The Cobra’s Bite

“Until the snake is dead, do not drop the stick.”
-Proverb of the Gyptus tribes, M1.

All that mattered was their survival.

The words of Chapter Master Askook had been fresh in his mind as he had boarded the drop pod with half of his squad. The other half would have been boarding theirs at the same time, on the other side of the ship. The Chapter was dying. Slowly, but surely. They were trapped, cornered, and it would only be a matter of time before they were wiped out. It would take the Imperium time, time and blood, to finally root them out from their bunkers, but it would do so in the end. They had nowhere else to go.

The majority of the fleet had been crashed into the planet to escape the crusade, leaving the Steel Cobras with but a handful of frigates. And those dared not fly for fear of being shot down by the stations the Imperium had constructed in orbit around Tukaroe VII. They were little more than animals in a cage now, awaiting their executioners. It was not an end any of them deserved.

Cheveyo felt the heavy harness drop into position, clamping around his shoulders and holding him in place. He could hear his hearts beating, their tempo slowly building as adrenaline was released into his system. There was going to be a fight soon, and his body was preparing for it. He took deep, measured breaths as the drop pod’s ramps raised up, enclosing him and four of his brothers within layers of metal and ceramic.

“Brothers,” he said over the squad vox link, their signals glowing green on his display. He paused, unsure of what to say. This was not something they had ever prepared for. This was not something they had ever believed necessary. What could he say? They were Astartes. They would achieve their objective or die trying. No other result was possible. “May the Spirits watch over you,” he said finally. A chorus of replies answered him, and he closed his eyes and waited.

Deep below them, in a part of the battle barge that had once been the auxiliary command bridge, sat steelspeaker Sicheii. It had taken over a year to prepare everything for this one moment. Months of work repositioning the battle barge to have it aiming at the sky. Endless hours trapped in submersibles, surrounded by liquid ammonia. It had been a task worthy of legend, all for this one brief moment. All to give the chapter hope. They deserved that much.

Steelspeaker Sicheii was old. Far older than some of his brothers knew. There was precious little of him even left. His limbs had all been replaced with cybernetics, along with his right eye and spine. The legacy of a lifetime of service. Far more than a lifetime, as unaugmented humans measured such things. He remembered serving the Great Eagle alongside his brothers for well over five centuries before their fall from grace. He remembered watching the inductions of many of those who would rise to become company captains in the chapter. He remembered forging the Chapter Master’s armour to honor his appointment, his predecessor’s armour lost along with his body during the war on Garran V.

He was sat in the command throne, directly wired into the Navayo’s systems. He could feel the displeasure of the machine spirit, outraged over its treatment. It was a war ship, it deserved to die in fire, and not be sunken beneath the frigid oceans, hiding like some prey animal. Sicheii soothed it, singing the hymn he had been taught by the red priests in the cant of the steel spirits. They were such lonely things, not at all like the spirits his chapter was used to. Those were wild, free and full of vitality. Those like the spirit of the Navajo…they were cold, distant. Very much like the steel they inhabited.

That is why so few of his brothers heard their call, Sicheii supposed. They were too used to the wisdom of the Fox, or the creativity of the Spider, to truly have a sense for the cold logic of the Steel. Maybe because it was so alien to them – animals had minds, wants and fears. They could be related to, at least on an instinctual level. The Steel though…few could associate themselves with a cold, mindless form. But there were spirits in the Steel nonetheless, and they deserved no less respect than their kin.

He felt the anger of the Navayo fade, replaced by anticipation as the spirit heard his song. It would get to fulfill its purpose once more. It would get to strike at the enemies of the Chapter. If he’d had a mouth left, Sicheii would have smiled. Though the spirits of Steel were much harder to understand and grasp, they did actually have something approximating to emotions. Deep within the ship, he could feel the rumble of machinery, the grinding of gears as ancient system flared to life, drawing power from the reactivated generators.

Sicheii could see the great crane arms moving, stirred into action once more. He could see them swinging down to pick up the drop pods in the loading bays, carefully lifting them and setting them into the chambers of the battle barge’s main guns. Where once there had been engines and turbines, there were now charges. The drop pods had been converted into massive shells, all for this moment. Sicheii could see through a hundred eyes, his augmented mind filtering the information and preventing it from overwhelming him.

“Spirits, guide my hand,” he intoned, his voice nearly silent. There was no one else on the bridge but his servitors, his brothers having departed long ago. He knew none of them expected him to survive. The minute the great guns of Navayo spoke, the Imperial stations would retaliate, raining fire down upon it until it was no longer a threat. A fitting end for such a proud ship. The Steel spirit sensed this, and had accepted it. No…it wanted it. It had lain dormant for too long at the bottom of the sea, slowly being eaten away by the ammonia. A quick death was always more welcome than a lingering one. They were alike in that regard.

His hands flexed as he saw the station, far above. It was like a hawk, endlessly hunting. The ship seemed to hold its breath for a moment. And then Sicheii fired the guns.

The seas of Tukaroe VII roiled and steamed. The great guns jutting above the waves boomed as they fired, the heat they generated boiling the ammonia swirling around them. The barrels glowed in the freezing atmosphere, cracking the rust that had formed from having rested beneath the ammonia seas.

Heavy shells were spat from the guns, ancient munitions stored in the battle barge’s armory. Each one still bore the Imperial Aquila, the gilded emblems flashing as they briefly caught the weak sunlight as they screeched skywards. The thunder of the first salvo had barely faded before the guns roared again. This time however, there were no shells. This time, the guns fired drop pods marked with the hooded serpent insignia of the Steel Cobras.

Station Beta-32 hung in orbit, glittering with a million lights. Another thousand blossomed into life as alarms rang throughout its halls. Cannons moved into position, though they would be of little use against the incoming barrage. There was a flash of energy, and lightning seemed to dance through space as the station’s void shields were struck. They held for fourteen seconds before overloading with a flash as bright as the sun. The lightning faded as the shield generators rapidly bled their excess energy, preparing to repower the shields. The station’s cannons had begun to fire back onto the planet, locking onto the glaring heat signature of the guns below even as they launched another salvo of shells skywards.

