Howling Mountains

Prologue – Skyfall

The sky rained fire upon Valrypso. Such sights were not as rare as they used to be, for this was the Imperium Nihilus. Yet this was neither natural, nor unnatural. The streaking balls of flame were drop pods, unleashed from low orbit and aimed at the heart of the planet, Qropolis. As the firmament lit up, defence batteries vomited forth a barrage that blanketed the heavens in deadly shrapnel and lethal light.

Khrassus gripped his harness tightly as the drop pod shook violently around him. His eyes were glued to the pict-feed directly relayed into his helmet. The vast city beneath them shone like a jewel in the midday sun, glittering from the explosions taking place above it. It was an architectural marvel that not even the present secessionist uprising could tarnish. He and his battle-brothers would decapitate the snake that filled the hearts and minds of the citizens with its insidious lies and Imperial peace would reign again.

‘By Him on the Golden Throne, I swear that I shall bring justice, swift and merciless, upon the heretics,’ Brother Fhramiin vowed on his right, while Brother Jwoais roared the Litany of Hatred over and over behind him. He couldn’t hear his other battle-brothers over the fearsome noise of atmospheric entry, but Khrassus knew they were preparing themselves. Intercessor Squad Harxais would unwaveringly carry out its duty to the Eagle Warriors Chapter and Him on Terra.

The drop pod’s shaking intensified as it plummeted through blossoming flak explosions. Khrassus had been through plenty of such insertions before, and knew to ignore the shrapnel pinging from the pod’s reinforced hull. A sudden flash on the pictfeed caught his attention. It was a defence laser emplacement, stitching the space between the pods with lances of achingly bright light. Such weapons were designed for attacking spacefaring vessels in low orbit and not against fast moving targets such as the pods, but this didn’t diminish their deadliness. Judging from the angle, the previous shot was aimed at their company’s strike cruiser, the Impetum Inanis, barely missing his squad’s pod. He could see the emplacement’s operators making minute adjustments to ready it for the next discharge.

The Emperor designed his Angels of Death to be supreme warriors, gifting them enhanced cognitive functions that allowed them to predict where the myriad weapons on a battlefield would fire. They could perceive bullets heading towards them or predict the line of las-fire based on the barrel’s position. Watching the emplacement rotate its cannon, Khrassus knew without doubt what would happen next.

Crimson death eradicated a significant part of the drop pod, along with the majority of Squad Harxais. The inside of the remaining vessel was filled with the scream of the wind, the groan of tortured metal and the unabated explosions of the anti-air barrage. Its retro thrusters and fins sheared away, the drop pod went into an uncontrollable tumble. It was rare for Space Marines to lose their senses, but the incredible forces buffeting the few remaining Astartes aboard the halved drop pod knocked them unconscious.

Chapter 1 – First Blood

Khrassus came to with a jolt, combat ready before his eyelids even had time to fully open. He immediately assessed his surroundings, taking in everything at once. According to his armour’s cogitator, he was mostly uninjured. The vital signs for the rest of his squad offered less hope. Dust and light seeped through the rents in the pod’s still closed hatch. He hoped the opening charges were still functional. 

‘I’ll kill’em all,’ Fhramiin growled on his right. 

‘How about we get to it, then,’ Khrassus responded as he punched the release stud of his harness. Simultaneously, rapid explosions tore the hatch open and slammed it down. The sudden motion rocked the remains of the pod. Something shifted underneath but settled within seconds.

‘Where are we?’ Khrassus asked as he retrieved his bolt rifle from its rack. Fhramiin was already checking his own weapon. Aside from blemishes on its painting, the weapon was fully functional.

‘Alive,’ he responded as he slammed a clip into the rifle. 

Khrassus snorted. 

‘That’s not what I asked, brother.’

‘I know, but did you expect me to know because…’

‘Always with the wisecracks,’ said Khrassus, shaking his head. Now equipped, both of them climbed out the wreckage.

The drop pod had crashed through the roof of an agricultural building. They could see the sky through the hole, still filled with a deadly exchange of flak, laser and missiles between the surface and the ships in low orbit. Underneath their sabatons, shredded local vegetables squished and squelched. It was probably the reason for their miraculous survival. That and the protection of the God-Emperor.

‘Some kind of storage building,’ Fhramiin observed, scanning the interior with his auto-senses to detect potential hostiles. His brother turned back to the wreckage. The rest of the drop pod had sunken into the organic material, crushed beyond recognition. Even if some of his other brothers had survived the unlucky hit, the impact had undoubtedly killed them.

‘Agricultural,’ Khrassus agreed, turning from the remains. ‘Which means our trajectory has been significantly altered. We are outside Qropolis by at least 20 clicks.’

Fhramiin cursed, his invectives bordering on the heretical. They stalked out of the building and into a courtyard surrounded by three other structures. The one on their left housed livestock judging by the cacophonic braying coming from inside. To their right stood an open-sided shed, serving as a garage for a colossal harvester that would’ve dwarfed an Impulsor. The fourth was a non-STC compliant hab-block constructed from local lumber, overlooking the dirt road towards Qropolis. No locals were in sight.

In the distance, war still raged between heaven and earth. The glittering glass towers of Qropolis stood intact beneath the protection of its void shields, but it was only a matter of time before they fell. The attention of the Astartes quickly altered from the capital of Valrypso to a cloud of dust and smoke rapidly snaking towards their position.

