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Monarch Resa's voice broke through the din, "We are just talking about a few asteroids. Even with a thirty minute head start, we can cleanse them without aid from either the First or the Fifth! If I'm wrong then allow me and my men the chance, and we will prove it to you!" Several Monarchs nodded or shouted their agreement. Resa, a bull of a bald-headed man, fed off the support and stood taller. Which meant little to his short height. 

Kharkis was tempted to let Resa try his plan. He'd be free of the man's gravelly voice if things went the right way. 

"And be guilty of insubordination?" Monarch Ardashir countered. No marine could ever be accused of truly being thin, but Ardashir's muscles were compacted on a wiry frame. Whatever he may have lost in horizontal height was more than compensated in vertical height as he towered above everyone else in the room. 
   
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"They are not our Primarchs!" Resa roared, causing Kharkis to mentally twitch. "They have only been given authority over their own legions. Not ours!"

"You would say such a thing to the Emperor?" 

"It doesn't matter!" Resa insisted in a pathetic example of deflection. 

Monarch Masistius declared, all too happy to interrupt, "We should become our own fleet after this campaign." Kharkis could not stop himself from imagining a monkey whenever he was forced to look at Masistius. The big nose, the odd eyes could not be explained away by battlefield injuries. "The 8th- 2nd is already proving our legion's worth without relying on morsels offered by the Emperor's bas- sons."
   
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"You would have us scavenging for scraps of glory in small raids?" Resa stated with disgust.

Ardashir sneered. "And be denied the best opportunity to prove our worth to the greatest leaders of the Great Crusade?"

It never ends, Kharkis groused to himself. He checked the chronometer again. Seventeen minutes remained. The worst part of this argument was how petty it was. Icarion had requested the XVIth to provide a few units to aid in the assault against the asteroid field. Kharkis had checked the numbers himself. The Lord of the First, with methods Kharkis did not fully trust, had managed to predict and recommend a suitable number of units to be committed to clearing the asteroid interiors without compromising the warships' combat capabilities in case of unexpected boardings.

Which meant this entire argument was about adopting a combat plan tailored to their resources or doing something different. For the sake of insulting the Emperor's greatest general.
   
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"Kharkis!"

He mentally swore as the argument reached its logical conclusion. 

Ardashir was addressing him. As usual. "I call upon you to bring this debate to a close."

"No! I have more points to address!" Resa countered.

"You've been repeating the same point for the last ten times. Time is running short, we need to come to a decision."

Kharkis could not help but agree with those last two points. Even if time refused to move faster than he preferred. 

"Then I'll be on my way," Resa declared as he picked up his helmet from the holo-table they were around. Several of his followers quickly mirrored their leader's motion. "We will strike and destroy the xenos before the other legions can steal our glory!"

The results were instantaneous. Every Monarch not aligned with Resa shouted at him. The bull-headed Monarch twitched towards the exit, but relented beneath the verbal barrage. "Next time you threaten our code again," Masistius warned, "You will be thrown out. We will leave here in agreement and only in agreement. That is what we have sworn to honor."

This message was edited 1 time. Last update was at 2019/06/27 18:50:49


 
   
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Resa growled something under his breath, but returned to his seat at the table. Ardashir again turned to Kharkis. "The Monarchs are unable to come to a ruling. I invoke you as Ayatollah to finish the debate."

Kharkis glanced at the chronometer. Thirteen minutes. Enough time had passed, he supposed. "We will implement Lord Anasem's recommendations."

Ardashir gave a vigorous nod, while Resa fixed Kharkis with a furious stare. Kharkis did not care in the least. A legionary's purpose was to wage war. These debacles of wasted breath offered nothing to the legion. And the sooner Kharkis could escape them for a proper battle, all the better. 
   
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~~~

Crassus slammed his fist against his chest. "Welcome aboard the Glory of Jermani, my lord."

Lord VonSalim nodded as he returned the salute, two warriors on his flanks. "Thank you, Brigadier Crassus. If you be so kind to lead me to the sanctum, I wish to inspect it."

The worst part of having a telepath as one's commander was that even if you could hide the rage from your physical appearance, there was no hiding it from supernatural perception. Crassus, accustomed to this state of affairs, did nothing to suppress his emotional state as fury gripped him. However, so long as they were in public, the 2nd Brigadier would not embarrass himself as he answered with a curt, "Aye, my lord. This way."
   
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"How did the Second Brigade fare in the last engagement?" VonSalim inquired as their small party traveled through the ship. 

Crassus did not wanted to be reminded of the Scaran's utter ineptitude in boarding his ship. Still, he began to rattle off a casualty list (only minor ones due to incompetence), unit readiness (they were ready), and whatever else Crassus could use to pass the time. The Primarch asked a few clarifying questions here and there, while adding an occassional encouragement. To the casual viewer, ti would not have been obvious that there was any ill air hanging between the superior and his subordinate. 

In due time, they arrived before the sanctum. As small as it was, it was easy for the Primarch's voice to ring through the room to the few occupants. "I ask for a moment alone with Brigadier Crassus." 
   
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The Wardens hastily departed, leaving VonSalim alone with Crassus. The Primarch wandered over to the library and inquired, "What information do you offer to your brothers?"

Crassus' frown materialized, freed from the watchful eyes of others. "Previous engagements. They can learn how we won victories through strength and daring."

VonSalim's gaze slid toward Crassus. "As opposed to now?"

A Primarch's gaze was never a casual thing. Especially when one's own gene-sire looked down upon you. But Crassus wasn't some weak mortal to cave. He steeled himself and met VonSalim's gaze with set jaw. "Name one other legion that hides its warriors from war... my lord."
   
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"Tell me, Prefect, do you go to war without ensuring fuel is in your tank? Or your treads will hold regardless of terrain? Do you make sure you have ammunition before speeding toward the battlefield?" 

Crassus gritted his teeth. "We are more than pieces of hardware."

VonSalim quirked an eyebrow.

Crassus blinked. 

Darshan asked, "Are you?"

The winds of Afric blew around them, catching their respective capes in gentle embrace. Crassus' resolve shook as he stood, once again, at Three Flags. His blue eyes flashed to the East where he could see the shield towers protecting his past enemies from airstrikes. Crassus remembered too-late the other side of his Primarch. A mind-witch of terrifying strength and skill.
   
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As he turned his head, Crassus caught something in the corner of his eye. Behind him was the Albyon Slayer, the first tank he had driven. The tank he would soon ride into the upcoming battle. Alarmed fury filled him as he noted its state. The pintle-mounted volkite caliver fizzled with damage as it dangled off the turret. One of the treads had come loose. Corrosion wrapped around the cannon's barrel. Never would Crassus allow his steed to fall into such deplorable condition.

"Well, Prefect?" Darshan asked as he stepped up to the vehicle of war. "Would you go to war in this?"
   
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"Of course not!" Crassus spat back, indignant anger rocking his voice. Only to realize a moment later he had completely walked into a trap. 

Darshan knocked his knuckles against the tank. "So, if you wouldn't take this into war, why would you try to persuade me to allow you?"

"Can you not see me, my lord?" Crassus argued as he gestured to himself. "I am a keen edge, ready to do battle. I'm in the training rooms daily, waiting for the day I can rejoin my brothers on the front line. What more do you want of me?"

"To stop being blind," Darshan countered. "You think nothing but the body when it is your mind that is breaking. This tank," he emphasized with a wave of a hand, "is your mind. You have blindly trusted in the psycho-conditioning to prevent the damage that is now infecting you. This is what I see every time you ask to be deployed." 
   
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Before he could stop himself, Crassus said with not a light touch of sarcasm, "You told me that spending time in the sanctum would improve this."

"It would if you actually used it instead of stewing in your own self-righterous misery," Darshan declared, his voice hard. "Worse, you inflict your petty attitude upon your brothers with this paltry refuge of a sanctum, abandoning your responsibilities as a leader, one of my four Brigadiers no less. You shame yourself with this puerility and you shame me as both your commanding officer and as a father."

Again, the worst part of facing a telepath is that they knew every thought, which meant Crassus had no chance at hiding the vindictive spark of satisfaction at frustrating VonSalim. 
   
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This time, however, Crassus felt shame. It wriggled around the vindicitiveness as Crassus did his best to ignore both of them. Although he reined the unwanted emotions in, he did not offer a retort. It was then he realized something. "What is your purpose of this meeting, my lord?"

"Lord Anasem and I have agreed on a tactical plan to cripple the Scaran threat and prevent a campaign of attrition that will waste years in this system. However, it all hinges upon a decapitation strike against the Scaran queen. Even with Anasem and I personally involved with this attack, it is an extremely risky gamble that will see a horrific blood price. You will be the sole Brigadier to be deployed to my side."

The thrill of war shouted within Crassus' being, but his mind was already shifting with suspicion. "Given our conversation, I would not imagine you would reward me, my lord."
   
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"Make no mistake, this is no reward," Darshan affirmed as he stared down at his officer. "You will unleash your rage at the enemy, and it will serve a purpose. However, in half of the futures we have foreseen, you are slain in this upcoming battle. In a third of the other futures, you are maimed, interred within a dreadnought, to be forever denied the exhiliration of commanding your beloved Praefectus and riding into war. Only in that final sliver of possibility do you emerge from the battle whole."

Crassus paused, caught off-guard by the revelation. "You would condemn me... father?"

Darshan ignored the shallow attempt at filial manipulation. "You have condemned yourself. If you perish in this battle, you will die in glory, unmarred by your disappointing disobedience to the chain of command and a hero eternal to the Fifth Legion. If you are placed within a dreadnought, I will retain a capable warrior who cannot poison his subordinates with his foolishness. If you remain standing when victory is ours, you will have had the battle you have so desperately craved, and another opportunity to redeem yourself."

Crassus blinked, and the two of them were back in the small sanctum. "Regardless of the result," Alexandros finished as he turned away, "The legion benefits. Prepare your brigade for war, Brigadier."
   
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~~~

"Lord." The word filled the room as three individuals bowed to the new commander. Muniza offered a shallow bow in return, completing the martial ritual. The Rakurai Taichou, as the Lord Marshals were referred to within the First Legion, may not have the honor of being Astartes, but they had proven themselves a potent weapon in Lord Anasem's arsenal. Clad in carapace armor of crimson, the Rakurai were the Lightning Bearer's answer to the famed Solar Auxilia, a mortal force better equipped and trained than the line regiments of the Imperial Army. It was not without some irony Muniza noted the Taichou each commanded well over eight thousand soldiers, far greater than Muniza's personal Brotherhood. 

"Name, rank," Muniza ordered. 

The individual on the right, a thin man with a bald head and a severe face, nodded before he answered, "Taichou Kazatoyo of the 4th Rentai."
   
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Standing in the center was large man covered in muscle only just contained by his armor. "Taichou Tarō of the 74th Rentai." 

The last warrior wore long, thin whiskers he could not resist stroking as he said, "Taichou Inoki of the 385th Rentai." 

Muniza replied to all of them, "I am Commander Muniza of the 36th Brotherhood. Know me, and I will know you. Each of us have been chosen to serve the Astral Prince. We bear the honour of striking the first blow against the gaijin homeworld. None will be allowed to threaten our lord's or his lord brother's drop onto the planet surface. For this alone, we will cleanse this asteroid field. I expect nothing less than complete victory. Know my intentions, know our lord's will. Dismissed."

The three mortal Taichous bowed deeply to Muniza who returned a shallower bow. 
   
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Muniza watched as the three officers filed out of the room. He kept his face clear of emotion, but within he was racked with doubt. Some Lightning Bearers were comfortable with sending orders to the Rakurai without ever truly meeting with them. Indeed, with the orders mostly composed, there was little need for Muniza to do anything besides place his own mark upon it. Yet, it sat ill with him to not see the faces of those who would kill and die on his behalf. But what did they think of this brief meeting? Were they honoured to meet with him? Were they frustrated, annoyed at this waste of time? 

Muniza cursed how difficult it was to connect with mortals as an Astartes.

Especially with mortals who were deserving of praise as the Rakurai. He could imagine now as he walked out of the briefing room. The crimson warriors would now be filing onto their shark assault transports and arvus lighters. The latter were a necessity given how many soldieres would be deploying. But little danger would await the weaponless lighters since the Scaran anti-ship weaponry was worthless. No, the only real danger would arrive with the landings. 