Soaring through the exchange, the drop pods crashed into the metal skin of the station.

He felt the impact judder up through his legs into his spine. It felt like any other drop pod landing. An alarm rang as the pod opened; its doors falling outwards like the petals of a blooming flower. Instantly the alarm fell silent, though Cheveyo knew it was still ringing. All he could hear was his own breath as he slapped the harness’ release button, freeing himself from the drop pod’s clutches and stepping out onto the surface of the space station. His breathing was joined by the heavy thud of his footsteps, the magnetic soles of his power armour keeping him anchored to the station’s skin. The rest was silence.

The planet loomed above their heads, a foul cloud already forming over the ocean where the Navayo rested. Cheveyo could see the station’s cannons firing in the distance, belching clouds of gas and flame with each shot. He hoped that SIcheii had managed to evacuate or find shelter, though he knew that practically the steelspeaker would have had little time to do either before the retaliatory shelling began. He still muttered a quick prayer to the Great Spirits to watch over the old man.

“Kagan, can you hear me?” he voxed, hoping his second would hear him. No luck. It seemed like their drop pods had landed to far apart to communicate. Or perhaps Kagan’s pod had been shot down during the exchange of fire. Maybe it had disintegrated against the station’s void shields. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Cheveyo hated not knowing, but there was little helping it. As briefed, he would have to continue on as if his squad had been the only one to make it. He turned to the four other space marines who had been in the drop pod, wrestling free of their own harnesses and grabbing their weapons. “Nawat. Start cutting,” he ordered.

Nawat was their youngest, having served for less than two centuries. He had only recently been promoted from the scout company when the crusade had struck and driven the Steel Cobras from their home world. He carried a bulky lascutter, his other weapons clamped to his hips, out of the way. Nodding to the sergeant, he stepped up and aimed just in front of his heat. A blindingly bright beam sprung to life as he triggered the device, holding it close to the metal to speed up the process. Lascutteres weren’t quick tools, but they were reliable. Besides, the thickness of the stations hull would work against them. Cheveyo wished that he had Kagan and the rest of the squad with him. They would have had two lascutters then.

They stood in a rough circle around Nawat as he worked, staring outwards at the void of space. There was little to no cover for them to take in case of attack, so their best defense was early detection and pre-emptive assault. At least the drop pod provided some support in the form of its automated bolters, endlessly rotating and hunting for targets. Time went on as Nawat continued to cut through. It would take a while due to the thickness of the outer hull, but they would at least be able to breach into the access corridors soon, which would offer greater protection than their current location.

Cheveyo hated waiting. It left him alone with his thoughts, making it more likely his mind would wander. In combat, there was no time to truly think. It was mostly instinct and trained responses coming in flashes in between bouts of considering immediate concerns. “Squad,” he voxed. His eyes darted about, trying to cover the wide stretch of grey metal before him. He couldn’t see any access hatches for defenders to sally forth from, or any automated defenses coming their way. His combat squad’s responses came in one by one.

“Lonato, ai.” Lonato had been an assault marine before being assigned to Cheveyo’s squad, roughly a century and a half ago. He had been part of the Stormfront offensive against Cardinal Richelieu’s crusade against the Steel Cobras, from which but one frigate returned with the devastated remains of Clans Huala and Topo. Though the loss of two clans was a grievous blow to the chapter, their sacrifice had stalled the Imperial forces long enough for the rest of the Chapter to escape into the warp. Lonato still carried a hatchet with the emblem of Clan Topo in place of the combat blades Clan Kabib favored.

“Maska, ai,” said Cheveyo’s designated sharpshooter. Even before becoming a marine, Maska had been a talented hunter with the eyes of a bird. He had been chosen and trained by Clan Kabib, Cheveyo’s own clan, and had excelled as a Scout. Cheveyo had personally requested Maska to join his brotherhood upon his elevation to full marine. Maska had agreed, and Cheveyo had never regretted the choice. The steelspeakers had even provided him with a custom stalker pattern bolter, a variant of the standard space marine firearm often utilized by sharpshooters, with an enhanced range and scope.

“Nawat, ai. We are nearly through sergeant,” reported the squad’s youngling.

“Igasho, ai. Squad is ai brother-sergeant,” finished the acting lieutenant. Though usually Kagan was Cheveyo’s second in command, whenever the marine was unavailable it usually fell to Igasho to act as his replacement. In time, Kagan would have been promoted to the rank of sergeant and granted his own squad, at which point Igasho would have become Cheveyo’s second. It had not been a day Cheveyo had been looking forward to. Though glad for the recognition Kagan would have received, Igasho was too reckless to make an effective second. He was too much of a glory seeker. Another few decades of service would have knocked that out of him, or so Cheveyo had hoped.

“Check weapons and prepare for breach,” Cheveyo ordered, double checking the magazine in his bolter. It was full. Of course it was full. They hadn’t engaged at all yet. He glanced behind him, where Nawat was finishing his task. The marine leaned back as he finished cutting, the rough circle of metal shooting off as the compartment below vented its atmosphere.

“No contacts brother-sergeant,” Nawat reported, stowing the lascutter away and drawing his bolt pistol. Cheveyo nodded at him and he hopped into the hole. His signal continued to glow green within Cheveyo’s visor. He hadn’t been attacked. Perhaps their landing had been successfully masked by the bombardment after all? Sicheii had mentioned how it was likely that the drop pods would be assumed to be unexploded munitions by the defenders, giving the marines on board time to breach into the station itself and get to their objectives. Only direct visual contact would reveal the drop pods for what they actually were.

“Move in. Breach and clear every compartment as necessary,” the sergeant ordered, and one by one, his combat squad followed Nawat in. They had made it. Now came the hard part.

The ship was dying. Corridors were being flooded by freezing ammonia, and the superstructure was buckling under the onslaught of fire. Normally, a battle barge would have been capable of withstanding such an attack, but without it’s shields and with its hull partially corroded, the Navayo was only barely holding together.

