Rain poured down upon the encamped men on Ptolomea. Small, sad-looking campfires sputtered among the tents, and the sounds of talk were muffled by heavy canvas and the occasional rumble of thunder. Pitiful spotlights centered on an assembly of chimeras and sentinels and picked out men working diligently on their airborne support craft. This was the night of the assault on the capital, when the planetary governor was to be deposed, and tensions were high. So far, resistance on the agri-world had been next to nil. The invading forces had suffered more casualties from accidents and wildlife than from the scattered and ineffectual resistance of the planetary defense forces. Though the city was fortified, the population had grown soft and complacent, and the hard men in the camp were confident that their coup would go as planned.
The Imperial commissioner had been bribed to turn a blind eye to the change of government. How could he know the usurpers had been suborned by the ruinous powers? Soon, though, he would find out, and his precious world would burn. Despite the nervousness preceding the battle, the atmosphere in the camp was one of supreme confidence. Back in the command tent, the renegade commanders discussed the assault.
“Damn this storm!” Commander Darik slammed his fist on the table, spilling glasses and shaking silverware, and at the same time, lightning and thunder crashed outside. His power sword, which had been leaning on the table, slid down to the floor with a clatter, its energy field dormant. The assembled commanders of Darik’s renegade regiments jumped back in alarm. “The skimmers will be flying blind in this weather and our Sentinels will be drowned in mud. We need clear skies. Greem, please favor us with an explanation. If this is a task set us by Tzeentch, why is every aspect of fate conspiring against us?”
“Calm yourself, Commander, and mind your tongue. The Dark Gods do not take well to mockery. The skies will clear.” Seer Greem tugged at the chain linking the obsidian ring in his ear to the barbed hook in his nose. His whole body was covered in grotesque piercings and tattoos of dark runes, and his eyes glowed an unnatural pink. “I assure you, everything is just as planned. The servants of the False Emperor see this as nothing but a power play by a greedy noble. They know not the tide of blood we will unleash!” He cackled and pulled at the sparse white hairs on his wrinkled, leathery scalp. The rest of the assembled commanders eyed one another across the table. They had been lured by promises of dark power, but every glance at Seer Greem reminded them the perils of that power.
“I’m not interested in your assurances, seer. I am interested in results.” He turned to another of the men sitting at the low table. “Captain Tallahassee. Is the armoured column in order? Are your Promethium reserves secure?”
“Everything stands ready, Commander. Our pilots are conducting last-minute checks on the gunships. The 3rd Light Armor is but a few hours behind us. As soon as they arrive, we can begin the attack.” Eerie blue light flashed again, followed by another sonorous rumble. The light, which Commander Darik at first mistook for lightning, continued to glow an unnatural cobalt, and then the sound of screams began to filter through the walls of the command tent. The Commander leapt to his feet, grabbed his bolt pistol, and ran out of the room, the rest of his officers on his heels.
From the hill overlooking the encampment, Darik saw the source of the commotion. One of the munitions tents had exploded and men were frantically scrambling to put out the fires. Many of the nearby tents were burning. “DAMN THIS STORM!” Darik screamed it this time. “The lightning must have set off our Promethium tanks! Lieutenant Boltin, put out that fire! Captain Radcliffe, rally the men. We’ll never take the city with an army of corpses.” As his officers scurried to carry out his orders, a high whine penetrated the shrieks, explosions, and the roaring thunder.
The noise grew to a sustained, steady roar as two dozen points of light leapt into the night. In the glare from the munitions fire, Darik could see the outlined forms of power-armoured angels of death streaking through the sky over his camp. As their jetpacks bore them through the air, their bolt pistols spat fire and death upon his gathered forces. He could see shots streaking from bolters and explosions blossoming from his plasma generators, and then the lights about the camp went dark.
The soldiers on the ground finally began to return fire. One of the assaulting marines split off from the rest and dove directly at the command post. From behind a pile of sandbags on the hill, lasguns spewed bolts of energy at the marine. Most glanced harmlessly from the toughened power armour, but one bolt lanced through his jump pack, sending the marine careening to the ground. He plummeted toward the fortification, using his remaining jet to soften his impact, but thudded into the earth with a crash and a fountain of displaced mud.
Tentatively, Commander Darik stalked down the hill, bolt pistol held at the ready. He motioned to Seer Greem, who had been watching the carnage alongside Commander Darik. The seer nodded and followed the commander down the hill. As they neared the crater, they saw steam and heard the sputtering whir of the jetpack as its fire finally died. Greem drew a wicked-looking hammer from beneath his robes. An unholy pinkish glow wrapped itself around the weapon, and even from a distance Darik could feel the malice radiating off the head of the hammer. Greem approached the crater and raised his weapon.
With a roar, a burst of bolter fire erupted from the pit. Greem’s head exploded and gaping holes erupted from his chest. His hammer dropped from his lifeless hand, the glow disappearing as swiftly as it had come. With the whine of taxed servomotors, the marine raised himself to his feet and leveled his bolt pistol at Darik. Half of the marine's jetpack was blown away and his helmet was cracked, the eyes no longer glowing red. He removed the ruined helm, exposing his scarred face to the elements.
“Surrender or die, heretic!” The marine’s voice cut through the sounds of battle and death. He strode toward Darik, casually exchanging the magazine in his pistol. Rain cascaded down his slick black armour and mud squelched beneath his heavy boots.
As he stalked forward, he shouted at Darik in a voice that sounded like the tolling of a funeral bell, “I am Commander Altus of the Steel Revenants. You, heretic, have chosen the wrong world to defile with your tainted boots. This planet is ours, and its tithes nourish the bodies of the faithful as The Emperor nourishes our spirit. You are a betrayer and a servant of the ruinous powers. Your very life is a smear upon the glory of the Golden Throne." Altus was close enough now that his shouts hurt Darik's ears. " I am death incarnate. I am His will made flesh. Surrender or die.”
From beyond the hill, A Thunderhawk shrieked overhead, spilling more flying marines as it spat death upon the camp below. More explosions sounded as munitions and vehicles were destroyed by vengeful Steel Revenants. Men pleaded for mercy and died without it. The traitor commander knew his cause was lost, that his gods had failed him.
Darik reached for his sword, and his hand came up empty. He could see the sword in his mind's eye, still laying on the floor of the command tent. He backed away, hoping to retrieve the blade, to strike down this slave of the emperor.
“Lackey of the false god!” He spat at Altus to distract him, to buy time.
“Surrender or die!” Altus called back.
Darik lifted his bolt pistol and leveled it at the marine. Quicker than thought, Altus’s bolt pistol spat fire again, blowing Darik’s arm off at the elbow. The commander pulled a knife from his belt with his remaining hand, a bestial glow in his eyes and an unnatural scream on his lips, and charged the Space Marine. Altus fired four rounds faster than Darik's unaugmented eyes could possibly follow. There was a crack of shattering bones and bits of skull and brain splattered Altus’s armour. Darik’s limp body fell to the mud. As he surveyed the burning wreckage of the traitors’ camp, Altus smiled. He could feel in his hearts that he had pleased the Emperor.
“His will be done.”