surface of his war plate inscribed with retellings of his deeds in miniscule Gothic runes, as well as trinkets, trophies and honour badges of red wax seals and papyrus strips. He clutched a two-handed sword, its blade longer than Kurov was tall, and drove its point into the ground. The knight's face was shaped by the wars he had fought - square-jawed, scarred, blunt-featured and expressionless.

The second Astartes, clad in plainer black war plate, wore a cloak of dark weave and scarlet lining. His sword in no way matched the grandeur of the first knight's relic, but the long blade of darkened iron was no less lethal for its simplicity. This knight's face lacked the expressionless ease of the first. He fought not to sneer as he drove his own sword tip into the ground.

And the last, the knight who still wore his helm, carried no blade. The rockcrete beneath their feet shivered slightly under the pounding of his war-mace thudding onto the ground. The mace's head, a stylised knightly cross atop Imperial eagle wings, flared in protest, lightning crackling as the metal kissed the ground.

The three knights knelt, heads lowered. All of this happened at once, in the space of no more than three seconds since Kurov last spoke.

'We are the Emperor's knights,' the giant in bronze and gold intoned. 'We are the warriors of the Eternal Crusade, and the sons of Rogal Dorn. I am Helbrecht, High Marshal of the Black Templars. With me is Bayard, Emperor's Champion, and Grimaldus, Reclusiarch.'

At their names, both knights nodded in turn.

Helbrecht continued, his voice a growled drawl. 'Aboard our vessels in orbit are Marshals Ricard and Amalrich. We come to offer you our blades, our service, and the lives of over nine hundred warriors in the defence of your world.'

Kurov stood in silence. Nine hundred Astartes… Entire star systems were conquered with a fraction of that. He had greeted a dozen Astartes commanders in recent weeks, but few had brought such significant strength with them.

'High Marshal,' the general said at last. 'There is a war council forming tonight. You and your warriors are welcome there.'

'It will be done,' the High Marshal said.

'I'm glad to hear it,' Kurov replied. 'Welcome to Armageddon.'


The Abandoned Crusade

Ryken was not

He'd been a lifelong believer in not shooting the messenger, but today that tradition was in danger of expiring. Behind him loomed an anti-air turret, blanketing them all in its shadow and shielding them from the dim glare of the morning sun. A squad of his men worked on this turret, as they had worked on countless others along the walls in the space of the last two months. It was almost operational. They weren't techs, by any means, but they knew the basic maintenance rites and calibration rituals.

'One minute to test fire,' Vantine said, her voice muffled by her rebreather mask.

And that was when the messenger showed up. It was also when Ryken stopped smiling, despite the fact the messenger was easy on the eyes, as over-starched, narrowed-eyed tactica types went.

'I want these orders rechecked,' he demanded - calmly, but a demand nevertheless.

'With all due respect, sir,' the messenger straightened her own ochre uniform, 'these orders come from the Old Man himself. He's reorganising the disposition of all our forces, and the Steel Legion are honoured to be first in that reappraisal.'

The words stole Ryken's desire to argue. So it was true, then. The Old Man was back.

'But Helsreach is half a continent away,' he tried. 'We've been working on the Hades wall-guns for months.'

'Thirty seconds to test fire,' Vantine called.

The messenger, whose name was Cyria Tyro, wasn't smiling either. In her position as adjutant quintus to General Kurov, grunts and plebeians were forever questioning the orders she relayed, as if she would ever dare alter a single word of the general's instructions. The other adjutants had no difficulties in this area, she was sure of it. For some unknown reason, these lowborn dregs just simply didn't take well to her. Perhaps they were jealous of her position? If so, then they were more foolish than she'd have given them credence for.

'I have long been entrusted with certain aspects of the general's plans,' Tyro lied, 'that frontliners such as yourself are only now being made aware of. I apologise if this is a surprise to you, major, but orders are orders. And these orders come with the highest mandate imaginable.'

'Are we not even going to defend the damn hive?'

At that moment, Vantine test-fired the turret. The floor beneath their feet shook as four cannon barrels blared their anger up at the empty sky. Ryken swore, though it was drowned out in the ear-ringing thunder of the gun's echo. Tyro also swore, though unlike Ryken's general lament, hers was aimed at Vantine and the gun crew.

The major was close to yelling over the ache in his ears. It was fading, but not fast.

'I said,
are we not even going to defend the damn hive?'

are not,' Tyro almost pouted, her mouth compressed in restrained irritation. '
are going to Helsreach with your regiment. Your transports leave tonight. All of the 101st Steel Legion is to be aboard and ready for transport by sunset in six point five hours.'

Ryken paused. Six and a half hours to get three thousand men and women into heavy lifter transports, gunships and land trains. It was the kind of bad news that made the major feel the need to be overwhelmingly honest.

'Colonel Sarren is going to be furious.'

'Colonel Sarren has dealt with this assignment with grace and solemn devotion to his duty, major. Your commanding officer still has much to teach you in that regard, I see.'

'Cute. Now tell me
it's us being sent all the way to Helsreach. I thought Insan and the 121st were kings of that shitpile.'

'Colonel Insan had a terminal failure of his augmetic heart infusers this morning. His second officer requested Sarren by name, and General Kurov agreed.'

'That old bastard's finally dead? That'll teach him to lay off the garage-brewed sauce. Ha! All those expensive augmetics he had done, and he keels over six months later. I like that. That's delicious.'

'Major! Some respect, if you please.'

Ryken frowned. 'I don't like you,' he told Tyro.

'How grievous,' the general's assistant replied, and there was no mistaking the dark, unamused scowl on her face. 'For you have been appointed a liaison to aid in dealings with the Astartes and the conscripted militia.' She looked as if she'd eaten something sour and it was still wriggling on her tongue. 'So… I will be coming with you.'

Вы читаете Helsreach
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату