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The Unknown Marine - Part 1/4 - The Birds of Sulphur


Author Information

My name is Spencer. I endeavor to be a decent philosophical sci-fi writer. I'm still working on many original stories, but I have a whole world of 40K stories to write as well. I don't really care about writing them for Games Workshop, so I'll post the series online wherever relevant! The first part to this world-of-stories is a short story, The Unknown Marine - this story. Part one of four details how the unknown marine has come to the barren world which will change his fate forever. It describes little of the plot or purpose - it only sets the scene with a spectacular display of carnage.

Please enjoy!

The Unknown Marine

Part One: The Birds of Sulphur

In 644.M41 the Birds of Sulphur fell upon Raikon IV with the deadliest of intent. Eighty battle-brothers clawed apart the polluted night sky; the green-blue afterglow of their drop-pods would have appeared to onlookers as some malicious gods attempt to rent the fabric of reality apart, to enter their world carrying utterances of death upon its cyclopean voice. The god of the Birds of Sulphur held no such power, but didn’t need it. He spoke his deadly will through their mouths and minds by way of a burning tradition ten thousand years old.

Eighty Space Marines, the last of their kind, recited the chapter chant together. Some chanted as silent prayers to ancestors while others shouted in violent ministration to the name of the Emperor and primarch. Some sang in deep baritone, others sharing in united tenor chorus. Some bellowed as a promise of pain and death, others growled or hissed with augmented rasps. A few more spoke to themselves, preparing their minds for a bright fate of which each was fully aware. Whatever the meaning held by each individual, in whatever manner they chose to recite the battle-chant, their words were the same: “The bringers of death shall be the Birds of Sulphur! The bringers of death shall be the Birds of Sulphur!”

Their hateful liturgy was amplified by each suits vox transponder and further transmitted by their star ship onto every frequency so all upon the dead world could hear, could know what fate awaited them. The intent was to let every living enemy life-form upon the target world fear their name. Then again, anything alive on Raikon IV had long ago forgotten how to fear anything. “The bringers of death shall be the Birds of Sulphur!” They vowed! “The bringers of death shall be the Birds of Sulphur! “ They swore!

Tonight, the Birds of Sulphur would burn bright and die hard.

Super-heated drop-pods touched ground, steam rising from the charred droplet-shaped bulks. Far-ranged heavy-bolter fire stitched their black-orange surfaces as soon as they landed. Their thick ceramite bulkheads insulated the inner hatchways against the heavy calibre fire so effectively that not even the sound of rapid detonations penetrated the hull. In moments, and only for moments, five-hundred metres of enemy occupied ground became the Emperor’s territory. Each drop pod was a veteran servant of the Chapter, the youngest of which had fallen upon the Emperor’s enemies for decades. Each had been upgraded with combat-cogitators and rotational firing systems. Smoke-grenades and explosive shells spat in calculated bursts, storm-bolters combi-rigs rotating from facing to new facing, from priority target to secondary target. They applied tactical logic, laying covering fire and smoke to protect the holy warriors each was tasked to ferry and fight for. Enemy fire withered only slightly in response.

The ceramite bulkheads pushed outward to form exit ramps, crashing into the ground thunderously. Explosive bolts challenged the enemy’s gun-chorus, hatchways shooting away violently, carried by pressure-jets into enemy lines. Varan Squad received an order via Command-Line: Eight o’clock at North. As the youngest marine, who would long-survive his friends and foes, acknowledged the command he felt a shrill sense of excitement. The emotion was unfamiliar after so many years of training and combat. It was something alien and surprising, but not altogether unpleasant. For the first time he willed a response-command with true killer intent through his armor and into their localized combat-net. He shunted a neural signal from his spine into his black-carapace with the twitch of insulating nerves and muscles. The act came with a sudden relieving pleasure like stretching a limb you didn't even know you could stretch.

It was his first time fighting with power armor. He was no stranger to the field and indeed he had bested every enemy as a scout. Years earlier he had decimated Ork lines while enjoying the satisfying churn and chug of a heavy bolter. Recently he had held still a fragile Eldar body against his hard form, feeling its chrome blue-white limbs twitch and squirm as he cut its throat with a combat knife. Many times he had cut apart heretical constructs, piercing such blasphemous works with the lascannon just as one might pierce flesh with the spear. But there was no time to wait anymore, not for the proper protocol of training. There was neither time for him to fly on wings of fire nor to reap life with the godly weapons of the Devastators. Instead when he fell into combat from the sky this day he did so with the bolter; he did so with the blade; he did so with the grenade. For the first time he was to do what few really could – it was his duty to hold the line.

As he and his brothers poured out from their drop pods, moved into combat formations and lined up their shots they shouted loudly. Their voices were carved into the wind and onto frequencies by their power armour vox-amplifiers: “The bringers of death shall be the Birds of Sulphur!” blared above the battlefield symphony. As they expressed their zealous conviction, focusing utterly on deadly deeds they were about to perform, each could feel a familiar hand connect deep within them. The Chief Librarian touched every mind from afar aboard the battle-barge Absolution. However distant, he could see and hear their battle-cries blazing through the warp, a glorious burst of white-light in the ether – a teardrop of purity on the blackened blight of this doomed planet. He focused hard, yelling in time with their chant alongside his veteran guard. He felt every unique prayer and curse as a focus of holy zeal. He supported his great mind and will on it like bedrock of calm above an ocean of chaos. He broadcasted their collective will deep into the warp. Together their mighty chant echoed throughout real-space and the warp alike, no denizen of either able to ignore the raw Imperial fury.

The auspexes of each squad and of the company commander fed sensorum data into their localized battle-feed. The young marine’s armour drew a rough sketch of the battle-field, highlighting the formless smoke with green lines connecting a three-dimensional world with differing gradients of the same colour. North-east at eight-o’clock was immediately light in cover: scattered stones the size of fragile, mortal will and the consistency of brittle were in little position to protect its regions hulking masters. Thirteen bulky targets were immediately illuminated, power armoured warriors boasting sigils and symbols his armors machine spirit refused to define. He counted five more distant figures which were missed by the advanced battle-net, traitor marines still advancing from distant cover. He could see the hard-lines of chaotic power armor for the chaotic swirls of cloud. He could see the bold colors for the world of gray which drained the field. He saw them and knew from logic that they could see him. He wanted them to see him, to see his brothers, to know that the bringers of death were the Birds of Sulphur.

His armour was busy reading the combatant’s split-second reactions and calculating target-tradgectories as he made his own tactical evaluations. Sergeant Reevus broadcasted target-priorities to the four enemies least obstructed, but each marine was already aware of what enemy they had decided to kill. Each brother took nano-seconds to identify a tactical firing line. Brother Thortanus drew his line to the left-kidney region of one chaos marine, beading a vulnerable spot in the ancient power armour design. The enemy’s form was vague, heretical imagery blurred; only the general shape of power armour visible. The young marine could feel an instinctive pulse flow from Thortanus into the squad-net, a communication of intent to feint his target to the right. It was not quite as clear a command as those issued by his commanders, really more of a feeling than a communicated idea.

It was clear enough to understand fully his desired tactic and expected outcome. The enemy marine began to pivot to his right in an attempt to avoid the shots, but his move was anticipated by the young marine and brother Boughen. They fired in concert, mass-reactive bolts accelerating in three-shot bursts, explosive rounds colliding with the enemy’s right leg. The explosive shells did not penetrate the armour but the force of the impacts put the warrior off-balance. He fell forward onto his left knee. He began to return fire, a few bolter shells bursting harmlessly across the young marine’s chest plate before he died. Thortanus sprayed a controlled burst from left-to-right, bolter shells cutting through open-space and power-armoured helmet alike. The green highlighting went red, pulsed bright and faded into gray as the once-living enemy became nothing but a battlefield statistic.