As Muniza stepped onto his ship's main hanger, a cacophony of war-in-potential washed over him. The sound of screaming engines as war machines came alive. The shouts of officers as they directed their warriors. His eyes swept over the stormbirds which would ferry his Brotherhood to the enemy, ahead of the Rakurai. The Rakurai would fight and fight hard; however, the Lightning Bearers, as always, would strike the first blow. 
   
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It is only proper, Muniza thought as he secured his helmet on him. This was the purpose which the Emperor had created the Legiones Astartes. And no mortal would take that away from them. 
   
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Chapter 15: The Rocks in the Path

One of the most difficult first lessons Mahtva had to learn was how to stay still. As a boy, it had been easier, robbed of energy by hunger and deprivation. Well-fed and charged with the power awakened by the Primarch, it had become an impossibility. The sheer vitality had seen Mahtva blow through physical challenges. The first day of learning drill and ceremony proved to be a nightmare. He couldn't move in place, couldn't look around, or so much as twitch. Long days had passed as the legionary instructors punished Mahtva's ill-discipline with words, exercises, and more. At last, Mahtva internalized their lessons and no longer embarrassed himself in the ranks.

Not since that time had Mahtva struggled so hard to keep still. 
   
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No more false hopes. War would not avoid Mahtva this time. He forced his eyes to stare straight ahead as ordered, but his peripheral vision sucked in every detail it could. 

Five storm eagles finished their pre-flight checks as legionaries began to load upon them. A stormbird was available, but the target hangers would be a tight fit for its considerable bulk, and they would be deploying to multiple engagement zones. Mahtva's century stationed aboard the Advance of Progress assembled in the ship's hanger. The briefing stated the Fifth Legion was to offer but a small force to augment their cousins' efforts, but Mahtva couldn't help but feel pride at a hundred Halcyon Wardens standing at attention. 
   
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Centurion Koler spoke a few quiet words to the banner bearer. It may not have been the most practical move to take the Century's banner, but there was already a hint of competition between the two legions. And the Halcyon Wardens would not be found wanting. 

"T-minus 2 minutes!" Came the warning. 

Mahtva's heartbeat steadily rose with anticipation. 
   
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"Gentlemen!" Koler began, his voice filtering through the vox amplifier built into his armor. "It's been over a decade since we've had the opportunity to fight alongside our cousins of the First. Since then, times have changed and so have we. What has not changed is our ability! We will show them that our capabilities have grown twofold since our Primarch now leads us. We will not disappoint him or our legacy as we exterminate the bugs with blades high and-!" 

"ZEAL HIGHER!" The Century answered, the newest recruits stumbling over the battle-cry. The words sounded strange on Mahtva's tongue. 
   
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It was a war cry he could not imagine the Primarch using. 

"Lieutenants!" Koler shouted. "Load them up!" 

"Century, right face!"

Almost on instinct, Mahtva swiveled to the right. 

"File from the left, column left! March!"

Mahtva did not have to wait long before he was stepping off. Sergeant Mohandis lead the file, until they reached their storm eagle. He slid to the side as he urged the marines to hurry into place. Compared to the storm eagle Mahtva had arrived in, the storm eagle's transport bay was a small thing, less than half the size. Only two rows of ten seats lined against the walls. As soon as they reached their designated seat, they sat. Mahtva was at the halfway point within the bay, which meant it would take a few seconds longer for him to rush into combat.

Freed from military decorum, Mahtva fixed his attention at the ramp. He saw as Hydinburg and Mohandis board last. 

Restraints slid over Mahtva as the storm eagle's engines roared.

His hearts beat faster.

It was almost time. 
   
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~~~

Kharkis watched the flying globe of magma with utter boredom. "If you fail to dodge that, I will jettison you into deep space," he told the pilot. 

The pilot replied, "Yes, my Ayatollah." 

The storm eagle rolled, until the enemy projectile was 'beneath' it. Then, the pilot pushed the accelerator. The storm eagle, with scant meters between them, zoomed by the Scaran missile. Kharkis snorted. "Looks like I won't jettison you today."

The pilot nodded with a ghost of a smile, while Kharkis left the cockpit behind. 
   
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"On your feet!" 

