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+++DOWNLOADING+++ AGRIPPA SECTOR M.42 BLODSBURG CHRONOS +++ 3rd MOON 48th ROTATION 0520 NEAREST SYSTEM +++ KALIEGH SUBSECTOR +++ SCYLLA SITUATION +++ RA CHAPTERSHIP ++ RUFUS ASTARTES ++

The fleet hurled itself through the warp, straining its engines and navigators to their limits. Upon arrival at Fort Goethe they had discovered the magnitude of the problems faced by the Imperial forces in the subsector. Mother Superior Beatrix, rather than being the hindrance Korvus had expected, had dismissed the call for a purity scan with the comment, “We don’t have the time for such nonsense.”

The briefing she gave was short and curt, but to the point. Major elements of the Imperial Guard were trapped by Eldar and Chaos forces on the world of Kaliegh. If their rescue were not effected immediately, they would be cut off forever. A massive Eldar fleet from the Ondilinde Craftworld had been sighted in the subsector, and the Imperial forces could not face such a challenge after the setbacks they had suffered in previous encounters.

So the fleet had departed Fort Goethe as quickly as it had arrived, straining to rendezvous with the other forces headed for Kaliegh. Korvus fretted in the command chair as the time dragged by. “Navigator, time remaining to destination?” He knew the answer already, but he had to do something, or he would soon be asking, ‘Are we there yet?’

“Twelve hours minimum sir.”

Too long, too long by far. There was no way they could make it, the big ships were just too slow. Korvus thought briefly, then called into the comm, “This is the Captain, Prior Secundus, could you please attend me on the bridge?”

There was only a brief delay before Secundus’ response of, “On my way.”

The chaplain’s soon strode briskly onto the bridge, and came to Korvus’ side, saying softly, “We aren’t going to make it.” It wasn’t a question.

“No, but we need to make our presence felt at this juncture.

“Or there will be trouble?”

“Most likely. Can you prepare one of the combat scouts to get some of our brothers there in time?”

“Damn it Korvus, I’m a chaplain, not a techmarine…”

“Just make it happen. If you can get there, I’ll have the rest of the fleet there in time to pull you out.”

“It will only be a small force.”

Korvus nodded, “It will have to be enough. Be there, and let them know once and for all that the Red Guard is not to be trifled with.

“Understood.”

“May the Emperor smile on you, brother.”

“He bloody well better.” The chaplain left, already speaking orders into his commlink.

Korvus also hoped the Emperor would ensure they arrived in time to pull them out.

The combat scout “Redemption” was crowded, having just enough room for a five-man crew and a dozen drop pods. Only one was available, as most were ranging far ahead of the fleet, and would not have been able to return and load in time.

Secundus had managed drive the servitors to get sixty-four marines and all their equipment, a landspeeder, and even coaxed Vitus, the youngest and most vigourous of the Chapter’s dreadnoughts, into the pods in under an hour. The chaplain wasn’t even strapped into the pod when the ship cleared the docking bay, and began to shake as its powerful engines thrummed to life, launching them ahead of the fleet. “Navigator, time to destination?” he called over the commlink.

“Eight hours, sir, six if the Emperor is willing.”

Eight hours would be cutting it too close; “The Emperor is willing, brother, its up to you to make it happen.” Six would be much better.

“Understood, sir.”

Secundus couldn’t be sure, but it felt as if the ship shuddered just a little bit more.

He looked at the two five man squads of his Pious Few who shared the pod with him. Their faces were stoic and their eyes low. Above them their helmets were clipped in a rack, beneath the each seat a jump-pack was ready. Brother-sergeant Kian slowly flexed and relaxed his power fist, and the others fidgeted or tried to relax in their own way.

Six hours in power armour in the cramped confines of a drop pod was something a marine could easily endure. Each and every man was intimate hardship in all its forms, but enduring something and enjoying it were two completely different matters.

