Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Entombed VII

     My companion, we are nearing the equatorial city of Nobilis. I have hailed the local Arbites Marshal as you requested. He will be at the landing pad awaiting the arrival of We.

     "Very good, Spirit. Connect my auspex to that of the Thunderhawk. I would look with my own eyes upon the city I have chosen to defend."

     Very well, my companion.


     The dreadnought's HUD dimmed and then faded out of existence. For a few seconds, the sarrcophagus was completely dark. Tiny currents swirled in his amniofluid, gently caressing his ruined flesh. Then, abruptly, the Thunderhawk's auspex array flared to life. Its layout was different than the Dreadnought readout Vercingetorix was used to. In addition to the video display, a number of gauges showed altitude, fuel supply, armament, wind speed, and IFF transponder readouts from the other ships in the squadron. In addition, the gunship's radar displayed a profile view of the ground, and the newly-acquired auspex satellite network provided a closer insight into the planets's topography, resources, and weather. Vercingetorix regretted, momentarily, that he could not command his forces from such a position. He had to admit that an aerial view of the battlefield presented several advantages that his sarcophagus, mighty though it was, could simply never match.

     "Welcome to Black Wind Alpha, Lord Revenant." The pilot's voice was distorted by the vox-caster through which he spoke. "I am Brother-Sergeant Kylos. It is an honor to have you aboard my ship."

     Vercingetorix was startled. He activated his own vox and replied on the same frequency. "You knew I entered your auspex, Brother-Sergeant?"

     "Nothing on this bird escapes my notice, Lord Revenant. We should be arriving at Nobilis Starport in three hundred seconds. Can I assist you in any way before disembark?"

     "A pass over the city, if you would, Brother-Sergeant. There is no substitute for a bird's-eye view of the battlefield."

     "As you wish, Lord Revenant. And please, aboard my own vessel, call me Kylos."

     "Very well, Kylos. I need to see especially any waterways, major roads, walls, and large structures."

     The city appeared over the horizon. Nobilis was the centermost of the three equatorial cities that straddled the barrier between North Pacem and South Pacem. Like its sister cities Frateris and Meritus, Nobilis was split in half from east to west by an enormous canal. The architecture of Nobilis was unlike that of most Imperial cities; rather than spires and towers, the buildings of Nobilis were squat domes that shone bronze in the afternoon sunlight. The only exceptions were the ugly, fortified grey facades of the Adeptus Arbites precinct-fortresses, where the law of the Imperium was dispensed, and the gothic splendor of the Adeptus Administratum's tithe-house, where Pacem's trade goods were gathered for processing and shipping off-world.

     "Coming down over the canal now, Lord Revenant. I see three main bridges, with two kilometers between each bridge. The canal's water level is currently ten meters lower than that of the surface. Accounting for tidal forces, average water level is likely closer to twelve meters below street level. Canal is two kilometers wide from north to south." The Thunderhawk had slowed, giving Vercingetorix ample time to examine the ground below.

     Vercingetorix spoke to the machine spirit. "Spirit, mark all main thoroughfares, Arbites precincts, and bridge accesses. Also designate any locations where the structures are exceptionally dense - those can be turned into kill zones."

     Of course, my companion. I shall upload the data to the ATG for your later perusal.

     The pilot's voice crackled through the vox-caster again. "Lord Revenant, vox transmission from the Arbites Marshal of Nobilis. Patching you through." There was a hiss of static, and then a woman spoke through the vox.

     "Attention, Steel Revenants craft. This is Marshal Cheri DeSalle of Nobilis Arbites Precinct. As the commanding officer of the Adeptus Arbites on this planet, I welcome you to Pacem. Please instruct all your craft to land as soon as possible. I had to disable the city's automated air defense batteries, and until your craft are fitted with IFF transponders, I cannot have them in the air. The Tau have been bombarding us with torpedoes, and without our ack-ack we're far too vulnerable to a surprise strike. I will have a more thorough briefing for you when you land, but time is of the essence."

     Vercingetorix responded. "This is Lord Revenant Vercingetorix. I command the Astartes elements in this area. Your message is heard and acknowledged. We shall be earthbound in a moment. As soon as we have landed, I wish to confer with you regarding the fortification of this city."

     Kylos interrupted again. "Touchdown in ten seconds, Lord Revenant."

     Vercingetorix withdrew from the Thunderhawk's auspex. His vision dimmed for several seconds, then the familiar HUD of the Dreadnought returned. Groggily, the warrior extended his metal arms, bracing his body against the bulkhead of the Thunderhawk as the turbulence of landing buffeted the craft. As soon as the craft touched down, the doors at the rear swung open. Vercingetorix stepped out of the transport and into the spaceport. The techmarine Haphastes drove a Razorback armed with heavy bolters down the ramp, followed by an ancient Stronos-pattern Mark I. Devastator squad Filos was last down the ramp. There were eight Battle-Brothers - Brother Kurtin was killed in the first battle, at Saint's Ridge - and Sergeant Filos. Each of them carried a crate full of ammunition or a heavy weapon. Elsewhere on the tarmac, the remaining four gunships in the Black Wind squadron were also offloading men, vehicles, and equipment.

     The Thunderhawks, now empty of cargo and passengers, taxied off the launch pad and into several spacious hangars that had been emptied for them. Vercingetorix ordered his forces to form up and follow him to the Arbites precinct-house. Devastator squads Filos, Apollon, and Gamydon broke into combat squads and filed into their respective transports. Revenants Diocles and Horovus formed an honour guard for Vercingetorix, flanking and slightly behind their commander. A small convoy of vehicles painted in the black, gold, and red of the Adeptus Arbites arrived at the opposite end of the tarmac and sat idling. "Lord Revenant," said Marshal DeSalle over her vox-caster, "welcome to Nobilis. Now that you're all back on solid ground, I've returned the flak guns to full alert. If you would kindly follow your escort to the Arbites Precinct House, we can get to the business of saving this world."

     "It will be as you say, Marshal. I am eager to begin our preparations."

     "Ave Imperator, Lord Revenant." The Marshal spoke the words like a prayer.

     "Imperator tuetur, Marshal," Vercingetorix replied. "May He watch over us all in these dark times." He switched vox channels and addressed his men. "Column, forward on my mark." He pivoted his machine at the waist to make sure his column would follow. Then he raised one fist and signaled the column forward.

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