Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

For Warhammer fiction not strictly from either universe.

Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Wed Aug 24, 2011 11:35 am

Tyrant wrote:He seemed rather lucid for a rabid dog! :P


Ahh the mysteries of life in Warhammer 60,000. One wonders when someone like Sergeant Gravius of the Salamanders barely survived after 10,000 years, how did "Chapter Master" Tyberos survive so well. I am sure there is a deeper story there somewhere!
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Wed Aug 24, 2011 6:03 pm

I have edited chapters 2-5 to reflect some of the comments made and to address some minor changes in character backgrounds that were put in for chapter 7.
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Thu Sep 01, 2011 9:33 pm

As his ship streaked through the roiling and unpredictable eddies of the warp towards its imminent destination, he dreamed. Dreams, he had not had them for years now. Not since the bitter bloodletting on Adenar ten years ago. He had been unable to dream after losing over four hundred warriors under his command to the thrice-damned Silver Hordes. The great manufactorums of Adenar, once the jewels of the Brassos subsector, had fallen that day after ten thousand years of bitter sieges and skirmishes. His guilt over his failings in the disastrous campaign had hounded him day and night, taking root in his psyche like a cancer refusing to be excised.

The nightmare that held him in its grip now was somehow seemed even more terrible than that fateful day on Adenar, as real as the twin hearts that beat in his chest. He was back in the processing chamber on the dead world he had just recently left behind, a ruined husk of a planet scorched by cataclysmic fires that had eradicated all life on it on his own order. He was once again surrounded by towering gargantuan machinery on all sides, with only a mere handful of his battle-brothers around him.

They were kneeling together, but not in supplication. The cold, hard muzzles of boltguns held in steady grey gauntlets were trained on their temples, faint heat radiating from the weapons as their wielders prepared to fire point-blank. A psychotic, cackling laughter surrounded them, deadly malice inherent in its tone, and he shuddered as the chamber’s alien acoustics took the laughter and echoed it at him in waves of grinding noise that grated on his ears. He looked around in confusion to see where the sound came from but he was unable to discern its direction.

Suddenly the laughter ceased completely, and as its echoes died down, a harsh voice laced with utter antipathy and malevolence called out. ‘Kill them and be done with it. The execution of these dogs is not as enjoyable as I thought it would be. KILL THEM NOW!’ He shuddered with dread at the vehemence of the order, the hatred evident in those words utterly alien to him. Somehow he knew that if he attempted to understand even a part of that hatred, he would be driven mad in the process.

With painful clarity, he heard the triggers on the weapons being pushed back and in that one helpless moment, he offered a prayer to his lord and liege but it was if his lips were sealed. With grim finality, he closed his eyes, a beatific expression on his face as the weapons fired, plunging his world into an overwhelming darkness and...

... he woke up. His entire body was covered in the stink of his own sweat, and without the aid of his suit of power armour, it unceremoniously invaded his nostrils. Nightmare, it had all been just a nightmare, a freakish mockery of how events had really transpired. Through the dark gloom of his quarters, he could make out that his body was still in intact, unblemished by any wound save the scars that bore witness to his decades-long struggle in a damned and hostile galaxy.

He got up from his wooden cot and shook his head, shrugging off the after-effects of the nightmarish dream. Ten steps away, his armour was stowed in its habitual plastacrete stand, still covered in wide cracks and deep fractures that marked the damage it suffered in the recent battle on the now-dead world. The left pauldron was an obvious ruin, its gilded golden-black iconography marred with damage that would take a gifted artificer a significant amount of time to restore. When he returned to his new homeworld, he would take up his Forgemaster on his offer of a new suit of artificer armour, he decided. That would be best for him. There were simply too many disturbing and harrowing memories attached to his armour, experiences he would like to forget if not for his eidetic memory. It was distracting to say the least. And in these harshly chaotic times, he could ill-afford such unfortunate distractions.

A lot depended on him, and Astinon Dras had vowed to the Imperial Regent that he would never fail him, in life or in death.

-][-

‘Status of the Montisgarre, Leiutenant Kostar?’ asked Astinon as he entered the battle-barge’s bridge, his tone as crisp as usual when addressing Admiral Teluga’s watchdog aboard his flagship.

‘We are holding position starboard of Romer Station as ordered, Commander,’ answered the career naval officer, his tone matching that of Astinon and entirely professional. Astinon however did not fail to notice the faint indignant and annoyed smirk that flashed on the Lieutenant’s face for a brief moment at his entry.

Astinon gazed out at the hulking behemoth was the orbital defence station Romer, a massive star fortress and one of seven such that protected Armageddon against any and all attack from without. The station bore heavily-crenellated and interconnected towers in the traditional Imperial architecture from which protruded countless batteries of lasers, mass-driver weapons and lance cannons. The space station’s design had been based off the blueprints of the Phalanx, the ancient warship-fortress that was home to the Dorn Revenant, a Commandery of Astartes of the lineage of the Imperial Fists. Vulkan and his cohort of Tech-priests had designed smaller versions of the Phalanx that could serve as the first line of defence against any planetary attack, and their efforts had resulted in the Kostophos-class Star-Forts. Even now they were in continuous production upon Armageddon and were being shipped out to the various worlds of the New Imperium.

As the Montisgarre’s orbit around Armageddon brought it sunward of Romer, the massive space station cast a long shadow upon the battle-barge. Faint flashes of plasma fire in the distance marked out the engines of varying classes of vessels as they powered on after leaving Romer, headed for destinations only the crew aboard knew of. Astinon watched them with disinterest, his thoughts occupied with the nightmarish dream he had had on the return trip from Medan. He was still struggling to shrug off a lingering dread and it bothered him for it was a truly alien feeling for one such as him, an Astartes.

He was broken out of his reverie by a gentle coughing sound and he turned his head to look who had interrupted him. Lieutenant Kostar stood a few paces behind him, with several vox-prints in his hand. ‘Yes, Lieutenant, what is it?’ he asked gruffly, his mood a little sour.

The bridge officer indicated the thin sheaf of vox-prints he held. ‘Orders from the Regent’s tower have just come in, Commander. Lord Vulkan himself wishes to speak with you and your senior command cadre at once. Shall I have a transport prepared?’ he asked.

Astinon considered for a moment before he said anything. ‘Have my personal Thunderhawk prepped and ready for immediate departure to the planet and inform the Regent’s tower that we are inbound.’

‘Sir,’ saluted Kostar and motioned to the crewman in the vox-pit to send off Astinon’s reply.

Astinon turned to walk out of the bridge, his steps hurried as he rushed towards the main docking bay. As he left the bridge behind, he sub-vocalized an order on the comm-net.

+This is Astinon. Adrastos, Dheimmel, Salsax report at once to docking bay one for immediate descent to Armageddon. Manov, I am leaving you in command of the fleet so don’t go starting a war with the good Admiral’s navy. And prep a squad along with Apothecary Romio and our prize from Medan to accompany us.+

A chorus of affirmatives and a chuckle from his four advisors answered him, his mood lightening at his own quip. He was returning to the Regent from a successful mission, his doubts and nightmares be damned.

-][-

‘I am not sure whether I should congratulate you or not, Astinon,’ said Vulkan in his perfectly pitched and accented voice that was tinged by a sadness and regret that confused the Corvian general.

‘My lord, I do not understand,’ replied Astinon. ‘I completed the mission to Medan successfully and brought back a wealth of gene-seed. How have I displeased you?’

‘Commander, you obeyed the letter of my orders perfectly,’ began the Primarch. ‘But you failed to obey its spirit and that single fact disappoints me greatly. I would have expected this from a scion of Guilliman, not a son of Corax.’

Astinon’s expression was crestfallen at Vulkan’s harsh words. The sweet taste of his victory at Medan was now like ashes in his throat and he hung his head in shame. Behind him, his three captains stood equally dispirited. They had all expected high praise and recognition; instead, they had been censured. The Primarch however was not finished.

‘I tasked you to bring me back the riches of the gene-seed repository on Medan and to absolve any and all of your kinsmen you found there,’ continued the lord of the New Imperium. ‘I had wished to repatriate the Carcharadons to our cause, for a force such as them will be invaluable to us in the grim darkness of the far future.’ Vulkan rose up from where he had been sitting on an iron throne in his private sanctum and began pacing back and forth.

‘The loss of the Carcharadons is a severe blow to my plans, Astinon,’ he said darkly, his voice harsh as naked steel and without mercy. ‘You made a grave error in judgement and it is a failure that I will not forget easily.’

Astinon and his warriors kneeled in front of the Primarch, the sound of their armoured knees striking the floor ringing across Vulkan’s sanctum, and hung their heads in a shameful bow. It was the Corvian general who responded to the Regent’s charge, his voice unwavering and confident.

‘Then tell me how I may redeem myself of such a failure, Lord Regent. I will do anything to remove this stain on the honour of the Sons of Corax, no matter the cost to me or my brothers.’

Vulkan’s sombre expression now gave way to one of calculated interest as he considered Astinon’s vow. He motioned for the four Corvians to rise and then spoke.

‘Then, here and now, I give you another mission, Commander,’ said Vulkan, his tone betraying his excitement at the prospect of revealing the next stage of his plans as the four Corvians looked on expectantly. ‘You will head with your entire force to the distant world of Kiavahr and its barren, airless moon, Lycaeus. Your objective will be to obtain any and all information from the archives of the Kiavahri lords and to dismantle the great fortress-monastery of the former XIXth legion, if that be possible.’

As the Primarch paused for a moment, Astinon’s face betrayed his astonishment at his new orders. He glanced behind him and his three captains wore similar expressions to his own, they were equally wrong-footed. It seemed the Lord Regent had a surplus of surprises to bewilder them with. He shook his head to gain some clarity of thought and looked back at the Primarch.

‘This is going to be no easy task, Astinon,’ continued Vulkan, slowly and thoughtfully as he addressed the Corvian general. ‘I am in the middle of re-building an Empire and that is quite a challenge on its own without also having to coordinate millions of soldiers, hundreds of warships, thousands of other men and women, all to a great plan that I cannot share yet with anyone. Not even with He’stan and he understands me and my thoughts best of all my sons.’ A sad, faraway look came into his eyes as he mentioned his most honoured son, Kaivi He’stan, the only surviving Salamander from the last days of the Age of the Imperium. Lord He’stan, as he was now known, served as the Regent’s adjutant in all matters and led his company of honour guard, the warrior-elite known as the Pyre Guard.

