CHAPTER XIII: Beravon

21M.998

Bloodsworn, Zahoriana-class Battleship

Aulus

He – like over three-hundred brothers – had assembled on the observation deck to behold the fleets of their cousins. He saw a mass of starships, many hundreds of them. From the smallest corvettes to the largest battleships. As the glorious Scarred Angel approached the two legionary fleets Ulvus pointed to three ships whom he did not recognize. Neither did Aulus. They were nearly as large as a Zahoriana Battleship, but they were almost twice as large as a Citadel War Barge. He thought they must be a new class of battleships. In fact, they were even larger than the Basilisk-class Battleships that were visible in the fleet.

"It feels like an eternity since I saw this many Citadel War Barges together," Ulvus said.

"Yes," Aulus said in awe of what they saw before them. Legions only joined forces to face the greatest of threats.

"It was bound to happen sooner or later, wasn't it?"

"Is it the rumours you're referring to?" Aulus inquired.

"It is. I mean it's an inevitable fact that we are going to war with the Second would-be-Galactic Republic. It's one of the galaxy's great powers so we have to conquer them eventually. It'll probably take the might of most – if not all – legions when that day comes."

The rumours of war with the Galactic Republic had been around for decades before Aulus and his dear brother Ulvus joined the Blood Marines twenty-three years back. He found it interesting that the empress slowing the expansion down bit by bit throughout this tenth century had led Secunatus Marines to discuss potential the end goal. He would never claim to be an expert of logistics but it made sense to slow the expansions to increase the legions' size and prepare the Imperium's military industries to focus their materiel on a single front.

"Whenever that day comes our focus is on the here and now," Aulus said.

"Right you are brother," Ulvus agreed cheerfully. "I can't wait to smash Urk skulls. You know what's even more impressive than fighting with our cousins?" He gestured in the direction of the fleet that awaited them.

"Yes. Going to war with the entire legion."

Ulvus beamed at him. "One-hundred-thirty-eight-thousand Blood Marines, Aulus. Our glorious Archon brought our full fighting might to battle this day. We'll crush those Urks. Especially if they brought most of their entire strength too."

Aulus smiled back. There was no possibility where the Urk warlord came out victorious. Or even alive for that matter. With the Blood Marines, Onyx Crusaders, and Imperial Hands combining their strength. He could barely wait.

"Ah, Aulus, Ulvus," Æinwald exclaimed as he entered the observation deck and approached them in the mass of their brothers – most either newly made Hastati if even that. He came up behind them and put a hand on their shoulders. He wore blood-red fatigues and a lime-green robe over them. It was the same as everyone gathered. A brooch was attached to Æinwald's left breast, though, something neither Aulus nor his brother-cousin had. The brooch was a metal piece that depicted a bronze banner. A similar bronze piece was attached to his power armour to show that he was a Standard Bearer. He was honoured as one of the legionnaires that carried the legion's banner into battle. A truly noble and honourable task – especially since all he could use in battle was a handgun. Granted, a bolt-pistol but all the same. "I heard from Lieutenant Green-Eye who heard from an Astropsycher in Sixth Company who heard from a technician that we're the first in."

"Our Legion?" Aulus inquired for verification.

"Aye," Æinwald confirmed excitedly. Then he raised his voice to address everyone present. "You hear that boys? We're dropping in first!"

They all cheered and many raised a fist into the air. As they did so Aulus pondered their foe. He had heard old veterans, Optioclavii with over nine centuries of service, talk about their frustration fighting Urks. One of these days he thought that surely even the Urks must suffer a blow so hard that they could be considered bested. Empress only knew how many warlord's petty empires had fallen before the Imperium. Hundreds? No, it must have had to be closer to thousands.

"Legionnaire Aulus respond," he heard his Centurion's voice over the comlink.

"Yes, sir. I copy," Aulus replied.

"What's your location legionnaire?"

"Observation deck." Why did Centurion Lucky ask about that? He wondered.

"Armour up and maker your way to the main hangar bay stat."

Aulus frowned. "Only me, sir?"

"Son, did I stutter?" Lucky asked in her hard voice.

"Oh, sorry, sir. Heading to the hangar."

"Lucky out."

