- The Emperor repressed a sigh as she entered the meeting chamber. Great works of art covered the walls, including a magnificent picture of the Sigillite. If only half these people were as competent as Malcador, there would be no need for this. She saluted her old, long dead friend, and nodded, the sign to begin.
- The head of the Administratum stood up. “My God-Emperor, production has been increased to max possible output with the Segementums Solar, Tempestus, and half of Ultimum. I understand recruiting into the Guard has increased likewise. I offer thanks to my fellow Lords of the Guard, Navy, and the Adeptus Mechanicus for their efforts in achieving success in this endeavor.”
- The Emperor smiled and nodded. Short and to the point. She could have pulled the information from the brains of all present with but a thought, but allowing each Lord to speak increased cooperation and coordination within the council, crucial in this great crisis.
- “Have the production restrictions been lifted?” she asked the Fabricator-General.
- “Yes, oh Omnissiah. Production limits are law no longer on Mars and all Forgeworlds we've been able to contact,” said the Fabricator-General. He – was it a he? The answer was probably irrelevant, the Emperor decided – was far more machine than human, and displayed this fact proudly.
- “Good. Lord Inquisitor, is this the Supreme Grand Master of the Grey Knights?” the Emperor's voice no longer held any warmth in it.
- “Yes, my God-Emperor. As you requested,” he said. He hid his nervousness well. It had not been so much a request as -
- “As I ordered,” said the Emperor, switching her focus to the Space Marine in heavily adorned grey armor. “Kaldor Draigo, do you know why I've summoned you?”
- “No, my Emperor,” he said. There was no nervousness here.
- “Because you've failed in your mission.”
- Now Draigo's eyes widened and he gasped softly, stunned by this rebuke. “My Emperor -”
- “DO NOT THINK TO INTERRUPT ME AGAIN,” intoned the Emperor, adding the dreadful weight of her psychic might to her words. “IF YOU DO, YOU WILL DIE.” Everyone present blanched at her words, but she continued. “You have failed – the Grey Knights have failed! - since the very beginning. Do you think the existence of Daemons could be so easily hidden? Do you think the truth of Horus' betrayal could be buried? What arrogance! Look at the founder of your Chapter!” All eyes followed her gesture towards the Sigillite. “His last orders came before the final battle ten thousand years ago. Your Knights sat out the Battle of Terra, hidden in the Warp, yet you assumed circumstances had not changed? Malcador was dead. I was dead – or close enough. Roboute had changed so much – yet you thought to follow your original orders? Every guardsman who survives an attack by daemons and lives to retire brings knowledge you kill whole worlds for with them. Do you think they forget the horrors they've seen? Do you think every soul privileged enough to know of daemons before hand never lets anything slip? Much of the Imperium knows the secrets you think to keep from them. And yet you continue to murder innocents to protect this secret.” she paused. “Speak! Explain!”
- “My God-Emperor – My God – I....” the Supreme Grand Master of the Grey Knights, who had defeated greater demons, even a Demon Prince Traitor Primarch himself – hung his head in absolute shame. “I cannot. I follow only the traditions of those who came before me. We have always done these things.” He met the Emperor's eyes with tears in his own. “How could we have known otherwise?”
- “You could have thought. You could have ignored orders far out of date,” the Emperor released the long held sigh at last. “But the fault lies with you only in the smallest sense. Ten thousand years of tradition are hard to ignore. Know this: Your orders now are to follow me in all things, to fight daemons wherever I direct you, and leave when you have defeated your foe. As for you, Lord Inquisitor,” she turned to face the pale-faced Inquisitor without pausing - “Knowledge of daemons will no longer be grounds for death or memory modification, do you understand? In the coming conflict, such knowledge will spread throughout the Imperium. Trying to contain it will only weaken us at our most desperate hour.”
- The Emperor relaxed, and the tension in the room bled out as she did so. The meeting continued for another thirty minutes, as reports were given, orders made, and strategies planned. “Now I will lead my Custodians, the Grey Knights, and all militant orders of the Sisters available to Macragge. You know your duties. The Imperium will not fall if you do your duty. My blessing goes with you all.”
- “You called for me, Farseer?”
- “Autarch, thank you for coming. I have a seeing you will be most interested in hearing.”
- “Please continue. You have my full attention.”
- “I have seen how to find Commorragh.”
- Autarch Kayleth gave a rare smile. “These are indeed portentous times, my dear Elenwe. I shall call a Great Council immediately.”
- “Captain, scans indicate a ship in this system,” said Third Lieutenant Picus.
- “Identity of the vessel?”
- “Working... one moment,” she replied. “Battle cruiser. Overlord class. Identity unknown.”
- “Is it one of the enemy's?”
