+ Common Core Concepts +

Thursday, June 30, 2016

+ inload: Vaarhun of Felg +

+ Vaarhun of Felg +


We scramble down the steep slope to the roiling plain, descending with inadvisable haste. I didn't care. Black scree and pebbles bounce and clink against one another as our feet skitter and slide, the sea-roar of battle overwhelming the sound.

I have plotted our path. An intercept route that will take us down the edge of the plain, then on in the wake of the Avernii. 

Halfway down, Medardus falls. Missing his footing, he lands heavily on all fours and begins to slide. His gloss-slick armour provides little drag on the rocks. Coalstan lunges for him, but too late. Scrambling furiously for a solid foothold, Medardus gathers pace, the scree loosening and building into a minor avalanche. He is spun and finds himself spreadeagled.

We watch, helplessly, as he is carried ahead of us, slowing briefly on an outcrop. His motion is arrested just long enough for him to dart a look back up the slope at us before the comet-trail of scree catches up with him and carries him over.

I hear him cursing over the vox-net, before distance carries him out of range. A knot in my stomach, I glare at Triumph, almost willing him to condemn Medardus to the dead with his morbid intonation so I can punch the thought out of him – it would be a release. He remains silent, head down. 

None of us speak, concentrating instead on our footing. We advance more cautiously, frustrated by the pace. Speed is of the essence, but it's not going to help if we arrive quickly and dead. 

+++

We reached the outcrop, and then ground level, with no further problems. Better still, we found Medardus alive. The fall had torn open his hastily-patched injuries and he would fight no further today, but he was alive. He had landed heavily within an encampment, which had caused a number of mortal gunners no small consternation. One had voided his bowels – though whether at the unexpected arrival, or simply in fear of the cataclysm erupting in front of him, I could not say.

"Things dropped on our heads, I had expected." she says. "To be flattened by falling Ishtari? This I did not expect.We stand in a staging post erected by the Raven Guard and crewed by a force of Ctsebian Combat EngineersThe artillery officer's quip was oddly jovial. Her eyes were round, with a hint of mania about them.

"We need transport." I state, over the roar of the guns. Even bellowing, I have to repeat myself three times. She is bleeding from her ears; an affliction that I spot is common amongst the mortals here. The Ctsebian pulls a face. She has called in a med-evacuation craft, but that would be overflowing. Even with three Legions driving forward, she explains, the battle is heavy going, and casualty reports are rocketing. I shake my head. "Do not mistake this for a request. I need transport." 

Flustered, she gives an elaborate bow, and hurries away. The six of us stand, impatient and wary, for the few minutes until she returns. Overhead, I spy a wings of flyers in the deep stone grey of the Word Bearers, and I rejoice privately. Our reinforcements are arriving. Casualties or not, four Legions cannot stand against seven.

"Of transports, Ishtar, I have none to offer." Seeing my brows darken, she stumbles over her words in her haste to appease me. "Vehicles, however, I have." She gestures to a graveyard of tanks; a mix of broken wrecks presumably drawn back from the vangaurd drop zones. Most are clearly beyond repair; mere shells – but others perhaps offer more promise...

+++

It is damaged, but it runs. Already we are closing on the embattled Avernii, and nearly out of the Raven Guard's primary drop zone. We have joined a column of Loyalist Imperial army vehicles advancing to stiffen the line of battle as the vanguard forces push towards the Warmaster's lines. I rap a brief tattoo on the Whirlwind's ailing engines to encourage the machine spirit. Alone amongst the wrecks, this artillery piece offered us the means of transport, and so it lives again as a makeshift transport. I feel a burst of pride that it is the lone Iron Hands vehicle that still runs – albeit fitfully.



Five of us are hunched on top of it, holding on firmly as we are bounced around. Miredan drives, and he sits alongside another Iron Hand, one of the few of the insular Clan Felg, a minor Clan whose entire strength had been subsumed within the same Order as our own. A Seeker by disposition, Sergeant Vaarhun had deployed at the advance of our primary drop site, and pushed ahead. His squad was obliterated by raking megabolter fire as a renegade Titan maniple stalked over them. 



Falling back, he had ended up linking with a force of Kraton Fusiliers, and had immediately taken command, directing them forward in support of Avernii. He bears the Seal of the Eye of Vigilance on his shoulder, an honorific that now stares out accusingly. He is recalcitrant to explain his reasoning in keeping the hateful logo, but he is our brother, even as a member of another Clan company. 





+++


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

+ inload: In Which a Primarch is Sighted +


+++

The roar of battle is overwhelming, deafening and constant. Small pebbles and dust jump and move around our feet, as though impatient, as though waging a war of their own. Catabin waves us on. Now we know where we are to fight, the uncertainty washes off us. I feel my breath tightening in anticipation; can detect the nervy pre-battle excitement that infects every man. I feel part of the Iron Hands, part a Legion of retribution. 

