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HELLFORGED

Ben Counter
'Even when the battlefield gives us every advantage, it is still a art of the universe! "nd this universe, never forget,
desises us!'
# Daenyathos, Reli$uerae %a&ti&a
'' ()E"R,' ("'D the rat#li*e +an &owering in the &orner! '' swear ' have told you all ' *now!'
%he &ell was tiny, ,ust large enough for the risoner to be sha&*led against the wall! %he risoner blin*ed in the sudden
light flooding in fro+ the oen door, silhouetting the robed figure of "r&h+agos -oar standing in the doorway! -oar
*nelt down so he was level with the risoner!
'' have no reason to believe you,' said -oar!
%he risoner guled down the re&y&led air, and sweat ran down his fa&e! %he &ell was infernally hot, *et sweltering by
its ro.i+ity to the engines! %he +an was still sha*ing, though, his eyes fli&*ering around as if sear&hing for a way out
that he had so+ehow +issed in the revious +onths of his in&ar&eration!
'He told +e!!! He told +e he got it fro+ so+e!!! so+e rogue trader, he &alled hi+self! /ot the real thing, ' guess, ,ust
so+e &han&er, so+e salvager! ' really don't *now anything else!'
'0ou *now,' said "r&h+agos -oar, 'that it was fro+ the -eiled Region! 0ou *now, and you *new when you bought it,
that it was forbidden!'
'Of &ourse ' did1 ' told you all that1 )hat +ore &an you want fro+ +e2 )hat +ore is there2'
%he +an's na+e was Baradrin %haal, and on&e, he had ossessed far +ore +oney than was ne&essary! He was the
se&ond son of a noble house where a younger sibling, not e.e&ted to inherit the resonsibilities of the household, was
free to waste his fa+ily's +oney on banal sins! One of those sins had been to buy the ob,e&t that "r&h+agos -oar of the
"detus 3e&hani&us now &arried with hi+! 't was %haal's last and biggest +ista*e! 3en li*e %haal had died at the
hands of the 3e&hani&us for te&h#heresies far less heinous than his!
-oar too* the ob,e&t out fro+ below his dee &ri+son robes! 't was a +as*, roughly hu+anoid and stylised as if +ade
by so+e brutalist s&ultor! 't was not, however, +ade by a hu+an hand! "ny fool &ould see that! %he eyes were
triangular slits and the nose was flat, a si+le oblong above the gri+a&ing slot of the +outh! %he forehead was
disfigured by a green ge+stone, li*e a third eye! Fro+ the ba&* of the +as* hung a nest of wires and robes! 't was not
+eant to be worn # it was +eant to be i+lanted!
'%he trader's na+e was!!! Devian, ' thin*! Devian so+ething! He got it fro+ so+e salvager who found it in an
ar&heote&h load towed out of the -eiled Region! ' don't *now any na+es or anything else! He told +e this thing
would!!! %hat it was the best high .enos te&h, better than any nerve#glove or &orti&al sti++! ' ,ust!!! ' ,ust loo*ed for the
ne.t thing, you *now2 4lease, ''ve told you everything ' *now! Everything! 3ore than you wanted! Let +e go! 3y
fa+ily needs to *now where ' a+!'
%haal was &rying, his tears +ingling with his sweat!
-oar did not feel the heat! His &ore te+erature was well above the hu+an +a.i+u+, his sensors told hi+, but su&h
things had &eased to +atter to hi+ now that he had abandoned +ost of the wea*nesses of the flesh! %he hand with
whi&h he held the .enos artefa&t was bioni&, as were his legs and +ost of his organs! His fa&e was rebuilt fro+ syntheti&
flesh, given a &ruel, noble &aste! His brain was original! %hat &ould never be rela&ed! %he rest of hi+ had been al+ost
&o+letely disensed with!
-oar stood! He glan&ed behind hi+! He had not &o+e to %haal's &ell alone! He had hoed that it would not rove
ne&essary to bring Crystavayne along, but %haal's ignoran&e &ould not re+ain unrobed!
%he +agos standing behind hi+, in the doorway of the &ell, steed forwards! He was robed, li*e -oar, but +oved with
the stilted &lu+siness of a +an whose body was still +ostly natural! On one of his hands, he wore an elaborate gauntlet
with a bundle of blades and *nives e.tending fro+ the al+!
'%his +an is a +agos biologis neuralis,' said -oar to %haal! 'He &an illu+inate you as to +e+ories you did not *now
you had! %hough ' have given u +u&h of +yself to the +a&hine, ' have yet to let go of those hu+an wea*nesses that
&o+el +e to rese&t the &ororal integrity of a fellow hu+an! %herefore, ' a+ relu&tant to have hi+ e.er&ise his art
uon you!'
'' don't *now,' said %haal, 'what you want +e to say! %ell +e, and ''ll say it! ''ll ad+it to anything! ''ll do whatever you
say!'
-oar turned to the +agos behind hi+!
'4ro&eed,' he said!
3agos Biologis Crystavayne *nelt over %haal! %he neural gauntlet lit u, the vials on the ba&* of the hand filling with
&he+i&als that for+ed &lear beads at the end of its +any needles!
'4lease,' said %haal!
')hat dosage do you &o++and, ar&h+agos2' as*ed Crystavayne! His voi&e was synthesised and sounded li*e the
bu55ing of +etalli& inse&ts!
'Let hi+ *now,' said -oar, 'that he has disleased the O+nissiah!'
'/o1 %hrone, no1 ''ll ad+it to anything! ''ll sign a &onfession! )hatever you want, but by the %hrone of Earth ' do not
*now1'
%he needles of the gauntlet tou&hed %haal's ne&*! He was too wea* to fight off the +agos! He &losed his eyes and
sobbed!
'(to,' said -oar!
Crystavayne too* the gauntlet away fro+ %haal's ne&*! %haal shoo* and whi+ered, li*e a s&olded ani+al!
'He is ri+ed,' said Crystavayne! 'His biologi&al readings suggest he is at the oint of +a.i+u+ +alleability! 'f it is to
be done, this is an e.&ellent ti+e!'
'He does not *now anything +ore,' &ontinued -oar! '%o your ost, +agos!'
%he +agos stood, bowed his head in deferen&e and left the &ell!
'' a+ not an un+er&iful +an,' said -oar! '0ou have transgressed at a ti+e when ' a+ still &aable of &o+assion for a
atheti& &reature li*e you!'
'Oh E+eror enthroned,' sobbed %haal! 'Oh, all His saints!!!'
'0ou will never see your fa+ily again! 0ou will forever be branded a te&h#hereti&! %hat is unish+ent enough!' -oar
held u the .enos +as*! '' have one further $uestion, Baradrin %haal! Did you ever wear this2'
'/o,' said %haal! '' dared not! ' had to dru+ u the &ourage! ' was!!! ' was thin*ing about it on the +orning your +en
&a+e for +e!'
'Good,' said -oar! '4erhas ' will find so+e use for you on +y shi! 6ntil then, your thoughts will be your tor+entors!'
-oar steed out of the &ell, la&ed a bioni& hand on the s&rutiny late outside, and the door slid &losed on Baradrin
%haal's &ell!
7 7 7
E-E/ %HE 3"G' astrohysi&us &ould not dis&ern $uite what had haened to that at&h of sa&e to the gala&ti& west
of the &ore! (o+e se&ulated that the va&uu+ had be&o+e so+ehow denser, dragging in +atter fro+ all around! Others
suggested that so+e great &os+i& event had o&&urred there, a suernova or the &ollision of two suer#dense stars that
had started a &hain rea&tion of &ollase and rebirth still reverberating through the area! Certainly, it had been a
+o+entous event indeed, be&ause the war was thi&* and sluggish there, the bea&on of the "strono+i&an li*e a night
s*y's +oon refle&ted in stagnant water!
%he la&e had been *nown as the -eiled Region sin&e the beginning of re&orded '+erial history! 't was a la&e of
dense nebulae and newborn stars, buffeted by waves of radiation and dis&arded stellar +atter! /avigation, on the few
ti+es it had been tried, was dangerous and haha5ard even by the lethal standards of sa&e travel, and settle+ents
within the -eiled Region were rohibited by '+erial law!
%he ri+ary danger within the -eiled Region, however, was isolation! "stroathi& &o++uni&ations were diffi&ult, and
be&a+e +ore so the further a shi went! Eventually, sy&hi& &o++uni&ation was blo&*ed entirely, the war rese+bling
a su&*ing +ire or endless doldru+s where an astroath's +ental voi&e e&hoed ba&* only silen&e! E.loring the Region,
then, was a tas* rarely atte+ted and never su&&essful!
%hen &a+e Baradrin %haal and his ill#advised ur&hase of an alien trin*et fro+ a salvager#trader who had never been
identified! %he artefa&t was fro+ an alien &ivilisation that showed signs of great te&hnologi&al advan&e+ent! %he
3e&hani&us, having arehended %haal and e.a+ined the artefa&t, &ould not +a*e any sense of its origins, and ut
"r&h+agos -oar in &harge of finding its sour&e! 't was fro+ so+ewhere in the -eiled Region, %haal had &lai+ed, and
so -oar had asse+bled a 3e&hani&us e.lorator fleet to enetrate the -eiled Region and hunt down the alien hand that
had &reated the +as*! His flagshi was the "ntithesis, a fast, tough ar+ed e.lorer that had forged the first route
through the Garon /ebula and &ir&u+navigated the -arlian "no+alies! He had &ruisers and es&orts drawn fro+ the
3artian fleet and regi+ents of te&h#guard with hi+, be&ause he e.e&ted trouble within the -eiled Region!
(tylised and hereti&al though it was, the +as* was of a hu+an fa&e! %hat +eant hu+ans and .enos in the -eiled
Region, and with the .enos &aable of su&h te&hnology it was li*ely the hu+ans were sub,e&ts or, even worse, willing
allies of the heathen aliens! Hu+an settle+ents within the -eiled Region were a ersistent but unroven ru+our, and
one of -oar's ob,e&tives was to find any hu+an worlds, free the+ of .enos taint and bring the+ ba&* into the fold of the
'+eriu+ of 3an!
%he +ission was in its se&ond year! %he -eil had been enetrated, and light years of steadily thi&*ening nebulae and
stellar &louds now lay between the 3e&hani&us fleet and &lear void!
7 7 7
-O"R H"D "((E3BLED the offi&ers of his fleet on the bridge of the "ntithesis! %he bridge was a +onu+ent to
*nowledge, a library &ra++ed with thousands of volu+es &overing +illions of sub,e&ts, as if the light of that
*nowledge &ould illu+inate the shi's offi&ers or, by bas*ing in it, they &ould absorb the &olle&tive wisdo+ and be&o+e
&loser to the O+nissiah!
Li*e -oar, the fleet's offi&ers were all on the ladder towards the 3e&hani&us's uer e&helons, where a +an +ight lose
the vestiges of hu+anity and be&o+e +ore li*e the +a&hine! One day they would lose their ability to &o++uni&ate
effe&tively with hu+ans, their brain fun&tions solely given over to &onte+lating the greater roble+s of doing the
O+nissiah's wor*! %o earn that e.alted status, however, they had to serve!
'Brother +agi,' began -oar as he as&ended the stes to the altar that &rowned the bridge#library! '%haal has no +ore to
tell us! Everything we lea+ fro+ now on, we un&over with our own hands!'
%he +agi +ade for a fine offi&er &adre! %hey were +asters at a variety of dis&ilines, and, should the +ission &o+e to
violen&e, a few of the+ were &aable +ilitary leaders! 3agos Gladius Hesebah was a fine weaons+ith and an
e.&ellent shot! Her robed for+ &on&ealed a torso ta*en u with the ower &ells for the rotator laser &annon that had
rela&ed her left ar+, and one eye was a &o+li&ated +ulti#se&tru+ targeting array! 3agos 3etallurgies -ionel was
si+ilarly for+idable, although in his &ase it was his oversi5ed dense +etalli& s*eleton and e.osed nerve#fibre bundles,
originally intended for industrial uroses, that +ade hi+ so inti+idating in battle!
Others were ure resear&hers! 3agos Biologis Crystavayne, who had threatened Baradrin %haal with a horribly ainful
fate, was e$uied with enough surgi&al i+le+ents and refrigerated sa+le &ontainers to +a*e hi+ a wal*ing +edi&al
laboratory! %he inhu+an figure of 3agos 8enohysi&us 9hrul, with his tra&*ed lower body and radiation shielding
barely fitting beneath his robes, was invaluable in e.loring hostile environ+ents! %he fifth +agos of the fleet
&o++and, 3agos "strohysi&us Devwyn, was the +ost hu+an#loo*ing of the offi&ers, with &ranial interfa&e &ir&uits
and a air of verise. +e&haden#drites his only obvious aug+entations!
''t is unli*ely,' said Hesebah, 'that we will re&eive further hu+an intelligen&e! %haal was our best sour&e!'
'Our only sour&e,' said -oar, 'save our own intelle&ts!'
'%hen what is to be our &ourse of a&tion2' as*ed 9hrul! His voi&e was a dee ru+ble fro+ a vo&aliser unit built into his
torso!
')e forge on,' said -oar, 'unless the O+nissiah's wisdo+ &an tea&h us otherwise!'
'%he -eiled Region,' said Crystavayne, 'is vast and un+aed! %o see* an alien world, even an alien e+ire, would be
beyond a reliable statisti&al +odel!'
'' disagree,' said 9hrul! '%he -eiled Region has re+ained une.lored be&ause the resour&es to enetrate it have yet to be
deloyed! %haal's infor+ation &reated the first &o+elling reason to &o++it su&h resour&es to the region for &enturies!
)e would be in dereli&tion of our duties towards the O+nissiah if we assed u the &han&e, not only to lo&ate the
sour&e of the artefa&t, but also to dis&over what other *nowledge lies here! E.lorator fleets have barely s*i++ed the
surfa&e of its nebulae sin&e the Great Crusade! %here is no telling what we +ight dis&over!'
'Devwyn2' said -oar! ')hat have you to say on this +atter2'
Devwyn *et his eyes on the ar&h+agos, but the glassy artifi&ial eyes on the sna*e#li*e +e&hadendrites fi.ed to his
shoulders wove between his fellow +agi! Devwyn, being an observer of the s*ies, had learned to use his e.tra senses to
*ee two eyes on the ground as well!
'%he Region is a u55le bo. to be oened u, "r&h+agos,' said Devwyn! His voi&e was natural as his laryn. had yet to
be aug+ented or rela&ed! %he un*nown nature of its &ontents has dissuaded +any, otherwise brave and *nowledgeable
+en, fro+ solving this u55le! '' &an thin* of nothing +ore worthwhile than wor*ing towards gaining an insight into the
for&es that &reated this la&e, and the entities that +ight dwell herein!'
-oar turned away fro+ his +agi! %he &ogitator units built into his thora&i& sine whirred as they aug+ented his thought
ro&esses! 't was *nowledge the "detus 3e&hani&us sought, and it was *nowledge that would guide hi+!
%he &o++and altar of the bridge was on to of a shallow yra+id rising fro+ the labyrinthine library, *ilo+etres of
boo*shelves winding in a &o+li&ated attern that filled the bridge! %housands of boo*s and data#slates, loaded with
a&&u+ulated sa&e#faring wisdo+ and the hilosohy of the Cult 3e&hani&us, loaded the shelves and stood in iles at
every interse&tion! %he shi's navigation &rew, te&h#riests in their red, &og#toothed robes, stood oring over stellar
+as in*ed on ar&h+ent, lotting &ourses with &o+asses and $uill ens! Dar* grottoes a+ong the boo*shelf &aves hid
&o++uni&ations and sensoriu+ hel+s! %he ordnan&e &rew had a roo+ of glass#fronted &ases holding rare and sa&red
to+es of naval battle#lore! %hey did their bloody wor* with aba&i on large +a#tables s&attered with +ar*ers
reresenting the shi and the area around it! %he bridge had few dire&t readouts of the area around the shi, su&h as a
views&reen or ta&ti&al orrery, be&ause the &rew of the "ntithesis solved +ost roble+s through abstra&t +athe+ati&s
and geo+etry rather than through the sensory guesswor* that governed lesser &raft!
')e forge on,' reeated -oar! '%he O+nissiah's wor* has yet to be done in this la&e, and it will be another age before
the -eiled Region is enetrated again! 0our +isgivings have so+e truth about the+, however, and we are to treat the
-eiled Region as hostile territory! )e have rea&hed the end of the -on Carnath 4lateau, the only stable route into the
Region, and soon we will ass beyond the oint where our astroaths &an &o++uni&ate with the outside '+eriu+!
(hould we en&ounter trouble, 3ars will be ignorant of our light! %hough we go on, we will ray for deliveran&e fro+
the ene+ies that surely lie in wait for us! Return to your &raft, s&holars of 3ars, and ensure that their &rews are ready for
battle!'
%he +agi bowed and left the bridge, leaving -oar on his yra+id!
6ne.lored sa&e: there was so +u&h of it! "fter ten thousands years $uesting, only a fra&tion of the '+eriu+ had
been roerly e.lored and &atalogued! 't was a sa&red tas* that, li*e hu+anity's +any other battles, would never end,
and yet re$uired the dedi&ation of its servants to the e.&lusion of all else! (a&e beyond the -on Carnath 4lateau was
&o+letely un*nown, and, for anyone but the 3e&hani&us with their sa&red duties and te&hnology, entering it would be
both sui&idal and illegal!
-oar loo*ed at the alien +as* he still &arried! 'ts obs&enity was one of defiled brillian&e, of high te&hnology defor+ed
to +eet an alien vision! 'f the rin&iles behind it &ould be un&overed then one +ore line of the O+nissiah's eternal
wor*, the boo* of all *nowledge, would be written!
One of the te&h#riests was as&ending the yra+id! %he te&h#riest was of suffi&iently low ran* and li+ited
aug+entations that gender was still aarent; it was a wo+an, with eyes obs&ured by s+o*y lenses and her hair tied
ba&* to reveal a large infor+ation ort on her te+le!
'"r&h+agos,' she said!
'Reort!'
')e have a &onta&t!'
%HE "DE4%6( 3ECH"/'C6( fleet that flew in a shoal around the "ntithesis had been asse+bled on 3ars! %he
"ntithesis was a &ruiser#&lass vessel, not $uite the e$ual of one of the '+eriu+'s an&ient +ighty battleshis, but a swift
and well#&rewed shi with enough 3artian#forged ar+a+ents to un&h above her weight! Her sister shi, the Constant,
was slower and less +anoeuvrable, but +u&h +ore heavily gunned, and sorted an enor+ous nova &annon on her row
that &ould blow an ene+y &ruiser dean in two! %he Constant was under the &o++and of 3agos Hesebah who trusted
no one but herself to oerate the nova &annon! Both &raft were in the dar* red of the "detus 3e&hani&us, with the half#
steel s*ull of 3ars worn as roud heraldry!
(everal ar+ed e.lorator shis of the "sdeian ($uadron flew a i&*et around the two &ruisers! %hey were s+aller
&raft, but they were hardy, built for e.loring harsh regions and for resisting the worst e.&esses of stellar radiation and
+i&ro+eteorite i+a&ts! %hey +ade for &aable es&ort &raft, tough enough to weather ene+y fire and ni+ble enough to
outf o. slower ene+ies! %hey had been diffi&ult for -oar to a&$uire sin&e they had been destined to e.lore the
'+eriu+'s Eastern Fringes! 3agos 9hrul, his sedaliry being the sa+e *ind of dee#sa&e hostile e.loration at whi&h
the s$uadron e.&elled, was in &o++and!
%he light &ruiser Defen&e of Caelano 3inoris had been fitted out as a laboratory shi, its gun de&*s stried out and
rela&ed with +edi&al labs and &ru&ible &ha+bers to resear&h anything the fleet +ight find! " whole de&* was sealed
and gene#lo&*ed so it &ould be used for the study of alien artefa&ts! %he Defen&e was the do+ain of 3agos Crystavayne
and 3agos Devwyn! 't usually flew in the wa*e of the Ferrous, an ar+ed fa&tory shi that wallowed obesely through
sa&e, dragging an enor+ous ro&essing and storage se&tion behind it, lu+es of las+a fire bursting through the vents
down its sine as it turned its &argo of harvested ore and &he+i&als into fuel for the rest of the fleet! 3agos -ionel, the
&o++ander of the Ferrous, was as +u&h a art of the shi as its &he+i&al tan*s and fusion &ha+bers were!
%he final ele+ent of the fleet, and by far the largest, was the swar+ of s+aller e.lorator shis, ar+ed +er&hant+en,
te&h#guard transorts, &argo &ontainers and single#s$uadron fighter latfor+s &olle&tively *nown as the Fleet 3inor!
%hey flew around the larger shis in a silver &loud, serving as flying laboratories, s&outs, storage sa&e and fighter
resonse! (hould &rews be lost on the &ruisers, shis of the Fleet 3inor &ould be de&o++issioned and their &rews used
to rela&e the dead! 'n a naval battle, the Fleet 3inor &ould soil the ai+ of ene+y shis, outflan* hostile for+ations
and distra&t ene+y guns fro+ the real targets! On a +ission li*e the e.loration of the -eiled Region, the shis of the
Fleet 3inor were a +athe+ati&al ne&essity!
%he &onta&t i&*ed u by the sensoriu+ do+e on the "ntithesis was so+e way ahead of the fleet, obs&ured into a vague
shadow by the stellar dust that &ho*ed the -eiled Region beyond the 4lateau! 't was huge, though, far bigger than any
shis of the 3e&hani&us fleet! /o shi of the '+eriu+, even a titani& battleshi of the Battlefleet (olar, had ever been
built that big!
%here were only two ossible identities for su&h a &onta&t! First, it was a &raft of alien design built with te&hnology that
allowed for i++ense si5e! (e&ondly, it was a sa&e hul*!
')E'RE BE'/G FOLLO)ED,' said %e&h+arine Lygris, raidly s*i++ing the rea+s of statisti&s sooling out of a
bridge &ogitator! %he rest of the bridge was do+inated by several &ogitators salvaged fro+ other arts of the sa&e hul*
*nown as the Bro*enba&*! %hey were ill#+at&hed &hun*s of te&hnology, with e.osed &ir&uit boards and ban*s of
valve#swit&hes, &onstantly &lattering and hu++ing! %he rest of the bridge loo*ed li*e it had on&e been a theatre, with
ornate de&orative anels fi.ed to the walls, drilled through to a&&o++odate bundles of &ables! 't had on&e been
do+inated by a views&reen, whi&h was now blan* and blind!
Every sensor and syste+ that still wor*ed on the Bro*enba&* was hoo*ed into a web &reated by Lygris so he always
*new what was going on in and around the shi, as well as being able to &o++and it, fro+ the bridge! Lygris had
su++oned Chater 3aster (aredon to the bridge shortly before the sa&e hul* e.ited von Carnath's 4lateau and
entered un*nown sa&e! " &oule of other (oul Drin*ers were attending to Lygris on the bridge, +onitoring the various
readouts and sensors, but even the tall ar+oured shae of a (a&e 3arine loo*ed relatively insignifi&ant &o+ared to
the +utant shae of (aredon in the ornate ar+our of the Chater Librariu+! ')ho2' as*ed (aredon!
Lygris glan&ed down at the data#slate he held, whi&h was wired u to one of the &ogitators! ''t's a fleet! " big one! )e're
too &lose to the nebula to see +u&h +ore, but they'll be wat&hing us! %hey +ust be ta*ing the 4lateau into the Region,
too!'
(aredon, Chater 3aster and senior Librarian of the (oul Drin*ers Chater, sat ba&* on the haun&hes of his eight
+utant legs and thought about the redi&a+ent!
'' had hoed that, here of all la&es, we would be alone,' he said! '"s soon as Chalain '*tinos suggested this la&e, '
*new he was right! %he '+eriu+ hasn't tried to e.lore the -eiled Region for thousands of years! /ow there's a fleet
on our tail! Can we outrun the+2'
'Hard to say,' said Lygris! 'Droing into the war here isn't so+ething ''d relish under fire! <ust be&ause this hul*'s
war#&aable doesn't +ean ' &an get all its engines ulling in the sa+e dire&tion without +ore ti+e to reare!'
'Can we tell if they're ar+ed2'
'%here's at least a &oule of &ruisers in there! /othing that big flies into a la&e li*e this without being able to handle
itself!'
'(et us to battle stations! Get ready to flee as soon as you &an! )e'll stand and fight until then!'
'"s you wish, &o++ander!' Lygris +ade a few ad,ust+ents to the data#slate, and the sa&e hul*'s vo.#&asters blared a
warning! %he bridge was bathed in dee red light!
(oul Drin*ers ran through the &orridors ast the bridge to their assigned battle stations! %here were barely two hundred
and fifty (a&e 3arines left in the Chater, and the last of the Chater serfs had su&&u+bed to battle or the rigours of
sa&e a long ti+e ago! 't was a tiny &rew for a shi so vast, and Lygris's &o++and of te&h#lore was +ost aarent in the
way the sa&e hul* &ould be &o++anded at all!
)hen the (oul Drin*ers had first entered the Bro*enba&* it was an abo+ination, an alien#infested a+alga+ation of
do5ens of '+erial and .enos shis, lost in the war to be welded together and sat out again &enturies later! %he (oul
Drin*ers had boarded and &leansed it to use as their base of oerations! " sa&e hul* was a sy+bol of the war's
&orrution, a harbinger of dread things fro+ beyond real sa&e! 't see+ed fitting that the out&ast (oul Drin*ers should
have +ade su&h a dreaded la&e their ho+e!
'How's our ordnan&e2' as*ed (aredon!
')e un&overed a sto&* of toredoes on one of the &ruiser se&tions,' said Lygris! '-ery old! High e.losive, ar+our
ier&ing heads! Better than anything the '+erial /avy has! %hey'll be in the tubes within an hour!'
'Good! ' ta*e it you'll re+ain on the bridge to &o++and! )here do you want +e2'
'' had (&out (ergeant Eu+enes &o++anding one of the gun de&*s,' said Lygris, 'whi&h leaves us one short there!'
'%hen ' should rela&e hi+,' said (aredon! '"fter all, ''+ the one who *illed hi+!'
%HE REL"%'-E C"L3 of the 4lateau was rela&ed with the gluey, dust#heavy void of the -eiled Region roer! %he
enor+ous vessel being followed by the 3e&hani&us fleet had dived into the +ire, and the fleet had followed, every te&h#
riest and +agos a+ongst its &rews uttering rayers to the +a&hine#sirits of the shis! /or+al sa&e died out, and the
nebulae of the -eiled Region see+ed to &rowd around the fleet rea&hing out with overlaing fields of lethal radiation,
and throwing off flares of half#born stars! %he fleet, however, had the advantage of &olle&ted +illennia of naval lore,
and it +ade good seed through the outer rea&hes of the -eiled Region! 't &losed in on the target shi, hundreds of
sensoriu+ arrays s&ouring it to &olle&t a i&ture of its shae and the energy signatures fli&*ering through it!
"ll of the infor+ation was filtered through to the sensoriu+ grotto, a &ave#li*e aendi. to the bridge#library of the
"ntithesis! 't was &ra++ed with infor+ation that did not ta*e the for+ of boo*s or data#slates: &arved tablets, sy+boli&
statues, and aintings sta&*ed u against one wall! "+ongst all this were the sensoriu+ readouts, +ostly auto$uills
silling out rea+s of ar&h+ent &overed in ,agged signal lines and i&t s&reens showing strea+s of nu+bers!
"r&h+agos -oar eered over the shoulder of one of the te&h#riests, wat&hing as the data was &o+iled into the first
i+age of their $uarry!
%he forward sensors of the Fleet 3inor dei&ted so+ething so grotes$ue that they were &he&*ed over and over again to
+a*e sure they were &orre&t! %he ene+y shi was a &onglo+eration of fused sa&e&raft the si5e of a &ity! Every ele+ent
was defor+ed and +erged with the &raft ne.t to it, and its every &urve and ruture bore the hall+ar*s of the war! 't had
been born there, in the abyss of the i++ateriu+, fro+ hundreds of shis that had be&o+e lost in the war and gravitated
towards this foul lu+ of tortured +etal!
%he &losest thing to a visual the fleet had was a &o+osite holo#i+age, frag+ented where the sensors had been fo.ed by
the stellar dust!
''t's a sa&e hul*,' said the sensoriu+ te&h#riest, 'a big one! %he ar&hives ut it in the tenth er&entile!'
'(igns of life2'
'%here's too +u&h interferen&e for any +ore data!'
"r&h+agos -oar inse&ted the grainy i+age as it revolved above the holo#unit!
'%hat,' he said, indi&ating a long stret&h of the sa&e hul*'s hull, 'is an '+erial &raft! "nd here, this fin towards the ste+!
"n eldar &raft, used by their irates! 8enos!' -oar sat out the last word as if it tasted bad! ''nut all your data to the
ordnan&e de&*s! )or* with the+ on firing solutions!'
'0es, ar&h+agos!'
-oar strode through the sensoriu+ grotto, +e&hani&al feet &la&*ing on the stone floor! He e+erged into the less stifling
gloo+ of the library! %e&h#riests were hurrying between stations, ,ostling ast +enials and servitors, &arrying sta&*s of
boo*s &ontaining ar+a+ent e$uations and te&h#liturgies for +inistering to the shi's +a&hine#sirit!
'3agos Hesebah2' said -oar into his internal vo.#unit!
'Hesebah here,' relied the +agos aboard the Constant!
'0ou should be re&eiving firing data fro+ the "ntithesis and the Fleet 3inor! )hat is your state of readiness2'
'"ll gun de&*s are loaded and ready, ar&h+agos,' said Hesebah! (he was still hu+an enough to have a tra&e of ride in
her voi&e! Hesebah's &alling was weaonry, and few weaons &ould be +ore sa&red than the +ighty guns of a
sa&e&raft! (he had seen to it that the Constant's gun &rews were so well#drilled they &ould ut the roudest '+erial
/avy &rews to sha+e!
'"nd the nova &annon2'
'' a+ in the ro&ess of ri+ing it!'
'Good! 0ou have +y er+ission to brea* for+ation and attain high ventral vantage over the target!'
''t will be done, ar&h+agos! )hat is our lan of engage+ent2'
'%he fleet will in the ene+y down,' said -oar! '"nd you will *ill it!'
" (4"CE H6L9 was +ore than a +aterial threat! 't was an ob,e&t of religious hatred for the 3e&hani&us! %here were
few te&h#heresies as grave as .enos shis being +elded with '+erial &raft! %hose '+erial shis had been sa&red on&e,
their +a&hine#sirits an&ient things before who+ te&h#riests *nelt and begged for &ounsel! %hey were vessels of the
O+nissiah's wisdo+ as well as the E+eror's +ight, god#+a&hines that reresented the hu+an ra&e's greatest
a&hieve+ents in &on$uering the gala.y! /ow they were dead and defiled, inhabited by %hrone *new what aliens and
blashe+ers!
Death was the only unish+ent!
%he Fleet 3inor bro*e out of for+ation and thrust forwards, thousands of engines flaring li*e fireflies!
Counter+easures were laun&hed, bursting in silver firewor*s, throwing sensor#baffling fila+ents everywhere! %he
"ntithesis barged forwards, arting the s+aller shis in front of it li*e an i&ebrea*er, swinging to one side to bring its
broadside guns to bear! %he rest of the fleet +oved around it, the "sdeian ($uadron dosing in to for+ a i&*et around
the &ruiser!
%he fighter s$uadron &arriers, (unblade and Daggerfall, latfor+s shaed li*e thin &ylinders with fighter &raft and
bo+bers &lustered around the+ li*e fruit on the vine, sun through the &louds of &haff to send their s$uadrons lan&ing
forwards on &olu+ns of fla+e! Ele&troni& warfare shis followed the+ in towards the ene+y, ele&tro+agneti& fields
&ra&*ling between the+ to for+ blind sots where the fighters would be safe until they began their atta&* runs!
%he Constant rose above it all, rote&ted by its shield of Fleet 3inor shis, and blue fla+es fli&*ered around the barrel
of the nova &annon that ,utted fro+ its row!
("R4EDO/ RE"CHED %HE gun de&*! 3ost of the auto+ated loaders had been rea&tivated by Lygris's efforts, but
lenty of the enor+ous broadside guns still had to be loaded +anually! %he (oul Drin*ers saluted (aredon as he
arrived! (ergeant (al* was at the nearest gun, dire&ting his s$uad to haul the &hains, dragging a tan*#si5ed shell into the
gun's enor+ous bree&h! 't was one of a do5en along the steel &anyon of an '+erial shi, the 'ntolerant, one of the
largest warshis in the Bro*enba&*'s &onstru&tion! (aredon re+e+bered e.loring the la&e for the first ti+e when the
sa&e hul* had first been &leared by the (oul Drin*ers! 't was a+a5ing that the dead shi's destru&tive for&e had been
reawa*ened by Lygris!
'Co++ander1' &alled (al*! ')hat are we u against2'
')e'll *now soon enough! )hat &an ' do2'
'Gun eight needs another strong ar+!'
(aredon glan&ed down the de&* towards gun eight; several (oul Drin*ers fro+ '*tinos's &o++and were wor*ing it!
%hey were a+ongst the (oul Drin*ers who had lost their offi&ers and &hosen to follow the Chater's Chalain into
battle, for+ing a flo&* devoted to '*tinos, who fought with a 5eal that bordered on re&*lessness!
'%hen ''ll lend the+ a few li+bs of +y own,' said (aredon! (al* saluted and returned to his gun tea+! (al* was
develoing into a very fine offi&er! He had been new to s$uad &o++and when the (oul Drin*ers had first turned away
fro+ the '+eriu+! /ow, he had so+ething new to fight for, and he had be&o+e one of (aredon's +ost trusted
sergeants! Li*e the rest of the Chater, he was learning to stri*e out on his own!
One of '*tinos's (oul Drin*ers was hauling a shell towards gun eight! (aredon ,oined the +an, &rou&hed down on his
ara&hnoid haun&hes and lifted the shell, for&ing it the last few +etres and into the gun's bree&h! %he other (a&e
3arines sla++ed the shell ho+e and &losed the bree&h door!
'Ready1' shouted the (oul Drin*er &rou&hing at the to of the gun's housing, eering through the targeting reti&le that let
hi+ see the s&ene outside the shi! '%argets1 3ultile, s+all, aroa&hing fast1'
'Lygris,' vo.ed (aredon! ')ho are they2'
'Larger &raft suorted by s+aller,' said Lygris fro+ the bridge '%hey're bringing a lot of interferen&e! Loo*s '+erial!'
(aredon gave this a +o+ent's through! %he '+erial /avy would fire on a sa&e hul* if they found one, &ertainly!
