Chapter 1: Echoes

Battle Barge Andronicus

Brother Flavius confirmed the acolyte’s readings. The signal was faint, but a Great Crusade era Ultramarines distress beacon signature was clearly distinguishable from the background radiation picked up by the Andronicus’ sensors. “Brother Captain Titus must be informed immediately” stated Flavius and purposely made his way to the bridge.

Upon entering the Sorathian system, Captain Titus had wasted no time in setting a course for the desolated world of Omega-Epsilon. This had been the site of the major engagement, during the Horus Heresy, that his Chapter master had spoken of. Such was the fury of the onslaught, as brother fought brother, that thirty thousand years later the planet surface was still awash with toxic radiation: remnants of the apocalyptic munitions detonated in millennia past.

So dense were the echoes of that ancient Fallout, that the ships’ instruments had been unable to obtain any telling readings. Any answers would have to be gathered by ground forces. As the space marine captain contemplated his options, Brother Flavius emerged from an access corridor to address him. “Captain, I have overseen the sensor sweep of the planet’s moon as ordered.” Titus nodded for the marine to continue “the surface appears not to bear the same scars of combat borne by Omega-Epsilon. Though the radiation from the planet is strong, we were able to conduct a successful survey of the moon’s topography. Also, Captain, we have detected an ancient Ultramarine signal from quadrant 4.”

The marine then presented Titus with his findings. “This is well done Brother” the Ultramarine Captain said. “I see by the surrounding terrain and the weakness of the signal, that it must be beneath the surface. Perhaps, within, lies an installation founded by our forebears. If the Emperor wills it, we may yet find precious gene seed that has survived after all of these long years. Rouse Brother Marcus with all haste, bid him muster strike force Alpha, whom I shall lead personally!” Flavius inclined his head and replied “it shall be done at once Brother Captain,” and went forth to fulfill his duty.

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The opening to the complex was pitch black. It mattered not. What little remained hidden from the Astartes’ enhanced vision was revealed by their helms’ advanced lenses. The Ultramarines proceeded cautiously into the derelict structure. Brother Captain Titus held the center, while Brothers Marcus, Cassius and Flavius took point. Fully ten of the Emperor’s finest advanced boldly, with their Captain, into the earth. They were preceded by an armored behemoth: A Contemptor Pattern Dreadnought. Entombed within its mighty adamantium plates was revered Brother Augustus.

With the experience of centuries, the Contemptor smashed its impressive bulk into the the darkness. The entrance was broad and thus Augustus had no difficulty as he proceeded towards his objective. Titus and his marines followed only paces away. It was immediately clear that this had once been a barracks of the Ultramarines, a temporary staging point in preparation for deployment to the war-zones upon the planet below. The first chamber they were greeted with was small and empty, with only a narrow stairwell leading downwards. There were no other passageways in sight.

Without needing to receive any command, Brother Augustus brought his Assault cannons to bear and opened fire at the surface beneath his feet. What ensued was a brutal cacophony of screeching metal and the pervasive whine of the Contemptor’s weaponry. When Augustus’ cannon’s became silent once more, he stood in the middle of a perfect circle, carved into the steel flooring. With a mighty stomp, the Dreadnought overburdened what few threads of metal survived his onslaught, and plummeted onto the level below.

Silently, the Astrates moved single file down the stairwell to rejoin their Brother. Once they did so, Captain Titus found that Augustus had landed in a large open space, which must once have housed the base Armory. However, only one pathway was large enough for the Contemptor to pass. Titus divided his marines in two teams, leading one towards Augustus, as he ordered Brother Marcus to lead the second to explore the corridors to the south of their position. Before the teams separated, Titus gave them their orders. “My brothers, we are gathered here this day to give our fallen brethren the peace in death that they could not allow themselves in life. Seek out any that may have fallen and reclaim their gene seed that they may rejoin the Chapter!”

The squads separated and moved out to execute their designated sector sweeps, alert to any dangers that may lurk in the darkness. Sergeant Marcus led his four Ultramarine companions down a corridor to the south. As they turned a corner they came across a fallen Astartes warrior, wearing Mk II battle plate, adorned with the livery of the Legion of Ultramar. After taking a moment to pay their respects to their fallen comrade, Brother Marcus knelt and examined the corpse. Remarkably, the ancient power armor had repaired itself and preserved the body to this day. Not much remained, but Marcus was able to extract enough gene seed to fill the specially designed container he had brought.