‘Welcoming committee,’ Fhramiin jested. Khrassus couldn’t help but share his brother’s excitement at delivering upon them divine retribution for murdering their squad. They both racked the slides of their bolt rifles, chambering the first rounds they would fire in this war.

Gene-enhanced sight coupled with the complex calculii of their armour’s cogitator made them accurate marksmen even without specialist equipment. His auto-senses magnified the image of the lead incoming vehicles: six-wheeler flatbeds, commonly used for transporting goods, now repurposed to transfer troops. Khrassus had a clear shot at the first vehicle’s driver; his bolt rifle coughed and the first round left the barrel. Two seconds later the windshield imploded as the round passed through it, almost immediately followed by the explosion of the driver’s chest.

The six-wheeler careened off the road and tipped over, spilling a dozen soldiers from its rear. The lucky ones died on impact, the less lucky ended up being run over by the rest of the convoy as it roared onwards. Undaunted by the sudden termination of their lead vehicle, they remained intent on reaching the Astartes as fast as their engines would allow.

Fhramiin admired their determination. Culling enemies who ran scared was duty but fighting men ready to die for their conviction was glory. To him, the content of said conviction didn’t matter. Following his battle-brother’s example, he dispatched another driver, re-enacting the previous scene. With only two rounds fired, they had already eliminated at least twenty hostiles. But more were on the way.

‘They are changing tactics,’ Khrassus said while picking his next target. The flatbeds were dropping their speed and allowing better armoured Centaurs to surge forward and take point. The Centaurs were equal in speed but could offer return fire from pintle mounted heavy stubbers. At this range, they posed no threat. However, this manoeuvre cost the secessionists precious time which the two Astartes used without remorse. Within less than a minute, several more six-wheelers had lost their drivers.

‘Let’s not waste ammo on the Centaurs,’ Fhramiin grumbled. The first miss of the day was his. He’d felt confident that he’d be able to pick off a Centaur’s operator through the viewing port. Yet a bump in the road had rocked the vehicle at the last moment and his round had been harmlessly deflected by the glacis plate.

‘Agreed, brother. Shall we greet them in the courtyard?’

‘Aye. I’ll hold the main approach from the storage building.’

‘Affirmative. I’ll provide crossfire from atop the harvester,’ Khrassus replied. They both set off at speed to their positions. Fhramiin disappeared into the twilight darkness of the storage, while Khrassus sprinted through the courtyard. He scaled the agricultural mega-vehicle with the speed and dexterity of a simian, tortured metal groaning under his weight. In his helm, he could hear Fhramiin trying to raise the rest of the assault force over vox while he waited for their enemies to arrive. Both could hear the buzz and pop of empty vox frequencies. They were out of range and had no access to long distance communications equipment.

‘We’re on our own then,’ Fhramiin surmised over the squad’s vox channel. Khrassus didn’t see him from his position, but he could imagine his brother sighting down his bolt rifle, waiting for the perfect opportunity to present itself.

‘For the moment. Now focus. Wait for the troopers to disembark before eliminating them. Without the protection of the Centaur’s armour, they’re easy targets.’

‘No need to lecture, brother,’ Fhramiin grunted. 

Khrassus checked his ammo. He still had an almost full clip in his rifle and four more on his belt. That gave him over a hundred rounds, with Fhramiin carrying almost the same amount. Between them, they had enough to exterminate a whole company.

‘Officers and heavy gunners first,’ Khrassus said as the first Centaur thundered into the courtyard, coming to a screeching halt and kicking up dust. It was a variant with an open topped troop compartment, housing a fire team of Valrpysians in matching colours. They disembarked with haste, setting up a defensive perimeter. Before more vehicles could roll in, the Angels of Death opened fire. Fhramiin’s bolt opened up the gunner behind the Centaur’s heavy stubber like a crimson flower, blossoming viscera across the vehicle’s crew compartment. The fire team’s leader barked at his soldiers to return fire. As they turned to comply, their officer’s torso was torn to shreds by Khrassus’s shot. Chaos and confusion reigned among the gore covered soldiers, further amplified by a frag grenade landing among them.

The shrapnel turned the troopers into bloody ribbons as more Centaurs and flatbeds arrived, disgorging several more squads. The soldiers went on the attack, spraying solid rounds from autoguns at every possible hiding spot. Despite their growing numbers, the secessionist forces kept getting decapitated with pinpoint accuracy and their numbers culled by well-placed grenades. As long as the two battle-brothers didn’t let their opponents organise themselves, they had the upper hand.

‘Out of grenades,’ Fhramiin reported after several minutes of intense fighting, prompting Khrassus to switch targets. Instead of another officer, he went for a heavy weapons crew intent on loading a rocket launcher. His bolt round ignited their surplus ammo, resulting in a devastating explosion. Shrapnel scythed down a whole squad, bits of hot metal peppering nearby vehicles.

‘Why aren’t they flanking?’ Fhramiin asked. Khrassus swiftly switched positions as fire intensified on his cover.

‘The thought had occurred. They seem well-trained enough to attempt it,’ Khrassus replied.

‘So, what’s holding them back?’

Khrassus didn’t know the answer. The secessionist forces were both well-organised and completely heedless at the same time. Perhaps they thought their prey would be easy targets? That didn’t sit right with him. He rose above the lip of his new cover and felled two officers intent on rallying their troops for a charge. It was a conundrum.