‘And when do we find out what this great plan of yours is, Lord Vulkan?’ asked Adrastos in a jovial tone, making Vulkan smile briefly.

‘If you and your brothers successfully complete this mission, Captain Adrastos, then perhaps I may yet reveal my greater designs with you,’ Vulkan responded. ‘As I said, the Ravenspire is to be completely dismantled and brought back to Armageddon. I have already asked Quartermaster Soth to prepare a suitable location for your new base of operations and the Ravenspire will be at the heart of this new complex.’

If Astinon had been a mortal human, he would have shed tears of joy at this pronouncement. He managed to display his gratitude by a deep bow to Vulkan and performing a salute he had recently been taught by Captain Dalmor, thumping his breastplate loudly with both fists clenched tightly. Dalmor had told him that this salute had been commonly used in the halcyon days of the Imperium, when the Emperor had still walked among the Legiones Astartes. Lord Vulkan, it seemed, had revived the tradition.

Vulkan accepted the salute with a slight nod of his head and continued. ‘So that this task is completed within time, I am sending along Captain Nicodemus and the Seventh Company of the Dorn Revenant with you. You will be further accompanied by Adept Zethsemene and her cohort who will assist you with the Ravenspire. You are to afford all due courtesy to both of them, make no mistake, Commander. They are highly respected members of my advisory council and frankly, quite important to my overall designs as well. Do not fail me again Astinon.’
‘In the name of my gene-father, I will not fail you, Lord Regent,’ replied Astinon, his face set in a hard mask of determination and confidence.

‘See that you do not,’ warned Vulkan. ‘I do not suffer fools gladly, and should you somehow fail in this mission, your status as the son of my closest brother will not save you from my wrath. Now leave me and prepare for your departure. You are to head out in two weeks, once the currents of the Warp have sufficiently quietened down in that direction and your passage to the Kiavahr system is unimpeded.’

‘In your name, Lord Vulkan, by the grace of Lord Corax, and the will of the True Emperor, we will not return until we have obeyed both the spirit and the letter of your orders,’ said Astinon.

‘Ave Imperator Verimus, Lord Commander.’
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby Colonel Mustard » Thu Sep 01, 2011 10:14 pm

Shadowhawk2008 wrote:He got up from his wooden cot and shook his head, shrugging off the after-effects of the nightmarish dream.

And also the effects of that pleonastic tortology. They're never fun to wake up to.

A very good part, all things considered, especially their debrief with Vulkan; it's nice to the heroes lose once in a while in a story, and it was doubly effective seeing as you framed it within what we all thought to be Vulkan coming to congratulate them. Very nice indeed.
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Fri Sep 02, 2011 8:07 pm

I take people's comments and try to fit them into the subsequent chapters ;)

The next chapter is going to be sort of interesting as Astinon and Co. meet some new players and I just might have my favourite Salamander ever make a rousing cameo under surprising circumstances.

Also, the new chapter exists only on my smartphone at the mo since I have no real typing time on vacation.
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Sun Sep 11, 2011 6:46 pm

‘Brother Lannis, a moment of your time if you will,’ said Astinon as he entered the large, dimly-lit chamber. This was the heart of the armourium assigned to his Commandery, the great forge itself, and as the commander stepped in, he was momentarily disoriented by the smoke and the fiery-red afterglow from the furnaces that dominated the air inside.

Across from him, in the far corner that was bathed in muted grey shadows, an armoured figure looked up from the work-bench where he had been pouring over some schematic-prints. The warrior raised his eyes questioningly, his eyebrows furrowed in annoyance at having been interrupted from an apparently delicate task. Having spent a considerable time fighting alongside Dalmor’s Salamanders, the red-armoured giant’s blood-red eyes and his jet-black skin did not faze Astinon.

‘It is a matter of my armour, brother,’ continued Astinon haltingly, wary of the warrior’s silent mien. He was himself bare-headed, his helmet mag-locked to his belt. The physical contrast between the two warriors could not be greater, for stocky Astinon’s own eyes were deep pools of black and his skin was pale to the point of being deathly-white.

The Forgemaster barked a gruff order in binary and from the darker shadows to either side of Astinon, a quartet of servitors promptly appeared, their mechanical limbs twitching in anticipation of being put to work. As they approached him, the commander waved them away in irritation and addressed his master of the forge.

‘Brother Lannis, I am not here for repairs or any other ministrations to my armour. I am here to request a favour of you, something quite within your purview.’

The red-armoured figure now gave Astinon his full attention and, with a sweep of his rust-red gauntlets, indicated that the commander should approach closer. He barked another terse order in binary and the servitors vanished back into the shadows they had come from, the twittering of their mechanical limbs fading out instantly.
‘How may I be of service, Lord Commander?’ The Forgemaster’s voice was surprisingly soft and thinly-accented, at odds with Astinon’s own rough and heavily-accented tone.

Lannis Tyrio had been assigned to him by Dalmor himself, who had informed him that the Techmarine Suprema was one of the best who served in Vulkan’s personal cadre of specialists. Impressed by the Space Marine’s high credentials, Astinon had given him the rank of Forgemaster, a position that had been vacant among the Corvians for several years now.

This was the first time that he had conversed with Tyrio while the other was not wearing a helmet.

As Astinon sat down in the chair offered to him, the Forgemaster motioned for him to continue.

‘I wish to take you up on your offer of forging a new suit of power armour for me, brother,’ he said to the Suprema. ‘The armour I currently wear has become obsolete to me, in form, function, and in the extent of the experiences we have shared together. I wish to distance myself from my past in full, and this armour is the last thing that is tying me to it, marking the final stage of my transition to Lord Vulkan’s service in the process. That is all.’

Lannis Tyrio was silent for several minutes, minutes that passed uncomfortably slowly for Astinon. The drumming of his fingers on the work-bench betrayed his impatience. For his part, the Forgemaster’s face was devoid of expression, appearing to have been carved out of some featureless piece of rock.

‘It shall be done as you ask, brother-commander,’ rumbled Tyrio after some time, his stony expression still in place. ‘Do you wish me to forge a completely new suit of armour or would you prefer that I re-fashion your current suit of armour?’

Astinon’s reply was immediate. ‘No brother, a new suit of armour is what I want. Do away with the old armour as you wish, I leave that to your discretion. Our time together is at an end I am afraid, for this armour is party to many shameful experiences and disturbing memories that I am constantly reminded of, day and night. It is time that I left this piece of my turbulent past behind.’

Lannis Tyrio nodded in mild surprise at Astinon’s words, although they were not that unexpected, considering what he knew of the Corvian commander and what he had observed in the short time of his service.

‘If that is what you wish, then that is how it shall be, Commander. I have several suitable designs I have considered already, so the forging of your armour should not take too long. However, I require access to your current armour to tailor your new one to your specific needs. And I will need you to come in for some suitability tests.’

Astinon rose up and offered a short bow to Tyrio. ‘Then that is settled, brother. Summon your helots so that they may begin their work.’

Tyrio nodded again and rose from the work-bench, gathering his schematic-prints. He clapped his gauntleted hands together loudly as he barked a third order in the secret tongue of the Mechanicus. The four servitors reappeared from their alcoves in the shadows of the forge and approached Astinon.

This time, Astinon did not wave away the lobotomized servitors. He stood unflinching as they removed his wargear piece by piece, and disconnected the thin power cables that bound his armour and his gene-enhanced body together as a single entity.

-][-

In a pensive mood, Astinon gazed out at the vista before him, lost in his own thoughts as he planned for the future. From where he stood, the walkway of the highest platform in the Regent’s Tower, he could see most of Hades Hive as it spread out around him, but he was unable to hear any of the sounds of the hive other than the fierce winds that blew at this altitude. Clad as he was in a simple orange-black chiton, the harsh bite of the wind would have frozen any mortal human, but he ignored it easily.

To any common observer, he would have appeared a solitary and forlorn figure but that was far from the truth. He had the comfort of his thoughts, which were not weighing heavily on him for the first time in over fifteen years. Anyone else in his position would have broken down after his censure from the Primarch, but to Astinon, it was an unasked-for vindication that he had taken in his stride. Whatever his failure on Medan, he had been offered a singular chance to redeem himself. And now he was being sent to the genesis world of his forebears, a world he had never visited before. The opportunity excited him.

Busy as he was with his thoughts, he did not notice someone else climb to the platform and approach him. Not even the heavy footfalls of armoured feet on the rockcrete broke his train of thoughts until the figure coughed gently.

‘Lord Commander Dras, I hope I have not disturbed you,’ said the figure tentatively from behind him, making the Corvian general turn around to see who had addressed him so formally.

Confusion was plain on his face as Astinon regarded the Space Marine. The warrior’s golden-yellow livery with its chrome edging and the iconography of a black mailed fist on a field of grey was unfamiliar to him as well. ‘Do I know you brother?’ he asked, perplexed.

‘This is our first meeting, Commander,’ said the warrior, his tone firm and respectful. His voice through the vox-grilles of his red-striped helmet was hard and unyielding, making Astinon think of a warship relentlessly ploughing on through a warp tempest. ‘I am Torro Nicodemus, Brother-Captain of the Dorn Revenant Seventh Company. According to the orders I received a short while ago from Lord Commander Valcaor, my company will be accompanying you to the Kiavahr system.’

‘Ah yes,’ said Astinon in understanding, leaning back on the adamantium railing and folding his arms across his chest, a smile on his weather-beaten and scarred face. ‘Lord Vulkan mentioned your name to me, as well as that of Adept Zethsemene, when he gave me my mission orders. What can I do for you, Captain Nicodemus?’