There is no fear as we approach the edge. That sullen, fogging confusion has been replaced with clarity. If I have shown helplessness and uncertainty in my leadership, it has been boiled away by practicality, drill and duty.

Artillery shells, missiles and rockets crest the lip of the Depression, distorted by a hot wash of air and smoke streaming up from below. My breathing is heavy and loud, muscle-hot and sweaty as it escapes the edge of my damaged rebreather. Sweat and ash prickle my brow as we jog upwards, the black soil tinkling and crackling under our heavy tread.

Ahead, I see Catabin pause. He has reached the edge. He stumbles.

+++

Look down.

In casting your eyes downwards, your head tips involuntarily. Casting your eyes downwards creates biofeedback. The heart rate slows. Breathing becomes slower, but shallower. It is the root of the bow – a movement of respect. 

+++

One by one we reach the lip of the Urgall Depression, a huge sunken plain, and stumble to a stop. The noise. Without the lip of the Depression blocking it, the sound is a physical force. 

Half-stooped, bent before the roaring wind cascading over the lip, I become aware of the plates of my armour thrumming. The finer columns of my bionic arm and hand are vibrating, giving off a continuous high-pitched chime. War-song.

The battle is like nothing I have ever seen. The opposite side of the Depression is lost in roiling smoke and whipping fire. A churning mass of bodies, war engines and debris seems to cover the space entirely. A roiling blanket of of red-edged steam, choking black smoke and smouldering green fog hovers like marsh-mist, eddying and twisted in places where weapons fire or movement stirs it. 

+++

Look down. 

If one allows one's back to bend or knees to buckle, the respect in the gesture becomes supplicatory, craven. Shoulders cave in, defensively. A sign of weakness. 

Humanity has instinctively looked downwards when defeated or dismayed. 

+++

The fog looks almost sentient; a malevolent djinn-fire that lazily turns one of its many heads when gouts of fire or rocket-streaks puncture it. Mostly it squats, thick and almost green in its blackness, in the centre; though where it meets the walls at the edges of the Depression, it is forced upwards by the pressure of the air changes. 

Such is the scale of warfare below, the Legiones Astartes have altered the weather. 

I had half-expected lines of tanks and infantry connecting nodes of Titans and super-heavy engines, wings of air support, pockets of drop-bunkers, but there is no shape. It is too complex. There is no pattern my post-human eyes can find, and the Iron Warrior-led battle-network is still down, so we have no noospheric sight, either. Tracer fire looks like stitches in a monstrous coverlet; with no source-profiler overlays appearing. Ugly burps of matter cannons and vape-rays punch random holes in the fog like gasping fish in stagnant water; and no reassuring runes offer clarity. There is no shape to the war. This is raw madness. 

It is bewitching. Only the physical pressure of the wind and roar sweeping up the edges make it feel real. 

"Look!" cries Coalstan, gesturing. "Avernii! The Primarch!"

I look down. He is right. At last, some sense is stamped on matters. Sanity coalesces around my father, my Primarch. Even from this distance, I see a wedge of armour pushing itself inexorably forward and inwards, like the arc of an adze, towards a peak barely visible from here.

+++

I look down into a black sea of uncertainty, I lead a group of eight. There is not a moment's hesitation. 

Neither man nor machine will block the Iron Tenth from the Master of Medusa.

"For the Primarch! Advance on the Avernii's position!"

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

+ inload: Seven Painted +


I let out a quiet sigh when I was realise I had been holding my breath. I put my hand on Miredan's arm, gently press down until he lowers the weapon. His gaze follows Catabin as he advanced on us, warily. 
"Make yourself known." My voice is cracked. There are protocols to follow.
"I am the Darda'il of the Eleventh Host," he began, "and I am pleased to find others who remember His name."

+++

Comparing notes as we marched back to the mobile apothecarian, Cinnamon had also been flung free. He had come across four of our comrades; all dead. Triumph and Medardus murmur in turn as each name is recited. The Stormbird's location is unknown to him, but he has found the war. 

+++

Twenty minutes sees us refreshed and back in some semblance of operational fitness – though I harbour no illusions that the eight of us we will be conquering worlds any time soon.  We have a plan. Forget the Stormbird; head towards the Urgall Depression. 


