The Great Crusade was one of the greatest eras of Mankinds history. In those days, the Emperor walked amongst men, the Primarchs stood united against the enemies of the Imperium, and Space Marine Legions retook the galaxy from the grip of the Old Night. But in the wake of the Horus Heresy, so much history of that glorious time has been lost, the records destroyed in the heat of war, locked away in hidden vaults and libraries, or simply forgotten as the ages passed. This is one such forgotten tale:
I stand in the center of a canvas tent, awaiting the arrival of the commander. Outside the tent the jungle buzzes and chitters with activity, masking the sounds of bloodshed and warfare that resonate through my ears. Through my enhanced senses I can hear the roar of artillery fire and clashing blades, smell the scents of coppery spilt blood and acrid smoke, the callsigns of battle on a massive scale. I slowly clench and unclench my grip on the hilt of my sword, as if I could fight off the inevitable confrontation that is to come. Once again I ponder over why I was brought to this war-torn world.
As a rite of passage, our Legion’s Primarch declared that those who wish to ascend to the rank of Captain must first undergo a tenure within one of our cousin’s Legions. For an unspecified amount of time, I shall walk amongst the sons of another Primarch, until one day I shall be recalled back to my homeworld to receive my Captaincy. This is both a means to test, but it is also a chance to learn, to understand our fellow Space Marine, to bridge the gaps between our Legion and others through cultural understanding. However, the only other Legion I’ve ever fought alongside were the sons of Russ, the Space Wolves. After hearing the opinions, or rather insults they had to share, it is no wonder why the Crimson King wishes to make peace with our other brethren.
The tent entrance opens with a rush of displaced air, interrupting my thoughts. An Astartes strides in to the tent, clad Power Armor of burnished silver, marked with warning stripes of gold and jet. The unmistakable masked skull of the Iron Warriors is proudly displayed on his shoulder, marking him as one of the grim sons Peturabo. I bow my head respectfully in his presence, unsure of how to go about greeting him. The Iron Warrior looks me over with cold, storm-grey eyes.
“The Warsmith will see you now.” He says, then turns to leave. I follow.
Warsmith Galtan’s features are akin to the armor he wears, meaning they are weathered, scarred, and looked like they had been crafted from pitted iron. Like the Iron Warrior that had first greeted me, he wears the same colors of burnished silver, gold and jet, but his armor is decorated with honor marks and other symbols I am not quite familiar with, save one. A raptor’s head, superimposed over a pair of crossed lightning bolts, which adorns his left knee plate.
The Warsmith fought in the Unification Wars. No wonder he looked like a veteran.
“Why are you here?” he asks me, even as we stand in the middle of a staging ground. All around us the Iron Warriors construct fortifications and move war machines into position. Human axillaries dig trenches and man massive artillery cannons that fire thunderous blasts at regular intervals. If not for my augmented sense of hearing, I most likely would have been deafened by the sheer amount of noise.
I pause for a moment, unsure of exactly to inform Galtan of my assignment. Behind me, the unnamed Warrior stands impassively, his bolter at the ready. It’s somewhat insulting, do I really represent a threat?
“I am here as a sort of liaison.” I say to the Warsmith. “I am at your disposal until my brothers see fit to call me back to the Legion.”
Galtan merely crosses his arms in front of him, revealing that his left forearm is a bionic replica. Glancing at the Iron Warrior behind me and says in a mocking tone, “You can put the gun away Kandros, he’s not going to bite you.” Kandros grunts and mag-locks the bolter to his side, but still looks at me as if I am something to be reviled. I immediately start to dislike him.
Galtan turns back to me, raising his voice to be heard of the din of the cannonfire. “Can you fight?” he asks in an appraising voice. Seems a rather obvious question. I am a Space Marine, we are bred for war.
“Can you lead?”
“Then we’ll have no problems. Welcome to the 13th Grand Battalion.” The corners of his mouth tug upwards, into what might be considered a smile. “What’s your name?”