‘I don’t know, brother. Perhaps they intend to

Khrassus couldn’t finish his sentence as part of the building where Fhramiin was firing from simply blew apart.


‘I’m fine,’ came Fhramiin’s reply, although his vital signs indicated he hadn’t escaped the explosion unscathed. ‘They’ve got a Leman Russ. Switching position now.’

Khrassus provided covering fire while Fhramiin circled around to link up with him. Now that he knew what to listen for, Khrassus could hear not one, but half a dozen Leman Russ tanks approaching. Their massive cannons fired and the rest of the storage building went up in a spectacular explosion. They didn’t seem to care about their own troops in the courtyard, who were killed in droves by the blast wave and the debris raining down on them.

The harvester rocked on its colossal suspensions. Maglocking his sabatons, Khrassus continued to fire without fear of reprisal. The secessionist infantry was still reeling from their own bombardment. But despite the horrific losses suffered, more transports were coming in. Fresh troopers swarmed over the dismembered bodies of their fallen comrades, singularly intent on bogging down the two Primaris until the heavy armour arrived.

‘We need to move, Fhramiin. Ready yourself,’ Khrassus voxed before throwing his last frag grenade. There was an explosion and the scream of wounded soldiers, just as he leapt off the back of the harvester. His battle-brother was already there, waiting for him. Together, they sprinted to the back wall of the garage. Their sheer momentum carried them through the flimsy material and out into the fields beyond.

‘Let’s avoid the tanks and head for Qropolis,’ Fhramiin suggested without slowing down. Khrassus kept up with him, slamming the last clip into his bolt rifle. 

‘Negative. While you were occupied down there, I had my cogitator filter their engine signatures. Judging by the overlapping sounds, we have at least two battalions of infantry and at least one company of Leman Russ on an approach vector. And that’s beside the ones we’ve faced so far.’

‘These heretics really do mean business.’

‘Aye, brother. Initiate a tactical withdrawal,’ said Khrassus. Never before had such a scenario occurred. Fhramiin offered his consent, but distress at this unlikely turn of events gnawed at his very soul. According to their chrono, they were supposed to have taken out the leader of the secessionist forces by now. 

Yet here they were, running through a field of local crops, hounded by thousands of infantry and several heavy battle tanks. Out here in the open, their superior training, Mars-forged equipment and transhuman bodies meant little against such overwhelming odds.

Their superior speed allowed them to take a small break and reassess their situation. The column in pursuit had received backup in the form of Valkyries. The airborne assault carriers were fanning out, providing long distance reconnaissance and fire support to ground troops. This significantly ramped up the threat posed by the secessionist forces. Yet it was eclipsed by the sight of the Impetum Inanis falling apart in the sky. 

The spacecraft bled burning plasma from scores of hideous wounds, its two-and-a-half-mile long superstructure broken in several places. Although the Eagle Warriors were masters of void warfare, they could not defy physics. The rapid drop pod insertion put them squarely in the path of every defence battery Valrypso could muster. The sheer concentration of their firepower overwhelmed the void shields of the Impetum Inanis, ripping into its armoured hide with impunity. 

The spearhead of the Imperial assault broke against the Valrpysian’s shields, spelling disaster. With heavy hearts, Khrassus and Fhramiin set out at speed towards secondary landing zones to link up with Imperial forces.

Chapter 2 – On the Run

The hail of heavy stubber fire gouged fist-sized holes from a rocky outcrop. Khrassus barely managed to dodge behind it, lumps of earth and chips of stone pattering off his blue and white powerpack. Swiftly crawling on his belly, the Astartes looked for a way out. The slopes on this side of the mountain didn’t offer much in the way of cover. They would need to go higher, among the bladed ridges and needle peaks to avoid further pursuit by ground vehicles. However, he had more immediate concerns.

The lip of the outcrop was quickly diminishing under the sustained fusillade. He hadn’t evaded pursuit for a thousand miles to be taken out so easily.

‘Brother, where are you? I’m taking heavy fire.’

‘Almost there,’ came Fhramiin’s voxed reply a second later. Having no other alternative, Khrassus waited. His patience was awarded by a sudden scream, followed by curses and small arms fire. They were all cut short within the span of three heartbeats. Khrassus clambered to his feet.

‘Nice work, brother,’ he commended Fhramiin, who was pulling the corpse of the dead driver from the Tauros scout vehicle. The secessionist was impaled on his combat blade, blood still gushing from the hideous wound. Behind him, the headless body of the gunner was still gripping the heavy stubber. Fhramiin tossed the driver aside and reached in, crushing the tracking beacon in his armoured hand.

There was a spectacular explosion and Khrassus was thrown back several feet. Sailing through the air, his only concern was for his battle-brother, who had stood right next to the vehicle. He bounced off a boulder and spun to a halt. Both of his hearts were pounding as he sprang up and ran towards Fhramiin’s last known position. There was a smoking crater where the Tauros had stood before. He called his brother’s name, but no vocal or vox response came. Fhramiin’s vitals have gone crimson, yet no mortis pulse came. He had received enough in the past 27 days to make him hate it.

He found the other Primaris two dozen feet away. He first mistook Fhramiin’s form for the vehicle’s engine block.

