'My lord, 10 seconds until translation,' a metallic voice came to Azus Darnath via the vox channel in his personal sanctum. He had been studying the Tagatha system details during the last 3 days in transit. Azus had travelled the stars for over a century, in the Emperors Great Crusade, yet he had never taken to warp travel. The roiling, tempestuous storms reminded him of old Terran sea legends - stories told while humanity was still in its primitive and ignorant infancy, believing in uneducated, unenlightened ideologies. Of course such tales, of creatures luring unsuspecting sailors to doom and destruction, had been disproved over the millennia and, more importantly, the seas had been murdered and forgotten during mankind's technological progression while exercising their right to one day rule the stars. Strangely however, stories of the banshee, leviathan and kraken seemed more believable in the undulating uncertainties of the immaterium. Members of the ships crew often spoke of whispered voices and the sense of being watched while in warp transit. Some fleets had even reported outbreaks of madness amongst their more human populace, but such things were rare and of no concern to a Praetor of the Adeptus Astartes.
Further pondering, on the nature of the warp, was interrupted as the strike cruiser Angelica Perfectus lurched back into reality. Though impossible, Azus thought he could hear the warp cry with disappointment as it lost its hold on his vessel.
'My lord,' the vox chimed again 'Captain Krox from the World Eaters has requested your attendance on the council hololith.' A warm smile dared to break the stern terran features of the the Praetors face. He caught his reflection in the, now opening, observation ports of his chamber. He was a handsome man, mainly due to the mutations from Lord Fulgrim's gene seed, although he couldn't discern any lasting, original features from before the implantation all those years before. He had tried desperately to eschew the vanity demonstrated by many of his legion, including the upper echelons of the command structure, but here he found himself flattening his fair, blond hair into its preferred side parting. With a completely conscious reaction he snapped his gauntleted fingers away and shook his head with a smirk.
'On my way,' he replied. It had been too long since he had fought side by side with his brother War Hound, the compliance of Lyranol nearly a decade previous, and he relished the opportunity to draw blades with his honoured brother again. They had saved each others lives repeatedly during the 2 year campaign and forged a mutual respect for their counterparts way of war. On the final day they stood as brothers although, at the time, Azus was a mere centurion of the 3rd Legiones Astartes. Now Krox's legion had been reacquainted with their father, Angron, and the legion had taken a new name as the 'eaters of worlds'. Rumours were rife around the recently-found World Eaters gene-sire, speaking of raging personal madness and mutilation to his sons brain tissue via the use of arcane and barbaric technologies. Other less likely rumours had suggested that Angron single-handedly murdered most of the Captains in the legion and that he had refused leadership of the War Hounds outright, wanting no part of the Emperors grand designs.
Azus' serfs draped a pristine, ivory robe over his shoulder and fitted it to his MKIV battle plate. Whilst not as gaudy or celebratory as other suits in his legion, the armour was resplendent with gold and platinum decal, yet maintained aesthetics denoting his Terran heritage. He glanced towards his reflection again and pride swelled within him as he observed the perfect fall of the fabric. The luscious velour garment had been a gift from Lord Fulgrim upon Azus' ascension to the rank of praetor - after the pacification of Keosan III, where his predecessor, and much of his company, had been slain by a horde of Sectislyth's. Azus wanted to muse further, on how he had failed his mentor, but time was not his currently and personal reprimand would have to wait. He turned, nodded thanks to his serfs and strode the first steps towards his next theatre of war.
As Azus walked through the corridors of the ship, serfs and servitors; crew and menials, all bowed in obeisance to him and he acknowledged, those of high enough rank, with a nod. Progressing through the ship; he observed the clockwork intricacies of the human labourers, impressed at how they interacted and interlaced, seemingly, without thought - almost like the synapses of an organic brain. Strike Cruisers didn't stay afloat by themselves and he silently appreciated the work ethic of these mere mortals and wondered if other Astartes felt the same. Of course, technically he was a human too, in its most fundamental and uneducated terminology, but he felt little or no kindred with them. In truth, he pitied them. Not a mocking or belittling pity used to destroy the soul and assert superiority. The type of pity you feel for someone who has fallen short of greatness. The type of pity you feel for someone who has been found wanting under the promise of their own ability.
'My Lord,' said a voice that fell in stride beside him. Without looking, Azus knew who it belonged to.
'Centurion,' he greeted 'how goes the preparation?'
'Well, my Lord - brother Akakios has been awoken and is being primed for war. The company has been running xenos battle drills as per protocol. Wargear has been maintained and checked daily, as has battle plate.'
'Good work Aeto,' he smiled at his subordinate.
'Of course, my lord. I would have it no other way,' Aeto was an ambitious and ruthless Centurion with long white hair, not too dissimilar to that of the Phoenicians, framing his unblemished, youthful face. Aeto owed a lot to their fathers gene-stock, although many of his more physically appealing qualities went unneeded by warriors of the Astartes. He was also a sublime swordsman, who could best almost anyone in the duelling pits, striking like lightning and withdrawing just as fast. He had strong, confident, almost cocky swordsmanship - often landing blows he had no right to even attempt. Azus had decided to keep Aeto close, not through lack of trust, but for sheer attention to detail and his invaluable drive to succeed. He had no doubt that one day Aeto Ballis would take control of a company, he just hoped it wasn't his.
'It will be good to fight alongside Lord Krox again, won't it my lord?' Pressed Aeto. Azus eyed the centurion wearily, uncomfortable at the line of questioning. He had never been of the disposition to let people into his inner circle, unless he truly trusted them.