Ulvus arched an eyebrow and Aulus shrugged. Without knowing what it was about he made his way to the elevator and down several decks and walked at a rapid pace through the corridors, passing Rexionis brothers, mortal crewmen, and armour-attendants. He saw an argument between two First Cohort marshals that appeared close to come to blows outside the armoury. At his section one of his armour-attendants handed him his bolt-pistol and long-barrelled boltgun. It was the Aesajinj Boltgun model, equipped with a long-barrel, improved accuracy over longer distances, and less likely to jam. It had the standard chainsword bayonet under the barrel. The armour-attendant then kowtowed as Aulus. The hangar bay abounded with activity, gunships, and dropships being prepared for the assault on the Urruk stronghold. He saw the gunship of Aholi standing prepared with their father and his Spirit Guard looked ready to embark. He looked for Lucky but didn't see him anywhere. Then a sergeant of the Spirit Guard waved him over. Aulus put his helmet on and jogged over.

With his helmet on his, HUD read his armoured brother's name as Eardwulf. Aulus was in the presence of a legend, a hero of the legion. Not only was he the only augmented Rexionis in the Spirit Guard Company and also Mia Prosper-born, though the latter was a minor thing since almost all augmented brothers in the Blood Marines came from Mia Prosper – at least those augmented after the planet became their Blood World – but he was as close to a walking legend that a legionnaire that hadn't yet reached the honorific of Hastati could possible come.

"Sergeant Eardwulf," he said as he approached the legion veteran. He kept his voice as steady as he could to remain professional and clear-headed.

Eardwulf's blood-red helmet had several old scars and like a Rexionis worth his bolter he had kept them as badges of honour. Three scars and Aulus knew from the stories told in on-board barracks, mess hall, and training yards where he had received them. The scar that went from top right straight down from the eldest. It was the one he'd received when his squad defended his birth village of Gründ from a great beast from below. It was then he was first called the Gründhammer. The second scars that crossed from the upper left and bottom right came from an Urk in a mech suit on a nameless gas mining habitat. The third scars stretched across his helmet like the second and he had received it in a duel with a demonic beast even twice the size of an Archon.

"Reporting as ordered, sergeant," said Aulus.

"At ease brother," Eardwulf told him. Aulus saw the two-handed warhammer attached to his back. "Aholi has decided that you'll join us to the Hand of Might."

"I…I will? I mean yes, yes sir," he stuttered and tried to pull himself together.

"Yes kid, you," Eardwulf confirmed amused. "The Archon's seen something in you. Don't disappoint."

He turned on his heels and the Spirit Guards began to file into the gunship after a declaration from Aholi that it was time to depart. Aulus realized after a moment that he held his breath and then realized it. His father's head turned and looked down on him. The Archangel of Mia Prosper half-turned in his power armour. His braided raven hair flowed on the sides of the fair face. He reached out a hand for him to step forward.

"My dear brother doesn't enjoy being kept waiting, Aulus."

Aulus quickly walked to the gunship and up the ramp. "I'm sorry, my lord."

Aholi smiled in light amusement.

He stepped into the gunship and joined with the greatest warriors of the Blood Marines Legion.

"Hmm, you've never fought with any of your cousins, have you?" Aholi said as the ramp was raised.

"I, no my lord. Never met one. O-on or off the-the field." He mentally kicked himself for stuttering like a fool.

He chuckled and placed an armoured hand on his shoulder. "This is to be quite the experience then."

Aulus was nervous through the minutes it took to cross the distance between the Bloodsworn and the hangar of the Hand of Might. The deck was packed with mechanics preparing aerospace fighters, dropships, and gunships, and Imperial Hands were present by the hundreds in full dark fiery-orange armour. He saw by the metal chevrons on their right pauldron that they were captains, marshals, and senior marshals, all overseeing preparations for the massive planetary assault that was soon to take place. It made him feel exhilarated. Never in his decades of service had he partaken in a joint-campaign between three of the empress's legions.

Then he saw them, the Archons. Majestic in their power armour. Aholi's brother Ibeji and sister Ceres approached him and Aholi embraced them.

"It has been too long since our legions spilled Urk blood together," he said delightfully.

"It has that brother," Ceres agreed. "Come then. Let us sit down and discuss draw up a plan to crush the Urruks in their stronghold."

"Just like the early days of the Imperium," Ibeji reminisced. "When mother commanded all the legions to war. Well her truest children."

"Acheron, Resheph, and Andraste don't deserve that tone," Aholi reprimanded his brother. They cannot be blamed for not participating in an event that happened before they were even born in the palace's laboratories. Mother didn't need three other archons then, but a century ago she did. I have the same love for them as I do for you."

"I apologize, Aholi. You are right of course."

The honour guard remained in the hangar as the archons made their plans. A meeting he definitely wished to be a fly on the wall in. Aulus imagined that for three legions to be marshalled for a single world showed what kind of threat the Urruks below represented to the Fringe Territories. No matter, he decided. They would crush the vermin either way. Nothing could stand against the might of a full legion, less so three. He supposed another legion could, but such an action was unthinkable, impossible.