Sicheii would have liked to have fired further salvos at the station, but he knew that any further attack was more likely to kill the marines he had sent up than inflict any actual damage to the Imperials. He had unplugged himself from the command throne and headed for the launch bays, the point at which they had boarded the Navayo. He had left his servitors behind, since they would have only slowed him down. Still, he had made sure to plug on into the Navayo’s communications array, acting as a relay through which the steelspeaker could communicate with the rest of the chapter.

“Delivery complete,” he communicated, his servo arms tearing through any debris blocking his path. He could hear the ship groaning as explosions rocked it. He wouldn’t have minded dying here, along with the indomitable Navayo. But the Chapter Master had been very specific. They could not afford any losses. The main objective of all Steel Cobras was to survive. That was all that mattered anymore.

“Understood,” replied Shipmaster Otetian through the vox. “What is your status, steelspeaker?”

“Withdrawing from the Navayo,” replied Sicheii.

“Do you require assistance?”

“No. Just be ready to move when you get an opening.”

“Understood steelspeaker. May the Spirits watch over you,” replied Otetian before cutting the link. It was best that way. Though the Sekani could have offered some aid, Sicheii knew it was more important for it to be ready and focused on breaking through the cordon the Imperium had established around Tukaroe VII. That was why half a company of marines had been launched into space. To create an opening. And If the Sekani made it through, then it could try to find a way to completely break the Imperial siege before another chapter of Astartes cleared out the remnants of the Steel Cobras.

It wasn’t much of a hope, but it was better than nothing. He felt a tremor pass through the corridor as something gave way in another part of the ship. He could hear gushing liquid somewhere in the distance. He was running out of time. Sicheii ran through the hallways and chambers of the Navayo, his heavy footfalls lost amidst the myriad of sounds now plaguing the ship. Then he heard a screech and skid to a halt. He knew that sound. It was of metal shearing. The entire ship suddenly lurched as the sound became so loud his armor’s autosenses kicked to protect his hearing from the sound. Even so the screeching was deafening.

Sicheii’s servo arms darted out; anchoring him in position as his world suddenly shifted and began to fall.

“Clear!” called Maska.

They had made sure to seal the corridor they had breached to prevent the entire atmosphere in the station slowly being vented. It would have all too easily given them away. But what worried Cheveyo was how the corridors riddling the outer hull of the space station had been devoid of any threats. Apart from the occasional sump rat or automated maintenance servitor, there was nothing in them but the marines. The combat squad had made their way deeper, moving from corridor to abandoned room to corridor, always alert for any potential threats. So far, nothing had presented itself, and they would soon spill into the station proper.

The squad moved into the latest room along their path, scanning for anything Maska may have missed. Traditionally, the least patrolled sections of a starship or space station would be either booby-trapped or have packs of murder servitors endlessly roaming around. And not having run into either had set Cheveyo on edge.

“Brother-sergeant,” said Lonato, indicating one of the walls. Cheveyo focused on it, his helmet’s autosenses scanning and analyzing it. Nothing. He cycled through the various senses available to him before he caught it. Noise. There was noise coming from the other side of the wall. He nodded at Lonato and turned to Nawat.

The marine nodded and hefted his lascutter. The rest of them gathered just behind him, their bolters aimed at the spot he was cutting. The interior walls of the station were much thinner than the thick steel and ceramic hull, so it only took Nawat a minute to cut through, as opposed to the hour it had taken previously. As soon as he finished cutting a large circle in the wall, he stepped back, letting Maska step up, glancing at Cheveyo.

The brother-sergeant nodded, and Maska kicked the circle, sending it flying into the room beyond as he spun out of the way. Cheveyo noticed a million details beyond in a single moment. Red lights flashing. Alarms ringing. Men and women in voidsuits, carrying lasguns. The comfortingly familiar décor of an Imperial installation. And then all those details vanished as his squad opened fire. His own bolter roared in his hands, all of them emptying their magazines into the corridor beyond.

“Maska, frag!” he voxed, feeling adrenaline flood his system.

The marine nodded and unclipped a pair of grenades from his belt and primed them. “Ready.”

“Frag out!” called Cheveyo, and they all stopped firing, taking up positions as Maska pitched his grenades through the hole. It was an impressive throw, both grenades bouncing off the opposite wall and bouncing down either ends of the corridor. Both exploded simultaneously, filling the area with shrapnel. “Move in!”

Maska was the first one through, his bolter sweeping one end of the corridor as Lonato followed. “No contacts,” the former assault marine reported. “Which way do we go?”

Cheveyo closed his eyes, recalling the projected map they had been shown during their briefing aboard the Dogrib. “That way,” he said, pointing to his left. Maska nodded and set off, Lonato covering the squad as they piled into the corridor and moved on towards their objective. They moved swiftly, barely stopping.

Sometimes they would come across a group of armsmen mobilised to stop them, but the marines barely slowed, advancing on the humans with a hail of gunfire before crashing through their ranks. Lonato had moved up to act as Maska’s support, leaving Igasho to act as the group’s rear-guard. Whilst Maska would smash his way through the soldiers in his way, Lonato would engage them, his hatchet in one hand and combat blade in the other.

They repeated the process a dozen times, slaughtering their way deeper into the station. Lonato’s armour slowly became caked in gore, its noble brass hidden beneath layers of crimson. Their progress only slowed once they began penetrating the engineering levels, the thick bulkheads requiring Nawat’s lascutter to penetrate.

“Brother-sergeant,” voxed Igasho, his bolter trained on the corridor they had just run through, ready to suppress any enemies that presented themselves. “How much further?”

Cheveyo glanced away from where Nawat was finishing cutting through the latest impediment to their advance. They had yet to encounter any organised resistance, which meant that the other squads must have managed to make it to the station. Or they armsmen could have begun holding back and gathering all their strength for a single overwhelming assault. The marines had only so much ammunition left. Maska had already salvaged a shotgun from the fallen, snapping the finger guard to let him grip the trigger. “Not far. We’ll know we’re close when-” he managed to say before a crack of ionized air drowned him.

