The incoming Shuriken fire thucked and sliced into the collapsed wraithbone ballustrade, whizzing from catapults of the running Aspect Warriors on the other side of the plaza. Crouched low with his bolter against his chest and his back to cover, Brother Renius slammed a fresh clip into his weapon.
Feeling rather than hearing a momentarily lull in the impacts of the enemy fire against the wraithbone barricade; Renius turned, rose and fired three rounds before crouching out of sight again. He could see the rest of Squad Sulicus firing from their own snippets of protective wraithbone ruins. From his brief firing spree, Renius could see that it was Dire Avengers that had arrived to bolster the outmatched Guardians in the plaza; he’d fought their kind before, with their red plumes and sinister tall white helmets.
Each one of his rounds had found their mark, the armour the Avengers wore saving two of them despite being punched off their feet from the kinetic force of the bolter rounds. The third projeticle however had turned an eldar warrior’s helmet and head into an explosion of bloody armoured mulch, which froze quickly in the hard vacuum the plaza was exposed to. The once elegant plaza, with its arching wraithbone ballustrades & statues of unknown Eldar champions & leaders was desecrated, under the shattered crystaline dome that had once protected it from the exposure of the void and had now been punctured several times by the iron rain of 4th Company’s drop pod assault. More Eldar reinforcements were arriving from two entrances at the far side of the plaza, and the weight of fire of the stinging metal discs was now intense. A squad brother’s vital signs flatlined on Renius’ heads-up display.
*All tactical units – prime objective is to take the entranceway to the plaza’s north-west,* came the clipped tones of 4th Company’s commander, Captain Anateus.
*As you command, Lord,* growled Renius’ sargeant, Sulicus. *The xenos have a sizeable firebase, casualties to be expected.*
*Acknowledged, Sulicus. Support is imminent. Now, my brothers – we shall cull these xenos filth in the name of the primarch!* bellowed Anateus into the vox.
Near 60 other tactical marines roared Rogal Dorn’s name into their vox in unison. Under Anateus’ command, Renius leapt his cover and charged; firing his bolter one handed, and reached for a frag grenade from his belt with the other. To his left and right, there was a rampaging line of emerald green battle brothers blasting away at the eldar lines. Despite the withering fire, the majority of the eldar were standing behind their meagre improvised barricade and unleashing all they had at the charging Astartes with remarkable accuracy. The Space Marines had roughly 70 metres to make accross open ground before they could engage the xeno in handtohand combat. Renius knew both instinctively and from countless hours training that the majority of Squad Sulicus could cover this distance in approximately 4.7 seconds. Renius almost stumbled as he was raked from upper torso to below his left knee in shuriken fire, sharp and intense pain flared briefly from his lower abdomen. It was quickly supressed by stimulants flooding his system from his Haemastamen Implant. Slightly in front of Renius to his right, Brother Justinian had his left arm torn off above the elbow, span round from the impact and fell. From his left two intense sunbursts flared brightly before his helmet autosenses compensated as Brother Velian unleashed his plasma gun into the eldar, turning two Guardians to ash. Other squads than Sulicus were taking casualites also, though still the Astartes rushed on. Three seconds and they would be there, though his armour senses pinged in his visor of further impacts & damage from the incoming fire.
A sudden further rain of crystalline debris falling from above caused Renius to look up as he charged, to see yet another Invaders drop pod slam down into the plaza, this time right amongst the massed eldar. The pod’s petals explosively flew apart as it impacted, and the awesome four metres high form Ancient Marcellian – one of a trio of 4th Company’s dreadnought warriors – lurched forward and unleashed withering hail from his hurricane bolter and nightmarish white promethium fire point blank into the alien ranks. Reeling from the brutal fire and immanence of the massive metal warrior, the weight of shuriken fire thucking into the onrushing tactical marines lessened as some of the eldar panicked, caught between the hammer of Marcellian and the anvil of the onrushing squads. One second out, and Renius flung his frag grenade, seeing it land amongst a mixed squad of Guardians and Avengers, disorientating them as him and his brothers leapt the pathetic improvised barricade.
