Authors: Gav Thorpe
'The more I learn about these aliens, the more I come to understand what drives them, the more I hate them. I hate them for what they are and for what they may one day become. I hate them not because they hate us but because they are incapable of good, honest, human hatred.'
- Inquisitor Agmar
IF EVER THERE were an abomination given form, it was the tyranid hive ship. Cassius could see it clearly through the armoured windows above the launch bays. Less than three hundred kilometres away, the hive ship was a blot against the bright orb of Argo Secundus's primary moon; an impossibly vast, half-coiled mass of chitin and flesh. The Chaplain could not see the damage wrought by the battle-barge's torpedoes and cannons but knew from experience that the alien creature's armoured form would be pocked and split from plasma blasts and shell detonations. Feeder tendrils, each dozens of kilometres long, trailed from the prow of the hive ship, and a miasma of frozen ichor surrounded the wounded craft.
Though injured, the hive ship was still a threat to the planet below. It was too close to Argo Secundus for further bombardment; if it were further crippled the hive ship would disgorge its mycetic spores onto the world in a last, desperate detonation to despatch its cargo of bio-constructs. Long, hard experience had taught the Ultramarines this, so the commander of the battle-barge had known when to stop the attack, just short of that self-destructive orgy of seeding.
The next strike would be the riskiest. Cassius and his warriors would board the hive ship with virus charges and melta detonators, to cripple the synaptic corridors along its dorsal nerveways. With these pathways severed, the hive ship would not be able to launch its thousands of spores, trapping the creatures aboard. The strike force would withdraw and the Ultramarines flotilla would complete the hive ship's destruction.
It sounded simple, this breach-and-destroy mission. Like all Space Marine Chapters, the Ultramarines had perfected starship assault tactics over their long history, and in recent decades the Codex Astartes had expanded with the experience of fighting the tyranids.
In practice, it would be a tense, bloody action. The tyranids excelled at close quarters combat, even more so than the Adeptus Astartes, and the Ultramarines task force would literally be entering the heart of their nest-ship. Speed and precision would be vital.
Leaving the gantry, Chaplain Cassius made his way down to the launch bay below. His black-painted armour glowed with a dull, ruddy aura in the pre-launch lighting. In their blue livery, the seventy-two Space Marines of his command waited beside four boarding torpedoes, ready for the order to embark on the transport missiles. Cassius knew that in the neighbouring bay, three Thunderhawk gunships were readying to lift off, carrying another assault force that would conduct an initial strike against the energy cortex located in the underbelly of the hive ship.
Striding across the mesh decking, he opened a vox channel to address his force. The Ultramarines turned in unison to face their venerable leader, raising bolters and heavy weapons in salute as he stopped at the top of the ramp leading up to the closest boarding torpedo.
'Hail the Emperor!' Cassius declared, the call echoed over the vox-net by his warriors. 'Praise the primarch! Today we go into battle against the worst kind of foe. We know this enemy well, for they came to our own world, to glorious Macragge. On the snowy tundra and the windswept plains, our brothers and forebears gave their lives to defeat the tyranid menace. This foe, this filthy xenos plague, brought our Chapter to the brink of annihilation, but we prevailed. It is our duty to protect mankind against such alien horror, but to face the tyranids is more than a duty; to destroy them is more than a matter of honour and glory. It is our right!
'There are countless foes that beset the worlds under our aegis, but it is for the tyranids that we must unleash our greatest hatred. The threat they pose is nigh immeasurable. Dozens of worlds we have lost to them. That would be reason enough to eradicate them, to seek them out at every turn and wipe them from existence. There is another, grander reason to be proud of their extinction. The foe we destroy today is a pitiless, unthinking devourer of worlds. It is an alien intelligence that is beyond our comprehension because it is incapable of any act other than destruction.
'We are the Emperor's Angels of Death, but in raining death upon our enemies we bring safety and prosperity to mankind. The tyranids are a malaise of galactic proportions that do not negotiate, do not barter or surrender. Only the utter annihilation of every tyranid organism will see this threat ended; only with the most ruthless hatred will we prevail against them.
'It is not our battle-barges and bolters, our lascannons and melta bombs that will bring us victory. These are merely devices of destruction. It is our will to wield them without compromise, to unleash righteous devastation in the Emperors name, which will bring us victory. Hate these foes! Hate them with every fibre of your being. Hate them in your hearts and despise them in your souls. Purge them with flamer and sword and rejoice at their deaths.
'There are some men, weak philosophers and cowards, who say that hatred clouds the judgement. They are wrong! Hatred gives us purity. Hatred gives us focus. Hatred gives us our purpose. Board now the vessels that will take us to the foe and make us the instruments of the Emperor's vengeance and listen to my words of hate. Bring your thoughts to bear on this tale as you prepare for battle against this noxious enemy.
'Let me tell you of the cleansing power of hatred. Listen to the story of Styxia and know that hatred is our most potent weapon.'
THE BUREAUCRATS OF the Departmento Munitorum called it Phagolitic Xenos Threat Omega-seven-octa; the men and women tasked to fight the invading aliens simply called it Hive Swarm Gorgon. The first sign of the hive swarm's approach had been the encroachment of the so-called Shadow in the Warp over the Styxia star system. Blotting out astropathic communication, eclipsing the holy light of the Astronomican, the might of the tyranid hive mind had swathed Styxia and the surrounding systems with psychic darkness. Astropaths of the affected worlds had broadcast general alarms as the Shadow had enveloped the populated star systems to the galactic east of Styxia, where Hive Fleet Kraken had splintered after the great battle for Ichar IV.
