The sun hung low in the sky, colouring the dusty ground in a red light. The thin air, coupled with the dust, would have bothered human lungs, made it impossible for them to breathe. Such was not the case for the Astartes of the Black Hand, their genhanced physiology more than capable of dealing with the low oxygen levels. The thin air was the least of the company’s worries.
Bolter in hand, Taran brought up the rear. Following his team in this manner was his usual place in such fights. It was not because he was less competent than they, far from it. His training was more specialist than that. If one of his brothers were to fall, he would be the first to see that they rose again. Never had he lost one of his companions in battle. Never had he let one of them die on his watch; it had become a point of honour among them that he had never lost anyone. Sure, he had dealt with some horrific wounds but no one had ever died. Something he was more than a little proud of too.
He knew what they were fighting against would show about as much mercy as they would. A quiver trickled down his spine, tightness clenched at the pit of his stomach and a grin crept onto his face. Apothecary he may be but he was no less a killer than his battle brothers in front of him. They had been through many wars together and this one was no different, the same anticipation cut through him as did them. Forcing his breathing to calm, he followed on through the deserted street.
The houses they walked between were more ruins than anything else, signs of the orbital bombardment this planet had been subjected to before their arrival. The smoke from the blasts rose into the air in lazy plumes and the odd fire smouldered on. There was no sign of the Heretics that had been reported here. The planet was utterly silent; the only noise was that which they had brought with them; the crunch of dust under heavy boots and the muffled clatter of metal. The sound of his breathing echoed above it all. Artikus scanned the ruins for movement, catching nothing.
Then it happened.
One moment they were walking, the next bolters were being fired. Snapping his head around, the heavily armoured heretics came into view. The red light, hitting off their skin gave them a daemonic look, their faces twisted into screams of rage, aimed at his squad. “Mortiferus!” was the screamed response.
Grimclaw was their finest. None rivalled him in bravery or battle. A master in combat, he led the company forward, their loud battle cries combining to create a compelling sound. Thoss, the chaplain, was right by his side and Artikus could hear his words from where he was, even over the firing of the bolters. How he had the ability to speak so eloquently while fighting was an inspiration in itself. He turned his bolter to the foe and fired, losing himself in the thickness of the fight.
He had no idea how it happened, except from hearing a deafening explosion. One moment he was punching some heretic in the face, the next he was being called over to deal with the fallen. The battle raged on around him, his brothers dealing with the forces of evil while he pounded over to the body. Thoss was standing over the fallen, blasting anything that moved too close. The ruin he was in had been turned into a quagmire of meat, blood and sand; the ground had been churned up, blasted out of place.
“It’s bad,” he said. One glance at the spluttering, broken form told him exactly what Thoss had said, “Save him!” The chaplain took another glance down before his attention turned to the rest of the squad, backing them up with both his bolter and his words.
The diagnoster in his helmet began showing him exactly what had happened here. The blast from the explosion had happened right at Grimclaw’s feet. The high powered detonation had sent huge fragments of shrapnel in each direction. Now he knew that, a quick glance around told him the vast majority had missed, though there were more than a few bits sticking into the Power Armour of the captain. What it had allowed the enemy to do was get a couple of shots off while Grimclaw was momentarily distracted. It was the shots that had done the damage.
Most of them had bounced off the power armour; one had caught him in the neck however and the stem of blood that was pouring from him needed to be stopped. The Narthecium contained enough skin patches to see to it and he set about the grim work without hesitation. Grimclaw moved his head to the side, letting have the access he needed without having to cut away through the armour. “How bad is it?” he managed to ask. His voice was little more than a hoarse whisper.
“You’ll be on your feet in no time,” Artikus replied as he applied the patch to the wound, amazed as always when it bonded immediately. That dealt with the blee-
His thoughts were cut off when a huge blast sounded above them. Horrified, Artikus looked up in time to see the building in which they were sheltering begin to collapse. There was little time, he covered his head with his hands and braced for the impact of the stone as it fell. Pain ruptured through his arm, flashing through him before the stimulants count dampen them, injected via the power armour. Artikus sat up, aware that there was still a battle going on around him. Pushing rubble from him, he looked across at Grimclaw. His heart sank. Where his face had been was now bloody pulp, a boulder the size of his head lay to the right of his mangled head.
Grimclaw coughed. How the hell was he still alive? Arikus scrabbled over to him, wondering if there was anything he could do to aid the beloved captain, “Sir?” he said, touching his shoulder. The only noise that escaped him was a hiss, it might have been speech, it might be the sound of air escaping the cracked rebreather Grimclaw had worn. Artikus dared to glance at the rest of his body. His limbs and torso lay under a giant slab, crushed beyond recognition. Artikus knew what he had to do.
Heavy limbed, he moved so he was behind the Astartes he had called friend for as long as he could remember. A broken hand lifted from the rubble to grip his forearm and he caught his friend’s eye. There seemed to be some sort of understanding there and he nodded, “I’m going to send you to the Emperor, your fight is over,” he said. He placed the Carnifex, the part of the Narthecium which was a spring loaded screw, to at the right side temple, knowing the Emperor’s Peace would surround his friend soon enough, “I have nothing profound to say, you’ll live on in our name, that I can promise.” Artikus watched his friend close his eyes right before pressing the button that would unleash the spring, sending it into the brain and ending the warrior’s life. Grimclaw’s body went limp and Artikus let out a deep sigh, knowing that the next part was going to be as difficult, if not more so. He had seen it done before, had practiced it too but never in a combat situation like this. Forcing nerves away as though they were mere motes to be brushed under the carpet, he steadied his hand and began. The Chapter had to take its due after all, lest they die out.
He had finished collecting the gene-seed when he heard the first shouts of ‘Mortiferus’ once again. Artikus realised the shots had stopped and Thoss’ voice came over the vox. With a heavy voice, he answered his name in the correct sequence, glad the fighting was over. He knew the cheering would subside when they discovered what had happened and any celebrations would be subdued by these events.