‘Fhramiin! Brother!’

Khrassus kept calling his name as he knelt next to the torso. The powerful explosives hidden in the vehicle had torn Fhramiin’s limbs off. The injured Marine’s Larraman cells were scabbing over the wounds, staunching a fatal loss of blood, but that would not be enough. Such grave injuries were mortal unless Fhramiin were to be interred in a Dreadnought but he was just an Intercessor of no notable position. 

Not that this option was available. During brief moments of respite when they had managed to dodge the growing numbers of their pursuers, they had gazed heavenwards. No lance attacks had lit up the sky, no orbital bombardment had shaken the earth. The war for Valrypso had concluded more than a week ago. Another planet had fallen from His light in the Imperium Nihilus. 

During the first days of their retreat, they had tried to rendezvous with loyalist forces, but to no avail. Designated landing zones had been covered with the charred hulks of downed transport ships and their spilled contents. The pervasive stench of burning corpses could be smelled from miles away. Imperial commanders had fatally underestimated Valrypso’s defenses and had paid the ultimate price.

Now, their only objective was to survive until  the Imperium came to reclaim the planet once more. Their odds of succeeding had just drastically plummeted. Khrassus gingerly detached and removed Fhramiin’s helm. One eye lens was shattered, its remains embedded in his brother’s left eye. The single remaining eye glared at Khrassus. When Fhramiin spoke, his voice indicated damage to his larynx.

‘Clever bastards. They knew we couldn’t resist a good vehicle.’

‘Silence, brother. Don’t waste your energy,’ Khrassus reprimanded him gently. Fhramiin tried to laugh but couldn’t.

‘I’m dead already, Khrassus. Just leave me and go.’

‘You know I can’t do that.’ Khrassus shook his head vehemently. ‘And I won’t gift you the Emperor’s mercy either. We just have to hold out until reinforcements arrive.’

‘That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever said, you bastard.’ Fhramiin groaned. He was losing consciousness and he could feel his Sus-An Membrane activating. By the time Khrassus stripped him of the remains of his power armour, he was already in a healing coma. Not that it would help him much. Having fashioned a sling from his utility belt, Khrassus hoisted the remains of his friend and battle-brother onto his powerpack and began climbing the mountain.

The ascent would’ve been gruelling for a regular human, but Khrassus was a Space Marine and a Primaris at that. He had no trouble with the thinning air or the impossibly steep slopes. Even with Fhramiin dangling from his powerpack, he was not slowed down; but his mind was elsewhere.

Khrassus kept replaying the explosion over and over in his mind, looking for something that should’ve given away the booby trap. There had been no visible signs, no matter how many times his eidetic memory recalled those final seconds. Their gene-enhanced eyes had not missed any hints. The true subterfuge manipulated their perception of their overall situation.

Since their escape from the outskirts of Qropolis, they’d been on the run. The secessionists had deployed everything they had available to track the two Primaris as they had withdrawn. Every attempt they made to circle back towards the capital of Valrypso was cut off by whole battalions. Conserving their ammunition, Khrassus and Fhramiin had only their combat blades and pilfered weapons to use.

The secessionists were quick to adapt. Instead of unleashing hundreds of infantry at the same time to overwhelm the two Astartes, they switched to light and fast scout vehicles with high calibre weaponry, like the Tauros. Having run out of ammunition for their ranged weapons, they had no way of fighting vehicles that could fire at them from a distance, but quickly drew back when they attempted to move in for the kill. It was a game of cat and mouse. With Valkyries offering fire support and performing strafing runs, the withdrawal had turned into a breakneck escape. 

Twenty-seven days of running and evading waves of assault vehicles on both ground and air had exhausted them. Their Mark X Tacticus power armour had spent all its reserve protein supplies a week ago, and they were on their last legs when the Tauros showed up. The single vehicle should’ve been a giveaway, but they were too tired and too hungry for victory, for revenge to notice. Which led to their current predicament.

Khrassus wasn’t a medicae, but he knew enough about Primaris physiology to reckon that Fhramiin didn’t have much of a chance to survive in his current condition. If he were to protect his brother, he would need to tend to his wounds somewhere safe and the mountains above them were the only place he could think of.

The more inhospitable the environment, the safer they would be. Khrassus kept climbing, swearing bloody vengeance on the secessionists and everyone on this wretched planet. He would personally kill every Valrypsian, even if it took him a lifetime.

Chapter 3 – Vengeance

Despite the artificial warmth offered by the survival suit worn beneath his flak armour, Trooper Condallis shivered. Above his position, the ancient mountains rose into the low-hanging clouds, its dark countenance further shadowed by the oncoming night. Stablights pierced the gloom, emphasizing the lulling dance of the snowflakes. Winter was never a good time of the year to be stationed at Fort Primaris, but here he was.

Getting posted to the Fort was both an honour and a likely death sentence. The mortality rate used to be around fifty percent, which only went down due to the influx of soldiers. Although the war against the tyranny of the Imperium had been won more than a decade ago, the Great Houses of Valrypso still considered catching the two fugitive Astartes a primary objective. 

Before he had been drafted six months ago, Condallis had thought this whole project to be overkill, a monumental waste of funds and manpower. That had quickly changed after his posting.In his first week, they had lost two towers with their complete garrisons to the Angel of Death. That amounted to over a hundred troopers, some of whom Condallis had met in basic training. Terror had been his constant companion ever since, breathing down his neck every time he stepped onto the parapet. 

