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Sons of Thunder. (Not strictly DW but hoping for some feedback)

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 The ghastly green light from the hololithic display before Azor cast a sickening pall over his already pale skin, the noble features of his face that had grown to resemble the mighty Primarch Guilliman were tainted with a sickly taint that made his already intimidating features resemble the nightmare faces of the daemons that haunted the human crews dreams during the long weeks of warp-transit. The vivid blue eyes flicking across the tactical display in the strategium were the only signifier that Azor was not in fact a statue, his majestic blue battle plate edged with white and highlighted in gold completely motionless as he absorbed all the details the Imperial forces already in position had gathered and let it sink into his eidetic memory. A small light on the console to his right began blinking rapidly and he reached out a huge gauntleted hand without looking to activate the vox unit.


 “Captain, I assume you are interrupting my briefing to alert me that we are approaching Eraxus.” The smooth bass of Azor’s voice interrupted the silence of the strategium before a distorted response crackled from the speaker hidden somewhere in the room.


 “The Captain is currently indisposed M’Lord, he passed your orders on to me sir. You instructed that you should be alerted when we are within potential combat range of Eraxus, and we passed the extreme range marker approximately 12.7 seconds ago.”


 The kurt reply was not the impatient, sour tone of High Captain Transerian, but that of his second in command, the confident yet imperturbable Lieutenant Carrodus. Often Azor had thought it a shame the lieutenant had failed the suplication tasks and become a mere Serf rather than a battle-brother in his own right. The Nine Tasks were not easy, Azor himself had almost died three times during his own attempt, and had lost a kin-brother in the process.


 “Thank you Lieutenant, your vigilance has been noted. Please bring the ship to alert status sygma and alert my command staff to meet me in the armorium.” Came the reply as Azor completed his self-briefing and moved for the first time in nearly an hour.


 “Aye M’Lord.”


 The decks of the ship hummed almost undetectably as Azor made his way to the armorium, the minute vibrations would be unfelt by most, especially super-engineered gene-warriors in bulky power armoured plate, yet he felt everything through the soles of his boots. The black carapace implanted within him during his transformation from a mortal boy to the near invincibility of the adeptus astartes enabling him to feel the insignificant breeze from the life support systems across his ceramite chestplate like it was dancing across his naked flesh, the sensation of pressure against his palm as he pressed black fingered gauntlets to door seals barring his way. Azor saw only a small handful of crew on his journey, most of the crew aboard the battle barge being slaved servitors, machined directly into thier assigned task or post. The few he did pass offered him the combat salute of the Chapter, a closed fist held in front of the face, which he returned without lessening his stride.


 Only full battle-brothers and respected chapter serfs had permission to use the salute, and Azor felt no animosity to the serfs that used it before him, though many of his brothers chafed at its use, even by ships captains and the respected artificers of the Chapter, feeling that such a symbol should be reserved for those who fought and died on equal footing, dying to protect the ‘lesser’ humans. This was not a conviction shared by Azor, or many among his own fifth company, and he felt shame and sorrow for the brothers that did share in it. He had argued and counseled many times that the humans they fought so hard to protect were more important in thier uncountable masses than the brothers themselves. Without those humans, where would recruits for the Emperors Angels of Death come from? Had the Emperor not created the Astartes to wage war on behalf of Humanity? Without Humanity, what purpose would Azor and his brothers serve? He had heard many answers, counter points, arguements and flat out denials, but the most saddening to him were the words of the second company Captain Florian who during an arguement with Azor about this had responded with a smile: “We would fight, kill and die brother, just like we do now.”


 The mechanical hiss of the armorium portal opening stirred Azor from his musing, the sounds of combat and the yells of his command squad as they finalised thier preperations for the battle to come. His banner bearer and company champion dueled in the training pit to his right, the gladius of the bannerman Balethor clanging furiously against the liquid silver of Vorrus the champions twin blades. Kevaz, the Apothecary was checking his narthecium and with one last check to ensure the gene-seed vials were safely attached, he turned to face Azor.



 “Brother-Captain, our brothers on the assault decks are prepared, Decian is on his way."


 “Why is he not already here? I informed Leiutenant Carrodus that I was to be met here by my entire command staff, not most of it.” Anger bubbled at the back of Azors mind, as a Captain his conduct was under scrutiny at all times. He expected his command squad to preserve the same level of discipline and though Decian was new to the ranks of veteran, Azor expected him to adhere just as much as the rest of the squad. It was at that exact moment that the armorium door opened once again and Decian strode through, a sour look upon his youthful but scarred face.



 “My apolagies Brother-Captain, the machine-spirit of my new armour is having a hard time adjusting to me. Tech-brother Manayus beleives it is simply angry, that it mistrusts me. I will earn your and its respect in the battle to come.” Decian closed his fist in the familiar salute and Azor nodded.


 “You have my respect brother, but the machine-spirit may be harder to convince. Next time, do not leave maintenance until the last moment, battle is imminent and I would not have my warriors unprepared.” Came the reply.



 Sonedar had been standing at a table in the shadows at the corner of the room, the glowing plasma gun cradled in his mechanical hands was underlighting his ruined face, polished silver made up the lower half of his head remade by the rictus grin of the adamantium jaw and teeth that replaced his jaw and mouth. The corrosive bio-weaponry of a Tyranid Warrior had fired, convulsing muscles and screaming tendons hurling unnatural ammunition directy into his chest as he had rushed the beast. Only the quick actions of Kevaz had saved his life, tearing the ruined armour from his chest before it could completely destroy him. The damage already done before even Kevaz’s quick actions by the corrosive fluid eating through his armour seals in microseconds had destroyed his throat and shoulders, so they had been replaced.



