Skethar of the Cult of Skulls fell to his knees and wept; his God had come.
He'd come through the wall. He'd barrelled through the brickwork, a living missile, chainaxes howling in either hand. Okhat exploded, struck in the chest by one of the screaming axes. Vo'k and Skeil were next, both sliced in half by a wide, horizontal strike. They'd been firing lasguns on full auto, but Khorne did not care. He jumped forward, moving with a speed that seemed impossible given his size and the bulky armour he wore. Skethar did not see who it was who was crushed beneath those armoured boots.
Khorne turned on him. His armour was drenched in blood head to toe, and what wasn't gore soaked was scared by countless bullet and las impacts. The axes came up again, and Skethar took a moment to stare into his God's face. Khorne had come bare headed; he was bald, with skin tanned by the hot sun and eyes as mad as all hell. The chainaxes came down, and Skether joined his brothers in the afterlife.
"CLEAR!" the blood-soaked warrior bellowed, and his squad moved up. They trained weapons on the axeman, almost unable to recognise his heraldry due to the extent of the blood splatter. Absently, the bare-headed brute wiped some of the filth off his shoulder, revealing a green Triskelion on a blue field.
"By Terra, Xor, you have anger issues." Lata joked, as was his way.
Xor shrugged. "It's not an issue to me."
The Supernovas spread out amidst the ruins, sweeping corners and doorways with their boltguns. There was nothing left to kill; Xor was psychotic, but undeniably efficient.
The low growl of an engine alerted the squad to their leader's presence. Sergeant Ceyr, born of a nomadic people, killed the ignition on his bike and joined the squad in the ruins. "Looks like the Guard are driving what's left of the cult north. There's some resistance in the woods east of here, but the bulk of the tainted are fleeing over open ground now."
Behind their helmets, the squad grinned; open ground meant easy kills. They'd be done with this world by nightfall.
With the hiss of a pressure seal, Ceyr removed his helm and shook out his shaggy hair. His squad did likewise, each removing their helms and tasting the air. The blood of the traitors was rank and foul; it carried the taste of the Warp. Xor spat phlegm.
"We'll call in a Rhino," the sergeant said. "We'll flank around east and cut off the head of the retreat, then push them back into the advancing Guard."
"What about friendly fire?" Jahr asked. Most of his face was permanently sealed behind a metal mask - a mask he wore, supposedly, because of a friendly fire incident during the Iron Hell. He'd been distrustful of the Guard ever since.
Ceyr met his augmentic eyes. "That will not be an issue. Guard elements will engage infantry elements with small arms only from the south. We'll co-ordinate with their heavier guns to stay out of the firing line. Have faith in them, brother."
Lata voiced a quiet verse of benediction.
"Alright, let's end this war. Brothers... Taekar."
As one the Marines donned their helms once more, save Xor who always fought bare headed. The ten Astartes left the ruin, readying themselves for war. Ceyr, Lata, Jahr, Okor and Vyek all wore Mk VI 'Corvus' plate, deep blue with black helms in honour of the Chapter Master. Xor used an ancient suit, built from parts that looked old enough to be Crusade pattern. Ire, clutching his plasmagun tight, favoured Aquila plate. In their wake came the Novitae; Bal and Jaon, both long-haired Steppefolk like their sergeant, and Reja, an Icelander who wore her hair short, Guard style. Nine warriors boarded the Rhino, whilst Ceyr kept to his bike. They turned west, riding away from the sound of lasfire, and banked north when the farmland turned to wasteland.
They waited for hours, idling in a hollow in the ground. All predictions, all aerial sweeps, had said that the Chaos forces would retreat across the flat lands to the hills to the north. That would mean running straight through the Astartes position, yet there was no sign of retreat. Ceyr had voxed PDF elements further north, in case they had somehow missed the rout, but the answer came back as he knew it would; no contacts.
"Maybe the Guard finished them for us?" Bal offered. He was edgy. He had reason to be, seeing as this was his first time on the battlefield of an alien world.
Jahr tried the vox. "Guard elements are not responding."
There was a long, awkward silence following that statement.
"Throne..." Lata hissed. "They couldn't have... the Guard had tank support for Terra's sake!"