For half an hour they waited before their master returned. As the gunship prepared to take off Aholi send word ahead. He ordered the entirety of his legion to prepare for an immediate assault by drop pod and landing craft. Aulus was unused to witness an operation on even that scale, so he knew that this would be glorious.

"The honour of heading in first is ours," Aholi told them.

"As it should be," Eardwulf remarked proudly.

"Aye!" Several of the honour guards agreed.

A legion needed only moments to prepare its full complement for planetary assault. Back aboard the Bloodsworn tens of thousands of drop pods were soon ready, and one of them was his way planetside. It was a great honour to be in the first wave. After all, it would take time for the dropships and gunships to reach the stronghold on the surface.

"I just can't believe that Aholi wanted you for that little trip," Ulvus complained as they entered their pods. "I mean what could he possibly see in you?"

"Thanks, I appreciate your support," Aulus chuckled.

Ulvus laughed as his pod closed. "Maybe he took pity on you. Thought surely one of my Rexionis can't be that terrible."

"One minute until drop," an Oannonian officer announced over the ship's intercom.

Aulus took a deep breath as he closed his pod. Twenty-three years had passed since he and Ulvus was going into the tunnels beneath the fortress on Mia Prosper, that day when Master Captain Lugius Saar Ezt anointed them with the empress's holy light and declared them legionnaires, and brothers. This would be the first time they partook in a mission with the entire legion. It hadn't been necessary for them to send the whole legion into battle together for decades.

Then the moment came and drop pods were launched from the Bloodsworn and the dozens of Citadel War Barge and War Cruisers in the Blood Marines Legionary Fleet. They were fired at the planet at an incredible velocity, tens of thousands. Aholi, who was in a drop pod of his own, gave them a few words of trust and spoke of how certain he was that they would win the day. Though they mustn't become overconfident. He said, "You are Blood Marines. Not Minotaur's Sons." Aulus snorted in amusement under his helmet. "The empress will remember your sacrifices. If the Imperium lasts for eternity they will never forget the bravery of the Blood Marines."

The pods descended so quickly that anti-air guns would find it near impossible to gain a target lock, though that was also thanks to the technology involved in their creation a thousand years ago. Of course, that didn't matter with Urruks. Their targeting systems were outdated. Mayhaps their anti-air guns fired more rounds per minute than their Imperial counterpart but it mattered little without the aim to make use of those shots. He would never cease to be amazed by how Urruks could turn a pile of scrapmetal into something actually useful.

On the pod's small screen he saw that he was passing through the clouds and the ground was quickly becoming visible beneath. Soon the moment would come. Urruk defences soon became visible as well and he saw great and powerful gun towers first, powerful walls, then bunkers and trenches. Then the impact came. The hatch was automatically shot off and fell to the dry grassy ground. Aulus stepped out with his boltgun ready. All around him drop pods had landed. There were Urks aplenty about them and so Aulus only needed to raise his bolter and squeeze the trigger. His first bolt was aimed for a Warcommander and his bolt tore through the chestplate and entered his chest, exploding inside and throwing pieces of green flesh around him and bathed anyone in range in blood. It was only on his fourth kill that the Urks finally reacted to what must have been an unexpected entrance. His seventh kill was an Urk that rushed him with a scrapmetal axe and a bolt-pistol. His first shot had torn his right arm off but didn't drop him. He seemed angrier afterward. The second shot pierced his skull and removed it in a hail of flesh, bone, and blood. He stepped back a few steps and used his pod for cover when an Urk bunker let loose with their heavy boltgun. It was silenced by a brother of his. He quickly joined up with the nearby Blood Marines and they mowed down any Urk in range of their powerful guns. He then saw Æinwald and Ulvus. Æinwald fired his bolt-pistol and held the standard high. With them and eight others were the senior marshal of the First Phalanx, their commander. Lucky, they called him. Aulus had heard many rumours as to why he had taken that name for himself. He never knew what was true, however.

A brother fell beside Aulus and he quickly put down the shooter. Drop pods still rained from the sky and he estimated a few minutes before dropships and gunships arrived, as would transports that would carry ground vehicles. Columns of Rexionis tanks were a beautiful sight on any battlefield.

"We gotta take that bunker," Corporal Ryder decided. He was the highest-ranked man in the group.

"Copy," Aulus affirmed as he took out the Urk in the entrance.