Even if they realised there were (a&e 3arines on board, one gli+se of the Chater's +utations, not least (aredon's
eight#legged for+, would &onvin&e the+ that they were dealing with traitors, and they would redouble their efforts to
ound the Bro*enba&* to dust!
'Got a good loo* at one,' &ontinued Lygris! ''t +at&hes one of the +ar*s in the ar&hives, a (aien&e#&lass &ruiser! 't's the
"detus 3e&hani&us, &o++ander!'
'%he ast is death! But the future is worse still # it is an e.isten&e on whi&h order and sanity have yet to be i+osed! %o
fight it, the ast is the only weaon we have!'
# Daenyathos, %he "r+a+ents of the (oul
%HE (O6L DR'/9ER( and the "detus 3e&hani&us had history!
%he "detus 3e&hani&us had sought to re&over the re#'+erial artefa&t *nown as the (oulsear, so it &ould be
roerly studied! %he (oul Drin*ers, on the other hand, had wanted it returned to the+ as it was a reli& of their Chater,
and, in arti&ular, of Rogal Dorn, the Chater's ri+ar&h, who had given it to the fledgling (oul Drin*ers uon their
foundation after the Horus Heresy! %he rift thus &reated had been the first in a series of betrayals that had led the (oul
Drin*ers to brea* with '+erial authority, be&o+e e.&o++uni&ated fro+ the hu+an ra&e, and ly a new future as a
renegade (a&e 3arine Chater!
%he 'n$uisition, ta*ing resonsibility for hunting down the (oul Drin*ers, had ordered the Chater's na+e deleted fro+
all '+erial re&ords, so that the danger inherent in the very idea of a renegade Chater would not i+eril the +inds of
the gala.y's &iti5ens!
%he "detus 3e&hani&us did not always follow the di&tates of the 'n$uisition to the letter!
'0O6 "RE CER%"'/ of this2' as*ed "r&h+agos -oar, loo*ing down at the data#slate in his hand! He was seated on
the &o++and throne at the to of the yra+id in the &entre of the bridge, surrounded by ta&ti&al rintouts brought to
hi+ by the ordnan&e and sensoriu+ &rew! %he te&h#riest that had handed hi+ the data#slate was fro+ the
&o++uni&ations &rew, who o&&uied a se&tion of the library do+inated by a +onstrous swit&hboard with thousands of
so&*ets and &ables!
'Every ie&e of data we have is &onsistent with this &on&lusion,' said the te&h#riest!
'' see!' -oar ut down the data#slate and i&*ed u a boo* fet&hed by a +enial fro+ the rare and sa&red boo*s se&tion! 't
was one of the few &oies in e.isten&e, sin&e it had been ordered burned by 'n$uisitorial deletion s$uads in the great
libraries of the '+eriu+! /o doubt not one &oy re+ained in the ar&hives of the 'n$uisition! " golden &hali&e was
e+bossed on its &over! 't was a +ilitary history of the (oul Drin*ers (a&e 3arine Chater! '0ou were right to bring
this to +y attention! Go about the O+nissiah's wor*, brother of 3ars!'
%he te&h#riest bowed and turned away!
'One +o+ent,' said -oar! %he te&h#riest halted! '(u++on an astroath!'
%he te&h#riest hurried down to the yra+id to attend to his orders!
%he news he had brought was une.e&ted, and -oar allowed hi+self the lu.ury of a few +o+ents' thought! %he
"detus 3e&hani&us had a long +e+ory; a grudge lasted a lot longer in a ban* of data#+ediu+ than it did in a hu+an
+ind! %hat +e+ory was not easily erased! %he 3e&hani&us *new the na+e of the (oul Drin*ers and of the rebel who
led the+, Co++ander (aredon! (aredon had *illed 3e&hani&us te&h#riests in ta*ing ossession of the (oulsear,
and had resisted the best efforts of the 'n$uisition to bring hi+ and his Chater to ,usti&e! %he "detus 3e&hani&us, in
defian&e of the deletion order, had &olle&ted all the infor+ation they &ould find on the (oul Drin*ers! One su&h ie&e of
infor+ation suggested that the (oul Drin*ers were +a*ing use of a sa&e hul* na+ed the Bro*enba&*, the des&rition
of whi&h had set off an alert in the ar&hive of the "ntithesis!
'%his is -oar,' he vo.ed to the +agi &o++anding his fleet! '%arget identified! /o risoners!'
%HE G6/( OF the Bro*enba&* roared, and the see*er shells, reli&s of an earlier age of te&hnology, eruted fro+ the
enor+ous broadside guns, siralling on &olu+ns of fire through the void! "r+ed with their own &ogitators they sought
out targets of oortunity, and drove into the &loud of s+aller shis in the vanguard of the 3e&hani&us fleet! Blosso+s
of ato+i& fire eruted and i+loded dar*ly in the va&uu+, leaving silvery srays of wre&*age!
On the gun de&* of the 'ntolerant, (aredon wat&hed the+ on a grainy i&t s&reen hoo*ed u to the gun's own si+le
sensors! "t this distan&e, the ene+y &ruisers were visible as silver darts illu+inated by light refle&ted off the
surrounding nebulae, and the s+aller &raft as srin*led oints of light! 3any of the+ were gone in those first few
+o+ents, ho+ed in on by the see*er shells, and blasted into burning dust!
Fro+ (aredon's osition, er&hed u on the housing of the gun, he &ould see right down the gun de&*! %wenty guns,
+ost of the+ auto+ated and the rest oerated by the (oul Drin*ers, roared in unison! Loading &ranes swung into a&tion,
and the (oul Drin*ers began to reload their guns, their for+s in urle ower ar+our s&ra+bling over the gun housings
to haul the bree&h doors oen and drag +ore shells into osition! (aredon +ade ready to dro to the de&* and lend his
enor+ous strength to the tas*, when he &aught +ove+ent on the i&t s&reen: a glittering sray of shis aroa&hing fast,
wheeling in for+ation to aroa&h!
''t's a bo+bing run1' shouted (aredon! 'Get to &over1'
Guided +issiles sli&ed down fro+ the weaon +ounts of the aroa&hing bo+bers! "uto+ated turrets, studding the
Bro*enba&*'s hull, oened u as they aroa&hed, snaring the+ in a latti&e of laser fire! 3any were destroyed, sli&ed in
two by the lines of white#hot light, but not before they had released their ayloads! 3ost '+erial /avy &raft would
have needed to get +u&h &loser to stri*e, but the targeting syste+s of the "detus 3e&hani&us were suerior, and their
ordnan&e strea*ed into the gun de&* of the 'ntolerant!
(aredon leat off the gun +ounting! He bra&ed his legs and hit the far wall, his talons finding ur&hase on the +etal!
He &lung to the wall as the first +issile hit ho+e, eruting in white fla+e at the far end of the gun de&*, and shattering
the +assive stru&ture of a broadside gun! %he sho&* wave hit hi+, and he &lung on as (oul Drin*ers were thrown off
their feet below hi+!
%he wave of fla+e was su&*ed away as the at+oshere shrie*ed out through the hull brea&h! (aredon's ower ar+our
was airtight and &ould use its own air suly in a va&uu+! He still had to hold on, though, as the air ried ast hi+!
(o+e of the (oul Drin*ers below were dragged along by the for&e of it, grabbing on to loading +a&hinery or grilles in
the floor to *ee fro+ being ulled through the brea&h! (ilen&e ha++ered down as the air was deleted, rela&ed with
the vibrations of the guns, and the sa&e hul*'s engines through the +etal wall trans+itted u (aredon's talons!
(aredon droed to the floor and ran for the relative safety of the 'ntolerant's internal de&*s! "nother +issile hit &loser,
blowing another gun off its +ountings and sending the steel tower of the gun barrel so+ersaulting through the wall! %he
sounds of destru&tion boo+ed through the floor, surreally distant in the va&uu+!
%he '+erial shi's alar+ syste+s, rigged ba&* to wor*ing order by Lygris, were blaring! (aredon was in the
+aintenan&e de&*s for the a++unition syste+s, narrow wal*ways and &orridors slung a&ross steel &has+s between the
shell hoers! %he loading syste+s' +assive &onveyor belts and &ranes were &lan*ing along overhead and below,
feeding a++unition to the guns that still wor*ed!
'(al*1' shouted (aredon into the vo.! 'Reort1 "ny &asualties2'
'Brother %hoss is down,' relied (ergeant (al*! 'Loo*s li*e one of '*tinos's +en is dead too!' Over (al*'s vo. (aredon
&ould hear the boo+ing reorts of +ore i+a&ts, s&attered with the vibrations fro+ the Bro*enba&*'s guns!
')here are you2'
'(till on the de&*! )e're regrouing and sounding off!'
'Get out of there!'
'"lready on it! )e're heading for the &argo de&*s! )e'll ut a few hull layers between us and the brea&h! (al* out!'
(aredon swit&hed to Lygris's vo.#&hannel!
'%he 'ntolerant's been hit,' he said!
'''+ tra&*ing the in&o+ing bo+bers now,' said Lygris! (aredon &ould hear the whirr of &ogitators behind his voi&e!
'%hey're all over us!'
'Can we ta*e the+2'
'Of &ourse! But they're not the danger! %hey're ,ust soiling our ai+ so the &ruisers &an hit us!'
'How +u&h da+age &an they do2'
'Ordinarily, a &ruiser wouldn't ut +u&h of a dent in a hul* this si5e! But the 3e&hani&us has lenty of tri&*s that &ould
hurt!'
(aredon *new there were two &hoi&es: stand and fight, or flee! %he 3e&hani&us &learly thought they had enough
fireower to hurt the Bro*enba&*! "nd the (oul Drin*ers would gain nothing fro+ fighting a battle here!
'How long until the war drives are ready2' as*ed (aredon!
'"nother ten +inutes!'
'%hen get us out of here as soon as you &an! %he 'ntolerant is being abandoned!'
'0es, &o++ander! ' suggest you and (al*'s +en go on to da+age &ontrol! %he 3e&hani&us will get a few free swings at
us before we're gone!'
'On +y way!'
%he 'ntolerant shoo* as +ore ordnan&e hit ho+e! (+aller i+a&ts, li*e sar*s &ra&*ling against the hull, were the
re+ains of fighters and bo+bers s&attering against the Bro*enba&* after the turrets had done their wor*!
7 7 7
%HE CO/(%"/% DR'F%ED u out of for+ation into a high firing angle! %he sa&e hul*'s guns, for+idable as they
were, had been too busy fending off the was#li*e atta&*s of the Fleet 3inor to ay the &ruiser any +ind until it was too
late!
3agos Hesebah ai+ed the nova &annon! (he had designed it and overseen its fitting to the &hassis of the Constant,
turning it fro+ a vessel of the line into a shi#*iller! %he barrel was so large it gave the &ruiser a losided loo* as if it
should tole off balan&e and tu+ble through sa&e hellessly, but the &ruiser's thrusters *et its enor+ous +ass still as
Hesebah lined u her shot!
/o single *ill shot &ould be ta*en against a sa&e hul*! 't was a welded +ass of do5ens of shis, and any one of the+
+ight house the bridge, or the ordnan&e hangars, or the rea&tors! Hesebah's duty was si+ly to do as +u&h da+age as
ossible!
" burning +ass on the side of the sa&e hul* that had on&e been an '+erial shi was ruined and abla5e! %here was
little oint hitting it again! %he swollen rearward $uarters of the shi were &o+osed of enor+ous &ontainer shis and
beetle#li*e &araa&es of +assive alien hul*s, whi&h loo*ed li*e they &ontained little +ore than e+ty sa&e and debris!
Hesebah ai+ed towards the front of the shi, so+e way down below the reinfor&ed ar+our of an an&ient warshi and a
forbidding tangle of silvery alien &raft! %he shis there were +any and densely a&*ed, with +ore &han&e of i+ortant
syste+s surviving!
Hesebah ordered the firing &ha+ber +enials to drag the two enor+ous he+isheres of radioa&tive +etal together!
Hundreds of +en hauled on &hains, their +us&les burning under their s*in in the heat of the firing &ha+ber, their
tas*+aster bar*ing rhyth+i& orders to *ee the he+isheres swinging! %he he+isheres &lashed, rang li*e a great dee
bell, and released a +assive wave of ower funnelled by ele&tro+agneti& fields into the a&&elerator for+ed by the
&annon's barrel! %he for&e of it hit the enor+ous nova ro,e&tile, a&&elerating it down the barrel at i+ossible seeds!
%he nova &annon fired, and, for a fra&tion of a se&ond, the Constant and the hul* were &onne&ted by a bridge of burning
light!
("R4EDO/ "RR'-ED "% the rea&tor array of the Blessed Obedien&e, the enor+ous industrial shi &ontaining +any
of the las+a rea&tors that Lygris had got ba&* on#line to +a*e the sa&e hul* war#&aable! %he rea&tor &ha+ber was
enor+ous, &lose to a *ilo+etre long, &riss#&rossed with &atwal*s that gave a&&ess to the titani& &ylindri&al for+s of the
rea&tors! %he Blessed Obedien&e had &arried a do5en su&h rea&tors in so+e revious life as a sa&e#faring refinery, ea&h
one owerful enough to fuel a sa&eshi for de&ades! Every one of the &ylinders &ontained a vessel full of suerheated
las+a, lo&*ed in a &onstant rea&tion that u+ed ower into the hul*'s war arrays! %hey were &rowned with sider#
li*e arrays of steel struts, suorting the &ables and ies that rovided the rea&tors with fuel and &oolant, and drew off
their +assive oututs of ower!
(aredon hurried along a gantry between rea&tors one and two! Chalain '*tinos was on a &o++and latfor+ ,ust
ahead, along with several of his flo&*!
'Co++ander (aredon,' vo.ed '*tinos as he saw (aredon aroa&hing! '' hear on the vo.#net that our brothers have
fallen!'
'%hoss of ($uad (al*, and Renigel of your flo&*,' said (aredon! 'He died when the 'ntolerant was hit! %he ene+y is
going to throw everything he has at us! ' a+ afraid that rayers will have to wait!'
'(o it shall be,' said '*tinos!
(aredon swit&hed his vo.#net to the bridge &hannel! 'Lygris, ''+ at the rea&tors! 't loo*s li*e they're holding u well!'
'(tay there,' relied Lygris fro+ the bridge! ''f we lose the Obedien&e then we're done#'
" sound li*e the death of a world ha++ered a&ross the rea&tor &ha+ber! One wall blew in, hurling a hurri&ane of
shredded +etal! %he nova ro,e&tile detonated, and a great gale of fire and shranel ried a&ross the Obedien&e,
sending white#hot shards of shranel arrowing everywhere!
%he sho&* wave threw (aredon off the gantry, sla++ing hi+ into the wall! His head swa+ with the for&e of it! 'f he
hadn't been wearing his hel+et he would have been *no&*ed out! Enough of hi+ re+ained unsha*en to re+ind hi+ that
if he fell, he would robably die! %alons lashed out in a refle., and dug into the wall of the rea&tor &ha+ber, halting hi+
as he fell!
%he reverberations of the e.losion bellowed around the &ha+ber! One wall had been &o+letely de+olished, beyond it
only a glowing labyrinth of torn bul*heads and de&*ing! " gale of fire howled into the +aw of the wound as the air was
su&*ed out through the hull brea&h!
%he e.losion had sent shards of shranel searing through the vessels of rea&tors eleven and nine! Rea&tor eleven
&ollased, its uer half too heavy for the shredded foundations! Dee slits oened u as the rea&tor's &rown fell ba&*
into the la*e of las+a inside, and raw, white burning las+a looed out in great ar&s li*e solar flares, the +assive
release of ressure sending it lashing in destru&tive tongues through the roof of the rea&tor &ha+ber! Gobbets of it bored
through wal*ways and &o++and latfor+s! " great torrent burst fro+ the lower half of the rea&tor and flowed in a
glowing flood through the tangle of &onduits and &abling that obs&ured the &ha+ber floor!
(aredon was aware of another shae falling towards hi+: a (a&e 3arine! He stu&* out an ar+ and grabbed the falling
(oul Drin*er by his shoulder ad! %he weight al+ost ulled (aredon off the wall, but he held on! He had &aught one of
'*tinos's flo&*, the urle aint on his ar+our bubbling with the heat!
(aredon &li+bed until he was level with the stub of a wal*way! 3ost of it had been ried away and thrown into the
&ha+ber's deths, but enough of it re+ained to hold the weight of a (a&e 3arine! 't ,oined the wall at a +aintenan&e
entran&e! (aredon hauled the (oul Drin*er onto the wal*way, and was relieved to see that he was still alive!
(aredon loo*ed a&ross the &ha+ber, trying to see +ore survivors! He sotted a &oule of '*tinos's flo&* &linging to a
re&arious length of wal*way, +a*ing their way towards a &o++and ost that had survived +ostly inta&t! Fro+ there,
they &ould +a*e it u a ladder into the a&&ess tunnels above the &ha+ber! '*tinos hi+self had been thrown onto the to
of rea&tor three, and was +a*ing his way towards the &rown of ies and &ables &onne&ting it to the &eiling!
'Lygris1' yelled (aredon into the vo.! %he last of the &ha+ber's air was shrie*ing and suerheated, a terrible sound li*e
a gale of fire! 'Lygris, what in the hells was that2'
Lygris's voi&e barely swa+ through the stati&! 'Dire&t hit1 Co++ander, give +e a da+age reort1'
'Rea&tors eleven and nine are brea&hed,' relied (aredon! 'Eleven's venting las+a! /ine's about to go#'
'Eva&uate the area,' relied Lygris!
%he last words had barely rea&hed (aredon's ears when rea&tor nine e.loded, the ressure inside too +u&h for its
failing stru&ture! " ure white starburst of las+a eruted, li*e a &aged suernova, and the stru&tures surrounding
rea&tor nine were obliterated! Bolts of las+a strea*ed into the nearby rea&tors, shearing +ore +aintenan&e wal*ways
fro+ their +ountings! %he sound, ,ust a vibration trans+itted through the wall to whi&h (aredon &lung, was li*e the
roar of an es&aing giant!
%he glare died down! '*tinos was &rou&hing fro+ the sho&* wave of the e.losion, still &linging to rea&tor three!
'Chalain,' vo.ed (aredon, 'are you hurt2'
'' a+ not, &o++ander,' relied '*tinos! His voi&e was distorted al+ost beyond understanding! 'But there is no way off
this rea&tor!'
'%here is for +e,' said (aredon! 'Hold osition! ''+ &o+ing for you!'
(aredon ran u the wall towards the &eiling! %he whole &ha+ber shuddered as the re+ains of rea&tor eleven &ollased
into the floor! 4las+a flooded the lower levels, swallowing u enor+ous bundles of &ables and drowning the lowest
wal*ways! Rea&tor twelve was sitting in a la*e of las+a, and was listing as its foundations were eroded! Below the
&ha+ber las+a would be flowing through the rest of the Obedien&e, loo*ing for ways into the shis surrounding it! 't
would +elt its way through a huge area of the Bro*enba&*, li*e a &an&er, if it wasn't stoed!
(aredon was above rea&tor three! He &ould see that a sear of shranel had un&tured the rea&tor's side, and las+a
was surting fro+ the wound! %he &ra&* was widening, and, every se&ond, the sheet of vented energy grew wider!
(aredon ran down a &oolant ie to the to of the rea&tor! '*tinos was waiting for hi+!
'*tinos rea&hed u! (aredon grabbed the Chalain's wrist and hauled hi+ off his feet!
Rea&tor three shuddered and leaned suddenly to one side! (aredon glan&ed u; the &onduits were &o+ing away fro+
the &eiling! %here would be no way off the rea&tor in that dire&tion! He sotted a length of wal*way hanging fro+ one
wall, half#+elted away by a bolt of las+a! (aredon shifted his gri so that he was dragging '*tinos behind hi+ by the
&ollar of his ar+our! He &rou&hed down on his ba&* legs and un&oiled, srinting at full tilt towards the edge of the
rea&tor!
Rea&tor three slit down the +iddle! (heets of las+a srayed out, for+ing a wall of fire behind (aredon as he ran!
3etal s&rea+ed and heat roared! %he +etal below (aredon's talons be&a+e unbearably hot!
(aredon rea&hed the edge and ,u+ed with the ower of every +us&le a&*ed into his ara&hnoid legs! He rea&hed
forwards and his hand &losed on the handrail of the wal*way! %he whole stru&ture bent with the weight of the two
(a&e 3arines! '*tinos &la+bered over (aredon, ulling hi+self onto the wal*way, before hauling (aredon u after
hi+!
'3y gratitude, &o++ander,' vo.ed '*tinos!
Rea&tor three slit &o+letely in two, a torrent of las+a flooding through the lower levels! (aredon got to his feet and
followed '*tinos towards the doorway where the wal*way ,oined the wall! "nother rea&tor brea&hed as they ran, sin*ing
into the burning +ire and slitting oen! " wall of radiated heat buffeted the+ as '*tinos rea&hed the door and hauled it
oen!
Beyond was a dar*, &ra+ed +aintenan&e sa&e, leading to the &argo shi ad,oining the Blessed Obedien&e! (aredon
followed '*tinos through the dar*ness as the boo+ing vibrations of dying rea&tors got louder!
'Lygris,' vo.ed (aredon to the bridge, 'we're &lear!'
'''+ shutting down the Obedien&e,' relied Lygris! (aredon &ould hear every alar+ on the sa&e hul*'s bridge blaring at
on&e! '3a*e sure you're well &lear! %hat whole area will be lethal!'
'Can you get us out of here2'
')ith the rea&tors down2 ' &an +a*e it into the war, +aybe!'
'%hen do it! )hatever hit us will want a *ill#shot!'
'0es, &o++ander,' vo.ed Lygris! '' suggest you hold on!'
'GO% '%,' ("'D 3agos Hesebah with relish! (eated in the targeting observatory of the Constant, surrounded by the
holo#ro,e&tions of surrounding stars and sa&e&raft, she wat&hed another flare of las+a burst fro+ the side of the
sa&e hul*! '%arget reort1'
%e&h#riests' voi&es fro+ the shi's sensoriu+ filtered ba&* to her through the vo.#net!
'3a,or se&ondary e.losions!!!'
'Confir+ las+a vent! %arget rea&tor brea&h!'
'%arget ower levels flu&tuating beyond ara+eters!!!'
'"r+ing &ha+ber1' ordered Hesebah! 'Full re&harge1 /avigation, line us u for another shot1'
(he sun the barrels of the +ultilaser she &arried in la&e of her left ar+! /othing fired the assions in her li*e a dire&t
hit: the su+ of all her *nowledge, brought forth in a single +o+ent of destru&tion! (u&h a wonder &ould only be
ossible through the O+nissiah's will!
'3agos Hesebah, e.&ellent da+age,' said -oar's voi&e fro+ the "ntithesis! '%he Fleet 3inor is disengaging! )e will
&oordinate fire and &o+lete the *ill!'
'0es, ar&h+agos,' said Hesebah! '%he (oul Drin*ers, they on&e did the 3e&hani&us wrong2'
'3ost gravely so,' said -oar!
'%hen it will be a leasure to &all in the debt!'
%he holo flared red! 'ndi&ators around the i+age of the sa&e hul* showed an enor+ous ower si*e!
'Gellar fields a&tive1' &a+e an alert fro+ one of the te&h#riests in the sensoriu+!
'%hey're hitting the war1' shouted Hesebah! '%hey're insane! %hat sa&e hul*'s bleeding to death! %he war will
swallow it alive!'
''t has survived an aeon in the war,' said -oar! 'Do not resu+e to *now the &aabilities of su&h an ene+y!'
'Hit it with everything we have1 /ow1'
3ost of the Constant's offensive ower was tied u in the nova &annon, but she still sorted lenty of +ediu+#range
guns and toredoes! Every one of the+ fired, sraying +assive &alibre fire towards the sa&e hul*, even as the ene+y
shi was surrounded by a shi++ering field ro,e&ted by what ower re+ained in its wounded rea&tors! (hots tore
through the field and i+a&ted against the hull! %he "ntithesis ,oined in, and a tre+endous broadside ha++ered against
the hul*'s side, riing &hun*s of sa&e&raft away, and e.osing burning +etal innards below! (e&ondary e.losions
riled where stored a++unition detonated, and lu+es of vented air burst fro+ the i+a&ts!
(a&e tore! " slash oened u in front of the hul*, so dar* it was bla&*er even than the void! 4ower boiled within it, a
+onu+ental, +ali&ious refle&tion of the -eiled Region in another di+ension! %he sa&e hul* san* into it, e.losions
still studding its gnarled surfa&e as the ri in sa&e swallowed it u!
%he holo blin*ed, and the sa&e hul* was gone!
')e've lost the+,' said Hesebah! (he sla++ed her +ultilaser against the observatory wall! 'Da+n it1 )e had the+1 )e
had the+, and we lost the+1' (he sat ba&* in the observatory &o++and &hair, wat&hing the debris &ooling and falling
off sensor range!
'Even in the -eiled Region, a wounded sa&e hul* &annot ass without leaving a trail,' said "r&h+agos -oar! ')e have
not lost the+ for long!'
'On&e, ' saw the .enos as a terrifying threat, the harbingers of our gala.y's destru&tion! /ow ' *now the+ for what they
are! -er+in, arasites, su&*ling at the wounds of a gala.y that belongs to hu+an*ind!'
# Daenyathos, )ar 'n&arnate
'' H"D %HO6GH%,' said (aredon, 'that no one would find +e here!'
%he garden of refle&tion loo*ed li*e it should have been art of a leasure ya&ht, one of the lavishly aointed
sa&e&raft o&&asionally laun&hed by the fabulously wealthy to de+onstrate their sueriority to the lesser +ortals around
the+! 'n fa&t, it was a art of an '+erial /avy &raft, a &o++and shi that had no doubt on&e served as the nerve &entre
of a +ighty battlefleet! 'ts &atain +ay have been in &o++and of the +ost destru&tive for&e in the '+erial arsenal # a
fleet of battleshis that &ould level &ities with their guns # but he still needed so+ewhere he &ould be away fro+ the
babble of &o++and! %he garden's lants were +ostly wilted, save for a &oule of e.tre+ely hardy flowering vines and
the artifi&ial trees that flan*ed the entran&e gates! 'ts raised stone flowerbeds were barren, and the trees that had on&e
for+ed a se&luded o&*et of the sa&e&raft were now ,ust srays of withered bran&hes! %he &orroded steel of the walls
and &eiling loo+ed down over the fountain that fed a now#dry ool!
%e&h+arine Lygris sat down on the stone ben&h a&ross fro+ (aredon! '%here are few la&es of sola&e on this shi,
&o++ander! ' did not have to loo* very hard to find you!'
')hat is our situation2'
')e were able to enter the war, but we &ould not stay there for long! )e +ade it to the nebula, though! 'f the "detus
3e&hani&us is loo*ing for us then they'll have a da+ned diffi&ult ti+e seeing anything through the dust &louds!'
'%hen we're deeer in the -eiled Region2'
'-ery dee! %his is une.lored sa&e!'
')ell, at least they're as lost as we are! )hat about the rea&tors2'
Lygris had suffered fa&ial in,uries earlier in his servi&e as a (oul Drin*er that had re$uired the re&onstru&tion of his
entire fa&e! 't had left hi+ with a +as* of syntheti& flesh, a good aro.i+ation of his features, but without the sa+e
&aa&ity for e.ression! (aredon had learned that Lygris &ould be read by his eyes alone! %he te&h+arine's eyes told
hi+ that the news was not good!
')e're down to the dregs of fuel,' said Lygris! '%he last broadsides fro+ the 3e&hani&us destroyed +u&h of the fuel we
too* on board at /ever+ourn! )ith the rea&tors that re+ain inta&t and the fuel we have, ' &an +a*e two +ore war
,u+s! %hree would robably *ill the rea&tors entirely! )e need +ore fuel or we will be er+anently be&al+ed!'
')here &an we get it2'
'%here are enough wor*ing refinery units on board to turn anything fro+ &rude oil uwards into fuel! "ny &ivilised
world &ould rovide so+ething ' &ould use!'
'%hen let us hoe we find one!' (aredon &rou&hed ba&* on his rear legs, stret&hing the sinews! %he &hitin of his sidery
li+bs was still &harred fro+ the las+a fires! His single bioni& leg had been wared by the heat and wiring hung fro+
the *nee ,oint!
'0ou bla+e yourself,' said Lygris!
'Of &ourse ' do,' said (aredon! ')ho else is there2'
'%he 3e&hani&us,'
'%he 3e&hani&us wants us dead and they have good reason! %hey &ould hardly leave us be when they found us!'
'%hen &han&e, (aredon! Fate!'
'/o! ' a+ resonsible for +y Chater! Gorgoleon and Eu+enes &hallenged +e for &o++and, and ' *illed the+ both! '
&annot ta*e the lives of +y battle#brothers to rule this Chater, and then retend that ' a+ not at fault when it suffers,'
'%he fa&t that we survive at all is down to you! )e &ould have been wied out by the old Chater or the 'n$uisition
years ago!'
')e survive, Lygris2 Barely a $uarter of our strength re+ains! ' have led us into war5ones where we have es&aed only
at the e.ense of our dead brothers! Half +y brothers disagreed with +e so fervently that they rebelled against +e and
are now dead or fled! %his very day, we lost +ore to the 3e&hani&us guns! )hat if we have not survived at all2 )hat if
we are in our death throes, wasting away to e.tin&tion2'
''f that is what you fear, (aredon,' said Lygris levelly, 'then e.tin&tion is e.a&tly what will haen!'
'' will not give in, Lygris,' said (aredon sharly! '' will fight until the end of ti+e if that is what ' a+ &alled uon to do!
' would not have de&ided on this fate if ' had been given the &hoi&e, but there was never a &hoi&e! )e &ould not have
fought on as the old Chater, to ursue our own arrogan&e at the behest of a &orrut '+eriu+! )hen the ti+e &a+e
there was no one else to ta*e &o++and, and ' will not ba&* down fro+ the role fate has given +e! %hat is why ' a+
resonsible for what haens to us, be&ause ' have +ade that &hoi&e!'
'%hen do not see things to doubt in our situation,' said Lygris! '%he old Chater sent us te&hni&al asirants to a forge
world to study with the te&h#riests and learn fro+ the+ the ra&ti&es of the Cult 3e&hani&us! %here ' learned that a
wounded +a&hine, a s+ouldering wre&*, is not a destroyed thing but the otential for a +asterie&e! %hat is how the
3e&hani&us &an +a*e the tilings they do, for they see everything as a otential vessel of their O+nissiah! )e are not
destroyed, (aredon! )e are not lost! %here is in our defeat the otential for vi&tory! )e ,ust have to +a*e it right!'
'%hen that is +y duty! %o turn this wre&* into a vi&tory!'
''f ' &ould tell you how to do that, (aredon, then ' would!'
''t is enough that you *ee the Bro*enba&* sa&e#worthy, Lygris! Believe +e, if you &an do that then we will be
halfway there!'
Lygris's vo.#unit &hired!
'Graevus here,' &a+e the vo.!
')hat news, sergeant2' relied Lygris!
'%he sensoriu+ has i&*ed so+ething u! %here's a lanetary syste+ nearby, ,ust within the bounds of the nebula!'
'How far2'
'" short war ,u+! )e're too far away to see +u&h, but the inner lanets are &lose enough to the star to be survivable!'
'"t this oint, sergeant, that will have to do!' Lygris loo*ed u at (aredon! '' a+ needed on the bridge!'
'Go,' said (aredon, 'and if you need +y er+ission to ris* a ,u+ towards a lanet, then you have it!'
'0es, &o++ander!'
(aredon wat&hed Lygris go! %he te&h+arine had been there fro+ the very beginning, and he had never faltered, not
even when (aredon had doubted, in the &haos following the brea* fro+ '+erial authority or the bloody flashoints at
Gravenhol+ and (trati. Lu+inae! Even as a student of the 3e&hani&us ways, Lygris had always been &onstant in his
loyalty to (aredon and the new fate of the Chater!
(aredon told hi+self that he was right! (o+ewhere in the wre&* of the Chater's situation in the -eiled Region, there
was vi&tory! %he $uestion was whether (aredon had the s*ill to build it!
%HE (0(%E3 )"( bordered by a triu+virate of dead lanets, as s+ooth and lifeless as water#worn ebbles, standing
silent guard over the aroa&hes to the star! %hey were erfe&tly sa&ed fro+ one another, surely ,ust a flu*e of the
syste+'s gravity, but loo*ing as if they had been &arefully la&ed to a&t as dead sentinels! " air of gas giants orbited
la5ily beyond the+, and ast a band of debris and asteroids lay the inner syste+ where the Bro*enba&*'s sensors had
strained to i&* u an e&ho of life!
%he syste+'s star was swollen and reddish, entering the final stages of its life! 'n its aged light bas*ed the ro&*y lanets
of the inner syste+, and one of the+, a grey ball of heavy &loud bro*en by e$ually &olourless lands&aes, was alive!
(ensor waves boun&ed ba&* off stru&tures that &ould only be &ities or highways!
'n high orbit over the lanet, sa&e riled and burst, silling the ne&roti& substan&e of the region's +orbid e+yrean
li*e gore fro+ an infe&ted wound! %he Bro*enba&* li+ed out, still trailing tangles of vented las+a and debris! 'ts
engines flared wea*ly, as if the hul* was si&*! %he wound in its hull left by the broadsides and bo+bing runs against the
'ntolerant still bled!
%he hul* settled into orbit over the lanet! %hrough the heavy &loud &over &ould be gli+sed hints of habitation through
the eyeie&es and holo#dislays of the hul*'s various sensors: irrigated fields of greyish &ros, and bla&* o&eans
srin*led with oil latfor+s and sindly webs of flood defen&es! Lygris and the (oul Drin*ers assisting hi+ on the
bridge interreted the gli+ses of stru&ture and &ivilisation, and hunted for a &ity!
(lowly, the &louds swirled and the gas between the+ assed over the surfa&e! Eventually, they revealed the edges of a
&ity, a &luttered srawl of buildings iled u against a natural harbour near the e$uator! %he sensors strained to 5oo+ in
and i&* out signs of life! %he &ity had all the hall+ar*s of great anti$uity: unlanned and haha5ard, &ra+ed tangles
of streets giving way to e.anses of ala&es, and &on&entri& rings of harbour stru&tures radiating out fro+ do&*s
re&lai+ed fro+ the sea!
(oon afterwards, two of the Bro*enba&*'s &o+le+ent of ar+oured shuttles was laun&hed!
'% )"( CO34LE%EL0 silent!
%hat was the first i+ression that (aredon had of the lanet! He had been reared for hostilities, for indigenous
hu+ans or .enos to greet the (oul Drin*ers with anti#air&raft fire and ground troos, but nothing had &o+e out to see
the shuttles land, not even gaggles of fearful se&tators!
