+++ St. Ahra suborbit +++
+++ Thunderhawk “Green Claw” +++
The Thunderhawk penetrated the atmosphere of St. Ahra with great speed, heading towards docking bay of Vanguard Cruiser “Sword of Zagul”. On board Veteran Sergeant Corymbus and Apothecary Otis were silent as graves. All the remaining members of Squad Treonor watched their fallen battle brothers in silent contemplation. Beside them three bodies still clad in green power armor of Mantis Warriors Chapter, lied on the medical harnesses, strapped so that they do not slip off during the transition to space ship waiting in orbit.
Work that was ahead of Apothecary Otis reminded him of dark days, of rather recent transgression they have committed. The Badab war. Turning against the Imperium, or as Mantis Warriors thought back in that time, turning against usurpers that tried to challenge Astartes authority, it all made sense at some point. Although Otis knew now how deep they were wrong, it was not the attacks against Fire Hawks or other Chapters that made him feel regret.
It was almost heretical to think that way, but Otis regretted the most – all those who he had to bid eternal farewell. All those extracted progeniods. All those lost Battle Brothers. Almost half of Mantis Warriors died in the Badab war itself. Many followed in an attempt to atone for their sins afterwards, during penitentiary crusades. And yet for almost half a century already they were not allowed to replenish the loses.
By the final command of Mantis Warriors Chapter Master before his incarceration by the Salamanders, the entire Chapter was reformed. It was no longer reasonable to maintain Company based organisation, since all the companies were shattered into grotesque image of themselves. Three crusade fleets were formed. In a fashion resembling organisation of Black Templars or maybe even some other fleetborne chapters Otis didn’t know of. Three crusades were launched, one towards Halo Stars, one into forgotten depths of Segmentum Tempestus, and the final one into abandoned depths of Ultima Segmentum.
The latter was led by Captain of 3rd Company Tagon Ortuga, it was the one currently present in the Jorus System. It consisted of elements of 3rd, 4th and 10th companies respectively, initially amounting to about 150 marines. Now they were down to 124, which was in itself a good result, given the fact that they were crusading for almost 30 years now.
“121, now it is 121”. Corrected himself Apothecary.
Three more battle brothers dead. Three less battle brothers to sustain the lineage of the Chapter. And it was Otis’s duty to be custodian of this passing. Although Otis loathed the idea of preparing the funeral rites and prior to that – extracting geneseed from fallen battle bothers, he was well aware that Corymbus was about to face something much more disturbing. He will have to answer for their death, in a context of overstepping his orders to stay on the orbit.
Death Warden Galfridus and Captain Ortuga will not take the news of Corymbus disobiedience lightly.
They would have been furious even if there were no casulties on Astartes side. Yet now, after a sergeant and two battle brothers were dead, Corymbus was about to face wrath incarnated from the Reclusiarh and probably Captain too.
Otis kept his thoughts to himself and spent the last few minutes of approach towards the Vangurd Cruiser in silence.
+++ St. Ahra orbit +++
+++ Vanguard Cruiser “Sword of Zagul” +++
Hangar bay was filled with Chapter serfs awaiting the shuttle. They were prepared to receive not only Corymbus with all due honors (since he was a leader of a strike force that have just won a battle against Archenemy), they were also prepared to mourn and take care of the fallen.
After brief ceremonial welcome by First Officer Tornton, Corymbus, Otis, Squad Treonor members: Tyon, Pratio, Numides, Galash and Fohan, several servants accompanied by specially modified cargo lifting servitors begun the ritual procession towards the furnace chambers on board the vessel. Throughout the entire journey, chapter serf dressed all in black, read out loud entire roll of honors of all the fallen. It all ended after about an hour when they have reached massive incineration chamber, which was not only unusually clean, but also adorned with Mantis Warriors livery. Standards hung from all the walls and ceiling.
It was no ordinary furnace, of a kind that was on every Imperial Ship. Garbage and waste was not burned here for heat and CO2 used elsewhere. This was a ritual funeral chamber. Techmarine Grash was already at the furnace operation control panel. His head was bowed down and his face shown deep contemplation.
Servants without need of any orders placed (with a help of servitors), all the fallen marines on ornamented tables and begun to strip them off armor.
-“Otis, prepare for the rituals of passing. From what Tornton informs me, Reclusiarch and Captain will join us shortly. Grash I command you to go to the surface of St. Ahra immediately and assist Sergeant Olvyi in fortifying the Sanctuary.” Then he turned to gathered space marines from Squad Treonor:
-“Brother Pratio and Brother Numides, maintain watch over the bodies of our fallen Battle Brothers. Brother Fohan, Tyon and Galash report in at Apothecarium. We have about 3 to 4 hour before our company command arrives, I want you checked and attended to by that time, when you are done join Pratio and Numdes. Brother Tyon I choose you to hold company banner we have on board for the ceremony. I need to take care of few more things before we can proceed with the rites, but I will be back here within 2 hours maximum.” After informing everyone what is expected of them, Corymbus walked out of chamber and proceeded towards his private quarters.