 The result was incredibly intimidating, as Sonedar had to create his own helmet with the aid of a tech-brother, and his replacement covered only the still flesh top half of his skull, and the gleaming silver teeth shining out from under the sky blue helm with glowing read eyes was too much for many foes, the screaming coming from the vox-emitter constructed behind the reaper grin only served to exacerbate the effect.



 “You should descend to the flight deck and prepare board Fury’s Descent, I will contact the bridge and co-ordinate the drop-run with Lieutenant Carrodus and Admiral Hohlstein of the Hammer of Tandera.”




 Thirty minutes later, Azor was standing in the assault hold of Fury’s Descent, his personal Stormraven. The deep blue landing craft had served him unfailingly since he had been promoted to Captain over ninety years ago, landing him on moons, planets, Ork Kill-Kruzers and Tau Sept-worlds without failing in over 500 missions. It and its pilot had saved him more times than he cared to remember, and he lay his hand upon the frame of the assault door that would soon seal and allow the honoured and implacable craft to take him and his team to bring death to the foul Ork filth staining the planet below.



 His command squad stood before him, lined up in the centre of the hold. Resplendant in thier armour, they were more than warriors, more than killers. They became a symbol, of the might of the Emperors Angels, of death to the enemies of the Imperium. A small smile twitched at the corners of his mouth, though his gold trimmed, black faced helmet hid it from his brothers. He walked towards Balethor, the Fifth company standard moving gently in the breeze created by the vast expanse of the battle barges flight deck and the vehicles and machinery moving within. The banner depicted the first Fifth Company Captain, Rigud Nytebane, slaying his archnemesis the Eldar Farseer Thulandar. The delicate material bearing the image was protected by a small power field built into the finial atop the banner pole, enough to deflect small calibre and low energy munitions that Balethor could not see or predict. 



 A siren sounded from somewhere deeper in the hold, and amber warning lights lit up along the walls and ceiling to signify there was one minute until the battle barge would be within deployment range of the glistening green and blue orb below.

 “Hold fast to that brother, we may have need of its presence in the battle to come. The Ork filth we will be facing have denied the Astra Militarum in this sector for more than two years on Eraxus alone.”


 The claxon cut out abruptly and all across the hold drop pods and landing craft began closing, ready to be loaded into the drop tubes or fly free across the void to burn thier way through the atmosphere to bring death and destruction to Eraxus and its invaders. The pilot in the cockpit of Fury’s Descent sent an alert to Azor, warning him that the assault door was about to close, and he took a step into the hold as the hissing pneumatic rams lifted the door into it’s closed position. A brief whistling sounded as the pressure seals around the hatch made the space air tight, and a gentle rocking made Azor take a half step to steady himself as the Stormraven lifted smoothly off the flight deck and rocketed out into the freezing void.



 The azure and white strike craft became just another glimmer in the small cloud of ships and landers and meteoric streaks of the drop pods being launched from the underside of the Riotous Destiny. The sparkling aura around the belly of the battle barge quickly dispersed, becoming glowing streaks burning almost white hot as they set fire to the atmosphere.





The darkness was all around, pure and suffocating. Azor twisted his head round in a vain effort to locate a light source, when he realised he was still wearing his helmet. He reached up and undid the sealing clasps under his gorget plate and pulled it free of his head before discarding the now useless wargear. The back of the helm was crumpled and dented, ruined by an impact with something after they had re-entered the atmosphere. He looked around and saw Balethor and Sonedar stood before him, Kevaz was kneeling before Vorrus administering to the champion.


I see you are awake brother.” Sonedar crackled through the vox unit that replaced his throat. “We had some... difficulties during our landing. Vorrus was injured in the crash and brother Decian has expired. Kevaz has seen to his gene seed.”


 “Crash? What crash?” Queried Azor, gauntleted fingers gently probing he ragged wound at the back of his head, though they came away dry as his larramans organ had accelerated his healing. He stood and surveyed the scene before him. The entire hold was tilted roughly thirty degrees to the left and everything that wasnt tied down or stowed was scattered across the floor, gathered against the wall that Decian was laying at the base of. His chest plate and helmet had been removed, and vivid red wounds decorated his chest and throat where his gene seed had been removed to return his due to the chapter.


 “We breached the atmosphere as normal, but almost immediately came under fire. Seemingly our pilot avoided the worst of it and dove unknowingly into another swarm of Dakkajets. The impact destroyed all starboard propulsion and we impacted soon after.” Sonedar responded, the crackle of his augmetic throat filling the quiet of the hold. 



 Sonard’s description of the landing matched with what little Azor could remember, his usually eidetic memory had failed due to the helm-crushing impact he had received during the crash. The stricken landing craft lurched for a second, and once the motion had ceased Azor immediately strode over to the emergency door release and blew the explosive bolts, sending the once pristine assault door flying away, only to ricochet against the solid trunk of a tree and drop end over end to the ground metres below.



 The scene before Azor was like that of a dream, sunlight filtered down through the canopy far above, dappling the ground a handful of metres below with beams of radiance. Small creatures could be seen hurrying away through the undergrowth, scared by the violent evacuation of the assault ramp from its frame, and its subsequent impact with the ground. Insects buzzed around, and small pops and pings could be heard from the cooling outer hull of the Stormraven as the immense heat from orbital re-entry dissapated into the air. Surveying the area, Azor noticed that Balethor and Sonedar had moved to join him in the now empty doorway and he turned to look at them. 


 “We need to know where we are. My helmet is beyond immediate repair and I appear to be without my auspex. Has anyone contacted the pilot?”


 Balethor nodded, the banner he had furled in his hand bobbed with the motion as he raised a hand to gesture towards the cockpit. 


“My display reads his life signs as critical, I suspect he has entered suspended animation and is critically wounded. We have heard no plasma fire from the servitor turret so that too has either been destroyed, or we have luckily avoided any enemy units.”