(aredon steed off the ra+ of his shuttle! %he stubby, tough little &raft had des&ended through the lanet's &louded
at+oshere without re&eiving or inter&eting any &o++uni&ations! %here should have been so+ething, anything, to
suggest the eole down there were tal*ing to one another!
'(till nothing,' vo.ed Catain Lu*o! ($uad Lu*o, ($uad Graevus, Lygris, "othe&ary 4allas and Chalain '*tinos +ade
u the landing arty that (aredon had sele&ted! Lu*o had been the first out of the se&ond shuttle, and his s$uad had
sread into a &ir&le to &over the shuttles' landing osition fro+ all angles!
'%his la&e is dead,' said Graevus as his s$uad deloyed behind (aredon! Graevus fle.ed his +utated hand, one of the
Chater's +ore obvious defor+ities aside fro+ (aredon's own, whi&h gave hi+ the enor+ous strength with whi&h he
wielded his ower a.e!
'($uad, give +e a &ordon1 "ll angles1' ordered Lu*o! His s$uad sread out and too* ai+ at the buildings lining the area!
%he shuttles had landed in a &ity s$uare! %owering habitation blo&*s surrounded it, all in white or grey stone with dar*
grey or bla&* tiles! False &olu+ns and &arved lintels suggested wealth and age! One edge of the s$uare was ta*en u
with a large do+ed basili&a flan*ed by e$uestrian statues; the riders were hu+an, whi&h +eant that this was at least a
hu+an world! " few tattered +er&hants' stands were s&attered around the s$uare! %he roads leading away fro+ the
s$uare were e+ty!
%here was not one erson in sight! %here were no birds in the s*y! Even the trees were bare! 't was as if the &ity had
been drained of life, of sound and of &olour!
(aredon let his +ind rea&h out! "s a sy*er, he had enor+ous ower but little finesse, and he &ould not read +inds or
e.tend his senses li*e so+e other Librarians of the "startes! He was still sensitive enough to noti&e owerful sy*ers or
the &hatter of a +illion +inds a&*ed together, though, and, even to his +ind, the &ity was silent!
Graevus's s$uad, with their ,u+ a&*s ri+ed and their &hainswords drawn, followed (aredon and Lygris as they
headed towards the &losest habitation blo&*! Li*e the rest of the buildings, the blo&* was +ono&hro+e, refle&ting the
ale greyish s*y!
'/othing on the ause. s&anner,' said Graevus!
(aredon oened the front doors! (tale air rolled out, dusty and old! 'nside, ho+es led off fro+ a &entral hallway, with a
stair&ase siralling to the uer floors above!
'Loo*s li*e ost#feudal te&h,' said Lygris, 'but not by +u&h! %hey had ele&tri&ity! One of the stru&tures we saw fro+
above loo*ed li*e a sa&e ort!'
'%his &ity hasn't been abandoned,' said (aredon! '%he buildings aren't ruins! %here isn't even any sign of ver+in!'
'%hey &ould have eva&uated the &ity,' said Graevus, 'when they saw us in orbit! %here are lenty of &ultures where
so+ething li*e the Bro*enba&* would be an o+en of the end of the world!'
%he nearest ho+e was inta&t! %he eole of this world favoured latti&ed windows and ornate ar&hways, with al&oves
everywhere for *eesa*es! %he table was still laid! "side fro+ a veneer of dust, the la&e +ight have been waiting for
its owners to return at any +o+ent!
')hatever haened here,' vo.ed Catain Lu*o fro+ outside, 'they fought it!'
Lu*o's s$uad had aroa&hed the basili&a! By the ti+e (aredon had ,oined the+, the s$uad had flan*ed the +ain
entran&e, a air of brass doors ins&ribed with i+ages of soldiers +ar&hing! (aredon saw that the doors and the stone
around the+ were disfigured with bullet wounds! %he statues on either side of the doors were da+aged, too, the
verdigrised bron5e battered by gunfire!
"t a signal fro+ (aredon, Lu*o ran at the doors and sla++ed into the+ shoulder#first! %he doors banged oen, and
Lu*o's lightning &laws were sheathed in &ra&*ling energy as he reared to fight! His s$uad steed in behind hi+, guns
tra&*ing through the basili&a's interior!
%he interior was a ruin! On&e the basili&a had been grand, inlaid atterns of bla&* and white +arble &overing the walls
and floor of an auditoriu+ that held &ourt below the &entral +inaret! )ooden ben&hes were in slinters and shafts of
ale light fell through tears in the do+e!
'/o bodies,' said 4allas!
4allas had been one of the (oul Drin*ers that rebelled against (aredon at -an$ualis! 4allas had not ,oined the rebels
that had left the Chater after (aredon's defeat of their leader Eu+enes! (aredon had so*en to hi+ rarely sin&e then;
the "othe&ary had been *ey to the survival of the Chater through &ontrolling their +utations, but he had now
withdrawn &o+letely! '%hey fought it here, but they were defeated! %hen the rest of the &ity ,ust!!! gave u!'
'%his was so+ewhere i+ortant,' said '*tinos, e.a+ining the +urals on the nearest wall! %hey showed stylised hu+ans
in debate, or enthroned, or +ar&hing in arades through the &ity's streets! '"n ene+y stru&* here, and when they had
finished there was no one left to lead a resistan&e!'
'"nd then,' (aredon, 'the eole were rounded u, and!!! *illed2 %a*en away2'
')e are assu+ing,' said 4allas, *neeling to e.a+ine the re+ains of a fallen statue, 'that they aren't still here: either the
oulation, or the eole who too* the+!'
(aredon &aught a +ove+ent out of the &orner of his eye! 'n a fluid rea&tion, his bolt istol was in his left hand, and his
right was at his ba&*, ready to unsheathe the ".e of 3er&aeno he &arried straed to the ba&*a&* of his ar+our!
" tiny bla&* se&* &lung to the inside surfa&e of the +inaret!
'Co++ander2' said Lygris!
''t's a bird,' said (aredon! '"t least there's so+ething alive here!'
%he bird flitted down off the +inaret! 't +ade a +etalli& bu55ing sound as it swooed down and hovered ,ust above
(aredon!
't was not a bird! 't was an oversi5ed +etal inse&t, held aloft on silver wings, trailing bladed hinged li+bs! %iny red
lenses fo&used on (aredon, and its glinting +andibles wor*ed as if in hunger!
%he beetle 5ied u and disaeared through one of the holes in the +inaret!
'Lu*o1' ordered (aredon! 'Get inside and seal the doors!'
')hat was that2' as*ed 4allas!
'' don't *now,' said Lygris! ''t loo*s beyond this world's te&h level!'
Catain Lu*o's s$uad hauled the doors shut! %wo of his (oul Drin*ers dragged the re+ains of auditoriu+ ben&hes over
to the doors to barri&ade the+!
Chalain '*tinos too* his &ro5ius off his belt! Li*e Lu*o's lightning &laws, the &ro5ius was a ower weaon, and a blue#
white energy field leat around it! 't was a badge of offi&e as well as a weaon, toed with a bladed s*ull so that
'*tinos &ould swing it li*e a +orning star!
'' &an hear the+,' he said! '%he voi&e of the .enos &alls us out!'
(aredon &ould hear it, too! " &ra&*ling, bu55ing sound, dee and resonant, &a+e to the+ fro+ the grey s*y visible
through the &ir&ular oening in the inna&le of the +inaret! Graevus's s$uad too* u a osition in the &entre of the
basili&a around (aredon and the offi&ers! Lu*o's s$uad held the doors, ready to tear aart anything that &a+e through,
with +assed bolter fire!
(aredon loo*ed u! %he bea+s of sunlight &o+ing through the +inaret were &ut off!
%he +inaret &ollased under the weight of tens of thousands of +etalli& s&arabs! %hey tu+bled through the basili&a roof
in a tre+endous +etalli& avalan&he! (aredon barely had ti+e to rea&t before they were on hi+, +andibles &hittering as
they swar+ed over his ar+our!
(aredon yelled, and swung with his a.e, shattering a host of the s&urrying things! Beside hi+, '*tinos did the sa+e,
&learing the sa&e around hi+ with wide swees of his &ro5ius! 4allas fell to the ground, &lawing at a s&arab trying to
bore its way into his fa&e! Lygris dragged hi+ to his feet, tore the &reature off hi+ and threw it to the floor! 4allas
sta+ed on it and began blasting at the floor around hi+! %he e.losive bolter blasts shattered two or three s&arabs
ea&h, but there were always +ore, swar+ing everywhere to fill the gas!
'Fla+er front1' yelled Lu*o over the din of the &hittering &reatures! '-orn1 Burn the+1'
Brother -orn, who &arried ($uad Lu*o's fla+er, steed forwards fro+ the doors, and hosed the area in front of hi+
with li$uid fla+e! %he s&arabs &aught in the fla+e &onvulsed as whatever tiny ele&troni&s &ontrolling the+ were +elted
by the heat! %hey siralled u on burning wings li*e frag+ents of ash rising fro+ the fire!
'%hey're everywhere1' shouted (aredon! '"bandon this la&e1 3a*e for the shuttles1'
Lu*o turned to the doors his s$uad had ,ust barri&aded, and s$uared u to barge the+ oen again!
%he doors burst inwards! Lu*o was thrown off his feet beneath the +assive sheet of bron5e! " &reature swet in through
the doorway; a solid re&tangular body, longer than a (a&e 3arine was tall, hovered i+ossibly off the ground! %hi&*,
seg+ented legs &urled u underneath it, and a air of wi&*ed &rushing &laws ro,e&ted fro+ its front edge! " head was
+ounted on the front, little +ore than a slab of +etal &overed in lenses and +andibles! (&arabs swar+ed all over the
&reature! 't +anaged to be both &o+letely +e&hani&al, and wholly alien!
Brother -orn turned in ti+e to see the in&ers &losing around his head! 'nstin&tively, he blasted a lu+e of fire u
against the &reature's underside, sheathing it in billowing fla+e! %he in&ers &losed, and -orn's hel+et distorted,
eyeie&es oing out under the ressure! %he (oul Drin*er was i&*ed u off the floor, and the se&ond in&er &losed
in, &la+ing around -orn's ar+ and tearing his gun ar+ away to *ee hi+ fro+ firing!
%he +a&hine's head oened u li*e a bladed +etal flower! 3andibles ,utted out and sli&ed down into -orn's fa&e! "
robos&is un&hed out through the ba&* of -orn's s*ull, and his head burst oen in a shower of blood and +eat!
(aredon fa&ed the +a&hine! Bolter fire was already ha++ering against its ar+oured shell, but it loo*ed li*e it &ould
ta*e a lot +ore unish+ent before going down! "n aerture oened on the uer surfa&e of its abdo+en, revealing a
forge, glowing dar* red with heat, another &oule of s&arabs e+erged fro+ it to ,oin the swar+!
'Lygris1 '*tinos1 Get us another way out1 Lu*o, fall ba&* fro+ the doors1'
(aredon ran forwards, &run&hing a s&arab or two under his talons, the ".e of 3er&aeno in his hand! %he sidery
floating &reature fo&used its eye#lenses on hi+, its oti&s win*ing through a layer of -orn's blood! 't droed the (oul
Drin*er's body! Fla+e still &lung to it, driing li$uidly fro+ its legs and riling over its hull!
"startes fro+ ($uad Graevus were following (aredon towards the +a&hine, but the s&arabs were thi&* around the+,
snaring their sword ar+s and tangling around their feet! (aredon was on his own, surrounded by the s&arab swar+
with the +a&hine bearing down on hi+!
(aredon droed low, s&uttling towards the .enos +a&hine at full tilt! 't raised its &laws to grab hi+ and tear hi+ aart!
(o+ehow, there was +ali&e in that e.ressionless fa&e, in the blan* lenses and grinding +andibles!
(aredon sla++ed into it ,ust as it began to a&&elerate at hi+! Bladed ,aws sni&*ered shut ,ust over his head! He
owered u off his ba&* legs into its underside, sla++ing the ".e of 3er&aeno into its side! %he blade tore through the
+etal hull and &aught there, and (aredon grabbed with his other ar+ and ulled the beast down!
He wrestled it to the ground, for&ing it against its anti#gravity +otors onto its ba&* underneath hi+! %he legs stru&* u
at hi+, one &at&hing hi+ hard on the side of the head! (aredon's senses reeled and he &lung on out of instin&t, grabbing
a flailing +etalli& leg and hugging it &lose to *ee it fro+ riing his head off!
(aredon's head stoed sinning! %he +etal sider beneath hi+ was writhing li*e a inned inse&t, legs *i&*ing out as it
tried to right itself!
(aredon ried the a.e out of its side, and &ut to left and right, ha&*ing off one of its legs! He drove his own legs into
the ground on either side of its body, an&horing it to the floor of the basili&a! %he robos&is, li*e a bladed tongue,
snaed u at hi+, but (aredon's rea&tions outstried even the +a&hine, and he dodged ba&* out of its rea&h!
He grabbed the tongue with his free hand and ulled hard! %he +a&hine's head was for&ed ba&* towards its &hest!
(aredon loo*ed for a +o+ent into its eyes, and saw the hatred there, the arrogan&e of the soulless +a&hine, without
anything hu+an behind it!
(aredon's sto+a&h &hurned! %he +a&hine's .enos nature was as &lear as &ould be!
)ith an effort that even (aredon didn't *now he &ould +a*e, he twisted the +a&hine's head right around on its
+ountings! )ires tore and fastenings snaed! He ulled again, and the head &a+e away in its hands!
%he +etal sider &onvulsed as its +otor fun&tions went haywire! Half#for+ed s&arabs were sat fro+ its hull! 't
shuddered, its legs &urled u over its uturned body, and it was still!
(aredon saw a tide of s&arabs aroa&hing fro+ a&ross the &ity s$uare! %housands of the +a&hines for+ed a writhing
silver#bla&* &aret over the abandoned buildings! 3ore bul*y siders hovered above the+, +ultile eyes s&anning their
targets in the basili&a!
(aredon hauled the re+ains of the doors shut, and dragged the dead sider +a&hine in front of the+ as a barri&ade! He
turned to see how the (oul Drin*ers were faring behind hi+! (&arabs still &hittered everywhere, but the +ain swar+ had
been s&attered or destroyed, and the (oul Drin*ers were +oving down to the far end of the Basili&a! ($uad Graevus was
&lose, rushing to hold the doors alongside (aredon! " series of e.losions ha++ered fro+ the rear of the basili&a, and
(aredon re&ognised the reorts of e.loding *ra* grenades! Lygris had blown a hole in the rear wall of the basili&a!
'' would not li*e to have to wait for you, &o++ander,' vo.ed Lygris!
(aredon +ade for the new entran&e through whi&h Lu*o was already leading his s$uad! 4allas was with the+, bleeding
fro+ the gash on the side of his fa&e!
'"re you hurt2' as*ed 4allas!
'/o,' said (aredon! '0ou2'
4allas did not answer! He du&*ed through the hole, and followed '*tinos and Lygris after the s$uads!
Beyond the basili&a was a river, its ban*s heavy with grand buildings of govern+ent and &o++er&e! %here was
eviden&e of a battle here, too, with bullet s&ars and &law +ar*s on the walls! (aredon i+agined that the &laws had been
those of +e&hanised siders, &losing in on the &ity's leaders to but&her the+ and throw the re+ains to the s&arabs! "
bridge led a&ross the river, and ($uad Lu*o was already se&uring it! One of Lu*o's +en &arried -orn's body! 't was a
dishonour to leave a fallen brother behind, not least be&ause the gene#seed ta*en fro+ -orn's body would be used to
&reate the (oul Drin*er that would rela&e hi+!
'" lander is &o+ing down for us,' said Lygris! 'Fast troo shi! <a&*al#&lass! )e don't have +any of the+ left!'
')here are they &o+ing down2'
'%here's an orna+ental garden a&ross the river! 't's large enough for a landing 5one!'
'%hen let's +ove! (oul Drin*ers1 Cover and run, fast1'
(aredon led the way a&ross the bridge, Lu*o and Graevus using their s$uads to *ee the forward and rear areas
&overed with bolters and bolt istols! Beneath the+, the river was &ho*ed with debris!
/ot debris, bodies!!! hundreds of the+! %heir &lothes were ri&h, e+broidered togas and +ilitary unifor+s! (aredon had
seen thousands of bullet wounds in his life, and he did not see a single one on the bodies that bobbed in the filthy water!
%he dead had been shredded with blades or &hewed u by s&arab +andibles! 3any of the+ see+ed to have been
dissolved away as if by a&id, layers of their bodies e.osed by so+e for&e that eroded s*in and bone!
')e found the defenders, then,' said Lu*o blea*ly!
%he roof of the basili&a &ollased, throwing u a &loud of dust and s&arabs! %he rear wall fell in under the gouging
&laws of the siders! Lu*o's s$uad oened u with bolter fire, battering one sider ba&* and shattering the fa&e of
another! (&arabs oured out fro+ the ruined building, silling into the river and s&uttling along the bridge! One of
Lu*o's s$uad had i&*ed u -orn's fallen fla+er, and ainted the bridge behind the (oul Drin*ers with fire, in&inerating
the s&arabs as they aroa&hed!
(aredon srinted to the far end of the bridge! ($uad Graevus leat over hi+ on the e.haust blasts of their ,u+ a&*s
to land in the garden beyond! " willow tree stood at the river's edge, leaves trailing in the water, and orna+ental hedges
&ut into the shaes of fan&iful ani+als stood between flowerbeds and +osai& aths! %he flowers were all dead!
(aredon saw the &ontrails of the des&ending lander! 't was '+erial, but of an old +ar* that its forge worlds had
forgotten how to rodu&e, with a blunt brutal nose and downturned wings li*e those of a bird of rey! Hat&hes oened
u in its belly as it des&ended!
%win auto&annons +ounted on the lander's wings oened u and e.losions thundered along the bridge behind ($uad
Lu*o! Chun*s of +asonry and shattered s&arabs flew! %he bridge shuddered, but it was solidly built and would hold!
')e're &o+ing in hot1' said the vo. fro+ the (oul Drin*er iloting the lander! '8enos are &onverging fro+ everywhere1
3a*e ready for the ass1'
'How's our landing 5one, Graevus2' vo.ed (aredon!
'Clear,' &a+e the rely!
'%hen get to the gardens and hold, everyone1'
%he (oul Drin*ers vaulted over the low walls and *i&*ed through the orna+ental hedges! Fro+ the all of dust
surrounding the bridge e+erged a +etalli& sider, one of its &laws rela&ed with the barrel of a weaon that sat ar&s of
lightning as it &harged u! ($uad Lu*o studded its hull with bolter fire, but it held fir+, and fired!
" bolt of green lightning lan&ed out fro+ the sider's gun, hitting the ground ,ust behind (aredon! (oul Drin*ers were
thrown off their feet, and earth showered down fro+ the i+a&t!
'ts se&ond shot went high, strea*ing through the wing of the lander! %he &raft stayed airborne, but only ,ust, swinging
re&ariously as air rushed through the hole in its wing!
Graevus didn't wait for the order! He hurtled over (aredon, ower a.e high, ready to stri*e! %he ,ets of his ,u+ a&*
&ut out and he landed right on to of the sider! His ower a.e sheared the lightning weaon &lean off the sider, and it
rounded on hi+, its re+aining foreli+b snaing oen ready to sli&e his head off!
"nother of his s$uad landed beside it, and drove his &hainsword into the sider's side, where one of its legs +et the hull!
%he +a&hine fli&*ed a foreleg, throwing the (oul Drin*er off in a shower of sar*s, but the rest of Graevus's s$uad was
&lose behind hi+, and suddenly the +a&hine was surrounded! %he (oul Drin*ers duelled with the +a&hine, turning its
thrashing li+bs aside with their &hainswords, until Graevus rolled underneath, driving his a.e into its underside so hard
that the +a&hine's anti#grav units were wre&*ed and it floed down on to of hi+!
Graevus's +en hauled the +a&hine to the side of the bridge and ushed it off! %hey dragged Graevus to his feet, and fell
ba&* as the tide of s&arabs &losed in on the+ through the dust and rubble!
%he lander's engines roared overhead! %he &raft &a+e in over the gardens and hovered, lowering itself so that the grab#
rails around its hat&h were within rea&h of the (oul Drin*ers! 4allas and ($uad Lu*o &la+bered u into the &raft,
followed by '*tinos and Lygris! ($uad Graevus srinted for the lander, and (aredon ,oined the+, leaing u into the
belly of the &raft as the last of ($uad Graevus +ade it on board!
%he ground beneath gave way ,ust as (aredon's talons left it! " blast of infernally hot air ha++ered u at the lander,
and it rose u on the swell! (aredon's hand &losed on the grab#rail! Beneath hi+, the gardens fell inwards, revealing a
great hollow of bla&* earth that swallowed the stands of trees and toiary hedges that re+ained!
"s if fro+ a nest of inse&ts torn oen, s&arabs swar+ed in the unearthed warren! (ider#+a&hines s$uatted a+ongst
the+, birthing new s&arabs fro+ their inner forges!
(ergeant Graevus's +utated hand grabbed (aredon's wrist, and, with its unnatural strength, hauled hi+ u into the
lander's belly! %he hat&h sla++ed shut below hi+!
'%a*e us ba&*,' said (aredon, 'fast1'
%he lander tied u onto its stern and fired its +ain engines! 't ro&*eted u towards the allid s*y! (aredon saw that
the ilot was (&a+ander, the young sy*er, who was the only re&ruit into the Chater's Librariu+ sin&e (aredon had
assu+ed &o++and!
')hat was it2' as*ed '*tinos! ')hat for&e has ta*en this world2'
(aredon had no answer to give!
%he lander tore through the thi&* &loud &over, leaving the dead &ity behind!
'%he only ene+y worth your ad+iration is one who has a&&eted the sueriority of +an*ind and *nelt before you to be
e.e&uted! "ll others are to be desised! Honour +eans nothing when it is used to oose the E+eror's will!'
# Daenyathos, /otes on the Cate&his+s 3artial
"RCH3"GO( -O"R H"D seen the readouts on the bridge, but, in truth, he did not believe the+! 4erhas that was
,ust what he told hi+self, and the truth was really that he wanted to see the ano+alies with his own eyes! )hen the last
hu+an arts of hi+ had been rela&ed with the +a&hine, su&h +o+ents of wea*ness would not lague hi+ any +ore!
%he observatory on the "ntithesis filled a do+e blistered u fro+ the shi's uer hull! "n array of brass#&ased
teles&oes, &arefully ins&ribed with binary rayers of a&&ura&y, and flawlessness, ,utted out fro+ the observatory do+e!
%he inside of the do+e was fres&oed with i+ages of great dis&overies, li*e 3agos Land un&overing lost (%C frag+ents
and %e&h#4riest Gurvann stu+bling uon the rin&iles of .enos#se&ifi& neuroto.ins! 't was a la&e of refle&tion and
insiration! 3agos -oar rarely er+itted anyone else to enter it!
-oar +ur+ured a rayer to the teles&oe's +a&hine#sirit and loo*ed into the eyeie&e! %he ob,e&t of the strange
readings on the bridge hovered in front of hi+, glowing dar*ly in the light refle&ted fro+ a distant star!
't was a world, but it was not a world! 't was rather s+aller than %erran standard, but ossessed a gravity far higher than
its si5e suggested, a susi&ious sign if ever there was one! 'ts surfa&e was as s+ooth and olished as an orna+ental
s*ull, and it had no olar &as or te&toni& &anyons, not even +eteorite &raters, whi&h +ade no sense given its la&* of
at+oshere!
%he strangest feature of the lanet, however, was that it was not alone! %wo others orbited the sa+e star, re&isely
e$uidistant! %hey were of the sa+e si5e and +ass! %hey +oved, and even sun on their a.es, at the sa+e rate! %hey
&ould not be a natural heno+enon! /ot even +illions of years of &onstant gravity &ould rodu&e su&h a solar syste+!
'(ensoriu+,' vo.ed -oar! 'Can we be sure the (oul Drin*ers assed this way2'
')e've ,ust i&*ed u a las+a tra&e,' &a+e the rely fro+ the bridge library! '%he hul* droed out of the war in the
outer syste+ and headed for the inner worlds! 't was still venting las+a, so it wasn't hard to follow!'
'Have we found it2'
')e're sear&hing the inner worlds! 'f they're in orbit around a lanet, they'll ta*e a little longer to find!'
'Good! )hat do we have on the three outer worlds2'
'/othing new! %he Fleet 3inor is sending two s&outs on a flyby of the nearest one!'
'%hat is your se&ond riority after finding the hul*!'
'0es, ar&h+agos! %he first s&out is aroa&hing sensor range now!'
-oar held u his left inde. finger, and a dat#arobe e+erged fro+ the ti! He inserted it into a so&*et on the side of the
teles&oe housing and interfa&ed with the sensors of the "ntithesis! He felt, for a +o+ent, the fleet around it, the bul*y
resen&e of the Constant and Ferrous, the shae of the Defen&e of Caelano 3inoris with its hotsots of energy, and the
sensor#heavy shoal of the Fleet 3inor! He &aught two flitting shaes that had bro*en off fro+ the fleet and were looing
into &lose orbit around the +assive dead resen&e of the lanet! -oar +entally &o++anded the teles&oe to fo&us on the
first shi! %he teles&oe whirred around on &lo&*wor* gears to fo&us on the tiny glowing dart!
-oar withdrew the robe and loo*ed ba&* into the eyeie&e! %he s&out shi was fast and agile, its slender body loaded
with sensor gear! 'ts s+all &rew was elite, trained by 3agos 9hrul in hostile environ+ent oerations!
'9hrul here,' &a+e the vo. fro+ "s&leian Ga++a, the shi that 9hrul &o++anded!
')hat &an you tell +e, +agos2'
'3ostly +etalli& &rust,' said 9hrul! '/o at+oshere!'
'/o at+oshere, or +ini+al2'
'/one!'
%hat was strange! " world of that si5e should have attra&ted at least a thin veil of gases around itself! '"ny energy2'
'/othing geother+al,' relied 9hrul! Even a&ross the vo. the heavy artifi&ial nature of his voi&e, ied through his
hostile environ+ent &hassis, was grating!
'%a*e the+ in &loser!'
'0es, ar&h+agos!'
%he first &raft looed further downwards, the se&ond &raft siralling around it in a double heli. dive!
')ait,' said 9hrul, '''+ syn&ing the &rews' vo.!'
'"r&h+agos1 %his is Observator (e&undus 3alian,' said a fe+ale voi&e over the vo.! -oar *new that she was nestled in
the &ra+ed observatory station of her -eriti.#&lass s&out shi, +a*ing sense of the +asses of data iing in through
the &raft's sensors, while the ilot &rew brought the shi in towards the lanet!
')hat &an you see, observator2' as*ed -oar!
''t's!!! 't's featureless! (+ooth!'
'' &an see that!'
'/ot ,ust visually! 't doesn't even have +agneti& oles or a radiation signature! 't's totally inert!'
'%hen it is not natural!'
'%hat is not a &on&lusion for +e to draw, ar&h+agos!'
-oar wat&hed the two shis droing in to s*i+ the surfa&e, so low that their hulls should have been glowing with the
heat of re#entry!
'' have a surfa&e feature,' said 3alian's voi&e! " blurry i+age, ,uddering as the s&out &raft's &ogitator struggled to
&o+ensate for its seed, aeared on one of the i&t s&reens in front of -oar! 't was a ,agged greenish shae!
'Loo*s li*e a &rystal out&ro! 't wasn't there a +o+ent ago!'
''t is rea&ting to your resen&e,' said -oar! '3agos 9hrul, withdraw your#'
'4ower si*e1 (o+ething's lit u down there1 (yste+s!!! (yste+s down1 )e're blind1' "lar+s sounded as 3alian so*e!
'Our ilot's ta*ing#'
%win e+erald#green lan&es of light un&hed u through the lanet's &rust! 3alian's voi&e was &ut off +id#syllable,
rela&ed with a howl of stati& as the s&out &raft's vo.#net was overloaded, and then silen&e!
Both s&out &raft had been vaorised in an instant! "ll that re+ained of the+ were uffs of glittering +etal dust
dissiating over the lanet's ale surfa&e!
')hat was that2' snaed -oar! '"ll shis, battle stations1'
'3assive energy si*e,' said 9hrul's voi&e, al+ost drowned out by the sudden bursts of &hatter over the vo.! ''t &a+e
fro+ beneath the surfa&e! Fleet 3inor ulling ba&*!!!'
" slab of &rust the si5e of an island was thrown off the lanet's surfa&e, trailing &hun*s of bro*en ro&*! Beneath it
glinted dull silver and +etalli& green#brown li*e &orroded bron5e! Fro+ its hiding la&e e+erged a sa&eshi the si5e of
a &ruiser, shaed li*e a &res&ent +oon, with a towering yra+id a+idshis studded with green lights! %he tis of the
&res&ent housed ro,e&tor weaons that were already glowing si&*ly green as they re&harged!
'Evasive a&tion, all &raft,' ordered -oar! 'Constant, fire at will1'
%he ene+y shi was of a design that -oar had never seen! "liens, thought -oar oisonously! Heathens! Corrutors of
the +a&hine!
'3ore of the+,' &a+e a vo. fro+ the bridge of the "ntithesis! '%hree +ore, at least! One fro+ the &losest world, two
fro+ the ne.t! %here's a huge ower si*e on the third!'
'''+ lined u for a shot,' said 3agos Hesebah's fro+ the Constant!
'%a*e it,' said -oar!
%he nova &annon on the row of the Constant was wreathed in &oils of suerheated gas as it &harged! %he e+erging
.enos shi see+ed aware of the threat, rotating raidly with +ain engines flaring to ush it out of the weaon's ath!
Chun*s of ,ettisoned surfa&e &lattered off it as its bul* shifted sideways, but it was too large for $ui&* or subtle
+anoeuvres!
%he nova &annon fired! %he Constant's engines fired to &o+ensate for the i++ense re&oil! %he ro,e&tile was hurled
fro+ the barrel, strea*ing towards the alien shi on a &olu+n of burning light!
%he shot sla++ed into the uer hull of the &res&ent shi! %he energy of the blast flashed so bright the &raft was li*e a
se&ond sun, the nova &annon's ower dis&harging in every dire&tion at on&e!
Every dire&tion save into the &raft! )hen the glare died down, the &res&ent shi was inta&t; its uer surfa&e was
s&or&hed and studded with fires, but it didn't loo* li*e it had suffered any serious da+age!
%he &res&ent shi fired, twin lan&es of green light laying a&ross sa&e!
')hat is it firing at2' de+anded -oar! '/avigation, get +e reverse targeting solutions and ut us on evasive1'
"lerts flared, ro,e&ted onto the teles&oe's lens! %he dis&harge of ower was enor+ous! %he '+erial /avy didn't have
energy weaons that &ould &o+are to those oening u on the .enos &raft!
'9hrul here1' &a+e a vo. fro+ the "s&leian ($uadron! 3agos 9hrul's heavy +etalli& voi&e had enough alar+ in it to
re+ind -oar that none of the+ were free of their hu+an wea*nesses! ')e're being targeted1 %hose were sighting shots1
''+ utting us on full evasive, all ower to the engines1'
%he .enos &raft fired again! "s&leian Ga++a disaeared in a flash of violent green light!
Over the oen vo.#&hannel, -oar heard 3agos 9hrul dying, and there was ,ust enough ti+e for the +agos to s&rea+
before the sound was wied out in a howling gale of stati&!
-oar's hu+an +ind wanted to reel with the suddenness of the atta&*, to stu+ble out of the observatory and see* sola&e,
but that art of hi+ would not win out this day! E+otional suressant &ir&uits fired and logi& i+lants too* the strain!
'Brea* for+ation1' ordered -oar! '/avigation, set a rally oint! "ll &raft into the war, full evasive1'
On the bridge, the navigation &rew hurriedly set a lo&ation nearby to whi&h the fleet &ould ,u+ through the war and
re#e+erge to regrou, hoefully without the .enos following the+!
-oar went ba&* to the teles&oe! %he &res&ent shi was raid#firing, sitting fat bolts of green energy that detonated
a+ong the shis of the Fleet 3inor, and sent its tiny burning &raft siralling through the void! -oar tried to as&ertain
what .enos ra&e +ight be flying the ene+y shi! Eldar shis were slee*, deli&ate and gra&eful, with sails that billowed
on solar winds! Or* &raft were barely sa&e#worthy &olle&tions of ,un* and salvage! De+iurg fa&tory#shis were sto&*y,
brutal, ugly things that see+ed too unwieldy even for the va&uu+! %he shis of Chaos were &orruted or an&ient
versions of the /avy's shis, of debased but re&ognisably hu+an design! -oar had seen the+ all, but the ene+y was not
a+ong the+! %his was not an ene+y he *new! He was fighting blind and ignorant!
-oar ordered the teles&oe to fo&us on the furthest of the three dead lanets, where the biggest ower si*e had been
dete&ted! %he ale surfa&e was blurry for a few +o+ents as the teles&oe fo&used; then its +a&hine#sirit found its
length and the lanet shi++ered into view!
Dee &ra&*s were sidering its surfa&e! Chun*s of the &rust, li*e frag+ents of an eggshell, were fla*ing away into
sa&e! Greenish light ulsed below!
" &ir&ular +ountain range, li*e a &rown of white stone, was for&ed u! 'ts &entre for+ed a dee &rater that &ollased,
and green light flooded out! 't loo*ed li*e a great green eye had oened u, as if the lanet was &o+ing alive to loo*
uon the 3e&hani&us shis as tresassers!
" huge dar* shae for&ed its way out of the third lanet! 't too was built of &res&ents, +any of the+, arranged around a
&entral sire so that the whole &raft rese+bled an enor+ous steel &law! 't was festooned with guns and lights, and
surrounded by s+aller &raft that flitted around it li*e inse&ts over a &orse! %he &entral sire flared wide towards the
stern and barely &ontained a raging furna&e of e+erald and &ri+son fire, an oen rea&tor that bled ower out into sa&e!
(trea+s of that ower whied out of the rea&tor into long trails looing around the i++ense &raft, and where they
tou&hed the shi's weaons they filled u with fire and glowed ainfully bright against the void!
't was the si5e of a battleshi! Larger! 't was raging with ower! 't was the +ost aweso+e and terrible sight that -oar
had ever seen! His logi& &ir&uits were at &aa&ity, for&ing his +ind to &ontain what he was seeing and not be rendered
du+bstru&* by it!
'Rally oint set1' said a vo. fro+ navigation!
'"ll &raft, ,u+1' ordered -oar!