+ The painting on the first  seven is now complete, and I'm pleased that the palette seems to be working. A test model is all very well, but I don't think you really get a good idea of whether the scheme is right until you see it as part of a group. +


+ I decided to use a gloss red effect on the targeters, and keep this as a very minor accent. An eye-catching 'hot-spot' draws the eye, and since the scheme is naturally fairly muted, it can use the help to define the helmet. +


+ The first Breacher's shield looked a little plain, so I've added a broad diagonal stripe across the other two. +


+ I'm pleased with how Medardus has emerged, too. I'll likely do some inidividual model pics soon. +

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

+ inload: Heavy Support +



+ A bit of work in progress on a Heavy Support legionary, brother Miredan. Is there anything cooler in 40k than a giant underslung death ray? +


+ This is a Telerac-pattern Volkite Caliver. The way Forge World have designed these weapons makes them a great choice when converting true-scale marines, as the cabling/ammo feeds are provided as straight rods. These are then heated and bent into shape, which gives you a lot of freedom with posing when compared with the plastic heavy weapons I've mostly been using up until now. +

Plastic multimelta from the Officia Monstrosa project
+ As you can see, this chap is ticking over nicely. I've essentially completed Miredan aside from weathering and the basing. Not sure on the colour of his bionic eye and the moment. This is just a single layer of Winsor & Newton orange ink; I'm tempted to simply run with blue-white, as on the rest of the figure... +


Friday, June 17, 2016

+ inload: Paint It Black – the Iron Hands scheme +

+ At last, some time for painting. I'd been getting carried away with building – which is fair enough, as it breaks the rhythm to have to clear up modelling tools and bits to set out your paints – and writing which, while very enjoyable, doesn't look quite as good on a visual medium like this blog. +

+ Anyway, here's the narrator for my May You Live Forever project, all painted and ready for – well, I guess we'll have to wait and see... +

+ If you're interested in following this project or providing feedback (always very welcome!) on the Bolter and Chainsword forum, please follow this [+noospheric inloadlink+] +


+ Painting the Iron Hands +


+ The scheme is a fairly simple one – in fact, I've banged on about it before [+noospheric inloadlink embedded+], but it uses a surprisingly broad range of materials. Irons Hands have monochrome heraldry, but this sets challenges of creating an interesting visual, and opens up a broad palette of techniques and materials. To put it another way, since the scheme's so simple, you can have fun exploring new ideas. After all, you can generally just add another layer of black and start again. +


+ Order of work +

_1 Undercoat with grey primer.
_2 Spray black.
_3 Metallics base.
_4 Black base.
_5 Washes.
_6 Reapplying midtones.
_7 Highlights.
_8 Details.
_9 Focal point.
_10 Basing.
_11 Weathering.
_12 Realising it's half-past eleven and you need to go to bed.


+ Painting black +


+ The black itself is not a pure black – this can appear dead. In any case, using Chaos Black (or equivalent) paint as your first layer leaves you nowhere to go for shading. For this reason, I mix three parts black to one part dark for my 'black' base. The dark mixer paint will vary depending on the scheme. Here, I used Charadon Granite as the mixer. +

+ Once that layer has dried, mix in blue-grey – Russ grey or Fenris grey was used here – and gradually highlight up. Work slightly lighter than you might usually. You want a high-contrast over-emphasised highlight effect at this stage, as the washes will mute it considerably. +

+ Wash over the whole area with black wash, then rinse and dry your brush. Touch the dry brush to the upper parts (i.e. the areas of highlight) to lift out excess wash. Allow to dry. +

+ Once dry, use pure black paint to work into the recesses and shaded areas to force the tone. This essentially completes the black. +

+ Painting metal +


+ When painting metallic areas, I ask myself 'Is this area functional or decorative?' Functional areas are likely to be grimier than decorative ones, and are more likely to be gunmetal or brass; while decorative metal areas on figures might be picked out in silver or gold, and kept in better shape. +

+ Here, the backpack is a functional item, so I painted it with Boltgun metal and washed it with black. While the wash remained wet, I dropped in sepia ink and green wash here and there. These bleed in and create natural variegation, making it look battered and used. Compare this with the decorative shoulder trim next to it, which was painted with Chainmail (a lighter metallic) and had the wash touched in more carefully for a cleaner result. +

+ Not only does this provide visual interest, but it's an important way of helping the eye distinguish between similar-coloured areas when in such close proximity. This is what is meant by helping the miniature 'read' properly. +

+ Just using one set approach to a texture or colour can potentially cause problems, so do take the time to try out new ideas. Monochrome figures like this are an enjoyable challenge and let you play without providing the additional complication of balancing hue too much. +

+ Painting white +


The black wrist is another example of helping the miniature 'read'. It provides a visual stop between the silver hand and silver arm. Note the metallics on the hand, arm and gun are all treated slightly differently, too. 