Secundus left them to their reflections and prayers. They were his men, heart and mind and he knew each and every one of them as more than just a name. The hours passed slowly, as they only can as one awaits a battle. Most of the men eventually drifted off to sleep, conserving their energies for the trials ahead.

But Secundus could not sleep. His thoughts were full, his mind analyzing the situation ahead. His force was tiny, five man squads in every case. Three assault squads with their pistols and chainswords to join him in the assault. Two missile squads and a devastator squad to provide fire support against vehicles and other hard targets, a sniper squad to take out or suppress troublesome enemies, and a trio of tactical squads to cover them. He had a landspeeder with a heavy bolter to provide some mobile firepower, a squad of terminators to make a hard center for the troops, and thankfully, Vitus. A well rounded force, but so few. He wondered how many fewer there would be when they were done.

The navigator’s voice over the intercom startled him from his reverie. “Sir, we’re stepping down from warp, entering Kaliegh system.”

“Patch me through to Imperial Command immediately, priority one.”

“Doing so now,” was the radio operator’s reply.

There was static on the channel, then a voice cut in, “Eye of Chaos, who the hell are you and what are you doing on this channel?”

“Prior Secundus, Master of the Chapel of the Rufus Astartes, a humble servant of the Empire.”

There was a squeal of terror on the far end of the connection, “Ah, ah, my apologies sir, Emperor be praised, um, you’re here?”

“Yes, put me through to the Admiral immediately.”

“Um, I’m not sure I can put patch you through, sir…”

“He had better be, or the Emperor’s name I’ll make someone pay. You will be a place to start.”

“Ah, I’ll see what I can do…”

There was a pause, and then a new voice came on the line. “Colonel Marvell here, make it quick. We’re preparing for battle.”

“That’s why we’ve come, please put me through to the Admiral.”

“What? Who the hell is this?”

Secundus briefly marveled at the inefficiency of some of the other institutions of the Empire. After explaining in brief a detail as possible that he was, and his position, he managed to convince Colonel Marvell that he should indeed be put through to Kitchener. Secundus could hear muffled talking leaking onto the channel, and then it cleared.

“Kitchener. You’re ready to drop?” Was the Admiral’s first question.

“My navigator informs me we will hit drop orbit in ten minutes, Emperor willing.”

The line went static for a moment, then Kitchener’s returned, “…eed your men down on the ground to secure a ridge for our big guns and to land our troops. Recon shows a strong force that looks like the Schwartzchildes and their men on site.”

“Send us the coordinates and the drop time, and we’ll be there. And who are the Schwartzchildes, by the way?”

“Servants of Chaos, and a blight on the sector. We recently captured one of them, Maximillian, but his cousin Raoul and his wife Belladonna are still at large with a large force of Chaos Marines. As to the rest, my staff will send coordinates and a briefing over immediately.

“They sound vile.”

“Indeed. May the Emperor smile on you if you get me that ridge, but you damn well better do it, or there will be Chaos to pay.”

“I understand Admiral. The ridge will be yours.”

“Make sure, Kitchener out.”

The next hour was spent in frantic preparation for the drop, planning deployment, checking equipment and weapons, and brief prayers. Time was so tight that all Secundus had to say before the drop began, and he was cut off from the other pods was, “Your brothers will count themselves cursed that they could not he here with us today.” But it roused a cheer from the men, both those in the pod and in the others, and even Vitus could be heard laughing for joy in his eerie disembodied voice.

Then the pods were away, roaring into the atmosphere, and communications cut off as the deceleration rammed them into their seats. These were the most desperate minutes of a drop. You could never be sure if the pods would be on target, or you might suddenly be snuffed out as a enemy gunner picked you out of the sky, or the pod landed badly, or any other of the countless number of mishaps that could occur.

But the pod plowed deeper into the atmosphere, and finally the proximity warning. The speeder, plus Secundus and the assault squads would clear the pods first, coming down to give the rest some advance warning. “Prepare yourselves,” he cried, then, “Now!”