%HE "/%'%HE('( L6RCHED, its gravity swinging out of *ilter as the war engines a&&elerated it through the bounds
of reality! %he Constant followed it, Hesebah relu&tantly turning away fro+ its target even as the nova &annon
re&harged! %he orhaned shis of the "s&leian ($uadron, then the Ferrous and the Defen&e, for&ed their way through
bla&* rents in real sa&e! %he Fleet 3inor, those sared the fire of the first ene+y shi, shifted into the war behind
the+! " few stragglers were left behind, thrown out of the wa*e of the larger shis! %he &res&ent shi &losed in greedily,
and i&*ed the+ off one by one with blasts of energy!
%he .enos fleet, te+orarily free of intruders, gathered on the outs*irts of the syste+! 't asse+bled around the i++ense
+other shi, the s+aller &raft su&*ling on the ower flooding out of it!
'ts drones flitted around the e&hoes of the rift oened by the 3e&hani&us fleet's war engines!
%here was ,ust a tra&e there of the interloers, a s&ent of the new ra&es, the ustarts who dared tresass uon sa&red
worlds!
%he fleet did not need to hunt the+ down! %he interloers &ould not es&ae! )ith a thought, the eyes of the -eiled
Region began to oen!
4"LL"( C"REF6LL0 4R'(ED the &hitin of (aredon's left rear leg aart and used a air of for&es to re+ove the
&rushed re+ains of a s&arab! He droed it into a +edi&al waste &ontainer on the floor of the si&* bay beside hi+! %he
si&* bay had served the (oul Drin*ers as an aothe&arion for a long ti+e, and was full of the e$ui+ent the Chater had
salvaged fro+ elsewhere in the hul*, or fro+ the fleet they had s&uttled when they first bro*e with the '+eriu+:
autosurgeon units fi.ed to the &eiling, nutrient tan*s, transfusion units, ra&*s of +edi&ines and sulies, and even
&utting gear and other basi& tools for wor*ing on da+aged bioni&s!
(aredon win&ed! His abnor+al legs were e.tre+ely tough, but ain was ain!
'%his will heal,' said 4allas, starting to seal the in&ision in the tough sheath of &hitin with a +edi&al laser! He indi&ated
the +angled s&arab in the waste &ontainer! '6nli*e that!'
(aredon's wounds had not been serious, a +inor s*ull fra&ture and the usual &uts and i+a&t wounds! "s a (a&e
3arine, he would heal the+ all naturally! "othe&ary 4allas, however, was s*illed at a&&elerating the ro&ess! 3ost of
the (oul Drin*ers that fought at the abandoned &ity had assed through the aothe&arion! (aredon was the last!
'' a+ glad that you re+ained with us, brother,' said (aredon! 't was the first ti+e that (aredon had dis&ussed the
events of the Chater )ar with 4allas!
4allas loo*ed u at hi+! '3y Chater is +y Chater! ' +ade a +ista*e, true, but only a &oward would not try to ut that
right!'
'0ou had good reasons, 4allas! " +ista*e it was, but ' understand it!'
'0ou understand trea&hery2' 4allas loo*ed al+ost offended by the suggestion!
'' have failed this Chater +any ti+es! ' led us to the edge of our destru&tion! %he old Chater would never have
forgiven you, it is &ertain, but we are not the old Chater any +ore and you are still +y battle#brother!'
'"nd ' *now now that we will &ontinue to die as long as we turn fro+ the '+eriu+'s fold! 't is the ri&e we ay for our
freedo+! )hen ' had to see the dead and wounded fro+ every one of your new dawns, ' forgot that! ' will not forget it
again!'
%he laser si55led against the &hitin, and the wound was &losed! (aredon had re+oved his ar+our for the ro&edure, and
the new s&ar on his leg was ,ust one of +any, fro+ the surgi&al s&ars fro+ his transfor+ation into a (a&e 3arine to
horrible wounds suffered in the First and (e&ond Chater )ars and everything that had haened in between! (aredon
had &o+e erilously &lose to death so +any ti+es that his lu&* was surely due to run out, every &lose &all ti&*ed off in a
snarl of s&ar tissue!
')e all need to re+e+ber it,' said (aredon! '%o shy away fro+ following the right ath be&ause it will &ost the lives of
+y brothers is to let in the doubt that has led +any an "startes to fall! 't is a narrow ath to wal*, between wasting +y
battle#brothers' lives and ba&*ing away when a vi&tory is there to be won!'
4allas &leaned u the wound!
''t is one that ' do not believe ' &ould wal*,' he said! ')hi&h is why ' serve as a sawbones and not as a leader!'
''f you did,' said (aredon, 'if fate had ut you in &o++and instead of +e, what would you do2'
4allas loo*ed u fro+ the wound! 'Fate did not ut +e in &harge, (aredon!'
''+agine it did!'
''+agination is not a $uality be&o+ing to an "startes!'
(aredon's vo. &hired!
'Co++ander,' said Lygris's voi&e, '' need you on the bridge!'
'0ou are &lear to go,' said 4allas!
(aredon fle.ed his reaired leg! 't hurt, but it was a good ain! He loo*ed down at the s&arab 4allas had ulled fro+
his leg!
'Destroy that,' he said!
'0es, &o++ander! "nd!!!'
(aredon aused as he went to leave! '0es, "othe&ary2'
'' would not surrender to the 3e&hani&us! 'f ' was leading us, ' would not let the+ ta*e us to so+e forge world for a
show trial! ' would die first, and +y battle#brothers along with +e! %hat is what ' i+agine!'
'Good,' said (aredon, and left!
%HE 3ECH"/'C6( FLEE% had +ade its war ,u+ with +ini+al lanning and no rearation, so in interstellar
ter+s it had only travelled a short distan&e through the -eiled Region!
%he first tas* had been to &ount the dead: 3agos 9hrul and the three hundred +en on board the "s&leian Ga++a,
several hundred a+ong the Fleet 3inor, and the usual handful of &asualties a+ong the +enials in the engine roo+s and
ar+ing &ha+ber of the Constant!
%he "s&leian Ga++a had been rather +ore than nine hundred years old, a fine &raft built a&&ording to rin&iles that
were slowly being lost by the shiwrights of the 3e&hani&us! %he s$uadron was flying one short for the first ti+e in its
history! 'ts +a&hine#sirit had been bright and aggressive, and it +ade for a tightly run, effi&ient shi! /ow, it was gone
forever! " great tragedy had o&&urred with the loss of that sirit, for su&h a thing &ould never be rela&ed! %he se&ond
tas* was to +ourn it! 'n&ense &andles burned in ools of +a&hine oil, and devotional engines &hattered eulogies in
+a&hine#&ode! %e&h#riests led the +enials in rayers!
%he third tas* was to find out ,ust what had atta&*ed the+!
"r&h+agos -oar ored through yet another volu+e fro+ the shelves of the "ntithesis's bridge library! %he ene+y had
been .enos, there was no doubt about that, but that hardly did +u&h to narrow it down! (everal thousand alien se&ies
had been en&ountered in hostile &ir&u+stan&es sin&e the 3e&hani&us re&ords began, and tens of thousands +ore had
been re&orded fro+ afar! )hat was +ore, &reatures native to the -eiled Region were unli*ely to be re&orded, given the
la&* of *nowledge about the area!
-oar hauled another volu+e fro+ the shelves and la&ed it on the reading table in front of hi+! 't des&ribed the travels
of a rogue trader, whose adventures had seen hi+ s*irt the edge of the -eiled Region before he had headed out to the
western edge of the gala.y! One of -oar's eyes oened u and a line of green light was ro,e&ted onto the oen age!
%wo of his fingers slit into +etal ar+atures that fli&*ed the ages of the boo* at blurring seed as the s&anner built into
his eye swet a&ross the words written there! 4ages of High Gothi& writing strea+ed into the logi& engine i+lanted
behind his te+le and sat ar&els of relevant, filtered infor+ation into his &ons&iousness!
%here were a few en&ounters with greens*in irates, a ra&e of sluggish, ri+itive &reatures on a dying world, and a few
.enos +er&enaries and traders, oerating in the lawless barrens of sarsely oulated '+erial sa&e, but nothing
relevant!
" le&tern#servitor trundled around the &orner! %he servitor had on&e been a +enial, serving on one of the fleet's &raft
before it had suffered a &riling wound and been turned into a +ore useful +a&hine! 'ts sine was bent over and its
ba&* +ade level to serve as a stand for boo*s, while its lengthened ar+s &arried a sta&* of volu+es it had i&*ed out
a&&ording to the si+le logi& routines burned into what re+ained of its brain! %he boo* lying oen on its ba&* was an
a&&ount of a battle fought by the "deta (ororitas!
%he servitor was a&&o+anied by one of the bridge te&h#riests! " hundred of the+ were wor*ing on the roble+ at
that +o+ent, sear&hing through the shelves for hints at the identity of the .enos that had nearly shattered the
3e&hani&us fleet in a single engage+ent!
'%his +ay be of use,' said the te&h#riest!
'"nything else2'
'/ot in all the library, ar&h+agos! %he se+anti& engines have finished their wor*!'
-oar turned his s&anner eye to the to+e the servitor &arried! 't was another +inor engage+ent where so+e ious
'+erial servants had stu+bled a&ross hostile aliens and fought for their survival! %he world was *nown as (an&tuary
=>=, and the (isters of Battle, the +ilitary ar+ of the "deta (ororitas, had fought valiantly against a tena&ious foe!
%hey had also seen a shae in the s*y, awo*en by the alien warriors that had stor+ed the &hael they had defended! 't
was the last sight +any of the+ had seen!
't was a &res&ent, hanging bla&* against the s*y!
-oar fro5e his s&anner and ba&*ed u a few ages! His logi& engines sifted through the infor+ation again, filtering
wider and wider until -oar *new all the ertinent details!
He had it! %he '+eriu+ had en&ountered this foe before, not fre$uently, and rarely with enough insight to understand
it, but at least -oar was no longer fighting &o+letely in the dar*!
%he O+nissiah had s+iled uon "r&h+agos -oar, be&ause now the ene+y had a na+e!
%HE BRO9E/B"C9 3"DE its third war ,u+! %here had been little to ,ustify e.loring the revious world with its
abandoned, +a&hine#infested &ities! Fro+ orbit around it, however, Lygris had lo&ated another nearby solar syste+ ,ust
visible to the hul*'s sensors through the surrounding nebulae! 't was &lose enough for a &ivilisation li*e that of the dead
&ity to have &olonised, and, now that the Bro*enba&* was in orbit around the new syste+'s fifth lanet, it was aarent
that Lygris's instin&t had been good!
%he lanet dei&ted on the bridge holo#ro,e&tor was a beautiful green earl, shining in the light of its sun! Endless
forests rolled a&ross its surfa&e, fro+ fro5en &oniferous valleys around its oles to troi&al swa+s and rainforests
around the e$uator! 'nstead of o&eans, it had thousands of rivers, weaving a&ross its surfa&e!
'%he i+age is good! -ery little &loud,' said Lygris! ''t's a long#range s&an, but there's lenty of infor+ation! Here!'
Lygris fiddled with the data#slate in his hand, and the i+age 5oo+ed in to show a low#resolution se&tion of the endless
forest!
'%hat,' said Lygris, 'is not natural!'
%hey saw a stru&ture as straight as a ruler stret&hing a&ross several *ilo+etres of forest!
')hat is it2' as*ed (aredon!
'"n a$uedu&t,' said Lygris! 'Or +aybe a raised highway!'
'(o there's habitation there2'
'Definitely /ot +u&h, though, &ertainly not by the standards of the &ivilisation that settled it! )e'd e.e&t to see signs of
agri&ulture, +ass forest &learing and &ities! (o+eti+es &ultures in the earlier stages of sa&e e.loration set aside a
world for their ruling &lasses, a garden world, to be left unsoiled!'
'Hu+an2'
'%he s&ale's right! Otherwise it's i+ossible to tell!'
''t +ay be another .enos lair,' said (aredon!
'Or,' said Chalain '*tinos, who had been su++oned to the bridge along with (aredon, 'it &ould be a holdout against
the aliens! Certainly the revious world was hu+an! 'f this one is, hu+ans +ay still be there!'
'Can we +a*e it there2' as*ed (aredon!
'%here, yes,' said Lygris! '"nywhere afterwards2 %hat is debatable! ' &an for&e everything out of the rea&tors and we &an
robably get a fourth ,u+ out of the+ rovided it isn't too far! %hen ' fear we will be running on e+ty!'
'Better to ris* what we have,' said '*tinos, 'than to a&&et the &ertainty of failure!'
'' agree,' said (aredon, 'but ' a+ not going down there e.e&ting anything other than a hostile re&etion! Full battle
order this ti+e! How +any %hunderhaw*s do we have oerational2'
'%hree,' said Lygris! He had rendered the Bro*enba&*'s %hunderhaw* gunshis inoerable at -an$ualis to hel s&uer
Eu+enes's rebellion! 'n an a&t of enan&e, he had begun reairs on the+ ersonally!
'''+ ta*ing a &o+any#strength for&e down there! 't's as +any battle#brothers as we &an sare, but ' will not be
outnu+bered by whatever we find down there! Bring together what you &an to &arry the+!'
'0es, &o++ander!'
'"nd '*tinos2'
'Co++ander2'
'4reare the +en's souls to battle the .enos!'
''t shall be done!'
'Do not forget,' said Lygris &arefully, 'that we are not here to fight aliens! )e are here to find fuel for the rea&tors and
get out as easily as ossible!'
'%he ene+y had the better of us at the grey &ity,' relied (aredon! '%hey will not do it twi&e!'
"RCH3"GO( -O"R H"D &leared out a se&tion of the bridge library! %he boo*&ases around hi+ were aered with
ages ta*en fro+ boo*s, &oies of diagra+s and *ey assages, hundreds of the+! %he whole bridge &rew had been sent
hunting it all down a&&ording to -oar's orders! %he in&ident at (an&tuary =>= had been the *ey to unlo&*ing it all!
%he O+nissiah had given -oar all the &lues he needed! "s a servant of the 3a&hine#God, -oar had dutifully followed
the+ to their &on&lusion!
-oar sat at the reading des* surrounded by oen boo*s and blin*ing data#slates! He loo*ed u as the +agi entered the
san&tu+ he had &reated!
't went unso*en that 9hrul was not with the+, but none of the+ &ould ignore his absen&e!
'"r&h+agos, why have you &alled us here2' as*ed 3agos -ionel, whose lu+bering body barely fit between the
boo*&ases of the ar&hive!
'3y gun &rew +ust be suervised in its re#&alibrations,' said Hesebah as tersely as anyone would dare when addressing
an ar&h+agos, 'and we all have reair rites to erfor+!'
'%his is our ene+y,' relied -oar! He stood u with a whirr of servos! )ith a +ind i+ulse signal, a holo#ro,e&tor
hidden a+ong the high shadowy rafters fli&*ered into life! Di+ glow#globes died down, and the only light was &o+ing
fro+ the holo!
't shone fro+ the wide eyes of a wo+an! (he was young and terrified! Her hair was shorn &lose, and she wore a
shaeless white robe e+broidered with golden roses! %he i+age was grainy and ,u+bled, distorted with artefa&ts and
+e+ory flaws!
'%his i+age,' said -oar, 'is one of the few re&ords we have of this .enos se&ies! 't was &onsidered useless by the
"deta (ororitas when they re&overed it! %hey did not have the verise. units that allowed us to enhan&e it!'
%he i+age shuddered into life! %he wo+an in the i+age loo*ed nervously u at so+eone off#s&reen!
'%a*e this,' said a strident wo+an's voi&e! '(o+eone +ust *now!'
%he young wo+an stared du+bly into the lens of the i&ter! %he i+age shifted forwards as the i&ter was ushed into
her hands!
'' don't *now how,' said the younger wo+an, her voi&e thin and tre+bling!
%he i&ter swung, and the other wo+an &a+e into shot! (he wore red ar+our tri++ed with gold: ower ar+our, with
bul*y shoulder ads ins&ribed with golden wings and a heavy ba&*a&* &arrying the ar+our's ower sour&e! 'n her
hands was a bolt gun! Even without the old s&ar slitting her li and the re&onstru&ted ,aw, she would have worn every
one of her battles a&ross her fa&e!
'' a+ (ister Orheia of the Order of the Gilded %horn,' she said! '(even +onths ago, ground was bro*en on a new ho+e
for our order! (an&tuary =>=!'
%he younger wo+an holding the i&ter fiddled with the fo&us and the i+age ,u+ed again, ulling away fro+ Orheia!
%he interior of a half#built &athedral was visible behind the wo+an! 3ost of the roof was +issing, s&affolding &ladding
the fluted &olu+ns and heas of &onstru&tion +aterials lying everywhere on alettes! %he altar was finished, an i+age
of the ar+oured E+eror enthroned above si. sisters standing guard on a bed of golden roses! Do5ens of sisters *nelt
before the altar, +any of the+ ar+oured, others wearing the robes and habits of the non#+ilitary Orders!
'%welve hours ago, the ene+y brea&hed our eri+eters! 't &a+e fro+ below the ground! 't was waiting for us! " world
&onse&rated to the E+eror +ust suffer no .enos to befoul its surfa&e, and we will defend it to the death! %hese are the
duties to whi&h our lives &o+e se&ond!'
" distant e.losion sounded, and the holo fli&*ered as the i&ter was sha*en! %he young sister gased! (hards of
+asonry fell!
''t's a tan*1' shouted one of the sisters standing guard at a window that had been hurriedly fortified with sandbags! ''t's
the si5e of the &hael1'
One of the sisters before the altar stood u! " &loa* tri++ed with er+ine hung fro+ her shoulders, and her fa&e was
studded with golden thorns: a &anoness of the Order!
'(isters Retributor1' she yelled! 'Cleanse it with fire1'
(ister Orheia shouldered her bolter, and i&*ed u a weaon that had been out of shot at her feet! 't was a +ulti#+elta,
a twin#barrelled weaon al+ost as big as Orheia herself, &onne&ted to her ba&*a&* by an ar+oured hose! %he +etal of
its barrels was heavily s&or&hed by years of intense heat! Orheia atted the gun affe&tionately!
'%his,' she said, 'is the wages of sin!'
Orheia ran to the barri&aded window, and the sister with the i&ter followed her! "n enor+ous bla&* shae, a slab of
dar*ness with a halo of green lightning &ra&*ling around it, &ould ,ust be seen through the gas in the half#built walls! 't
was still far away, but it already loo+ed larger than the &athedral! 't was enor+ous!
%he sisters were ta*ing &over! %he &anoness stood in the &entre of the &athedral, defying the ene+y to dare ta*e its best
shot!
" bolt of green lightning &rashed through the wall! (isters were thrown off their feet! %he i&ter shuddered violently,
and the sister holding it fell down, the i+age shifting wildly as it fell on its side! "nother sister rolled a&ross the floor,
wreathed in green fire! %he sla+ of the lightning e&hoed along with the s&rea+s of the wounded!
'Oen fire1' so+eone yelled!
%he (isters Retributor at the window were silhouetted in the fury of the fireower they oured towards the shae! "
heavy bolter ha++ered! Ro&*ets strea+ed, sending lu+es of e.haust shooting ba&* into the &athedral! Orheia's
+ulti+elta &harged for a +o+ent before firing a tre+endous bea+ of red#white heat that see+ed to sear reality itself!
%he i+age bro*e u as gunfire &o+eted with stati& to &reate an i+enetrable din! 't was i+ossible to +a*e out any
&oheren&e a+ong the ,u+ble of i+ages! %he sisters were lit by gunfire! (indly shaes &la+bered in through the
windows! %he Canoness was on the ground, a hand &la+ed over a wound in her abdo+en, yelling orders!
%he i+age was +oving! %he wo+an &arrying the i&ter was running through the shadowy, half#built &hael! (he
e+erged outside, into the harsh sun of (an&tuary =>=!
'3ove it1 Fall ba&*1' shouted so+eone! 't was a wo+an again, another soldier! '%hey've ta*en the &loisters1 Get to the
+ausoleu+1'
%he i+age bro*e u and &hanged, strea*ed with stati&! %he holo showed the blood#strea*ed fa&e of a wo+an: (ister
Orheia! %he i&ter was on her &hest and she was being &arried on a stret&her! One side of her fa&e was raw and bloody!
't loo*ed li*e the s*in of her fa&e had been stried away, layer by layer, right down to the bone! "+ong the sisters
&arrying her was the young novi&e that had ta*en the i+ages fro+ the &hael! %he i&ter was forgotten as it &ontinued to
re&ord fro+ the stret&her where it had been droed!
3ore gunfire! Orheia was being &arried in a &olu+n of sisters +oving fro+ the &athedral, whi&h was a burning wre&*!
Dar* shaes, li*e tall buildings loo+ing over the &athedral, were ,ust visible for a handful of fra+es! (indly shaes,
s*eletal and half#seen, &la+bered through the ruins! 't was i+ossible to +a*e out any +ore details of the .enos that
had &o+e to (an&tuary =>=!
Orheia was turned around, and the view swet over a graveyard &overed in eagle#shaed +ar*ers &o++e+orating the
lost sisters of the Gilded %horn, surrounding a grand +ausoleu+ to so+e heroine of the Order! (isters were already
ta*ing u firing ositions a+ong the stones! 3any of the+ were bloody and wounded, &hun*s of their ar+our stried
away!
Green fire fell fro+ the s*y, fat searing bolts of it! %he sisters &arrying the stret&her droed it and too* &over! Orheia
fell to the ground and the i&ter rolled off her!
Lying on its side, the i&ter's i+age showed a headstone and a stret&h of (an&tuary =>='s s*y! %he younger wo+an
slu+ed against the headstone! Her novi&e's robes were on fire, fla+ing green! Her eyes were wide with sho&* and
ain! Her fa&e distorted as layers of robe, and then s*in, lifted off the side of her fa&e and shoulder! Red, wet +us&le
glea+ed beneath, and +en bone, as she was flayed away by the tongues of green fla+e! (he s&rea+ed, the sound lost in
stati&, and rolled onto the ground out of fra+e!
" dar* shae hung in the s*y above, li*e a &res&ent +oon, but bla&*!
%he i+age fro5e! %he glow#globes rose again, and the i+age be&a+e di+!
-oar steed through the i+age to address his +agi!
'%hey are *nown,' he said, 'as ne&rons!'
'' have wal*ed through valleys of sin and o&eans of night! ' have loo*ed dae+ons and traitors in the eyes! ' have heard
the whisers of dar* things that wanted +y soul! "nd ' have never on&e en&ountered anything that stru&* the fear into
+e that a .enos would feel if it ever truly understood the resolve of the hu+an ra&e!'
# Daenyathos, Battle 4rayers 8'''-
FRO3 %HE G6//ER'( osition on the %hunderhaw*, (aredon &ould see the forests rolling out a&ross the lanet's
surfa&e, strea*ing ast as the gunshi des&ended! Rivers 5ied ast, bright silver ribbons in the hot sun! Behind hi+,
two +ore %hunderhaw*s ban*ed behind the lead &raft, arrowing down into the lower levels of the forest world's
at+oshere! %wo ar+oured landers followed in their wa*e! Between the+, they &arried +ore than eighty (oul Drin*ers!
%he firing ort of the heavy bolter +ount gave (aredon an e.&ellent view of the lanet as its beauty was revealed
beneath hi+!
%rees, hundreds of +etres tall, rea&hed u fro+ the &anoy, hanging with enor+ous brightly &oloured fruits! Flo&*s of
birds, li*e &olu+ns of shi++ering s+o*e, swet u fro+ the &revasses and treetos full of nests as the %hunderhaw*s
roared ast! Hills tall enough to brea* the &anoy were toed with astel sho&*s of flowers!
(aredon &ould see the target in the distan&e! " ale strea*, dead straight, &utting right through the forest! 't was the
stru&ture Lygris had sotted fro+ orbit! (aredon gried the handles of the heavy bolter +ounted in front of hi+ and
&he&*ed the +aga5ine! %he lanet was a aradise, but he was wor*ing on the assu+tion that so+ething down there
would soon try very hard to *ill the (oul Drin*ers! (aredon was not going to ris* getting &aught out again! %his for&e
was ready to fight!
%he %hunderhaw* assed over the stru&ture! (aredon realised that it was a landing stri, a gash &ut into the forest,
aved and studded with landing lights! %he trees around it had been burned away to *ee the+ fro+ growing ba&* over
the stri! %he %hunderhaw* rounded a hill, and (aredon saw that a ala&e stood at one end of the landing stri!
't had been hidden fro+ the s*y by the &anoy of trees ar&hing over it, but it was enor+ous! (everal floors of gold and
dee red stone were ringed by bal&onies and raised gardens! Flowering vines draed over bal&onies li*e stage &urtains!
(everal grand wings &urved around the +ain body of the ala&e, daled with the sunlight falling through the trees,
en&losing ornate gardens and artifi&ial ools!
%he %hunderhaw* +ade another ass! (aredon eered down the sights of the heavy bolter, its bul*y body tra&*ing
a&ross the ala&e grounds!
'/o targets,' he vo.ed!
%he %hunderhaw* swooed around, its e.haust wa*e striing the to+ost leaves fro+ the &anoy, and slowed down
as it aroa&hed the landing stri! 'ts nose tilted u as it &a+e down, and its landing gear thudded onto the stri!
')e're down1 Clear to deloy1' said the ilot!
($uad Lu*o ,u+ed fro+ the rear ra+ of the gunshi as it lowered! Lu*o was first out, as he always was, already
a&tivating the energy field around his lightning &laws! ($uad %isih was ne.t, and (aredon followed!
%he forest shoo* with the sound of engines! %he se&ond %hunderhaw* was &o+ing down! Lu*o waved his s$uad into a
eri+eter, and %isih's s$uad hurried forwards, bolters trained on the forest edge! %isih's s$uad &arried several of the
(oul Drin*ers' heavy weaons, of whi&h the Chater had very few re+aining!
%he se&ond %hunderhaw* was down! Codi&er (&a+ander and Librarian %yrendian were with ($uads Graevus and (al*!
'3ove u for a brea&h on the building,' said (aredon! '%isih, hold here! Lu*o on oint!'
'0es, &o++ander,' vo.ed Lu*o!
(aredon wat&hed his for&e +ove u towards the ala&e! 'ts si5e was even +ore aarent fro+ the ground! Beyond it,
(aredon &ould see several sub#ala&es, shaed li*e fan&iful &astles with deli&ate sires that ,ust ier&ed the &anoy!
Between the+ were stables and servants' $uarters, searated by walled gardens and refle&ting ools!
%yrendian +oved u ast ($uad %isih! %yrendian was the (oul Drin*ers' only re+aining Librarian aside fro+
(aredon! )ith an a$uiline fa&e and a uni$ue la&* of s&ars, %yrendian loo*ed far too handso+e to be a (a&e 3arine!
')ho lived here2' he as*ed!
'(o+eone ri&h,' said (aredon! %he tension in %yrendian's words was not lost on (aredon! He was assu+ing, as
(aredon had, that hu+ans had abandoned the lanet! '-eiled Region's hu+an &ivilisation robably ut this world aside
for their leaders!'
'Lu&*y the+,' said %yrendian!
(&a+ander was behind the+, following %yrendian! (&a+ander was the only one of the Chater's s&outs that had
re+ained with the (oul Drin*ers after the (e&ond Chater )ar! He was a yro*ineti& with a lot of otential, but
relatively little &ontrol, and %yrendian had ta*en hi+ under his wing to train hi+ u as a full Librarian!
Catain Lu*o ran u to the +ain doors, his (oul Drin*ers sta&*ing u behind hi+! ($uad Graevus +oved into osition
on the other side of the doors!
'/o &onta&ts,' vo.ed Lu*o! '%he la&e loo*s dead!'
'(o did the white &ity,' said (aredon!
Behind the searhead, the other &raft were landing! '*tinos had the third %hunderhaw*, and the rest of the (oul Drin*ers
were ,u+ing fro+ the ar+oured landers! '*tinos was dire&ting the+ to sread out and advan&e on a wide front to
rote&t the for&e about to enter the ala&e!
Lu*o brea&hed the gilded double doors by tearing the hinges off one side with his lightning &laws! %he door fell in, and
Graevus was over the threshold, his s$uad#+ates following hi+ into the dar* interior!
%yrendian was in ne.t! His arti&ular sy&hi& ower was useful at &lose $uarters; a well#thrown bolt of lightning &ould
go a long way to even u a fight! (&a+ander stu&* beside hi+!
(aredon &la+bered u the outside wall, onto a first floor bal&ony! %he oen windows led into a +e55anine floor
overloo*ing the entran&e hallway, through whi&h the (oul Drin*ers were advan&ing!
%he inside of the ala&e was as lavish as the outside! Gold &handeliers hung fro+ the &eiling! %he walls were red and
gold, and the floot was ale stone! %he forest had been brought inside, too, with vines winding de&oratively u the walls
and stands of trees in the &orners! " raised ool in the &entre of the hallway shone with de&orative fish!
'%here's nothing here,' vo.ed Graevus!
(aredon headed u the ne.t flight of stairs to the floor above! 't was a feasting &ha+ber, ale and elegant, silling over
with lush troi&al lants!
He &ould s+ell it now! 't was un+ista*eable! Co+ing fro+ above, it was a +i. of sweet and foetid that would be alien
to so+eone who had not been around as +u&h death as (aredon had!
'Head u,' vo.ed (aredon! He drew the ".e of 3er&aeno! %hey would not get the dro on hi+ this ti+e, no +atter
who they were! 'Graevus, Lu*o, with +e!'
Lu*o and Graevus were on the uer floor in a few +o+ents, +oving u the stairways! (aredon followed Graevus,
who had his own ower a.e ready, with the "startes of ($uad Lu*o filling the &ra+ed stairway behind hi+!
%he stairway was narrow, and it stan*! %he air was heavy with death! 6naug+ented lungs would have struggled to draw
breath! "head was a solid wooden door that loo*ed well bolted!
'Go,' said (aredon!
Graevus *i&*ed the door oen and darted inside! His assault s$uad followed hi+ in, (aredon on their heels!
%he roo+ stret&hed the whole breadth of the ala&e, high and lofty with tall windows dren&hing it in daled light! 't
had on&e been an artist's studio, with half#finished s&ultures and lu+s of &ut stone standing everywhere!
Corses hung fro+ the rafters! %here +ust have been well over a hundred of the+! <udging fro+ their &lothes, they
were the nobles and servants of the ala&e, ladies in their gowns, foot+en in their unifor+s and servants in s+o&*s and
wor* &lothes! %hey had been there for so+e ti+e, and ea&h of the+ hung above a uddle of &orse li$uor, foul and
bla&*! %heir s*in had turned dar* and sun*en, and their eye so&*ets seethed with +aggots! " few flies, newly hat&hed,
bu55ed la5ily around their heads!
(aredon loo*ed around the roo+! %here were no signs of a struggle! %here had been none in the rest of the ala&e!
'%hey *illed the+selves,' said (aredon!
'" &ult2' as*ed Lu*o!
'3aybe,' said Graevus!
'%isih here,' &a+e a vo.! ')e've got so+ething by the eastern stables! Bodies! Cra++ed in one of the &ellars! 3ust be
fifty of the+!'
'(igns of a fight2' as*ed (aredon!
'/one,' relied %isih, 'and the doors were barred fro+ the inside! Got so+e gas fuel &anisters here! ''+ thin*ing they
gassed the+selves!'
'%hrone of %erra,' swore Graevus! ')hat haened here2'
')hatever was going to haen,' said (aredon, 'these eole &hose death rather than fa&e it!'
'" strange way to *ill the+selves,' said Lu*o! ''t's not the $ui&*est or surest way!' Lu*o &li+bed onto one of the
un&arved stone blo&*s, and &ut down one of the bodies with a fli&* of his lightning &laws! 't was the &orse of a
foot+an; the &oat he wore had on&e been bright red, but was now filthy brown! Lu*o held u the body, showing the
ragged dar* hole in the ba&* of its s*ull! 'Bullet wound,' he said! '%his +an didn't hang hi+self!'
'Co++ander, '*tinos here,' said '*tinos over the vo.! '' have rea&hed the tower to the north of the ala&e! %here is
so+ething here that you +ight wish to see!'
%HERE )ERE O%HER bodies! (o+e had hanged the+selves in one of the stable buildings! Others aeared to have
weighed their &lothing down with ro&*s and drowned the+selves in one of the orna+ental ools! 'n the *it&hens of the
ala&e was the body of a +an, who had ta*en his own life with ver+in oison! " &oule even hung fro+ the trees, high
u in the &anoy! %hey +ust have &li+bed u there to send the last few +o+ents of their lives a+ong the birds and
inse&ts instead of with their fellow hu+ans! (o+e of the+ aeared to have hanged the+selves, but others had been
*illed by other +eans, usually gunshot, before being strung u! /othing about the ala&e or the bodies suggested why
they +ight have been hung u after death!
%he ri&hes of the ala&e were in la&e: art, gold and silver, even si&es and other lu.uries in the antries that +ust have
been i+orted to the lanet! )hat '*tinos had found in the fan&iful tower ad,oining the ala&e outstried the+ all in
value!
't was a +a ins&ribed in gold and inlaid with re&ious stones the si5e of a +an's fist! 't &overed one wall of a &hael!
%he &hael was not dedi&ated to the E+eror but to a triu+virate of gods; one was dei&ted as a warrior, another as a
wo+an with silver fire around her hands and another as a &riled +an! (tatues of the+ stood behind the &hael's altar,
robably &arved by the sa+e hand that had on&e wor*ed in the artist's studio now hung with rotting &orses!
%he +a was of a stellar e+ire! %he dia+onds were stars, rubies and sahires were lanets! Orbits and sa&e lanes
were loos of silver! %wo worlds were i&*ed out! One of the+ was surrounded by a halo of green stones, and bore the
heraldry of a sword over a leaf!
'%his sy+bol is over the door of the &hael,' said '*tinos! ''t is robably the lanet we are on!'
'*tinos stood before the star +a with several of his flo&* standing guard at the windows and doors! %he &hael, li*e the
rest of the ala&e, loo*ed untou&hed by &onfli&t, save for being abandoned!
'%hen this is a hu+an e+ire,' said (aredon, 'and these are its other worlds2'
'Given our route,' said '*tinos, indi&ating a fat sahire, 'this is the world uon whi&h we originally landed, the white
&ity!'
'"nd this2' as*ed (aredon! He ointed to the se&ond lanet that had drawn his eye: an enor+ous ruby, &ut with do5ens
of fa&ets, surrounded by dia+onds and fan&iful loos of gold and silver! '%he e+ire's &aital2'
''t see+s +ore than li*ely, &o++ander,' said '*tinos!
'' see! Can we use this to navigate2'
'4rovided we &an +at&h it u with the stellar bodies around us, &ertainly! Lygris should be able to +odel a star +a
using it!'