+ Just as I avoid pure black when painting black areas, I only use pure white paint sparingly. The boltgun here is painted from a Fenrisian Grey base – which you'll recognise as the same colour used for the black highlight mix. Using the same paints in different areas like this helps to avoid unwanted colour combinations or clashes. This is one strength of a limited palette. +

+ To take a little pause here, you'll probably have noticed that what on the face of things is a 'black and white' scheme is actually closer to a series of greys. none of the white is white, none of the black is black; and it's all based on Fenrisian grey. This is important, as it teaches one of the fundamental concepts behind painting – tonal control. Get the tone right, and you're virtually there. +

+ As an addendum to that last point, it's also worth thinking about aerial perpsective – this is the visual effect that causes distant objects to appear muted and slightly blue-toned. Things close up to you appear more vibrant, and the tonal contrast is high. Things far away lose some of their vibrancy as both the light and dark parts approach the midtone: the shaded parts appear lighter, the light parts appear darker. Recreating this effect in your miniatures – by 'pushing' the colours you use to the midtone – will give a muted effect that makes the miniatures appear distant, rather than small. + 

+ This approach adds to the realism; though of course whether you want that, or prefer the beautiful jewel-like quality of high chroma and vibrancy is of course down to taste – and the character of the miniature you're painting. +

+ Detailing +


+ As with my Iron Warriors, I've decided to use Forge World's transfers; you can see one in the centre of the chest here. Notice how bright it seems compared with the 'white' I've used for the stylised lightning bolts that surround it, added freehand. The other transfers are muted a bit with acrylic medium and weathering, but I may have a little play around to see if I can work out a way to knock back the pure white on future models. +

+ The basing is made of a few layers – a layer of heavy pumice gel forms the basis and was complemented by areas of textured paint once dry. These were painted and allowed to dry before I added some dried birch seeds and 6mm tufts of grass from Gamer's Grass [+noopheric inloadlink embedded+] to finish it off. +

+ The weathering was achived with some light strokes and touches of a bright metallic paint (whatever the equivalent of Mithril Silver is in the new range) complemented by sponged brown-grey areas concentrated around elbows, knees and other extremities. Finally, I had a little play around with weathering powder – I used a craft knife to gently scrape yellow ochre, sanguine and dark grey pastel sticks until I had a small amount of powder, then applied it using a dry brush, touching it onto the surface where needed and concentrating it around the lower legs and recesses of the armour. +

+ I'd thoroughly recommend pastel sticks for weathering. Pastels are widely available in your local art shop, and earth colours (i.e. those most useful for military-style weathering) are pretty cheap – I think the sticks I bought were around £1.30, and multi-packs or starter kits are even cheaper. They also have the advantage over pots of weathering powder that you can just scrape off what you need, and because they're solid, they're easy to store. +

+ Anyway, hope that helps – love to hear what you think of this Iron Hand! +



+++

Turn the eyes upward.

That is the only direction for peace.

Even then, it is the cold comfort of stars.

We stand, weapons raised. Chem-aggro stimms layered on pain suppressants and fatigue make my flesh itch and crawl, but my boltgun is unwavering. Under my arm, Medardus is slumped, barely remaining upright by hanging on to me.

Catabin's blank, narrow-eyed helm gives nothing away. He makes no move – neither towards us, nor away. He watches.

"Kneel! Lay your weapon aside!" cries out Miredan. For one horrendous moment, with the guns of six Iron Hands trained on him, Catabin remains motionless. 

Medardus stirs. He raises his head. His voice is a wavering croak. 
"Catabin..." It takes on an oddly pleading tone. "Catabin, in the name of the Emperor."


That gets a response.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

+ inload: Suddenly, Blood Angels +

+ Ciraman Catabin, Adeplhos Phanuel 3:12, Darda'il of the Eleventh Host +




His name took some understanding, and not just due to his command of Gothic, archaic and accented by his upbringing on Baal. 

We called him, half-mockingly, Cinnamon. Insofar as we could tell, he took it with good humour. 


+++

Catabin joined us three years prior to Isstvan, as part of Lord Guilliman's Conmuto reforms. These were intended to alloy the Legions together by encouraging exemplary individuals to learn from and fight alongside their cousin legionaries. By the same wit, Bar-Krom of the Word Bearers and Holion of the XIIIth were attached to the Clan Caled, though the latter departed scant weeks after the arrival of the Blood Angel.

The Iron Hands are, by and large, insular. An upbringing on Medusa demands self-reliance, and these virtues are honed by Legion and Clan philosophy. We form small circles, as tight-knit as a closed fist. Nevertheless, Caled were not as hostile to the Conmutii as some of the other Clans – some of whom had attempted  to bar such exchanges outright, in open disagreement with the Primarch. 