Meanwhile Captain Titus had found the source of the signal that had been detected from orbit. In an alcove within the large chamber, an Ultramarine Legionary Tech-priest had fallen. Seemingly he had activated the beacon with his dying breath. The significance of this last act was unknown to Brother Titus, but at the very least it had allowed for the re-discovery of this place. Titus retrieved the Tech-marine’s gene-seed and deactivated the ancient beacon. As he did so, his enhanced instincts began to scream that something was amiss.

Brother Severus was first to make contact with the enemy. He had stood guard as Marcus completed his task, when he sensed movement in the corner of his eye. He readied his bolter and waited. Suddenly, lithe shapes peeled from the shadows and began moving towards the marines at great speed. With a shout, Severus called for a volley and his fellow marines were quick to answer.

Bolter fire filled the narrow corridor, felling several of the unknown attackers. Brother Maximus took up his flamer and released its fuel. In a blazing plume of cleansing fire, the Ultramarines’ attackers were revealed for what they were: Mandrakes. In these tight quarters the flames created a nigh-impenetrable wall of death. Yet the foe seemed unconcerned with its losses and charged into Marcus’ squad with wild abandon. So furious was the attack, that two space marines fell to the fiends’ cruel blades.

But the marines’ precise reactionary fire had been flawless and only three of the enemy’s number remained. These were quickly dispatched. Victorious, Brother Sergeant Marcus led his squad to the main chamber. Responding immediately to the enemy presence, Captain Titus ordered strike force Alpha to gather and fortify their position. Even as they complied, Marcus’ marines were beset again. This time by crazed Dark Eldar wyches, who darted at them. Two were claimed by righteous bolter shots and gouts of flame. But three reached the Ultramarines. In the swirling melee, another Astartes was slain. Marcus and his surviving brother were unable to harm the wretches, so fast were their movements.

As this happened, a squad of Kabalite warriors sprung into the main chamber from a side entrance. With preternatural speed they fired volley after volley of poisoned splinters at Titus and his marines. Hundreds of these projectiles peppered the Emperor’s warriors, but the foul shards found no purchase, for the Astartes armor was too resplendent. True to its name, the Dreadnought turned to face these puny attackers and unleashed its devastating hail of fire, bellowing “Purge the alien!” None survived. Confident that Augustus would guard them against enemy attack from the rear, Captain Titus led his squad towards Sergeant Marcus. No matter how fast they may be, the sheer bulk of the charging Ultramarines proved too much for the three surviving wyches. With nowhere to turn, they were strangled by a noose of ceramite.

As Titus looked up from the Dark Eldar corpses, he noted that the enemy leader had finally shown himself. An Archon of Commorragh strode into sight, accompanied by a retinue of four menacing looking armored Eldar. The Captain recognized these beings: Incubi, peerless and deadly warriors, even for an Astartes. Titus would not suffer them to live. “To me my brothers!” he called. Immediately all of the Ultramarines formed as one and took firing positions. Once again, the Dark Eldars’ speed and dexterity proved to be no match to the storm of bolter fire that they were confronted with. Despite their heavy armor, the Incubi were all felled by the righteous barrage.

The Archon, however, emerged unscathed. Hits had been scored against him, but each time a dark field had swallowed the detonating shell as though it were nothing more than a smoke pellet. The Eldar sneered contemptuously and raced directly towards Brother Captain Titus. Wasting no time, the space marine Captain rushed forward to meet the charge. A flurry of vicious blows rained down upon him. They fell with a level of dexterity and skill that Titus could not hope to match. Nor did he need to. He waited patiently as the Archon sought in vain to penetrate his artificer armor, raking at the space marine’s breastplate with his gauntleted agonizer, even as he stabbed at perceived weaknesses in the Captain’s armor with a venom blade in his other hand. There were none. In mere moments Titus saw his opening and smashed the Eldar warlord with his shimmering relic blade. The forceful strike caught the Archon fully in the chest, reducing it to pulp on impact. In a single blow was the foe slain. His Eldritch technology did not save him.