'%he heart of an e+ire will have sa&e orts, fuel deots! Even if it is abandoned li*e this la&e, we will be able to find
what we need!'
(aredon's noti&e was &aught by a noise outside! 't sounded li*e the drawing of a blade!
BRO%HER (9O0LE OF ($uad Graevus was alert enough to see the +ove+ent, but su&h was the s*ill of the infiltrator
that it loo*ed li*e no +ore than a &orse swaying in the wind!
%he body was that of a stablehand dressed in a si+le wor* fatigues and a long leather aron! His fa&e was bloated red
and bla&*, his eyes drooing bla&* sa&*s of i&hor and his swollen tongue filling his +outh! He loo*ed li*e any other
body +ight, strung u fro+ the tree outside the tower and left there to swing for +any days!
Beneath those &lothes, the s*in was slit oen and folded over, held together with slivers of +etal li*e steel thread! 'ts
insides had been hollowed out and its &hest bulged strangely, the ribs bro*en and shifted to allow for another air of
ar+s to fold over another &hest, as if the stablehand had be&o+e a &offin for another &orse! "ll this was hidden by the
heavy wor*ing &lothes the &orse was still wearing!
%he swaying had been &aused by a hand with blades for fingers, sli&* with rotten blood, for&ing its way out of the
hollowed &orse and inging the +etal stit&hes oen one by one!
Bla&* gore dried onto the ground beneath the &orse! Brother (*oyle heard it again and turned to loo* at its sour&e!
He saw the body +oving, and this ti+e it was not with the wind!
(*oyle drew his &hainsword! %he &orse slit oen, showering hi+ with rotten +eat and blood! 't unfolded a se&ond
figure fro+ inside! %aller than a +an, its slender li+bs had been folded u inside it li*e an i+ossible u55le, and it was
&overed in stin*ing filth!
't was hu+anoid in shae, but it was not hu+an! 't was not anything that had ever been alive! %he gore was &rusted over
the dull +etal of its arti&ulated li+bs! " thi&* ,ointed sine rose fro+ its elvis to suort a wide &hest with thi&* steel
ribs, fro+ the &entre of whi&h &a+e a faint greenish glow, the thing's ower sour&e! 'ts long ar+s ended in blades as
long as a +an's forear+! 'ts head hung down in front of its &hest, a +etal arody of a hu+an s*ull, with a slit in the thin
fa&e in la&e of a +outh and two green &rystals set into dee eye so&*ets! (heets of torn s*in hung over it, as if this
stylised s*eletal &reature was still trying to wear the guise of a +an!
't landed a +etre away fro+ Brother (*oyle, its un+oving fa&e aearing to leer with anti&iation as it darted forwards!
(*oyle's &hainsword whirred, and he stabbed it at the &reature's &hest! %he +etal teeth s*ied off the +etal of its
shoulder, drawing sar*s instead of blood!
%he thing was on hi+! Blades as shar as needles un&tured the shoulder ,oint of his ar+our and slit u into his torso!
(*oyle yelled and threw it to the ground, sta+ing down on its leg to in it in la&e before driving his &hainblade down
into its &hest!
Green light flashed as its ower &ore rutured! Bladed hands slashed u at (*oyle, &utting &hun*s fro+ his ar+our! %he
alien &reature shuddered and fell still, li*e a +a&hine with the ower shut off!
Graevus ran to hel hi+, followed by the rest of his s$uad!
'(*oyle1 )hat is it2' shouted Graevus!
'3a&hine,' gased (*oyle, gingerly testing his wounded shoulder! Blood was running fro+ the ,oint, bla&* against his
urle ar+our! '"n a+bush +a&hine! 't was waiting in the &orse!'
Graevus loo*ed around the tower and the ala&e! %here were &orses everywhere, hanging fro+ trees, lying in foetid
ools and huddled in storage! %hose were ,ust the ones the (oul Drin*ers had seen so far! %here &ould be thousands of
the+!
'Co++ander, we've been atta&*ed,' said Graevus! ''t was a +a&hine! 't's destroyed, but there &ould be +ore! %hey &ould
be surrounding us!'
'"ll s$uads1' ordered (aredon! '4ull in &lose to the tower1 ($uad %isih, sti&* with the transorts and be ready to &over
our retreat1'
%he +etal &reature at (*oyle's feet srang u! %he gash in its &hest had been &overed over with a surfa&e of glea+ing
new +etal! %he light inside it was glowing again!
%he thing ra++ed all its blades u into (*oyle's throat! %hey un&hed through the &era+ite of his hel+et and out
through the ba&* of his head! (*oyle &onvulsed and droed his &hainsword, his ar+s falling dead at his sides!
($uad Graevus riddled the alien +a&hine with bolt istol fire! 't ,er*ed as the bolts i+a&ted it, blasting off an ar+, a
leg, battering its head into a losided +ess! 't &lattered to the ground, turned ha5y, and vanished! (*oyle slu+ed to the
ground where the +a&hine had fallen, but he landed on bare earth! %he thing had gone!
%he alien +a&hines &la+bered fro+ the uer tiers of the ala&e, fro+ the belfry of the tower and the &ellars beneath
the stables, do5ens of the+, +any still wearing the s*ins of the &orses in whi&h they had hidden! %hey had hidden
a+ong the bodies strung u in the ala&e's to floor! )hen (aredon had first seen the+, when the (oul Drin*ers had
wondered what fate +ust have befallen the inhabitants, the +a&hines had been wat&hing the+ every ste of the way!
Graevus grabbed (*oyle's body and heaved it onto one shoulder! '($uad1 Close guard on the &o++ander1'
Lu*o's s$uad ran to the &over of a stable building! %hey ha++ered bolter fire u towards the &reatures e+erging fro+
the ala&e! (everal fell or lost li+bs in the first volley, but +any +ore s&uttled down the walls and &harged towards the
(oul Drin*ers, +oving faster than a +an ever &ould!
(aredon &ould see the+ e+erging fro+ the ground between the (oul Drin*ers and the airstri, hundreds of the+, +any
of the+ &lawing their way out fro+ beneath the soil! %hese were different, bul*ier than the a+bushers, and &arrying
.enos weaons with glowing green barrels instead of bladed fingers!
'Fall ba&* to the tower1' he ordered! 'Get to &over1 Defensive ositions1'
(oul Drin*ers were running ahead of the bloody +etalli& tide! (aredon snaed off a bolter shot and blew the leg off
one! ($uad Lu*o's fire &ut down several +ore, throwing shards of gory +etal against the ala&e walls!
)hen the +a&hines died, they disaeared! %hey didn't dissolve away or &ru+ble to dust! %hey ,ust faded away, and
were gone!
(aredon headed into the tower! (oul Drin*ers were gathered around it, sending out dis&ilined volleys of fire to &over
one another! '*tinos's (oul Drin*ers were ta*ing u osition at the windows and doors of the &hael at the base of the
tower!
(aredon headed u the stairway that &oiled around behind the altar! 't wound u towards the tower's uer rea&hes! He
&ould hear +etal &laws &la&*ing against the outer wall, and (oul Drin*ers yelling as they for&ed the doors &losed under
the weight of robori& bodies! %he sound of boo+ing +etal filled the tower as the star +a on the wall was wren&hed
down and roed u against one window to barri&ade it! Gunfire stuttered! Chainblades whirred!
%he uer floors of the tower were bed&ha+bers and studies, s+all ersonal libraries and re&etion roo+s, all
understated but lavish! %he floor was +arble and the walls were &overed in elegantly trained vines!
(ilver blood#strea*ed &laws rea&hed over a win#dowsill! (aredon reared u out of the window, and slit the alien's
head in two with his a.e before it &ould &rawl in through the window! " bal&ony beside the window was already
&rawling with the+! (aredon ,u+ed through the window and s&uttled along the wall, slashing down at the+ fro+ the
wall above! %hey &ut ba&* at hi+, blades ringing off his ar+our, but he &ut off an ar+ here, a head there, and sent the
+a&hines falling bro*en ba&* down to the ground!
%hey for+ed a seething red#silver &aret, li*e a swar+ of &orroded &lo&*wor* inse&ts! %hey were &li+bing the trees
beside the tower, too, to ,u+ fro+ the uer+ost bran&hes on to the to of the tower! (aredon fired his bolter,
blowing holes in a &oule of torsos! %he other +a&hines, the ones with guns, were in range! )hen they fired, green
fla+es layed a&ross the walls of the tower, and stonewor* was stried away as if being dissolved! %he alien weaons
did not ,ust burn or shatter, they sirited away the +atter of the target, boring through it layer by layer!
%he ene+y s&outs wore the s*ins of the dead, and they had fooled the (oul Drin*ers for long enough to stage an
a+bush! %heir warriors ossessed weaons e+loying te&hnology beyond '+erial understanding, and they had *illed
at least two worlds!
'%isih, what is your situation2' vo.ed (aredon!
'E+battled,' &a+e the rely! '%hey're &o+ing out of the trees! 3a&hines! 8enos!'
'Can you bring the transorts u2'
'/ot all of the+!'
')hat about a %hunderhaw*2'
'0es, &o++ander! ' &an do that!'
'%hen do it!'
'' &an't transort the whole for&e!'
'%hen we'll have to use so+e i+agination! Do it!'
'0es, &o++ander1'
(aredon loo*ed down at the horde of .enos assaulting the walls! He &ould hear &hainblades against +etal and bolter
fire ha++ering into +a&hine &araa&es!
'(ee, brothers2' shouted Catain Lu*o, fighting at the doors! '3etal dies ,ust as fast as flesh1'
'Graevus, get to the uer floors,' vo.ed (aredon! '%o +e1'
(aredon du&*ed ba&* into the tower as the window fra+e was stried away by the +a&hines' gunfire! %he stair&ase
siralled u further towards the inna&le of the tower! He s&uttled u it to find a tradoor leading to the roof! He tore it
off its +ountings and &li+bed u!
Graevus was following, the ar+oured boots of his s$uad ha++ering on the stairs! "bove the gunfire and &lash of +etal
on +etal, (aredon &ould hear the engines of %isih's %hunderhaw*!
'"ll s$uads, hold the+1' ordered (aredon over the vo.#net! '(tand your ground1'
Graevus rea&hed the roof! '0our orders, &o++ander2'
'Brea* the siege,' said (aredon! 'Follow +e!'
%he %hunderhaw* hovered low over the tower roof! (aredon &ould see %isih in the &o&*it! Gunfire ha++ered fro+
the gunshi's weaons, battering heavy bolter and auto&annon fire down into the .enos! %he roof was battered by the
hot, &he+i&al#heavy e.haust fro+ the engines!
%isih wheeled the hovering gunshi so that the rear ra+ fa&ed the window and swung down! Graevus led his s$uad
onto the oen ra+, holding tight to the overhead railings as e.haust wash s&rea+ed around the+! (aredon ,u+ed on
to the li of the ra+ behind the+!
%he horde was growing! For every +a&hine the (oul Drin*ers destroyed, another two see+ed to drag the+selves u
fro+ the earth! Fallen robots got to their feet again, wounds &losed over with li$uid +etal!
'Lu*o, '*tinos, you have to ta*e the+ aart1' vo.ed (aredon, having to yell over the engines! 'Destroy the+ &o+letely
before they reair1'
'" leasure1' vo.ed Lu*o fro+ below! He loved war, and his love for it was infe&tious! Even as he so*e, his lightning
&laws flashed at the door and another .enos was redu&ed to s+ouldering &o+onents!
'%isih1' shouted (aredon! '%a*e us in1'
%he %hunderhaw* ban*ed away fro+ the window to hover over the &entre of the .enos horde! %he +a&hines were
&rowding forwards, &la+bering over one another to *ill!
'/ow1' shouted (aredon! He ,u+ed off the %hunderhaw*'s ra+, the ".e of 3er&aeno above his head, ready to stri*e!
(aredon hit the ground hard, letting his legs fle. under hi+ and ta*e the i+a&t! Graevus's s$uad followed, bursts fro+
their ,u+ a&*s slowing their des&ent! (aredon and ($uad Graevus landed right in the heart of the +a&hine horde!
%he .enos were swar+ing forwards, &o+eting for the &han&e to die, for&ing their way into the tower! %hey were not
ready for (aredon and Graevus to aear right in the heart of the+, and atta&*!
(aredon's a.e &ut one in half, and Graevus's ower a.e a&&ounted for another! Chainblades thrust out, and bolt istols
ha++ered! One (oul Drin*er landed right on to of an alien, *no&*ing it to the ground, and wrestled with it down in the
dirt! "nother landed off#*eel and fell, +a&hines swar+ing over hi+ to &ut hi+ u with their bladed hands! Graevus
beheaded one of the atta&*ers and dragged his battle#brother out fro+ under the+!
%hey were $ui&* and tough, but (aredon had the advantage! " (a&e 3arine never gave that u when he had it!
(aredon seared the+ on his talons and but&hered the+ with his a.e! He threw the+ aside and tra+led the+ into the
ground! ($uad Graevus laid into the +a&hines with si+ilar deter+ination, and soon (aredon and Graevus had &arved
out a &learing in the ene+y for&e, surrounded by a ra+art of +angled +etal bodies! (o+e of the +a&hines were inta&t
enough to self#reair and &la+ber ba&* u, but the (a&e 3arines of ($uad Graevus &arved the+ ba&* u or blasted
their heads off, and few rose a se&ond ti+e!
'Lu*o1 Lead your +en out1' ordered (aredon as he tore the ar+ off a +a&hine and slit its +etal s*ull in two! 'Crush
the+ between us1'
'0ou heard hi+, brothers1' bellowed Lu*o to his s$uad! '%a*e it to the+1 %o +e, +y brothers1 %o +e1'
Lu*o ,u+ed through the doorway, *i&*ing a +a&hine to the ground as he did so! His fellow (oul Drin*ers followed,
&harging fro+ the doorway or vaulting through the windows! " few +o+ents ago the +a&hines would have swar+ed
around the+, &ut the+ off and dragged the+ down to their deaths, but now they were fighting on two fronts!
Lu*o laughed as he &ut the +a&hines to ie&es in front of hi+!
(aredon led the &harge the other way, wading through +etalli& bodies to &lose with Lu*o! %ogether, the two (oul
Drin*ers for&es slit the horde in two, and by the ti+e (aredon was side by side with Lu*o hundreds of the +a&hines
were wre&*ed and bro*en!
(aredon &ut at the fa&e of a +a&hine lunging towards hi+! %he a.e assed right through it as if it was an illusion! %he
+a&hine faded out and then was gone &o+letely!
%he wre&*ed +a&hines around (aredon's feet were dissolving away, too! %he survivors and the destroyed were being
teleorted away!
')here are they going2' as*ed Lu*o!
'Ba&* to their +a*ers2' said (aredon! '%o regrou and hit us again2'
't too* only a few +o+ents for the +a&hines to disaear! Even the s&ras of bro*en +a&hinery were gone, leaving the
(oul Drin*ers standing alone on a at&h of torn earth!
'Either way,' said Chalain '*tinos, who had fought his way out behind Lu*o, 'we &annot stay here!'
'"greed! %isih2'
'Co++ander2' vo.ed (ergeant %isih! 'Good wor*, sergeant! Land and &over us for e+bar*ation!'
'6nderstood!'
%he %hunderhaw* swooed away towards the landing stri! )ith the noise of its engines fading, the only sound was the
wind through the forest &anoy and the in*ing of hot bolter +u55les &ooling!
'%hese things +ust have been waiting for survivors,' said '*tinos, loo*ing u at the hollow bodies hanging fro+ the
trees! ')hen the ene+y &a+e to this world they were not willing to leave a single hu+an alive!'
%he din of the battle had &o+e entirely fro+ the (oul Drin*ers! Other than the &la&*ing of their &laws against ar+our
and stone, the ene+y +a&hines had been &o+letely silent! Even when they died, they had not +ade a sound!
(aredon did not *now what they were, and he had never seen anything li*e the+ before, but he did *now what the
eole of this world, and of the white &ity, had felt when the .enos +a&hines atta&*ed!
%hey +ust have believed that death itself had &o+e for the+!
'Death2 )hat is death2 't is the natural state of all things! 't is life that is the aberration! 't is life that should be feared,
for it &an go by with our wor* left undone, it &an be wasted away on failure and indolen&e! Death is to be e+bra&ed!'
# Daenyathos, /ineteenth (here of %a&ti&al "otheosis
%HE D"3"GE DO/E to the Ferrous in the oening e.&hanges with the alien fleet would have been enough to shred a
lesser shi! (o+e energy bolt or wayward 3e&hani&us toredo had blown a hole in the underside of the industrial shi's
hull, blowing through and deressurising three de&*s! %he Ferrous, however, was so old and lu+bering that the
destru&tion was wrought only through abandoned de&*s, with a &oule of redundant syste+s da+aged and the usual
handful of +enials *illed!
%he 3e&hani&us fleet had droed out of the war in good order, li&*ing its wounds as hundreds of +enials and ,unior
te&h#riests +ounted running reairs and ena&ted aologeti& rites to la&ate the trau+atised +a&hine#sirits! "+ong
the+ was a gang of +enials that attended to the wound in the underside of the Ferrous, whi&h was still bleeding air and
debris into the void!
%wenty +enials +ar&hed through the shadowy, de&reit de&*s towards the wound! %heir s*in was al+ost grey and their
fa&es al+ost featureless, drooing eyes, tiny bla&* fle&*s, and +ouths, li#less slits that barely ever so*e! %heir lives
had been sent in sa&e, and they had never seen a blue s*y or an o&ean, e.&et fro+ orbit!
%hey ulled on the hoods of their voidsuits as va&uu+ warnings fli&*ered along the dar* &orridors, their way lit by
&he+i&al lanterns! )alls and de&*s bowed inwards, &rushed by the for&e of so+ething tearing u through the layers of
+etal!
%he +enials were not there to save the de&*s that had been lost! %hat an&ient +etal had been &onsigned to the void, to
be absorbed ba&* into the fabri& of the universe so it +ight one day be wrought again into a wor* of the O+nissiah!
'nstead, they were to identify whi&h areas +ight be salvaged, and seal the+ off with sheets of tough fla*weave and rivet
guns! Here and there, they sealed a tear in a wall through whi&h air +ight yet es&ae, or a doorway that threatened to
give way! 3any la&es were +ar*ed as unsafe, to be &ut away li*e diseased flesh when the Ferrous was ne.t in do&*! 't
was so+bre wor*, for everywhere hung the ne&roti& sorrow of the Ferrous's +a&hine#sirit!
" se&tion of de&* had been torn right through, leaving an enor+ous &argo hangar sundered and useless! Hundreds of
tonnes of &onstru&tion +aterials had fallen out into sa&e! One of the +enials, instead of +ar&hing gri+ly ast one of
the doorways leading to the &onde+ned hangar, suffered a sar* of initiative and glan&ed through the frosted window
set into a bul*head door leading to the hangar! ')hat is that2' he as*ed!
'9ee +oving,' said another! %he +enials had no leader, for they were so well#versed in their duties that they &ould be
trusted to ad+onish one another! ')e still bleed!'
'/o! %his is not right! Co+e, loo*!'
3ore +enials &rowded around the doorway! %he ane was al+ost oa$ue with i&e, but they &ould still gli+se a great
shae of olished silver and bla&*, li*e an enor+ous bullet e+bedded in the fabri& of the shi!
''t &ould be une.loded +unitions,' said one!
'Or one of the Fleet 3inor,' said another!
'Regulations er+it us to investigate,' said another!
'-ery well!'
'Let us oen it u!'
'"nd see!'
%he +enials &he&*ed the seals and air sulies on their voidsuits before two of the+ hauled the wheel#lo&* oen! %he
thin air in the &orridor whisered out, and silen&e fell, bro*en only by their boots ringing on the de&*!
%he ob,e&t had to be a hundred +etres long and erhas twenty wide, a +assive &ylinder of bla&* +etal inlaid with
anels of silver! 'ts surfa&e was torn fro+ its entry into the shi, but it was still &lear that it was not of '+erial design!
)here was the tarnish of a hundred years lying in an a++unition hoer, the binary rayers sten&illed on the &asings2
't had a sheen that suggested +aterials beyond '+erial &onstru&tion! %owards the uer end, the &asing bro*e u into a
&rown of drill bits, li*e a huge snarling +outh that had &hewed its way hungrily through the Ferrous's hull!
')hat is it2'
''t does not +atter what it is!'
'For it is not of the +a&hine! 't is an intruder!'
''t +ust be e.&ised1 Let us su++on wor* &rews1 Cutter units1 Let the invader be e.elled1'
%he +enials sread out around the ruins of the hangar to see if there was an obvious way of re+oving the ob,e&t!
E.losives &ould dislodge it! " &raft of the Fleet 3inor &ould ull it out li*e a diseased tooth, but that would &ause
further da+age to the Ferrous! " less violent solution would be referable, and would re$uire less +ollifying of the
+a&hine#sirit!
-ibrations sang through the floor! %he side of the great &ylinder slit oen! 'nside, lights gli++ered, green lights,
glowing in silver#&hased dar*ness!
%he lights were aired, li*e eyes, and they narrowed as they fo&used on the aroa&hing +enials!
')e should infor+ the bridge!'
')e should!'
E+erald lights flared! %he +enials never got the &han&e to tell the bridge anything!
3"GO( 3E%"LL6RG'C6( -'O/EL was touring the industrial base of the Ferrous, a series of titani& fa&tory floors
and forges running the length of the shi! %he urose of the Ferrous was to +anufa&ture rela&e+ent arts and refine
fuel for a fleet in dee sa&e, allowing the whole fleet to &ontinue oerating for long after a &onventional for&e would
have needed to return to ort due to the attrition of rust! %he Ferrous was also at ris* fro+ the for&es of de&ay, for it was
old and the ills of &orrosion and wea*ness had lenty of la&es to hide a+ong its +etalwor*s and refining halls!
-ionel trudged through the drifts of +etal swarf that surrounded the enor+ous +a&hining floor, raised u on blo&*s of
steel! %housands of +enials laboured there, the hul*ing +a&hines they served grinding out new &o+onents for the
fa&tory shi's ailing engines! -ionel's body was a heavily reinfor&ed industrial &hassis that &lu+ed loudly u the stes
to the +a&hine floor! Overseer Gillard, an older +enial, worn into a gnarled lu+ of a +an by years on the fa&tory
floor, hurried to greet hi+!
'Lord +agos,' said Gillard! 'Our effi&ien&y targets are well within our sights!'
'But they are not a&hieved!'
'Regrettably not, lord +agos! On a war footing, the energy rationing +eans that our!!!'
-ionel held u a huge +etal aw to silen&e the overseer! '%he O+nissiah a&&ets no e.&uses! Effi&ien&y is ne.t to
godliness! Even in the fa&e of destru&tion, in the ,aws of death, a +enial's targets are his sa&red duty!' -ionel's
vo&abulator unit was, li*e the rest of hi+, built for ruggedness rather than finesse, and his voi&e was a relentless
+onotone grind! '%his is the way of the 3a&hine#God1'
'Blessed be the *nowledge He i+arts,' said Gillard hurriedly! '' shall ress +y +enials further, +y lord!'
%he overseer saluted and returned to the &onveyor belt on whi&h the thousands of +enials under his &o++and were
sorting through heas of &o+onents fro+ the enor+ous +a&hining unit!
%he 3e&hani&us fleet was in a grave situation! 't was ursued by .enos atta&*ers, and its $uarry, a sa&e hul*, &rewed
by 3ars *new what renegades and *illers, was hostile in its own right! 'n this rare +o+ent of &al+ before new orders
&a+e fro+ the "ntithesis, -ionel de&ided to see* the &ounsel of a higher ower! -ionel let his hu+an +ind, one of the
few re+aining arts of his wea* flesh, sin* away fro+ his senses, and he felt the +ighty iron&lad heartbeat of the
Ferrous!
3"GO( -'O/EL, 64O/ ta*ing &o++and of the Ferrous de&ades before, had installed interfa&es with the shi's
an&ient +a&hine#sirit in all of its data vaults and &ogitators! %he shi's +a&hine#sirit had long been &onsidered a
&ur+udgeonly, silent entity that &ared nothing for hu+an beings and *et itself to itself! )hile +any an&ient shis
+anifested sohisti&ated +a&hine#sirits, not all of the+ were willing to &o++uni&ate, and these were generally left
alone! 3agos -ionel, however, *new that this aroa&h was folly! 'nstead of assu+ing that a +a&hine#sirit should
be&o+e +ore hu+an to allow for it to interfa&e with its &rew, he too* it uon hi+self to be&o+e +ore li*e the Ferrous!
He trans+itted his ersonality into the infor+ation ar&hite&ture of the fa&tory shi through the interfa&es, and for&ed his
hu+an +ind into the shae of the +a&hine#sirit's world!
't tasted of rust and the s+o*y tang of age! 't felt war+ and &rea*ing, the heat of the fa&tory shi's +assive engines and
reserves of ower &aged in the shell of rust!
'n the heart of it was the +a&hine#sirit! -ionel's +ind was still too hu+an to +a*e of it anything but a +ur*y stor+,
billowing urle#bla&* &louds of ro&essing ower slit by the lightning &reated by raid &al&ulations! %he stor+ was
&ontained in a great bla&* vault, li*e so+e underground &athedral, -ionel's +ind +a*ing of the hysi&al restraints of the
&ogitators and data vaults an ar&hing &eiling, suorted by thi&* iron &olu+ns driing with a &onstant rain of
infor+ation!
%he +a&hine#sirit did not sea* to -ionel dire&tly! He had not yet earned that right! He had to interret the e+otions
that whied on infor+ation gales, li*e so+e fleshly soothsayer interreting drea+s!
%he stor+ roared u towards hi+, bellowing wordlessly fro+ a dar*ness at its heart &ra++ed with istons and fla+es!
-ionel shran* fro+ it, fearful for a +o+ent that it had be&o+e angry with hi+ and would devour his +ind!
%he +a&hine#sirit was si+ly in ain! (ilver webs were &li+bing a&ross the surfa&e of its &louds as if so+ething was
trying to tra the +a&hine#sirit's fun&tions in a net, restrain the+ and rob it of its ower! Bea+s of e+erald light layed
a&ross the vault, s&or&hing &hun*s of iron fro+ the walls, whi&h rusted as they fell!
')hat ains us2' as*ed -ionel, turning his thought into strea+s of +a&hine &ode! %heir 5eroes and ones were al+ost lost
a+ongst the &haos of the Ferrous's ain!
%he stor+ boiled away, su&*ing itself into a tight *not where the &o+ression turned into glowing heat li*e the heart of
a furna&e! -ionel felt his +ind struggling to hold on to &ohesion in the sudden va&uu+ of the vault! %hen the stor+
burst anew, lightning &ra&*ling a&ross the walls, a hurri&ane heavy with data battering against -ionel! %he sound
deafened -ionel's +ind, and he fought to hold on to his la&e in the infor+ation stru&tures of the shi! 'n site of the
burst of energy, the silver web held, shi++ering as it stret&hed around the thunderheads!
-ionel &ould wat&h no +ore! His gri failed, and his +ind was shunted ba&* into his body with an i+a&t that +ade
hi+ stu+ble on his iron#shod feet!
%he shi e&hoed with the +a&hine#sirit's ain! Even the +enials &ould feel it, thru++ing through the de&*s of the
Ferrous in ti+e with the sirit's s&rea+s!
-ionel a&&essed the shi's vo.#net!
'%o ar+s1' he yelled, his +etalli& voi&e trans+itted all over the shi! ')e are invaded1'
%he +enials i++ediately bro*e out wren&hes and shivs, anything they had to hand as a weaon! Overseer Gillard
unlo&*ed a weaons &abinet +ounted on the side of the +a&hine, and a few +enials too* shotguns and autoistols fro+
it, si+le, ugly weaons, erfe&t for the sort of &lose#$uarters +urder that was tyi&al in a boarding a&tion!
'Bridge1' vo.ed -ionel! 'Relay to +e all reorts of intruders! 9ee +e u to date on da+age &ontrols! %e&h#guard
standby!'
" series of &ogitator tones bleeed in resonse! %he Ferrous had a &o+le+ent of te&h#guard and trained +enials in
&ase of hostile boarders, who were, at that +o+ent, grabbing their fla* ar+our and lasguns and heading through the ill#
+aintained +a5es of the shi's outer de&*s to +eet the sour&es of the alert!
'Lord +agos,' said Gillard, turning fro+ a ban* of readouts on the side of the forge! ')hat has haened2'
'%he shi is &o+ro+ised,' said -ionel! '%he +a&hine#sirit has given us warning!'
't +ight not be enough! %he shi was huge! %here were thousands of ways atta&*ers &ould get into the vulnerable
fa&tory floors or the ro&essing lants in the shi's rear se&tion, or +a*e their way towards the bridge! %he te&h#guard
&ouldn't hold the+ all ba&*!
'%hey saw +e,' said -ionel! '%hey *now ' a+ here! %heir target is the +a&hine#sirit!'
%he first he saw of the+ was a fli&*er of green fire at the edge of his vision, u a+ong the steel rafters of the +a&hining
se&tion! " +enial wor*ing at the forge reared u in sudden ain and sho&*! " huge &hun*, li*e a round bite +ar*, had
been torn fro+ his ba&* as if by invisible ,aws! One ar+ was gone, too, flayed down to bloody bones!
-ionel's targeting o&ulars snaed into fo&us on the ene+y!
'%e&h#guard, to +y osition1' he vo.ed! 'Ene+y sighted1'
%hey were s*eletal +a&hines, ani+ated by the green fla+e fli&*ering in their eye so&*ets and &hests! %hey had got in
through the +aintenan&e a&&ess to the se&tion's &eiling, and they were hiding a+ong the rafters! %hey &arried elaborate
weaons built around glowing green &ores, whi&h had ro,e&tor units surrounded by haloes of ele&tri&ity instead of
+u55les!
-ionel's +ind a&&essed the i+ages fro+ the re&ording -oar had found in the bridge ar&hives! Hun&hed +etalli&
s*eletons, roboti&, relentless: ne&ron warriors!
-ionel u+ed all his au.iliary ower into his li+bs! %hey were +assively owerful, designed to an&hor hi+ to the
ground and lift enor+ous weight, but they were also a lot faster than they loo*ed! -ionel ran u the stes towards the
&onveyor belt even as blasts ried &hun*s out of the floor behind hi+! Cores of +etal were drilled out of the de&* and
flayed to ato+s! %he few +enials with guns returned fire, and flayer blasts fell a+ong the+, shredding li+bs and
flashing away s*ulls!
-ionel sla++ed into a se&tion of the &onveyor, heavy with +a&hine &o+onents! He &la+ed his enor+ous +etal
hands around the edge and ried a se&tion away! He sun, his torso rotating freely on its &hassis, and hurled the hun*
of +a&hinery with all his strength!
%he &onveyor se&tion hit the girders so hard that several of the+ fell, ha++ering into the de&* with a tre+endous
ringing li*e giant bells! /e&rons fell, too, so+e of the+ &rushed against the &eiling by the i+a&t, others buried by the
+ass of steelwor* &ollasing on to of the+!
-oar's briefing on the new threat had &ontained +ost of the intelligen&e the '+eriu+ had on what its soldiers &alled the
ne&rons! %hey were a +a&hine#ra&e, an&ient beyond i+agining! %heir te&hnology was an obs&enity of forbidden
rin&iles and .enos heresy! %hey were a &orrution of the 3a&hine#God! 't was not +u&h to go on, but it was all
-ionel needed! He was a forger of the O+nissiah's wor*s, a &reator, and his duty was to avenge their destru&tion!
%e&h#guard were e+erging fro+ entran&es beside the forge, in rust#red body ar+our with +irrored visors, &arrying
lasguns hoo*ed u to their ba&*a&*s!
'3agos1' &alled the sergeant! '"t your &o++and1'
'"dvan&e1' said -ionel, ro,e&ting at +a.i+u+ volu+e!
%he surviving warriors advan&ed or got to their feet, their bro*en bodies re#for+ing fro+ li$uid +etal! Others, shattered
beyond reair, disaeared fro+ beneath the wre&*age! Even torn li+bs and frag+ents of &rushed s*ull vanished!
%he te&h#guard, a do5en of the+ in the s$uad, ran into the &over of the &onveyor belt or the lengths of fallen girder!
Lasguns sat! %he air filled with the s+ell of burning and o5one!
Blasts fro+ ne&ron weaons ha++ered against the +a&hinery with a &ra&*ling hiss, as if the +etal were evaorating!
-ionel sto+ed through the ruined &onveyor into &over, but it was raidly disaearing! 3enials died, &hun*s of their
bodies stried away! Others were still returning fire, and a warrior fell, &hest blown oen! One of the te&h#guard stood
&lear of the wre&*age to send a raid#fire volley into the ne&rons, but he fell, too, his body ar+our and half his torso
stried &lean away!
%he te&h#guard sergeant led the way a&ross the &ha+ber towards the ne&rons entering the &ha+ber to ,oin those who
had atta&*ed fro+ the &eiling! %he short#range gunfight bla5ed, red las#blasts and gouts of green fire e.&hanged through
the wre&*age and gloo+! %e&h#guard fell! %he sergeant dived to the floor as the &over around hi+ dissolved!
%he first warriors were +a*ing it onto the +a&hinery floor! -ionel bro*e &over and fired, sending a volley of rivets
through the body of the first ene+y he saw! (teel rivets un&hed through its fa&e and rib&age and it fell! -ionel's ne.t
shot shattered a warrior's weaon, and, in a green flash, the gun's energy dis&harged, the re+ains droing uselessly to
the floor!
%here +ust have been fifty ne&rons, and, every ti+e one fell, another see+ed to rise u fro+ the ground! -ionel was not
afraid! He had not been afraid sin&e that art of his brain had been burned out and rela&ed with data storage! %he
&han&es of survival were not good, but ulti+ately, that &hanged nothing!
/e&ron warriors &la+bered over the re+ains of the &onveyor! -ionel *no&*ed the legs out fro+ one and sla++ed his
+etal fist down into its body, shattering it so thoroughly that he *new its heathen te&hnology &ouldn't get it ba&* to its
feet! %he rivet gun ha++ered away al+ost of its own volition, thudding hot +etal into the aroa&hing ene+y!
%he warrior -ionel had disar+ed leat fro+ the &onveyor onto his ba&*! 3etal hands rised at the &owling of his torso!
-ionel tried to throw the &reature off, but its hands were inside the lating, rea&hing for bundles of wires and fragile
&o+onents, and it wouldn't let go! -ionel stu+bled ba&*wards and sla++ed ba&* into the housing of the +a&hining
forge fro+ whi&h the &onveyor e+erged! %he forge was still ha++ering away, sta+ing out +etal &o+onents that
silled out onto the floor with no +enials to sort through the+! -ionel tried to &rush the ne&ron against the side of the
+a&hine, but it held on! Bolts of fire burst around hi+, one shearing dee into his left shoulder and another al+ost
ta*ing his leg off!
-ionel rea&hed u, grabbed the ne&ron around its +etal ne&* and tore it off his ba&*, and threw it into the +outh of the
+a&hining forge! %he ne&ron s&ra+bled to es&ae, but it was a fra&tion too late, and a iston sta+ed a &og#shaed hole
through the &entre of its fa&e!
%he warriors were still aroa&hing, relentless, their advan&e slowed by the re+aining te&h#guard falling ba&* before
the+ and sending las#blasts s&oring dee +elting furrows a&ross their &araa&es!
%here were +ore warriors, too, e+erging fro+ a&&ess oints around the +a&hine floor! -ionel *new he &ould not fight
the+ all, no +atter how +u&h satisfa&tion it +ight give hi+ every ti+e a .enos abo+ination was felled by one of the
O+nissiah's rivets! He sto+ed to the side of the forge! He tore a se&tion of anel away and hurled it, the ,agged edge
sli&ing the head off an advan&ing warrior!
'' re$uire reinfor&e+ents1' vo.ed -ionel! '"r+s#+en and te&h#guard to +y lo&ation1'
"&ross the floor, another te&h#guard fell, this ti+e in &lose &o+bat, his lasgun torn fro+ his hands by a ne&ron, who
then ,abbed the &urved bayonet on its gun into the +an's gut! %he sergeant blew off the alien's ar+ in resonse, but only
a handful of te&h#guard fought ba&* now, s&ra+bling fro+ &over to &over to fall ba&* to -ionel and the forge!
-ionel ha++ered with his rivet gun and threw &hun*s of +a&hinery with his other ar+! Fire tore into the forge around
hi+! %he forge shuddered and bro*e down, sewing half#for+ed &o+onents! " warrior &la+bered, grinning onto the
+a&hine floor beside hi+, and -ionel was barely able to swat the barrel of its weaon away before it dis&harged a bolt
of green fire into hi+ at oint#blan* range! -ionel hauled the warrior into the air, tore its ar+s off and threw what
re+ained into another ne&ron aroa&hing with its gun levelled at hi+!
')e are lost1' vo.ed the te&h#guard sergeant!
')e breathe,' said -ionel! ')e thin*! )e reason! )e are not lost!'
%hree s$uads of te&h#guard burst in through entran&es behind the forge! Las#fire fell as thi&* as rain, the whole &ha+ber
glowing red with it! -ionel &rou&hed down as las#blasts ried over his head, sli&ing into ne&ron torsos! -ionel lent his
rivet gun to the weight of fire, inning one warrior to the floor, a very un+a&hine#li*e relish firing in his brain as he
wat&hed the alien s$uir+ing li*e a inned inse&t!
Las#fire was not enough to un&ture ne&ron ar+our on its own, but the weight of it was overwhel+ing! %wenty bolts
+ight boun&e off a ne&ron's &araa&e, leaving a +olten red welt, but the twenty#first +ight hit a vulnerable sot, or +elt
a little to far and destroy a &riti&al &o+onent! /e&rons on bro*en li+bs were easy targets, while others were shot
through gas in their &araa&es and fell as they advan&ed! %he te&h#guard for+ed u behind -ionel in a firing line,
,oined by the survivors of the first s$uad! One of the te&h#guard brought a +elta gun to bear, and its suerheated bea+
+elted through torsos and +etalli& s*ulls!
%he ne&rons fell! -ionel held u a aw, and the firing died down! One of the sergeants yelled the order to &ease fire!
%he bodies were gone, not those of the fallen te&h#guard and +enials, whi&h lay in ools of gore +i.ed with the swarf
fro+ the forge, but the ne&rons! %hey si+ly disaeared when they &ollased! -ionel advan&ed slowly, wary of
ne&rons self#reairing to atta&* hi+ une.e&tedly!
One ne&ron lay there, $uite dead, but without disaearing! 't had ,uddered along the bro*en &onveyor belt and &lattered
to the floor!
'3agos,' said Gillard, who had so+ehow &ontrived to survive hidden a+ong the +a&hinery surrounding the forge! ''s it
over2'
'/o,' said -ionel!
3ore ne&rons were e+erging fro+ the rusting shadows around the +a&hine floor! %he first warriors had been the
vanguard, and -ionel &ould tell that the following waves were deadlier, ,ust with a loo*! %hose on foot were broader#
shouldered with solid, sto&*y sines to suort the weight of their larger gauss weaons, and behind the+ hovered
variants of warriors on flying anti#grav &hassis! 3etalli& beetles s&urried along the de&* in front of the se&ond wave!
Green blasts fell a+ong the few re+aining +enials, owerful enough to stri the+ down to gnawed s*eletons!
-ionel grabbed the fallen ne&ron warrior and slung it over his ba&* where +agneti& &la+s, whi&h usually fi.ed
stabilising legs and neu+ati& lifters to his &hassis, held it fir+! %e&h#guard, we &annot hold this la&e! Fall ba&* to the
dorsal saviour ods1'
" few shouted orders saw the te&h#guard units &overing one another as they +oved ba&* out of the &ha+ber,
+aintaining a sattering of fire to *ee the ne&ron guns off the+ for a few se&onds +ore!
-ionel did not follow the+! 'nstead, he ran at full dlt towards the nearest wall! His enor+ous weight sla++ed into it,
and he tore straight through the wall, his +o+entu+ riing through the bul*head into the ne.t se&tion! " se&tion of the
&eiling fell in behind hi+! 't would hold off the ne&rons for the few +inutes he needed!
-ionel stoed and let his +ind sin* down again, the artifi&ial arts of his brain banishing the adrenaline fro+ his
syste+ so that he &ould fo&us! He entered the shi's infor+ation stru&ture again, for the ne.t &ourse of a&tion was not
his to de&ide!
"ll was ain! Even before -ionel rea&hed ast the interfa&e roto&ols, he &ould feel it! %here was fire, but also terrible
&old, as if the &hill of the void had bled into the soul of the shi! -ionel's +ind &on,ured +etalli& walls and &orridors to
reresent the shi's low#level syste+s, but they were de&aying, running li*e water or ble+ished with biologi&al stains!
Ban*s of data&rystal, whi&h reresented the shi's ar&hives, were rotting, or burning to ash in green fla+es! -ionel did
not ani&, for su&h a useless e+otion was no longer art of his aug+ented +ind, but the grotes$ueness of it still so*e
to the wea* hu+an arts of hi+! %his was his shi, a thing of an&ient beauty and +a,esty, and it was si&*! %hat si&*ness
+anifested turned -ionel's sto+a&h in a very hu+an way!
-ionel san* deeer! %he shi was falling aart inside! Glittering &onduits of infor+ation strea+ing fro+ the shi's
sensors fra&tured and bro*e as the Ferrous went blind, &hun*s of raw data raining down li*e debris in an earth$ua*e!
-ionel guided his +ind between the+, wary that da+age to a te&h#riest's +ind &ould rove as fatal as da+age to the
body!
%he roaring, thundering resen&e of the +a&hine#sirit e&hoed everywhere! -ionel slied through the ne.t layer, and
its anger hit hi+ li*e a tidal wave! 't was hot and vibrant, a sho&*ing, terrible +ass of e+otion to &o+e fro+ a +a&hine#
sirit that had been so $uiet for so long! -ionel had *nown it reviously only as a &hained stor+, its ower the otential
energy of its great intelle&t and *nowledge &ontained in the +etal shell of the Ferrous! /ow it was oen and raw, all its
&enturies of e.isten&e owering its fury, and its ain!
)aves of ure agony ha++ered off it! -ionel for&ed his +ind to &on&etualise the +a&hine#sirit as it loo+ed u fro+
the dar*ness of the shi's higher syste+s! %he stor+ &louds were angry red, and they rained blood! Fingers of +er&ury
had wor+ed their way through the walls of the vaulted &ha+ber! Currents of hot, to.i& ain flowed around the stor+,
lashing at it, and the bla&* lightning of ain ar&ed as the +a&hine#sirit raged!
%he li$uid +etal, li*e thousands of roes, rea&hed into a sider's web that strangled the +a&hine#sirit's ower! /o
+atter how the stor+ raged, the silver web tightened, and the stor+ bled all the +ore!
'%ell +e1' &ried -ionel! '%ell +e what ' +ust do1'
" +ass of li$uid +etal welled u, &hurning li*e an o&ean under the stor+! Hands rea&hed u fro+ it, taloned and
driing, and where the lightning stru&* it the hands grabbed it and dragged it down! -ast reserves of ower dis&harged
into that o&ean, greedily drained away by the invading for&e!
%he e+otion that howled on the gale was not hu+an, but it &ould not be +ista*en! 4ain and anger +i.ed into one, and,
in hot deseration, battered against -ionel's +ind!
'4lease, Lord Ferrous1 Do not as* that of +e1'
%here was no rely but the ain! %here was no longer enough hu+an left in -ionel to deny it!
%he Ferrous wanted to die!
-ionel wren&hed his +ind out of the shi's infor+ation syste+s! He snaed ba&* into his body as it &harged and
&lawed its way down through the outer hull a&&ess tunnels towards the lower hull of the shi! %he ne&ron warrior fi.ed
to his ba&* was still there, weighing hi+ down with its heresy!
'-ionel to ro&essing1' vo.ed -ionel!
'4ro&essing here1' &a+e the rely fro+ the overseer! Fro+ the sound of e.losions and gunfire behind the +enial's
voi&e, the ne&rons had +ade it into the ro&essing se&tion, too, into the +ass of &he+i&al tan*s and fra&tioning towers
that the Ferrous dragged behind it!
'Oen all the &atalyst &ha+bers and inundate with fuel1'
'3agos2 %hat will!!!'
'' *now what it will do1 0ou have your orders!'
%he +enial aused! 3enials had not re&eived the higher tea&hings of the 3a&hine#God, and were unaug+ented and
wea*! " handful of new te&h#riests were ro+oted fro+ their ran*s ea&h year, but the great +a,ority of the+ would
only ever be nor+al, wea* hu+ans, ruled by their flesh and their e+otions! (o+eti+es, they &ould not be trusted to do
the wor* of the O+nissiah! (o+eti+es &on&erns li*e &o+assion or fear got in the way!
'0es, +agos,' said the +enial! ''t will be done1'
'Fight the+,' said -ionel, 'unto death!'
')e will!'
-ionel &losed the vo.#lin*! )ith the shi's infor+ation syste+s falling aart, it was u to the +enials re+aining in the
ro&essing se&tion to do the +a&hine#sirit's will! He &ould only hoe that they would over&o+e the failings of their
hu+an +inds!
-ionel rea&hed the e+ergen&y hat&h that led into an array of saviour ods! Ea&h od &ould &arry half a do5en &rew+en,
whi&h +eant that one was ,ust big enough for -ionel! %he te&h#guard was already there, in defensive ositions ready to
fend off the ne&rons that +ight burst in at any +o+ent!
'"bandon shi,' ordered -ionel!
"s the te&h#guard entered the saviour ods, -ionel oened the hat&h of the nearest od and threw the wre&*ed ne&ron
warrior in ahead of hi+! He was barely able to get his bul* through the hat&h! He had to ull out one of the seats and
throw it aside, before he &ould turn to &lose the hat&h behind hi+!
%he Ferrous shoo*! %he ne&rons had found so+e &riti&al art of the engines, or their assault on the +a&hine#sirit was
for&ing the shi to tear itself aart! %he end was &o+ing for the Ferrous, and -ionel +ourned it with the art of his brain
that &ould still feel sorrow!
-ionel +entally &o++anded the saviour od's &harges to fire! %he ring of e.losives detonated and fired the saviour
od out through its oening in the shi's hull! %he od, and 3agos -ionel, sun away fro+ the dying shi, ,ust as
tongues of fire began to run u and down its tortured hull!
"RCH3"GO( -O"R )"%CHED the death of the Ferrous fro+ the i+rovised briefing roo+ on the bridge of the
"ntithesis! %o hi+, it was a strea+ of energy readings sooling a&ross a i&t s&reen, but ,ust as a te&h#riest &ould see
+eaning in the 5eroes and ones of +a&hine#&ode, so -oar &ould see the fate of the shi in the ,agged lines of the wildly
flu&tuating ower outut of the fa&tory shi!
(o+ehow, even though the 3e&hani&us had evaded the ursuing shis, the ne&rons had +anaged to get at the Ferrous!
%he Ferrous's ro&essing se&tion e.loded! %he fleet's fuel reserve went u in one titani& ball of orange fla+e, as bright,
for a slit#se&ond, as a sun! /u&lear fires tore the fa&tory shi aart, &onsu+ing its entire length and riing the steel of
its hull into ato+s!
't was beautiful in its own way! <ust as everything had to be forged, so everything had to be destroyed, whether by
violen&e or de&ay! %he Ferrous was an an&ient &raft, however, and, with it, died a sirit that &ould never be built again!
'"r&h+agos1' &a+e a &ra&*ling vo.! -oar struggled to re&ognise the voi&e through the distortion, but it was trans+itted
on his ersonal vo.#net, whi&h +eant it was fro+ one of the fleet's +agi!
'-ionel2' as*ed -oar! '0ou live2'
'But barely, +y ar&h+agos! /e&rons boarded us! %he +a&hine#sirit bade +e destroy it!'
'(o that was you!'
'%here was no &hoi&e! %he sirit was &orruted!'
%he idea was obs&ene! " +a&hine#sirit, a frag+ent of the O+nissiah, violated by alien te&hnology! '%hen you have
served Hi+ well,' said -oar!
'' a+ in a saviour od and have sustained da+age! %he area is heavy with debris!'
'' will have the Fleet 3inor i&* you u,' said -oar, 'and ta*e you to Crystavayne on the Defen&e!'
''t is better that ' &o+e to the "ntithesis as soon as ossible, ar&h+agos!'
')hy2'
'Be&ause ' have so+ething to show you!'
'Brave +en die every day, unre+e+bered! Courage re&eives no ri5e, but &owardi&e and dishonour &an buy hainess
and renown! %he brave a+ongst us +ust a&&et their rewards fro+ within, even in the throes of death!'
# Daenyathos, Cate&his+s 3artial, addendu+ se&undus
%HE -E'LED REG'O/ be&a+e deeer still! %he nebula was a bloo+ of interstellar dust so vast that the solar syste+
&ould fit into one of its &ountless whorls! 't was lit fro+ within by the fires that burned as the dust &lu+ed together into
infant stars! %he tides of the nebula heaved slowly ridges and troughs of dust +a*ing for a ,ourney as dangerous as any
through the war!
3i&ro+eteorites, +otes of dust fro+ ill#birthed worlds, attered against the hull of the Bro*enba&*! 't was heavy going
through the nebula, and a s+aller, +ore deli&ate shi would not have ris*ed it at all! "fter over twenty#four hours of
forging through the nebula, the &aital of the fallen e+ire was in sight, a tiny gli++er orbiting a star that had so+ehow
survived the &urrents of the nebula long enough to be&o+e fat and yellow li*e %erra's own sun!
%HE BR'DGE OF the Bro*enba&* was $uiet! Lygris *new better than to ta*e that as an en&ouraging sign! " hundred
warning lights were win*ing on the various &ogitators and readouts, and the rea&tors &ould go &old for good at any
+inute! %he ruination of the Blessed Obedien&e was still sar*ing fires and venting air and fuel, and if Lygris had not
dis&onne&ted the alar+ *la.ons the bridge would have been a deafening +ass of noise!
'Hel us,' said a $uiet voi&e! "n unagu+ented hu+an ear would have +issed it entirely! Lygris strained to hear!
'Hel us! 0ou +ust!!!'
't was there again, al+ost hidden by the hu++ing of the &ogitators! Lygris wor*ed the &ontrol anel of the &losest
&ogitator!
%he shi's vo.#net was &lear, so the voi&e hadn't &o+e fro+ one of the (oul Drin*ers! 'n any &ase, the voi&e had
sounded fe+ale! Lygris sear&hed through the e.ternal &o++s &hannels, the se&tru+ of fre$uen&ies a&ross whi&h a
signal +ight be sent to the shi fro+ elsewhere!
He found it! 't was wea*, only ,ust strong enough to stir the &ogitator's vo&abulator unit! Lygris a+lified it and tried to
gauge its origin!
'Hel us,' the voi&e said again! 't was a&&ented, but so*e re&ognisable Low Gothi&! '0ou +ust &o+e to our aid! %his is
Raevenia, last world of the (elaa&an E+ire, and we are beset by the stars the+selves!'
O/ %HE BR'DGE a few +inutes later, (aredon listened again to the whole trans+ission! 't was on a loo,
broad&asting &onstantly, but, with ea&h iteration, the bridge &ogitators were &losing in on its origin!
'%he stars the+selves2' he +used! ')hat &an that +ean2'
'(o+e stellar disaster2' suggested Lygris! (aredon and the %e&h+arine were on the bridge along with Chalain '*tinos
and Librarian %yrendian!
'Or our .enos friends,' said %yrendian distastefully!
')e need hel urgently,' &ontinued the signal! ')eaonry and +en, to defend our world! "nyone who hears this, ,oin us
in our fight, for +ore worlds, +ore e+ires than ours fa&e e.tin&tion! 4ass us by, and erhas this doo+ will fall uon
you ne.t! %he &hoi&e is yours!'
''s there any indi&ation that the senders of this +essage still live2' as*ed '*tinos! '%here's no telling how long it's been
looing!
'"nd where are they2' as*ed (aredon!
'" short ,u+ away!' Lygris e.a+ined the s&reen of the navigation &ogitator! '(till within the nebula!'
'' don't li*e it,' said %yrendian! ')e *now where their &aital is! )e're +ore li*ely to find survivors there!'
'"ssu+ing,' said '*tinos, 'that this shadow fro+ the stars did not start with the &aital and wor* its way outwards! %he
+essage fro+ Raevenia said they were the last survivors!'
'%he bodies at the ala&e had not been dead that long,' said (aredon! ')hatever haened to this e+ire haened
re&ently! ' believe that we +ust head for Raevenia!'
')hy2' as*ed %yrendian!
(aredon threw his fellow Librarian a stern loo*!
'Be&ause they as*ed for hel,' he said! 'Lygris, &an we +a*e it2'
'%here and no further! %he Bro*enba&* will be dead in the void after another ,u+!'
'%hen set &oordinates and do it! 'f we &an hel these eole we &an as* for fuel and be on our way!'
'"nd if we &annot2' as*ed %yrendian!
(aredon did not answer hi+! Lygris *eyed Raevenia's &oordinates into the bridge &ogitator! %he rea&tors ,uddered
alar+ingly as they war+ed u to throw the sa&e hul* through the war a final ti+e!
')e lost good brothers at the ala&e and the white &ity,' said %yrendian! 'How +any +ore will this ,aunt &ost us2'
'Do you have a better idea, brother2' snaed (aredon!
'%he &o++ander is &orre&t,' said '*tinos levelly, steing between the two Librarians! 'Brother %yrendian, this is our
best &han&e of saving ourselves! Our ursuers are still out there, and are no doubt &losing on us! %o do nothing is not an
otion, and the right &hoi&e has been +ade!'
'' feel their deaths as +u&h as you do, brother,' said (aredon, 'but this is not a *ind gala.y! (o+eti+es we +ust die for
our brothers, and no one &an say who will die and who will survive!'
For a +o+ent, it loo*ed li*e %yrendian would argue! %hen his fa&e softened al+ost i+er&etibly!
'0ou are +y Chater 3aster and ' bow to you,' he said! '(&a+ander and ' +ust +a*e rearations for the war!'
'0ou have +y leave,' said (aredon! 4sy*ers were +ore at ris* fro+ the o&&asional influen&e of the war during travel!
(aredon, being unable to re&eive teleathy, did not suffer +u&h, but %yrendian's +ind was a little +ore sensitive, and
(&a+ander, of &ourse, was still learning to &ontrol his talents!
%yrendian left the bridge, and (aredon turned ba&* to Lygris! ''f we do find an inhabited world, what are our &han&es2'
'"ssu+ing they are a sa&e#faring eole!!! reasonable, ' would guess! %hat deends on their being friendly!'
'%hen we are assu+ing +u&h,' said '*tinos!
')e always do,' said (aredon! '"ny sign of the 3e&hani&us fleet2'
'' would tell you if there was,' said Lygris! '%he nebula +a*es it diffi&ult to *now either way! )e &ould have lost the+
or they &ould be right on our tail!'
'%hen they &ould follow us to Raevenia,' said (aredon! ')e need to +ove $ui&*ly!'
'-ery well!' Lygris began to *ey the &oordinates into the bridge &ogitator!
')hat are your thoughts, Chalain2' as*ed (aredon, turning to '*tinos!
'*tinos wore, as he al+ost always did, his full regalia of ower ar+our and s*ull#fa&ed hel+! 't was the fa&e he showed
to his Chater, so he did not loo* li*e one of the+ but an i+assive ,udge of their souls! '' believe that we are on the
best &ourse!'
'How will the battle#brothers see it2'
'' will see to it that they understand! )e are not answering a distress signal, but sear&hing for &ivilisation to refuel our
shi! %his is a +ission of survival!'
'%hey all are,' said (aredon! '0ou have +y leave, Chalain! %he Chater will need to ray for ea&e in the war!'
'"s shall we both!'
'(ay a word for +e, too,' said Lygris as he finished un&hing in the &oordinates for Raevenia!
7 7 7
"RCH3"GO( -O"R H"D turned his se&tion of the bridge library into a war#roo+! He had ordered the te&h#riests
to &lear it and bring hi+ everything he needed to are&iate the fleet and its situation: holo#ro,e&tors for ta&ti&al
readouts, a heavy wooden +a table with star &harts sread out on it still awaiting the first land+ar*s of the -eiled
Region, heas of boo*s on naval battle#lore, and histories of &onfli&ts with sa&e hul*s and alien fleets!
He loo*ed u at the heavy neu+ati& footfalls aroa&hing through the library! 3agos -ionel e+erged into the a+ber
light of the glow#globes!
'3agos,' said -oar, '' see you have endured &lose &onta&t with the ene+y!'
'Forgive +e, ar&h+agos,' said -ionel! -oar was &orre&t! -ionel was effe&tively na*ed, although it +attered little given
that his body was &o+letely &ontained within his industrial &hassis, with only his half#aug+eti& fa&e showing! One
shoulder was stried down to the istons and servos, as if the layers of ar+our had been eeled away one by one! He
was &overed in &uts and gouges! He s+elled of hot +a&hine oil and torn iron! '' have &o+e fresh fro+ battle!'
'How badly are you da+aged2'
'' re$uire rela&e+ent arts! 3y &ore fun&tions are largely unaffe&ted!'
'%hen what have you to show +e so urgently2'
-ionel sto+ed u to -oar's des*! -oar saw that he had a &hun* of wre&*age in one fist! -ionel heaved it onto the des*
in front of -oar!
'Here,' he said! 'One of the+!'
%he wre&*age was of a roboti& hu+anoid, its li+bs hoelessly +angled and its +etal s*ull un&hed through, robbing it
of eyes to go with its liless +outh!
'" ne&ron2' as*ed -oar!
'One of their warriors! %he basi& &o+bat unit!'
-oar stood u and turned over the ne&ron warrior's shattered head!
'%here had only been a single e.e+lar re&overed,' said -oar, 'and that was not as &o+lete as this! How did you
revent it fro+ hasing out2'
'' assu+e it was the da+age ' &aused to it!'
'0ou were fortunate!'
'%he Ferrous died under +y stewardshi! ' &an see no good fortune in its fate! ' hoe only that *nowledge will flow
fro+ +y a&tions!'
'Did the +a&hine#sirit!!! say anything2 Did it have any +essage before it fell2'
''t &ould not sea*! ' believe that destru&tion was the fate the O+nissiah would grant it! %hat was all!'
"r&h+agos -oar *new that sorrow was so+ething that he should feel! He felt its e&ho! He had grieved before, been sad
that so+e &olleague had died, or that he had lost!!! a friend2 He tried to re+e+ber the &on&et of an individual whose
i+ortan&e ste++ed fro+ so+ething other than standing within the 3e&hani&us! 't was there, a tra&e of grief, and he let
hi+self feel that shadow of bereave+ent for the Ferrous! 't did not last long!
'' will ta*e this to +y laboratory,' said -oar! '%here +ay be so+ething ' &an learn fro+ it!'
')hat will you have +e do2' as*ed -ionel!
'%a*e a shuttle to the Defen&e! Crystavayne will reair you!'
'0es, +y ar&h+agos!'
'"nd -ionel2'
'0es2'
-oar loo*ed u fro+ the wre&*ed ne&ron! 'Can we fight the+2'
''n nu+bers2 /o, ar&h+agos, we &annot!'
'%hat will be all, +agos!'
-ionel bowed, aw*ward on his s$uat &hassis, and sto+ed ba&* off the bridge! He li+ed as he went, one +otivator
unit in his hi sitting sar*s!
Even with +ost of its fa&e destroyed, the alien +a&hine see+ed to leer u at -oar! 't was a gangling ruin, studded with
rivets fro+ -ionel's gun and +angled by the +a&hining unit, but the +ali&e it &ontained was undi+inished for all that!
')hat are you2' as*ed -oar $uietly! ')here did you &o+e fro+2' He i&*ed u the head! %he lain bla&* &ir&uit boards
in its s*ull glinted through the wound in its fa&e! '"nd if you truly are a +a&hine, who built you2'
-oar aused and too* the +as* fro+ his robes, the +as* that Baradrin %haal had so foolishly bought as a laything, and
whi&h had led the 3e&hani&us to the -eiled Region in the first la&e! He held it u to the ruined warrior's fa&e!
't was the sa+e +etal, the sa+e di+ensions! %he +as* was not a art of the sa+e +a&hine; it aed a hu+an fa&e, while
the ne&ron warrior's head rese+bled a hu+an s*ull in only the +ost stylised &oin&idental way! 't was, however, a reli&
of the sa+e e+ire!
')hat news is there of the (oul Drin*ers2' vo.ed -oar to the shi's ta&ti&al hel+!
')e're still tra&*ing the+,' relied one of the +any te&h#riests who were now ta*ing shifts in +onitoring the sa&e
surrounding the fleet! '%heir last war ,u+ was off#&ourse fro+ our &al&ulations!'
')here are they heading2'
'" syste+ towards the nebula &entre!'
''nhabited2'
''t's ossible!'
'Follow the+!'
'0es, ar&h+agos!'
-oar sat down at the des* and shut off the vo.#lin*s to give hi+ so+e ea&e to thin*!
')hat bargain have you +ade, "startes2' he said to hi+self, turning the .enos +as* over in his hands! ')hat have they
offered you2 )hat will you ay2'
Outside the "ntithesis, the other shis of the 3e&hani&us fleet were gathering into for+ation to enter the war, both to
stay ahead of the ne&ron aggressors and &lose in on the (oul Drin*ers!
)hether it &ost hi+ his fleet, or even his life, "r&h+agos -oar would find his answers soon!
%HRO6GH %HE DO?E/( of sensors on the Bro*enba&*, the lanet identified as Raevenia was blue#green, glittering
and beautiful! 4lanets li*e that got rarer every year in the '+eriu+, as +ore were settled by billions of ilgri+s and
refugees, olluted, stried bare, or turned into s+ouldering war5ones! Raevenia had rings of stellar i&e and dust, and
several +oons, half#for+ed &ative asteroids, orbiting it!
'%he sour&e of the signal,' said Lygris, 'is here!'
%he lanet was shown on the holo#unit that Lygris had set u on the bridge of the Bro*enba&*! %he %e&h+arine
indi&ated a oint near the e$uator, on a large &ontinent that frag+ented into do5ens of islands along its southern edge! ''t
loo*s li*e there is a &ity there! (o+e ollutants and lenty of stru&tures!' Lygris ointed to a ale sot beside the
otential &ity! 'Given that this &ivilisation is sa&e#faring, this &ould be a sa&e ort!'
''s the signal stronger2' as*ed (aredon!
''t was! 't &ut out about three hours ago!'
'Cut out2'
'<ust after we bro*e war! ''ve been trying to raise a resonse on the sa+e fre$uen&y, but there's nothing!'
(aredon loo*ed +ore &losely at the holo! ''s there any sign of &onfli&t down there2
'/one yet,' said Lygris! '%hat doesn't +ean it isn't there! 3ore li*ely, it's another ghost world and the .enos have seen us
&o+ing!'
%he two (oul Drin*ers were alone on the bridge! 3u&h of the Chater was rearing to deart for the surfa&e of
Raevenia, and the rest were ositioned throughout the Bro*enba&*, +anning the sensoriu+ hel+s and *eeing an
uneasy wat&h over the re+aining rea&tors!
')hat do you thin* of it2' as*ed (aredon!
'%his lanet2 't's definitely inhabited, or at least it was!'
'3ore than that!'
Lygris thought for a long +o+ent! '' don't li*e it!'
'/o2'
''t's this whole la&e, the -eiled Region! 't feels li*e it was!!! waiting for us! 't's drawing us further in so it &an *ill us off
bit by bit, as if it is alive and we are a virus to be *illed off! Does that sound sane2'
'(tranger things have been roven to e.ist in this gala.y,' said (aredon, 'but as you say, we aren't going anywhere else!
't is Raevenia or nothing!'
'' agree! %his is our best &han&e! ' only wish that we had so+e +ore aetising &hoi&es!'
(aredon studied the i+age of Raevenia so+e +ore! Here and there, the forests and lains were stained with dar* areas
that &ould be &ities, or grey veins that +ight be roads! /orth of the ossible &ity was a range of +ountains &rowned with
snow, li*e white stit&hes in the lanet's surfa&e!
')hoever is down there,' said Lygris, 'we +ay have to fight the+ to ta*e the fuel we need!'
'%hen we will fight the+,' relied (aredon sharly! ')e have done +ore distasteful things! %his is survival!'
'Let us say we do survive! )e find a safe berth in the gala.y where we are not hunted! )hat then2'
'%hen,' said (aredon, 'we will rule ourselves! %hat is worth fighting for!'
'Do you thin* it is ossible2'
'Lygris, would ' have led you here, would ' have led you at all, if it was not2 %o live free in the '+eriu+ is a fight that
+ight ta*e until the end of ti+e to win, but it is worth fighting! 'f ' believe anything, then ' believe that!'
'Freedo+2' said Lygris! 'Fro+ the '+eriu+2 /o one has lived free in this gala.y sin&e the "ge of (trife! For +y battle#
brothers to see it!!! that is so+ething ' would ris* +y life for!'
')ell said, te&h+arine,' said (aredon! ''t is the E+eror's wor*! Had he not been betrayed by the tyrants that followed
hi+ then we +ight not have to fight for it li*e this! Of &ourse, we won't be fighting for anything if we're stranded here!'
'-ery well, &o++ander,' said Lygris! '' will see to it that the gunshis are ready for laun&h!'
Lygris left (aredon to &onte+late the unsoilt globe of Raevenia! 't see+ed too beautiful to harbour anything deadly,
too natural and ure to threaten &orrution!
" (a&e 3arine never let aearan&es dro his guard, however! 'f the fates so willed it, there would be lenty of *illing
on that lanet!
%HE /ECRO/ FLEE% tore the heart out of a star!
't was an old star, fat and red, a lu+bering giant that stood as a reli& of a ti+e before the &louds of the -eiled Region
had gathered! %he star dar*ened, and then &ollased, throwing off outer layers in riles of radiation +illions of +iles
a&ross! 'ts re+aining substan&e &o+a&ted and heated u, and, for a few final hours, it burned as bright as it had in its
youth, sitting violent solar flares and ato+i& stor+s in its death throes! %hen that energy, too, was su&*ed out into the
void, and the star shran* into a s+ouldering &lu+ of ashes, burning away the last vestiges of its ower!
%he star's ower fuelled the fleet's alien te&hnologies! %he shis hurtled at i+ossible interstellar seeds, sa&e#ti+e
folding through fields of e.oti& energy, showers of arti&les that hysi&s deter+ined &ould not e.ist strea*ing a&ross the
-eiled Region!
%he last e&hoes of the star's ower riled out as the fleet arrived at its destination! %he &old radioa&tive dust was
thrown aside as the ne&ron ne&roolis shi tore through it, ower &ra&*ling off its talons! %he rest of the fleet shifted
into la&e beside it, the star's stolen ower ar&ing between the+ and the ne&roolis shi! %i+e and sa&e see+ed to
&o+lain at the violation that had brought the ne&rons there, shi++ering riles washing out at the seed of light,
e&hoing off the barren worlds around the dead star!
%o+bs, sealed before +an*ind had evolved, slit oen, and the lords of the host e+erged, hot &oils of ower burning
the atina of +illennia fro+ their bodies! %hey raised their staves, and unliving eyes turned on the+! (&arabs swar+ed
everywhere, fi.ing the syste+s that ti+e had undone! 'nfor+ation fli&*ered between the &o++and nodes of the host,
between the lords and their +aster, down to the individual warriors! )ar +a&hines awo*e, too, enor+ous vehi&les li*e
hovering +onu+ents to death, fighter &raft folded u in their verti&al laun&h de&*s li*e &olonies of bats!
%o the shis of the sentinel fleet would now be added the ar+ies of ne&ron warriors that had already &on$uered +ost of
the hu+an e+ire! /either the defenders of Raevenia, already whittled down by vanguard units, nor the new interloers
would fa&e any oint but eli+ination!
"RCH3"GO( -O"R H"D *et the laboratory solely for his own use! /ot even the other +agi of the fleet had a&&ess
to this art of the "ntithesis! (o+eti+es, solitude was as essential to a te&h#riest's studies as his *nowledge of the
3a&hine! (o+eti+es, the things he studied were best *et to his +ind, the strongest and best trained, alone!
%he laboratory e$ui+ent dated ba&* to the building of the "ntithesis! 'ts surfa&es were brushed steel glowing faintly
over the low light! 't was attended by a &o+le+ent of servitors, silver#lated sidery &reations with their on&e#hu+an
&o+onents hidden fro+ view!
"r&h+agos -oar la&ed the wre&*ed ne&ron warrior on the disse&tion slab in the &entre of the laboratory! "n
autosurgeon unit swung into la&e overhead, and a thin bea+ of white light fell onto the ne&ron, illu+inating it in all the
fine detail that -oar's bioni& eyes &ould dis&ern!
" air of +e&hadendrites un&oiled fro+ -oar's shoulders! %hey were thin and deli&ate, $uite unli*e the &rude
arti&ulated &ables that lower#ran*ed te&h#riests used as additional li+bs! -oar's lu&*ed a +edi&al laser and ower
s&alel fro+ their ra&* on the autosurgeon, a +iniature field of disrutive energy fli&*ering around the s&alel blade!
