and they exchanged a glance.

‘I have it,’ Markius said. Everyone waited. ‘We commemorate our renewed vow to serve Him on Terra. We will be the Emperor’s Talons.’

‘The Emperor’s Talons!’ said Rasmus, again brandishing his new prize. Cheers came from the marines as Goran nodded agreement and punched the air.

Rasmus roared at them, ‘Who are we, eh?’

In unison, the shout came back, ‘The Emperor’s Talons!’


* * *



‘ENTER,’ INQUISITOR WILLIAM Zharn replied to the muted warble of the guest-announcing servo-skull. The door to his luxurious apartment swished open and Zharn rotated his soft, Ohinian cow-leather recliner.

‘Good evening Aul,’ he said to the cowled figure silhouetted by the light of the doorway. The glare of the oblong was starkly bright compared to the dim pools of light cast by his mood-lamps. The great armourcrys fenestra that comprised one wall of the chamber was currently shielded from the warp by blast doors, but these now projected calming scenes of starfields and nebulae. Zharn stubbed out his lho stick and set down his glass bulb of vintage amasec when he saw that Aul had a dataslate in his hand.

‘It is the one you have been waiting for,’ Aul rasped as Zharn crossed the plush shag carpet to him.

‘Intercepted?’ said Zharn, holding out his hand.

‘No,’ said Aul, offering the dataslate, ‘A re-transmission gone, well… astray, with an acknowledgement. The censors on Holy Terra have already enacted filters. It seems your friend on Bracara…’

The skeletal man paused, but Zharn did not complete the thought for him so he continued, ‘Well, it seems he came through.’

‘A she, actually,’ said Zharn, allowing a smile to cross his face as he recalled a fond memory. If Aul was still waiting for him to divulge more, he was disappointed.

‘That will be all, thank you, Aul,’ said Zharn.

‘William,’ acknowledged Aul. He backed away across the threshold, but stopped just outside the portal. He said, ‘I was right about the marine, William: He is a child in a warrior’s body you know.’

‘But with such potential,’ said Zharn. ‘Wouldn’t you agree?’

‘We will soon see…’ Aul replied as the door hissed closed again.

Zharn spent several moments contemplating the dataslate before he pressed his inquisitorial signet ring to the receptor disc at its base. The arcane machine-spirits within the ring briefly conversed with those of the dataslate, and then the scrambled, coded runes resolved themselves into the true message.

Zharn took up his bulb of amasec again, gently swishing the golden liquor around the glass. A smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth as he read the thought for the day. Oh yes, she really had come through…


++++


Origin: Battle Barge Santa Catarina
Date: 2/387897.M41
Re-transmitted: Bracara Augusta
Ref: Inq/0iii23914311/BH
Received: IQ-OM CHQ
Destination: IQ-T01
Telepathic Duct: Astropath-terminus Erastus

Author: Inquisitor Kristatos Kielman, Ordo Hereticus

Thought for the day: Ignorance is Strength


My Lords,

It is with great relief but perhaps also a little regret that I can finally report that the [expunged] file is now officially closed. Having identified target sites on [expunged], [expunged] and the outpost at [expunged], the Adeptus Astartes of the Crimson Paladins performed their tasks with admirable and ferocious determination, as befits their reputation.

I lament that I was not made aware beforehand, however, that there existed some sort of ‘honour-feud’ between the two chapters, as the [expunged] fought to the last, and their fortress-monastery was completely and unnecessarily destroyed. This resulted in failure to arrest even one subject alive, and has thwarted follow-up interrogations. I did harbour a small suspicion that some agencies outside of the [expunged] were somehow involved in the experiments, as it seems to me such a project would not have been undertaken by the Adeptus Astartes alone, in particular such a young chapter, without outside prompting. But all such avenues of investigation are closed and I must accept Commander Do Largo’s conclusion that the heresy has been destroyed at its source.

While I have declared the moon [expunged] to be purgatus, I have convinced, with some difficulty, the Crimson Paladins to spare the world of [expunged]. No gain would be had from exterminating these innocent ferals, and indeed it may well prove a useful thrall-world to the Crimson Paladins, despite its vast distance from Fortress.

I must comment that in the course of my investigation I can confirm that planet [expunged] is indeed comprised of a 100% ‘blunt’, non-deviant population. And after examining all records, it seems to always have been the case since it was accepted back into the blessed fold of our most magnificent Imperium. Whether this is the result of some genetic peculiarity of the humans or a side-effect of some unknown environmental factor remains a mystery, which I am sure the Magi Biologis will be interested in investigating in the future.

With hindsight, the project [expunged] that was called to our attention, while clearly heretical, does fill me with a little curiosity as to how effective it may have been were it allowed to run to completion. The very idea of taking naturally non-psychic subjects, combined with the purest Astartes geneseed, and somehow artificially engineering a corps of [expunged] is as visionary as it is insane. Of course, the subjects discovered at [expunged] were costly examples of the consequences of failure, but if the [expunged] would have one day been successful, could not the Ordo Malleus’s very own chapter of [restricted – level magenta] not benefit from such warriors?

