Placed in command of a Legion he does not want, in service to a father he cannot forgive, Angron gives an ultimatum to his children, one that will set them down a path from which they can never return...
As the Emperor travels the galaxy at the head of his Great Crusade, few events are as important as rediscovering his scattered sons, the Primarchs, and bestowing them as the masters of their Legions. United, a Legion becomes a reflection of its Primarch, both in his strengths and his flaws. For the Twelfth Legion, once the War Hounds and now the World Eaters, the line between strength and flaw is almost impossible to separate. Desperate for his acknowledgement, will the World Eaters follow their father and cast themselves in his broken image or will they resist? And will any of them ever learn who their father was truly meant to be?
About the Author
Ian St. Martin is the author of the Horus Heresy: Primarchs audio drama Konrad Curze: A Lesson in Darkness. He has also written the Warhammer 40,000 novels Lucius: The Faultless Blade and Deathwatch: Kryptman’s War, along with the short stories ‘Adeptus Titanicus: Hunting Ground’, ‘City of Ruin’ and ‘In Wolves’ Clothing’.
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It was upon a long-abandoned disc of void-hardened silver, glittering from where it perched over the curve of a slowly turning world, that the representatives of two civilisations would meet, and the fate of that world would be determined.
One side of the summit had appeared out of the fury of a silent storm: a massive fleet of dozens upon dozens of brutal warships, their armoured hulls lacquered in clean white edged with deep blue and bristling with countless weapons batteries. They had torn themselves loose from a rupture in the mat-erial universe, the incredible violence of their arrival made all the more alarming by the numbing silence of the void. Emerging as though vomited out by the warp itself, the fleet quickly took shape, congealing into a practised, regimented order as smaller vessels and squadrons of nimble escort craft aligned themselves within the shadows of the great leviathans holding pride of place at the centre of their formation.
Auspex and deep-range scanner sweeps slashed out in ripping arcs from the newcomers, invisible nets cast by the commanders of each warship to draw in and consume every iota of data available to them about their surroundings. Information about the system and its lone habitable world was scarce, beyond the basest of surveys conducted decades before when the planet had first been rediscovered. Designated as Ninety-Three Fifteen, the fifteenth world rendered compliant by the Ninety-Third Expeditionary Fleet, the world had been brought into the fold of the Emperor's realm without bloodshed. With no need for their blades, its conquerors had departed Ninety-Three Fifteen once an Imperial regency had been installed to rule it and integrate it into the wider Imperium.
Contact with that regent had ceased, with neither word nor tithe reaching distant Terra for more than fifteen standard Solar years. Such was the monumental scale of man's continually expanding dominion that such a length of time had passed before the Throneworld had taken notice. The call went out, the task of investigation given to whichever of the Legion expeditionary fleets was nearest. Terra demanded that the source of Ninety-Three Fifteen's silence be ascertained, be it calamity or treachery.
So it would be, then, either by fate or the dark intervention of some higher being, that the XII Legion, the Eaters of Worlds, would answer.
Of the other half of the meeting, there was no sign. No emissaries presented themselves, bowing and scraping before the bladed might of the Legiones Astartes, seeking to spare themselves a Legion's wrath. No defence fleet pickets darted out from high orbit, the vox-net alive with cries of defiance and demands to live free of the Emperor's rule. There was life on the planet below, abundant, vibrant and advanced, though the only hint of its intentions had been seen in the dreams of the fleet's astropaths.
Every node of the Imperium's stellar communications network serving in the choirs throughout the armada had experienced the same rapid vision. As subjective and idiosyncratic as the art of astropathy was, the ability to convey a singular message across an entire fleet of souls spoke of a psychic power potent enough to give the arrivals pause. Upon translation from the warp, each astropath's mind flashed with the image of a derelict platform orbiting the planet, framed within a wordless melange of senses evoking union and exchange. Thus interpreted and codified, the meeting ground was decided.