Techmarnie Grash greeted his brothers and followed sergeants command. Before the funeral rites started he was already on the planet surface together with 30 engineering servitors he took with him.
Apothecary Otis managed the process of reclaiming the fallen battle brothers armor and after that he begun to do thorough examination of Astartes corpses. While he was examining the plasma burns on Brother Atrion’s body, a shadowed figure stepped closer and extended his mechanical limb.
-“By the will of Ommnisiah! Honored Apothecary Otis, hand me over the sample. Please!” the last words were nearly spat out by the Cult Mechanicum priest of biologos specialty. Utrax Ichto was seconded to the crusade fleet about 30 years ago by the Mechanicum of Mars in order to perform first in centuries thorough check of chapter’s geenseed purity. He was loathed as an outsider at first, and after he requested the first samples after his arrival during one of funerary rites he was nearly beaten to death by Veteran sergeant Jehol who was only stopped by his fellow battle brothers. From then on Utrax always approached only the Apothecaries and added the usually unfamiliar word for Cult Mechanicum priests : “Please”.
-“Here it is, Brother Atrion’s, of 3rd Company Mantis Warriors Chapter, Squad Troenor, tactical marine, 97 years of services. Geenstock of Takoma Feral World in Endymion star cluster.” Recited Otis handing over the sealed geneseed sample extracted from his fallen battle brother.
-“My thanks Apothecary, as always, Mars is grateful for your compliance!” replied magos biologos and instantly retreated the chamber towards his own laboratory set up in the lower levels of the ship.
+++ St. Ahra Orbit +++
+++ Vanguard Cruser “Sword of Zagul” +++
+++ Veteran Sergeant Corymbus private quarters +++
Corymbus thrown his helmet on the floor and took off his power claws and then handed them over to servants who will then take them to armory.
-“Leave me!” demanded Astartes and servants obeyed immediately.
After he ensured himself that he was left alone, Corymbus approached a window in the wall of his chamber and with a great effort restrained himself from smashing the reinforced glass into shards. He was furious, although he managed to hide it from his subordinates he was in fact on the edge of succumbing into bloody rage. He pressed his head onto the window and stared on the St. Ahra surface passing by below. White ball of snow and glaciers. With very few settlements to light its now visible night side. Corymbus sighted, he was not of Sanguinus gene lineage, yet he was fully aware that it didn’t necessarily take pre-set gene configuration to be vulnerable to blinding rage outbursts.
He breathed heavily and focused on calming himself. It took several minutes before he started thinking clearly. And there was much to think about now. His orders were clear, he was supposed to maintain orbit vigil above St. Ahra, yet he chose to deploy to the surface and lift the siege of Sanctuary.
His mission was a bitter success. The fight itself was bloody and the foe was not very demanding, just a regular damned human fools who abandoned the Emperors light. They were slaughtered without mercy and sanctuary was saved. His actions saved lives of about 100 remaining defenders, but the cost was far too great for that. Three battle brothers dead and a sergeant among them… Treonor was an exquisite fighter, exceptional swordsman and a solid tactician. Such a bad luck, such a shame to loose him in accidental fire exchange. Lucky shots from a dying tank gunner that struck him in neck armor joint. And then his two subordinates Atrion and Borgas. Their death was a usual battle misfortune. Their bodies were smashed by tons of rubble from downed building struck with plasma cannon of traitor Leman Russ tank. Plasma discharge also burned their armor joints and melted parts of their flesh. That was not unheard of, but still unfortunate.
Corymbus blamed himself for the outcome, yet initially he sought flaws in sergeant Troenor approach to the battlefield situation. There were no errors on Troenor’s side. He had to procure his plan the way he did, or else the bunker would be lost with all hands. Leman Russ’s plasma cannon would tear through the defenses on the entrenched defenders position if not for the sergeant Troenor and brother Tyon assault with melta charges.
It was nonetheless irreparable loss. A loss he will be accounted for. Truth be told Corymbus was not afraid, he was shamed. Shamed that we was faced with s situation in which he had his honor or orders at stake and he could have emerged only with one of them unbroken. He chose his honor, and was dramatically shocked by the feeling he was now experiencing. Since he never before thought that he will feel shamed in a situation when his honor prevailed.