In completion of this report I must conclude that this is not to be, by the will of our most Holy God-Emperor on Terra, and may the galaxy be a safer place for it!

I therefore submit my final recommendation, to order for the chapter in question: Records Expunged.


++++
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (complete failure)

Postby Rain Vox » Fri Jun 08, 2012 9:40 am

i ama great fan of the black templar chapter and i can see potential in this, just keep up the good work and youll be a novelist one day ^^
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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Part 1, complete failure)

Postby kurisawa » Mon Jun 11, 2012 1:00 am

Here endeth Part One of this story.

Many thanks to all who have read and replied so far. For ease of bookmarking, Part Two of the novel is posted on this thread.


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Re: BLACK SHIELDS INCOGNITUS (Part 1, complete failure)

Postby Bod the inquisitor » Mon Jun 18, 2012 9:44 pm

Hi Kurisawa

Finally managed to fulfil my promise and provide some comments.

Now I could go through and annotate every little thing and show how I’d do it. But in my mind that is wrong as all that would do is make you write like me. Which is the wrong part, you have your own distinct writing style and voice and rightly so, it’s a good one too. Besides they are generally not things that detracted from the read, in my humble opinion.

I too like the way that you slip background history for the characters as others have already mentioned. The style jarred at first, but I beat myself around the head several times and all’s okay now. I’ve seen this approach several times in BL books and can say you handle it quite well.

Repetition:
This seems to be a particular thing you have. In several places you’ve used words right next to each other to say the same thing.

Example one:
You wrote: Markius flicked his left hand in the signal they had learned in training, and the six hunters froze still
The still is really not needed as it says the same thing as froze and in this case ‘froze’ is a better way of getting the point across.

Example two:
You wrote: 'The Emperor's gaze burn you for an eternity,' Markius whispered, the prey crumpling. As it collapsed
Here I’d get rid of “the prey was crumpling”, and collapse it into the following sentence replacing collapsed. Crumpled is much the better of the two in this bit, for me anyway.

Example three:
You wrote: The six scouts, neophytes
Scouts and neophytes in this case are one and can be used interchangeably but using them next to each other is perhaps best avoided.

My favourite how to write book gives a specific term for this kind of thing but I can’t for the life of me remember it. But it goes to show that if it has a term all of its own a lot of people, no doubt including me I hasten to add, are doing it.

I’ve also noticed that in several places things become fuzzy as to what is actually happening.

You wrote: The boltpistol poised in his grip was a precious relic, forged in a bygone age and reverently passed down through generation after generation, until now it had become Markius's ward.
It’s the “until now” bit this suggests things have changed that it is no longer being handed down reverently from generation to generation. I mean does Markius think he’s going to lose it or break it beyond repair?

Fuzziness:
You wrote: 'Damn fool!' hissed Goran, and he launched into an attack on Markius, his clenched fist closing in a blow towards his throat.
This is a little bit more, picky I grant you, but can read like Goran is trying to hit his own throat, I’m also jarring on the phrase “closing in a blow towards”. It’s just not scanning well for me. As to the confusion I think it’s the result of too many, his so close to each other, particularly combined with that phrase I highlighted. But like I said this could just be me being too nitpicky.

Now this kind of thing also appears in one of the pivotal scenes of the first section, the fight between Markius and Goran. One minute Markius is asking Goran to stop and how he will not back down and will see this through. Then he’s giving in to Goran with no hint that he has a plan of any kind. I know you’re trying to hide his idea from the reader but you have to give some hint, otherwise it’s a WTF moment for the reader. Something that all the advice books, articles and blogs recommend you don’t do. I think, in order to preserve some of the lovely tension that you’ve created, it is best to shift the slipping something out of Goran’s backpack to an earlier point probably just before he surrenders/backs down. This way the reader goes, oh I wonder what he’s taken, some observant people will suspect but not quite know, they will of course after reading on go that’s what he took and he had a plan all along, it’s better than a WTF moment.

This also brings me to another point which does need attention, following the fight you have Goran bashing Markius’s transponder “into onto” a rock. Um these are two different actions; you put something into a draw and put something onto a work top.

Now the last point is perhaps a killer or perhaps not depending upon your view of things. Plus I’d check this out with the likes of Xisor and Schafer but you don’t get neophyte sergeants. The sergeants in scout squads are full highly respected battle brothers with lots of experience who are there to impart that experience upon the scouts. It’s in the lexicum entry for space marine sergeants] plus several of the BL books were scouts appear.

Oh one other thing, please, please, remove the complete failure in the title. It’s not; yes work is needed, but it’s nothing but cosmetic in my opinion. You have a solid tale that has good pacing and such like, plus interesting character interactions. I mean for feth’s sack man you’ve written an entire novel, that’s cool and quite an achievement, not a failure.
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