End In Fire

Benediction, capital world of the Veritus Sub Sector, Segmentum Solar  

‘What happened here Salamander?’ a woman’s voice called out. She swept the bolter across the dark ruin taking in the sight of several corpses, the butchered ruins splashed across the walls and floor. 

Da’Zel Ralkan turned on his heel in a blur of motion, the boltgun raised and pointed at the ebony armoured figure stood in the doorway behind him. She wore a lighter mark of power armour compared to his own, the trappings of the Ecclesiarchy resplendent and shining in contrast to her scarred and dirt covered face. Though she was shorter in stature, power radiated from her that blotted out his fire-sight and he blinked away the ghosts of golden light that swam in his vision. 

She studied him for a moment, a brow furrowed at his silence and the weapon pointed at her. She saw an Astartes in battle-marked plate, the emblem of the Salamanders Chapter still gleaming bone white in the gloom of their surroundings. She was able to make out a detail on his armour that struck her as out of place, gore and human remains streaked down his arms and chest plate. 

Loose stone and rubble fell at the constant bombardment blasting furiously some distance away. The Sister began to piece together the scene, recognition dawning at what had happened. She turned to face Da’Zel and began to raise her bolter.

A shell detonated no more than a hundred metres away, the blast shaking what remained of the building. Da’Zel pounced, slapping the Sister’s bolter out of her grip and caught her by the neck in one hand. The momentum of his charge brought them out of the ruin and into the street. With ease he applied pressure and snapped her neck, dropping the limp body to the ground. 

With her passing his fire-sight returned to him, the world about him roared into the clarity he craved. He turned his head and a group of blazing figures stood in the middle of the street, their weapons rising slowly toward him. Their mouths opened at the sight of their fellow Sister’s corpse to cry out, but he was already moving, firing his own boltgun into them. Two bolts struck helmets, blasting two of the lithe figures back to collapse to the ground. 

The blade leapt from its scabbard into his hand, slashing and biting of its own will, directing his strength to puncture the armour and flesh of his foes. Deftly parrying a swing from a mace, he tore the weapon from the woman’s hand, swinging the weapon across her face. One managed to pour flame onto him and he smiled at the futility. 

He was fire-born; he had ascended the trials of Nocturne. Da’Zel stepped through the flame unhindered and forced the blade through the skull of the flame weapon bearer. 

The street was still but for the shudders caused by the cacophony of the bombardment, the blood pooling about his boots sparked and hissed in his fire-sight. The blade had ripped free of his grip and now drank deeply of the Sister’s life essence. 

Free of the blades’ will, Ralkan took in the carnage he had wrought. 

How had it come to this? 

‘What happened here, Salamander?’ Da’Zels’ voice resonated across the empty street. 

His mind was assailed by a droning chorus of voices, the words so loud they drowned out all reasonable thought from him. The blades’ keening added to the assault on his mind as it drank furiously, demanding more. 

He forced his body to move away from the slaughtered Sisters, away from the roaring of the corrupted blade. Da’Zel fought to remain lucid and focused, reiterating the litanies of shielding the Librarians chanted to reinforce an Astartes mental fortitude. With renewed focus, he recounted the moments that had led to the inexplicable slaughter of His servants.

The ruined walkways of Benediction had been coated in ash; the corpses of citizens who had fallen to the Word Bearers assault lost underneath its blanket. Fires had blazed in the hollow structures that leant against one another. The sky had burned in tones of red and orange, a malignant scar split across the cityscape spilling out tendrils of green and black that cast dark and foreboding shadows amidst the gloom of side streets and alleyways. 

Perfect eidetic recollection formed the events in his mind with such clarity he could hear the sounds of battle as if he stood within the memory. He heard the bursts of bolter fire that rang out in the desolation. He saw the gleaming green armoured figures hunkered behind hastily erected defences surrounding the monolithic Grand Honorificum. The fury of the enemy’s bombardment had blossomed into plumes of blue and green energy that blazed across the psy-tech force field surrounding the structure.

