Deathwatch - The Long Watch
Watch Captain Antaeus
“It is said that the actions of our forebears will ring throughout history impacting events long after their bones have turned to dust. It is a simple enough bit of wisdom, but also one of the most ignored, often at our peril.” – Petrok, Iron Snakes Librarian
“Back to the warp with you hellspawn!” Actinic light bursts forth from a hand sheathed in ceramite and fills the plaza with balefire. Antaeus knows it is more flash than substance. His mind is already spent and his current defiance is nothing more than a shadow of what the word truly means. His body courses with pain and his soul aches with loss and despair but to do nothing is unthinkable. Lives are depending on him. Even a few seconds of resistance could, nay, will, make the difference.
A hellish howl of pain and pleasure echoes across the clearing as the psychic energy pouring forth from Antaeus flays flesh from the hideous daemonspawn in the plaza, before knocking it to the ground in a cloud of dust and blood. Beside it, a tear in the fabric of reality pulses with unholy light.
A large form stirs next to Antaeus.
“By the fires of Nocturne the bastard hits hard.”
Black ceramite accented with silver rises from the ground, reclaiming a large shield and hammer as he rights himself. The warrior’s armor is curiously devoid of much detail save for his right shoulder pad. An image of a dragon against a field of green offers a contrast to the dark shade of night that adorns the rest of his armor.
“You were unconscious for four seconds Tal’kir. I would say hard is an understatement.”
Tal’kir gives a sarcastic chuckle.
“Even now you cannot abide a lack of preciseness in my language can you Blood Raven?”
Antaeus’ face breaks into a smile. The Salamander has a strength of spirit that is incapable of being matched but even his soul is being tested today.
“My armor does not register Verroth or Ianthos. I assume it is just us now.”
Antaeus gives Tal’kir a look of grim resignation.
“The beast slew them moments after knocking you back. I have managed to temporarily stun it but soon it will recover its energies and continue the fight. I fear the best we can do is slow it down and pray the Imperial Guard can regroup in time.”
“Are you Blood Ravens always so dour? No, don’t answer. I swear sometimes you are as bad as a Doom Eagle.”
Tal’kir takes a quick glace across the plaza, his enhanced senses and memory putting together a crystal clear map of the tactical situation in the space of a breath. Dominating the plaza square of what once was a bustling Imperial city lies the wreckage of tanks, buildings and bodies, friend and foe alike.
Tal’kir sees the fallen forms of Verroth and Ianthos and vows vengeance even as his heart breaks at the loss of his companions.
“Vulkan teaches us to stand Antaeus. Always to stand. The rest usually tends to fall into place.”
Tal’kir emerges from behind the little cover present on the plaza and bangs his hammer, the Legacy of Nocturne, against his shield.
“Tal’kir! What are you doing?”
“Buying you time Antaeus. The Guard regiments can not hope to reorganize in time. Even if they do most of their commanders are dead. It’ll be a bloodbath and then the Hive is open to the archenemy. I will not countenance the loss of millions of the Emperor’s faithful just because this foe is a bit bigger than normal.”
“Don’t be a fool! We can do this together!”
“Really? You just personally slew a horde of warpspawn and have had to hold off this…thing. How much energy do you have left? You are strong but you will need time to recover. Let me do this Antaeus. Besides, you have a more important duty. You’re the only one who can contact the fleet. The vox is down. You must rally the fleet, and rally the Guard. Let me do the stupid heroic thing for once.”
Antaeus hears the truth of Tal’kir’s words but hates himself for agreeing with the logic. Abandoning a battle-brother in the midst of a battlefield stinks of cowardice and betrayal. For a moment Antaeus begins forming the words to disagree with Tal’kir, but his anger cools as his ordered and logical mind takes over and sternly reminds him of their goal.
Save the Guard, save the civilians, stop the arch enemy from gaining a foothold.
Antaeus thanks the Great Father he is a Blood Raven and not a hot headed Space Wolf or Fleshtearer. He places a gauntlet on Tal’kir’s shoulder.
“The Primarchs of both our chapters go with you cousin.”
Tal’kir grins beneath his helmet.
“Do not worry. Now that I’ve beaten you in a debate of words I truly have accomplished a mighty deed. This next battle will simply be a footnote. Now go. We have tarried long enough.”
No more words are said or needed. Antaeus gathers his force staff and falls back while watching Tal’kir march forth upon the daemon of Chaos that has finally recovered enough to begin the battle anew.
He cannot hear the words said between the Salamander and the daemon but what his eyes see astonish him. Tal’kir takes blow after blow on his shield, never falling back, his knees never buckling. Antaeus does not know how the Salamander still stands but hope flares in his heart as he sees Tal’kir land a devastating hammer blow on the daemon’s knee, crushing it in an explosion of blood, flesh and holy energy.
Too late Tal’kir and Antaeus see the trap. A lash of barbed chaotic flesh emerges out from the daemon’s torso and wraps itself around Tal’kir’s arms. Spikes of bone burst out from the lash and impale Tal’kir’s flesh and it is all that Antaeus can do not to run to his friend’s side as Tal’kir’s hammer and shield fall to the ground.
The daemon laughs as it towers over the wounded Space Marine and begins running a clawed hand over the winged skull of Tal’kir’s chest armor, marring the proud symbol of the Astartes.