All along the line, various eldar were crushed beneath the ceramite boots of the Astartes as they leapt the aliens’ cover. As he did so, Renius mag-locked his bolter to his thigh armour plate with one hand whilst the other whipped out his combat knife, which as he landed he rammed into the bird-like torso of a Dire Avenger warrior. The enemy struggled weakly, trying to bring its shuriken catapult to bear, but Renius punched the helmeted faceplate with his other hand, snaping the craven eldar’s neck with the impact. Throwing the corpse at a pair of Guardians that were about to scythe him down in shurikens, Renius turned to see Brother Raphelian borne to the ground by a pair of Avengers, whilst a third stepped over him and at point blank range discharged its shuriken catapult through Raphelian’s eye pieces and right into his skull. Snarling, Renius ran for them but Sulicus was already there, smashing the executioner aspect warrior to the deck with his power maul and swinging at the other pair, who leapt back out of the vengeful sargeant’s reach. All around him was a furious melee as the Invaders tore into the Eldar, even Justinian was there, fighting one handed with a long piece of wraithbone wielded like a club which he used to smash a pair of Guardians brains out. The eldar were trying to fall back in an orderly fashion to the exits of the plaza behind them, being no match for the Astartes up close. Their ranks were increasingly ragged though, as marines chased stragglers and executed them, and Ancient Marcellian was surrounded by blackened armoured corpses, the eldar having nothing to stop the brutal war machine. Renius could see off to his right a group of Guardians trying to flee but the flashing lightning claws of Captain Anateus scything through them as they ran.
*Bolters again, brothers. We should not let them go without farewell tidings,*came the Captain’s voice over the vox. *We hold this plaza to await our devastator units and remaining dreadnoughts before pushing onwards. Ancient, if you would make sure the xenos keep up the haste of their retreat, if it pleases you?* finished Anateus.
*It shall be done, Brother Anateus,* came the booming mechanical vox reply from the war machine.
Renius fell in with Velian and Sulicus, firing shots off with his bolter once again as the remainder of the squad made up the ground to their position. The eldar were still firing back at them, their coherency being held & ordered by a tall Dire Avenger carrying a shimmering sword who kept the retreat from being a complete rout, despite the chastening fire of the Astartes and the lumbering gait of Marcellian after them, who was harrassing the aliens with his hurricane bolter. Out of cover and still under fire, Justinian was trying to drag Raphelian’s corpse into a more sheltered location but with only one arm it was proving cumbersome.
*Renius, assist him,* ordered the grating tones of Sulicus.
*Aye, brother sargeant,* he replied.
Mag-locking his bolter once more, Renius ran out, immediately feeling a couple of shurickens thuck into his armour again.
*Go, brother!* he voxed to Justinian, whose green armour was liberally coated in embedded silver shurikens.
Not taking time to reply, Justinian ran off to crash into cover with the rest of Squad Sulicus, as Renius threw Raphelian’s armoured body over his shoulder and ran to join them, slamming down next to his brothers with the corpse.
*Apothecary!* voxed Sulicus on the company wide vox channel
Renius continued to fire over the barricade until the last of the eldar had retreated through a portal at the end of the plaza, which they then sealed. Ancient Marcellian was not far behind, but paused as the door closed and stood guard lest the aliens stage a counter-attack, though with the massing 4th company ranks and further arrivals of their heavy weapons troops this seemed unlikely.
Captain Anateus and his command squad arrived at Squad Sulicus’ postition, whilst Apothecary Xenian moved to inspect Justinian’s arm wound. In addition to Anateus’ squad of four veterans as well as Xenian, Chaplain Elysias & Techmarine Heron accompanied the captain.
Elysias stood out from his brothers, the void black warplate of the Chaplains marking him as a spiritual leader and the skull-likeness faceplate reinforcing his sinister appearance. In one hand he carried his crozius war maul, the signature weapon of the chaplians, and his left arm was encased in a massive power fist, each knuckle carved in the from of different alien’s skulls; kroot, ork, demiurg & tyranid amongst others. He had been Chaplain to 4th Company for sixteen years, and not once had Renius ever seen his face, for he never removed the skull-face helmet, not even upon the Persecutor, the 4th Company’s strike cruiser. Elysias carried no range weapon – most often on campaign he was designated to lead the charge of 4th company’s assault squads – his impassioned rhetoric and contagious hatred & courage adding fire to the fury of melee whilst the captain could focus on the disposition of the firepower of tactical and devastator units. It was rumoured that no brother of 4th company had ever come close to besting the Chaplain in a sparring cage, even the captain – Renius knew that nobody trained for melee combat more than Elysias, and his only one go at the chaplain himself had ended in embarassingly quick time with him on his back staring up at the glowering red eye pieces in that skull hemlet. In between the lightly sparking gauntleted fingers of his power fist, Renius could see the remains of what appeared to be a Warlock’s helmet, which the Chaplian unconciously proceded to crush again and again.