"Cerunnos ward us from the trickery of the Daemon," Vyek rumbled. He was the largest of the Astartes present, giant even by their standards. He idly checked the ammo feeds on his heavy bolter.
Ceyr was about to speak again, but Reja interrupted him. "I taste blood," the Novitae said.
Xor grunted. The berserker's nose was bleeding, and soon other Marines and novices alike had blood trickling down their faces.
The sergeant's second heart began to beat. Warp trickery!
"Incoming!" Okor called out. All eyes turned south toward the Chaos horde marching toward them. They were rag-tag rebels, yet they moved with terrible purpose and a confidence they had no right to exude.
The Supernovan sergeant set his jaw into a feral snarl. "Vyek, wake hell."
The heavy weapon troop stepped up out of cover and braced his cannon. The belt-fed weapon began to bark out shots across the open field, slamming into the left flank of the Khorne army and slowly raking eastward. The Cult had no vehicles to target, nor anyone identifiable as a squad leader or heavy weapon troop - they were just a mob, armed with stolen guns and whatever melee weapons they could find.
They died in droves, yet kept on coming. In fact, their deaths seemed to somehow bolster their resolve. They didn't speed up; they kept a marching pace even as the shells obliterated their kin.
Ceyr watched, all the while feeling that something terribly obvious was being missed...
"Hold fire!" Xor barked. "By the Horned God, hold your fire!"
"Why?" Ceyr asked.
"They're a sacrifice!"
At once, the gun fell silent. By then it was too late; the taste of the Warp was overpowering now, and even as Vyek watched members of the cult began to fall to their knees, pawing at their skin as something unholy began to claw its way out from the inside...
The cult lines erupted once more, and the Daemons came forth. Bloodletters by the dozen exploded into reality, with dozens more following every second. Not all came from the bodies of the cultists; some simply stepped out of thin air, leaving shimmering clouds of boiling blood in their wake.
"What have I done..." Vyek gasped, shaken to the core by the unholy beasts approaching. He rallied immediately, resuming his full-auto deluge into the growing, charging Daemon swarm.
"All hands to loch and load!" Cyer ordered. His men, the Novitae included, formed a firing line automatically. "Loose at will! loose at Throne-damned will!"
Bolt weapons burst into life. Snap-shots of white-hot plasma left ultraviolent streaks across their vision as Ire opened up a moment later than his Brothers. The Daemons seemed not to care. Some fell, mostly those caught in Vyek's murderous line of fire, but the Daemons were incorporeal things whose bodies did not obey the laws of the material world - they could endure storms of fire that would kill a Space Marine twice over and keep on coming.
"They're going to overwhelm us..." Xor growled, revving his chainaxes. "Let me go. By the Horned God, let me go!"
Cyer ignored the baying of the Berserker. "Take up a pistol, damn you!"
The order came too late. Vyek broke his position and dropped back to the firing step as the Daemons fell upon their line. The first was hit by all three Novitae together, and their sheer weight of fire destabalised its form. Another overwhelmed Okor and hacked him to pieces before Vyek and Cyer's combined firepower demolished it.
The last came for the Berserker. Screaming murder-oaths in the tongue of Qwaythe, Xor span on his heels to face the Daemon and struck it with both axes, carving it into three pieces. Another Daemon came down into the ditch and took a return swing to the chin. It flew back out of the low ground, most of its skull gone.
"Fury..." Cyer hissed, watching as Xor broke rank without orders and took the fight to the Daemons.
"Hate is the weapon of the faithful against the impure," Lata quoted.
Cyer nodded, grabbing a power lance from his bike. "Then let them taste fury! Blades, blades, blades!"
The Astartes rose to join their berserker Brother. Jahr went down again almost instantly, a Flesh Hound locked around his throat. He died, but not before stabbing the beast in the gut a dozen times and banishing it back to the Warp. Ceyr killed the rest of the pack with swift, expert lunges of his lance.
The fight began to turn their way. For all their immunity to weapons fire, the Daemons bled just fine to knife and sword and fist. The steppe-born Novitae fought with scimitars, moving together and hacking the Daemons with two-handed strokes. Next to them, Vyek continued to lay down heavy fire as did Ire; theirs were the only guns the Daemons seemed to truly feel. Reja had borrowed, without his consent, her sergeant's heraldic shield and was using it to turn aside the glowing blades of the Daemons. Her hatchet had already claimed two by Cyer's count.