At the perfect moment of clear and collective rage, Chief Librarian Deyres tore open the warp and crossed the vast distance between orbit and ground with only a few steps. Golden-fire radiated through the warp strong enough for him to grab hold, to use as a shield against the warp-things which would relish a chance to devour him and his bodyguard. He grabbed and he pulled them all across the empyrean. The battlefield on dead-rock Raikon was illuminated as a massive swirling torrent of fire grew from nothing only a few meters beside Varan squad. The young marine had never fought alongside Deyres before; the affect of the warp-fire was far more inspiring than terrifying. It rose high into the sky ten metres like a small tornado crawling forward no faster than a man. Then the lowest part of the flames shot up and disappeared explosively into the sky. What remained was the Librarian and his guard of seven ornate battle-brothers, the last of his chapter’s heroes. They didn’t hesitate to open fire with their bolters and special weapons, the squads unified firing style putting to shame the efficiency of Varan squad. From Deyres, however, came neither bolter shells nor plasma beams. He held his gold-hilted staff with two hands, cracks of red lightning bursting from his eyes as he cried out the chapter’s battle-chant, voice echoing from his raw psychic force. His was far more literal than the others: raw fiery warp energies seemed to burst from his skull forming bizarre geometric patterns, shifting from chaos into order as it spread in all directions. The complex forms coalesced into black birds wreathed in flame, their wing-span nearly a meter long. The birds swooped down violently into the Chaos lines, each bird crashing into an enemy like a missile tearing armour apart and setting bodies ablaze.

The rest of the young marine’s squad coordinated their fire with efficiently; bolter shells tore the hundred meter gap from his front-line position killing when possible and disrupting when not. Brother Praxis lit the smoke bright-blue with a lance of plasma and for a moment a flash of blood reds and deep blues, of insane swirling symbols and desecrated Imperial iconography was visible. Traitors from the long crusade met the loyal lines, their hatred carved maddeningly upon every surface. One traitor, a navy-blue and bronze statue covered in sickening totems and trophies, was engulfed by the burst and transformed into slag. The trooper behind him, armour pitch-black and without detail was opened up as the last of the plasma energy met the beast’s thick chest-plate. The young marine saw for a split-moment a bursting of deep red which splashed around the massive groove at the center of his armour. Bathed in bright blood, the young marine saw insane details which were once hidden by the black, a single moment of evil knowledge which flashed in his vision and through his mind like wildfire. Before he could know what secrets the agent of chaos was betraying in his death the world was swallowed again by the dull grays and black of cover-smoke. Another two highlighted green gradients turned to red as it died and into gray. No totems or sigils were drawn.

Brother Enmaxium, first-company survivor of the previous weeks fighting, fired his missile launcher. A priceless and ancient void-rocket streaked from his noble tool into the enemy. The enemy unit at Eight o’clock at North followed two aspiring champions. They had been chosen by the warp gods to lead on this world and by Enmaxium to die in the next. When the ornate shell hit the earth between the two warriors, black-green lightning burst far, randomly and instantaneously from the impact point. Two streaking licks of warp-energy shot out and touched three near-by Chaos marines, the glancing blows suddenly converting their steely forms into fire and ash. The impact point imploded in a spectacular display of carnage: the earth, air and entities ten meters from the blast point were pulled into a single point. The aspiring champions were in one moment highlighted by battle-sensors, in another stretched into one-dimensional strings and finally torn out of reality altogether. The young marine’s sensorum was not fast enough to translate the experience; they vanished from his helmets display entirely. “Visual data error” it displayed apologetically. He shrugged the message away without thought.

In that single moment of deployment, but a few seconds of movement and calculation, Varan squad claimed thirteen enemy lives. The company claimed a hundred and four as whole. Battlefield sensors registered a hundred-fifty enemies post-drop. The moment of surprise was over. Outnumbered two-to-one, each warrior committed his soul to the realm of the Emperor, the dead of the chapter and the memory of the Imperium.

But a strange thing happened just then, something no-one had expected: the Chaos troops began to retreat. Covering fire was applied tactically; fifty marines pulled back from the Imperial invaders as further back, eighty others hosed their enemy with bolter fire. High-calibre shells joined in the cacophony, auto-cannon and heavy bolter shells which pumped through more than a few brave tactical marines.

Fire crashed against Varan squad from two-hundred meters out as the five advancing survivors of North at Eight O’clock began laying down covering fire. Each round found its mark. A spray heavy bolter rounds burst through the power armour at Brother Boughen’s left elbow and tore his limb in two. Grunting in pain, but without breaking stride, he re-adjusted his bolter’s aim one-handed and continued firing. Eight bolter rounds lit up brother Cameron’s form: the first two shots fractured his chest plate, a third cut through his liver, two blew off his right hand, two exploded harmlessly against his left shoulder plate and a final bolter shell finished the job of penetrating his chest plate. He screamed defiantly until the final shots shrapnel sundered his hearts and filled his lungs with blood. His scream turned into a wet sputter distorted by his failing vox transponder.