 Azor nodded, turning to Kevaz and noticed that Vorrus was replacing the vembrace covering his left forearm.


 “Don’t worry Brother, this won’t affect the way I kill.” Vorrus grinned over at Azor, and Azor nodded in return. “Kevaz tells me that I will need 2 days before the bones have healed completely. I believe I’m ready now!” Azor nodded and smiled as Vorrus stood grinning at him, as was usual for Vorrus. His flippant confidant attitude was one of the reasons he was company champion, his blades were as quick as his wit and his kill record more than long enough to illustrate his skill with his twin gladii.


The hold, barring the missing assault ramp was rent and buckled in a number of places. Only the ceiling was devoid of damage, but considering the level of damage the ceramite and plasteel structure had sustained from what he could see, he didnt hold much hope that the cockpit would be intact. Surveying the destruction and debris before him, he noticed the handle of his combi-plasma boltgun glinting from beneath some foliage and his hand snapped to his backpack generator, mag locked to which should have been his Thunder Hammer Iusticia. Instead of closing around the leather wrapped handle of his trusted weapon, they closed around air, and his eyes widened as he saw Sonedar picking up the aincient death bringer from behind where Kevaz and Vorrus had been sat just a few seconds before.

 “My thanks brother, for all my preaching about wanting you to be ready before battle, I seem to have misplaced my weapons on the way.”


 Azor reached out and took the weapon, thankful for the familiar feeling of its weight in his hand, before retreiving his boltgun. The gunmetal and gold weapon was master-crafted more than a millenia before Azor’s birth on Ryza by a master artisan, the harsh nature of such a weapon almost forgettable in the beauty of the craftsmanship that had been worked upon it. Engraved on the plate above the foregrip was the weapons name, Peona, and it was a fitting name. The weapon had been punishing the enemies of the Imperium for more than 1000 standard years, the plasma chamber glowing blue from the magnetically controlled fuel contained within, the gaping muzzle yawning in silence. The whole weapon was an icon of barely restrained destruction waiting patiently to bring annihilation to the unworthy.


 He hefted the weapons in his hand and the head of Iusticia crackled, tiny arcs of lightning crackling across the broad faces of the blunt weapon as if it was pleased to be back in his hands, and he thumbed the activation stud on the haft, satisfied his weapons had returned to thier rightful place. He checked his magazine before maglocking the weapons to thier rightful places upon his armour and turned to face his squad.



 “We must find out where we are, and rejoin the main battle force. Balethor, you and Kevaz climb up to the cockpit and check on the pilot. Vorrus and Sonedar, you will descend to ground level and secure the area, we wont be here long but I dont want any surprises.”


 His brother nodded and began about thier work. Vorrus simply walked to the edge of the hold and leapt out into the air, a crash scant seconds later signified he had landed as Sonedar shook his head and did the same. Balethor braced against the frame that had held the assault door and Kevaz lightly stepped on his armoured knee before pulling himself up using the Heavy Bolter mount above the aircrafts nose. Satisfied, Azor moved to where Decian lay.


 Decian had been the youngest of his command staff, promoted from squad sergeant less than a year before when he had saved Azors life from a rampaging Chaos Dreadnought. Azor saluted his fallen brother, fist held rigidly before his face before turning swiftly away and leaping from the stricken craft as Vorrus and Kevaz had done moments before. As he expected, they were nowhere to be seen and he noted the lack of his helmets auto senses telling him the exact location of his squad mates. A shout from above attracted his attention and his ear piece crackled as Kevaz came through over the vox.


 “The pilot is done for Captain, waking him from the Sleep is unwise at this stage, and only the sarcophagus of a Dreadnought could save him now. The tree that arrested our descent did so primarily by skewering the pilot into the servitor mount behind him. He lives, but only barely.” Kevaz voxed, his voice untainted by exertion or emotion.


 “Very well brother. Wake him if you can and offer him the Emperors Peace. Either way, recover the chapters due from him. Balethor, what news?” Azor replied, frustration at thier increasingly bleak situation clenching his teeth until they ground out the message.


 “The vox relay and long range auspex are gone, the short range auspex seems to think we are enemies and the servitor has been disconnected from its fuel feeds, which explains why Kevaz and I are not dead.” Balethor returned, his effort clear over even the crackling vox. He was trying to cut through the branch that had nearly destroyed the pilot and cockpit while Kevaz prepared to wake the mortally wounded pilot.



 On the ground, Sonedar had returned, his plasma gun cradled easily in the veterans mechanical hands as he pushed his way through the undergrowth. Further away, Azor knew, Vorrus would be patroling the vicinity, wary of interlopers and opportunistic predators who may mistake him for an easy meal.



 “The trail we left behind as we landed goes on for more than a kilometre behind us, anyone who wants to track us will have no difficulty. I am unsure but believe we are at the base of the mountain range known locally as the Devil’s Crown.” The monolithic rock formation behind them was so vast, even the magnification offered by the auto senses of the helmets and the already enhanced vision of a space marine could not allow them to see the uppermost region, the top burrowed into a dirty black cloud that had been gathered and growing there at the peak of the mountian since the Ork invasion had begun almost two years before. It’s presence had been largely ignored for most of the campaign, until one of the astropaths aboard a Imperial Navy Light Cruiser had noticed a great well of latent psychic energy building within the cloud. By this point, the bruised black and grey swirling mass was growing with each passing day. It had been then that the Sons of Thunder had been called in to deal with the Ork menace and the threat they potentially posed to the entire sector.