- “It may be. Preliminary scans match the recorded output of the Red Corsair vessel Aquiline,” she said. “Sir! They may not know we're here. They seem to be in the midst of repairs. Secondary scans indicate coolant leakage, which appears to reduce their effective scan range ten-fold.”
- Captain Numitor of the Justus Dominatus, an Oberon-class Battleship of the Gothic Battlefleet, was not known for his caution in battle. He pressed a single button on his command chair. “My Lord Primarchs, I request your presence on the bridge to discuss a possible attack plan.”
- A few minutes later, the four Primarchs were assembled. “What are we looking at here, Captain?” said the Wolf-King of Fenris.
- Captain Numitor desperately tried not to bow. Lord Russ had already lectured him on how a captain should never bow onboard his own ship save to his superiors. When he tried to protest that they were Primarchs, the sons of the God-Emperor himself, and surely superior to a mere mortal such as he, Russ had replied they were not HIS superiors; they were of the Adeptus Astartes, not the Imperial Navy.
- “My Lord, tertiary scans have confirmed what we suspected: This is a Battle Cruiser of the Red Corsair fleet, known as the Aquiline. They are a traitor chapter. Their instruments are blinded by the coolant leaking from their engines. We spotted them as soon as we dropped out of warp to recalibrate our position, but they still don't know we're here.”
- The Khan spoke next. “Blind, eh? Captain, does this vessel have boarding torpedoes?”
- “No my Lord. We do, however, have a number of shark assault boats,” he said, then realized what he had said. “My Lords, my orders are to take you to Terra at all speed. I cannot risk -”
- “We've spent ten millennia fighting things that shouldn't exist. I think we can risk fighting something that obeys the laws of reality for a change,” said Lord Corax. “Vulkan?”
- “Tell me about this shark assault boat. I don't know of them,” said the Salamander Lord.
- Captain Numitor described the vessel in question: small, heavily defended, and fast, designed to latch on an enemy craft and allow assault troops to board and capture enemy vessels. As he did so, Jaghatai Khan smiled widely. “Wonderful things, these Sharks. I've got a plan, my brothers. I think we can take that ship.”
- Leman Russ laughed. “I thought you'd say something like that. Don't keep us waiting brother, I'm as anxious to get into it as a neophyte before their first battle.”
- “We'll launch about one hour out from their sensor range and go in fast and hot with a fighter escort. Before we reach the edge of their sensor sweeps, we'll disengage engines and rely on the ambient coolant to mask our heat signature long enough for us to close to point blank. Then we do an emergency burn to kill our forward momentum, latch on, and board, while the fighters engage and keep them from retaliating effectively,” said the Khan.
- “I like it.”
- “But you won't like this part: one of us has to stay here in case things go horribly wrong.”
- “You're right, I don't like that part,” growled the Wolf-King. “So... who's the unlucky one?”
- In the end they drew lots and Russ lost. Grumbling, but resigned to the necessity of it, Russ bid his fellow Primarchs farewell as they boarded the Assault Boats. Russ was not alone in being left behind – the two Dreadnaughts in their motley band were too large to take part in the boarding action. One was Captain Thule of the Blood Ravens. The other was a Deathwatch veteran named Gygas. Thule had twin power claws as his armament, while Gygas had a twin-linked heavy bolter and a single power claw.
- On board the assault boats, the space marines checked their weapons while they could; they'd be within enemy sensor range in less than twenty minutes, and boarding shortly after. Corax looked at the Blood Ravens accompanying him in his assault boat – the Force Commander, who claimed to have no name at all, carried a daemonhammer which had served him well in the Eye of Terror. He claimed it was a gift from a Blood Ravens company captain. The Scout-Sargent Cyrus had a raven-pattern assault shotgun and was exhorting his fellow scouts on the necessity of stealth in boarding actions. Tarkus held a heavy bolter, and led a small group of tactical marines from various chapters. Corax turned to his left and found Thaddeus, a young assault marine of no small ability, checking his pair of lightning claws. “Good choice, lad,” said Corvus Corax.
- Thaddeus smiled at the Primarch. Years of battle in the Eye of Terror had brought all barriers between the Primarchs and the marines in their command down, and an easy familiarity had developed. “Thank you, sir. I see you feel the same way I do.”
- Corax chuckled. “Yes, although mine were meant for a Terminator.” The sheer size of the Primarchs meant they had to search for weapons that wouldn't appear tiny in their hands. Corax favored a pair of Terminator Lightning Claws. “Can't beat them for close combat, can you?”
- “No sir.”
- The vox crackled three times – to any outside observer, it would be interference from the white dwarf star in the center of the system, but to the marines on the assault boats it meant “entering enemy sensor range in one minute.”
- The boat shivered as the engines shut off. Their fate was in the hand of the Emperor now.
End Times Part 3
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