'We will not be alone,' Sergeant Bastilan said. 'The Guard is with us. And militia forces.'

'Humans,' Priamus sneered.

'The Legio Invigilata has landed to the east of the city,' Bastilan said to the swordsman. 'Titans, my brother. I don't see you sneering at that.'

Priamus didn't answer. But nor did he agree.

'What is that?'

The knights leaned forward at their leader's words. Grimaldus gestured down at a vast stretch of rockcreted roadway, wide enough to accommodate the landing of a bulk cruiser or a wallowing Imperial Guard troop carrier.

'A highway, sir,' the pilot said. He checked his instruments. 'Hel's Highway.'

Grimaldus was silent for several moments, just watching the colossal road and the thousands upon thousands of conveyances making their way along it in

'This roadway splits the city like a spine. I see hundreds of capillary roads and byways leading from it.'

'So?' Priamus asked, his tone indicating just how little he cared about the answer.

'So,' Grimaldus turned back to the squad, 'whoever holds Hel's Highway holds the beating heart of the city in their hands. They will have unprecedented, unstoppable ability to manoeuvre troops and armour. Even Titans will move faster, at perhaps twice the speed than if they had to stalk through hive towers and city blocks.'

Nerovar shook his head. He was the only one without his helm covering his features. Insofar as it was possible for an Astartes to look uncertain, he was doing so now.

'Reclusiarch.' He spoke Grimaldus's new title with hesitancy. 'How can we defend… all
An endless road that leads into to a thousand others.'

blade and bolter,' said Bastilan. 'With faith and fire.'

Grimaldus recognised his own words spoken from the sergeant's mouth. He looked down in silence at the city below, at the insane stretch of road that left the entire hive open, accessible.



Hive Helsreach

The Thunderhawks touched
down on a landing pad that was clearly designed for freight use. Cranes moved and servitors droned out of their way as the gunships came down in a hovering shower of engine wash and heat shimmer.

Ramps clanged onto the landing pad's surface and the four gunships disgorged their living cargo - one hundred knights in orderly ranks, marching into formation before their Thunderhawks.

Watching this display, and desperately trying not to show how impressed he felt, was Colonel Sarren of the Armageddon 101st Steel Legion. He stood with his hands clasped together, fingers interlaced, over his not inconsiderable stomach. Flanking him were a dozen men, some soldiers, some civilians, and all nervous - to varying degrees - about the hundred giants in black armour forming up before them.

He cleared his throat, checked the buttons on his ochre greatcoat were fastened in correct order, and marched to the giants.

One of the giants, wearing a helm shaped into a grinning skull mask of shining silver and steel, stepped forward to meet the colonel. With him came five other knights, each carrying swords and massive bolters, but for one who bore a towering standard. Upon the banner, which waved lazily in the dull breeze, a scene of red and black depicted the skull-helmed knight bathed in the golden purity of a flaming aquila overhead.

am Grimaldus,' the first knight said, his gem-like eye lenses staring down at the portly colonel. 'Reclusiarch of the Helsreach Crusade.'

The colonel drew breath to make his own greeting, when the hundred knights in formation cried out a chant in skin-crawling unity.

Imperator Vult!'

Sarren glanced at the ranks of knights, formed up in five ranks of twenty warriors. None of them seemed to have moved, despite their cry in High Gothic:
The Emperor wills it.

am Colonel Sarren of the 101st Steel Legion, and overall commander of the Imperial Guard forces defending the hive.' He offered a hand to the towering knight, and turned the gesture quite smartly into a salute when it became clear the knight was not going to shake hands.

Muted clicks could be heard every few seconds from the helms of the knights standing closest to him. Sarren knew full well they were speaking with each other over a shared vox-channel. He didn't like it, not at all.

'Who are these others?' the first knight asked. With a war maul of brutal size and weight, he gestured to Sarren's staff arrayed in a loose crescent behind the colonel. 'I would meet every commander of this hive, if they are present.'

'They are present, sir,' Sarren said. 'Allow me to make introductions.'

'Reclusiarch,' Grimaldus growled. 'Not 'sir'.'

'As you wish, Reclusiarch. This is Cyria Tyro, adjutant quintus to General Kurov.' Grimaldus looked down at the slender, dark-haired female. She made no effort to salute. Instead, she spoke.

I am to act as liaison between off-planet forces - such as yours, Reclusiarch, and the Titan Legion - and the soldiers of Hive Helsreach. Simply summon me if you require my aid,' she finished.

I will,' Grimaldus said, knowing he would not.

'This is Commissar Falkov, of my command staff,' Colonel Sarren resumed.

The officer named clicked his heels together and made an immaculate sign of the aquila over his chest. The commissar's dark uniform singled him out with absolute clarity among the ochre- wearing Steel Legion officers.

'This is Major Mordechai Ryken, second officer of the 101st and XO of the city defence.'

Ryken made the aquila himself, and offered a cautious nod of greeting.

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