A thick beam of light had shot through the door Nawat had just breached, slicing right through him and leaving a gaping cauterized hole where his chest had been. The remaining marines scattered as more beams of light stabbed out from the breach.

Cheveyo knew what weapon could create such an effect. Lascannons.

“By order of High Cardinal Richelieu, you are to stand down and face judgement!”

The voices swam in and out of his memory, distant and faded.

“The Cardinal has forwarded some very interesting reports, Chapter Master. Is it true that the inhabitants of your home world venerate the Emperor as an…animal totem?”

He remembered the voices, remembered the rage they spurred in him.

“Purge the heretics, or face judgement yourself.”

Sicheii snarled and roared as he awoke, fists lashing out to beat against metal. He blinked, lost in time before his memory focused. He was on the Navayo. The ship was lost. He had been evacuating. Then that sound…he had no frame of reference for it, but guessed a major structural collapse had occurred.

His hearts were tagging in his chest as he shoved the memory from his mind. Even after all those years, the memory of that betrayal burned. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, running a full diagnostic on himself. Numbers flashed past his vision. He was pinned beneath some debris. One of his servo arms was non-functioning. His right leg had been speared by a shard of ceramite. He was still alive.

Sicheii groaned as he considered his options. He still had another three servo arms. His legs were cybernetic, so he was spared the sensation of pain. With a detached calm he hauled himself up until he was in a sitting position. The mechanical limbs sprouting from his back hissed as they moved. One gripped the damaged servo arm, securing it. Another spluttered as it ignited it’s plasma cutter and set to work severing the non-functioning appendage. It would just be dead weight. The third swung forwards and gripped the fallen beam lying across the steelspeaker’s legs and groaned as it tried to lift it.

It was surprisingly heavy. Nearly as heavy as Rhino APC. Sicheii could hear other groans deep in the ship, and the rising roar of liquid flooding the corridors. A small part of him felt worry at the prospect of being submerged in the freezing ammonia and slowly dying as his armour froze and broke, suffocating him inside. He forced the emotions down and focused on what he had to do. The broken servo arm was neatly sliced off and discarded, freeing the two other servo arms to begin work on lifting and cutting apart the beam that kept him pinned. It took all of a minute before he was once again on his feet and limping down the corridor.

The shard of ceramite had seriously damaged his right leg, and Sicheii was forced to rely on one of his servo arms to support him. His mind raced as he cross-referenced multiple maps of the Navayo with the data he was collecting. The ship had experienced great stresses, and was most likely falling apart in its death throes. It was getting more and more difficulty to escape. The steelspeaker racked his mind for a way out. The launch bays were too far.

That left him with just one option. He just hoped there was enough energy left in the Navayo to pull it off.

“So what are we looking at?” asked Cheveyo, hunched down in a crouch by the slagged door. Now and again a crack of ionized air reverberated in his ears as a lascannon discharged in response to the blind firing of his squad.

“Rapier. Setup at the end of the corridor in a T-section,” reported Maska, having dropped to the floor just out of the heavy weapon’s sight. He held his scope in his hands, carefully having perched it up on Nawat’s smoking body, its link to his helmet letting him see the enemy without having to expose himself.

Cheveyo nodded. “Can you see the operators?” he asked, glancing at where Igasho had taken shelter, deep in the shadows of an alcove.

“Yes, but they’re with a group of armsmen. Any I shoot will be swiftly replaced,” Maska replied. “Too far for grenades too.”

The brother-sergeant shook his head. “Very well. Snipe the operator. In the time it takes them to replace him, we should be able to close in,” he ordered. They had no choice. They were too close to backtrack now. And although charging an emplaced weapon was often a bloody affair, there was no alternative. He glanced at Maska, who had reattached his scope to his bolter, having anticipated Cheveyo’s next order. “Do it.”

The sharpshooter nodded and took careful aim. Then he gently squeezed the trigger on his bolter and a single gunshot rang out. Cheveyo was already running down the corridor. He could see Maska and Lonato just behind him on his scanner, Igasho far behind. He saw the group. There were twenty enemies. Two teams which had converged on a heavy weapon set up just in case of assault. A lascannon seemed somewhat like overkill, until he remembered what was held in the vaults of the Dogrib.

The Imperials must have been expecting a teleporter assault. It would have been the best way to deliver troops to the station, but with the void shields scrambling their sensors, such an attempt had been deemed too risky. The shields would have had to be taken down completely for any such attack to be successful. So they had settled on Sicheii’s idea of a reverse drop pod assault.

Those thoughts flashed by in the seconds it took for Cheveyo to charge through the surprised humans, lowering his shoulder and slamming it directly into the Rapier. The weapons platform skidded along the floor on its treads. The operator yelped as he was thrown off the machine. Cheveyo’s armour was screaming at him as it was showered with las bolts and shotgun pellets.

He could feel blood running down his side before clotting. He swung out with his fist, pulping an armsman’s head as he jammed his bolter into the rapier’s working and pulled the trigger. The hefty gun bucked in his hands as mass reactive shells chewed up the cabling. The fire raining down on him slackened, Lonato and Maska having joined the brawl as well. His armour was ringing, multiple minor breaches detected. Nothing had managed to get through yet, but the amount of damage it had taken was beginning to show. He could feel it in the way his movements had slowed, the way his armour no longer quite felt like a second skin.

Maska’s knife slashed in all directions. Quick and precise. Next to him, Lonato was a bloody mess, spinning, hacking, slashing and stabbing like a frenzied beast. Igasho was holding back, keeping out of the melee and gunning down any of the warriors who tried to flee. Like a vicious machine, the four marines slaughtered their enemies until they were the only ones standing.

“Tell me we’re nearly done,” growled Igasho, checking his bolter. “I’m down to one magazine,” he stated, eying the wrecked rapier. “And I’m sure they have more of those things somewhere.”

Cheveyo nodded. “True words brother, but we’re where we need to be,” he said, looking about. Mechanicum emblems surrounded them, stamped into the walls and stitched into banners. The door to their left bore the mark of Mars, and he knew they had finally reached their objective – the engineerium. “Come brothers. Prepare yourselves. Our goal is at hand.”