The Revenant came to stand next to Astinon, looking out at the view that the other had only moments before been staring at without interest. He leaned forwards and rested his hands on the railing, not looking at the commander.
Astinon was unconcerned at the Revenant’s lack of response and his attitude. He was not worried about whatever the captain wished to talk with him about and just lazed against the railing, staring off into the distance while the Revenant Captain took his time to begin the conversation. He may try to appear relaxed and at ease, but inwardly he has a lot on his mind, he thought. His poise and bearing betray the fact that he is unsettled.

After several lengthy minutes, Nicodemus began. ‘The Dorn Revenants, as we have been known for the last eight thousand years, were one of the first of the Free Companies to accept Lord Vulkan as our lord and liege, second only to the Salamanders. As such, our service to the New Imperium has been quite extensive and distinguished, for we have fought some of the bloodiest battles yet fought to secure our borders. We –‘

Astinon shook his head, aggravation evident on his face as he interrupted Nicodemus. ‘Without any disrespect Captain, what the frak does this history lesson have to do with the Corvians or the mission to Kiavahr?’

‘I am getting to that, Commander, if you would let me continue,’ said Nicodemus, his tone acrimonious and hostile.

‘Then get to the point, Captain, for patience is not one of my virtues,’ said Astinon in a low, warning tone, staring straight at the other Astartes, who still wore his helmet.

‘The point, Commander Dras, is quite simple,’ continued Nicodemus, his tone even more aggressive and antagonistic than that of Astinon. ‘The Dorn Revenants have an unblemished record in our service to the New Imperium. Every mission we have undertaken in the last decade has been a qualified success, and our objectives have been achieved with a minimal amount of losses.’ The Revenant paused in his tirade to raise his ceramite-covered fingers in an accusatory gesture at Astinon. ‘I will be damned if I let a pirate, an opportunist and a failure like yourself tarnish that record or the honour of my brothers.’

‘If we were anywhere but in this tower, Captain Nicodemus, I would strike you down where you stand,’ roared Astinon, anger and consternation marring his features. Nicodemus faltered slightly as Astinon’s coal-black eyes looked balefully at him. Bluish veins stood out on the commander’s arms as he clenched his fists tightly, his entire body stiffening at the other’s insulting condemnation. He was clearly struggling to contain his temper, a fact that was obvious to his opponent. ‘You have no idea about what my warriors and I have been through and you are beyond your remit to offer any judgement of my personality.’

‘I beg to differ, Commander,’ replied Nicodemus in a scathing tone, the emphasis he put on Astinon’s formal rank leaving no doubt what he thought of how deserving Astinon was of it. ‘I know all I need to know about you and your so-called Sons of Corax. You are all honourless pirates, beyond any sort of pity, and undeserving of the high station you now hold. Admiral Teluga also agrees with me and he has even more cause for apathy against you and your kind.’

Astinon took a menacing step towards the other, heedless that compared to the Revenant Captain, he was unarmoured and any advantage in a fist-fight would rest solely with Nicodemus. ‘Mind your words, Revenant. Irrespective of whatever glorious record your brothers have as warriors of the New Imperium, you are a young and insolent Space Marine. I am your superior in both rank and experience. Do not mistake me for a simpleton who you can scare with baseless accusations. Even without my armour I can give you a good, solid thrashing that you will not forget, even till the opportune moment of your death.’

‘I see that making ridiculous jokes is one of your less-admirable qualities, Dras,’ laughed Nicodemus, his laughter carrying with the wind.

‘You had better leave before my temper gets the best of me, Revenant,’ warned Astinon, his tone brooking no disobedience. ‘More than the honour of the Dorn Revenants will be at risk if you stay in my presence for a moment longer.’

Nicodemus however chose to ignore Astinon’s warning. ‘I sit on the Primarch’s advisory council, Dras; do not forget that simple detail,’ he snapped. ‘With but a word to him, I can have you declared traitor and thrown to the dogs. Your petty threats are as meaningless as so much chaff in the wind.’ The captain finally took off his helmet and spat at Astinon’s feet.

Rage. Fury. Hatred. Indignation. Aggravation. Astinon’s temper finally got the best of him at the Revenant’s continued insults. ‘Enough is enough, Captain Nicodemus,’ he said in a slow and careful tone, drawing himself up to his full height. ‘You just crossed a very, very thin line. Now, I make you pay.’

With that, Astinon struck at the Revenant’s face with a fast and brutal uppercut that the latter was unable to block in time. Spitting blood and a broken tooth, Nicodemus roared a furious battle-cry to his Primarch and dove at Astinon, intending to bring the other down through his sheer armoured bulk.

The two combatants went down together in a heap, punching and stabbing at each other with their fists. The Revenant’s punishing blows pounded Astinon’s face, making him rock his head back on the rockcrete floor.
The back of his head was quickly covered in matted blood as his body sought to repair the damage and heal the wounds.

Astinon tried to throw the Revenant Captain off him but his legs were pinned under his opponent’s armoured form. Changing tactics, he brought the flat of his hands together on Nicodemus’ ears, making them ring painfully.

As his opponent cried out in agony, Astinon jabbed his fingers into the Revenant’s eyes, making him back up and get off Astinon. He then gave Nicodemus a rough shove backwards, causing the other to fall back down on the floor. The Corvian heard a low whining sound as the Revenant Captain’s backpack grazed against the rockcrete.

As Astinon got up shakily from under the Revenant’s ceramite-covered bulk, he let out a sigh of relief and drew in a ragged breath in order to steady himself. In addition to a broken nose, his face was a mess of bloody cuts and lacerations, and his normally pale-white skin was blackened all over.

Nicodemus also drew himself up, his armour having easily protected him from the worst of Astinon’s blows but still insufficient to prevent him from getting hurt. The skin under his eyes was swollen and black, with a long, bleeding cut around his left eye and a split lip. ‘You are a weakling Astinon, unworthy of being either a Space Marine or a leader of men.’

Before Astinon could answer the Revenant Captain in kind, a third voice intruded on the spectacle. ‘I believe that is quite enough, Brother-Captain Torro Nicodemus. You have made your feelings about the good Lord Commander quite clear.’

A startled Nicodemus dumbly blinked in surprise at being addressed so and turned around to see who had spoken.
Behind him stood a warrior in a baroque suit of emerald and gold power armour, covered in the various sigils of Nocturnean mythology, snarling drakes carved on both his pauldrons, and wearing a long, flowing cape of drake-scales. He was unhooded and his grim, cheerless face was enough to bring the Revenant Captain to his knees in shock. The warrior’s skin was jet-black in colour, so weathered and pallid that it appeared the warrior was close to death. But his features were hawkish and imperious and the gaze he turned on Torro Nicodemus made the captain twitch and wince uncomfortably despite himself.

It was a face that he had seen only a handful of times in his nine years on Armageddon but knew as well as his own. This was no simple warrior of the Salamander Commandery but someone who enjoyed the most intimate access to the Imperial Regent. He was also the commander of a company of the most elite warriors in the New Imperium, warriors who formed the honour guard of the Primarch Vulkan, the Pyre Guard.

He was the oldest loyalist Space Marine still alive in the galaxy, personal adjutant of Lord Vulkan himself and commander-in-chief of the entirety of the New Imperium’s military might.

He was High Commander Kaivi He’stan.

He’stan strode towards the kneeling Nicodemus, his footfalls heavy and ominous. ‘The Primarch expects better of all his advisors, Captain Nicodemus. You have proven yourself an extreme disappointment and a liability to the Primarch’s goals. As of this moment, you are hereby relieved of all your duties within your Commandery.’

Nicodemus raised his head and tried to say something in retaliation, but He’stan hushed him wish a stern look that chilled his soul. ‘No, Captain, there is nothing you can say in your defence that will make me change my decision,’ he continued sharply, his tone menacing and dismissive in equal measure. ‘Say another word and you will be supervising the civilian rehabilitation projects for a month. Now get out of my sight before I rip apart that pretty face of yours.’

The Revenant hissed in response, his outrage at He’stan sharp rebuke written plainly on his face. Glancing angrily at Astinon, Torro Nicodemus gathered his fallen helmet and left the platform as He’stan watched him with distinct displeasure. Then the Regent’s confidante turned to address Astinon.

‘I expected you to display better judgement, Brother-Commander,’ he said. ‘I do not care for any excuses or retorts or explanations, Astinon, and to say that I am severely disappointed in you is an understatement.’

The Corvian general simply shook his head mirthfully, laughing at the other’s serious tone. ‘Disappointment is something I am used to, Lord He’stan. Some people cling far too tightly to their dated perceptions of honour and seek to foist their misguided beliefs on others. I have met many such fools like Captain Nicodemus before and they are all cut from the same cloth of ignorance and bias. He is not the first to condemn me so and I know well that he will not be the last either.’

‘Do not take this lightly, brother,’ admonished He’stan in a severe tone, his lips curling in irritation. ‘There are many on Armageddon and beyond that have little respect for you or for the warriors you command. And some of them are quite vocal in their opposition and denouncement of you. Tread cautiously my friend, for you are not so privileged yet, that you can ignore even the grudging respect of your greatest detractors.’

Astinon inclined his head respectfully at He’stan. ‘I will keep it in mind, Lord Commander.’

‘See that you do, Son of Corax,’ replied the Salamander, his tone lightening. ‘Also remember that Lord Vulkan, despite all appearances, values each and every man and woman under his command equally. Whether or not they occasionally disappoint him is irrelevant, for he sees into our very souls, brother, and knows the truth of us. He is a child of the True Emperor, and just like his father, the survival of humanity is his greater goal.’

Astinon saluted He’stan in the manner of the New Imperium, and bowed. ‘I thank you for your wisdom, Lord Commander. Your insight has been most valuable.’

‘Do not mistake me for a silent, coddled food, Astinon,’ said He’stan, his eyes twinkling. ‘I have survived the last ten thousand years on far more than just my unnatural strength and the safety afforded me by my armour. I am no relic of past times, a warrior from a bygone age. We all have a purpose, even you and I, different though we are. Even Torro Nicodemus has his place in the greater scheme of things. And as long as you truly believe in the Primarch’s vision and faithfully serve the New Imperium, you will always be welcome to my company and to my wisdom.’

‘You are gracious beyond measure, Lord Commander,’ said Astinon, slightly awed at the attention he was receiving from the venerable warrior.