-oar had been a &o++ander of the "detus 3e&hani&us for&es in the field for a long ti+e, too long, erhas! %he
urity of ursuing *nowledge in this way, infor+ation for its own sa*e and not as a +eans to a +ilitary end, was li*e a
drug that fo&used his +ind! %here was no li+it to what a +agos &ould a&hieve with that fo&us and the blessing of the
O+nissiah uon hi+! He &on&entrated on the +a&hine and slowly slit the ne&ron's torso oen, heating the alloy with the
laser so that it &ould be slit oen by the s&alel!
%he vaorised +etal did not s+ell right! 't did not glow and defor+ in the way righteous +etal should! -oar had to
&ho*e ba&* the sense of disgust! %he torso slit oen, and -oar &arefully lifted the two halves aart!
" ower &ore lay beneath, still glowing with unholy radiation with solid bla&* surfa&es ins&ribed with &o+le. atterns
in la&e of wires and &ir&uits! 't was nothing at all li*e the 3a&hine, li*e the erfe&tion of for+ as taught by the
O+nissiah! (tudying it would be ta.ing on the soul as well as the +ind! %hat was why -oar had to *ee it here, in his
sealed lab, where it &ould not infe&t less well#reared +inds!
'"r&h+agos,' said a vo. fro+ the bridge! 't was 3agos Hesebah on board the Constant, whi&h was flying in for+ation
ahead of the "ntithesis!
-oar withdrew the i+le+ents fro+ the innards of the dead +a&hine! '' as*ed not to be disturbed!'
'%hey were waiting for us,' said Hesebah! ''t's all over our s&anners!'
'E.lain!'
'%he .enos! %hey *new our &ourse before we did! %hey're here!'
'"nyone outside the fold of the '+eriu+ of 3an is an ene+y, roven or otherwise, .enos or hu+an! "nyone who lives
without the light of %erra wal*s in dar*ness!'
# Daenyathos, %he Defen&e of 8all 8'8
("R4EDO/ (") %HE &ity first as the lead %hunderhaw* bro*e through the &loud &over! 't was surrounded by a solid
defen&e wall, with grand gates to the north and south, and the &ity itself was a great &rown of de&orative stonewor*
&ontained within those walls! %he towers of ala&es and &ivi& buildings rea&hed u fro+ srawling estates and &ra+ed
winding streets! 4oorer distri&ts do+inated the south, tu+bledown tene+ent blo&*s built over the foundations of a on&e#
roserous distri&t, devolving into ra+sha&*le shanties along the south wall and silling into the woodland beyond the
south gate! %he lands around it were &areted with de&iduous forests, rolling u towards a line of hills to the far north! "
short distan&e fro+ the &ity was the stru&ture that Lygris had &orre&tly identified as a sa&e ort, several ro&*&rete
landing ads surrounding a &ontrol tower, all held within its own set of defensive walls studded with fire#oints and
wat&htowers!
'Co++ander,' vo.ed 4hol fro+ the %hunderhaw*'s &o&*it! 4hol was robably the only (oul Drin*er Lygris trusted to
fly a %hunderhaw* as well as Lygris hi+self did! '%he Raevenians have &o+e out to greet us! "r+ed +en, several
thousand!'
%he for&e had gathered outside the &ity's south gate! (aredon &ould see the+ ran*ed u in regi+ents, thousands strong,
with artillery and &avalry drawn u on the flan*s! Banners fluttered in the wind!
'Bring us in, brother,' vo.ed (aredon!
%he (oul Drin*ers of ($uad Lu*o were straed into the grav#restraints around (aredon! Ea&h one had a re#battle
ritual! 3any of the+ re&ited assages fro+ the Cate&his+s 3artial, the (oul Drin*ers' hilosohy of war as written by
the Chater's legendary warrior Daenyathos! Others erfor+ed wargear rites to reare the sirits of their weaons and
ar+our, although in truth it was their souls they were rearing!
'Lu*o,' said (aredon, 'we are not going to war! %he eole down there will de&ide if our guns and blades are loosed!'
''s that why you &hose +y s$uad to ride along with you2' as*ed Lu*o with a s+ile! '(o you &ould +a*e sure ' stayed +y
trigger finger2'
'<ust +a*e sure your battle#brothers have &al+ heads on their shoulders,' said (aredon!
%he %hunderhaw* +ade its final des&ent, verti&al engines grinding as they &ushioned the &raft into a landing! %he trees
lining the road leading fro+ the &ity's south gate shuddered in the &hoy gale fro+ the engines! %he gunshi settled
onto the ground!
'Deloy us, Brother 4hol,' vo.ed (aredon!
%he %hunderhaw*'s ra+ swung down! (aredon breathed his first lungfuls of Raevenian air, &lean and &ool forest air
tinged with gun oil and sweat!
%he ar+y arrayed outside the gates was huge and +agnifi&ent! 'ts soldiers wore irides&ent body ar+our, glea+ing li*e
the &araa&es of beetles! %hey were ar+ed with rifles and +a&hine guns, solid ro,e&tile weaons behind '+erial
te&hnology, but not by +u&h! %he regi+ental banners were e+broidered in silver and gold, and below the+ stood
dru++ers and tru+eters, and offi&ers reslendent in gold bro&ade! Behind the ar+y were do5ens of artillery ie&es
+anned by gun tea+s, and a regi+ent of &avalry ar+ed with sabres as well as rifles!
"t the head of the ar+y, standing in the &ar of a gilded &hariot, was a wo+an in the ar+our of a soldier and the robes of
a +onar&h! Her bla&* hair was tied ba&* severely, and her strong, handso+e fa&e adorned +any of the banners flying
behind her! Her eyes were a shar green!
(aredon &ould feel the troos withdraw when they saw hi+! " (a&e 3arine was +onstrous enough, huge &o+ared
to a nor+al +an and wearing enough ower ar+our to turn hi+ into a wal*ing tan*, but (aredon was a literal +onster!
%he sider legs rela&ing the lower half of his torso were an obs&enity that would warrant i++ediate e.e&ution on +ost
'+erial worlds! "ny right#thin*ing, E+eror#fearing &iti5en would &onsider (aredon an abo+ination!
($uad Lu*o e+erged fro+ the %hunderhaw* behind (aredon! %he guns of his troos were not ai+ed at the ar+y in
front of the+, but in a slit se&ond Lu*o's battle#brothers &ould be ready to fight!
(aredon stood before the wo+an in the &hariot! He was taller than her in her &hariot, but even so she see+ed able to
loo* down on hi+ with both &uriosity and disdain! (aredon had seen +any hu+ans re&oil before hi+, sitting &urses
or running in fear! %he $ueen did not!
" soldier hurried forwards! He loo*ed older than the +en around hi+, the olished lates of his ar+our ins&ribed with
flowing s&rit in gold!
'Her 3a,esty @ueen Dyr+ida of "stelo*,' he said in a&&ented Low Gothi&! Evidently introdu&ing herself was a tas*
beneath the $ueen! 'Regent#general of Raevenia!'
'Co++ander (aredon of the (oul Drin*ers!'
For a +o+ent, there was only the sound of banners flaing in the bree5e, and the engines of the %hunderhaw*
war+ing down!
')hat are you2' as*ed @ueen Dyr+ida! Her voi&e was as strident as the rest of her!
'" (a&e 3arine,' said (aredon! '" warrior fro+ the gala.y beyond, fro+ the '+eriu+ of 3an!'
%he +en in the ran*s were ,ostling nervously! Offi&ers threw angry glan&es to $uiet the+ down! Even the horses of the
&avalry were disturbed by the sight of (aredon, straining at their reins!
'%he '+eriu+2' as*ed the $ueen! ')hat +anner of e+ire is this2 One e+battled, li*e our own2 Brothers and sisters in
this fight2'
'%hey are no brothers to you, or to +e,' relied (aredon!
'%hen, no e+ire +oves to assist us2 'n site of our &alls for hel, our begging, we see nothing but you and your +en2
%his is the deliveran&e we abandoned our ride to lead for2 How +any do you bring with you2'
'%wo hundred and fifty,' said (aredon!
'%wo hundred and fifty1 )hat differen&e &an you +a*e to us2 %he 6ndying are uon us! %hey will &are nothing for your
resen&e unless ea&h of your +en is worth a thousand of +ine!'
'%hey are,' said (aredon levelly!
%he silen&e was bro*en only by the sound of banners and trees in the wind!
%he $ueen loo*ed ast (aredon to the (oul Drin*ers of ($uad Lu*o behind hi+, and the landed %hunderhaw* beyond!
%wo +ore %hunderhaw*s were &ir&ling overhead! (aredon &ouldn't i+agine what she +ust +a*e of the (oul Drin*ers
with their +utant leader, their +assive statures and urle ar+our, their e.oti& wargear li*e Lu*o's &laws and
(aredon's for&e a.e! %he fear was &lear in the eyes of her soldiers, for they +ust have thought they were loo*ing on
&reatures of legend! %he ar+ies of +any non#'+erial worlds had &ru+bled at the sight of (a&e 3arines in the ast,
&ivilisations, who thought the+selves enlightened and advan&ed, bowing down to worshi the terrifying warriors that
droed into their +idst fro+ the s*y! )hole worlds had fallen to '+erial tyranny in the ast by e.a&tly this +ethod!
@ueen Dyr+ida was +ade of sterner stuff! )ithout her, the ar+y +ight well have +elted away, there and then, without
a shot being fired, or they would have atta&*ed the (oul Drin*ers at the first sight of (aredon! 'nstead, they followed
their $ueen's lead, and stood fir+!
'0ou are not here to hel us,' said the $ueen! ''f you are as +ighty as you &lai+ then you would thin* +y world beneath
you! )hy are you here2'
(aredon settled ba&* onto his ba&* legs! %he $ueen was right! 'f the Bro*enba&* had not been &riled, his Chater
would robably have byassed Raevenia &o+letely, and ignored their leas for hel! )e &an deart, your +a,esty, and
leave you to these 6ndying! Or we &an give you the &han&e for survival that you &urrently la&*!'
'3y &ity will soon be under siege by the 6ndying! 'f you wish to fight, fight! Otherwise, leave! %here is no +ore to be
dis&ussed!' Dyr+ida turned to he &harioteer! '%o the gates1' she ordered! %he &hariot wheeled around, and the troos
arted as it was driven towards the &ity!
'"ll s$uads,' vo.ed (aredon to the (oul Drin*ers in the %hunderhaw*s overhead! 'Co+e in to land! Do not oen fire on
the Raevenians! "ll weaons silent!'
%he troos were falling ba&*, ran* by ran*, to a&&o+any their $ueen into the &ity! Catain Lu*o held his osition
behind (aredon as the banners re&eded!
'4erhas we should have &o+e ar+ed with a dilo+at,' said Lu*o!
(aredon turned to hi+! '/e.t ti+e you sharen your &laws, &atain, try dulling your wit as well! %a*e &o++and of the
s$uads as they land and set u a osition &loser to the walls!'
')here will you be, &o++ander2'
''n the &ity,' said (aredon!
L0GR'( RE"CHED %HE bridge ,ust as Brother Feynin was shutting off the alar+s! Feynin was one of the (oul
Drin*ers left on the Bro*enba&* while (aredon led the rest to Raevenia! Lygris *new that, while they would not say
so, they all wanted to be at (aredon's side, fighting whatever battle the lanet +ight throw at the+!
')hat is it2' as*ed Lygris!
Feynin loo*ed around fro+ the bridge &ogitator! " &oule of other (oul Drin*ers were on the bridge, e.a+ining i&t
s&reens or sools of rintouts! )arning lights were flashing and the *la.ons still e&hoed through the de&*!
'Conta&ts,' said Feynin! ''n#syste+!'
'Conta&ts2 Fro+ the war2'
'%here's no war brea&h! ' don't *now where they &a+e fro+!'
Lygris too* over Feynin's osition at the &ogitator! 'f the bridge views&reen had been reaired he &ould have had an
overview of Raevenia's syste+ in se&onds, but had to +a*e do with the strea+s of figures fli&*ering down the i&t
s&reen in front of hi+! He stoed the+ and fli&*ed through a few different s&reens!
'%hey were hiding in Raevenia's rings,' said Lygris!
'%he rings2' as*ed Feynin!
'%hey're +ade of &hun*s of i&e and ro&*! " shi &ould easily hide in the+!'
'But they'd have to be stone &old to avoid any sensors! 'f it's the 3e&hani&us then they#'
''t's not the 3e&hani&us,' said Lygris, leafing through rintouts! ''t's the +a&hines! Here, the energy si*es are well out
of any '+erial engine's toleran&e! %hat's alien te&h!'
Lygris swit&hed to (aredon's vo.#&hannel! 'Co++ander2'
'Lygris2' said (aredon's! ')hat news fro+ orbit2'
'%he +a&hines are here with us! "t least si. &raft, es&ort#si5ed but owerful! %hey ,ust bro*e &over fro+ the lanet's
rings!'
'%hey're here2'
''n for&e, &o++ander,' said Lygris!
'%hen Raevenia doesn't have long!' Over the vo., (aredon's voi&e was bro*en u by stati&! ')hat of the Bro*enba&*2
Can it suort us on the ground2'
'' &an *ee us in a stationary orbit,' relied Lygris, 'but the +a&hine#sirits of the last rea&tors dearted an hour ago!
)ithout fuel we are dead in the void! ' &an bring few weaons to bear! ' fear the Bro*enba&* is not +u&h use to you!
%he best ' &an do is *ee us running &old so the aliens do not register us as a worthwhile target!'
'-ery well, Lygris,' said (aredon! '' will get you your fuel, %e&h+arine, and then we &an be on our way! 6ntil then, do
the E+eror's wor*!'
'Do the E+eror's wor*, &o++ander!'
(aredon &ut the vo.#lin*!
Lygris loo*ed again at the figures being sewed out by the bridge &ogitators! Enor+ous reserves of ower, te&hnology
both vastly different and far advan&ed &o+ared to the '+erial!
8enos, he thought! One +ore foe to fa&e before the (oul Drin*ers &ould brea* out of the &hains that still held the+! "nd
after then, would there be another foe2 "nother war to fight2
't did not +atter! For a (a&e 3arine, for a (oul Drin*er, doing the E+eror's wor* was its own reward! Lygris turned
ba&* to the bridge &ontrols and the tas* of *eeing the sa&e hul* in orbit!
%HE )"R ROO3 was do+inated by a relief +a of "stelo*! /ewly added to the +a were the distri&ts of shanties
and refugee &a+s housing the eole who had fled to "stelo* fro+ the rest of Raevenia, +oving before the tide of the
6ndying! %he generals of Dyr+ida's ar+ies sat around it, their &o+le+ents of suort offi&ers behind the+! 3any of
the+ had laid out do&u+ents on the tableto around the +a: intelligen&e reorts, +as, lans of atta&*, statisti&s!
For all the finery of their unifor+s, there was a deseration about the+! %here was none of the ageantry and self#
&ongratulation of ea&eti+e! %hese were old soldiers, and they were here to fight a war!
@ueen Dyr+ida entered the war roo+! %he generals saluted as she too* u her la&e at the +a table! (he had been
disrobed of her ar+our, and wore si+le blue#green fatigues with a sidear+ holstered at her hi! Her long dar* hair
hung loose! (he loo*ed as +u&h a soldier as any of the generals!
'0our reorts,' she said!
General Heynan &leared his throat! " thin and si*y#loo*ing +an with a fa&e as shar as a hat&het, his unifor+ bore the
e+broidered ringed lanet that sy+bolised "stelo*'s intelligen&e for&e!
'%he last few reorts have &o+e in,' he said! '/one is less than three days old!'
'Do any agents still live elsewhere on Raevenia2' as*ed Dyr+ida!
''t see+s unli*ely, your +a,esty! %he last infor+ation we have is fro+ one of our s&outs near Fornow Harbour! He
reorts the 6ndying there in great nu+bers, and war +a&hines &onverging on the &ity! 6ndying s&outs were &losing on
his osition when he trans+itted! @uite ossibly, he fell to the+!'
'%hat uts the+ within a few days of "stelo*,' said the ,owly, owerfully built Da+as*, a general of the ar+y, who had
ridden with the &avalry in the wars that had been fought de&ades ago between "stelo* and her fellow &ity#states of
Raevenia! ')ith Fornow fallen there won't be anything to sto the+ for&ing one of the +ountain asses!'
')hat of elsewhere2' as*ed Dyr+ida! '%he Lovinian 4rin&ialities2 9rassus City2'
'/othing,' relied Heynan, 'not sin&e the 4rin&ialities reorted the invaders &o+ing fro+ the s*y!'
'' see,' said Dyr+ida! '%hen the last of Raevenia's &ities have fallen! )e are alone! )e, the eole of this &ity, are what
re+ains of the (elaa&an E+ire!'
" few of the less ta&tful generals e.&hanged loo*s!
'Do not retend,' said Dyr+ida, 'that we have not *nown this all along! )hen (elaa&a fell silent, we *new it &ould &o+e
to this! )e *now that +any worlds have fallen and we &annot assu+e any others have been sared! 3u&h as it ains us
to a&&et it, +u&h as the death toll +ust be beyond our understanding, it is the truth! %he e+ire's last stand will fall
uon us! %he 6ndying have e.ter+inated all the rest!'
Da+as* banged a fist on the +a table! '%hen we will give these aliens the battle of their lives1 %he 6ndying will ay
for every bri&* and &obble of "stelo*1 ' will +an the barri&ades +yself and fight the+ until the last breath1 ' and +y
+en will#'
'0ou will give us all glorious deaths, general2' interruted Dyr+ida! '0ou a&&et the loss of "stelo* and all who dwell
in her2'
Da+as* did not answer! He glan&ed around the table for suort, but none of his fellow offi&ers so*e u!
'' intend,' said Dyr+ida, 'to fight the 6ndying here, but, unli*e General Da+as*, ' do not intend to lose! ' a+ willing to
sa&rifi&e "stelo*, but not her eole! )e +ust eva&uate the oulation to the sa&e ort and get the+ off the lanet!'
'/o ar+y s&out has returned fro+ the Bladeleaf Glades for wee*s,' said Heynan! '%hat is less than half a days' +ar&h
away fro+ the road to the sa&e ort! )e *now there are 6ndying in the Glades, definitely their vanguard, +aybe their
+ain for&e!'
'%here is no way,' said General (la*e, another veteran of ar+y &o++and with a dee s&ar a&ross his lis, 'that we &an
get the eole down that road to the sa&e ort! 3ustering the ar+y to greet the new&o+ers was ris* enough! 't would
ta*e a day at the very least to +ove the eole to the sa&e ort, and the 6ndying &ould a+bush at any ti+e! 0our
+a,esty, it would be a +assa&re!'
'General (la*e's words &o+e belatedly,' said Da+as* gri+ly, 'but they are true! Give your eole good deaths, your
+a,esty! Do not let the+ die running!'
Dyr+ida rose to her feet!
')e have all left it too late,' she said, 'to do what is right! )e were afraid to flee our world, for our fellow Raevenians
were standing and fighting, and we would not be the &owards who dared to survive! )e feared the igno+iny of li+ing
ba&* to our world after the 6ndying had been fought off, but now that will not haen! %he 6ndying have won, and our
world will fall! )e have no &hoi&e over that, but we &an &hoose whether our sons and daughters, our friends and loved
ones, are on Raevenia when it haens! General Da+as*, ' will not believe that any death, while denying the 6ndying
their vi&tory, is a bad death!'
Da+as* sat ba&* in his &hair! Only Heynan had little enough &on&ern for his osition to sea* u!
'How, your +a,esty2 How will we buy our eole enough ti+e to rea&h the sa&e ort2'
'Fight the 6ndying in the &ity,' relied Dyr+ida! 'Draw the+ in! For&e the+ to &o++it their +ain for&e to our streets!
"nd *ee the+ fighting long enough to get the eole out!'
" few frustrated e.halations were ,ust audible as the generals digested this! Dyr+ida, ignoring the+, stood and leaned
over the +a of "stelo*!
'Here,' she said! '"s soon as we *now whi&h dire&tion the 6ndying will ta*e, we barri&ade the streets, and funnel the
6ndying into the Ce+etery @uarter! For&e the+ to fight us in the avenues between estates and basili&as, where their
nu+bers &annot be brought to bear! Collase buildings if need be! %he good deaths you lead for, Da+as*, will be
given to every soldier in the &ity, and you are wel&o+e to ,oin the+ at the barri&ades! %he oulation will +a*e it out
while the 6ndying are tied u in the &ity!'
'Hear, hear1' said so+e of the generals, eager to show their loyalty even to the last!
'0ou e.e&t +u&h of the ar+y,' said Heynan!
'Do you say our +en &annot do it2' de+anded (la*e!
'' a+ saying their deaths +ay not be enough1' retorted Heynan! '/o one *nows how +any the 6ndying &an bring to
bear1 %wo hundred thousand +en held the walls of 9rassus City, and it fell overnight1'
'%hen what would you do, Heynan2' de+anded Dyr+ida! 'How would you fa&e the 6ndying2'
%he words died in Heynan's throat! "ny answer he had, withered away under @ueen Dyr+ida's ga5e!
" &o++otion sounded at the ba&* of the roo+! %he generals and their offi&ers turned to get a better loo*! Fro+ the di+
doorway at the far side of the +a roo+ stu+bled a soldier, who had been osted there as a guard, &lut&hing his ar+!
His gun was not in his hand and he lost his balan&e, s&rabbling along the floor!
'' believe,' said a voi&e fro+ the dar*ness, 'that the $ueen's lan is sound!'
(aredon e+erged fro+ the shadows, the sotlight surrounding the +a table &at&hing on the +assive lates of his
ar+our and the glossy &hitin of his sider legs! %he &losest generals started out of their &hairs, and weaons were drawn,
aides ulling out rifles and istols!
'(tay your weaons1' ordered Dyr+ida! (he stood u and addressed (aredon! '0ou1 How did you get in here2'
'0our +en,' relied (aredon &al+ly, 'showed +ore enthusias+ than s*ill in trying to sto +e! Fear not, ' haven't *illed
anyone yet!' 'n one hand he held the rifle he had ta*en fro+ the guard at the door! He &ast it onto the floor! '3y (oul
Drin*ers, on the other hand, &an do things your soldiers &annot!'
'Can you hold the &ity, Lord (aredon2' as*ed Dyr+ida! 'Can you fight the 6ndying to a standstill, long enough for +y
eole to es&ae to the sa&eort2'
')e &an!'
'%hen ' will as* you again! )hat do you want fro+ us2'
%he two lo&*ed stares a&ross the +a table for a long +o+ent! %he offi&ers had not let their guard down, and a do5en
guns were still ai+ed at (aredon!
'Fuel,' said (aredon!
'%hen you are stranded here,' said Dyr+ida, 'and if you fight, you hoe we will give it to you!'
'%hat is &orre&t, your +a,esty!'
'%hen why not si+ly ta*e it by for&e2'
'Be&ause,' said (aredon, 'we are not invaders! )e are not +urderers or thieves! )e have our honour, too!'
'Good,' said Dyr+ida, 'be&ause if you had de&ided to si+ly ta*e it, you would have in&inerated yourselves trying to get
through the defen&es! )hen +y eole are safe in the sa&e ort and the first shis are leaving, then we will give you
the &odes! 's that satisfa&tory2'
By way of an answer, (aredon wal*ed &loser to the table to get a better loo* at the +a of "stelo*! Having seen the
&ity fro+ orbit, the &e+etery hills, sire#toed ala&es and southern slu+s were fa+iliar to hi+, not as wor*s of
ar&hite&ture or la&es to live, but as laying ie&es in the strategi& ga+e that would ensue if the &ity was invaded!
'" sound lan, your +a,esty,' said (aredon! '%hese 6ndying will have to &o++it a +assive for&e to brea* a deter+ined
for&e in the &ity's &entre! )ithout +y (a&e 3arines, it will not wor*! )ith the+, your eole have a &han&e of
deliveran&e!'
'%hen you will fight2' as*ed General Heynan! '0ou will hel us2'
(aredon loo*ed at hi+! Heynan shied away fro+ the (a&e 3arine's ga5e!
'Both sides will hel the+selves,' said (aredon! ')e have the sa+e ob,e&tive, to es&ae this lanet! %he 6ndying stand
in our way! Fighting the+ together is the only &ourse that +a*es sense!'
'%hen ' have +ade +y de&ision,' said Dyr+ida! '%he 6ndying will be fought in the &ity, and held there so that the
&ivilian oulation &an be eva&uated! "re there any further ob,e&tions, +y generals2'
" few of the generals e.&hanged loo*s! 3ost of the+, however, *et their eyes on the +utant (a&e 3arine that
dwarfed the+ all!
'Good,' said Dyr+ida! '%o your duties, +en! 0our $ueen has so*en!'
')hat is fear2 Fear is the absen&e of duty! Fear is what fills our +inds unbidden when our thoughts turn fro+ our
obligations to the hu+an ra&e1'
# Daenyathos, Ha++er of the Hereti&s
'4ERH"4( ' "L)"0( *new,' said @ueen Dyr+ida, 'that it would haen during +y reign!'
%he entire &ity was visible fro+ the graveyard uon the hill! (aredon saw how it had been built nesding between the
hills at first, a fortified town whose walls still e.isted a+id the ala&es and +onu+ents at its heart! "stelo* had grown
large and roserous sin&e! 'n the re#dawn light, the +ove+ent of eole was obvious, draining li*e blood through the
veins of the &ity towards the gates to the south!
@ueen Dyr+ida sat on an old grave slab, so+e of her retainers and &ourtiers waiting a short distan&e away! (he had
&alled (aredon u here to organise the last few details of the &o+ing battle!
'How &ould you be sure2' as*ed (aredon!
'Every +onar&h before +e has believed the sa+e thing! )e +ust always be reared for the death of that for whi&h we
are resonsible! 't is our way!'
'' have seen worlds die,' said (aredon! '%oo +any eole for +e to i+agine! /ot one of the+ really believed that death
would &o+e for the+! ' do not thin* you &an ever be truly reared to see su&h destru&tion!'
'%hat, Co++ander (aredon, is be&ause you were not born on Raevenia,' said the $ueen! '" +an's life does not +ean
anything if it is not +arried to a death of e$ual +erit! " hero &an be rendered a nothing and buried in a it outside the
walls, if he does not die a hero's death! " oor and worthless +an &an be buried u here, a+id all its finery, if he dies
well enough!'
'"nd a $ueen2'
@ueen Dyr+ida &onsidered this!
''t is unli*ely that ' will be buried at all,' she said! '%hat is a bad death indeed! Only if ' a+ re+e+bered &an ' e.e&t to
be anyone in death!'
'Dying on Raevenia +ust be an e.a&ting tas*,' said (aredon!
')hat of your eole2 How do they die2'
''n great nu+bers and ignoran&e!'
'%hey sound li*e bad deaths,' said the $ueen with a sha*e of her head!
'%hey are! %hat is why the (oul Drin*ers no longer fight for the '+eriu+!'
Dyr+ida loo*ed out a&ross the &ity! 6nits of Raevenian troos held several &rossroads, ready to slow down the advan&e
of the 6ndying! %he (oul Drin*ers were &on&entrated around the &entre of the &ity, where the relatively oen sa&es of
ar*s and foru+s would funnel the 6ndying towards the+!
'0our (oul Drin*ers will bear the brunt of the battle,' said the $ueen! '%he +a,ority of +y ar+y +ust se&ure the route to
the sa&e ort!'
'%hose are the *ind of battles we were &reated to fight, your +a,esty!'
'0ou have not returned to your sa&eshi and abandoned us,' &ontinued Dyr+ida! '0ou &ould have done so at any
+o+ent! ' a+ not ignorant of that fa&t!'
'Being be&al+ed here is not an otion for us! 'f you re$uire us to fight if we are to es&ae, then we will fight!'
'%here is +ore than that, (oul Drin*er! %he gala.y has failed us! 't has failed you, too, and +ade you renegades! 0ou
&lai+ to fight only for survival, but ' thin* you are trying to rove so+ething, too, even if only to yourself!'
'Do not be so &ertain, your +a,esty! )e learned what haens when we fight to better the lot of the '+eriu+, and it did
not end well for us!'
" +essenger rode u on a horse, &arrying a sheaf of reorts! '0our +a,esty! Dawn brea*s and '+nis has sounded the
forlorn hoe!'
'-ery good,' said Dyr+ida! 'Co++ander, to your ositions! ' +ust deliver +y eole!'
Dyr+ida was raidly surrounded by her retainers for the short ,ourney to the south gate, where tens of thousands of
eole were now thronging! (aredon turned towards the north, and the battle for "stelo* began!
%HE /OR%HER/ G"%E( of "stelo* were oened ,ust before dawn! %hey were shod with brass that had withstood
sieges before, s&arred by &annon and battering ra+s! %hey would not withstand this one!
%he @ueen's Own Cavalry galloed out! Led by General '+nis, they were slendid with banners and +irror#olished
ar+our! Favours strea+ed fro+ the banner ea&h wore on his ba&*, e+broidered with ea&h +an's ersonal heraldry!
%hey were &o+osed of fifty volunteers! Far +ore had &o+e forward for the duty, but this death was denied to +ost of
the+!
'+nis stoed his horse and raised his sabre, bellowing a &hallenge to the trees and undergrowth &overing the hills
outside the &ity!
%here only answer was wind and birdsong!
'+nis shouted again, &ursing the &owardi&e of the 6ndying and ro+ising the+ dis+al, forgotten deaths that would
&onde+n the+ to nothingness!
He heard nothing in return! '+nis galloed u to the tree line, sitting &urses!
" lan&e of e+erald light leat fro+ the hillside and s*inned hi+ alive in a slit se&ond! His flesh was ared off hi+,
layer by layer, leaving the front half of his body a wet red +ess stried down to the s*eleton! He toled fro+ his
saddle, and his horse, a good &hun* of its flan* stried away too, galloed wild in ain!
" shae rose fro+ the trees! 't was an 6ndying warrior, but it was not li*e the s*eletal &reatures the Raevenians had
witnessed before! 'ts lower half was a slab of +etal thru++ing as it *et the warrior aloft! %he warrior had one ar+, the
other, a &annon glittering with e+erald fire! 't fired again, and this ti+e the bea+ un&hed right through the horse of
one of the &avalry+en! %he horse fell, dead before it hit the ground, and inned the rider's leg under it!
3ore of the flying warriors rose above the trees, &riss#&rossing the &learing in front of the gates with blasts of green
energy! )arriors stal*ed out of the tree line, a silent ran* of the+ +at&hing ste as they advan&ed!
%he &avalry &harged, those at the front lowering their lan&es and those behind snaing off rifle shots! " warrior fell,
fa&e ruined! "fter a +o+ent, it stood u again, falling ba&* into ste!
%he first riders &lashed with the warriors! Blue light burst where the ower blades of their lan&es +ade &onta&t, the
energy fields tearing through +etal! "uto+ati& fire rattled into the 6ndying, and &as&ades of bullet &asings rained down
around the horses' hooves! "n 6ndying warrior was &arried u into the air, i+aled on a lan&e, green fire bleeding fro+
its &hest! Others were tra+led under hooves! " ower sabre lashed out and &ut a +a&hine's head fro+ its shoulders!
Green fire flashed! 3en and horses fell, stried to the bone so $ui&*ly that their bodies too* a +o+ent to start
bleeding!
%he ground shoo*! %he &harge faltered! %he trees on the hillside began to fall, toling as a great bul* for&ed its way
through the+!
One of the &avalry+en, in &o++and after '+nis's death, &alled out for the sons of Raevenia to re,oi&e and die well!
" hundred 6ndying steed in eerily erfe&t for+ation fro+ the trees, grinning s*ulls refle&ting the glowing ower
fields of the &avalry's lan&es! Bullets rained down into the+, but fallen 6ndying si+ly stood again, and, those that did
not, disaeared, rela&ed a +o+ent later by another +etalli& warrior striding into the oen!
%he ran*s of 6ndying oened fire as one! %he &avalry disaeared in a +ess of flayed flesh and bone! Horses, stried
in half, s&rea+ed out their final breaths as organs silled out onto the bloody ground! 3en died before they hit the
ground, insides s&ooed out, redu&ed to fluttering s&ras of s*in and unifor+!
Given the &ir&u+stan&es, they had died the best deaths they &ould hoe for! %he Raevenians wat&hing fro+ the walls
too* &o+fort in that!
%housands of 6ndying followed the front ran*s out of the trees! 3ore flying warriors flan*ed the+, and glittering
s&arabs s&uttled through the grass around their feet! " great &rashing &ould be heard, and trees fell, s&oring a dee line
through the forest &anoy, as so+ething huge and owerful +ade its own ath towards the northern gate! "stelo*
reared to die well!
'%HE /OR%HER/ G"%E ,ust fell,' said 4hol's voi&e over the vo.! '%he 6ndying have +assive infantry strength,
thousands of the+! %hey have flying suort units, too, and so+ething big with the+, +aybe a siege engine! %he
&avalry didn't even slow the+ down!'
(aredon glan&ed u! %he (oul Drin*ers' %hunderhaw*s were in the air, a+ong the+ the one iloted by Brother 4hol,
a&ting as the (oul Drin*ers' eyes as well as lending fire suort!
(aredon was stationed with the +a,ority of his (oul Drin*ers towards the &entre of the &ity! He was holding an
interse&tion of two of "stelo*'s grandest streets, lined on ea&h side by +ansions and +onu+ents li*e a &anyon of
+arble! %he (oul Drin*ers were set u behind +a*eshift barri&ades in the street, or in the windows of the buildings!
(aredon's ost was in a se+i&ir&ular war +e+orial, ins&ribed with thousands of na+es lost in so+e war between the
&ities of Raevenia, and &rowned with statues of weary soldiers, on the &orner of the two streets!
'%ell +e when you &an see this .enos +a&hine,' vo.ed (aredon, 'and *ee +e araised when you have a &lear idea of
their nu+bers!'
'0es, &o++ander! ''ll stay over your osition! By the hand of Dorn1'
'%rust in your bullets and blades, Brother 4hol1' (aredon too* sto&* of his &o++and osition! ($uad Lu*o had ta*en
u firing ositions between the doleful statues, and the rest of the s$uad &rou&hed in &over nearby, behind +a*eshift
barri&ades a&ross the street or in the doorways of +ansions!
')hat do they want with this &ity2' as*ed (&a+ander, who was stationed with ($uad Lu*o where the short#range
fireower he *et in his head had the best &han&e of &o+ing into lay! ')hat is there on this lanet they &an't have got
enough of2'
'%hey are +a&hines, Brother (&a+ander,' said (aredon! '%hey do not want anything, not as we do! %hey ,ust &on$uer!'