 Azor turned away from Sonedar and gazed up at the ruined landing craft that had served the chapter honourably for more than half a millenia as it now rested, gathered into the branches of the tree like a tentacled predator may ensnare its prey. The main trunk of the tree looked almost undamaged, only the bark was scorched by the back wash from where the port thrusters had been franticaly trying to right the ships mortal descent before fail-safes had cut in and severed thier link to the ships fuel reserves. Numerous branches were smashed or sheared cleanly at various lengths by the impact with the blunt faced assault craft, one had even pierced cleanly through the hull, cockpit canopy and the pilot, arresting the Stormravens violent passage through the forest. The kill markers and chapter insignia remained next to the ruined canopy, bright gold markers painted on as a reminder to all of the duty done by the majestic craft remained unmarred, the bare gunmetal grey and gaping holes of the starboard side attested to how hard the Dakkajet had impacted, especially compared to the opposite side of the ship, the blue and white decor only marred by occasional pockmarks of incoming fire and scrapes and bumps from the iron-like wood of the tree branches.  In his heart Azor knew the craft would never fly again, most likely it would be repurposed for spare parts, the majestic flyer he had known was no more and he stared at the destroyed  for a moment before closing his eyes and sending a silent prayer of thanks to the Machine-Spirit of the venerable machine.


 The silence of forest about them was broken suddenly, a loud crack issued from atop the Stormraven and Kevaz could be seen rummaging around in the cockpit before he stood and turned towards Azor. His bright white battle plate was stained with the crimson vitae of the fallen marine who was now slumped in the cockpit with his helmet removed. Kevaz checked his gene-seed vials were secured before leaping down next to Azor.



 “I was unable to wake him, but I delivered the Emperors Peace and recovered his Gene-Seed. Damage was sustained by the Progenoid gland in his chest, the secondary gland in his throat remained untouched.” Kevaz spoke softly to Azor. Balethor joined them on the ground, his boots sinking into a soft patch of earth as he landed and he nodded to his brothers before retrieving the banner from where he had mag-locked it to his armour. He unfurled it and the heavy material began to sway gently in the breeze whispering its way throught the trees. Balethor moved to Azor and Kevaz’s side, tiny servos whirring and buzzing within his armour as he strode towards them.



 In the short time since they had landed nothing had disturbed them and they had heard no noises other than thier own or quiet, distant noises they expected to hear on a forest world, but they began to hear the far off screaming of tortured engines powering the Ork contraptions ferrying unknown numbers of greenskin filth towards them. The auto-sense within thier helmets would have alerted the squad much earlier than Azor, so he knew they were preparing to fight, as he himself was. The gene-science that had transformed him from mere mortal to Angel of Death was now changing his body once again, flushing his system with the chemical stink of battle-chems, the generator of his armour hummed more loudly than before and he felt his mind focus. Sounds became quieter as his secondary heart began pumping, blood flowing to his muscles and the tang of his acidic saliva coated his mouth as he looked round at his brothers.



 Vorrus had returned as soon as he heard the incoming enemy and the mirror sheen of his blades caught the shadow dappled light coming down through the trees. His body was never still,  a twitch at the shoulder or a slight turn of the foot as his mind raced unconciously through the combat rites he had learned and a few moves of his own invention. Azor nodded silently and looked at Sonedar lurking in the trees, clearly contemplating wether to switch to Maximal mode with his Plasma Gun as his finger toyed with the overcharge switch. Balethor had planted the flag into the ground between them all, himself preparing his Storm Bolter absent-mindedly as Kevaz drew his boltgun and gunned the chainsword he wielded, hungry teeth tearing up the air as the machine-spirit roared and shook within its mechanical housing, thirsty for the blood of its foes.



 “Ambush protocol. Let them in, let them get close to Fury’s Descent then slaughter them. Balethor, I want you on point with Sonedar once we spring this trap. Vorrus and I will take care of the foot sloggers while Kevaz provides covering fire. We must ensure there are no survivors to report our position. We won’t be here when they return but I will not have them desecrate the Chapters wargear and our fallen brothers.”



 Silence greeted him as they saluted and turned away before each dissapearing into the forest around the crash site. He remained motionless for a moment, watching them take cover before moving to take cover himself. He positioned himself behind the trunk of a tree wider than a Dreadnought, the gnarled bark scraping at his armour as he pressed his bulk against the wood. The noise of the Deffkoptas grew closer and Azor finally caught a glimpse of the incoming warriors. Six Deffkoptas laden down with almost thirty Ork Boyz hanging from them were approaching rapidly from the same direction as the Devil’s Crown, their distinctive yellow paint, where it was not obscured by Orky glyphs and war trophies, marked the pilots to be of the Bad Moons clan. The Boyz were too grubby for the same method of indentification, thier clothing and armour stained with filth and blood.


 As Azor watched, an arguement seemed to break out on the lead Deffkopta, the pilot entirely forgetting he was in control of the aircraft as he lunged out of his seat to throttle the passenger hanging from the side of the open topped cockpit. Both of them fell out of sight within an instant, still fighting as they vanished, and the Deffkopta veered drunkely for a second before nose diving into the forest as if chasing its missing pilot. A distant krump sounded and a column of dirty black smoke erupted into the sky, only to be completely ignored by the following Deffkoptas, one of which actually dove towards the tree canopy momentarily before pulling up when the first exploded, shaking one of its passengers loose.


As the first of the boyz dropped into the clearing, Azor saw Balethor nod to Sonedar and in unison, they stepped out from behind thier trees and the forest was filled with the sounds of death. The rapid double-boom of the storm bolter roared as Balethor advanced, spilling Ork blood with every round. Mass reactive bolts filled the air as Kevaz and Azor fired their bolters too and the sound brought a savage grin to Azors face. There was no joy in his mind, only duty, but the symphony of destruction caused by the death spitting boltguns and the air-boiling scream of Sonedars plasmagun was too beautiful not to appreciate. Return fire pinged off thier armour and the surrounding trees, Ork marksmanship up to its usual standard, and Azor ducked back behind the tree to reload.