‘Come, brother,’ replied He’stan jovially. ‘You must prepare for your new mission. After all, you have a Commandery to rebuild.’

As Astinon left the platform with He’stan, he started as a sudden thought came to him. Why did the Lord Commander come seek me out here?

-][-

Laughter echoed across the bridge of the Montisgarre as Astinon relayed what had transpired atop the summit of the Regent’s Tower. Adrastos and Manov were almost bent-up double as they heard how the upstart Nicodemus had been humbled by Lord He’stan. Salsax raised another tankard of ale in toast at the Revenant’s humiliation while Dheimmel watched impassively, only the hint of a smile betraying his enjoyment of the tale. Astinon grinned at his warriors’ laughter, his own tankard still nearly full. ‘Admittedly, I have not had quite so much fun in a long time.’

This time even the usually taciturn Dheimmel laughed out loud. Some of the bridge ratings were startled to hear the Reviler Captain’s laughter, given that he rarely even spoke, if ever. They shook their heads in amazement however, and went back to work, making sure the enormous battle-barge maintained its stable orbit above Hades Hive.

‘Still,’ began Adrastos with a hint of regret in his tone. ‘We should be more cautious in our dealings with the warriors of the other Commanderies. I did not expect a son of Dorn to be quite so foolish as to attack you without any real provocation and all on the basis of mistruths and false perceptions,’ he said, pointing at Astinon with his tankard.

‘Truer words were never said, brother,’ said Salsax, chuckling despite himself as he emptied out his tankard, refilling it almost immediately.

‘Captain Adrastos is correct in his assessment,’ offered Dheimmel, all calm and serious once again. ‘Do we know who is to act as the replacement for Captain Nicodemus?’

‘Yes,’ replied Astinon evenly. ‘Lord He’stan has assigned us a Captain Saigun of the Dorn Revenant Eleventh Company. He comes even more highly recommended than the firebrand Nicodemus, who it appears, solves all his problems with heavy-handed military solutions. The High Commander has assured me that Saigun will be far more cooperative in his interactions with us. It seems that the Captain’s lack of political ambitions serves him ably both on the battlefield and off it.’

‘Aye, I have heard of this Saigun from the warriors of some of the other Commanderies, even a few Dorn Revenants,’ commented Manov, sipping slowly from his half-full tankard. ‘He is as decorated an officer as Nicodemus, with a higher tally of victories and his warriors are fiercely loyal to him. He is said to be a very capable general in the field as well, and is often compared to the long-deceased heroes of Dorn’s lineage from the Age of Imperium.’

‘High praise indeed,’ Salsax noted, his tone betraying his surprise. ‘The sons of Dorn have never been known to be quite so praise-worthy. This Captain Saigun must be truly something if he is thought of so highly.’

‘And yet Lord Vulkan gave a seat on his council to that idiot Nicodemus,’ said Adrastos dryly, struggling to contain his mirth. ‘I confess that the Primarch’s decisions are all very mysterious to me. I can never understand quite why he does what he does.’

‘He is a son of the True Emperor,’ said Astinon, shrugging his shoulders in response. ‘Whatever his plans, we are sworn to abide by his decisions, even until death.’

‘Only in death does duty end, eh?’ quipped Salsax in a deadpan voice.

‘Exactly, brother,’ replied Astinon, grinning again.

‘Come on, Astinon, what you think the Primarch really expects of us with these missions he has us running?’ inquired Adrastos, curbing his jovial mood. ‘First we have to retrieve some gene-seed from a forgotten Mechanicus world. Then, we now have to head over to my chapter’s once-homeworld and take apart the fortress-monastery there.’

‘If I were to hazard a guess, brother, Lord Vulkan intends to dramatically increase the size of the Commanderies in as short a time as possible,’ said Astinon. ‘That is the only logical conclusion. We ourselves severely lack the numbers for any of the bigger operations that he has the Avengers, the Dorn Revenant, Salamanders and the others handle.’

‘We can just about field a hundred and thirty able warriors,’ said Manov bitterly. ‘Our losses on Medan were considerable, almost as worse as the Adenar Campaign.’

‘Adenar was a mistake,’ replied Salsax vehemently, the sudden change in his manner and tone surprising the others. ‘We gained absolutely nothing and lost nearly everything. Too many of our number were lost and whatever semblance of respect we once commanded from the other Free Companies is now a bitter memory.’

Dheimmel glared at Salsax as his fellow Captain finished his tirade. ‘Adenar was a battle we fought out of necessity, Raptor,’ he said coldly. ‘We had to make a stand there or we would have spent the last decade in even worse conditions than we already have. Honour demanded we fight the Silver Horde, and that is what we did. Honour is all we have left, brother.’

‘The bickering between the two of you will never stop will it?’ asked Astinon in a tired and heavy voice. ‘What was done was done. We lost the Adenar Campaign and no matter what we say now, we cannot change that disastrous outcome. We fought with honour and bravery alongside our brothers from the other warbands and that is what matters most. Now cease this pointless argument or I will bash your heads together to knock some sense into the two of you.’

Salsax just shrugged at Astinon’s words and offered no comment. Dheimmel did likewise, not wishing to provoke Astinon further.

‘Regardless, we still have a problem, Commander,’ said Adrastos. ‘We simply lack the numbers to be an independent force. It is no wonder that Lord Vulkan assigned us a company of warriors from the Dorn Revenant. Saigun’s company numbers some two hundred Astartes, nearly double of what we can ourselves put in the field.’

‘That is a fact I am painfully aware of already, Adrastos,’ Astinon shot back, the sarcasm heavy in his voice. ‘But we cannot do anything about it yet. At least not until Vex and Drome finish their task on Armageddon.’

‘Any progress on that yet, Sergeant?’ asked Salsax, turning to address Manov, steering the conversation in another direction.

‘Apothecary Vex and Sergeant Drome checked in from Hive Tartarus roughly an hour ago, Captain,’ answered the stoic champion. ‘They reported that they expected mission completion within another three days.’

‘Excellent, that gives us ample time before we have to leave for Kiavahr, although, truth be told, we will have to leave Vex behind with Drome and his squad,’ mused Dheimmel, his expression thoughtful.

‘Indeed. It is a necessary step we have to take to safeguard our future,’ said Astinon. ‘The work those two are doing is as vital as our mission from Lord Vulkan, if not more so, and quite delicate. It cannot be rushed.’

‘If Deliverance did survive through the years, I wonder if the other homeworlds of our brothers endured as well,’ said Manov thoughtfully as he paced back and forth.

‘Coralax and Talon are lost to us completely,’ replied Adrastos with resentment. ‘And we know that Pranagar, the Preyspire, the Eyrie and Raikan made it through the Second Strife, although they are only shadows of themselves.’ The Captain’s voice hardened as he continued. ‘Once the Raven Guard had to abandon Deliverance, we have never had an opportunity to go back and reclaim the fortress-monastery. The wave of uprisings in the Kiavahri hives left us with little choice.’

‘And of the others we have no information,’ finished Dheimmel, his expression wistful and distant. ‘My brothers and I do not even know anymore which world is our true home; its name is lost to us forever.’

‘We too had to flee our homeworld when Terra fell,’ said Salsax passionately. ‘The archives aboard the War-Talon and the Orelius make only a passing mention of its location and lack any concrete details, which is highly infuriating to say the least.’

‘To not know of the fate of your chapter’s homeworld is vexing indeed,’ agreed Adrastos. ‘Perhaps once the Corvians are at full strength, we can begin to reclaim our lost worlds.’

‘May that day dawn sooner than we all hope it will,’ intoned Manov and the others raised their tankards in agreement.

As Astinon finished his tankard of ale in a long, single gulp, he noticed from the corner of his left eye that one of the deck ratings was approaching his command throne with some urgency. He handed his empty tankard to Manov and addressed the rating. ‘What is it, Kales?’

‘Commander,’ saluted the rating respectfully. ‘We have just received word from the surface that Forgemaster Lannis requests your presence immediately.’

-][-

‘Brother Lannis?’ asked Astinon enquiringly as he once again stepped inside the great forge. This time, the stark interior of the chamber was brilliantly lit, multiple bio-lumes bathing it in a soft amber light that seemed to make the very air glint. He could make out all the details of the forge, from the red-hot anvils on which teams of tech-priests crafted bolt pistols, to the small foundry where a pair of servitors melted down the raw ingredients necessary in the forging of new suits of power armour.

He glanced about the room, looking for the Forgemaster, spotting him easily in a far corner where the warrior stood looking thoughtfully at a finished suit of power armour. The figure turned at the sound of Astinon’s voice from the doorway and waved him inside.

‘Your artificer armour is ready, Lord Commander,’ said Lannis, indicating the armour before him with a sweep of his hands. ‘The servitors have just finished the final touches.’

Astinon took in the entire armour, coloured in a halved scheme of orange and black, in a single glance and his expression turned from one of simple interest to one of amazement. He was well and truly speechless at what he saw before him.

The helmet bore a sculpted green laurel wreath with a grey-coloured skull affixed just above and between the eyes. One of the green eye-lenses was obscured by a bionic enhancer that could interface with the armour’s systems and give him more detail on anything he saw through it.

The armour’s studded gorget was taller than usual, partially covering the helmet’s vox-grille, which gave him an added measure of protection against enemy fire.

The breastplate was a thing of beauty, adorned with an exquisitely sculpted, raven-headed golden Aquila in the centre, and Astinon’s name written in silver lettering just above it. Its power cables were also covered with an extra layer of ceramite plating on which were written ancient Imperial litanies in fine, white lettering.

The left pauldron, also covered in litanies, bore an ornate, gilded raven head of white-gold. The shoulder pad’s trims were a bright red in colour, in homage to Astinon’s pedigree, for his old armour had once been worn by Captains of the Angels of Retribution’s second company.

The right pauldron, covered in yet more ancient litanies, bore a gilded white skull which denoted Astinon’s rank as a Commander in the New Imperium. Beneath the skull was carved the name of his Commandery, Corvian, in silver lettering. Its trims were painted a bright red as well, the same as the left pauldron.