Da’Zel fingered the release of his weapon and the empty magazine clattered to the floor, a new one already sliding home and a bolt loaded in the chamber. He rose again, sighting movement amidst the ruins across from the plaza his squad had been positioned.

A glint of firelight gleaming from ceramite armour caught his attention before Da’Zel’s armour senses placed a target icon over the figure. He fired two bolts and watched as the target was blown back into the ruin they had been moving through. The detonation of his bolts did little damage to his target however. The Heretic Astartes were infuriatingly difficult to pin down and annihilate with small arms fire alone. 

Da’Zel swept his gaze right to left in quick movements. Seeing nothing moving, he stooped beneath the cover of the barricade once more. The ground about his defensive position was littered with the bodies of the enemy Word Bearers and their foul mortal slaves. Amongst the ruin of the landscape were craters pooling with blood, the lifeless bodies of the Salamander’s charges gazing accusatory eyes at the champions of Humanity. 

Ricochets panged against the barricade, grenades blew chunks of earth and debris against his armour. Looking over his cover, he saw a squad of the Heretics and their subordinate mortals bounding out of the darkness of the ruins. Once again their foul cries filled the plaza, once again the Salamanders rose from cover and let loose their anger and fury. The bangs of bolter fire and the roar of promethium from the weapons of Vulkan’s sons lent a crescendo of noise to the battle. Scores of the lesser cultist warriors disappeared in raging flames that leapt from Aggressor’s gauntlets. Those that emerged from the flame-storm were wreathed in flame, flesh seeping off them like liquid. They were cut down with single bolt rounds, their bodies detonating in pink mist. 

Da’Zel was struck by a bolt round that glanced off a pauldron. Turning quickly, he faced a charging Heretic with chain axe raised and whirring blade teeth. 

Two of his brothers nearby roared and bolted from their own cover and met the enemy’s charge with their own, their weapons flashing gold in the haze of the flames. Da’Zel leapt over the barricade and drew his combat knife, backhanding a cultist who rushed him. The man’s head snapped round with such violence he was dead before his body slumped to the ground. 

Da’Zel braced as the Word Bearer swung the chain axe down at him, taking the blow on his right pauldron. The blade’s teeth bit deep into ceramite, blasting pieces of his armour into his helmet and his foe’s bare head. The Heretic’s eyes were ablaze with golden light, a red aura radiating from the warrior causing Ralkan to baulk at its malefic energy. 

Pushing the Word Bearer with his left hand, he laid a series of quick jabs with the knife in his right forcing the zealot to parry with his gauntlets. Da’Zel took a step forward, leant his weight forward and ploughed into the Word Bearer. The initial blow of his pauldron connected with the heretics’ lower jaw, a string of curses spat at him as he recoiled. Grappling against the Word Bearer, Da’Zel heaved with his prodigious strength and forced the traitor Astartes to the ground. Reaching with his free hand, Ralkan pulled the embedded chain axe out from his right pauldron. Revving its spitting blades, he advanced on the downed Word Bearer. 

Da’Zel was aware of a sudden pain in his stomach, a burning sensation spread within him consuming his senses. The Word Bearer had moved faster than Da’Zel could react, a contemptuous laughter spat from the zealot, ‘Now you will see, Brother.’ 

Though his body was wracked with pain, Da’Zel swung the axe down with all his strength parting the smiling Word Bearer’s head from his neck. The terrible wound in his gut still burned as he pulled the blade out, his body wasn’t healing and blood spilled from him. His chest armour had parted and split, tendrils of some nightmarish energy seemed to lash out from within. Da’Zel crashed to one knee, his strength failing. He let the blade fall from his grip. As it clattered to the ground the cursed weapon seemed to cry out in rage, denied the feast of his flesh. 

Da’zel’s vision flared suddenly, the world around him burst into golden light radiating from every building, every spark of a soul within the ruined city. The gold light ceased abruptly and the last sight he saw with his waking eyes was the sky above the city burning. Furious lashes of green and red laced the cityscape fading to blackness as he fell to the ground.

He awoke with a start. 