“My name is Akoris Toth of the Thousand Sons.”
The planet: it was named Isis by its inhabitants. It’s roughly the same size and overall mass as Terra, but due to its large bodies of water and closer position to its sun, most of the planet is covered in tropical jungles. Rainfall is extremely common, and thus the temperature is hot and humid almost all the time. These factors have also made Isis a breeding ground for insect life-forms. According to the Warsmith, the jungles are crawling with bugs of all kinds and descriptions, from tiny bloodsucking flies to tank-sized armored beetles that on numerous occasions have attacked their base camps, making the war effort all the more challenging.
The war effort: Isis is also the homeworld of a post-industrial human society, one of the many that was lost to the Old night. These “Isisians”, if you will, live in massive walled cities to defend themselves from the local fauna, but the city-states constantly warred against one another for territory. The one thing that managed to unite them was their hatred of the Imperium. Fiercely independent, the Isisians sent the Imperial delegates back to their Explorator Fleet in pieces, and thus the Iron Warriors were called upon to shatter their walls and burn their cities. So far they have done exactly that, but now find themselves at a standstill, trapped in a siege against the Corona, the largest and most well protected fortress-city of them all. All of this information flies through my head as I ponder what sort of role I will play in this war effort. I sit on a wide stump that might have once been a gigantic tree, one of the many that dot the Warsmith’s encampment. The Iron Warriors deforested entire swaths of the forest to make way for these temporary emplacements, with walls constructed of the harvested timber and the larger stumps used as weapon emplacements and strongpoints. They’re certainly resourceful, to have crafted a fortress from logs and leaves in just a few days.
“Hey!” a voice rings out, interrupting my thoughts for the second time today. “Your Toth right?”
Standing up I see a group of Iron Warriors walking towards me, warning-striped Bolters mag-locked to their belts and a double headed arrow on right shoulder plates, a Tactical Squad. The Space Marine that called out for me walks in front of the group, carrying his helmet in the crook of his arm, exposing a surprisingly youthful face. I stand up and remove my own helmet, as a sign of courtesy.
“Damn, you really are a Thousand Son.” The young marine says after taking one look at my dark-skinned face and crimson armor. I am not that surprised I stand out, after all while their armor is silver, mine is the color of blood, my shoulder plates trimmed with intricate gold rims engraved with Prosperian symbols and hung with strips of rune-inscribed papyrus. The same designs and wrappings decorate my greaves, and a loincloth the dirty white of old parchment decorated with the flaming circle of my legion hangs from my belt. My helm is dominated by its blank golden faceplate, with twin eyeslits and a high crest of red and white. Even my weapon is exotic, a force sword with a long, sickle-shaped blade. In short, I wonder why this Marine didn’t recognize me sooner.
But instead of pointing out the obvious, I merely reply; “Yes, I am Toth.”
The young Iron Warrior cracks into a broad grin, an expression which seems to be a rarity amongst his Legion. “I’m Sergeant Kopak, and this sorry lot-” he jabs a thumb over his shoulder, “-is the 69th Tactical Support Squad. By order of Warsmith Galtan we’ve been placed under your command.”
I am immediately surprised by this announcement. “I confess Sergeant,” I say in a careful tone, “I know little of how your Legion wages war. Perhaps it would be better if you were to lead your squad.”
“The Warsmith thought you might say that.” Says Kopek, looking faintly amused. “We’re to report to you, but you in turn are to report directly to him. Galtan will give you the orders, all you need to do is follow them.”
I nod in understanding, it seems simple enough. However, by taking a look at Kopak’s squad, I can’t help but notice that despite their battle-weathered armor and equipment, many of them are just as young as or even younger than their commander. Curious, I decide to take my first step in understanding the Iron Warriors.
“Pardon me, but many of your squad seem to have just recently become full battle-bothers. Has your squad sustained heavy losses?”