After some initial reluctance, Bar-Krom and Holion came to be a part – albeit limited, temporary – of Caled's order of battle. The same was not true of Cinnamon. I could not explain quite why he seemed so other. His manner seemed nebulous, though unfailingly conscientious and dutiful. He was exemplary in all aspects of warfare. Full of virtues, yet soft-spoken and humble, he should have been excellent company. Nevertheless, conversations were stilted, stuttering to a halt. There was no similarity in outlook – on some ineffable level, his humours seemed to share no underlying structure with ours.

We are insular; and not given to self-reflection. None of us avoided the Blood Angel outright, but equally none sought his presence save on official business. For my part, I had little reason to associate with him. I had no duties that coincided with his, and so we might have ghosted entirely past each other through his tour with the Iron Tenth, were not due to the our presence in Arc Reach. 

The interminable war necessitated Medardus being shuttled from place to place, and we visited a IXth delegation on more than one occasion. On one such flight, Catabin called on my cell to request – politely, quietly – the chance to accompany us; presumably to enjoy the company of his own kind. I had no reason to clarify, let alone refuse. 


+++

We spoke little during the journey – I am accustomed to keeping my own counsel – but I overheard him conversing with Medardus as I attended to flight duties while on route to the Emblazoned. Medardus had asked him to elucidate on his name, which we had all found tortuously cryptic. He smiled then. Were I to attempt the expression, it would appear supercilious and arrogant. On the Blood Angel, it was warm, indulgent. 

"My suggenia name is Catabin." His voice was spiced with gold, quite different from the reassuring bark and burr of Medusa. He raised a hand to ward Medardus' unuttered question. "It is a term of Baal; it means..." his voice drifted a little, then returned. "Suggenia means kinship, affinity. In Gothic, blood -brothers is the closest translation, but that becomes... confusing. You have heard of the tribes of the Blood?" Medardus nodded.

"The inhabitants of Baal, of course."

"Yes, the Tribes of the Blood, the Suggenia. It is the same. It is similar to the Medusan caravans, I think?" Again, Medardus nodded in affirmation.

"So Catabin is your... tribe name? And Ciraman your given name?" This time, the Blood Angel nodded in answer to Medardus' question. "But what of the other names. Are they titles? Honorifics?"

"A little of both, I suspect." Catabin drifted then. The space was awkwardly long; I found myself wanting to speak, to fill the void. Medardus seemed as at ease as the Angel. After a meditative silence, he continued. "I am told recruits from Inwit take Gothic names upon their ascension." he began.

"Yes," said Medardus. "Fists replace their name as a mark of surety upon joining the VIIth. Some of the Tenth do so, too – those who feel a particular affinity with Terra. I am one; our attentive pilot another." He nodded to me, mockingly. I realised I had been tracking off-course, absorbed in eavesdropping, and corrected our path with a quiet grunt. 

"My full name is 'Ciraman Catabin, Adeplhos Phanuel 3:12, Darda'il of the Eleventh Host'. The first part is... personal. We retain our birthnames. So much of us changes during ascension. It is good to keep a connection. The second part–"

"No, wait – adelphos – that's your terms for frater, I suppose?" interrupted Medardus.

"Just so."

"...and Phanuel?"

"That is my atroatican name. I cannot think of a good word in Gothic. It is just... Atroatican. I do not think it would mean much in modern translation. Perhaps choir? Ring?"

"A Baal idiom, then. Am I right in thinking 3:12 is a rank?"

"You are full of questions." There was mirth in the Blood Angel's voice then. Medardus' reply was clearly split by a grin, too.

"My apologies, cousin-adelphos." He did not stumble over the word; pronouncing the Baal term as fluently as the Angel.

"No, no. I enjoy this interrogation. It is good to remember Baal."

Again, that interminable silence. I gritted my teeth. 


+++

"3:12 is a binder; a codifier. The atroatican names are ancient. There are not many. As a result, there are many repetitions. At first, we used suggenic names to distinguish between us – Ambriel Hemas and Ambriel El-Aster, for example. After the arrival of blessed Sanguinius," he paused. My eyes were pointedly fixed on the pict-screens in front of me, but I had seen him sketch a brief gesture in the air on the other occasions he had cause to mention his Primarch, and supposed the ellipsis owed to this, "We grew fast. There were many then. Many hundreds of Ambriels, many hundreds of Kerubiels, many Phanuels... and so on. You understand."

"And so you took numerals, too? So there is a Phanuel 1:11, for example?"