Techmarine Heron had also been assigned to 4th company for many years, in fact longer than the twenty-three years that Renius had been a full battle brother since he moved from Scout Company. Armoured in emerald like the rest of the Astartes present aside from the Chaplain, the Techamrine’s armour differed in the fact that it had been heavily modified – by Heron himself – in subtle ways, such as increased sensor stems on the helmet, armour plates that appeared to fit more streamlined than the Mark VII Aquila pattern power armour that the majority of the company wore. But the most telling differences marked Heron’s office and double allegiances just as the chaplain’s did – the right shoulder pauldron of Heron’s armour displayed the mark of the Invaders chapter, whilst the left had the cogwheel & metal skull symbology of the Adeptus Mechanicus, earned after his 25 years study in the manufactorums of ancient Mars, his helmet was also painted red instead of green and a mechanical servo arm reached over his shoulder from the attacments on his modified and strenghtened backpack. He carried a bolter in one hand that had a combi-grav weapon underslung, and in the other a piston-driven thunder hammer that he had crafted himself. Heron was not a popular warrior in 4th company – he rarely sought the camarederie of his brothers, and meticulously administered to the battle company’s weapons and machinery. He was known for his foul temper, particularly where he felt that certain warriors poorly maintained their armour & equipment, which won him few friends in the company. Renius had been recieved the techmarine’s choler directed at him more than once for laxity in wargear etiquite. He was however known as a methodical and relentless warrior – a regular sparring partner of the formidable Elysius – and regarded as one of the most gifted of the chapter’s arsenal’s wardens and was therefore grudingly respected. As the captain moved up to address 1st Squad, the techmarine moved past him to assist Brother Sethas with a problem with the squad’s missile launcher.
*Hail, sargeant,* voxed the captain. *How many casualties did 1st squad suffer?*
Captain Anateus had led 4th Company for the past 5 years after the previous incumbent had been killed in battle with the traitor Bastard Children of the Emperor. Anateus had not been a squad sergeant in 4th Company, and therefore inherited the mantle from a predecessor, he had been one of the 1st Company – the veteran hero’s of the chapter, lately being a sergeant of 46 years service in the sternguard squads, and previously decades of service as a line trooper in 2nd Company. The chapter master had appointed Anateus because of his cool head and proven record, and because 4th Company’s squad leaders were either too fresh, or unwilling to take the reins of company command. Sergeant Sulicus had been one of the latter.
*Captain,* replied Sulicus. Over his shoulder, Renius saw an exasperated Heron snatch the missile launcher from Brother Sathas. *Brother Arvo died before we charged, and Brother Raphelian was exectued by the xeno filth in the melee,* Sulicus added.
To Renius and the others, the sergeant’s rage was palpable in his body language & tone over the vox, despite everyone being completely encased in helms & armour due to the vacuum conditions. Raphelian had been the longest serving Astartes in 1st Squad, aside from Sulicus himself, and the sergeant’s equerry since before Renius had even been a Scout. Renius and the others knew that Raphelian and the sergeant had been friends for a long time.
*I tried to reach him, but I wasn’t fast enough,* continued Sulicus, clenching his gauntlet round his power maul. *Renius too, but the filth aliens finished him right in front of our faces.*
Captain Anateus’ lightning claws snicked back, retracting into his forearm armour, and he put a gauntleted hand on Sulicus’ pauldron.
*I grieve for your losses, brother. 1st Squad has suffered worse than the others. Raphelian was a fine warrior. Did you know he refused promotion to my command squad?* Anateus replied. Sulicus looked up to lock eyepiece gazes with his captain.