A gilded Aquila of white-gold was carved on both greaves of the leg armour, with the gothic numeral ‘19’ below them in alternate colours of orange and black signifying the identification number of the Corvian Commandery.

‘This is truly stunning work, Forgemaster,’ said Astinon in an awed tone. ‘It is a masterpiece without equal.’
‘One of the finest suits of armour I have ever forged, Commander,’ replied Lannis, his pride showing easily on his scarred face.

‘It seems that Lord Commander Dalmor’s high praise of your worthy skills was not in vain, brother Lannis,’ continued Astinon appreciatively. ‘Summon your coterie helots so that I may now wear it.’

Lannis Tyrio bowed in acknowledgement of Astinon’s command, and clapped his hands twice in quick succession. From across the forge, three servitors walked over in response and began to assist Astinon in donning his armour.

‘Look to your battle-gear and it will protect you,’ said the Forgemaster formally as a servitor removed Astinon’s chiton and attached his breastplate with the help of another, thin whip-like cables connecting the wargear’s systems to the contact points of the plasteel nodes in his black carapace.

‘I will guard it with my life,’ Astinon said, the ingrained response he had been taught as a novice, coming to him easily.

‘As your armour guards your life,’ continued Lannis as the servitors assisted Astinon in wearing his vambraces and gauntlets.

‘As it will till the day I die and beyond, when another warrior calls it his own,’ answered Astinon. He clenched his fists tightly once the gauntlets were connected to his vambraces, satisfied with their flexibility and sensitivity.

‘Your armour is your soul, and your soul’s dedication it’s armour.’ Two of the servitors now assisted Astinon in getting into his sabatons while the third connected his cuisses and his greaves, tightening the joints with power wrenches that had replaced their hands in the process of the helots’ creation.

‘The soul of a warrior is the shield of humanity.’ Once the ceramite plates of his leg armour were connected to the rest of his armour, a servitor attached his belt buckle and his groin guard.

‘Honour the craft of death.’ Astinon now knelt on one knee to allow the servitors to affix the two pauldrons to his wide shoulders. The twin pieces of wargear rose up from both sides to be level with his jaw line, but did not impede his vision in the slightest. He twisted slightly, testing the response of the pauldrons, which moved smoothly, their weight light on his shoulders.

‘I serve only the True Emperor of Mankind, who is highest in my devotion.’ One of the servitors moved behind Astinon and assisted him in putting on his backpack. As the wargear’s power cables interfaced with the rest of his armour, Astinon felt a slight tingle course through him as its power plant came online, emitting a low humming sound. The weight of his armour, already light on his stocky frame, lightened even further.

‘Honour the battle-gear of the dead.’ Lannis himself now presented Astinon with his helmet, slowing lowering it on the Corvian’s head as if he was crowning a king.

‘I ask only to serve.’ Once the helmet’s armour seals were in place, a wealth of information flooded its vid-display, cycling through the entirety of his armour systems and giving him technical readouts and performance data.

‘Rise, Lord Commander Astinon Dras of the Corvians.’ He ignored the scrolling readouts on his helmet display and rose from his kneeling position, looking the tall Forgemaster in the eye.

‘Blessed are the warriors of the True Emperor, forged in fire and baptized in blood, for they are armoured in the cold embrace of their faith and their devotion,’ intoned Lannis sombrely, his eyes closed as he recited the Litany of First Dedication. ‘May the holy machine-spirit of your armour look after your safety, while you look to its safety both on and off the field of battle,’ he continued. ‘Your two souls are now one, a single entity that will strike fear in the hearts of your enemies and may your righteousness prevail over all. Angel of Death, defender of Mankind, do you accept the stewardship of this suit of artificer armour?’

‘I accept my charge,’ said Astinon with conviction, the ritual and the litany focusing his mind and giving him the clarity of thought that he had not truly experienced in his old armour. He felt well and truly alive now.

‘Then go forth, brother, and kill in His name. May the Omnissiah watch over you and protect you, brother.’
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby Gaius Marius » Sun Sep 11, 2011 7:27 pm

Excellent Shadow. The Dorn Revenants really do seem dickish. Hopefully the other commanderies are 'nicer'. Wonder what they'll find on Deliverance.
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby LordLucan » Sun Sep 11, 2011 8:01 pm

Ooh I liked that. I like the added political and social complexity you're adding to the setting shadowhawk. The Dorn's Revenants are very arrogant it is true, which makes sense as they believe, since none of the Imperial Fists went rogue to become a free company, that they are better than the others. this compounded with the fact the Astartes mk II see themselves as a new, better breed of sueprhumans, jsut compounds that.

Brill stuff.
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Sun Sep 11, 2011 8:04 pm

One of those things you mentioned is going to be in an upcoming chapter :D
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby Colonel Mustard » Tue Sep 13, 2011 9:42 pm

Excellent stuff; the politics you've got going on between the chapters is great, and I'll be interested to see how the Dorn Revenants and the Corvians interact following this initial altercation and the Revenants' general superior attitude. Not to mention that the Deliverance mission should probably turn out to be very interesting indeed.
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby Tyrant » Tue Sep 13, 2011 9:44 pm

Excellent, I predict that Revenant will make trouble yet.....I wonder if there is any truth to his claim that Astinon and his group were pirates, perhaps he is looking back at his history through rose-tinted glasses? An interesting thought.
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Tue Sep 13, 2011 9:45 pm

Yep. He just might. And the Deliverance mission is going to be quite the shocker indeed. :twisted:
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby Chaplain Reinhardt » Wed Sep 14, 2011 2:36 am

Just read parts 1-7.. Good stuff man.
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Wed Sep 14, 2011 4:57 am

Chaplain Reinhardt wrote:Just read parts 1-7.. Good stuff man.


Thank you. Anything in particular you'd like to see developed further? :)
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby Dorian » Wed Sep 14, 2011 7:43 pm

Another excellent chapter. I think the new armour is really a nice way to show the beginning of a new time for the Corvians and especially Astinon. I can't wait to read the next chapter. Hurry up, Shadow! Heh. I have a suspicion of what might happen next and man I'm looking forward to it.
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby Chaplain Reinhardt » Thu Sep 15, 2011 5:21 am

shadowhawk2008 wrote:
Chaplain Reinhardt wrote:Just read parts 1-7.. Good stuff man.


Thank you. Anything in particular you'd like to see developed further? :)


Maybe flesh out on who else is part of the New Imperium. Nicodemus mentioned that his men have fought many more battles then the Corvians and come out victorious. Battles against who? You mentioned an Invaders Commandery, Imperial Fists (Dorn's Revenant), and the Salamanders. Any others?
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Thu Sep 15, 2011 5:27 am

Gaius Marius is currently writing for the Fire Beasts. Colonel Mustard wrote a short piece for the Sons of Thunder titled Scions of Polyphemus. I had been planning to use the Sons of Thunder but turns out that they don't join the New Imperium until much, much later.

I need to go through LL's background pieces again as it is to pick up some topics to write about :) But I do have a few things lined up, things that will be revealed one by one. The story has been pretty self-focused so far and that is going to be gradually expanded.
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby Razhbad » Mon Sep 19, 2011 9:37 pm

Ok Shadow i managed to finally get round to reading your first page on this topic, which i believe is the first 4 chapters....

So far it has been a great build up, you have expertly described the Corvians and given them a lot of depth which i find them intriguing. The stage for 60k is an interesting one to right upon as was 50k before it and you have made a good start. I enjoy that like myself you are a dialogue driven author as this is one of the only things of yours i have read before. My only thing that i would have suggested differently is that if the Corvians had not met Vulkan so soon, but thats just me.
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Mon Sep 19, 2011 9:46 pm

Three chapters was enough I thought :) I didn't want to bog the piece down too much with the build-up, hence why it is all roughly following on so close chronologically.

As for the dialogues, well they are a pain in the backside to get down right. Although when I do get frustrated, I usually turn to existing background (whether codex, novels, IA books, comics, video games etc) to move ahead with it. Little quotes, character dialogue, exposition etc, are all open for inspiration :) Not to mention some killer music.
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Re: Sons of Corax (Warhammer 60,000: Age of Dusk)

Postby shadowhawk2008 » Thu Sep 22, 2011 8:24 pm

As Astinon stepped inside the grand chapel, he was struck by the smell of the air inside, and he paused. The high gothic arches, the frescoes of ancient battles, the statues of past heroes, the fires flickering in the incense burners, they all combined to make the chapel appear truly antiquated.

He walked towards the altar at the other end of the chapel and his armoured feet rang like iron on the stone beneath, the floor worn by the passage of countless battle-brothers of his chapter.

The chapel was alive with the soft murmurs of devotional prayers beseeching the Emperor to cast his light far and wide, to maintain His gaze on His servants. The words made Astinon’s heart soar, helping to lift his downed spirits. A soft glow creased his scarred face, lending him a noble aspect.

He had been here several times as a battle-brother of the Angels of the Retribution chapter, and before, when he had been only a novitiate, fresh from a long-forgotten homeworld. The chapel had never failed to impress him before, and even after all these years, he was still awed by its magnificence.

The stonework was threaded with gold and silver, creating complex patterns and designs that none among his chapter now understood, except perhaps for old Svydro, his senior-most Chaplain and the spiritual heart of his chapter. He resolved to ask his mentor the next time he met him, but he was sure he would not get any reply.

There was no room to sit inside the chapel, for the Angels of Retribution were not mere human worshippers, they were Adeptus Astartes, warriors forged in the crucible of battle, bred for a lifetime of unending war. Here and there Astinon could mark out faint traces of feet in the stone floor, marking where some of his brothers and others before them had stood often, and he smiled.

It had been too long since he had attended the sermons here, far too long.

As he approached the altar, he knelt and bowed his head like a penitent. A trio of silent statues of multi-coloured arbalstone stood before him, unequal in size but radiating the same degree of warmth and comfort that he could feel deep down to his bones. He shuddered slightly.

It had been too long since he had been before the Triad of Lords, far too long, and he felt himself to be the poorer for not having come sooner before them.