 “Vorrus, any time you feel ready...” he voiced into the gorget mounted vox-mic, but before he had even finished Vorrus’ blades had already reaped a fatal tally. Four Orks lay dead at his feet, another fell with it’s head missing as Vorrus dove forward to avoid a grenade lobbed his way. Azor dropped his hand from the foregrip of Poena and he reached behind him to grasp the handle of Iusticia, the leather wrapped handle familiar in his grasp.



 CHANK sounded out as his second clip ran dry and he dropped the combi-bolter in favour of a two handed swing of the Thunder Hammer. The crackling head of the immense weapon swung and impacted against his foe like a Rhino hitting a ferrocrete barricade. The power field vaporised the ork, his mighty swing reducing its upper half to chunks of meat and shattered bone fragments. Ceramite shards stung his face as the Orks began to target him, his ostentatious armour and fearsome weapon marking him out as the leader. He lunged again, thrusting the head of the hammer forward like a staff and flattening another Ork against the trunk of a tree, leaves and blood rained down around them, but before the first had touched the ground, Azor was away seeking his next opponent.



 Sonedar pulled the trigger again and again, nearly emptying the fuel cell in the sun-vomiting weapon he wielded, reducing Ork after Ork to steaming piles of offal and boot leather. Steam vented from the cooling vents, clouding his vision for a moment long enough for him to take a slug in the abdomen, the thinner armour around his middle punctured by the close proximity of the slugga firing at him. Ignoring the free flowing wound, he swung a fist into the enormous chin of the greenskin and staggered it back a few steps, but this only seemed to delight the beast as it chuckled and drew it’s menacing choppa.


 “Looks like I gots me a good’un!” cried the beast as it drew the heavy blade above its head to swing for Sonedar, surprise sparking for a moment in the creatures eyes as Sonedar did not avoid the blood stained and rust pitted implement, but instead caught it in his free hand. The surprise never left the Orks face as he pushed the plasmagun against its gut, squeezed the trigger and evaporated its internal organs. The limp body fell to the floor as Sonedar stepped towards a new enemy, thinking nothing of his most recently defeated foe, tearing his combat knife from it’s holster as the recharge cycle of the plasma gun began, steam venting from the weapon in a white cloud around Sonedars ankles. A giant green fist enclosed around Sonedars ankle as he dispatched this foe and he turned to look, seeing the gutted Ork glaring up at him from below. Malice glowed in its eyes as it drew a Stikk bomb from its belt and a bloody grin marred its already foul features. Sonedar simply raised his other foot and stamped down on the greenskins head, bursting the skull like a ripe fruit, sending teeth and brain matter everywhere. He lunged for the Stikk bomb but before he could tear it from the grip of the huge green hand, it went off, engulfing them both in fire and shrapnel.


 Azor heard the explosion, turning to see Kevaz picking himself up from the floor, surrounded by likewise floored Orks. He turned and drew his bolt pistol in one smooth motion, mostly draining the clip as he peppered the struggling Xenos with mass reactive bolts. Kevaz, standing at last, beheaded one of the few still alive him with a screaming swing of the adamantium toothed sword, almost black blood jetting from the shredded neck and staining the ground. Looking for the source of the explosion that had floored Kevaz, Azor saw Sonedar stumbling from a smoking crater, his armour blackened and chipped. Ichor leaked from him in several places, hyper-oxygenated blood streaking across the once glorious blue armour as he staggered towards Azor, his plasmagun dropped and forgotten about as his hand reached out for aid before he collapsed to the ground.



 “KEVAZ!” Shouted Azor, “Sonedar is down!” The pristine white helmet of Kevaz whipped around and nodded.



 Soil and plantlife leapt into the air as more explosions shook the ground around them, rockets raining down from the circling Deffkoptas eager pilots. Balethor stabbed the ground hard with the butt of the banner pole before reaching for a frag grenade, his other hand keeping the trigger of his boltgun pressed. He lobbed it over arm at the Deffkoptas, the grenades arc carrying it through the air to explode only feet from the lead Deffkopta, shredding the pilots face with shrapnel and fire. Screaming in alien agony, the Ork accidentaly sent the strange flying contraption careening towards the ground where it exploded, pouring oily black smoke up towards the heavens. Gunfire and rockets continued to rain down through the smoke screen as the remaining Deffkoptas tried to exterminate the marines with no more success than before.



 Kevaz reached Sonedar’s prone form and rolled him over revealing the blackened armour that covered the injured warriors front. His helmet display rapidly displayed vast amounts of information on Sonedar,and Kevaz immediately began to adjust his narthecium, injecting stimulants and coagulants through ports in Sonedars nearly ruined armour. The small rivers of blood flowing from the tears and punctures in the armour stopped flowing almost instantly, hard scabs forming under the armour as the injections and his own enhanced physique began the work of healing his wounded body. Within his half helmet, Sonedars eyes fluttered open and he tried to sit up but Kevaz’s rigid arm blocked him.


 “Not yet Sonedar, I’m nearly done.” The apothecary warned as he made more adjustments to his narthecium and funneled another cocktail of drugs into Sonedars system. He held his hand against Sonedar’s chest for few seconds more, completely immobile as his eyes flickered across the display in his visor until he was satisfied with the reports. Standing, he grasped his comrade by the forearm and pulling him to his feet. “Your armour will require re-sealing but you will not die this day.”


 “My thanks brother.” Sonedar nodded before recovering his dropped weapon. He ran his experienced, metallic fingers over the surface of the weapon, checking it for damage. Finding none, he hefted the weapon again and turned towards the fighting. His mechanical finger flicked over the buttons on the weapons casing and it began to glow much brighter, the usual low humming of the weapon increasing in pitch and volume as he sighted down the iron sights in the traditional marksmans pose. The noise reached a tortured crescendo as the weapons maximal mode reached critical mass and he gently squeezed the trigger.