The pod burst open above them, and their packs roared as they cleared it and prepared to fire their engines to land. A quick survey showed the pods coming down as close to on target as he had ever seen, and they landed in a wide arc surrounding a low rise where enemy concentrations had been reported. But then they were down, and there were a group of figures right in front of him. It only took him an instant to recognize them as the spawn of Chaos.

“Fire!” he shouted into the comm, “In the Emperor’s name, fire!” Then the guns spoke. Vitus fired first as he burst free of his pod, flame pouring from his left arm to cover the Chaos Marines before him, and one of them collapsed, screaming in agony, and then his lascannon reached out, winking another of them out of existence. Secundus and a squad of the Pious Few who had landed on Vitus’ left added their fire to the mix, bolter shells and plasma bolts flying lancing into their enemies midst, mowing them down. The immediate threat gone, he had a moment to survey the situation. Several squads had come down at the foot of a ridge to his left. One was behind a low, ruined, wall and another further away in a small gully. Another squad was at the base of a large wooded hill that Secundus thought might contain the Schwartzchilde command section, “Fourth squad, watch your left!”

He hoped they heard, as they were busy supporting the another pair of squads who were in the open in front of the wall. Radio chatter had them facing another squad of Schwartzchilde’s Marines, and Secundus could hear the sounds of heavy bolter fire coming from their direction as the speeder swooped in to support. On his right the sniper squad was setting up in the doors of their pod and the other squad of the Pious Few were touching down in the ruins of a stone fortification.

The terminators and another tactical squad were largely arrayed inside the arc of Secundus’ men, and busily evaporating a third enemy squad, but the devastators with their heavy weapons were down in an exposed position, at the foot of a low hill that was the focal point of their landing. At its top was clustered a mass of enemy troops, and he could have sworn he saw emblems of the cursed demon Khorne, “Berserkers on the hill ahead, be ready!” The Pious Few in the fortification laid some fire on into the enemies there, and a couple of the figures there pitched backwards out of sight.

The return fire was withering. The one squad wasn’t responding on the channels, and the second missile squad reported them being wiped out to the last man. Most of another tactical squad on his left was down as well, only their sergeant, Wulf, reporting in. The speeder came under heavy fire from what looked to be a heavy weapons squad on the main hill in the back as its crew swung out to screen Vitus’ flank, but the fire was wild, and missed. Two of the devastators went down from shots from the berserkers, but the servants of Khorne held their ground, refusing to charge. Then Secundus saw why.

With a shriek, a blast of warp energy hammered into the snipers in their pod. Sergeant Riis’ voice came over the comm, calm as if he were reciting prayers, “One man down, holding.”

Secundus knew what had to be done, they couldn’t afford to have a Chaos Sorceror hammering them, and they had nothing to compare. “For the love of the Emperor,” he shouted into the comm, “clear that hill, now! Sergeant Tost, with me, charge!” And he triggered his jump pack. Tost’s squad of the Pious Few left the fortifications in a roar of fire, flying forward towards the sorcerer.

Their guns hammered into the berserkers as they landed, and Tost’s flamer laid a swath of fire over the enemy. The sorcerer went down with a high pitched shriek to Secundus’ delight before a burning pain in his right hand distracted him. His plasma pistol overheating and searing him even through his power armour. Gritting his teeth he stumbled back, holding on to the pistol for later, but he couldn’t follow the charge, and Tost’s men went home without him. A few berserkers went down to their assault, but three survived, and Tost and his men were down, the berserkers charging over them, straight for Secundus.

With a mighty roar of pain and anger, Secundus stepped to meet the charge, swinging his Crozius in a mighty arc that intersected them, one, two, three, shearing through power armour, flesh, and bone. They didn’t even have time to swing, so ferocious was his counter-attack, and they fell.