In the centre was a grand effigy of the Emperor, his head framed by a simple, green laurel wreath that seemed to shine on his patrician features, sitting nobly on a head of black hair. He was shown in his aspect as the benevolent lord who ruled with an iron fist, his golden-white armour covered in sigils of fire and eagles. A sword of black iron, wreathed in red fire, was held at rest in one hand while the other was sculpted into wicked claws, akin to that of a bird of prey.

He looked on sternly at Astinon, and the Corvian murmured a brief, inaudible prayer to his liege.

To the left was a slightly shorter but bulkier statue, but no less magnificent and awe-inspiring. A roughly-hewn, pale-skinned face framed by jet-black hair regarded the kneeling Astinon. Two adamantium-plated black wings rose up from either side of him, with the hint of a jump-pack barely visible behind its bulk. The statue’s brown-black armour was covered in raven-sigils with two white ravens in flight crafted on its shoulderpads. In one hand it held a coiled, serpentine whip, while in the other hand was encased in an enormous, white lightning claw which the sculptor had adorned with carefully crafted streaks of blue lightning.

Astinon raised his head to look into its eyes of glinting, black marble and suppressed a shiver. Corax, once and lord and master of the Nineteenth Legiones Astartes, looked down on his son with an expression of understanding and compassion. The Corvian muttered another inaudible prayer under his breath to his gene-sire.

The last arbalstone statue was armoured in the same livery as that of Astinon, the only difference lying in that the figure wore armour of ancient design that had not been within the galaxy for several millennia. Astinon traced the contours and shapes of that baroque armour, his mind automatically making comparisons to his own recently-forged power armour, identifying the improvements and enhancements that had been made over the years.

His carved expression was one that Astinon could not place, for it seemed to somehow vary between utter disdain and admiration in equal measure. He bowed his head once again and whispered an oath to Taimon Naskius, first Chapter Master of the Angels of Retribution.

Once he was done paying his respects, he got up to his full height, the sound of his servos echoing across the empty chapel. He bowed once more and was about to leave when a voice, heavy with amusement and seriousness, stopped him in mid-stride.

‘When the powerful kneel in supplication and prayer, one must take heed of their actions. It is not often that men such as them acknowledge greater powers than their own. Stay a while and listen, Commander.’

Surprised to see that he was not alone in the chapel, Astinon turned back towards the altar, glimpsing a silhouette in the shadows behind the statue of the Emperor. As the Corvian waited patiently, the figure moved around the arbalstone representations of the Triad of Lords and came to stand before him. Without thought, Astinon immediately kneeled once more, offering a salute with both arms to his chest, forming the Aquila.

‘Rise, Commander, and look on me,’ said the figure in a deep voice.

Astinon rose and looked the other in the eyes. ‘It has been some time, Lord Svydro.’

‘It has indeed, young Astinon. You have not come to the sermons for a long time,’ said the black-armoured warrior, his features concealed behind a skull-faced helmet. ‘Tell me, young one, what brings the Commander of the Sons of Corax to the Chapter Reclusiam after so long?’

‘I came to pay my respects to the Triad, my lord,’ answered Astinon stiffly, slightly offended at being referred to as ‘young one’. The High Chaplain nearly always referred to him by that moniker, slightly understandable as Svydro was now approaching nearly two hundred and fifty years of age.

‘Come now, Astinon,’ said the Chaplain gently, moving to kneel before the altar himself. ‘I was your mentor for twenty-seven years, and I have served as a Chaplain for nigh two hundred years. I know your thoughts nearly as well you do yourself. But I would still like to speak your doubts to me.’

Astinon stared at the statue of Corax for a long time before he responded to the Chaplain’s words. Svydro himself waited patiently, his thoughts focused on his prayers while Astinon worked up the courage to talk to him.

‘Lord Vulkan has tasked me to go to Deliverance,’ began Astinon. ‘I failed him on Medan, and I am not so sure that I will succeed at the Ravenspire.’

‘Your doubts do your leadership a great injustice, Commander,’ said Svydro, his voice slightly stern and harsh. ‘You are Adeptus Astartes, young one. You were not created to feel any doubts or fear. You are a biological instrument of war, born and bred for that singular purpose.’ Svydro paused and bent closer towards Astinon. ‘Do you remember the Catechism of Fury, young one?’

Astinon recited the litany by rote. ‘To the darkness I bring fire. To the ignorant I bring faith. Those who welcome these gifts may live but I will visit naught but death and eternal damnation on those who refuse them.’

‘So it was written. So shall it be thus,’ intoned Svydro, his eyes closed in prayer. ‘Tell me, Astinon, what do you think is the message behind those words?’

The Commander hesitated before answering. ‘That I am a warrior with a righteous purpose, to serve Him in the fires of battle with my faith as my weapon.’

Svydro laughed softly. ‘They are not just mere words, Astinon. The Catechisms of Fury are ancient litanies, handed down from one chaplain to another for twenty thousand years. What you have said is merely one interpretation among many, and it lacks clarity of thought. I sense your confusion even now.’

Astinon looked away uneasily as Svydro stared at him with interest. And then, unleashing liked a coiled viper, he pulled out his crozius from where it hung on his belt and swung its eagle-shaped head to within an inch of Astinon’s left ear.

‘What is the terror of death?’

‘That I die with my duties unfulfilled.’

‘What is the joy of life?’

‘There is none except the satisfaction of knowing that my task is done.’

‘Are you fearful of me?’

‘I fear only the Emperor.’

‘Never, ever disrespect your oaths, Astinon Dras,’ said Svydro softly. He withdrew the crozius and turned around to face the arbalstone effigies of the Triad of Lords. ‘Did you not swear by the Triad on the day of your ascension that you would fulfil your duties without doubt?’

‘I did, my lord. I swore that as long as I live I will serve with faith and honour.’

‘Did you not vow to Lord Vulkan himself that you would accomplish the task set before you as was asked of you?’
Astinon shook his head bitterly. ‘I did my lord, but the Primarch’s true design in giving me this assignment is unclear to me. On Medan, I gained a hollow victory. At the Ravenspire, I have no wish to fail him once again.’

‘You will not fail him, Astinon Dras,’ said Svydro, conviction ringing in his voice. ‘Your faith is strong, young one, never lose sight of that. Your faith is your shield, just as you are the shield of humanity. You cannot falter. You will not falter.’

‘You came here with doubts and questions, brother,’ continued the High Chaplain. ‘Your only fault is that you are too humble, beware that. Even too much humility is a sin before the Emperor. You were chosen to be His warrior, an Angel of Death who would rain down death and destruction on all the enemies of Man. You know no fear.’

Astinon bowed slightly, acknowledging the wisdom of the other’s words. ‘I thank you, Lord Svydro. You have given me much to think about.’

‘Before you leave, brother,’ said the chaplain in a slightly amused tone. ‘I am told that you have had a new suit of armour forged for you. I think it is time that you consecrated it in the presence of the Triad. Come closer and kneel, warrior.’

-][-

Astinon watched impassively as the eight Thunderhawks passed through the hangar bay’s containment shields and set down gently on the deck in unison, which groaned ever so slightly under their combined weight. Deck crews and servitors ran towards the battle-scarred gunships, securing them to the hangar deck, and refuelling and re-arming them as necessary.

This was the secondary hangar deck aboard the Montisgarre; it was here that visitors were often welcomed by the Corvians. In the last thirty years, there had been few visitors however, and most of them had tended to be outright hostile rather than friendly.

At the moment, several other Thunderhawks, in the orange-black livery of the Angels of Retribution, were parked in the hangar as well, their armoured, bird-like forms secured in their adamantium-hardened holding cages.

Astinon felt some trepidation as he stood with his honour guard and his officers, waiting to welcome his visitors. This was not a situation he cared to be in, and just wanted to get the formalities done and over with. He had a mission to plan and that over-eager Mechanicus adept assigned to him by the Regent was making matters worse for him with her constant bombardment of questions.

With a hiss of escaping air as the internal and external pressures of the Thunderhawks equalized, their armoured front ramps opened up as one and, barely making a sound, extended down towards the deck. A soft thud echoed around the deck as the heavy ramps touched down and Astinon grumbled inwardly at the damage to his flagship.

Advancing neatly in serried ranks down the ramps of each gunship were thirty Space Marines, clad in full battle-plate of burnished gold with dark crimson edging, their boltguns held in their hands as if they were about to open fire.

An assortment of sheathed melee weapons was also evident on their person, chainswords, power-axes, power-swords mostly but the most prominent were the Astartes who carried thunder hammers. The honour markings on their armour implied they were all either veterans or sergeants at the least, and as such, part of their Commandery’s chain of command.

Astinon’s lips curled in distaste at such blatant disrespect on his own ship, but he held his tongue. He had no wish to provoke matters any further than they had already been, and any hostilities now would only be detrimental to his mission.

Six more warriors emerged from one of the golden-coloured gunships, walking in lockstep with each other, their pace unhurried as they approached Astinon and his cadre of officers. Two of their number did not wear the burnished gold armour of their battle-brothers however, for one was clad in armour of midnight black and wearing a skull-faced helm, while the other wore armour of the brightest blue, his unhelmeted head framed by a large, armoured crystalline hood.

‘They brought a psyker with them,’ whispered Manov to the others. ‘This speaks volumes.’

‘They are well within their rights to do as they please, champion,’ said Chaplain Svydro sharply, his voiced hard as iron. ‘Compose yourself before our visitors or I shall have to do it for you.’

‘Indeed, Lord Chaplain, as you wish,’ said Manov softly.

Astinon ignored the little byplay, his attention focused on the one warrior who led the others. His armour was more ornate than that of anyone else in the hangar bay, save for Astinon himself.

It was a fact that was not lost on the Corvian general.

This warrior was their captain.

His baroque armour appeared to have been especially forged for him, for it was adorned all over with sigils of mailed fists and hammers. The warrior underscored his iconography with the thunder hammer that he wore holstered on his back, its head carved on both sides in the likeness of a clenched fist. It was a fearsome weapon, and as Astinon stole a quick glance towards Salsax, he saw his Captain staring in open admiration at the artifice that had gone into the thunder hammer’s forging.

And if the icons carved on his armour were not enough, his armour was bedecked with purity seals and faded strips of parchment. The red-knotted seal on his right pauldron was the longest, roughly five inches long, by Astinon’s best estimate from this distance.