 Heat and light blossomed from the muzzle of the weapon as a miniature sun was born within the atmosphere of Eraxus, shadows that had never before existed appeared as the tiny blue sun crossed through the air. Atmosphere was incinerated by the semi-liquid fire as it crossed the space between Sonedar and the Nob that was bearing down on Vorrus, time seemed to be frozen as Vorrus’s twin blades withdrew from the neck of the Boy he had been fighting as the diminutive sapphire star passed clearly over his head and impacted with the serrated metal plate covering the Ork Nobs lower jaw. The near white hot fuel seared away the crude metal armour covering the Orks face before rapidly melting through it skin and bone.



 The now headless creature seemed ignorant of the fact that it no longer had a brain to issue instructions, but still the meaty green arm wielding the immense blade swung up into the air intent upon smashing Vorrus to dust. He rolled away, the now rampaging beast missing him narrowly as it continued to wildly swing its weapons in a vain effort to kill him. The few remaining Orks began shouting and roaring encouragement at thier leader, rushing to aid him when more random gunfire screamed down from the circling pilots, sending geysers of dirt erupting into the air alongside sprays of red-green blood from the boyz that had been caught in the deluge of bullets. 



 With only the slowly dying Nob, two Deffkoptas and a small handful of boys remaining Kevaz, Azor and Balethor moved around the periphery of the combat to position themselves as the points of a triangle, reloading their weapons as they moved.



 “VORRUS! DOWN” Azor yelled at the top of his voice, watching the action until Varrus dropped flat to the ground having dispatched another Ork. As his heavily armoured body hit the burnt, stained and trampled ground, Azor opened fire on the Orks in unison with Kevaz and Balethor. The air above Vorrus became thick with blood, destroyed armour and screams as the three way cross fire reduced the Nob and the remaining boyz to steaming chunks of offal. Azor and the others could hear his laughter over the vox as they gunned down the last of the greenskins and turned their attention to the Deffkoptas, now rapidly retreating and dissapearing out of sight.



 “Status check. Kevaz, do what you need to. Balethor, recover any spare ammunition from Fury’s Descent and bring it down here. Collect Decians boltgun and any grenades or ammo he had. I have no doubts we will need it before long.” Azor issued the commands as soon as the tail Deffkopta was out of sight. He looked at each of them before walking over to Vorrus who was removing his vembrace again, the arm beneath swollen and black.



 “How is it?” he queeried as he approached with Kevaz, who immediately took the arm from Vorrus and began to manipulate it. Vorrus looked at Azor, his face set as Kevaz inserted a needle under his skin and a thin flow of vivid red blood began to flow out.


 “Sore. I think I probably shouldn’t have used that arm to block but I got carried away.” He responded through half clenched teeth. The swelling in the arm was slowly diminishing, the large black bruise remained and Kevaz injected another needle into Vorrus’ armour at the shoulder. Ice crept through the arm and Vorrus looked into the crimson eye-slits of Kevaz’s bone white helmet with a question on his lips. “What have you done apothecary? I cannot feel my fingers.”


 “I have immobilized your arm.” Came the reply. “For the next twelve hours you won’t be able to move that entire arm. Maybe next time I tell you it will be two days before you are combat ready again, you’ll listen to me.”


 Azor grinned to himself as he walked away, Vorrus and Kevaz had always shared thier brotherhood on a deeper level than the rest of the squad. Maybe it was the fact they were both of the same warrior clan when they had been on Tundera, though they had become brothers more than sixty years apart the mannerisms and quirks of the clan had not changed much and they shared a kind of kinship uncommon among the majority of the Sons.


 He surveyed the scene before him, noting the dead orks in piles around where Vorrus had set about his deadly work and the scorched remains that marked where Sonedar had vaporised more. The evidence of his own handiwork less obvious than the others, apart from the odd severed arm or leg bearing the tell tale blast like damage of his Thunder Hammer there wasn’t much left other than bolt riddled corpses gently leaking around him. Sonedar and Balethor had gathered a small pile of ammuntion cases and spare clips salvaged from the inside of the Stormravens hold, alongside it a smaller pile of grenades.



 He checked his own ammunition, relieved that the plasma cell in Peona was undiminished and he gathered the spare clips he and his brothers had discarded in the midst of the combat. Taking a knee on the ground next to the growing pile of ammo, he began to refill the magazines with bolt shells from the ammunition cases as Sonedar took a knee alongside him and began to remove his chestplate. The pale flesh beneath was a mess of scars, bruises, blood and muscle tissue, the anchors for his augmetic arms visible through the stretched skin at each shoulder. His augmetic arms were slightly damaged, some of the smaller pistons and reinforcement struts bent slightly, both arms and his chestplate blackened by soot and blast residue. The replacement jaw was similarly blackened but seemed to have escaped any damage, the vox unit contained within was protected by the adamantium teeth .



 “My apologies Captain, I was over confident. A mistake I will not make again.” Sonedar rumbled, his gravelly voice poorly replicated by the vox unit.

 Azor nodded in silence, continuing to fill the empty magazines knowing that he needed not say anything. Balethor brought the last of the spare ammunition from the Stormraven and knelt beside them where he lay Decians boltgun gently on the ground between them. Sonedar opened the pouches on his belt and removed a small white tube, twisting the cap off and applying the resealing agent to the damaged panels in his armour. The thick green paste squeezed from the tube and he applied it to the holes and blast damage he had sustained during the battle, smearing it into the gouges and chips after sealing the punctures he had sustained.