But then again, wasn’t it what nearly all of his battle brothers felt right now? After the Badab war, Mantis Warriors could undoubtedly say they have stood up to their honor bounds towards the Astral Claws and Lamenters, yet their eternal order to maintain service to the Imperium of Mankind and Emperor himself was broken by their actions.
Corymbus contrary to his fellow battle brothers was not present in the Mealstrum collar area (or the Endymion star cluster) where Badab War took place. He was then on long range patrol duty on board of his vessel “Sword of Zagul”. He was accompanied by Squad Olvyi alone. His strike force consisting of 11 Battle Brothers together with himself travelled across the void and inhabited star systems, accompanied by 3 destroyers and provided deliverance to remote colonies from Dark Eldar riders for 22 years. That resulted in “Sword of Zagul” return to Endymion Star cluster in the last year of the war.
For that matter he stood apart from the bulk of Mantis Warriors force, and felt like he was not as bonded to them as he was when he embarked on his last patrol duty. Sometimes, he even thought that he was an object of envy by few of his Battle Brothers as he didn’t bear the shame they all had to bath in, in the aftermath of rebellion.
Although Mantis Warriors were spared the Emperors wrath, they were ordered to perform 100 years penance crusade, and were striped of the right to recruit new battle brothers. During the 30 years’ time of ongoing crusade Corymbus felt and born the penance as his own, as he was also the one who took part in the shameful transgression his brothers committed. Yet his penance was a thorn in the eye of some, since he actually had nothing to atone for, and that magnified the burden of penance of those who had their brothers blood on their hands.
-“Death Warden Galfridus will enjoy himself soon I guess, now that I have given him excuse to feast on my disobedience.” Thought Corymbus to himself.
Galfridus… he was not the man Corymbus knew before the war. They both met each other for the first time some 180 years ago. When Galfridus was freshly appointed death warden and Corymbus just recently received his promotion to Sergeant rank. Galfridus was always zealous. He learned that path to be his own during several penal operations on the heathen star systems near Mealstrum. The campaign was fought with assistance of Lamenters Chapter and Black Templars Chapter. Galfridus absorbed their zeal and soaked with their preaching techniques.
But never had he fallen into the claws of fanaticism and obsession of self-annihilation as a form of absolution. Not until the aftermath of Badab… Now Galfridus was raving mad lunatic hoping only for death to absolve his own sins. He loathed his life as worthless and thought of himself as a failure in the eyes of Emperor, due to his excessive actions during Badab War.
In fact both Star Phantoms and Fire Hawks chapters petitioned to punish Galfridus with death, as a retribution for butchery he performed on their battle brothers. Truth be told attrition rate on the side of loyalists that fought with Galfridus strike force during the Badab War, was exceptional.
Since it was not a secret that he was a gifted tactician no one in the Mantis Warriors Chapter was surprised by it, yet the sheer brutality Galfridus promoted in his subordinates shocked both Fire Hawks and Star Phantoms. There were no prisoners taken, only the disembowelled corpses spoke testament to his actions.
Corymbus approached Galfridus, previously considered an avatar of vitality and fearsome warrior, about 1 year after the conclusion of Badab War, and Veteran sergeant was shocked by the shell of a man he looked upon at that time. Hollow eyes, visible cheek bones and snow white pale face. Galfridus changed, not only on the outside, but also his psyche was broken. All he stood for in the past, was a lie as it appeared, all action he considered right for the 12 years that the war took, were now the source of his shame. He was a broken thing. But since he had a real predispositions to be a Death Warden, he hammered his shame on the anvil of self-mortification into the weapon of purest hate imaginable. He didn’t hate anything in particular, he hated the “existence” itself.
Corymbus on the other hand, as he didn’t share the shaming experience of his battle brothers, remained practical and subtle warrior, a cold master of void battles and incredibly fast hit & run attacks on the surface of planets.
Like a water and fire, those two elements had to collide in the devastating manner, one of them will prevail yet it was far from concluded, if either will surface his approach as dominating and be considered victorious in this conflict of characters. One might ask why would they face each other at all? Yet it was apparent for many in the Chapter that common Astartes looked for a figure to follow in a spiritual way. Be it zealous fanaticism of Galfridus’s teachings of self-mortification and imposed morbid atonement, or Corymbus’s practical and tactical, cold war-craft in which a true warrior could pay his debts to Imperium using blood of his foes as currency.
Time will tell, yet for now, Corymbus must face another of Company Command members, who as he was informed, was inbound to dock on “Sword of Zagul” within half an hour. Captain Tagon Ortuga known both to his subordinates and outside of his chapter as the “Lord Reaper” or “Scythe of Endymion”.