An honoured warrior, no doubt about it
, he thought.

The gold-clad warrior approached Astinon and offered a salute, the sound of his fists striking his breastplate echoing loudly across the hangar bay like steel ringing on hardened stone. The Commander answered in kind and offered a deep bow to the other in respect and to signify his friendship.

The warrior took off his black-striped helmet and addressed Astinon in a matter-of-fact voice.

‘Ave Imperator Verimus, Lord Commander. I am Brother-Captain Rado Saigun of the Dorn Revenant Commandery. The Eleventh Company and I are here to offer you our support in your mission to the distant Kiavahr system.’

‘Welcome aboard the Montisgarre, Brother-Captain. I am Commander Astinon Dras, and I lead the Sons of Corax in His name,’ responded Astinon evenly. His keen eyes gazed into the other’s oddly blue eyes in a silent contest of wills, seeking a measure of the warrior before him.

Astinon was the first to break contact and gestured to his command cadre, pointing to each in turn. ‘These are my officers, Captain. Captain Adrastos of the Raven Guard. Captain Dheimmel of the Revilers. Captain Salsax of the Raptors. High Chaplain Svydro. Apothecary Vex. And my champion, Sergeant Manov.’

The Revenant looked at Astinon in surprise. ‘Your Commandery still maintains the chapter divisions of the Old Imperium?’

Astinon simply raised an eyebrow in acknowledgement. ‘These divisions as you call them, Captain, are part of our history, and they define who we are and what we can aspire to be,’ he answered. ‘We are nothing if we forget the traditions of our past. Change for its own sake is a useless endeavour.’

Saigun merely shrugged slightly and nodded at each of the Corvian officers and then looked back again at Astinon. ‘You have no psykers in your ranks I take it, Commander?’

Astinon’s friendly expression was immediately replaced with one of annoyance. ‘We count none with the Emperor’s gift among our numbers,’ he said bitterly. ‘We have not had a Librarian of skill among us for over seven hundred years.’

‘A shame,’ said Saigun matter-of-factly again, and gestured to the five warriors behind him. ‘These are my own officers, Commander Dras. Chaplain Kulas. Epistolary Vorokov. My champion, Brother Sandres. Sergeant Levix and Brother Bevmund.’

Astinon also inclined his head in their direction in respect and waved to Saigun. ‘Come, Captain, you and I have much to discuss. Adept Zethsemene arrived some time ago and is eager to get started with the briefings.’

Saigun however, shook his head, his expression one of regret. ‘There is one matter that must be resolved between us first, Commander Dras,’ he said, a touch of sadness in his voice.

His words made Astinon pause and he let out a sigh, anticipating what was to happen next. Behind him, his officers also stiffened in surprise at the breach in protocol.

‘Captain, I am not sure I understand the meaning of your words,’ said Astinon, feigning ignorance.

‘It is a simple matter, Commander,’ replied Saigun, his expression graver than before. ‘All of Armageddon knows how Brother-Captain Torro Nicodemus was humiliated by you and High Commander He’stan atop the Regent’s Tower. Dishonour and shame has been brought upon the Dorn Revenants, and in our own way, we must avenge this insult.’

Astinon’s face hardened at the reminder of that fateful encounter in the Regent’s Tower. He leaned in close to Saigun and whispered softly so only the Revenant could hear him. ‘Do not make the same mistake that Captain Nicodemus made, Saigun,’ he said. ‘There are complications enough in this maddened galaxy without us adding to it. We are supposed to be friends and comrades, Captain, not bitter allies.’

Saigun shook his head regretfully. ‘There is nothing I can do about this, Commander. This is how it must be. Honour must be restored to the Dorn Revenants, and in this moment and in this place I will be the one who avenges the insult.’

Anger flickered in Astinon’s eyes at Saigun’s refusal and he backed up to give himself some room. ‘Then you leave me no choice, Captain Saigun.’

‘That was not my intent, Commander, but I repeat that this is just how it must be. I myself have no choice in the matter.’

‘Very well, then Captain Rado Saigun, you will have your honour duel. Here and now.’

Manov moved at once to stand next to Astinon. ‘Commander, what would you have of us?’ he asked hesitantly.
Astinon looked around at everyone present inside the hangar bay, which had gone deathly silent. The only sound was the cooling of the Dorn Revenants’ Thunderhawk engines. He could taste the palpable tension in the air as everyone in the hangar waited to see what was about to happen next.

‘You are my champion as always, Manov,’ replied Astinon, without looking back at his champion. ‘Act as my second should things turn awry. And be quick with that sword of yours if need be.’

As the Corvian general watched, Saigun turned to his champion, Sandres, and handed him his helmet and his boltgun. Then he freed his thunder hammer from its holster on his back and handed that over as well.
In return, Sandres handed over his own power sword, a master-crafted weapon with its hilt shaped like a flanged mace and its cross-guard shaped in the likeness of the Imperial Aquila.

Saigun swung a few practice strokes with the weapon, getting a feel for its weight and balance. He then activated the weapon’s power field and the sword thrummed through the air, as if it could somehow anticipate the impending combat. Once he had satisfied himself, the Revenant Captain walked back towards Astinon.

For his own part, Astinon mirrored Saigun’s actions in giving his helmet and his holstered bolt pistols to Manov, and withdrawing the Stormblade from its scabbard on his belt. He turned towards his would-be opponent and gave him a respectful salute with the sword raised high in front of him. Blue-white lightning coruscated around the weapon’s blade as Astinon thumbed the activation stud in its grip for the sword’s power field.

Kulas and Svydro, knowing their roles full well in this honour duel, approached the ground between their two leaders and performed a blessing to the Emperor.

‘Lord of Mankind, watch over these two warriors as they fight to redress the wrongs done to them and thereby restoring their honour,’ they intoned as one and made the sign of the Aquila across their chests. At a nod from Kulas, Svydro took a step forward to signify his role as the master of ceremonies and signalled to the two combatants to approach him.

‘You are here on a matter of honour,’ he said formally once Saigun and Astinon were in place, standing six feet apart from each other. ‘I am here to assure that you settle it honourably and with dignity. If quarter is asked...’

‘No quarter will be asked,’ interjected Astinon, his face devoid of any expression, but his bearing erect and proud.

‘And none will be given,’ replied Saigun, his face equally grave.

Svydro and Kulas then moved away from the two combatants, giving them room to fight. Sandres and Manov did likewise. Glancing at the two heroes one last time, Svydro raised his crozius high in the air and then brought it down sharply, striking the hangar deck with a sharp clang.

‘Commence!’

For a long moment, neither Astartes moved, patiently gauging each other’s stance, watching for an opening that they could exploit instantly. Astinon held his relic sword in a high guard, gripping its long hilt with both hands, while across from him, Saigun held out his champion’s recently-forged sword pointed at his opponent like a sabre.

It was Astinon who moved first by arcing the Stormblade down low to slash at Saigun’s exposed face, but the Revenant was too fast for him and sidestepped the blow, deflecting with his own weapon. Snarling, he suddenly moved forwards, bringing the blade up high to strike at Astinon’s throat.

Off-balanced, Astinon could only clumsily bring up his sword to defend and his opponent almost lazily battered it away. The Corvian was unfazed though, his face set in a mask of grim determination. He backed up several steps to give him more room, and then lunged forwards, the Stormblade thrust forwards and aimed at Saigun’s chest.

This time, the Revenant failed to block the blow, but the Aquila carved on his breastplate robbed it of most of its power, the blade managing to only just about penetrate through the thick ceramite of the armour. Astinon pivoted and threw a punch at Saigun’s face but it clanged harmlessly off the Revenant’s left pauldron.

Saigun then dipped low and swept Astinon off his feet with a well-placed kick to his right knee, and brought his sword around to stab the other through the heart, but Astinon rolled away and got up hurriedly. He flicked beads of sweat off his face and regarded the Revenant, his eyes speaking murder.

Saigun managed to crack a faint smile at Astinon’s frustration. A superb duellist, the Revenant Captain was the epitome of calm, his balanced stance and easy manner provoking his opponent even further. He walked back and forth around the other in a circle, gauging him with a haughty sneer on his face. Astinon tracked him with his eyes, the tip of the sword pointed at the Revenant.

Too fast for the eyes to see, Saigun charged again in a furious pirouette and slashed at Astinon, forcing the other to back up to keep his footing. They exchanged twenty strikes and parries in half as many seconds, but neither was able to score a decisive hit.

‘The Revenant is fast,’ remarked Salsax to the others. ‘The Commander cannot match him in skill alone.’

‘It will not be easy for him to win,’ commented Manov, with a hint of worry in his tone. ‘Saigun is one of the most skilled duellists among the Dorn Revenants. It is said, that he is a match for even Lord He’stan, with whom he is known to duel regularly by way of practice.’

‘He duels with the High Commander?’ asked Adrastos incredulously.

‘Must be one hell of an opponent in the training cages then,’ said Salsax appreciatively.

‘You do realize, you popinjay, that if the Commander loses, then the honour of the Sons of Corax will be vilified?’ asked Dheimmel in a quiet, calm voice.

‘We don’t care for such bland notions of honour, Reviler, you know that,’ replied Salsax dismissively. ‘The Commander has never let us down before, and he will not let us down now.’

‘Remember that the next time you talk about Adenar,’ said Dheimmel evenly.

‘Would the four of you stop your petty arguments for once?’ asked Svydro, his eyebrows furrowed together as he concentrated on the duel. ‘We cannot afford to lose this honour-duel. More than the honour of either Commandery is at stake here,’ he said, whispering the last.

In the space between the Sons of Corax and the Dorn Revenants, Saigun and Astinon continued their deadly dance. It was quite apparent that they were an equal match for each other.

What Astinon lacked in skill, he more than made up for with his ferocity. Their duel was a frustrating stalemate, for neither of the two had managed to score a killing blow yet, though their armour was chipped and dented in a multitude of places.

They circled one another again, both moving to the left, away from the other’s blade as they constantly measured each other.

And it was Astinon who was the worse for the wear. He had not expected the duel to last this long, nor had he expected to face such a skilled opponent. It was taking every ounce of skill and intelligence he had to stay one step ahead of Saigun, let alone win the duel.