 Vorrus and Kevaz joined them after Kevaz had reset the broken bone, Vorrus refixing the damaged vembrace to his suit and locking it in place. The work of refilling the magazines finished quickly and they divied up the ammunition, handing extra grenades and a spare bolt pistol Balethor had recovered from the cockpit to Sonedar.



 “We need to get to a higher elevation, above the tree line. We can assertain where exactly we are and proceed to rejoin the battle. I estimate we have less than eighteen hours before sundown.”  Taking one last look at the downed Stormraven, Azor turned his back on the majestic craft before disappearing into the undergrowth.




 They had been climbing for almost two hours, the interior of their armour hot with exertion but their muscles fresh and ready. Azors mind wandered ahead, how was the battle faring with the green menace? What could the Orks be doing to cause the ominous, roiling cloud that swirled above them blocking the light of the twin suns from all faces of the mountain?  The twin peaks of the Crown lay far above them, surrounded by the broken, jagged tips of the lower mountains that surrounded the remains of a volcano that had once been mighty enough to destroy all life on Eraxus with a petulant cough.



 Answers eluded him as they continued, the steep rock face providing little purchase until they kicked footholes with the tips of ceramite plated boots. A slip of his gauntlet caused a large slab of the rock face to shear off and cascade down, dragging stones and rocks along with it as it gathered speed. Further down, Kevaz ducked as some of the pieces struck his armour, dull rings sounding as larger stones bounced off his pauldrons and helmet.


 No words had passed between them since they had begun the climb, only Vorrus hummed one of the songs created by the chapter scribes on Tundera. The song told the tale of Harrox Orkslayer, who had taken the head of freeboota Kaptin Git-Mangla and then proceeded to take the heads of more than three hundred space faring greenskins aboard the Kaptins KillKroozer Gorks Fist. The artificers took great pleasure educating the young neophites in the legends and stories of the chapters heroes during the early stages of their training, the time between implant surgeries and training often spent in the Hall of Heroes.



 They could, if they listened carefully hear the battle raging so far away, the sounds of explosions echoing and the huge landing craft of the Astra Militarum rocketing in over head providing reinforcements. The imperial forces in the void above would no doubt be clammering to replace the loss of himself and his squad, being captain had put him in overall command of the war on Eraxus and while the minds of the Militarum commanders should be more than sufficient to control and direct the war, Azor knew there would be unrest from the ranking Astartes as to who should be in command, and it was only a matter of time before this caused serious problems. They continued the climb, hand over gauntleted hand, until they reached a small cave, no more than a handful of meters deep due to a pile of tightly packed rocks at the rear of the cave, and low enough to scrape their armour if they didnt crouch. Waving a hand for them to stop climbing, Azor pulled himself over the lip at the mouth of the cave before turning to help his squad mates off the sheer rock wall.


 “Thirty minutes rest.” He said, after they had all reached the safety of the cave. “We still have a way to go before we even reach the crown, and I would like to be there before nightfall.” Almost in unison, they looked out at the magnificent vista before them. The twin sunset before them was truly awe inspiring, burning oranges and reds stained the sky as the flaming orbs of light lowered themselves towards the horizon. Atmospheric disturbances from the landing craft, and the unusual storm cloud gathering above them, had left the sky twisted and bruised above them, purples and blues washed out the warmth of the sunset and replaced it with the cold, instinctual fear of night. Space Marines know no fear, but that didnt stop the cold touch of apprehension from settling at the pit of his stomach.



 As they watched the first of the two suns dipped below the horizon, its twin hanging in space just above the distant curve. Azor estimated they had maybe another two hours before the second star dissapeared around to the other side of the planet and they would all be plunged into the darkness of night. Vorrus was fidgeting with his immobilized arm, Sonedar had taken a seat against the wall of the cave and appeared to be sleeping. Balethor and Kevaz had taken a seat at the cave mouth, each checking his equipment. Kevaz was cleaning the dried blood and gore from his Narthecium, the vials on his waist sloshing slightly with each movement and the small bloody organs contained within could be seen. Balethor has unmounted the banner poler from where he had locked it to his armour and was checking the material for dirt and damage. Dust encrusted the image emblazoned across the standard, caked in from climb and battle in the forest against the Orks. He shook it vigoroulsy, attempting to loosen the accumlated dirt but when he looked, nothing seemed to have changed. 



 Observing them, Azor waited in silence while they rested, the second sun creeping inexorably towards the ground until Kevaz gave him a nod, indicating their thirty minutes of rest was up. Without a word, the squad stood and prepared to resume the climb. Sonedar remained seated, immobile in his power armour until Azor shook his shoulder to waken him. Startled by the rousing from his sleep, Sonedar reached for his weapons for a split second before his mind caught up with his body and he restrained the movement.



 “Thank you for waking me Captain,” Sonedar intoned through his emotionless vox-coder as he stood.  Azor and Kevaz shared a look as Sonedar gathered his equipment, Azor worried that the damage inflicted by the grenade had wrought more damage to Sonedar than previously thought, but Kevaz was relaxed as his data display focused on Sonedar and showed no unusual readings.  



 They gathered at the cave mouth again, ready to resume the climb when the fine hairs at the back of Azors neck rose like the hackles of an animal and he froze, searching for the source of the danger he felt.  The others picked up on his sudden increase in tension and the sounds of safeties being deactivated and bolts readied filled the small space for a second before silence once again reigned supreme. Azor lowered his stance to a crouch, knees bent and elbows held away from the body as he made his way towards the rock wall at the back of the cave. As he approached, he felt a whisper cross his face, no more than the breath of a sleeping lover in the night, and he punched his arm forward as hard as he could, plunging his gauntleted fist elbow deep into the stones and rocks. With a crash, the rock wall collapsed in on itself revealing the pitch dark tunnel beyond, light spilling in to reveal clouds of dust and the rotten, mangled remains of an Ork that had clearly been here for many months.  Pulling away the rest of the rocks, Azor revealed a large tunnel extending into the body of the mountain lit for a handful of meters before darkness over took again and they could see no more. Shrapnel scars and burn marks decorated the walls alongside black stains, presumably Ork blood.