"Yes – Phanuel 1:11, and many like it. Phanuel 17:4, Lucifer 2:16, Tzaphqiel 19:19, and so forth. The numbers remind us we are Imperial. We belong to the Angel, and through him, to the Emperor." Both paused at this point to chorus the familiar blessed be his name before Catabin continued. "In any case, we were uneasy about using the suggenic names. It is good to know where you come from; but more important to know to whom you owe your loyalty. That is who you are."


+++

He went on, explaining he was the 12th in his Choir, which was the 3rd in his Host. I took these to be equivalents to companies and clans, or possibly squads and some other grouping, though by this point, I was starting to make adjustments for the approach and could not spare the concentration. By the time I was finished, he was explaining the term Darda'il to Medardus. They had chuckled at the similarity between the Librarian's name and the Angel's title.

"You are a traveller, then?" said Medardus.

"Indeed. It is a new rank; one coined for Lord Guilliman's reform. The Darda'il of Baal travel to learn; but they also travel to watch." He said it as airily as anything else he had said, but there was a sudden air of tension. Medardus' voice took on a note of poorly-hidden suspicion. 

"Watch? What for?" 

Catabin's voice took on an edge of its own. 

"We look for those who remember His name. We watch that it is kept." 


+++

The conversation had finished more abruptly than it had started. We had landed shortly afterwards, and the Angel had given a stilted, formal bow to Medardus and myself before he hurried away into the depths of the Emblazoned. Neither Medardus not myself spoke of that conversation, not while we were accompanied by the IXth's Honour Guard, nor again once back on Medusa.

In truth, I had rarely thought of that troubling memory in the time since, until the Angel appeared to us amidst the smoke and ash that cloaked the burnt-black surface of Isstvan.

+++





Tuesday, June 14, 2016

+ inload: Iter Mirabilis +

+ Iter Mirabilis +


If I learn one thing from the skirmish, it is that inter-legionary warfare is swift, brutal and unforgiving. 

The second lesson is simpler. It is important to be the last one standing. 

I limp over to each of the fallen enemy in turn to confirm the kills with a blade. It is something both more, and less, than expedient. Two are little more than blackened skeletons, and one took a boltgun round to the head.

I squat next to the Seeker with the broken neck. The Immortal's grip has nearly decapitated him. Is this knifework necessary, or tribalistic? I feel like I am exorcising my own hesitation. I shiver.


+++

Standing, I appraise the situation. We are mauled, but – with the exception of Colmach – we are not dead. Triumph and Medardus are not fit to fight; but Coalstan, the Immortal and I are functional enough to prove a limited threat. Miredan seems almost embarrassed when his injuries prove to be little more than flesh wounds. He is battle-ready. Iron Hands are hard to kill.

Hard, but not impossible. We are forced to leave Colmach. The Immortal stands back, respectfully, as the others place the fallen veteran on his shield and fold his arms across his front. Bereft of a head, the corpse has precious little dignity. 

Triumph pulls a small silver object – no larger than the tip of my finger – from a pouch, and places it gently on Colmach's torso. Medardus, swimming in and out of consciousness, mumbles along with Triumph as the Breacher coughs out his litany.
"Colmach is dead. We will remember."

Let them have their ritual. 


+++

I order us back to the supplies. There was a functional narthecium suite in one of the armoured containers, I am sure. We limp back down from the mountain, Miredan taking point and the Immortal protecting the rear. We are slow, vulnerable. Weak.

A functional suite, I think cloudily, though none of us have the training to use it. A problem, I decide, for later. Activity. Purposeful activity. 

We trudge heavily down the gouge, using the missing Stormbird's path as cover. No-one objects to the direct route this time. Having no orders, no command and control, has left me at a loose end. 

Isstvan was full of miracles, but miracles are simply the confluence of seemingly unlikely events. The Imperial Truth provides clarity and guidance. It has little space for mysticism. 

Finding an angel on the way down was thus a surprise.


+++


+ inload: Where we first see our narrator +



Moving in twos and threes, we scuttle from cover to cover like cockroaches, our ebony armour proving oddly effective camouflage against the hard black ground. Coalstan leads, his footing and pace steady. As a sop to standard practise, we avoid a direct route to the crash site, instead approaching in a long curving arc that both avoids the great gouge it ploughed whilst keeping it in easy sight. 

The Stormbird proves curiously difficult to find. It is – bizarrely – not at the end of the great gouge. Any smoke that the might betray the location of the wreck is utterly lost in the burning rain of ash and fire of the raging wider battle. 

I am unwilling to divide our meagre forces. We consolidate and form a small – too small – circle at my hand signal, ducking into a sheltered lee in the rock. Each marine crouches and faces outward; the three Breachers forming a laughably loose shield wall that brackets Medardus and Miredan, with the Immortal awkwardly positioned at their side. I am the centre. 