Lonato, now completely covered in dried blood, sliced through the door with Nawat’s lascutter before barging through the whole he had made. He didn’t bother turning the device off, taking it to the nearest piece of machinery he could find as the others followed. The chamber they found themselves in was massive. Easily the size of one of the Navayo’s holds. Esoteric machinery surrounded them, and they could hear the high pitched garbling of tech-priests and their automata.

“Slash and burn,” commanded Cheveyo, drawing his krak grenades as the other marines swept past him, deeper into the engineerium. They would each cause as much damage as possible in their own way. There was no more need to stick together. They had reached their target. Now they would shatter apart inside, each piece inflicting as much harm as possible before being excised.

He scuttled like a spider along the hallway, his servo arms leaving deep dents in the surfaces they gripped to haul him forwards. Sicheii burst into one of the most sacred rooms in the battle barge, looking about as he interfaced with the Navayo. There was still some energy coursing through its system, like the last lifeblood in a dying animal.

It would have to be enough. Frost had already formed over the surfaces in the room, and he hauled himself over to a console to begin inputting commands. His hands fluttered over the keys, data scrolling past the screen at impossible speeds. The steelspeaker blinked, coming back to reality. The data was inputted, and the power was building. He could feel the crackle of electricity in the air, coursing through the ice.

Sicheii moved to the centre of the room, onto a raised dais that could have held ten of his brothers. Ammonia was already beginning to pour in through the doorway, its foul stench detectable even through the filters in his armour. He closed his eyes and began to hum another hymn. This one was not of the red planet. Rather, it was of the home world. The planet they had left behind to face the wrath of the Imperial Crusade.

It was an old hymn, asking the Spirits for aid. To watch over and guide someone. It had been a song that had lain dormant in the deepest pits of his memory, brought out when he underwent the trials to become a steelspeaker. It had been sung to him by his mother. It was so long ago…another lifetime entirely.

His hymn was joined by the rising crescendo of power. Snaps of lightning and the running liquid completed the orchestra. The sounds continued to build until arcs of power played between the metal spheres set into the ceiling and the hissing ammonia below. Sicheii closed his eyes as his voice faded into silence.

“Spirits watch over me.”

Cheveyo was alone. His helmet had taken a stray bolt shell as he had made his way deeper into the engineerium. He knew Lonato was still fighting – he could see sparks and explosions ripping through the cabling sprouting from the generators, along with the unmistakeable flash of the lascutter.

Maska was dead. He had seen a techpriest decapitate him with a deft swing of his power axe on a catwalk far above. Igasho had just vanished. There were alarms blaring everywhere. They had gone on a complete wrecking spree, and it showed. Cheveyo couldn’t help but grin. They had achieved their objectives, he was sure of it. The entire station was in an uproar.

He had lost his helmet at some point. His mohawk was splashed with oil and blood. The brother-sergeant laughed as he pitched his last krak grenade. It arced through the air and bounced down a vent before detonating. Cheveyo was shrouded in smoke and flame as he leveled his bolter and pulled the trigger. Nothing. He cast the weapon aside and drew his combat blade. Now he would just have to try to kill as many techpriests as possible.
“Spirits guide my blade,” he whispered, leaping off the walkway onto the chaos below. Techpriests buzzed in panic and surprise as he spun and slashed, stabbed and stepped. Armsmen fired at him, but he didn’t care. The Chapter would have their hope.

Station Beta hung in orbit, glittering with a million lights. A million more were flashing across it’s surface, alarms blaring into the void. Other stations were correcting their orbits, moving in to cover the sudden gap in the net that had opened up. They wouldn’t be fast enough.

Like a thief in the night, the Sekani tore free of the planet’s gravity and shot into the void. It passed by Station Beta with barely kilometers to spare, the wake of its engines rocking the installation. Deep inside, the bodies of the fallen Steel Cobras shook along with the halls, almost as if laughing at their victory. Small patrol ships would chase the frigate all the way to the edge of the system before it would make it’s escape into the warp. They would do little more than scratch the paintwork.

Over a hundred marines of the Steel Cobras managed to make it off the planet that day – the majority of Clan Yawa. They had each sworn before the Chapter Master himself to seek out a way to aid their trapped brothers, and to return as soon as they could to shatter the blockade for good. Only twelve would live long enough to see that oath fulfilled.

Space Marine (PS3) Review


Space Marine is THQ’s latest wander into the grim darkness of the far future, the highly anticipated Warhammer 40,000 action game. In the past we’ve had mostly RTS’ and a foray into FPS territory which was met with mixed feelings, so I went into this game with mixed feelings – an action game set in the 41st millennium was something that was highly anticipated, but I could not help but wonder how effective the execution would be. But I was optimistic – THQ has a good track record of Games Workshop licensed games after all.

Story and Characters

The game’s single player campaign follows the exploits of Captain Titus of the 2nd Company of the Ultramarines. Which confused me since according to canon the current captain is Sicarus. So it’s set in canon history, fair enough. Titus is accompanied into combat by only two marines from his command squad: Sidonus, the gruff veteran; and Leandros, the most recently promoted member of the squad.

Ok, as a 40k fan, a Space Marine command squad is far larger than just three members. Which would have given us a wider range of characters. Instead we get the grizzled veteran, the fresh recruit (well relatively speaking) and the player character who falls between the two extremes of military stereotype. There’s nothing wrong with that of course – it’s just so basic and the characters aren’t developed much further than that.

The Ultramarines have been dispatched to Graia, an Imperial Forgeworld, essentially a planet of nothing but factories, to prevent the invading forces from seizing great war machines known as Titans. On the planet they swiftly encounter two other Imperial servants of note: 2nd Lieutenant Mira of the 203rd Cadian, and Inquisitor Drogan of the Ordo Xenos. Now these two characters are much more interesting, with Lieutenant Mira being a mere normal human in this horrific galaxy, and Drogan being part of the shadowy organization that casually wipes out entire planets without batting an eyelid.