Aiming down the thermal sight of his hellgun, he scanned the night. The stablights tended to miss a few spots, and he made sure to check them, in case their prey decided to try and slink through the shadows. He found nothing, but that didn’t calm his nerves. Rumours had it the Space Marine could even hide his heat signature. Others insisted that it was already dead and in truth, it was a wrathful ghost that came down from the mountains to avenge its fallen brothers.

‘Bullshit,’ Trooper Condallis muttered to himself.

‘What was that, soldier?’ Sergeant Vlachou bellowed over the howling winds. Condallis rolled his eyes behind his protective goggles as he stood to attention and saluted smartly.

‘Sir, nothing sir!’

‘Then keep your mouth shut and focus on your duty. We’re not here to have a nice chat and sip hot recaff. We are here to protect our loved ones from these abominable transhumans!’

His men, including Condallis, roared in unison as if prompted and in all honesty, they were. Not showing absolute dedication meant more hours in the cold, and Condallis didn’t like the cold. That and the thought of being left alone out here.

An hour later, Sergeant Vlachou ordered for the troopers to retreat into the tower, since a storm was brewing. Not the tropical monsoon Condallis was familiar with, but one of snow and hail, a blizzard of icy daggers that would flense the naked skin. Even their protective gear would’ve been overwhelmed inevitably. As Condallis turned to move inside, Sergeant Vlachou stopped him.

‘You will bring up the rear, Trooper Condallis. 15 minutes, for breaking concentration. Is that understood?’

‘Sir, yes sir,’ Condallis replied, although at that moment, he rather would’ve broken Vlachou’s hawk-like nose. He watched his comrades hurry inside the protection of Tower QB-98. He didn’t dare mutter a curse, lest the sergeant decide to further extend his command. Condallis watched with a heavy heart as the heavy plasteel door clang shut before turning back to scanning the mountain’s shadowed slopes. The sun’s descent on the mountain’s other side quickly pitched his position into utter darkness.

Time seemed to crawl to a halt. The first winds were already ripping at the banners of the Great Houses hanging from the parapets. Condallis pulled his shoulders up so that they might shield his face. It offered scant comfort. The snow, which had seemed so tranquil just minutes ago, was now stabbing into his cheeks like frozen pellets fired from a shotcannon. Cursing Sergeant Vlachou, Condallis shouldered his way through the gale and back to the door leading inside. With numbing fingers, he unfastened the lock and let himself inside.

Pulling the heavy door closed, Condallis sighed with relief. Vlachou wasn’t waiting around to reprimand him if he chose to enter before his punishment was up. Nevertheless, he decided to wait out the remaining minutes in the warmth of the corridor. Leaning against the sturdy rockcrete wall, he finally felt safe.

The sudden gust of cold wind made him turn. He froze with dread as he gazed upon the monster from his nightmares. The creature was easily a meter taller than him, covered in thick furs and snow. Its dark eyes shone with a predatory hunger. Condallis opened his mouth to shout for help, but the monster seemed to disappear. His breath caught in his throat in surprise.

No more were to follow. Khrassus was already beside the secessionist, his heart and spine punctured by his combat blade. He quietly lowered the body to the floor. He had no use for Condallis’ weapons or gear besides his frag grenades, so he left the rest behind as he stalked deeper into the Fort. The layout was the same in each tower, allowing him to focus on the mission: to kill everybody. 

Khrassus had picked his targets with care. Tower QB-98 was perfect, with an approach hidden from both stablights and diligent troopers. But the snowstorm provided the real opportunity. As standard procedure had it, secessionist troopers pulled back inside whenever a weather phenomenon above a certain magnitude appeared. Within the presumed safety of their fortifications, they would be changing out of their survival gear. They would literally have their pants down.

The window of opportunity was narrow. Khrassus slipped through the silent corridors with feline grace, heading for the command centre. He had to disable their senior staff before taking care of the fodder. Hearing voices ahead, he crept up to the corner of the corridor outside the command centre. Two men were speaking in clipped tones, arguing about the details of the next rotation. 

Khrassus pulled two stones from a leather pouch on his belt, each the size of a rat’s skull. He twirled them between his fingers, weighing them until they sat right in his palm. Turning from behind the corner, the Primaris pulled back his arm and threw the stones with incredible force and precision. The officers’ heads crumpled, the stones breaking skulls and making a mush of the grey matter inside. Khrassus didn’t inspect his handiwork as he was already running full tilt towards the command centre.

Under normal circumstances, his bolt rifle would be barking bolt rounds as he stomped through his enemies with the inevitability of death. Times were different though. He now had to rely on speed, silence and whatever was available. Another stone throw had cored out the vox operator’s throat. The woman clutched feebly at her neck, drowning in her own blood as she slid from her seat. Her colleagues fared no better. The Astartes vaulted a bank of cogitators soundlessly and was among the senior staff, his knife blazing a silver trail through their bodies. The tower commander and his two assistants fell into two dozen bloody chunks of flesh and bone.

Khrassus waited among the growing puddle of vital fluids, ears strained for the sounds of alarm. He heard nothing but the pitter-patter of spilt blood dripping from consoles and the storm-riddled static of the vox. Stalking over to the device, Khrassus searched through common and lesser-known Imperial frequencies for a sign. Nothing. Again.