Amidst the tangled ruin of that once haughty Eldar, Titus was surprised to discover a slender tube. On closer inspection, he saw that it unmistakably contained Astartes gene seed. Having seen this also, Brother Flavius could not hide his contempt “perfidious Eldar! does their foul meddling know no end?” he asked. “These are not Eldar of the Craftworlds, Brother, but denizens of the dark city Commorragh. Though there is no place for either in the Emperor’s realm, the presence of these bodes ill for our quest. We must learn what machinations drove them to seek out Astartes gene-seed. Whatever plan fuels this mad scheme must be thwarted.”

It took Titus and his men another hour to scour the complex and become satisfied that no more gene-seed remained. Of the three casualties, two were stabilized and would eventually recover from their wounds. The third, however, had been sliced apart by the wyches’ blades and could not be saved. When the time came to depart, Brother Captain Titus said “Severus, detonate a fusion charge on that bulkhead, that our good Brother Augustus may leave this sorry place.”

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From within the comfort of his pleasure yacht, concealed in a nearby artery of the webway, Archon Oberon-Geren Mackareth ended the visual feed. His invisible probe had followed one of his minions, Archon Naruth, into the ruined Ultramarine complex. Oberon had not expected to find the mon-keigh hulks in this system and certainly did not expect Naruth to be so incompetent as to allow himself to be defeated by them.

As this petty Archon had stood alone, foolishly dueling the Ultramarine captain, Oberon had formulated a new plan. With a faint smile, he had remotely deactivated Naruth’s Shadowfield, using a code that he had keyed into the device when he first “gifted” it to his subordinate. He could not risk any damage to the Ultramarine leader. Now that he knew space marines were in the area, it seemed wasteful not to make use of their services. Oberon signaled one of his Incubi and shortly thereafter, Archon Ivanael was brought before him. The lesser Archon bowed his head towards the leader of the Undivided Blood Kabal.

The gesture was a facade of course. No Archon of Commorragh works for another except for the hope of one day plunging his dagger into the other’s back and usurping his old master’s seat of power. Oberon knew that, and Ivanael knew that. It was the Tyrant’s law, and it was the way of the Eldar. Those of their race that drifted amidst the stars in their wraithbone coffins sought to deny the truth of their own nature. They were fools. Commorragh was the Empire reborn, an unassailable fortress from which countless Dark Eldar raiding parties could strike throughout the galaxy with impunity. In their world, only the strong survived, while the weak were nothing more than chattel, to be used at their betters’ whim.

For the moment, Oberon and Ivanael needed each-other. Their instincts resonated with the knowledge that one day they would come to blows, which created in each of them the desire to strike at the other immediately. Well acquainted with the urge to kill, they repressed the impulse easily. “Archon Oberon, how may I best place my Kabal at your service?” asked Ivanael. Oberon studied the new leader of the Eyes-Bled-Out Kabal with an expressionless face. He knew little about this up-and-coming dark eldar, except that he had been particularly bold in the assassination of his predecessor and largely successful at both cementing his hold over the Kabal and hiding the truth of his origins. Perhaps he was the correct tool with which to implement his new plan.

“I have brought my forces here, Ivanael, because I wish to hunt especially powerful prey.” Archon Oberon said. “I have known for some time that the mon-keigh that call themselves space marines would come to this place. They are the product of primitive genetic manipulation and are thus far more resilient than the verminous masses of ordinary mon-keigh. As such they are of great value as combatants in our city’ arenas.” The Archon continued. “They are few in number and will prove easily captured. However, their vessel is formidable and an assault upon it would prove unnecessarily costly. For this reason I need you to find suitable locations for us to lay in ambush while the fools are on a planet’s surface.”

Archon Ivanael nodded in apparent understanding. As did all successful Archons, Oberon spoke lies with the same tone and sincerity that he spoke truths. Such was his mastery, that the younger Archon could not hope to differentiate between the two. He therefore assumed that nothing he heard was the full truth. “I have learned that the mon-keigh are of the Ultramarines chapter and that they are here in search of meaningless trinkets from their bygone age of glory, to satisfy the cretinous infatuation they have with their corpse-emperor. Find the remnants of ancient Mon-keigh and report your findings to me.” Oberon finished. “Of course Archon Oberon, it shall be done.” Ivanael inclined his head once more and left the audience chamber.

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