Though in the main story these characters get little development, you can discover more about them (and the setting itself) by collecting servo skulls, which contain recorded messages. Though at first they seem fairly standard fare and most involve characters you never actually meet in-game (one set revolves around a pair of workers as they hear rumors of the invasion and then how they deal with it) they all eventually end up showing you just how grim this setting is.


This game is a third person action shooter, meaning you switch between ranged and melee combat on the fly, causing as much damage to the enemies of the Imperium as possible. Combat is nothing less than simple joy. Whilst there are only four or five combos per melee weapon, their visuals and ease of linking together with each other and ranged attacks more than makes up for it. As advertised, this isn’t your normal shooter. You tap square you hit someone with a melee attack, tap R1 and you shoot. You use the d-pad to switch between four ranged weapons, one of which is
your pistol, the second the bolter, and the other two you can equip however you want if you can find the gun you want.

You can’t take cover, since cover is for the weak! Instead, you are encouraged to charge headfirst into the enemy and annihilate them. Whilst your armor regenerates, your health does not, and there are no health packs. Instead you are expected to brutally execute your enemies, which is always a gory event, but it does make a nice change from other games – the lack of healing items makes it less like an action game, but the lack of regenerating health and cover makes it less like a shooter. Some enemies need to be stunned before you can execute them, and the kill animation can sometimes take a while, and since you are not invulnerable when performing executions, you can die before you are able to heal. Of course this is a minor issue, since most of the time you’ll shoot down most of your opponents and then leave a couple to execute.


Multiplayer has two main modes of play: a territory capture and a deathmatch mode. Both modes are team based, split between Imperial and Chaos forces. In Capture, your team has to gain control of three territories, all of which generate points. Once you have a certain number, you win. Of course, the opposing team is trying to do the same thing. Deathmatch is simple two teams trying to be the first to kill 41 opponenets. Both modes share the same maps, Health regenerates since according to the developers, executions would just have made people into easy targets, which is true. There is no co-op mode, however a free DLC called Exterminatus adds this feature in, so there’s a way to kill your foes with your friends!

Graphics and Sound

The music for this game was scored by Crhis Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan, whose credits include the God of War games, Starcraft 2, and Borderlands. Whilst you won’t notice the music that often, being busy with combat or marveling at the environment, it is very good when you take the time to listen to it, an epic score worthy of your time as a space marine.

As for the sound effects – they are on the same level of quality as the rest of the game: very high. Your enemies all have distinct vocals and sounds, from the throaty growl of bomb squigs to the cold malice of the Chaos Marines. The guns sounds heavy and devastating, as is proper, and there is something satisfying about the sound of your chainsword. It all comes together to enhance the game, the little details adding to the experience.


Whilst this game is fun, and the attention to detail is nothing less than fanservice, the single player campaign is just too short – I managed to finish it in eight hours on normal difficulty. Multiplayer provides more content, with a leveling system which gives you access to more weapons, and challenges which let you unlock more armor pieces to customize your marines. However, this system has a loophole of sorts – when you are killed by another player, you can immediately copy their load out for your next spawn.

The story also seems rushed in places- the inclusion of the Chaos forces for example is rather sudden, and I feel it could have been handled a bit better than it was. Nevertheless, DLC such as Exterminatus seem liable to lengthen the game’s lifespan, and so in conclusion: this is a great 40k action game. It looks brilliant, it plays easily, and is filled with little details that show how respectful THQ is of the license.

The Anvil of Innovation

What follows is a breakdown of my team for an upcoming campaign of Inquisitor run by a friend of mine we shall dub Valnir. It is set aboard a space hulk known as the Sin of Logic, being thoroughly investigated by Imperial forces to ascertain the exact threat it poses to nearby systems. Expecting a few renegades and aliens, they are completely unprepared for what they find: a hundred factions aboard the vessel battling each other, trying to gain the upper hand and finally seize control of the hulk.

One of these factions is the Forge of Logic, the domain of Warpsmith Kobol. Details are sketchy at best, but recently there was an accident at one of the minor forges in his domain. An Adept was blamed for being lax in his duties, and rather than face his punishment, he fled with a few followers. This adept was named Sark, and he haunts the hallways of the Sin of Logic still…

Warpsmith Adept Sark (398pts)

WS: 83  BS: 80  S: 210 without armor, otherwise 252  T: 155  I: 88  Wp: 80  Sg: 85  Nv: 96  Ld: 80

Special Abilities: Ambidextrous, Nerves of Steel, Spit Acid, Marine Awareness, Leader, Gunfighter, Fast Draw.

Equipment: Pre-Heresy Power Armour (mkIII), Power Armour Helmet (incorporating Auto-senses [advanced eyes & ears]; Range-finder gunsight & Infrascope; Bio-scanner Auspex [Arm 8]), Servo-Arm (MIU – Advanced Bionic Arm [Str 70] with implant Power Fist [Reach 2]), Bolter (belt feed), 2 Inferno Pistol Digital Weapons, 2 Knives, 2 Bolt Pistols (loaded with Kraken rounds), Mechandendrites.

Details: Sark was always somewhat of an eccnetric within his forge, though one readily welcomed. Warpsmith Kobol is a firm believer in new approaches and experimentation, though always with an eye on safety. In a space hulk, one must be careful with their tampering. Space is at a premium, so precious little can be lost to errant technologies ripping apart reality or flooding corridors. So when one of Sark’s latest ideas went haywire and blew up a foundry, the Adept fled before judgement could fall upon him. He know has set up his own small forge in a forgotten part of the hulk, and continues his experiments, determined to earn his place back in the Forge with something truly extraordinary.

Garrus of the Bonewalkers (269 pts)

WS: 72  BS: 56  S: 65  T: 71  I: 78  Wp: 68  Sg: 56  Nv: 90  Ld: 71

Special Abilities: Blademaster, Acrobatic, Furious Assault, Hunger, Catfall, First Strike, Stealth.

Equipment: Laspistol, Revolver, 10 Throwing Knives, 5 Bolas, Crossbow (with 3 reloads), Kroot Long Rifle (incorporating Range-finder, Infrascope & a Motion Tracker gunsights), 2 Knives, 2 Smoke Grenades, Reflective Mesh Armour (all locations), Gas Mask.