Frustrated, he left. With a flick of his wrist, he cleaned his blade of the filthy traitors’ blood. The God-Emperor’s wrath would soon be visited upon them all.

Descending further inside the bowels of the tower, he met little resistance. By the time he reached the barracks level, the troopers were already finished changing and were filing into the mess hall for their dinner. The night shift was passing them on the way out, ready to gear up.

Khrassus observed their movements from a turn in the stairs for but a heartbeat. That was all it took to assess the situation – he was still undetected. Using the tip of his combat knife, he pulled the safety pin from a frag grenade and tossed it under the crowd. The sergeant he’d seen on the parapet was the only one to notice, turning to look after the deadly black cylinder. With a stupefied expression, Sergeant Vlachou watched it skid up against a trooper’s leg and explode.

More grenades followed, souvenirs from the soldiers Khrassus had met on his way down. They exploded in the corridor outside the mess hall, the narrow space containing the force of the explosions. The Primaris descended into the bedlam left by his ambush. Human remains covered every surface. Blood and bits of skin dripped from the ceiling. Shredded torsos lay in twisted heaps. Two intact lumens blinked erratically, their colours tinted crimson.

Khrassus opened the double doors leading into the mess hall, framed by this image of hell made manifest. The secessionists cowering inside stared in abject terror. From the darkest depths of their nightmares, he stepped forward, letting the doors close slowly behind him. His forearms were daubed red with blood up to his elbows, his gigantic form cloaked in the stitched hides of slain apex predators. As the Angel of Death brandished the naked steel of his blade, the screams began.  

Chapter 4 – Ascent

The blizzard screeched like a maddened witch and was as lethal, if not more so. Snow whipped past Khrassus, almost horizontally. The tiny motes of frozen water steadily scraped away the blood, flesh and sinew that crusted on him like a second layer of skin. He did not mind either way. Despite their primitive origin, the hides he wore withstood the elements. He had specifically chosen to hunt the sturdiest beasts among the peaks.

Slung over his back was a leather satchel fashioned from the same predator’s pelt. He needed his arms and legs unhindered to make the climb back to the safety of his headquarters. He liked to call it as such, but it was nothing more than a small cave high up in the mountains. It was hidden from flyover reconnaissance by the surrounding mountain ridges. It was unapproachable by ground vehicles and even expert mountain climbers would’ve had difficulty scaling the sheer walls of rock and ice to access it without space grade equipment. The air was so thin at this altitude that even Khrassus’ multi-lungs struggled during the climb.

Yet he had made the ascent and descent hundreds of times since entering these accursed mountains. The constantly expanding fortifications made escape harder and harder with each additional layer. Not that he wished to escape, that was no longer his objective. Stranded and alone, he had considered how to cause the most harm to his hated foes without facing them in open battle. Cursing his own inadequacy, he realised his enemies had successfully sapped his morale.

As Khrassus waited for the wind to briefly change direction, so he could propel himself to the next set of handholds, he recalled his departure from Tower QB-98. Butchering his way through the assembled and unarmed soldiers, he had turned the mess hall into a slaughterhouse. Amidst the carnage, he singled out a kitchen boy huddling in the corner. While every other living being had been mauled, bludgeoned, cut and carved to death, the boy was rewarded with his life. He was to be the harbinger of doom, one who would tell tales of the horrible spectacle playing out before his very eyes until old age took him. Activating the tower’s distress beacon ensured that he would be found, but by that time, Khrassus would be well on his way back to HQ.

An hour later, wheezing from the exertion, the Primaris scaled the lip of the cavern and dragged himself inside. Khrassus pulled off the satchel and lay on his back, eyes closed. Consciously synchronizing the rhythm of his hearts with his labouring multi-lungs, it still took him minutes to fully compose himself.

‘I was hoping you were dead.’ A familiar voice came from further inside the cave.

‘Cease your negativity, Fhramiin.’ Khrassus chided his brother as he got to his feet. He approached his immobile battle-brother with the satchel in his hand held high.

‘I’ve got us the necessary supplies. You should be grateful.’

‘Grateful? Grateful? Do you even know what you are saying, you deluded fool?’

Khrassus didn’t answer his brother’s question. They’d had this argument before, and he was not going to change his mind. He would not grant Fhramiin the Emperor’s Mercy as long as he could keep him alive. Kneeling beside the remains of his brother, Khrassus opened his satchel and unloaded the spoils of his mission: Protein rations of the highest energy density that would last the month for the two of them, several vials of antibiotics and adrenalin and combitool to effect repairs. 

Khrassus reached over and unclasped the helm of his armour, pulling it from Fhramiin’s head. The other Astartes was clad in the remains of Khrassus’s armour, hooked up to the powerpack laying beside Fhramiin. The energy source provided warmth and a constant medical check on the vitals of the fallen Primaris. The haggard face of his battle-brother looked up at Khrassus with such pure hatred that it made his hearts ache but he would not give in, not now, not ever.

‘Eat up, brother,’ he said gently, opening a ration pack. ‘Do not make me pry your jaws open again.’

Fhramiin lips pulled back in a snarl, revealing broken teeth. He hawked and spat on Khrassus. The thick phlegm caught in his pelts but did not sizzle. He had been careful to excise the Betcher’s Gland from Fhramiin’s mouth to prevent self-harm. Such desecration was a small price to pay for his battle-brother’s survival.