The immediate threat gone, he stumbled to one knee behind some cover, and quickly surveyed the situation. The hill was devoid of any standing figures, just the dead, injured, and Secundus himself. To the left his troops and the Space Wolves were streaming forward toward the main hill, which revealed a mass of Schwartzchilde troops pushing to the edge of the woods to fire. To his right the third assault squad, whom he hadn’t seen earlier, was literally tearing another squad of their enemies apart. Sergeant Riis’ calm voice continued to report over the comm, “Heavy weapons squad suppressed, switching fire to next section.”

Just ahead the sorcerer was beginning to stir. Only wounded Secundus thought, and hurried forward, to discover it was a woman. “Revolting,” he muttered under his breath, knowing it must be Belladonna Schwartzchilde. As he approached she scrabbled backwards weakly before giving, too slow. She essayed a lascivious smirk and said, “Coming to get some?” He grabbed her, shouting, “Silence temptress!”

She howled, “Get your hands off me you Imperial pig.” but he flipped her over and ripped the power pack free of her armour. As a final touch he crushed the control pack. Locked power armour made an excellent prison, and she wouldn’t be able to do any more harm than hurl obscenities while face down in the dirt.

The immediate problem taken care of, it was time to finish the job. Ignoring the noisy figure at his feat he shouted into the comm, “Brothers, that is half of our task. In the Emperor’s name, let us finish this once and for all.”

There was a cheer, and his troops were pushing forward. Sergeant Kian and his men launched themselves at the remainder of the heavy weapons squad, and the second missile squad ran up the hill to assist. “Sergeant Mir,” he called to the crew in the speeder, “get behind the hill and cut off their retreat.”

“Confirmed.” was the only response, and the speeder swung across the front of the hill, heavy bolter shells hammering into the enemy position. Vitus, the terminators, and a pair of squads, too far back to join the assault, fired their heavy weapons in support, then slowly pushed forward.

They would be too late, Secundus could see, the finale was happening now. Running forward a few steps, he triggered his jump pack, and flew forward, landing at the foot of the hill, then cresting it on momentum. He collided with a squad of Chaos marines at the top. “Nurgle!” he shouted in disgust. A few turned, looking shocked, as he hit their rear, Crozius hacking them down with impunity.

Sergeant Kian and his men had smashed the surviving men of the heavy weapons squad with ease, and joined by Sergeant Wulf had carried the attack forward into the next enemy unit. They were surrounded, but fighting on.

As Secundus hacked his way through to them he saw Wulf went down to a plague sword, screaming in agony. As he fell Wulf cleared Secundus’ line of sight to a monstrous figure hanging at the back of the fray. Clad in a Terminator suit topped with a helmet that the chaplain would swear was made for an Eldar warrior, marked with the symbols of Chaos, and armed with a gigantic axe, this could be none other than the so-called Duke, Raoul Schwartzchilde. It seemed to Secundus that the Chaos Lord wavered, and for a moment he was sure the man would run. But then something changed, and Raoul strode towards Kian and his men as they went forward. With a cry of, “Imperator, ave mortuii est!” Kian and his men charged the Duke. Secundus was proud and saddened all at once. The last of Schwartzchilde’s bodyguard went down before them, but Raoul’s axe smashed them down with one, two, three, and four mighty swings.

But Secundus was there, the last of the spawn of Nurgle having fallen before him. Raoul sneered, and said, “I may have lost here today, slave of the false Emperor, but today you will die!” And the axe came up, and swung towards Secundus in a mighty arc.

Secundus dropped his plasma pistol and reached out with blinding speed, catching the haft in his wounded hand. The shock of contact brought a groan of pain to his lips, but the axe stopped. His nerves screaming, Secundus shouted in rage and pain, “The Emperor is my shield, I shall not fall!” and he raised the Crozius high.

Raoul reached out, but the Terminator armour was too clumsy. The Crozius crashed down, severing Raoul’s right arm at the elbow. The look on Raoul’s face was one of pain and terror, and he briefly gibbered, “No!”

Secundus released his grip, and axe and lower arm crashed to the ground. “In his name I smite his enemies!” The Crozius came back in an upward arc, coming up between Raoul’s legs, and burying itself into the weak spot at the join of the leg and hip.