Details: The Bonewalkers are a Kroot Warband that originally hails from the Koronus Expanse, before being lost amidst the nightmare that is the Screaming Vortex where Kobol found them. They proved themselves adept at navigating and mapping out parts of the hulk for the Warpsmith, making him truly the master of his small domain, with every last part heavily guarded and trapped against potential intruders. Garrus was named in honor of the leader of the Bonewalkers, a shaper called Garruk. During Sark’s escape from the Forge, he hired Garrus as a guide to the deep, secret places in between the mapped corridors.

Servitor Theta-8H (192 pts)

WS: 59  BS: 26  S: 140  T: 83  I: 43  Wp: 94  Sg: 13  Nv: 170  Ld: 22

Special Abilities: Ambidextrous, Furious Assault, Fearsome, Force of Will.

Equipment: 2 Advanced Bionic Arms [Str 70] with implant Chainsword, Combat Stimm Injector (with 50 doses of each of the following: ‘Slaught, Reflex, Spook & Spur), Bionic Head [Armour 5], Flak Robe (chest, abdomen, groin & legs)

Details: Many Imperial and Mechanicus ships carry murder servitors to deal with boarding actions. It is of no surprise then that the Forge of Logic was able to find caches of the lethal machines in the space hulk, reprogramming them for their own use. Many were f inferior quality, utilizing many biological parts, being barely true servitors at all. Still, each warpsmith has his own batch to act as his guardians. Sark only managed to bring along one servitor from his group in the confusion of the destroyed foundry.

Karl Jaeger (139 pts)

WS: 72  BS: 59  S: 56  T: 53  I: 54  Wp: 63  Sg: 62  Nv: 72  Ld: 59

Special Abilities: Medic.

Equipment: Autogun, Autopistol, Knife, Flak Armour (all locations, except head), Open Helm, Gas Mask, Auspex (Bio-Scanner), Medipack, Advanced Bionic Lungs, 1 Hallucinogen Gas Grenade, 1 Bloodfire Gas Grenade.

Details: Karl comes from the small human settlement aboard the Sin of Logic, formed from a crashed Rogue Trader vessel that strayed too close to the hulk. Life was hard but the humans endured. Now they live under the protection of the Forge, in return providing it with a tithe of workers and soldiers to aid the Warpsmith’s schemes.

An Issue of Faith: A Critical Perspective on Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s “The First Heretic”

First published in 2010, The First Heretic is Book 14 in the Horus Heresy Series. One of the best selling series’ published by Black Library, the Horus Heresy is a science fiction epic of galactic scale, dealing with a civil war that tears apart the human Imperium. This war provides the backdrop for stories exploring the notion of loyalty, betrayal, brotherhood and duty.

The First Heretic deals with such issues in a much more contained way than other books in the series. The main plot of the novel follows the experiences of the Word Bearers Legion of the Adeptus Astartes – an army of superhuman warriors bioengineered by the Emperor of Mankind with the goal of conquering the galaxy. Yet they are more than mere tools of war, and this is exemplified in the characters Argel Tal and Lorgar, Primarch of the Legion, “the one soul in twenty who’d never wished to be a soldier.”

The novel primarily deals with the core notion of faith and it’s importance in society, even opening with a quote from Niccolò Machiavelli – that “There is no surer sign of decay in a country than to see the rites of religion held in contempt.”In the setting of the book, where religion is outlawed as superstition and science is viewed as infallible, this quote seems somewhat apt in it’s surface meaning, with the Imperium of Man being a xenophobic organization that does not even attempt diplomacy with other species, immediately moving to genocide and slaughter. Almost a definitive fascist regime, and one full of hypocrisy – the Emperor of Mankind is viewed by many as a god, being an ageless being, a powerful warlord and sorcerer. Yet he continually refuses to adopt the mantle of godhood, to become an icon or beacon for his people. Throughout the novels, religion is derided as the tool of despots and those seeking to subvert meaning, and not once are any positive aspects mentioned in character (such as unity and a sense of belonging).

This is portrayed in Lorgar, an openly religious servant and son of the Emperor, who is reprimanded by his father for his beliefs and left “looking for something else to worship.” The search for meaning and purpose, to reaffirm their faith, is what leads Lorgar and his soldiers to fall, much in the way of Lucifer in Paradise Lost. Both are eminent in the eyes of their father figures, and both feel slighted by the reprimand they receive. This is what drives them to rebel, and accept the ideology of “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.” Yet whilst Lorgar is quite Luciferian in his quest for meaning, treading a road to damnation in a pilgrimage to what essentially passes for Hell in the setting, his faith is never twisted wholly beyond recognition. His need to be loyal to a greater cause is fulfilled by dark beings which revel in his attentions, and proceed to show him another perspective of the galaxy as opposed to the one he grew up with.

Though Lorgar is the grand architect in his fall from grace, it is Argel Tal who provides a more personal insight into the struggles of faith. Having been chosen from war at a young age (through flashbacks we learn that he underwent the extensive biosurgery to become a supersoldier as “a boy still shy of his eleventh birthday”) he has followed the teachings of Lorgar, taking comfort in being something greater than himself, a holy crusade to elevate humanity to a dominant position in the galaxy. But when he and his brothers in arms are forced to question their beliefs after being humiliated by the Emperor, “you see them make mistake after mistake in an attempt to belong to something,”a feeling that many people can relate to.

That the Emperor subverts their own beliefs is merely the final straw that makes Lorgar Legion turn away from the supposed enlightenment of the Imperium. As part of their chastisement, he forces them to kneel with his sorcery – “This was not fealty, not worship, not service. This was slavery” reveals Argel Tal as the truth of the Imperium is revealed to him – obedience to the Emperor’s decrees regardless of will or idea, or even interpretation. This casting aside of their beliefs makes Lorgar and his warriros question their fealty and faith – why worship a god who does not reward their loyalty to him? Such a questioning of their core beliefs mirrors the ideas put forward by Percy Bysshe Shelley in The Necessity of Atheism:

“If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him?
If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future?
If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers?
If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him?
If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has filled with weaknesses?”