One heretic trooper continued to advance defiantly, plasma gun hefted at his hip. Over-charged plasma energy lanced from a devilish-looking red figure whose armour maddening reflected blue energies which swam in his plasma gun’s power cells in an infinite variety of hues. The blast lit up the night, electrified blues stressing the young marine’s retinas even through his helmet, and disintegrated Brother Enmaxiums head, firing arm and missile launcher.

As the blasphemous ammunition crossed the battlefield to claim the veteran’s soul, the young marine could hear a gibbering whisper which seemed to trail behind the beam, sonically mimicking the speed of the deadly plasma-bolt. But as the alien voices grew louder by proximity it seemed to change direction, flying at him instead of the veteran. Just as the plasma energy enveloped Enmaxium, passed through him and melted the thick black bulkhead of the drop-pod behind, the alien voices enveloped the young marine.

It hung in the air around him like a ghostly choir of the ancient dead, the songs toneless singers rising in Intensity and density, hitting crescendo’s and then descending without rhyme or rhythm. As the enemy fire withered, the ghostly choir became a daemonic opera, innumerable pitches and tones competing with each other. The voices began to shift, leaving its fixed point. It now came without starting point or direction. A hundred voices seemed to shift randomly in space; he could pick out a voice a hundred meters away which would suddenly, without transition, be screaming out a meter to the left, then from above, from behind, from his armours own comm., from his mouth, his mind, his soul. The young marine tore apart the plasma gunner on full-auto in vengeance, but even death didn’t silence the voices.

The enemy had fled; his brothers discussed the confusing retreat tactic on their primary frequency. They spoke of vengeance, of honour, of treachery, even of victory - but not of the voices. They voices didn’t stop in the young marines head. He felt at first as if he was the only one who could hear it. His brothers remained prepared for a counter assault, but some deep intuition convinced the young marines to strap down his bolter, to draw his blade and pistol.

He noticed the Librarian was staring straight at him. Deyres removed his helmet, thin face twisted into a grimace, brows furrowed by strained concentration, short-cropped black hair sweat-drenched. When he spoke – to all his brothers – the marines silenced themselves immediately.

“Victory? No brothers. Now we taste death and defeat.”

The black sky still carried the scars of their entry when it changed. The now-black streaks of entry smoke contrasted bleakly against the light-gray smog of Raikon IV’s uninhabitable atmosphere, and then suddenly became fading streaks of gold in a sea of red blood. From the glowing red sea came a splattering of blues, purples, and greens. They moved into each other, overwhelmed each other, replaced each other and then died, further replaced by other colours. They seemed to push down against the atmosphere, pressing against some invisible bubble-force. They competed to squeeze in around against the fixed golden scars as well, drops of insane color leaking alongside the entry wounds. Indeed they were exactly as regenerating claw-marks in living flesh, holy punctures in a blighted body.

As the sky changed a small, black-caped blue marine began to rise up from behind a hilly area hundreds of meters out. The air twisted around him like sections of tornado separated from the whole and slowed in time. Stones of various sizes haloed him and energy like liquid spiralled around his form, the pace of such multi-coloured crackles accelerating and decelerating maddeningly. His back was turned to the marines. Slowly his voice spread from a distant cry to an omnipresent chant, secret words of ancient daemonic tongue shaking the earth and overcoming the inane ghostly choir. Before him empty space twisted and took gray form, nothingness seeming to melt into substance, scaly gray flesh slowly knitting into some colossal visage.

The young marine and his squad were fixated on the skyward changes. They didn’t fully understand what was happening - but they understood what it meant when a blade emerged from between the eyes of brother Boughen’s helmet. The blade was gripped by a screeching creature with blood-red flesh and bone-white horns which had not been there only moments before. It thrust its hand into Boughen’s lower back and lifted him high into the air, licking at the dropping blood with its grossly exaggerated tongue as if trying to quench a deep thirst. Its elongated face twisted with disturbingly human pleasure, sharp-toothed mouth grinning widely as it enjoyed the rare experience of purely loyal Marine blood.

Sergeant Reevus roared “Contacts!” as he fired his plasma pistol at the bloodletter. The lifeless corpse of brother Boughen tumbled to the ground as the creatures body burst into blood and fire, absorbing the whole shot.