 “A grenade detonated here, sealing the passage.” He turned, looking up at his squad from the crouched position he was in. “Take a look in with your helmets on, tell me what you can see.” He moved aside as Balethor stepped forward, his helmet glowing red at the eyes as he approached the entrance. The auto-senses in his helmet detected severely lowered light levels and the tiny cogitator in his suit changed his heads up display to night sight mode, the eye slits of his helmet seemingly glowing.



 “Captain, the tunnel proceeds for approximately thirty meters before it veers off to the left.” He reported, his head not wavering from looking down the passage. “Never a C.A.T Unit around when you need one.”


 Azor nodded, hearing Balethor’s report had forced him to question wether climbing the mountain would be a better option than taking the new tunnel. Of course he would be blind but for Kevaz’s backpack mounted spotlight, his missing helmet denying him access to the enhanced sight and hearing of the rest of the squad. Looking at the squad, he noted that they would be at a great disadvantage in the tunnel, thier bulk making it impossible for them to react quickly, or even turn around without difficulty. A minute passed, Azor contemplating the options before turning to Balethor. 



 “Venture into the tunnel, see what you can find. Report back anything unusual.”

 Balethor nodded, readying his Storm Bolter. He moved, his great mass of blue power armour quickly dissapearing out of sight as he ventured into the shadows. Minutes passed, Azor and the rest of the squad waiting patiently for him to radio in or return.



 “...ir? Captain Azor... ... ou may want... ..this”

Azor’s ear piece crackled into life, his hand flew to the device, pressing it further into his ear trying to make sense of the garbled message.



  “Balethor, say again. Message unclear, say again.”


 “Captain... ...into the cave... ...nbeleivable. You need to see this sir.”


 “Return to us Balethor.  The rock is ruining the message.”


 “Not poss... ...raid sir, I seem to have caus...”


 “Ready yourselves. It seems Balethor has gotten himself stuck again.” Azor turned, looking pointedly at the rest of his squad as he took up Balethors banner, the standard folded reverently away, and took up the pole in his hand after locking Iusticia to his backpack. He nodded to Sonedar to take point, Kevaz to follow with Vorrus behind. Waiting for them to enter the tunnel, he covered the rear.




 They proceeded down the tunnel in silence, only the crunching of gravel under boots or the occasional scrape as someones armour rubbed against the rough walls of the tunnel could be heard. They had reached the turn balethor had been able to see from thier resting place and before long reached the cause of the the interference over the Vox link they shared. The floor of the passageway had given as Balethor had trodden on it, dropping him more then ten feet onto the floor of another passageway beneath them. Though they could not see him, the connection to his suit grew as they lowered themselves into the new corridor and attempted to contact him once more.


 “Balethor, this is Azor. We have reached the second tunnel so I want you to return to us.”


 “Aye Captain, returning to you now.”


 The tunnel they now found themselves in was much larger than the previous one, the rough carved walls more than twice the distance apart and the rough almost half again the height. It, like it’s predecessor, had rough hewn walls that had not been cut with machinery but hand held tools. It continued further than they could see in either direction, even the night vision of thier helmets unable to penetrate far enough to see if either tunnel terminated or turned. Balethor appeared near the limit of thier sight, coming from the direction he had been heading in the first tunnel before its collapse.


 “Sir, you should probably take a look at this. Kevaz, you should probably turn of your lamp. We wont be needing it.” He spoke over the vox, excitement evident in his voice even through the crackling of the link.  


 Azor nodded to Kevaz, his lamp dimmed almost immediately and the corridor went completely dark, only the slight glow of his squads eye lenses for him to see by. The moved up the corridor towards Balethor in silence, footsteps and the crunching of stones and small rubble the only noise until they rounded the corner Balethor had appeared from behind and they could immediately see an orange glow illuminating the far end of the passageway. A black palm was raised up by Balethor, signalling them to stop and he inched his way towards the entryway and signalled Azor to join him. He edged away from the hole in the wall and Azor tilted his head around the corner.


 The cavern before Azor was enormous, lava pools big enough to drop a land raider in were bubbling gently at various places on the cavern floor while hundreds of servitors and menials moved around shifting auto loaders and carts full of ores and rocks around the encampment. A small shanty town of buildings had been erected along one face of the cavern, Flak board and corrugated Plas-steel sheets made up the majority of the buildings that seemed to each lean on its surrounding buildings for support to keep from collapsing under its own weight. Servitors and augmented serfs milled back and forth, shifting carts full of materials to another space through a hole in the far end wall of the cavern where they couldn’t see, and Azor looked to his brother.



“What is your evaluation Balethor? What is going on here?” He querried, face pensive as he tried to calculate if they would be able to slip through un-noticed.


“It’s Mechanicus sir, I can see the Opus Mechanicum through the filth encrusted on the sides of those lifters.” Following Balethor’s pointed finger, he could indeed make out the symbol emblazoned along the side of one of the loaded vehicles as it made its way back along the procession through the hole at the far end of the cavern. Azor looked back towards the others and waved a hand, fingers bent in the cypher pattern his chapter used and they moved up the tunnel to join him and Balthor at the tunnel mouth.


 “We’re going through, the Adepts here may know of secret ways through the mountain.” He spoke quickly, checking his magazine before mag-locking Poena to his thigh. “They are not to be harmed, and we must assume they will have some kind of defense protocols in place so be on guard.” 


He turned and leapt down from the tunnel entrance to a raised walkway carved straight from the side of the cavern roughly ten feet below, and quickly moved aside to allow his brothers room to do the same. 

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