It laid only thirty-meters from them with a half-dug trench separating them. They jogged towards it and fired at foes in every direction. Another man fell, dead before he hit the ground from a bolt round. Aulus was the first to the bunker and rushed inside and fired three rounds, each killing an Urk. There was a fourth but he was on him so fast that he could only raise his chainsaw bayonet to block the axe blow. The Urk gave a war cry. Aulus took a step back to avoid the next two swings. With each, the Urk closed the distance again, but in the next moment, Aulus proved faster and drove the spinning chainsaw bayonet into his chest and tore through metal and then flesh. The Urk's war cry turned into an agonizing death scream.

"Clear," Aulus said over the external speakers.

As he came out from the small half.-buried bunker he caught sight of the marshal of the Phalanx's Secunaris Chapter. Ærdolf's right pauldron had seen chunks torn off by a bolt and the arm hung, barely attached to the Rexionis. It hadn't slowed the veteran down for a moment, however, and he swung his chainsword and cut apart foe after foe as he stood in a circle of fallen brothers and slain Urks.

The chaotic battlefield was turning into two neat lines, one of Urks and one of Blood Marines pressing against it. Gunships flew over the bloodied field of corpses and mowed down foes. He saw one hit by rockets fired from the surface and it crashed into a bunker, breaking it and the ground around it. Three of his brothers leaped out of his, armour damaged but functional. They joined the advancing line of over one-hundred-thousand as dropships landed behind them with the last Phalanxes. Praetorian Tanks and Cataphracts Troop Carriers raced forward, hoverbikes covering their flanks. Aulus put down a powerful Charruk, larger and bulkier than the normal Urks, and it was the next moment when he saw the Archon. Arrayed in full power armour, wielding a bolt-pistol and a chainsword. He moved elegantly, so swiftly that the Urks barely had time to react before he slew them. He was surrounded by the Spirit Guard and as Aulus jumped into a trench he saw Captain Goutahur, captain and lord of the honour guard.

Aulus had joined dozens of brothers in the same trench that unleashed a flurry of bolts against the enemy. He reloaded and continued to fire.

"The only thing we're missing is walkers, eh," he heard a brother remark with a laugh.

That would be nice, he thought. A giant Magnaeques type walker would do fantastically. A giant fifty-metre Godsbane-class specifically, a true machine god of war. He thanked the empress that he had yet to see an Urk walker of the same type. The Grizzled Ravager-class could annihilate entire companies of Rexionis in a single moment with its guns.

He heard Senior Marshal Lucky's voice then. "Come on! We still have ten kilometres before we reach the stronghold proper."

Aulus and the others leaped out of the trench and advanced. He saw Ulvus nearby, but not Æinwald. His banner was nowhere to be seen. Had he fallen? He couldn't consider that at the moment. He'd find his body afterward for transport back to the Bloodsworn if that was the case.

He then heard Aholi's voice over the legion comms channel. "My sons," he addressed them. Aulus looked over to where he was fighting. He had engaged a giant Charruk, a warboss he thought, and it looked a surprisingly even fight. "I have spoken to my brother. We've cleared enough ground for their forces to join us."

Aulus advanced as he saw the warboss and Aholi danced the dance of battle. It lasted for no longer than two minutes, however, for then Aholi took its fat head off. None had expected anything else. What creature could kill an Archon? The children of the empress were demigods, above all but the empress herself. Aulus felt like they were unstoppable, invincible when their father was with them. When he led them victory could be the only path.

"I see you're still alive then brother," Ulvus said.

His brother – formerly cousin – had come up close to him.

"I am happy to see you to Ulvus," Aulus remarked.

Ulvus laughed. "I'm sure I'll kill twice as many as you."

Aulus was planning to say that he doubted that, but before he could there was a noise. A thundering explosion. They spun around.

"What by the lord?" Ulvus exclaimed. "Are they behind us?"

There was another explosion, an eruption of fire that threw earth into the air. Then there was another, then ten. Each obliterated countless brothers and it took a good moment before he understood what had happened. It increased as could be seen striking the entire field.

"Get to cover!" Lucky yelled.

Bombardment. It was a planetary bombardment. And it was right atop of them. Every second thousands died. It tore the earthworks and cement bunkers apart. There was nowhere to hide. It crept onward and ravaged every inch of the bloodied ground. Aulus and Ulvus attempted to run but with a nearby impact, it threw them. Aulus's body was broken when he landed, his power armour a skeletal frame. He couldn't move and every muscle hurt beyond anything he'd felt before. He heard screaming and explosions. Blood filled his throat. He tried to understand what had happened, but his mind failed him and his vision blackened. Was this the end of the Twentieth? He managed a prayer for the empress to preserve Ulvus. He must live, they couldn't both die on Beravon.