Antaeus can stand no more and opens his mind to the energy of the warp, hoping to at least wound the daemon, but as his mind fills with energy, he sees Tal’kir burst his bonds, grab his hammer and charge the beast.
It is said that to challenge the Space Marines is to court death itself and Tal’kir fulfills the dark promise of that statement. Blow after blow of righteous rage reduces the daemon’s flesh to ruin but even as he fights the daemon just laughs, reveling in the pain and pleasure of the moment.
But Tal’kir is not done. No son of the Emperor ever truly is so long as he draws breath.
He stands tall one last time.
He charges, hammer first.
He does Vulkan proud.
Antaeus can only watch as Tal’kir’s charge and impact brings both the daemon and the Marine through the warp portal. With a deafening boom, the portal closes as Antaeus uses the last bit of his power to seal the portal before blacking out.
The battle is won.
The vision/memory ends.
Antaeus opens his eyes and reorients himself.
How long was I unconscious?
He glances around the room. Hoarfrost rims the walls of his small meditation chamber. His head pounds with pain as the psychic hangover from such a powerful vision takes hold. The internal chronometer of his armour registers that he has been in his chamber for several hours.
Antaeus knows his mastery of divination is quite unusual amongst the Librariums of the Astartes, and is as second nature to him. To lose himself for several hours is not…normal.
His door chime rings out a sullen tone.
A Deathwatch Chapter Serf bows his head as he enters.
“My apologies Lord Antaeus. Your vox was inactive and you demanded to know when the squad returned. We have received a communication from the Thunder’s Word. They are docking and have uploaded their mission debrief to the cogitators on Erioch. It appears they fought and banished a powerful manifestation of the archenemy.”
“Thank you. Dismissed.”
The serf leaves without further comment. Duty is its own reward.
Antaeus basks in the silence. Why that memory? Why relive a battle over one hundred years ago?
He reactivates his vox and heads over to the cogitator in his chamber when suddenly the screen on the machine flashes a message.
The Last Fortress is Truth
Below the text the Greek letter Omega asserts itself ominously on the screen, its portents delivering hope and doom in equal measure.
Antaeus can only whisper to himself.
“The vault opens…”
“Watch Captain Antaeus.”
“Watch Commander Mordigael. Is there word from the vault?”
“Not yet. Greyweaver has yet to emerge, but he has only been gone for a few minutes.”
The Blood Angel and the Blood Raven stand side by side before the doors of the Omega Vault, deep in the bowels of the Erioch Watch Fortress. The Omega Vault opens rarely, but both of them know that it has opened more times in the past 20 years than in the past 200. Its opening almost always presaged some dire threat to the sector, if not the Imperium itself.
“Brother-Commander, I experienced a vision just moments before the Vault opened.”
Mordigael raises an eyebrow on his perfectly formed features, his face displaying the angelic properties his Chapter was known for.
“Is Epistolary Axineton aware?”
“Not yet. I have yet to inform him.”
“Hmm…see that you do shortly. He is already wary of the fact that you are a librarian and a Watch-Captain. He is new to the Deathwatch and has yet to truly understand that different Chapters, and by exention, the Watch itself, have different…ways. I’d rather not feed his distrust.”
“I understand. The Blood Ravens are one of the few Chapters that allow Librarians into true leadership positions. I thank the Deathwatch for its leniency on the issue.”
“It is not leniency Antaeus. It is simple recognition that we need the right person in the right position. Nothing more. Believe me, if I had reason to doubt your command ability you would not be a Watch Captain, Blood Raven or not.”
Antaeus nods silently, and accepts Mordigael’s wisdom.
“Ah, Harl approaches.”
From the darkened tunnels beyond the door of the Omega Vault came the distinctive bootsteps of Astartes power armor, intermingled with the sound of bone clattering against ceramite. Out of the shadows appears a barbarian with an unkempt beard and a temper to match.
“By the blood of my ancestors, I always expect to find Morkai within these halls everytime I enter them.”
Antaeus recognizes the voice. Harl Greyweaver, Iron Priest of the Space Wolves and Forge Master of Watch Fortress Erioch.
Mordigael steps forward as the doors to the Vault close behind Greyweaver.
“What news from the vault honored Forge Master?”
“A scrap of parchment. It bears spatial coordinates and the words Legacy of Nocturne.”
Antaeus steps forwards quickly.
“What did you say?”
“Are you deaf boy?”
Antaeus ignores the caustic Wolf.
“My lord, the vision I had. It was of a battle many years ago. During my first detachment to the Long Watch. A fellow battle-brother wielded a weapon called the Legacy of Nocturne. He used it to banish a foul manifestation of the enemy before being lost to the warp himself. The squad I oversee has just banished such a manifestation and had just uploaded its datalogs to Erioch when the Vault opened.”
“Then it appears that the Emperor has need of this Relic again. Assemble your squad Antaeus. Recover this weapon. Greyweaver, where are these coordinates?”
Greyweaver’s normally bellicose attitude is gone, replaced with a sense of foreboding and anticipation. He speaks with unusual formality.
“My lord, those coordinates match a spatial anomaly that just registered on our auspexes four days ago. We believe it to be the location of a warp rift that spew out an agglomeration of vessels.”
Mordigael’s voice is quiet.
“A space hulk?”
“Aye. The space hulk Decay of Honour.”