It was not as if the daemons were summoned from one reality into the other but more-so as if they had been there the whole time, blocked behind the veil of those realities and that only now were their realities sufficiently merged enough so that they could interact murderously with the loyalists. The young marine’s armour registered sudden contacts all around them: five, a dozen, more.

The empty space in front of him was, without flash or flare, occupied by a hulking bloodletter. He was prepared though - his intuition was the kind which would have made him a hero in another time, another life. It had raised its runic sword in an almost desperate attempt to cleave his head from his body but the young marine deprived it of the opportunity He put his whole weight into tackling the beast. The creature was pushed back a meter, nearly falling; the young marine emptied a clip of bolt pistol shells into its body. The first two bolts simply exploded prematurely, another - which had a straight trajectory according to his armour - passed the daemon by almost a foot above its head. Seven shells still punctured the daemonic flesh. Detonations in the chest, stomach and neck broke the creature into five messy parts. As it fell to the ground each dismembered part burst like blood filled balloons.

Another daemon slashed out at him from the right. Its blade caught his shoulder with such force that it sent him spinning to the ground, a massive groove left in his armour inches deep and a foot long. The daemon seized the opportunity of his prone state and leapt onto him. It tried to impale him with one jumping blow but he managed to deflect the sword to the side with his combat blade. He grabbed hold of its blade-wrist and neck. It struggling ferally against the young marine’s massively enhanced strength. The creature pushed its considerable weight down with all its strength, free right arm clawing at his neck-guard and face and snapped at him madly. It put all its weight into trying to overwhelm him, but he fought and struggled. He squeezed as hard as he could with his right hand ineffectively.

The young marine, like any Space Marine, was capable of great awareness. Much of his focus was centred on his survival and the immediate fight with his enemy. But he was still receiving battlefield telemetry and could see past the creature up into the sky. His brothers had slain a few of the daemons, but the surprise attack was tearing them apart. Four of his brothers were already dead. He watched as sergeant Reevus dispatched one daemon with a powerful two-handed blow which cut down its left shoulder, only to have his head cleanly cut from his shoulder by another daemon behind him. His body crashed to the ground.

Atmospheric conditions made no sense at all: temperature shifted randomly, humidity rose and fell, oxygen density made no sense, virtual compass spun violently, time shifted in non-linear directions.

Far into the sky the emerging formless daemonic flesh had developed into a full-bodied creature. Its gray, scaly, armoured body was thirty meters long and of comparable wing span. Its face was a hideous distortion of tight-fleshed human features. Its skull was wide at the cranium and thin at the chin, drastically narrowing lines connecting the two. Half his face was occupied by an oversized maw of yellow-stained, blunt-edge teeth. There was little space between its eyes and its top lip – more-so a mass of scar-tissue as if its lips had been cut away. It was noseless, a mass of flesh tense like a brow occupying the space between its eyes instead. It was crowned by a meter-long tail-like tentacle guarded by gold-gilt segments of black armoured plate. Its irregular and muscular four-armed body was rigid, pinned by some unknown force. It seemed to struggle soundlessly.

It did not look forward at sorcerer who seemed to be binding it – instead its stared straight at the young marine.

The sorcerer had been focusing straight black-green jets of warp energy at a pulsing, indistinguishable object between him and the giant daemon. The energies further connected to it with black-blue energies of a similar quality. There was a faltering in the sorcerers violent chanting; in time with the faltering the straight bursts transformed into far-travelling and wild lances of destruction. Energy crashed into distant mountains, into nearby hills all around and into the barren grounds below. Cavernous grooves were left wherever the warp power fell.

The bloodletter pulled up sharply. The marine held on tightly to its throat, but it grabbed his wrist and effortfully his grip away. The young marine took some of its flesh off its throat but it hardly noticed. Pinning his hand down, it pushed all its weight into its sword arm. He pushed clear through his left hand, punching its hilt into the marines head again and again with victorious glee. It lifted its sword up, angled it towards the young marine’s neck and thrust hard. The bound, distant daemon was still looking down at him as one of the bursting energy beams crashed into the bloodletter. The chaotic energy disintegrated it, arced around him and fractured the earth. The young marine fell into a deep chasm; as his body smashed hard against the stone-facings his world went to black.


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