Each Marine taps the brother to his right, and the Immortal turns to touch my boot. Involuntarily, I flinch at the touch. His helm remains blank and impassive as he turns back outwards.

I realise have no idea what to do. My focus on the Stormbird was complete – dangerously so. Now it is missing, I am completely at a loss. 

The six are looking outward, but I feel the judgement of each. Weak

I pause and attempt to lift my helm away. The lower part grinds, then remains stubbornly fixed even as the top portion comes away. It falls into three large parts in my hands. The hot, dry wind of Isstvan grates over my bare scalp. It provides no relief.

Staying here is foolish. At best, the enemy have investigated and moved on. At worst, an artillery strike might fall in a moment. I try to clear my thoughts. Facts. We are near the peak of a mountain, though the topography remains frustratingly unclear. What little breaks in the pillars and natural columns exist are black with dust, ash and smoke and taunt our lack of vision. Without access to the noospheric battle-net that our support in the IVth should have up and running by now, we have no idea of our position.

+++

Vo Colmach was a bear of a figure; taller than the rest of us by a clear margin, and strapped around with muscle-bulk. An experienced veteran, his armour and shield practically dripped with sigils, markings and honorifics that marked him as participating in more than a dozen extinction-level campaigns during the Alien Wars of the early Crusade. 

His experience was vast; his adaptation to different threats – whether the speed of aspected Saim-Hanni, the bio-horror of the Arc, or the creeping precision of the Terror Lizards of Shrin – unparalleled. He had trained obsessively, modifying his body and equipment to cover incremental weaknesses and make himself a true god of war. 

On any other battlefield, Colmach would have been invincible.

On Isstvan, he was merely the first of us to die. 

+++

Even as I prepare to swallow my pride and ask for ideas, the Children emerge from the fog. Three of them, moving away from our position at an angle, their rear left sides to us. Remnants of a Seeker squad, judging by the markings, though these are non-standard. Less than a hundred yards away, they are seemingly as mazed by the smoke and din as we were, and show no sign of having seen us.

Their movements are sinuous, creeping and oddly hypnotic – though whether it is this or something else that makes us all freeze, I do not know. Instinct has brought my salvaged boltgun up, which alerts the others to my target through their armour's hoods, but none of us fire at the other Astartes. Their armour, opulent and saturated, looks obscenely lavish against the black, black rock. 

+++

Time stretches, until the rearmost turns, checking all angles. It is such a natural movement, so measured and by-the-book, that its familiarity disarms us. Isstvan feels like a training exercise. I give no order. For Colmach, my pause proves fatal. 

The Emperor's Children have no hesitation at firing at us. The rearmost puts two bolts into Coalstan's legs even as he moves to stand, expertly targetting beneath his rising shield. This alerts the other two, who dart forward, away from us, and into cover. 

Our return fire is sporadic. Even now, even now, we're firing to suppress. It feels wrong. Four shields come together, the Breachers instincts to lock and protect, rather than attack. Bolt rounds shriek past and clang into the iron wall, and we step forward as one. No, not as one, I realise. I hear Medardus above the roar of blood in my ears. Something. Behind us.

The fourth Seeker – appearing over the rise behind us – puts two bolts through Colmach, one in the back of the neck, decapitating him, and the other that tears off his arm below the elbow. His shield clatters to the floor, and he falls upon it, heavily. The shield wall is broken, and the three enemies to our front are dug-in behind the rocky cover and firing at us.

Thank providence for brother Miredan – and thank Telerac for volkite. A thrumming eye-watering ray of emerald-ruby evaporates the rearguard, before the culverin-toting Heavy Support specialist turns the beam on the rocks. A second Seeker erupts into short-lived flame, his gaudy purple and gold turning as black as our carapace. 

I turn and see Medardus collapsing to his knees, the sheared-off remnants of a long combat blade driven down through his gorget and out below his right pauldron. The fourth Emperor's Children marine has jumped down and all but impaled him. Blood is sobbing out of Medardus, washing down his flank. His left hand, silver and gleaming, is grappling with the Seeker, trying to stop the Emperor's Children warrior from finishing the job with the foot or so or the broken blade that remains in his grip.

My bolter is up. My breathing is ragged. My head feels close, and hot, as though wrapped and padded in wet felt. I have lost my Crusade. I have lost my craft. I nearly lost my head. I will not lose my friend. 

My first angry burst of boltgun fire knocks the Seeker back. The second burst puts him on the floor. The third – finally – penetrates his armour, pulping and ruining the marine within, turning the traitor into charnel meat and boiling pink mist. Waveringly, I put a bolt round through the head of the purple-armoured warrior. My enemy neutralised, I whip back round to see my brothers advancing haltingly on the remaining Seeker, sheltering behind their great tower shields. 