Every attack he made was met and answered, and his frustration mounted. He would not be able to fend the Revenant off for a moment longer, given the other’s superlative expertise compared to his own.
He decided that a slight change in tactics was in order.

‘Why do this, Saigun?’ he asked suddenly, forcing the Revenant Captain to pause.

‘Honour, Commander Dras,’ was the answer. ‘It is all about honour. Without honour we are nothing. You say that traditions define us, but the sons of Dorn hold that it is honour above all that truly matters.’

‘But you fight to defend the honour of a fool like Nicodemus. There is no honour in defending one such as him,’ said Astinon, exasperated.

‘On the contrary, Commander, it has everything to do with the Seventh Captain,’ said Saigun, flouring his sword in circles one-handed. ‘Honour by itself is meaningless. It needs something else to complement it and make it whole, something to give it the necessary context. And for the warriors of the Dorn Revenants, it is our brotherhood.’

‘We believe in brotherhood too, Captain,’ countered Astinon. ‘And honour. But we do not suffer fools gladly. The lessons of the Second Age of Strife have been well-learned by me and my battle-brothers. Our honour is defined by our deeds, not by our comrades.’

‘Then we must simply agree to disagree, Commander,’ said Saigun, gazing hard at Astinon.

With another sudden move, Saigun moved straight at his opponent, his sword held high and then changing direction to strike laterally at his side in a snap blow. Astinon countered by swinging his sword around to defend, and threw a quick punch at Saigun.

The Revenant had not seen the physical blow coming and tried to arrest his forward momentum but failed. Astinon’s blow hit him square in the jaw, and Saigun fell down in a heap, his sword clattering to the deck floor.
There was utter silence in the hangar. The duel had ended so suddenly that the audience wondered what had just happened.

Ignoring the stares of the Dorn Revenants, Astinon twirled his sword around in a figure eight and the pointed the tip of the blade at Saigun’s face. The Captain watched the blade uninterestedly as he picked himself up.
‘Yield, it does not need to end badly,’ he said pointedly, gesturing at Saigun’s bloody face.

Svydro finally stepped forwards, his face grave.

‘Commander Dras has won the honour duel,’ he said formally. ‘Let there be no further cause for such a duel again between the Sons of Corax and the Dorn Revenants while the mission is underway. This is so decreed on pain of death should this command be violated.’

-][-

If Captain Nicodemus had been paying attention, he would have seen the subtle warning signs of what was about to happen next. As it was, he was too caught up in his vitriol-ridden tirade to notice the thick, armoured gauntlet that suddenly rose up to strike him full in the face, sending him sprawling across the white-tiled stone floor.
His head rang with the force of the blow, and he winced in pain, looking at his attacker in confusion.

‘Do you know what it is we are working for here, you mindless cretin?’ roared the figure in a tone that bled anger and outrage. ‘We are the inheritors of Dorn’s immortal legacy; we don’t bicker amongst ourselves like common soldiers.’ The warrior turned and punched the wall behind him, gouging a deep crater in the stonework. ‘We are rebuilding an entire civilization here and you go around picking fights with others who are doing the same? Are you insane, Captain Nicodemus?’

‘I did not bicker with him,’ replied Nicodemus venomously, spitting blood on the floor as he got up. His face was pale and his eyes were a little unfocused. ‘I went there to make some things clear to him. I will not have anyone outside of our order bringing dishonour to us or to the memory of the Primarch, Lord Commander.’

‘Is that what you think, Nicodemus?’ said Remun Valcaor, Master of the Dorn Revenant Commandery. His entire body was tense, the veins and muscles on his bared forehead standing out like streaks of pale blue lightning. ‘Your thoughtless and foolish actions have brought that very same dishonour that you attempted to prevent upon us. The Lords of the Council have raised questions as to our loyalty and our dedication to the New Imperium. Our loyalty,’ he hissed.

‘They wouldn’t,’ retorted the Captain of the Seventh, shaking his head in disbelief. ‘They wouldn’t dare.’

‘Oh but indeed they have dared so,’ continued Valcaor. ‘Can you imagine the humiliation of their accusations? Standing in the Council Room, I was accused of harbouring malcontents and firebrands in my Commandery! The Dorn Revenants have become the laughing stock of the entire world, you horse-faced bastard!’

‘That was never my intention, Commander.’ Nicodemus hung his head in shame at Valcaor’s words. ‘I only intended to put the thrice-cursed pirate in his place and establish that he and those of his bloodlines are inferior to us.’

‘Then you failed miserably, Captain Nicodemus,’ said Valcaor. ‘And Lord He’stan was right to chastise and censure you. If it were up to me, you would have been cast out of the Commandery the moment you returned. But the Imperial Regent has other thoughts on the matter.’

Valcaor looked at Nicodemus for a moment, his anger barely in check. ‘The bonds of brotherhood we all share protect you only so far, Captain,’ he added.

‘He knows?’ asked Nicodemus, shuddering at the mention of Vulkan. Valcaor sneered in contempt at his Captain’s behaviour.

‘You are a disgrace to the Dorn Revenants, and you are a disgrace to our lineage. In the Primarch’s name, how could you be so foolish?’ he thundered, taking a step closer to the Nicodemus.

The Captain stood unflinching where he stood, prepared for whatever punishment now came his way. He didn’t move a muscle as Valcaor once again struck him, this time on the other cheek, and Nicodemus collapsed in a heap on the floor, unconscious.

‘Take him away, far beyond my sight,’ he ordered. ‘I want him thrown into the Chamber of Pain, and kept there for a week, isolated and cut-off from everyone in the Commandery. Only the servitors are to be allowed near his useless body.’

-][-

Vulkan gazed out through the armoured window of his personal sanctum at the hive as it spread out around the Regent’s Tower. Night had fallen on this side of Armageddon, and the usual hustle and bustle of the hive was just a soft whisper in the air, broken only by the discordant howling of the wind as it swept through the hive.

Vulkan had rarely seen a sight such as the one before him during his twenty-thousand year wanderings across the length and breadth of the galaxy. It always stirred alien feelings in him to see such an example of the dichotomy inherent among his species, its greatness as a species combined with its insignificance in the greater scheme of things as part of that very same species. It saddened him sometimes.

At the moment, he was thinking of the nightmare he had experienced the night before. The pain and agony that had come with his visions had worked together to make his sleep a restless one. Not to mention the lasting effects it had left on him, his face had become gaunt overnight and he appeared not a little frail and thin. He looked less like the glorious regent of a galactic empire and more like an old man whose body was failing him.

He turned from the view when he heard the gentle creak of the door to sanctum opening and closing. He let out a wistful sigh and glanced to his left, where his most honoured son He’stan stood to one side like a silent, unmoving guardian, clad in full battle-plate with his drake-faced helmet mag-locked to his belt. The smile that Vulkan gave He’stan went acknowledged, but the Primarch knew that his gene-son appreciated the small gesture of their friendship.

‘Come in, Commander,’ he addressed the warrior who had just entered the chamber, his helmet held in the crook of his left arm.

The Space Marine gave Vulkan the Imperial salute and bowed from the waist down. ‘I have come as you ordered, my lord. How can the Avengers serve you?’ the warrior asked, his tone low and respectful at addressing the Primarch.

‘Astinon Dras and his Corvians are heading out to Kiavahr soon, Commander Helios,’ said Vulkan as he sat down in a chair carved out of some local rock. It was just about big enough for his wide-shouldered frame to sit in comfortably.

‘What are my orders then, Lord Vulkan?’ asked Helios. Something about the Primarch’s bearing disturbed him, but he could not put his finger on it. He looked almost gaunt, as if he hadn’t eaten in some time. It was unnerving to see the Regent like this. He shivered inwardly.

Vulkan’s eyes burned with a disquieting intensity as he looked at Helios. ‘Your orders are to shadow their fleet all the way to Kiavahr and keep me informed of their every move, Commander. I detest putting Corax’s warriors under such scrutiny but I feel deeply uneasy about this mission. Call it a hunch,’ he remarked, waving his hands at Helios as if he was distracted by something.

‘Have you had a vision, my lord?’ asked the warrior, his tone betraying his concern at the Primarch’s unsettling expression.

‘Perhaps, I am not sure yet,’ answered Vulkan, waving one hand in dismissal. ‘Deliverance will be a greater trial by fire than Medan for our adventurous Commander Dras though, of that I am quite sure.’

‘What awaits them on Deliverance?’ asked the Commander, taking a step forwards and kneeling on the tiled marble floor. He averted his gaze from the Primarch and looked down.

‘Death and humiliation,’ answered Vulkan, his voice faltering slightly as he said the words. Confused at the long pause that followed, Helios looked back at the Primarch, only to see his eyes closed as if in pain.

In an instant, before Helios himself could rush to the Primarch’s side, He’stan was already there, catching the Primarch as he nearly fell to the floor, unconscious.

Helios looked on in shock and surprise, his entire body rigid in response to what he had just seen. ‘What has happened to him?’

He’stan looked at him in annoyance. ‘It is nothing. His powers sometimes demand much of his body. That is all.’
‘But...’

‘It is nothing,’ said He’stan, looking at him with anger. ‘You saw nothing here, Avenger, remember that. Word must not get out to the Council or to anyone else in the New Imperium about the Primarch’s weakness.’

‘Do my orders still stand then?’

‘Yes, they do,’ He’stan shot back. ‘Take the Avengers to Kiavahr and keep a watch on Astinon and Saigun. I know a little of what the Primarch has seen and none of it is encouraging.’

‘Why, what has he seen?’ asked the warrior desperately.

‘Kiavahr is caught up in a madness that is beyond understanding. That is all I can say.’ He’stan looked down distractedly at the Primarch’s limp form in his arms.

The warrior snapped a sharp salute to He’stan. ‘The Dragon’s fire shall cleanse Kiavahr of this madness then, Lord He’stan; you have my oath on it.’

He’stan shook his head. ‘Do not make promises to me, Helios. Do it for Vulkan.’

‘For the Primarch and the True Emperor then, my lord.’

‘In their name.’
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