The delegation of World Eaters arrived on the platform via Stormbird insertion. Despite being capable of rapidly delivering a strike force of fifty legionaries into the heart of even the fiercest of combat zones, in this instance only six warriors departed from the gunship, marching down its forward assault ramp before the craft returned to the void with a draconic burst of flame from its engine arrays.
A flat plane of silver extended before the Space Marines for a kilometre in every direction. The distant light of the system's star, not unlike that of Terra's Sol, reflected from their armour of clean marble and oceanic blue. With no destination given and no path to lead them, they made for the only landmark visible to them, a shallow crystal dome at the platform's centre. Their boots clanked with heavy magnetised tread, disturbing the dust of ages crystallised by ice.
The foremost of their number strode forth with the assured stride of one unafraid to meet whatever might lie before him, a master of war who had been born to deliver conquest. His features were obscured by his armoured helm, a Mark II, plated in bronze in the manner of a Legion veteran and topped by the distinctive transverse crest that marked him as a centurion and a company commander. He carried a spear, longer than he was tall, with its haft resting casually against one shoulder, while a chainaxe and volkite serpenta pistol were slung at his hips.
Only one feature distinguished him from his kindred, as one other of their party bore a centurion's crest upon his helm. Their armour was all the same marble and blue, unadorned by the filigree and pomp that embellished the armour of other Legions. A single item of the lead warrior's panoply set him apart, one that told any World Eater at a glance that this was Mago, captain of the 18th.
It was the cloak he wore: a simple raiment of flexible iron thread, its bronze, cream and midnight-blue hues now clashing against the new colours that marked the warriors who had been reborn as the Eaters of Worlds. Mago did not concern himself with matters of aesthetics, and none of his kindred were fool enough to broach the subject with the centurion. He would wear the cloak with pride until the day he gave his last breath.
The mantle had been presented to him directly following the conquest of the Vuhlskaeon Cybermancy, where Mago had led the 18th Company into the teeth of the fiercest fighting in support of a beleaguered force of his brother War Hounds. It had been Mago's skill as a commander that had turned the tide against the enemy, orchestrating his warriors to punch through the flank of a massed cybernetic horde and shatter its cohesion. It was his spear that had brought low the archmage leading the resistance against the XII, and it had been his axe that had taken the witchlord's head. Gheer himself had laid the cloak over Mago's shoulders at the end of the compliance before the Legion's assembled might in the Triumphal Hall of the Adamant Resolve.
It was the last honour the Legion Master would bestow upon one of his warrior brothers, before the summons of none other than the Master of Mankind Himself brought the War Hounds to a backwater world in the galactic east. A world that they would later come to know as Nuceria. Gheer was a Legion Master who led from the vanguard, the first blade to draw blood whenever the Hounds made war. He had been the first of the XII Legion to meet their father.
And then their father had murdered him.
Four of the other legionaries followed closely behind their captain, the rims of their shoulder guards edged in a thin red stripe designating them as members of Mago's command squad. Orontes, Mago's First Axe, never strayed far from his centurion's side, the immense two-handed chainaxe that marked him as champion of the 18th held loosely in his grip. Following directly behind Mago was Astakos, a veteran of the Legion's founding on Terra and bearer of the company standard. In the rear prowled the newest of Mago's cadre, Hanno the dimachurias, spinning his twin falax blades to keep his wrists loose, and Tethys, the blue lacquer of the Legion's Librarius barely dry upon his armour.
Arriving at the crystal dome, the Space Marines entered through its lone opening and came to a halt at its centre. Mago set the butt spike of his spear down, its impact felt only as a slight tremor through his boots. The legionaries' helms swivelled, panning their sight across their unadorned surroundings. They took in the void stretching overhead and the milky, storm-tossed sphere of the planet below. None of the warriors spoke, and no tension tightened their postures as they awaited the opposite delegation.