Triumph is face-down in the dirt, and Coalstan is slow; limping. Smoke is rising from him, along with a stench of burnt meat. A bolt whips past the Immortal and punches into my side, cutting through me and spinning me onto my back. It burns. It hurts. The Emperor's Children's bolt-fire is punching through our armour and shields as though it were cloth. I look up to see Miredan stumble backwards, aspirating a great cloud of blood through his vox-grille. His culverin drops. 

The Immortal stands alone against the remaining Seeker. He is a handful of steps away. The light is weird. He discards his shield, rent and punctured. The Seeker stands – arrogant – and blazes away. Every shot hits, tearing through the Immortal's armour.

The Immortal is armour. Nearly every component of the disgraced Iron Hand has been replaced with cold, hard iron. There is little flesh to burn; few nerves to torment. The great punctures in his torso do not even break his stride. The light transfixes him, falling through his torso and leaving glittering red-gold shafts behind him. 

He reaches the Seeker's paultry cover and vaults it before the marine can reload. One steel-cold hand bats the Seeker into a nearby column, before he closes and the wraps the other round the throat of Fulgrim's child. The Seeker scrabbles at the hand at his neck. The Immortal closes his hand with finality.

Victory. 

Of a sort.

+++





Monday, June 13, 2016

+ inload: Triumph +

+ Seven +

Seven of us turns our situation from a simple re-group into a consolidation. With the Immortal, Coalstan and two others keeping sentry, Medardus and a hastily-appointed section lead – another breacher assault specialist named Triumph – convene. I grimace as I start to report. 
"I can confirm Manos, Hanic and Wellsmyth are dead–" 

"We will remember." Triumph interrupts, his voice rich, deep and sincere; Medardus' voice hesitantly joins the litany, halfway through. I blink, then continue.

"Together with the dead, we account for ten. The 'bird was full, so given those proportions–" This time Medardus finishes my thoughts, a disconcerting experience, but welcome for its familiarity here on this black, dead world.

"Arms and ammunition – plentiful." states Medardus. "These containers hold sufficient small arms and disposables to re-equip the rest of the force – should we find other survivors. Given Triumph was towards the hold, and you were near the cockpit, our casualty rate might be lighter than expected."

"Unless the shot hit us midships," points out Triumph. "Then we might constitute all that is left."

"As optimistic as your name suggests, brother," I say sardonically, "but you may be right. Standard tactical procedure is clear." The breacher, unmoved by the insult, nods.

"Redeploy to avoid detection and artillery; begin marauding until we can find Legion forces."

Triumph is right, and having something standard to enact feels reassuring. Injury or no, I am finding myself ill-suited to command, but Medardus' peculiar status prevents him taking over, and the others are – as all my brothers – obedient to a fault; unquestioning of my seniority, however meagre. Nevertheless, however tempting slipping into familiar drills might be, something nags at me. 

"I'm wary of standard procedure." I blurt. The others look askance at me, their helms cocked quizzically. "Look – we're certainly not going to struggle to find Legion forces; not with seven Legions on the surface. Friendly forces, however..." I trailed off. That silences the others. It is hitting home that we are dealing with an enemy force that is every bit our equal. Worse; they have the drop on us and the first blow in. It is hard to admit we are reeling. I press on. "My point is that sticking with standard procedure is what got us shot down. The fact we've not been shelled already demonstrates that they don't have a lock on our position." The others' heads are bowed, slightly; as though they are not paying attention – or are talking on a closed circuit. Before the silence stretches, Medardus raises a metallic finger.

"Actually, I suspect they do. Those barrages that keep sailing over? Those are targetting the site of the main crash. I can't think of any other reason for them to shell a position so far from the main conflict." That makes sense. I cradle my head, briefly. I should have seen that; particularly since the decision falls to me on whether the seven of us get into, or out of, the fight. "Truth." I concede. A pause. "...And that's why we're going towards it." Despite his great-grilled helm, Triumph manages to look simultaneously incredulous and disgusted. I press on, emphasising my words with a chopping gesture. "It's our best bet at finding other survivors; or at least an operational communicator. Intelligence is what we need. We are not yet strong enough to mount effective marauding operations – not against other Astartes."

+++

Brother Triumph


A mix of bits used here – home-sculpted and cast torso, shoulder pads and hand from Master-Crafted Miniatures, and an Anvil Industry bionic arm are combined with FW and GW parts. I'm pleased with how he looks; particularly the trigger discipline! :)

I'm looking forward to tackling his Immortal colleage; I think it'll be fun to examine how the Immortals are seen in the Iron Hands, and how I can distinguish them visually from the 'standard' Breachers.