Kopek glances back at his fellows. “So you noticed. Most of us are new, but not for the reasons you think. Our Legion just recently started recruiting from Olympia.”
“Our homeworld, and the place where the Lord of Iron was raised. Most of our veterans, like Warsmith Galtan for example, are Terran. But newer generations like us are Olympian-born.” Kopak takes a deep breath before adding; “Galtan also said you’d ask a lot of questions, so by all means ask away.”
The Warsmith is far more observant than I thought. “Has Galtan had dealings with my Legion before?” I ask.
Kopak nods. “During the Siege of Domos Minor, fighting alongside your 1st Fellowship. He met Magnus the Red."
Curious. It seems that there is much to learn about the 13th Grand Battalion.
As the siege progresses, I notice that the combat doctrines of the Iron Warriors and Thousand Sons are not so dissimilar. For starters, Warsmith Galtan sent ahead his Battalion's Scout Auxilla before the battle began, where they scanned the perimeter of the Corona's massive walls and towering gunports, looking for any signs of structural weakness or any gaps in the Isisian's defense. This is similar to what my Legion would have done, only the Fellowship's precognitives and telepaths would have also been doing reconnaissance of their own, our Corvidae battle-seers scrying out the enemies battle plan and our Athanaean telepaths stealing tactical information from our enemies unwary minds.
But, the Iron Warriors are not the Thousand Sons, and they prefer a more direct approach.
The Warsmith's plan seemed to go off without a hitch. The 13th Grand Battalion assualted the towering walls of the Corona with a massed charge of Land Raiders, Rhinos, and Predator tanks, which of course go the Isisian's attention. The purpose of such an excessive use of heavy support was twofold: to literally bulldoze the defensive trenches and secondary walls that ringed the Corona, and to keep the Isisian's attention on the attack. The plan was working at first, as the tank battalion approached their position, the Isisians instinctively lashed out with a hail of anti-armor fire, to be answered in turn with a hail of firepower of our own. Hastily made defenses crumbled, soldiers sent flying into the air from massed cannonfire, or simply being reduced to a soup of crimson gore underneath the war machine's treads. Once they were far enough in, the Iron Warriors disembarked from their vehicles, taking the battle to the Isisians on foot with blade and bolter. The battle was joined, and with that it was my turn.
I was being transported at the rear of the advance in the Predator Lamentations, riding alongside Sergeant Kopak and his squad. My orders were simple, to deactivate the void shield that protected the Corona from the Iron Warriors artillery, before the fortress-cities gun batteries blew their advance into pieces. Once the shield was down, the Corona would be vulnerable to the gravitonic payload the Pneumachina Tech-Priests were loading as we spoke, an artillery strike that would blow the doors of the city wide open, securing victory. It was a good plan, but like most good plans, very rarely does it survive contact with the enemy.
There was no noise, just a flash of maddening colors, and suddenly the front half of the Lamentations vaporized; pilot, treads and all. The Predator skidded to a stop, it's Machine Spirit mortally wounded, and the sounds of battle filled the now hollowed-out tank chasis. Not waiting to find out what had hit us, I immediately disengaged the hydraulic clamps holding me in place and did a quick headcount. According to my helmet's display all of the squad's members were accounted for, but two of their status runes blinked amber. Turning around, I saw Kopak hoisting one of his squadmates out of his half-destroyed harness, his left arm a shoulder completely missing as if they had simply dissipated into this air, leaving nothing behind save a bloody stump where a limb once was.
Spinning around, my enhanced eyesight locks on to the cause of the tank's destruction. Roughly 200 meters in front of us, a lone turret stands defiantly, it's cone-shaped barrel still crackling with prismatic energy. These exotic guns had been the bane of the Iron Warrior's war machines, spitting blasts of multicolored light that made a mockery of the heaviest armor, vaporizing entire tanks in a single shot. The Scout Auxiliaries nicknamed them "Rainbow Cannons", obviously as a joke, although at the moment I see nothing humorous about them.
(MORE TO FOLLOW)