The last of the World Eaters stood a pace separate from the others, the only legionary present neither of Mago's command squad nor of the 18th. Like Mago, he had been born on Terra, inducted into the XII close to the same time, and through valour and blood he had elevated himself to the rank of centurion. In the days since the discovery of the primarch, however, he had set himself apart from any other in his Legion by becoming the first War Hound to meet the gaze of their gene-sire and live to speak of it. It was through his efforts that Angron had been convinced to assume command over his sons, on the day that the War Hounds died and the Eaters of Worlds rose in their place.
He was the Eighth Assault Company captain, the equerry, the eyes and ears of the primarch.
'Khârn,' said Mago as his internal auspex chimed. The other centurion's grip tightened reflexively around the haft of the axe he carried, eliciting the slightest of creaks as the material flexed.
The entrance to the dome sealed itself behind the World Eaters, knitting closed into the surrounding crystal as though it had never existed. Soft gasps echoed around the dome's interior, and the visors of the legionaries chirped and pulsed as their auto-senses detected and conveyed the changes to their environment.
'Atmosphere,' said Orontes.
And then the envoys were before them.CHAPTER 2
Where an instant before there had been but empty space, now a trio of near-identical figures stood. Three human males, unarmoured and weaponless, craned their necks to look up into the ceramite faceplates of the World Eaters with calm, kind eyes.
'Welcome,' said the first of them, his voice soft and pleasant.
'We are pleased–' spoke the second, with a nearly identical tone.
'–that our message was clear–' added the third.
'–to bring you here with us,' said the first again.
Mago reached for his collar, disengaging the seals binding his helm and gorget. Gripping it by the faceplate, he pulled the helmet free and set it in the crook of his arm. He would look upon these people of Ninety-Three Fifteen with his own eyes.
They were hairless and androgynous in feature, wearing shimmering prismatic robes over their slim bodies. The cloth bore no insignia, either of the Imperium of Man or any contrary mark of allegiance. Every motion was echoed between the three in perfect unity, from the subtle rising of their chests as they breathed to the delicate blink of their pale hazel eyes. They radiated a quiet tranquillity, uncanny for mortal men standing before legionaries. Mago could smell no fear on them, nor any other scent for that matter.
'I am Mago, centurion of His Twelfth Legion, the Eaters of Worlds.' The other World Eaters clashed fists against their chests as one, the sudden clang having no discernible impact upon the newcomers. 'Identify yourselves.'
The emissaries smiled in the same moment, flashing their teeth as one. 'I am Ohna,' said the first of them.
The centurion looked to the others. 'And you?'
A soft chuckle rippled over the three as they answered together. 'We are all Ohna.'
Mago's cold grey eyes narrowed. 'Where is the Imperial Embassy? Why does Regent Ikthileon not present himself, and stand here now to make account for the silence of Ninety-Three Fifteen?'
'Ninety-Three Fifteen,' replied the lead Ohna softly, beginning again the strange chorus between himself and his two companions. 'This was the regent's name–'
'–but not the true name of our home.'
'Behold.' Together they gestured with robed hands towards the planet below.
'The seed from where we must change and grow–'
'–to bloom across the stars.'
+We cannot trust them.+
Mago's jaw tightened. Tethys' sending pulsed for an instant through each of the World Eaters' minds like a migraine. His psychic power was raw, formidable, but it lacked the finesse of one who had honed his gift over decades of training beneath Vorias and the other senior Librarians. It made the centurion's eyes itch.
+Something is awry here, my brothers. There is a coldness to their minds, a distance I cannot define.+
Mago listened to the warning but gave no outward sign, the neutral expression not leaving his face. He heard the soft clanks of ceramite as his brothers shifted in place behind him. Fingers tightened around weapons at their brother's silent words, and the strangeness of the men before them.
'Talk sense.' Mago stared down at Ohna. 'I do not understand. Tell me, where is the regent?'
'Try as we might–' Their voices became sorrowful now, their pale eyes downcast. 'He too did not understand–'
'–where we are–'
'–where we must go–'
'–and the path we must follow to reach there.'