*I suspected you did not, when he refused he told me it was his life’s honour to be equerry to you – the greatest warrior in 4th Company he said,* continued Anateus, dropping his hand to his waist again, where it rested atop his combi-bolter stock.
Sulicus straightened slightly at the praise of his dead equerry, but still radiated rage.
*Embrace your feelings of loss, brother sergeant,* voxed Chaplain Elysias. *Hate the Eldar, and what they have taken from you and your brothers – we will avenge our glorious fallen. By tomorrow, this heathen space city shall be a burnt husk, and we will repay our losses a thousand fold upon the xenos. Some state that it is the greenskin, the hive fleets or the Undying Ones that are the greatest of our enemies, but the Eldar are the most cowardly and insidious of our foes. Remember how you feel in this moment the next time your power maul strikes the head of one of them, brother, and it shall add extra venom to the blow,* intoned the Chaplain.
*I shall, Chaplain,* Sulicus replied. *Fear not – I hate them more now than ever I did before,*.
The skull-faced helm of the Chaplain nodded in agreement, apparently satisfied with ensuring 1st Squad’s sargeant was full of righteous vengance.
Sulicus turned to address the captain once more, *Also, Captain – Brother Justinian is no longer fit for current duty due to the loss of his arm.*
Renius, Velian and the gathered officers turned their heads to where Apothecary Xenian was administering to Justinian’s arm, after gathering Raphelian’s gene seed to be re-used in the future.
*Brother Sergeant…* protested Justinian, *Brother Captain, I wish to fight on.. to avenge the loss of my brothers. And my damned arm!*
Xenian finished attending to Justinian, and stood to stand beside the captain. Justinian got up slower, but stood proudly after taking Raphelian’s bolter in his right hand – he had lost his with his left arm somewhere in the plaza.
*Apothecary?* voxed Anateus.
*The end of the stump is ragged due to the nature of the wound, and has become necrotic due to the void exposure,* reported the white-helmed Xenian. *However, I have cauterised it, and his genetic enhancements and armour can keep him stable until further reconstructive work is possible. He is not in immediate danger of dying on us, Captain,* he finished.
Chaplain Elysias stepped forward. *Did you kill any xenos after they took your arm, brother?* he addresed to Justinian.
*Yes, Brother Chaplain,* Justinian replied. *I took two with clubbing them to death, and stamped a third that Sathas had barged over.*
Again, the skull faced helmet nodded, as the Chaplain turned to face the captain once more. *There you go, Anateus. This warrior is fit for duty.*
*Very well,* agreed the Captain. To the sergeant – *He can stay, Sulicus.* Your men to provide close escort to the Ancients once we force that portal the Xenos retreated through.*
*As you wish, Lord,* replied the 1st Sergeant.
Renius watched Brother Justinian approach Elysias as Sulicus and Anateus moved off.
*Thank you, Brother Chaplian – for speaking up for me,* Justinian voxed. *I would have been frustrated to have been evac-ed due to this.. scratch,* the marine gestured at his cauterised left stump with Brother Raphelian’s bolter.
*Courage and vengance-driven hatred such as yours desevers to be at the kililng edge of battle, Brother Justinian,* intoned the Chaplain. *Brothers Velian and Renius – you also displayed great eagerness to kill the xenos,* Elysias continued, as the rictus skull grin turned from Justininian to Renius and the squad’s special weapon trooper. *I shall be watching you with keen interest. Be mindful of your brother sergeant’s humours – his grief is already deep.*
With that, the Chaplain looked down to his left palm as he opened the gauntlets of his power fist, seeming to see the crushed Warlock helm as if for the first time. He dropped it, crushed it under foot one last time for good measure and stalked off after the captain. Beyond the departing Chaplain, Renius watched Techmarine Heron getsiculating with one arm at Brother Sathas, whilst his other anatomical arm and servo limb worked upon the missile launcher. Satisfied with his work, the Techmarine tossed the weapon at Sathas without a backwards glance and followed the Chaplain. From Sathas’ posture and long glare at the retreating Techmarine, Renius could see that 1st Squad’s heavy weapons trooper was far from pleased by Heron’s insulting behaviour.