'Azus,' he replied. Aeto looked at him quizzically.
'Please, call me Azus,' The two lords of the 3rd legion continued the rest of their journey in silence. As the praetor walked into the holo-council chamber he greeted all the attendants. A chime signalled lord Krox's council invite. Moments after Azus Darnath's nodded acknowledgement to the strike cruisers comm-officer, Krox appeared via hololith in the centre of the room. Azus' mouth fell open.
'Get off my vox!' Azus asserted the words with mock authority. He was greeted by cold laughter. Not malicious laugh, it never was, it was a gentle goad - one that may be exchanged between brothers.
'Without my commentary, lordling, for companionship how would you know how the battle fares from way back there?' Krox's sarcastic retort came back heavy, soft and cold. The Praetor was an ugly fighter, like many of his legion, yet where they lacked the elegant, marshall grace of the sons of Fulgrim, the War Hounds more than made up for it in grit, determination and ferocious brutality.
'Worry not, war-dog, you lack precision and finesse, you can't comprehend the way I make war. You are as a dog unleashed and I will forever prove your master,' he smiled as he returned the jibe.
'Such fancy words child. I will see you at the end no doubt,' Azus could hear a genuine smile in the War Hounds voice and it was all the encouragement he needed to re-double his efforts.
He fought beautifully, parrying with no effort, dodging and darting his way across the battlefield, his charnabal sabre carving Orks as he progressed. The barbaric xenos were relentless, pushing on in droves and throwing themselves at the warriors of the Emperor. They were an incredible foe, possessing immense strength, resilience and seemingly infinite ranks of frothing madness. They did not require tactics, nor did they give thought to any, instead they screamed their belligerent, maniacal battle-cries and leapt at the closest thing they wanted dead - crude, yet undeniably effective. Azus' battle senses detected the deathblow seconds before it cleaved him in two. Vision slowed as his attention refocused on the threat, his body pumping with adrenaline. Reacting instantly, he shifted as a blunted chainaxe missed his head by mere inches. He turned and met the follow-up blow, throwing all his weight behind his own blade. In spite of his braced stance he felt his feet press into and slide through the soft ground of Lyranol II, he could gain no purchase to mount his retaliation. Though Space Marines are exceptionally strong when compared to humans and other alien races, they are often found lacking against the hulking form of an Ork. He knew he had to act fast. Throwing a gauntleted gutter-punch into the cheek of his attacker, he gained a precious moment to throw himself into a shoulder roll and gained reprieve from a bludgeoning death. As Azus found his feet, he turned and saw the beast advancing on him, blood crazed eyes, steaming spittle on his chin and a two-handed axe that had been dulled on too many skulls. Azus felt disgust rise on him as he glared at the Ork. He adjusted his grip on his blade, adopting the stance of a duelist and prepared for the ensuing melee. The Ork roared and leapt at Azus. Mighty blows, slow and heavy, rose and fell on the space marine - pushing him backwards. Azus ducked his upper torso to the side as a cross-body strike threatened to end the bout, his attacker finding nothing but air. The centurion spun, his blade leading in a back hand swing, striking the Ork in his shoulder drawing bellows of pain from his foe. A blood-slick arm punched out, knocking Azus back again. The two warriors exchanged blows for long minutes and the arms of the duelist began to tire. After a particularly brutal assault, he stumbled, his blade falling as his hands dug into the soft earth. He looked at his arms and realised they were covered in his own blood, yet he could not recall the gifting blows. The centurions arms ached as he rolled onto his back, looking up as his foe strode forward, axe raised, ready to end his life. There was a mighty roar but the axe never dropped. Azus was sprayed by excessive arterial gore as it escaped the Orks chest. The xenos tumbled to to floor, cut in twain by a mighty blade-stroke. Azus stared past the dead warlord as a navy-armoured Astartes in cataphractii plate walked towards him. He was helmless, his close cropped hair stuck to his scalp. A smile graced his face as he looked at Azus. He was a plain man, with tanned flesh and a calm demeanour.
'Now,' said Lord Krox of the War Hounds holding out a hand 'we are even.'
The man before Azus was certainly his very same battle brother, yet so very different. Gone was the soft, at-ease camaraderie that used to exude from his friend, instead it had been replaced with...with what? Pain? Was it pain that Azus could see behind Krox's eyes? The muscles in his counterparts neck looked taught and strained, his eyes seemed to bulge as if with heavy exersion. Thick dreadlocks protruded into the top and back of his cranium, purple veins were exaggerated around them. Were the rumours of Angron's influence true?
'We wait for our brother Death Guard. The Spectre of Barbarus arrived moments after we broke warp.' The feed went silent as Krox spoke to someone on his own bridge. Aeto and Azus took a moment and shared glances.
'He is not what I expected,' said Aeto but any response was interrupted as Turl Vehrroid's image flickered and stabilised.
'Good we are all here. Securing the major cities and defending the All-Summer caverns is our priority. Ballis,' he said looking at the centurion, ' you will secure the Dantiosh space port. Master Vehrroid, harry the Dark Eldar from orbit and establish any bases of operation. Strike upon identification.' Turl accepted with an almost indistinguishable nod of his head, his image cutting immediately.
'I will secure Furalga City and Centurion Darnath is tasked with pacifying the city of Hushk.'
'Thats Praetor now, brother,' said Azus Darnath bristling at the insult.
'I know,' said Krox, a smile slightly wrinkling his eyes and mouth as he turned. 'I am very proud of you,' he said genuinely. As his hololithic image broke up he added:
'This will be fun,'
By Khall Sithis