'These were differences we found the reconciliation of to be impossible.'
A cold, familiar sensation danced down Mago's spine. His armour reacted, sending stimulants stinging into his bloodstream. His senses grew sharper.
'Every effort was made–' said Ohna.
'–to broaden his sight to see beyond himself–'
'–and then afterwards, when it failed, to ensure his comfort.'
'You may rest in confidence–'
'–that he experienced no pain–'
'–when his birthform collapsed.'
Faster than eyes could track, Mago had the blade of his spear at Ohna's throat. Orontes adopted the third shieldless posture, with his left shoulder dipped and axe brandished vertically on his right side. The champion tensed his fists, and the engine within the weapon's blade snarled with twin tracks of counter-spinning teeth.
'There is no need for discord,' said Ohna, his voice remaining placid as he lifted his chin. The other two mirrored him, baring their throats as well. 'Through no fault of any, our path is simply not the same as that of your Emperor.'
'We do not seek to disrupt–'
'–only to diverge.'
'There is no sorrow in this.'
'You shall follow your path, and we shall follow ours.'
'After all,' Ohna said as he lowered his head a fraction to meet Mago's gaze, his eyes wide and hopeful.
'What is a single grain of sand–'
'–to an hourglass?'
Then Mago saw it. When Ohna had moved, the tip of Mago's spear had nicked the Ghennan's throat. A tiny bead of liquid slid down Ohna's neck, but it was not the deep, vital red of human blood.
It was something else. A pale amber fluid, thinner than human blood, was trickling from the wound.
'You are not human,' snarled Mago coldly. The haft of his spear creaked in his grip.
Ohna tilted his head, his face still the very image of childlike calm. 'Of course I am, Mago of the Twelfth.'
'Of course I am human–'
'–even if this form is not.'
'If I were to become separate from my arm–'
'–am I no longer human?'
'Or does humanity exist beyond the simple flesh of our birth?'
The blade of Mago's spear punched out the back of Ohna's neck in a welter of inhuman amber gore. The screaming teeth of Orontes' chainaxe descended, bifurcated the second Ghennan from collar to groin, while Hanno leapt forward and dispatched the third in a blur of his twin blades. In a moment it was over.
Mago withdrew his spear, and Ohna toppled back, his face still serene as his ochre vitae emptied out onto the ground.
'Hmph,' grunted Hanno as he nudged the torso of the Ghennan he had killed with his boot. 'An uncanny simulacrum, eh? They look just like us.'
'So does a mirror,' Orontes replied. 'That doesn't make it human.'
'In fairness,' said Hanno, his grin clear beneath his helm's faceplate, 'wearen't human either, First Axe. Not really. Not any more.'
Mago's voice silenced those of his brothers. As he replaced his helmet, a soft tone clicked in his ear, and a familiar rune pulsed on his visor as a private vox-channel opened.
'Fortunate that we brought your new Lexicanum,' said Khârn. The primarch's equerry bent down, gathering the upper half of the Ghennan that Orontes had slain by the collar of its tattered robe. 'He did well in sniffing out these abominations, saving us the ordeal of listening to more of their riddling talk.'
The Eighth captain's voice was even, low and soft. He rarely displayed any strong emotion, and so he betrayed no surprise at the discovery of the Ghennan's inhuman nature. There wasn't even anger. Rather, Khârn sounded as he always did, detached, almost weary in a way that was more than merely physical. Mago glanced at his brother, imagining the narrow, unscarred face behind the helm, and the tired smile that never reached his eyes.
'I'm going back to the Conqueror.' Khârn turned, starting back the way they had arrived, dragging the dead creature with his fist. 'Our father must hear of this.'
The dome reopened, air gasping as it vented into space. Before stepping out, Khârn looked back over his shoulder. 'You should return to the Hound's Tooth, Mago. You know what he is going to say. You know by now what comes next.'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Angron"
Copyright © 2019 Ian St. Martin.
Excerpted by permission of Black Library Publication.
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