The duke stumbled backwards, tearing the Crozius from Secundus’ grasp. Secundus was pulled to his knees, but Raoul collapsed, and did not stir. The chaplain made a sign of blessing, “Amen.”

Then something touched his shoulder, and he spun with a roar, fingers turning into claws. But strong hands grabbed his wrists, and he found himself looking at Brother Ames, from one of the tactical squads. “Sir, it is over.”

“Praise the Emperor.” was all Secundus could say and weakly at that.

“Amen.”

Ames helped Secundus to his feet easily, and said, “I will see to the men. The hill is yours.”

“I and the Emperor thank you for what you did here today, brother.”

“Only my duty, sir.”

Secundus saw the terrible carnage on the hill as Ames left. Bodies were scattered everywhere he looked his own men’s intermingled with those of their enemies. He undogged his helmet, and let its skull-faced visage drop to the ground so he could see with his own eyes. “The Emperor bless you brothers,” he said quietly. Sweat and tears mingled in Secundus face as he keyed the comm to the command link. Kian and the others lay before him, mixed among the dead. “Secundus to Kitchener, the ridge is yours. Confirm.” There was a pause on the line before a voice came back. “Marvell here, message confirmed. Admiral sends congratulations, our troops are on the way.”

About him there was much to see. Secundus could see Moltke’s forces far below, dug in deep behind war ravaged emplacements. An Eldar titan stood on a far ridge overlooking the valley below, but it was wreathed in smoke, weapons sagging, and its torso was turned away, leaving its awesome firepower trained on nothing. ‘Someone had done some brave work there,’ he thought, ‘and congratulations will be in order.’

Switching back to the tactical channel, he keyed Sergeant Riis privately. “Brother Riis, there is a woman on the central rise. I wish her secured and brought to my position intact.”

“Understood sir.” Riis was one of the most reliable men Secundus knew in the chapter. He would have recruited him into the Pious Few if the sergeant were not so perfectly suited to his current role.

He then switched to the Redemption’s channel. “Redemption, this is Secundus, we need a pickup at the drop coordinates ASAP. I want you here before the Guard transports, confirm?”

“Confirmed, inbound.”

Secundus turned to Duke Raoul. A close inspection revealed that Schwartzchilde was still breathing, though shallowly and for how much longer he had no way of knowing. Though the Terminator armour was old, its built in first aid systems were no doubt still working if Schwartzchilde was still alive.

Though it hurt him to do so, he left his Crozius in place. Alive, the Duke may be able to help them find what they had come looking for. Dead he was useless.

Riis arrived soon afterwards, the hissing and spitting figure of Belladonna Schwartzchilde held between two of his men, held immobile by her power armour. Riis grinned as he said, “She caused us a few problems on the way over sir, but a pistol butt to the back of the head seems to have convinced her to behave.”

“Good work Brother.”

Riis just nodded.

Belladonna made an ugly face; “You will pay for the indignities you have visited on me, Imperial scum.”

Secundus nodded, gesturing to the his fallen brothers, “I already have, and no doubt you will cause me much more grief.”

The Redemption’s lighter arrived in a roar, not long after. His men loaded there dead and wounded, and the servitor-medic looked to the wounded marines with delicate, loving, care. Secundus was the last he approached, standing beside the fallen Duke. “May I see to your wounds sir?”

Secundus shook his head and said, “No, I’ll live. See to him.” indicating the Duke. Around them he could see the Imperial transports landing, and soon troops and tanks would be streaming from within their cavernous bowels, “And hurry.”

The medic attended to the Duke; “He’s still alive sir, though I don’t know how.”

“Good, get him aboard immediately. And keep him alive.”

The servitor clearly didn’t understand, but complied, and soon Secundus was the only one of his small command left on the ground. The first tanks were rolling out of the transports as he turned and climbed the rising ramp, to collapse into the arms of his waiting men.

Korvus 21:10, 9 February 2008 (UTC) Nicholas Cioran

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