Khrassus sighed and caught Fhramiin’s jaws in one hand, his vice-like grip forcing his brother’s mouth open. It took him a good half-hour to force-feed the necessary amount of protein and to ensure Fhramiin couldn’t regurgitate it. There was only so much his brother could attempt to end his own life in disgrace.

Having fed his brother, Khrassus picked up the vambrace of his discarded armour. Fhramiin no longer had hands to put it on, so it was placed atop the powerpack. Opening the access hatch, he refilled the medicae supplies of the armour from the stolen vials. Normally, Space Marines never required such mundane curatives, but he wanted to make sure that his brother’s gene-enhanced immune system was reinforced as much as possible in its lasting predicament.

Fhramiin glared up at Khrassus with hatred as the helmet was replaced and the seals engaged. He watched his brother feed himself as well and retreat further inside the cave to recuperate. He didn’t know where exactly Khrassus went, despite the armour’s auto-senses and his hyperacute hearing. Not that it mattered much. He no longer had the means of changing his own destiny. 

Hours passed in silence, but Fhramiin didn’t activate his Sus-An Membrane. It would’ve been the easiest escape from being imprisoned inside his crippled body. Gazing out through the mouth of the cave that was his cage, he waited for the storm to pass and the sky to clear. He muttered to himself within the confine of his helm, its vox emitters deactivated. Khrassus didn’t know about Fhramiin’s pass-time or else he would have been robbed of even that small solace.

Fhramiin’s patience was eventually rewarded. The fierce winds scraped the sky clean of heavy snow clouds, revealing the firmament once again. The stars glittered with cold light, distant and alien, yet so familiar after all this time. Slashing across their undisturbed peace was a twisting wound in the flesh of reality. Fhramiin stared at the Cicatrix Maledictum, his eyes reflecting its light, an ever-changing kaleidoscope of the impossible colours of madness.

Soon, the voices came, laughing, jeering, mocking Fhramiin. It filled the hateful silence of the helmet with honeyed lies and vile deception. Each time he heard them, they were different. Battle-brothers long-lost, parents he didn’t remember, lovers of a life never lived. There was no escaping them, so he engaged them in the only way he knew: he fought. Yet despite reciting catechisms, snarling rebuttals and growling, his hatred lost its potency over the years.

In the confines of the helmet, Fhramiin started to howl in utter silence. 

Chapter 5 – War Eternal

Valrypso had known the tread of the Emperor’s Angels before but withstood their attempt at reconquest. However, time and memory are malleable in the Imperium Nihilus. Five decades after the failed invasion, Valrypso resumed trading with its Imperial neighbours. Many believe that the Imperium’s single solution to secession was the use of arms. But on the dark side of the Cicatrix Maledictum, forces still loyal to the God-Emperor needed to adapt to their current situation so that they may overcome the challenges facing them.

Thus, the agents of the Imperium gradually infiltrated all aspects of Valrypsian society, slowly rebuilding pro-Imperial sentiment. Decades of diplomacy, subterfuge and targeted assassinations paid off. Almost a century after seceding from the Imperium, Valrypso had returned to the fold. It was cause for celebration of the highest order.

Falling under the protectorate of the Angels of Light, a Blood Angels successor Chapter, the sons of Sanguinius were the guests of honour. The Planetary Governor hosted a grand banquet in celebration, inviting representatives of the Great Houses, Valrypso’s Planetary Defence Force and the Angels of Light. The palace grounds in Qropolis swarmed with notable dignitaries from everywhere within the sub-sector. The attending Astartes had gracefully accepted the fanfare and accolades heaped at their feet but kept the adoring crowds at arm’s length.

Captain Rafis Noreo stood with his honour guard, his winged helm held in the crook of his arm. His noble visage hid his thoughts well, not showing his distaste at the pointless waste of resources. He could never understand mortals and their squandering rituals. However, their symbolic presence was important. They were like a drawn blade extended as a peace offering. They could always be turned against His enemies and naysayers, but should Valrypso ever come under siege, they would be the weapon that protected the nobles and their holdings.

The representatives of the Great Houses offered a deluge of empty words, boring Captain Noreo no end. He offered simple pleasantries in return, which seemed to satisfy the sycophants. An old man bent by age, but proudly wearing the medals of his long military career approached him and fell to one knee. Captain Noreo really despised such blatant shows of deference.

‘Stand, General. We are here as equals, to celebrate Valrypso and His Imperium,’ Captain Noreo boomed in his transhuman baritone, keeping his voice low not to rattle the old man’s bones. The general stood with the help of an ornate cane and looked up at the Angel of Light.

‘My Lord, I seek your help. Please, hear me out,’ the general begged. Captain Noreo concealed his surprise at the request. They were not here to wage war, yet this man asked for the assistance of the Angels of Light. He had no intention of complying, but hearing the man out was preferable to dilly-dallying any further with the nobles.

‘Very well General, we shall discuss this in my private quarters. Please, come this way,’ Captain Noreo replied, leading the way. The chambers reserved for the Angels of Light were but a handful of steps from the ceremonial hall. Stationing his honour guard by the door, Captain Noreo led the general inside and offered him a seat. The old man accepted gratefully and slumped into the velvet cushions of an overtly elaborate armchair.