Lata had managed to reach Xor's side, and the two formed the vanguard of the Marine force. Lata fought with bolter and chainsword, continuing to put fire into the enemy just to keep them off balance. Xor's axes were all but jamming, such was the amount of gore and offal clinging to them. He moved like a dancer, lost in the rhythms of his own self-induced frenzy. He'd been cut countless times, but did not seem to notice.
They killed hundreds, but there were hundreds more to replace them. Vyek's gun clicked dry and he resorted to pistol and chainsword. Ire still had ammunition, but he'd been impaled through the heart not three minutes before and so was unable to make use of it. Reja had fallen soon after, despite Cyer's attempts to keep her alive. A Bloodletter had come in past his guard and flanked her, cleaving the Novitae's head clean off. Cyer had avenged her tenfold, not that it seemed to make any difference.
He sensed the Bloodthirster before he saw it. There was something in the air; a sudden, inexplicable rage that filled his body and mind. It was the desire to slay not only the Daemons, but everything. He wanted to bury his power-lance into the hearts of his Brothers, to cleave of their heads and relish in the blood that flowed forth.
He set eyes upon it, and that was enough to break the rage; some terrors are too strong to drown in anger.
He closed his eyes. Just for a moment, just long enough to let himself conjour the image of the Emperor. He pictured him as a great king of a feral land, bare chested and with a helm of horns that was implausibly, ludicrously massive. He opened his eyes once more and steeled his heart with the litanies he had been taught by his mentor over a century ago.
"Kill it!" he screamed. "Kill it in His name!"
Lata flung himself at the Greater Daemon, jinking aside as a great whip split the ground where he'd stood a moment before. His chainsword shed teeth against the beasts iron-hard hide, and he was forced to duck and roll again as the Bloodthirster turned and lashed out once more. Weapons fire rippled across its great bronze breastplate as the Novitae abandoned swords and went for guns once more. It was nothing but an irritation to the Daemon; they may as well have struck it with feathers. It killed Jaon with a roar; a scream of such magnificent rage that the aspirant's bones snapped and organs burst. He spewed up his liquefied lungs and collapsed into a ruined heap.
Then it was Xor's turn to face the Daemon. He ran at it, blades trailing the liquid remains of Bloodletters beyond counting. The Lord of Blood saw him coming and swung its great axe, but Xor was far more agile than it anticipated and dropped down, sliding in the bloody grass. He buried his axes into the beast's crotch, burying both weapons up to the hilt. Such was his fury, such was his rightous rage, that neither the Daemon's iron skin nor its Warp-forged armour could withstand the blows. Both legs came off, cartwheeling comically through the air, and as it fell Cyer was ready for it. He thrust upward, piercing the Bloodthirster's throat, and let its own body weight do the rest.
It howled as it died. Its body began to burn away and it howled its immesurable fury at the Astartes. Cyer watched it die with nothing but revulsion in his heart, and as the weight began to lift off his blade he stepped back, ripped it free, and decapitated the disintegrating Daemon.
The rest of the horde faded like mist before a rising sun. They left behind them the tattered, ruined remains of the Cultists. Most of them fell to their knees and begged for mercy, and the Astartes slaughtered all that they could. The survivors broke and fled north, where they were ultimately caught and killed by the PDF.
"It was a good day," Xor growled. His weapons had been abandoned; the death of the Bloodthirster had finally warped them to the point of unusable.
Cyer looked back over the field. The grass had turned black, such was the amount of blood they had spilled. With no Daemon corpses, the bodies of his dead Brothers were clear to see. They would have to be burned, lest any taint linger in their flesh. Slowly, he released his helm and took a lungful of air, retching at the lingering stench of Taint.
"Why so bitter, Brother?" Xor asked. "We won, didn't we? We sent these Daemons back to hell, and their Taint will be clensed before long! We won!"
The sergeant stared into the Berserker's eyes. "You enjoy your work too much," he growled, and set about tending to the dead.