+ 005.M31 +
+ Istvaan III +
+ Nine years before the Death of Horus +
“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and
some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”
-From Pre-Unity Verse of Ancient Terra, By Sallust the Elder
“I am a master of broken monsters […]”
He remembered a youth, a boy.
He could not recall the boy’s name; or if the child had even had one. Not that he had forgotten – Astartes were incapable of such a mortal blessing – just that memories became like instincts to an Astartes, settling bone-deep. Details were smoothed over and the real memory – the lesson – became as much a part of the fabric of him as his second heart, or his own hands; or Zippor.
Despite that, he remembered that the youth was frightened, but not afraid. He remembered a dagger in his hand, blood still warm on the blade. Another youth – his own blood-kin – was sprawled in the grey dust. The boy breathed, the air was coppery and dry, even from a distance of two centuries, he knew the taste of Cthonia’s breath in his mouth.
“Your first kill, Balak.” The dead youth said aloud, eyes snapping open to fix on his killer, “Your own blood-kin.” .-
Black sands, darker now with blood, the air hot with battle. Captain Taggala bled weakly, the wound in his neck already cauterising. The Half-Blind looked down at him, Taggala had in many ways been more than blood-kin to him; they had forged a brotherhood that had lasted centuries.
The Half-Blind raised the dagger to his mouth and tasted the blood of his brother, it was still warm.
They were the mightiest of warriors. Even centuries later, he could recall that numbing sensation when he first saw the Astartes.
The youth was older now, the marks on his arms and chest – inked in bronze – indicated that he had been bloodied and that he was part of a war-gang and had reaved across the rad-wastes and the rust-hives of Cthonia.
The warriors had dropped from the gut of a mighty steel bird, their armour a crisp pearl grey. Balak, for the last time in his life, was frozen in fear. It would be – he would later muse – the last time that he would feel anything approaching fear at all.
Chieftain Agadir had stepped forward. A long Cthonic culling dagger in either hand, his bared chest a tapestry of scars and blood-markings.
“I would know you Sky Masters.”
The impassive iron masks of the Astartes betrayed nothing, though one had tilted his head in what the youth would later understand was amusement.
“Sergeant Taggala.” the warrior responded, his gutter-Cthonic coming out in a cold rasp from his helmet.
“You could take none of my reave-kin, Sky Masters. I, Chieftan Agadir of the Vulture-reave, would not have it.”
He remembered the howl of his chieftain, the war-cry of every son of Cthonia.
The warriors did not move, at least they did not seem to. Only the warrior Taggala hunched slightly at the expectation of battle, a culling dagger of his own appearing in his armoured fists.
He remembered little of ensuing fight, the details were irrelevant, the lesson was well learned. As Agadir was cast sprawled and broken into the dust, the youth sank to his knees and threw his own dagger to the giant Taggala’s feet. These were the mightiest of warriors.
The Half-Blind bared his throat to the assembled warriors, an ancient Cthonic challenge. Radiation-storms billowed all around them, grey-fog, thick and dense, drew close around them. Istvaan III howled in its death-throes. Barely three-score Astartes remained of their company, and now, in the shrouded ruins of the Choral City, some regarded Balak impassively, some looked at the corpse of Captain Taggala, but none took up the challenge.
A distant beat of gun-fire echoed from the impenetrable fog, breaking the silence. Without a word, the Half-Blind gestured his reave-kin forward and, wordlessly, they obeyed.