‘Thank you, my Lord. I am General Stephanos Demoulis, Warden of Forts Primaris,’ Demoulis introduced himself. He watched the Angel’s face to see how he’d react to the fort’s name, but no sign of emotion was forthcoming.

‘As am I sure you are aware, about a thousand miles north of Qropolis stand the Howling Mountains, surrounded by Forts Primaris. Every citizen of Valrypso must serve a six-month duty at Forts Primaris in his life in order to attain basic citizen privileges. Have you ever wondered why Forts Primaris stands, my Lord?’

Captain Noreo regarded the old general with renewed curiosity. He was indeed interested in the history of the fort and its peculiar name, but he wasn’t familiar with the details. He and his Chapter had a whole sub-sector to protect from the depredations of the alien, the heretic and the daemon. He had far more pressing matters to attend to than a mere history lesson. However, General Demoulis presented the perfect opportunity to talk about the topic.

‘I couldn’t say I have, General, but you have certainly piqued my curiosity.’

‘I am glad to hear, my Lord. Please allow me to briefly recall its history for you. Forts Primaris has stood for a century, built by our forefathers. Unlike other such fortifications, the guns of Forts Primaris are aimed inside, at the slopes and peaks of the Howling Mountains.’

‘I was unaware,’ replied Captain Noreo, curious despite himself. The general nodded and continued.

‘The reason is simple. A monster resides in the Howling Mountains. It comes during the nights, descending from the icy peaks to murder my men. It has no other objective. My grandfather was one of the few survivors of one of its raids. He saw this creature; an unholy amalgam of man and beast slaughter a whole platoon with nothing but its claws. I have dedicated my life to hunting this monster, spending decades trying to apprehend it; but neither our weapons, nor our tactics were effective. I lose several thousand men each year. Each damn year!’

Tears glistened in the old general’s eyes. His battle-hardened face quivered for a moment before he managed to compose himself. With a shaky sigh, Demoulis continued.

‘We can’t approach the Howling Mountains. The winds smash our aircraft against the rocks. Our infantry fall to wicked traps, some of them set years before we even attempt scaling the mountain from a given direction. And we have tried every direction. Even the expeditions that managed to bypass the traps were lost to the cruel mountains. It is as inhospitable as the void itself. No man could live there and survive, let alone for so long.’

‘And now you are going to tell me why it is called Forts Primaris,’ Captain Noreo said. His words were posed as a question, but they were more a command. General Demoulis complied without further pressure.

‘I suspect this beast used to be one of your kind, my Lord. An Angel of Death, from the Imperium’s last attempt to retake Valrypso by force. The records are hazy, but the date of the fort’s construction and its name would be consistent with the legends,’ General Demoulis said, wiping his eyes.

‘I accept your request,’ Captain Noreo replied to the surprise of the old man. The Angel of Light knew well from his own genetic lineage that there were secrets best kept by the Emperor’s chosen warriors. He would personally slay the beast of the Howling Mountains. For Sanguinius, for his Chapter and the God-Emperor of Mankind.

Epilogue – Mission's End

The paladins of the Angels of Light stood on the parapet of Forts Primaris, the rising sun’s rays glinting off the resplendent whites and crimson of their armour. They were debating the best approach vectors for the upcoming hunt. General Demoulis kept his distance. His audience with Captain Noreo was unnerving enough but standing here with twenty-five of these monstrous creatures had him at his wit’s end.


The old Valrypsian’s heart skipped a beat, cold sweat immediately running down his back. It took a Primarchian effort to stop himself from shaking in terror in their presence.

‘Yes, Captain?’

‘We are prepared to depart on the hunt for this beast. Any last advice before we board our Thunderhawks?’

Demoulis glanced in the direction of the gunships. They were ugly things, like giant tanks with wings, but he didn’t doubt their efficiency for a moment. After all, the Adeptus Astartes used the best the Imperium and the Martian Priesthood had to offer.

‘Perhaps, my Lord, a last bit of history, if it pleases you. Do you know where the Howling Mountains get their name from?’ asked the general. Captain Noreo shook his head, so the old man continued. ‘Whenever the beast creeps forth from its hidden lair, you can hear howling from on high. As if the mountains themselves are wary of the creature lurking among its crevices.’

Noreo’s gaze travelled up the rocky slopes and the snow-covered peaks of the Howling Mountains. He did not exactly know what to expect up there, but he had vowed to kill it. It would be a blood debt with the Valrpysians, cementing their alliance with the Imperium for centuries to come. Rafis Noreo, Captain of the 3rd Company of the Angels of Light drew his power sword and pointed it at the mountains. His paladins followed suit.

‘Behold, sons and daughters of Valrypso, as the Angels of Light cleanse this taint from your planet! Watch what happens to those who turn from His light!’

The soldiers of Forts Primaris cheered. The Angels of Light roared, and the mountains howled.

About the Author

Daniel was born on a sunny, peaceful spring morning in Budapest, Hungary. He preferred watching television over reading books. Like, a lot. That changed when his school took him to the public library and everyone was forced to pick a book to read. He chose The Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Despite his initial disdain, our hero devoured the book in a few days and hasn’t stopped reading since. If you got this far, please send help, his budget (and shelves) can’t handle more books! Oh, and he occasionally entertains the idea of being a writer. The fool.