Of course, it is often argued how there are many other things one can place their faith in, not just some spiritual being – like an ideal. The First Heretic pre-empts these points by pointing out how divided Lorgar’s family is, and how different each of the brothers are from one another. Whereas one could normally seek solace and support from such relations, Lorgar and his kin are meant to be above such things, the children of an embodied god. Being more a scholar than soldier, to exist beyond his nature, is what results in Lorgar being something of an outcast among his kin, who are all tacticians, warrior-kings and conquerors. His approach to his position in life is almost Machiavellian, following the tenants outlined in The Prince surprisingly closely.

Departing on a great pilgrimage, he finds an alternate truth to that offered by the Emperor, but does not immediately reveal it – after all, “all armed prophets succeed whereas unarmed ones fail.” The character of Argel Tal sets up Lorgar as an armed prophet when he says “…we are a populous Legion, and our conquests are many, with many more to come. Much of the Imperium’s border worlds will answer to the warriors of Aurelian first, and the Emperor second.”This shows the recognition that faith alone is not enough – simply showing someone a truth will not make them accept it. Again, such reasoning is an echo of Machiavelli’s writings:

“it should be realized that taking the initiative in introducing a new form of government is very difficult and dangerous, and unlikely to succeed. The reason is that all those who profit from the old order will be opposed to the innovator, whereas all those who might benefit from the new order are, at best, tepid supporters of him.”

Whilst faith empowers us, it is recognized more as a motivator than actual power, a far cry from the means to an end that many wish it to be. It still takes Lorgar decades to set in motion events to allow him to begin bringing the truth of the universe to the populace of the Imperium. The truth that there are actual gods, and an afterlife, unlike the Emperor claims – in fact, the Emperor himself made pacts with such forces to create his sons. When confronted by this revelation in a vision, Argel Tal cannot help but laugh at the irony:

“The Emperor that denies all forms of divinity shaped his own sons with the blessings of forgotten gods. Prayers and sorcery are written upon their gestation pods. This is the most glorious madness.”

However it is still important to note that whilst gods do exist in this setting, they are the sentient, coalesced forms of emotions – rage, hope, despair and pleasure at their most basic. This is an interesting play on the usual role of religion in society, to restrain our base desires rather than encourage us to indulge in them. Throughout the novel, the pantheon and their message are referred to as the “Primordial Truth”, reaffirming their ties with the baser natures of man than any actual enlightenment. Progression is regression could be considered their creed.

In addition to this, the theme of sacrifice is also continually raised in the book – the sacrifice of Lorgar’s faith in his father, his dreams of being something more than a warrior, as well as the very nature of his Legion – young children trained from a pre-pubescent age to be fearless killers, with extra organs and rewritten genetic code to make them capable of things far beyond a normal human. When confronted near the end of the novel by the Emperor’s loyalists, pointing out the monstrosity he has become by communing with elder gods and allowing daemons to possess him, Argel Tal only has this retort:

We. Were. Never. Human. We were taken from our families to fight the Forever War in the name of a thousand lies. Do you believe this truth is easy to bear? Look at us. Look at us! Humanity will embrace the gods, or humanity will embrace oblivion.”

A clear declaration of his beliefs, though it also portrays the misgivings Argel Tal has about his duty. His body is twisted and malformed by the entity sharing his body, and he knows he and his brothers are now monsters in every sense of the word. Still, he accepts his role, viewing himself akin to a martyr, suffering for the benefit of others. He knows that it is an unfortunate truth to teach, but he stays loyal to his ideals, those of revealing the truth no matter how inconvenient or difficult it may prove. However, Argel Tal believes in the vision of Lorgar for humanity, ascension and eminence in the galaxy, a prize worth the hardships they shall endure. Again, this is a reference to Paradise Lost, specifically the lines “Long is the way/ And hard, that out of Hell leads up to Light.”

Which leads to the crux of the issue at the heart of The False Heretic – not only the question regarding the necessity of faith and enlightenment, but the costs associated with it. The faith that the sons of Lorgar embrace, the truth at the end of the universe, is one which demands sacrifice – literal sacrifice of lives, made more potent by suffering. Even Argel Tal, a possessed, feels violated, and yet is told numerous times that he is enlightened, and special for being the first to accept the truth the gods have shown. Strangely, The First Heretic deals with religion in a rather roundabout way – the Imperium without it is ignorant and united by hate of anything alien, whilst those with faith in the Primordial Truth act on their base instincts, sowing chaos and destruction in their wake. There is no attempt to make religion seem like a force for good.

However, faith is not restricted to religion – it is, after all, reliant upon an idea. The fall of Lorgar, with it’s Luciferian undertones, is continually portrayed as a tragedy, his focus on finding greater meaning blinding him to the strength of having faith in himself and others. The novel portrays the strength one can have from faith through the character of Aquillon, one of the Emperor’s own bodyguard, his Custodians, tasked with keeping an eye on Lorgar and his Legion, to ensue that they do not slip into religious practice one more. Whilst openly hostile to religion, he draws strength from his friendship with his other Custodians and Argel Tal, placing his faith in them every time he enters combat. Whilst the militaristic setting limits the author from playing too much with the notion of faith, he makes it work within the confines of the setting. Indeed, a small detail that could easily be overlooked is the novel’s way of portraying how religion can unify – the relationship between Argel Tal, a captain in a Legion of bioengineered killers, and Cyrene Valantion, a normal human who takes on the role of his confessor.

Faith is a complicated issue, and The First Heretic exemplifies this. Not only are great things done in it’s name, but it is used to damn those with the noblest intentions. Ultimately, it is a balanced approach that is arguably the best, as both extremes (the lack of faith shown by the Imperium, and the active search for something to believe in on the part of Lorgar, Argel and the Word Bearers Legion) are shown to result in ruin, whereas the simple faith in others (the bonds of brotherhood and trust) is shown as the noblest.