The armour sensors displayed his readings through his helmet’s lens suite. The Healer gland within him had staunched the wound in the brief time he had been unconscious. The chronometer blinked steadily then winked out as his helmet’s systems died. Without ceremony, he ripped the helmet free and cast it aside. Looking about him, he discerned a subtle heat haze emanating from the rubble of the city.

This was not the blazing glory of the golden light he had been enthused with prior to the Hibernator gland activated. His memory was clouded, he could no longer see Nocturne in his mind, could not remember the faces of his brothers. He felt nothing at the loss, as though his mind was cleansed by the fire in his vision. 

Fire-Sight; the recognition sprang up from deep in his mind, though what he was seeing was beyond anything he attempted to recall from the Chapter’s teachings. The world was ablaze in flashes of light, the sky seething with cascading yet perceptible patterns. The shapes and designs that burned above him were familiar, though he could not recall why.

He set aside his musings and reclaimed his boltgun, snatching up the vibrating blade that lay beside the corpse of a Word Bearer. Taking no heed of the blade he slid it into the scabbard at his waist, checked his weapon and moved into the ruins ahead of him. The blade seemed to murmur softly from its housing, a forceful vibration at his waist as his steps crushed fallen masonry into dust. He rested one hand on its pommel absently, placating the wilful weapon. 

As he made his way through the debris he could discern voices. These were not spoken words for he could see nothing living nearby. But it was a persistent droning that seemed to emanate from every dark corner, from the walls of the charred ruins. The words echoed within his mind, he realised.

Need drove him deeper into the warrens of Benediction’s collapsing sprawl of ruins, his fire-sight illuminated several figures ahead of him. As stealthily as his armour allowed, he traversed through the ruins of a shelled building, brought his boltgun up and rounded the corner. 

The malformed figures huddling in the shadows cried out in shrill tones, their eyes blazed like embers in grotesque heads, teeth like razors. He did not hesitate and emptied the clip into them, their bodies pulverised by the bolts detonations within them. He released the clip, reached for a fresh one from a pouch and slammed it home in swift practiced movements, already searching for new targets.

Da’Zel opened his eyes, sweat pouring from his forehead. The experience of remembrance struck him. The figures had not been terrible creatures of the Warp, nor had they been foul mutants or servants of the Archenemy. They were citizens of Benediction and he had slaughtered them. He had mercilessly destroyed the Sisters who had investigated. 

He was lost, a traitor to his bloodline.

Sudden pain wracked his chest and he instinctively clutched a fist to his abdomen. Glancing down he saw his hands covered in blood. Not all of it was his own, the blood of innocents and the faithful stained the colours of his Chapter.

The wound had re-opened and the Larraman’s organ was unable to seal the tear in his flesh. Da’Zel saw the plaza ahead of him where his brothers still fought and he quickened his pace. 

As he crossed the threshold from the ruins to the open plaza, the endless din of the chorus in his mind ceased abruptly. The cacophony of the battle was a blessing in comparison. One of his battle brothers saw him approach and waved him over, still firing his weapon over the barricade he was stood behind. 

Da’Zel was almost within reach of the barricade when an agonising screech split the air. 

Where before there were a multitude of voices within the chorus, now there was a crescendo of noise. As he collapsed to one knee Da’Zel saw he was not alone in his agony. Every one of his brothers clutched their helmets at the devastating psychic onslaught. The sky above the Honorificum parted at the force of the psychic scream, a clear night sky briefly shone through before the maleficent energy crashed back to cover the cityscape. 

The river that surrounded the Honorificum boiled and churned, rising into a tide that burst over the banks and surged toward the monolithic structure. The heat boiled defenders alive, their screams of agony cut short as they disappeared within the mass of super-heated gore.

Da’Zel was able to take in the sight of the raging tide as it swarmed toward him, the screams of thousands of sacrifices overtook him and he burned in the rushing tide. The last thing he was aware of was the cruel laughter in his mind, the contemptuous laughter of a victorious enemy.

About the Author

The records of Daniel Butterworth have been expunged by His Emperor’s Holy Order for reasons of [Redacted] and [Redacted] [Redacted].