The warp shuddered with the dream-messages of the astropaths. Attuned psykers within hundreds of light years were assailed by images of all-devouring maws and grasping claws. A filthy umbra tainted everything, creating a serpentine, coagulating mass of hysterical ravings and apocalyptic vistas that drove many astropaths to madness and suicide; their last words ranted warnings of a terrifying beast of the abyss arisen to consume the galaxy.
Then there had been silence; black and impenetrable.
The Chief Librarian of the Ultramarines, Tigurius, had felt these panicked waves through the warp and known well what they presaged; as had other astropaths on waystations and monitoring posts across the sector. The Ultramarines were not the only force to have heard the cries for help suddenly snuffed out by the all-consuming advance of the tyranids: the Imperial Navy and Imperial Guard were being mustered for battle at Styxia. The quietude that had followed the eclipsing of the beleaguered astropaths was filled by message and counter-message that commanded the raising of regiments and the redirection of fleets.
Knowing this, Tigurius relayed the matter of the unfolding situation to Marneus Calgar, his Chapter Master, aboard ship en route to a campaign against the orks rampaging through the Vortengard Spiral. The flotilla came together at Arensis, the first of several staging stops to keep the vessels together on the seven hundred-light-year journey to Vortengard. Knowing that further progress would take his warriors away from Styxia, the Chapter Master called a pause before the next warp translation and brought together his trusted advisors - members of the Librarius, his company captains and Chaplain Cassius, most venerable of the Chapter's warriors.
From across the fleet they gathered on the flagship, the Octavius.
THEY FORMED THEIR quorum in Calgar's personal chambers, to discuss their response to Tigurius's communication. Their meeting took place in a small hall, lit by hanging rosettes that gleamed with golden light reflected from marble pillars flanking the chamber. The walls were painted with murals depicting famous scenes from across the realm of Ultramar: the pillared underground halls of Calth; Kronor's immense furnace-spire whose summit burns brighter than the local star; rugged mountains swept by lightning storms on Espandor; Guilliman's solace lodge amongst the forests of Iax; surf-cutters chasing a giant aquatic beast on Talassar.
The floor was made of heavy tiles of obsidian and granite, each inlaid with a gilded insignia in the shape of an inverted omega: the symbol of the Ultramarines. The council table stood at the centre of the room, also dark in colour, circular in shape and large enough for twenty Space Marines to be seated around it. Before each chair was a sigil carved into the top of the table and set with shining silver to mark the position of the council attendees: Master of the Fleet; Master of the Watch; Chief of the Librarium; Chancellor of Macragge; Master of Sanctity and many others. It was not often that every seat was filled, such were the many demands that split the Chapter across the Eastern Fringe. Today would not be such a day, though nearly a dozen captains and other high ranking officers would be in attendance.
The ceiling was decorated by tiny glass beads that formed a mosaic of the Seal of Macragge - a wreath-crowned eagle between scrolled insignia that had been the mark of Konor, foster father to the Ultramarines Primarch Roboute Guilliman. It had become the badge of office of every Chapter Master since the old Legion had been split; a mark that was now the privilege and the burden of Marneus Augustus Calgar.
Sitting on a heavy, high-backed chair, the Chapter Master of the Ultramarines waited patiently for his warriors to attend him and make their statements of allegiance and dedication. He accepted the liege-words of each warrior with a simple nod of the head. His hands, encased in the massive Gauntlets of Ultramar, lay in his lap unmoving, though his stillness of body was not matched by his eyes. These moved quickly, taking in the faces and expressions of all who came into the hall, reading their mood and intent by long experience and close companionship. Of the Chapter Master's disposition there was little sign, except perhaps tightness in the jaw and a slight downward curl of the mouth that hinted at some disquiet.
Armoured in their full war panoply and accompanied by their entourages of servitors and serfs, the command council attended to the words of their Chapter Master. Each knelt and spoke words of fealty, flanked by banner bearers and helots carrying weapons and other relics appropriate to the rank and duties of their master, before taking their station at the large table that filled the centre of the hall.
Calgar's explanation of the situation was brief and to the point: the Ultramarines were already committed to the battles at Vortengard and other Imperial forces had responded to the menace at Styxia. It was his view that the Ultramarines should continue on their set course and defer the defence of Styxia to the Guard and Navy forces already being despatched.
'The matter seems to be in hand,' said Captain Ixion, commander of the Seventh Company.
'Styxia is an agri-world, home to less than five million souls,' pointed out Captain Agemman, who held the title of Regent of Ultramar, second in authority only to Calgar. 'A thousand thousand times that number are threatened at Vortengard. Our priorities are clear, we must not be distracted from our current course of action.'
'Had we rebuilt ourselves to our full complement from the devastation at Ichar IV, we might respond,' said Pulo Astersis, a veteran Techmarine who was the most senior member of the Armoury present in the fleet and hence de facto Master of the Forge. 'Still we await replacements to the vehicles and armour lost in that conflict.'
Cassius growled his displeasure and the eyes of all the Space Marines around the table turned in his direction. The Chaplain stood up and leaned forwards, resting the knuckles of his armoured gauntlets on the polished black marble of the table. Like the table, the Chaplain's armour was jet black, only his left shoulder pad painted in the blue of the Ultramarines. Skull devices adorned his armour amongst a welter of wax-sealed purity parchments, and at his hip was chained a copy of the Liber Ultramar: the roll of honour of the Ultramarines.
He was the oldest warrior of the Chapter, not including those who had been chosen for the honour of internment in a Dreadnought. Cassius's skin was thick and leathery, heavily scarred from centuries of fighting. His short-cropped hair was pure white. His right eye had been replaced by an augmetic substitute decades before, and the red lens of the bionic glittered in the lights of the hall.
'You wish to say something?' said Marneus Calgar, waving a hand to invite Cassius to speak.