Burning the cradle

Another Horus Heresy story. This one started with a simple sentence in my mind – “the drop pods slammed into the earth like the burning fists of an angry god”. It took me very little time to put the intro together, and then hours to figure out what the rest would be about. Since my goal was to make it a decent 1000 word short story, one Imperial Fist’s experience during the invasion of Terra seemed like a good idea. In the end I went 200 words over the limit and I’m not particularly happy with the ‘action’ scene. I then decided to split the intro from the short action story, to send either one to the Great Crusade forum fan fiction contest. Unfortunately what I hoped would be an easy day at work on New Year’s Eve turned out to be hellishly busy, so I fail for the second time now to enter this competition…

– Burning the cradle –
Hell is brought home

The sky rained fire. Lance strikes, orbital missiles and atmospheric bombers seemed to race at visiting destruction upon the enemy below. Bunkers were torn open, trenches were annihilated, entire buildings turned to dust and rubble in the blink of an uncaring eye. And then, as if the devastation had not been enough, came the rain of steel. Hundreds of tear shaped craft pierced the firmament, screaming as they ignited the atmosphere around them. Their fiery trails crisscrossed in the heavens before they thundered amidst the defenders below. The drop pods slammed into the earth like the burning fists of an angry god and then opened to release their cargo – the angels of destruction. Armour clad, their weapons spitting death, as one they roared their hatred and charged their erstwhile brothers. The bitter sons of humanity had finally returned to the cradle of the civilisation that had created them, hell-bent on the murder of their father. They’d set the entire world aflame in their quest for retribution, and humanity would burn with them.

Sons of Horus, World Eaters, Death Guard, Iron Warriors, Emperor’s Children – names that had once been synonyms with the glorious deeds of the Great Crusade were now sources of terror and hatred for the battered Imperium. Legions of superhuman soldiers that had spit upon their vows of loyalty in the name of vindication and personal glory had now come home to bring death to the very world they had fought for through the centuries. Imperial soldiers died in droves, entire companies snuffed out of existence within mere moments of the first renegade Astartes setting his armoured boot on the soil of Holy Terra.

Only the Emperor’s own space marines could hope to stem the tide. Imperial Fists, Blood Angels and White Scars stood shoulder to shoulder, dug into the remains of their fortifications and returning fire to punish the traitors trying to take the space ports. Heroes all, they only bitterly gave up each patch of ground after it was littered with dozens of dead bodies, imperial and traitor both. The carnage was immense and the fighting showed no signs of slowing down. Both sides hacked at each other with abandon. Brother fought brother in the most bitter struggle humanity had ever known, like the fate of the entire galaxy depended on this battle. In many ways it did. Whoever won this planet would end up controlling an empire that spanned the galaxy. None cared that the Imperium was already burning. None cared that entire planets had been reduced to rock and ashes. None cared for anything other than the complete annihilation of the enemy in front of them.

The Imperial Palace was the main stage for this conflict. Armies and legions fought over it like actors caught in the deadliest tragedy man had ever created. Once it had been a monument to all the achievements of humanity, bedecked with works of art and containing wonders from all over the galaxy. Now it was a battleground like a thousand others, where death and destruction were constant companions.

Sergeant Valdig and his squad had already achieved in that single opening conflict a kill count that surpassed the most brutal battles he had ever been on. Thirty marines, thirty traitorous marines, had already died at their hands, seven of those killed by Valdig’s own weapons. He had never imagined hatred so intense could exist, and he was sure he’d remember the looks in the World Eaters’ eyes for the rest of his life – however long or short that may prove to be. Three of his men were already dead, one had lost an arm, most of the rest sported all sorts of minor injuries and the enemy kept coming. The space port was reduced to ruins but the battle raged nonetheless.

Neither side gave way and neither side sought or offered quarter. The Fists’ position was now barely more than a heap of rubble. Two walls were still standing, along with a small part of the roof, but the west and south sides were now simple mounds of rubble behind which Valdig’s marines took cover as they fired on another advancing squad – Sons of Horus this time.

They advanced in pairs under steady cover fire, sprinting from cover to cover, making sure Valdig’s men couldn’t pin them down. The Imperial Fists sergeant uttered a short curse learned centuries ago in his homeland – a homeland that was now a mere few thousand miles to the west. He was about to order his squad to focus their fire on the nearest enemies when he realised something was wrong. Scanning the battlefield in front of him he noticed one more enemy marine, a bit further back behind the attacking squad, lying prone on a heap of rubble. Valdig cursed again, this time directed at himself. The renegade was aiming with a plasma cannon at the loyalists’ position. As the sergeant barked an order to his squad to take cover, a huge bolt of plasma struck the pile of rubble that had been the Imperial Fists’ fortification, sending rocks, dust and debris everywhere. Then the Sons of Horus were amongst them.

For the third time that day, Valdig was fighting for his life. Though his squad had avoided the deadly plasma projectile, they had given the enemy the opportunity to charge unhindered and were now locked in a bitter struggle for survival. Chainswords clashed with combat knives, pistols barked and marines roared at each other. Brother Pellonas died when a renegades bolt pierced the visor of his helmet. Brother Gethran avenged him by sticking his combat blade into the killers weaker armour between the helmet and the throat guard, only to be cut down by two other Sons of Horus that had flanked him – far from them the notion of a fair fight. Another Imperial Fist – Valdig didn’t even have time to see who it was – was impaled by the traitor leader’s power sword. Brother Cayffer used the flamer in his one remaining arm to torch two Sons of Horus before being shot dead by another. Only Valdig and two other of his marines were left – Bronn with the squad heavy bolter, who was just gunning down one of the traitors that had killed Gethran, and Ulthor – a Terran marine that fought with two combat blades doing his best to keep Bronn firing the heavy weapon. Against them stood five Sons of Horus. One threw a frag grenade behind Bronn’s feet while the rest charged, their leader yelling a challenge. Valdig caught the sword with his power fist, swiped it aside and punched the traitor with his other hand, throwing him off balance enough so the Imperial Fist sergeant could smash another traitor that tried to assault Bronn. Ulthor fought the other two Sons of Horus like a lion, but was eventually struck down by a screaming chainsword. Bronn started firing wildly. A renegade fell, but another got close enough to stab the massive trooper who died still clutching the trigger of his weapon, now firing into the rubble.

Alone, Valdig finally succumbed and screamed his hatred at the encircling foes. He launched himself at their leader, took hold of his sword and broke it with his power fist. Then he kicked another traitor in the chest, propelling him in the rubble onto a dead Imperial Fist. But the third remaining Son of Horus got close enough to fire a bolt pistol into his chest and stomach. With his plate penetrated in three places, Valdig fell among his brothers. As his secondary heart and multilung strained to make up for the failing of their primary variants, the Imperial Fist sergeant saw the enemy leader above him, holding the hilt of his broken sword. The broken blade pierced Valdig’s vulnerable throat guard, turning his raging scream first into a wet gurgle and then into stilled silence, ending another pocket of loyalist resistance. The renegades marched on, joining their brothers in damnation in assaulting the next Imperial strongpoint. The battle raged on. Terra was burning.

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