Nineteen legionaries stood, while Kharkis descended the steps into the troop bay. "Once again, we stand before the bridge of life and death."

"Our bodies are the Emperor's to sacrifice," came the familiar refrain, their voices speaking as one.

Kharkis walked between the two files of his chosen warriors. "We see the other side of the Separator, fearing nothing our eyes see."

"To feel fear is to betray the Emperor's trust!"

Kharkis could feel the storm eagle swing about, no doubt bringing them on their final approach. He reached the end of the transport bay, pivoting to face his warriors. "Failure is the shame of sacrifice without cost, to cross the Separator alone without an honour guard of slain foes."

"We will cross with an honour guard of thousands before our final sacrifice," the Legionaries intoned, their voices solemn with ritual. 
   
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Gravity boots powered on as the the ramp opened. Kharkis and his legionaries watched as their target asteroid came into view. The asteroid was 'above' them to their eyes. Kharkis walked out onto the edge of the ramp. The pilot proved his worth again as the ramp angled perfectly parallel to the target. Cutting off the power to his boots, Kharkis waited a moment before kicking off. While in range, his armour connected to the storm eagle's rear camera. As his body floated toward the asteroid, he watched his brothers follow his lead. 

To be Sixteenth was to understand the battlefield was not a field. It was a sphere. And the most cunning warriors understood the most effective strike came from the unexpected direction. 

No ship-bay or entrance awaited Kharkis and his strike force. Instead, they approached a bare patch of rock and metal that seemed to boast of no significance. None, except it was the thinnest point between the void and the stablized interior as revealed by auspex scans. With more than a few melta bombs among their wargear, Kharkis doubted any of the xenos would expect this strike. 
   
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~~~

Muniza leapt from the ramp as the transport finished its turn. His naked katana ignited as he swung at the nearest warrior-form. As he foresaw, his blade bifucated the xeno, cutting without effort. Using both hands, he slew two more before he was forced to dodge the first counter. Any hope of overwhelming this lone officer vanished as the rest of his honor guard landed. A hundred xenos may have filled the hangar, but they were Legiones Astartes. In between sword strokes, Martian crimson blazed holes into the swarm. Muniza took a step forward against the press and counted two more needed for victory. 

He bowed, evading a swinging talon. The same manuever allowed Amago to fire with his volkite, killing the one who dared itself against Muniza and the one behind it. Muniza took another step forward. 

Above their heads, support fire thundered as the next transport arrived. One more step, Muniza thought as he skewered another alien. 
   
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A few seconds after taking the final step, the Rakurai declared their entry on the battlefield with a salvo of white beams. The Scarans had been on the verge of pushing the Lightning Bearers, until a whole rank was cut down. Never taking his eyes off his foes, Muniza could imagine the picture behind him. Section after section of crimson-armoured troopers stepping off the transports. Pausing only long enough to fire before moving to let the next section off. There would be just enough room in the hanger for the Rakurai's first wave to disembark. 

Perfectly synchronizing with the Lightning Bearer's assault. 
   
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With the First Legion serving as the blade, the two forces cut into the xenos. As inhuman as the Scarans were, they were not immune to fear, or whatever passed for self-preservation. They broke beneath Imperial might as the Imperials claimed the first half of the hangar. The surviving aliens scurried deeper into the asteroid through several tunnels, no doubt to lay traps for the warriors of Man. 

Muniza pointed his katana at the retreating forms, declaring, "Let none live!"

~~~

Mahtva breathed deeply as he concentrated on Hydinburg's impromptu lesson aboard the transport. "All fire requires two things: resources and ignition," the veteran battle-psyker had begun. "Whether it be ancient wood or fresh gas, fire must have a meal ready before it exists. This is as true for physical flame as it is for Warp flame. We provide the resource. Our emotions, our minds is the waiting meal."
   
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Mahtva pictured his tension as an oil. A space marine may feel no fear, but was not immune to other dark emotions. Battle, after all, cared nothing for the differences between human and transhuman. He may have dedicated his life to Alexandros, to humanity, and to the Imperium. But self-preservation was the oldest and most powerful of drives. Tension, anxiety, dread, all of it swirled within him. It stuck to his spirit, trying to drown him in its disgusting, coarse embrace.
   
 
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