The massive corpse of the Imperial Knight lay sprawled atop a low hill outside the city limits. The charred, warped crater left in its torso had gone cold in the days since it was slain by a traitor titan.
Brother-Sergeant Danicus slowly climbed the service ladder along its hull. His gouged and pockmarked navy-blue power armor clanged against the thick adamantium plating as he crawled to a clear vantage point. Embers wafted on the breeze from the pyres of the city behind him.
Danicus surveyed the ranks of Chaos soldiers as they embarked onto dropships, each the size of a hab block. The staging ground swayed with troop movements. For a moment he watched as a Black Legion Warpsmith and a dozen cultists wrestled with an uncooperative daemon engine. He pulled his eyes away to resume the search for his quarry. With his ruined helmet long since discarded, Danicus only had his genetically enhanced vision to rely on.
Over the course of an hour, the first dropships took flight with only a fraction of the Heretic Astartes forces while others landed to replace them. Danicus also located his prey.
Two rows of spikes protruded from the back of the Chaos Lord’s Terminator armor. Each one, Danicus had learned, was adorned with the helm or skull of a Meteors Space Marine Lord Ingudax had bested in single combat. Ingudax and his personal bodyguards stood beside their Land Raider transport admiring a nearby group of cultists as they sacrificed a succession of captured Imperial soldiers and citizens to their dark gods.
At dusk, Danicus crept around the periphery of the camp. Three more rounds of dropships had come and gone and still fewer than half the Black Legion’s number had withdrawn to their ships in orbit. Danicus crawled on his stomach along the dry grass, edging closer to the Land Raider. Most of the heretics had gone to sleep and the Chaos Lord had retired into his command vehicle. His guards remained outside the assault ramp, surveying the darkness.
The glow of the smoldering ruins cast a dim, amber light over the camp. The Adeptus Astartes sergeant waited for a patrol of cultists to pass before bounding in a crouched run towards the rear of the tank. He clutched his only remaining weapon, his combat knife, tightly in a reverse grip. The tip of the knife had snapped off in the spine of a Heretic Astartes several days earlier.
As he reached the tank, a pair of cultists rounded the corner. Danicus plunged the combat knife deep into the first cultist’s sternum before he even registered the Space Marine’s presence. The second managed to let out a shout before Danicus crushed his skull against the Land Raiders’ hull.
Danicus heard more shouts from further away. He dashed to the tank’s side hatch. One of the Black Legion Terminators hissed a warning to the other guards and opened fire with his combi-bolter just as Danicus pulled open the heavy, ceramite door. Explosive rounds detonated against the hatch and Danicus slammed the door shut behind him. He quickly activated the emergency door locks adjacent to the hatch, sealing the tank from intruders.
Seated across the small interior compartment, Lord Ingudax stared up at Danicus with a pleasantly surprised grin. His power axe rested against the seat but he did not reach for it. The muffled shouts and grinding crash of chain axes against the hatch from his bodyguards were barely audible through the thick hull.
‘I’m not sure what your plan was, Meteor. It won’t take my men long to break in,’ Lord Ingudax stated. ‘Even without them, I can guarantee you won’t leave this vehicle alive.’
Danicus sighed, ‘That is not my concern, heretic. I have come to slay you in the name of the Emperor and reclaim the honor of my company and my Battle-Brothers.’ His eyes lingered on the trophies on Ingudax’s back.
Ingudax followed Danicus’ stare and smiled, baring a row of chrome teeth. ‘These? I really pity you Space Marine. You would throw away your life just for the opportunity to take back the skulls of a few dead comrades.’
‘Redeeming their honor and their souls are what I seek,’ Danicus said, gripping his combat knife tighter. ‘It is not something I expect you to understand.’
Ingudax shook his head and chuckled, ‘Very well.’
The pounding on the hatch intensified. Danicus maintained eye contact, keeping the power axe in view.
Ingudax reached for his weapon and Danicus lunged at him in one bounding leap. The Chaos Marine caught his wrist and they plunged to the floor, the power axe skidding to the far end of the compartment.
Danicus pushed the dagger down towards his enemy’s throat, struggling for every inch. Ingudax slammed a gauntleted fist into his cheek, shoved him onto the deck, and rolled away with surprising speed.
Danicus quickly recovered and grabbed Ingudax by the leg as he reached for his axe. The man spun and kicked him in the chest but Danicus maintained his grip. He rose to his feet and, with what little strength he had left, strained swinging his opponent into the wall of the tank.
A blast of superheated energy from a melta gun burst through the hatch, washing heat over the two combatants. Danicus dove for the power axe while Ingudax slowly rose. He turned to face his enemy as Ingudax tackled and pinned him to the wall.
A second blast of energy widened the hole in the hull. Danicus activated the power axe and swung true, severing Ingudax’s leg at the knee. He fell onto his back and Danicus slammed the axe into the Chaos Lord’s head and torso over and over until Ingudax went limp.
Danicus gently removed the heads of his fallen brothers from the heretic’s trophy rack and placed them in a row on the floor. Seconds later, the hatch was finally breached and Danicus turned to confront his new foes.