(&a+ander was ine.erien&ed, and he had stained his honour by siding with Eu+enes in the (e&ond Chater )ar, but
he had a $ui&* +ind, and he had dedi&ated his efforts to redee+ing hi+self with the Chater! His ar+our &arried the
gilded insignia of the Chater Librariu+; (&a+ander was a sy*er, and (aredon &ould see his otential as living
artillery!
'%argets in the &ity1' said 4hol's voi&e over the vo.! '%he first barri&ades are falling1 %he Raevenians are retreating to
their se&ond lines! %he 6ndying are ouring in!'
'Lend your guns, Brother 4hol, but do not ris* the gunshi! (oul Drin*ers1 %he ene+y is within the gates1'
" all of s+o*e was gathering to the north: gun#s+o*e, burning buildings and the dust of &ollasing buildings!
E.losions ru+bled as booby tras eruted a+ong the abandoned buildings around the gate!
%o (aredon, the sounds of war were as fa+iliar as his own breathing, but he had never before heard thousands of
footstes, +etal against &obbles, sta+ing through the &ity in erfe&t ti+e!
%E/( OF %HE thousands of 6ndying +ade it through the Raevenian fire fro+ the walls! %hey strea+ed through the
northern gateway into "stelo*! %he &rossfire that +et the+ was terrifi&, thousands of Raevenian rifles and +a&hine
guns oening u as one! %he first ran*s of 6ndying were shredded beyond even their &aa&ity to self#reair, but the
6ndying did not &are about losses! 3ore +ar&hed forwards, &ho*ing the gate with wre&*age! " few +o+ents later, the
6ndying war +a&hine brea&hed the walls!
't was shaed li*e a titani& +etal#shod beetle, ulling itself along on its belly with thousands of legs that writhed along
its sides! 'ts head was a huge +aw, ringed with steel teeth, with ower glowing in its throat! (&arabs &rawled all over its
surfa&e, and behind its long seg+ented tail it left a dee furrow in the ground as it drove forwards, flan*ed by the +ar&h
of the 6ndying!
%he +a&hine's enor+ous bul* ushed down one of the gatehouses, and tonnes of rubble were su&*ed into its +aw! %he
useless +atter was sihoned off and sewed fro+ vents along its sides as &louds of &ho*ing dust!
3en died in its ath! %he gate distri&t was barren, the foru+s strewn with half#dissolved bodies and abandoned
barri&ades! " basili&a &ollased, detonated to slow the 6ndying advan&e with rubble, but the +a&hine ,ust dragged its
bul* right through the ruins!
" few Raevenians, who had been wounded or who had run out of a++unition, had been &ut off by the raid 6ndying
advan&e, and had not been able to give u their last few +o+ents fighting! %he 6ndying turned and herded the+
towards the giant +a&hine! (o+e of the+ threw the+selves on the bayonets on the 6ndying's .enos weaons! Others
stu+bled ahead of the+ into the +a&hine's ath! %hey disaeared into the +a&hine's +aw, su&*ed down into its throat!
%hey were denied the good deaths suffered by hundreds of other defenders! " death in defen&e of his ho+e, uon the
orders of his $ueen, was a worthwhile goal for a Raevenian's life! %here were better, of &ourse, but few +en would ever
have the &han&e to even witness the+! 4lenty of soldiers had as*ed for the honour of +anning the front lines!
4lenty of the+ re&eived their wish in the first few +inutes of the battle for "stelo*, stried to the bone by lan&es of
green fire, or &hewed into ul by hordes of s&arabs!
(o+e of the+ did not die! " +an dragged hi+self along the street, his leg a bloody length of sinew and bone! "nother
held in the wet heaving +ass of his &hest, gasing for breath and bra&ing his gun one#handed for a few +ore shots!
"nother &urled into a ball to *ee the s&arabs off his fa&e, howling as their +andibles burrowed through his ba&*!
%he +a&hine harvested the+ too, as the 6ndying threw the+ into its throat, or it si+ly rolled over the+ as they tried to
&rawl out of its way! 3ore good deaths went begging!
%he dust began to fill the &ity li*e fog! %he 6ndying +ar&hed through it, into valleys of aart+ent blo&*s that had
reviously been &ra++ed with refugees! Raevenian sharshooters ai+ed through the windowsA and snier bullets
un&hed through +etal s*ulls! " flying warrior fell, sheared through the sine, its anti#grav unit &utting out, sending it
tu+bling into the gutter! 3ore flyers fired their &annon u at the buildings, boring through walls and the +en sheltering
behind the+! )arriors sent fire sattering u, not +issing a ste as they advan&ed!
O/E R"E-E/'"/ (/'4ER shot down a flying +a&hine, lugging it &lean through the head! He fell ba&* into shelter,
as return fire fro+ the warriors &hewed away at the wall below the window he had used as a vantage oint! He was a
veteran, his ai+ honed by sniing birds and stags in Raevenia's forests! %he inhu+an +ar&h of the 6ndying had not
fa5ed hi+! He had been raised to *ill, and whether it was ri5e ga+e or alien +a&hines did not +a*e any differen&e in
his +ind!
"nother soldier ran into the aart+ent behind hi+! %he la&e was still s&attered with furniture and belongings, the
refugees having abandoned anything that &ould not be &arried in a ba&*a&*! %he soldier was tattered and bloody,
wounded by the 6ndying fire strea*ing u into the buildings!
')e've got to get out of this building,' said the veteran! '9ee +oving! ''ll be right behind you!'
%he soldier didn't rely! He slu+ed against the doorfra+e! %he veteran ran to suort hi+ and too* the +an's weight
on his shoulder!
')e'll get you out,' he said to the wounded +an! '0ou &an't die yet! @ueen's orders, eh2'
%he wounded +an turned his head to loo* at the veteran! His fa&e was a ruin of torn s*in! His eyes were lit fro+ behind
with green fire! His fa&e slit oen and bloodstained +etal leered through it!
%he veteran fought to get out of the +a&hine's gri! 3etal &laws slid through the dead soldier's s*in!
%he veteran's s&rea+ was lost in the roar of the harvester as it ground through the streets below!
7 7 7
FRO3 %HE )'/DO) of the southern ala&e, @ueen Dyr+ida wat&hed another all of dust billow u above the &ity!
"nother building in the north of "stelo* had &ollased!
%he 6ndying weren't ,ust *illing her &ity! %hey were dis+e+bering it before her eyes!
')e have to go, your +a,esty,' said Lieutenant 9avins beside her! '%he &ivilians &an't be held here any longer!'
He was right! %he refugees &ra++ing the southern half of "stelo* were beginning to ani& as the 6ndying aroa&hed!
3ost of the+ had never seen the 6ndying, and had built the+ u as ghosts or dae+ons fro+ the underworld, inhu+an
and unstoable, who infli&ted fates worse than death on their vi&ti+s! %hose who had seen the 6ndying, in the fall of
&ities and settle+ents s&attered a&ross Raevenia, had terrors of their own, +e+ories of green fire eyes and s*eletal
*illers that never stoed! Religion &a+e $ui&*ly to eole wat&hing their world being devoured, and lenty of the
refugees whisered that the 6ndying had been sent by the gods to unish Raevenia for her eole's i+iety!
%he southern gate was the largest in the &ity walls, flan*ed by +e+orials to the Raevenians that had died to defend
"stelo* in ages ast! 4eole thronged the thoroughfare in front of it, and soldiers on the battle+ents had their guns
trained on the &rowds ready to fire if they turned violent!
'%hen we +ust ut trust in our eole,' said Dyr+ida! 'Oen the gates! 3a*e sure the troos *ee the+ fro+
sta+eding!'
'0es, your +a,esty,' said 9avins! '%he transorts are waiting for you! )e should get you out of the &ity as soon as
ossible!'
')ait a while,' said Dyr+ida! '' will not flee +y &ity ahead of +y eole!'
9avins signalled the soldiers holding the gatehouse, fro+ the ala&e bal&ony, and the gates began to grind oen! %he
&rowd surged forwards, and soldiers held the+ ba&*, yelling orders at the &rowd! )o+en and &hildren were weeing,
s&rea+ing, yelling rayers and sreading ru+ours of the 6ndying &losing in!
%hese were the eole for who+ @ueen Dyr+ida was resonsible! 't was a great burden to bear! 'f she failed the+ here,
they would die, all of the+!
%he first &olu+ns of &iti5ens were +oved through the gates! (o+e were old or infir+, and were left behind! Others
bulled their way forward and were &lubbed with rifle butts to *ee the+ in line!
%he sound was terrible: thousands of voi&es tinged with ani& and deseration! 't would ta*e al+ost nothing to send
the+ boiling over: a stray shot, a gli+se of the 6ndying, even ,ust a wrong word shouted in fear!
't had to be this way, however! "n hour before, the &han&es of the 6ndying a+bushing a &onvoy of fleeing refugees
were too high! /ow, it was less, still high, but low enough to give the+ hoe! %hat hoe had been bought with the lives
of Raevenians dead and yet to die, and Dyr+ida had no &hoi&e but to gras it and let it lay out until the end!
'3y eole1' she &alled fro+ the bal&ony! ')e will be delivered1 %rust in +e and in our soldiers1 Believe, and be &al+1'
Eyes fell on her! (he re&ognised the fashions of +any other &ities a+ongst those of "stelo*! (o+e of the+ had been
ene+ies of "stelo* in ti+es ast! /ow, there were no &ities! %here was ,ust Raevenia!
" tre+endous roar went u fro+ the north! Dyr+ida saw the sires of the Dawning 4ala&e falling, &louds of white
+arble dust swallowing the inna&les where Dyr+ida had on&e held &ourt! %he Dawning 4ala&e was &lose to the &entre
of the &ity, and it was one of the +ost owerful sy+bols of "stelo*'s &ulture, of its ast! )ith the Dawning 4ala&e
fallen, the rest of "stelo* &ould not be far behind!
'Fear not1' shouted Dyr+ida as ani& riled through the &rowds! '%hey will not rea&h us1 %his ' swear1'
7 7 7
("R4EDO/ (") %HE first of the towers falling! %he ala&e ,ust ahead was erhas the grandest in the &ity, its
slender towers of rose#&oloured sandstone defining "stelo*'s s*yline! /ow one of those towers &ollased a&ross the
road ahead, silling hundreds of tonnes of rubble into the streets! For a +o+ent, so+e of the ala&e's finery &ould be
gli+sed: torn taestries, gilded ortrait fra+es, ainted wood furniture! %hey all disaeared in the &hurning +ass of
stone!
'(al*1' yelled (aredon into the vo.! 'Fall ba&*1 Fall ba&*1'
'On it,' relied (al* bris*ly! (aredon &ould see (al*'s ta&ti&al s$uad srinting a&ross the street as the ala&e behind
the+ &ollased! One tower fell towards the+, fra&turing as it iled into the street! Hun*s of bro*en stone sla++ed into
the street a few +etres behind (al*'s s$uad, and the (oul Drin*ers were swallowed by the tre+endous flood of dust
eruting fro+ the ala&e's torn foundations!
'4hol,' vo.ed (aredon! ')here is their siege engine2'
'(till heading right for you,' relied 4hol fro+ the %hunderhaw* overhead! '''+ losing a visual on it! %here's too +u&h
dust!'
'(oul Drin*ers1' yelled (aredon! 'Guns u1'
" &oule of Raevenian soldiers, fleeing the destru&tion, ran between the wings of the +ansion that +ade u one art of
the &rossroads! %heir shaes be&a+e di+, and then disaeared, as the ban* of dust rolled over the+!
'Brothers, the siege engine is our target1' ordered (aredon! ''f we are to hold the 6ndying in this &ity, we +ust stri*e at
the heart of their atta&*1 Let us see how these .enos fight when their ene+ies do not flee before their war +a&hine1'
'/othing li*e the sirit of i+rovisation, &o++ander,' said Catain Lu*o!
'%a*e the ene+y's strength and turn it into their wea*ness,' relied (aredon! '%hese were the words of Daenyathos!'
%he dust rolled over (aredon! %he &rossroads and the war +e+orial be&a+e a it of shadow! Even to a (a&e 3arine's
enhan&ed eyes the dust was i+enetrable!
'Co++ander, ''ve lost you,' vo.ed 4hol fro+ above!
'9ee &ir&ling,' said (aredon! '9ee low! Don't give the+ an easy target! %hey +ight still be able to see you!'
'/ovitiate1' said Librarian %yrendian, who was sheltering in the +e+orial alongside ($uad Lu*o! '%o +y side! 4reare1'
'0es, Librarian,' relied (&a+ander! '' a+ ready!' (&a+ander's gauntlets were glowing, ruddy in the +ur*, and (aredon
&ould feel the heat &o+ing off the+!
(aredon heard the tra+ of +etal feet on stone! %he ground groaned with the weight of the war +a&hine! " few voi&es
yelled out, soldiers trying to lo&ate their &o+rades or &rying in ain!
'Co+ing in on your osition,' vo.ed (al*! 'Hold fire1' ($uad (al* e+erged fro+ the fog and huddled down in front of
the +e+orial!
(aredon loo*ed out over the to of the +e+orial's wall! He &ould see a few +etres down the street, and then ,ust
seething dar*ness!
%hen inoints of green fire: 6ndying warriors, hundreds uon hundreds of the+, advan&ing down the road, between
the +ansions and a&ross the s&ulted gardens!
%he war engine bellowed again, throwing out a dar* all of ground#u &ity that s+othered the street in bla&* as if a
deeer night was falling! " s&rea+ was &ut short!
'(oul Drin*ers1' vo.ed (aredon! ')e &annot *ill all the 6ndying, but we &an hurt the+! Our target is the war +a&hine1'
He waited a +o+ent +ore! He &ould +a*e out the outlines of the 6ndying warriors! %heir weaons were glowing with
ent#u energy as they sear&hed for targets! %his window, when the (oul Drin*ers &ould see the 6ndying but the
6ndying &ould not see the+, would last only a few +o+ents +ore!
'Charge1' yelled (aredon, and vaulted over the +e+orial wall!
" lightning bolt leat over his shoulder and blew a warrior aart right in front of (aredon! (aredon didn't have to turn
to see it had &o+e fro+ the hand of %yrendian, whose sy&hi& ower too* a +ost dire&t and destru&tive for+! (aredon
ran into the ga oened u in the 6ndying ran*s, and sla++ed his a.e through the &hest of one of the+ before its
ele&troni& brain had rea&ted!
%he ".e of 3er&aeno was a for&e weaon, tuned in to the wielder's sy&hi& ower so that he &ould fo&us it into the
blade and tear the soul right out of an ene+y! %he 6ndying had no souls to destroy, so (aredon had to rely on ure
strength to drive the a.e through the+! Fortunately, strength was so+ething he had never la&*ed!
He stru&* a s*ull fro+ its shoulders, and stabbed a leg through the abdo+en of another 6ndying, severing its thi&* steel
sine! ($uad Lu*o and ($uad (al* were right behind hi+, bla5ing at oint#blan* range with raid#firing bolters! (oul
Drin*ers advan&ed on either side, and (aredon heard the roar of ,u+ a&* ,ets as assault s$uads leat over the front
lines and into the 6ndying beyond!
%he roboti& nature of the 6ndying was not a strength! 't was a wea*ness! %hey were tough and fearless, but they had no
&aa&ity for i+agination! %hey &ould not rea&t, e.&et to the &o++ands wired into their +a&hine +inds! %hey had &o+e
to this battle ready to fight Raevenians, brave but fallible hu+ans who ani&*ed and ran, who faltered when fa&ed with
a wall of +etal bodies! %hey had not been ready for the (a&e 3arines!
(aredon was at full tilt, sla++ing into the warriors and bowling the+ aside! One of the large floating siders, the sa+e
*ind he had disat&hed at the white &ity, loo+ed through the dust, the lenses studding its head swivelling to fo&us on
hi+! Blasts of bolter and las+a fire ha++ered into it fro+ ($uad Lu*o, and Lu*o hi+self ran beneath the stri&*en
+a&hine and dise+bowelled it with a slash of his lightning &laws! (aredon &ould see the trails of the ,u+ a&*s, and
hear &hainswords against +etal as the assault s$uads went into the fray! %here was bolter fire, everywhere, &riss#
&rossing in white trails as they ried through the all of dust!
%he harvester bellowed! Buildings &ollased in its wa*e!
'Forward1' yelled (aredon! '%a*e the war engine1 Forward1'
%he great dar* &ir&le of the +aw ushed through the dust! 't was bigger than (aredon had i+agined, too big to fit into
the grand street, and it ground its way through the buildings on either side to +a*e assage for itself! 't was a +onstrous
vorte. of gnashing +etal! 't was li*e the eye of death itself!
'Get onto the rooftos1' shouted (aredon into the vo.! '"ssault s$uads, ,u+1 %he rest, into the buildings and u1'
6ndying warriors were &onverging in front of the harvester to fend off the atta&*ers! (aredon s&uttled sideways to
rea&h the front of a law &ourt that too* u one side of the street! %he building was already shuddering as the harvester
&hewed through the far end! ($uad Lu*o was already entering it, shooting out windows and *i&*ing in the +ain doors!
(aredon ,u+ed onto the wall, finding ur&hase with his talons and running u the verti&al surfa&e! 6ndying warriors,
bent and fast wielding &laws, li*e the +a&hines fro+ the forest ala&e, were following hi+ u the wall or e+erging
fro+ the windows! One of the+ wore the s*in of a dead Raevenian, +a*ing for a horrible bloody arody of a hu+an
for+! (aredon aused to ta*e ai+, and blew one of its legs off with a bolter shot! Bolter fire fro+ inside the building
threw another off the wall!
(aredon rea&hed the roof! Dee &ra&*s were running a&ross the walls and roof of the law &ourt, and the whole building
leaned under the advan&ing weight of the harvester! %he first (oul Drin*ers were e+erging onto the roof!
(aredon &ould see the +ain bul* of the harvester now! 't was i++ense, li*e a giganti& beetle with a &araa&e of bullet#
s&arred +etal! 't was bigger even than an '+erial suer#heavy tan*! 4ower glowed green beneath its overlaing
ar+our lates!
%e&h+arine Lygris was on the roof! 'Lygris1' shouted (aredon over the din of the &ollasing building! '' need you
inside1'
'-ery well, &o++ander1 Oen the door1' relied Lygris!
(aredon ran to the edge of the roof and ,u+ed! He landed on the hull of the harvester, ,ust behind the li of its +aw!
Lygris followed hi+! (aredon, whose legs and talons held hi+ fir+ to the hull, held out a hand, and &aught Lygris's
wrist to drag hi+ u onto the uer surfa&e, whi&h was al+ost hori5ontal! %he harvester swayed and ,uddered beneath
the+! 3e+bers of ($uad Lu*o were +a*ing the ,u+, too, or &rou&hing at the edge of the roof to grab an edge of
ar+our late and &la+ber their way u! (aredon saw that (oul Drin*ers were +a*ing it onto the +a&hine fro+ the
oosite roofs, too, and +ore were on the rooftos u ahead waiting for their turn to +a*e the ,u+!
'%he &araa&e is too tough,' said Lygris! 'Can we get a las+a weaon u here to blast through2'
'"llow +e,' said (&a+ander! %he Librarian had &li+bed a&ross fro+ the buildings oosite! %yrendian was still on the
roof behind hi+, shattering an 6ndying warrior with a well#ai+ed lightning bolt! (&a+ander *nelt on the hull and ut
both his hands on one of the ar+our lates! His gauntlets glowed, and, as they drew heat fro+ the rest of hi+, i&e
&rystallised on his ba&*a&* and the ar+our of his legs!
%he ar+our late glowed as (&a+ander oured sy&hi& heat into it! %he edges and the areas beneath his al+s began to
run +olten! (&a+ander ulled, and the late &a+e away, the half#+elted +etal stret&hing li*e sinews! Lygris and
(&a+ander grabbed it, too, and between the+ they ulled it &lear and threw it aside!
%he hole (&a+ander had oened u was big enough for a &oule of (oul Drin*ers to enter! %he &ross#se&tion of the hull
was riddled with glowing green fila+ents, hu++ing with the ower they &hannelled around the +a&hine! (aredon
&ould see enough roo+, inside, a+ong the ulsing +a&hinery and ower &onduits for a (a&e 3arine to +ove!
(aredon led the way in! %he (oul Drin*ers gathering on the hull followed hi+, or lined u behind (&a+ander as he
went to wor* on another ar+our late! 3any of the+ &overed the +a&hine's hull, sniing at the 6ndying trying to
&la+ber u at the+, or searing the +any s&arabs on its ba&* with &o+bat *nives!
(aredon wied away the dust that had &a*ed around his eyes! 't was &ra+ed inside the harvester, but he &ould +ove if
he &rou&hed down on his haun&hes! He ushed between a air of hu++ing ower &onduits and saw the &ha+ber
oening u before hi+!
Hundreds of hu+ans, Raevenians, hung fro+ ra&*s on the walls of the &ylindri&al hull! %heir fa&es were &overed by
silver +as*s, li*e stylised, e.ressionless fa&es! " wal*way led between the ra&*s of &atives! 6ndying, bigger than the
warriors with reinfor&ed sines to ta*e the weight of their enor+ous &annon, atrolled the interior to fend off boarders!
'/ow2' as*ed Lygris behind hi+!
'/ow we *ill it,' said (aredon!
')e are born na*ed and defen&eless, save for a shield around our souls that all hu+ans are honour#bound to +aintain!
%hat veneer of disgust, that ar+our of hate, is all that stands between us and the endless death of &orrution1'
# Daenyathos, %he "rte+esion Ca+aigns
"/O%HER (H'4 OF the Fleet 3inor e.loded, a brief nu&lear flash su&*ed dead by the &old of the void! Glittering
debris rained out fro+ the la&e where the troo shi had been! "+ong the debris were the &harred bodies of the te&h#
guard who had been stationed on the shi!
"s&leian "lha was trailing ruined hull lates atta&hed by bla&*ened strings of vented las+a, one side of its hull
stried down to the ersonnel de&*s by the +assive ordnan&e fired at it by one of the ne&ron &ruisers! Half its &rew
were dead, dissolved away in the blast, or thrown out into sa&e when the de&*s de&o+ressed! " s*eleton &rew and the
es&ort shi's +a&hine#sirit were all that were *eeing it going, and it shuddered along on a wayward &ourse as if its
+ind was &ru+bling, along with its hull!
%he 3e&hani&us fleet was down three +a,or shis and a few do5en of the Fleet 3inor! %he only e$ui+ent salvaged
fro+ the Ferrous was that &ontained in 3agos -ionel's body, and, without the fa&tory shi, the 3e&hani&us fleet la&*ed
the &aa&ity to refine fuel and rodu&e sare arts in an e+ergen&y! )ith every au.iliary shi that died, the fleet
be&a+e a little blinder to the sa&e around it!
3agos Crystavayne, transferred by shuttle fro+ the Defen&e of Caelano 3inoris, entered the bridge of the "ntithesis!
%he se&i+en vials hanging at his waist li*e a soldier's grenades &lin*ed as he wal*ed, and the &adu&eus e+broidered
on the he+ and &uffs of his robes designated his role as a +agos biologis! %he &o++and throne at the inna&le of the
bridge was e+ty, so Crystavayne reorted to the +a*eshift briefing area where -oar had resented what little
intelligen&e he had on the ne&rons!
(everal te&h#riests and senior +enials were wor*ing in the briefing area, oring over &ountless ta&ti&al +as with
&o+asses and $uills, or fli&*ing the stones a&ross aba&i to erfor+ long strings of &al&ulations!
')here is the ar&h+agos2' as*ed Crystavayne!
One of the te&h#riests loo*ed u fro+ his +a, on whi&h he had already ins&ribed a web of ar&s and angles! '%he
ar&h+agos has retired to his laboratory!'
'His laboratory2' retorted Crystavayne! ')e are at battle stations1'
'/evertheless, +agos, he has left fleet &o++and with the bridge! He has re$uested the +agi assist in +aintaining
evasive +anoeuvres!'
'%his is intolerable!' Crystavayne waved an i+atient hand, its fingers tied with syringes and the ti of a retra&ted
bone#saw glinting in his al+! He was about to say +ore, but he bit ba&* his words! " +agos &riti&ising a suerior was
on sha*y ground as it was, and doing so in front of an inferior would &ertainly result in unish+ent! '%hen ' shall assist
hi+ in his laboratory!'
'%he ar&h+agos has re$uested that he re+ain undisturbed, and has refused in advan&e any offers of assistan&e!'
Crystavayne, who was e$uied to be the finest laboratory resear&her in the fleet, fought down words of frustration
again! '%hen what a+ ' to do2'
'0ou have an enhan&ed logi& &entre,' relied the te&h#riest! ')e la&* &o+uting ower! )e need your hel!'
Crystavayne i&*ed u the +a the te&h#riest had been wor*ing on! %he lo&ations and aths of the fleet's shis were
lotted out +any hours in advan&e, and notes on ossible ene+y +ove+ents were s&rawled in every available sa&e!
')hat are the ar&h+agos's orders2' he as*ed!
'Full evasion,' said the te&h#riest!
'/ot to atta&*2'
'/o, +agos!'
Crystavayne loo*ed at so+e of the other routes being lotted by the te&h#riests and +enials! %he +a&hine#sirit of the
"ntithesis was wor*ing on it, too, as eviden&ed by the +etres of rintout being &arried by +enials!
Crystavayne visualised the osition of the 3e&hani&us fleet, the for+ations of the re+aining "s&leian es&orts, the
Defen&e and the "ntithesis, the Constant and the swar+ of the Fleet 3inor!
%hen he added the ne&ron shis! %hey were faster and +ore agile than their si5e suggested, but the &ruisers +oved in a
stilted, reetitive attern, turning on e.a&t a.es and in un&hanging in&re+ents of degrees! %he biggest ne&ron shi was
slower and lu+bering, with the huge turning shere re$uired to bring its +ain weaons to bear! %he se&ond art of the
ne&ron fleet, the one that had e+erged fro+ behind the lanet's +oon, was faster, &aable of sudden +anoeuvres
beyond any '+erial shi, but they were redi&table, and in any +athe+ati&al syste+ that redi&tability &ould only lead
to one &on&lusion!
Crystavayne drew a long $uill fro+ his robes! He grabbed a sheet of ar&h+ent and began to draw on it: tiny
annotations in +a&hine#&ode and ruler#straight lines interse&ted by erfe&t ar&s! %he solution was a ballet, so+ething
ure and beautiful! %he ne&ron fleet was +ore dangerous than the 3e&hani&us fleet, but its only ob,e&tive was to
destroy the 3e&hani&us! %hat for&ed it into &ertain +anoeuvres, for it had to bring its weaons to bear! %he 3e&hani&us
fleet, +eanwhile, had only to survive! %hat gave it far +ore otions! 't also had the Fleet 3inor and the "s&leian
es&orts, whi&h, in ter+s of &old +athe+ati&s, were e.endable!
Crystavayne had lotted an i+ossibly &o+li&ated attern in a few +o+ents, his logi& engine &overing the ar&h+ent
in geo+etri& shorthand for a tight heli. of +ove+ent! %he 3e&hani&us fleet would resent its least valuable shis to the
ene+y guns, and then turn in on itself, diving through its own wa*e before the ne&ron gunners &ould resond! "ny
individual shi's &ourse would aear to be a series or rando+ loos and twists! %a*en as a whole, it was breathta*ing!
't only e.isted in the data +ediu+ of Crystavayne's logi& i+lant and in what re+ained of his hu+an i+agination, but it
would wor*! %hat was &ertain! 't would buy the 3e&hani&us +ore ti+e than any /avy general or .enos irate &ould
s$uee5e fro+ the aroa&hing ne&rons!
'Here,' said Crystavayne! (weat was running down his fa&e, and, for a +o+ent, he &ursed the sy+to+ of hu+an
wea*ness! 'Get this to the fleet &atains! E.e&ute i++ediately!'
%he te&h#riest loo*ed down at the dense geo+etry of Crystavayne's lan!
'Right away, +agos,' he said, and began bar*ing orders to the other te&h#riests and +enials to turn the lan into a series
of +anoeuvres and trans+it it to the rest of the fleet!
Crystavayne's ride died down! E+otions were subsiding faster and faster sin&e his last &orti&al i+lant! He wondered
if he would +iss the+!
One re+ained: a faint anger, +i.ed with frustration, that the fleet's &o++ander had not attended to this &ru&ial +atter
hi+self!
')hatever tas* ta*es so +u&h attention, ar&h+agos,' +uttered Crystavayne, '' ray only that the O+nissiah's wor* is
being done!'
L'BR"R'"/ %0RE/D'"/ F6RRO)ED his brow, and thrust a hand at the 6ndying advan&ing along the war
engine's +ain &ha+ber! Caged lightning ar&ed fro+ his fingers! (hards of hot +etal and shattered e.os*eleton flew!
Green &rystal shattered, loosing +ore bolts of light, e+erald this ti+e!
'+risoned bodies fell, torn fro+ the walls by the dis&harged ower! %he wal*ways along the &entre of the &ha+ber
bu&*led, silling the 6ndying warriors into the +a&hinery below!
%yrendian leat fro+ the gantry above onto a re+aining wal*way! " s$uad of the 6ndying stood before hi+, bra&ing
the+selves as they levelled their &annon at hi+! %yrendian yelled, and ower &ra&*led around hi+, bla5ing fro+ his
eyes and grounding off his fingers! He hurled lightning li*e a ,avelin, blowing the wal*way aart! 6ndying bodies flew!
One &ra&*ed against the wall, bringing down a few hu+an &atives with it! "nother was i+aled on the twisted
guardrail, green sar*s sitting fro+ the wound!
"n 6ndying &la+bered ba&* onto the wal*way behind %yrendian, its rutured torso self#reairing, green fire bla5ing in
its eyes! )ith its free hand, it brought its double#barrelled gun u and ai+ed it at %yrendian's ba&*!
%he 6ndying bent ba&*wards as its sine glowed dull red, and then bright &herry! %he heat sread to its &hest and ne&*,
and then to its s*ull! Enor+ous heat glowed inside its head, and its s*ull slit down the +iddle, e.osing the &ir&uitry of
its .enos +ind!
%yrendian glan&ed ba&* to see (&a+ander behind hi+, his ar+our &a*ed in i&e &rystals, and his breath +isting white!
His gauntlets were glowing hot and hissing!
'Good *ill,' said %yrendian!
(oul Drin*ers were leaing down to what re+ained of the wal*ways! (aredon s&uttled along the wall, ausing to
e.a+ine one of the risoners! 'ts fa&e was obs&ured by the alien +as*, and tubes sna*ed into its veins and under its s*in!
't was a +an, in &lothes suggesting it was a far+er or a hunter!
"head of the +ain &ha+ber was a se&tion &ra++ed with +a&hines that sorted out whatever was swallowed by the
harvester's +aw, and either added it to the risoner ra&*s with long arti&ulated ar+s, or threw it into grinders to be
sewed fro+ the war engine's vents! %here was nothing that way!
%he other end of the &ha+ber was the destination of the thi&* glowing ower &ables leading fro+ the &aa&itors beneath
the wal*ways!
'%here,' said Lygris as (aredon &li+bed down the wall beside hi+! 'Lots of ower headed that way!'
%yrendian loo*ed around fro+ the s+ouldering re+ains of the final 6ndying!
'3ore 6ndying will be uon us soon,' he said! '%hey *now we are here!'
'Can you bring this +onstrosity down2' (aredon as*ed the %e&h+arine!
''f there's a &ogitator here,' said Lygris, '' &an interfa&e with it and do what da+age ' &an!'
'"nd if there isn't2'
'' always have faith in e.losives, &o++ander!'
'Co++ander1' said (ergeant (al*'s voi&e over the vo.! (al* was u on the hull of the harvester, guarding the +a*eshift
entran&es (&a+ander had oened! '%he 6ndying are sending their $ui&* ones, the &li+bers1 %hey're &o+ing in fast1'
'Hold until they're &lose, and fall ba&* inside,' said (aredon! '0ou're buying us ti+e!'
'0es, &o++ander1' Bolter fire dru++ed away over the vo. as (al*'s s$uad levelled another volley at the 6ndying!
'On +e1' &ried (aredon, and led the (oul Drin*ers over the edge of the wal*way onto the &aa&itors filling the lower
half of the &ha+ber!
%hey thru++ed with ower, the note low enough to vibrate the breastlate of fused ribs in (aredon's &hest! " few
&hains of bolter fire rattled off as reairing 6ndying rose u fro+ between the &aa&itors, and the ruined 6ndying
hased out as they hit the &ha+ber's &urved +etalli& floor!
%yrendian was ,ust behind (aredon!
'0ou did ad+irably ba&* there, Librarian,' said (aredon!
'3y duty done is its own reward,' relied %yrendian! '%he new boy is roving his worth!'
'' ,ust wish these da+nable things had souls,' said (aredon! He was the +ost owerful of the Chater's Librarians,
robably the +ost owerful the Chater had ever ossessed, but his teleathi& assaults were worthless against the alien
+a&hines!
'' a+ grateful,' said %yrendian, 'that they do not!'
Lygris for&ed oen a hat&hway guarding the way into the ne.t &ha+ber, towards the harvester's tail! %hi&* ower
&onduits &urved around hi+, blin*ing with e+erald ulses of energy! Beyond it, a owerful greyish light shone and the
&ha+ber was thrown into e.tre+es of light and shadow!
Lygris, bathed in light, steed forwards to stand before a huge &ube of &rystal susended in a sheri&al &ha+ber ahead
of hi+! Light &ra&*led off it, but the &rystal itself was ure bla&*, as if light &ould not es&ae its surfa&e, &reating a
surreal silhouette in the &entre of the glare!
'%his is the devi&e that runs the war +a&hine,' said Lygris, ''ts data +ediu+! ' &an interfa&e with this!
(aredon &ould see glints of silver behind Lyrgris as the fast#+oving 6ndying s*ir+ishers ran down the walls, leaing
between the &atives as bolter fire burst around the+!
'Firing lines1' &alled Catain Lu*o! %he (oul Drin*ers *nelt down in regi+ented firing lines alongside (aredon, ready
to our volley fire into aroa&hing atta&*ers!
'Do it, Lygris,' said (aredon, 'and $ui&*ly, if you lease!'
Lygris la&ed a hand on the surfa&e of the bla&* &rystal! %he dar*ness see+ed to see into hi+, &overing hi+ in
shadow! " datarobe in his al+ ier&ed the &rystal, and the te&h+arine's body ,er*ed as ower and infor+ation
ri&o&heted around his +ind!
'9ee tal*ing to +e, Lygris1' shouted (aredon! '(tay with us1'
Lu*o yelled an order, and do5ens of bolters oened u! 6ndying on the walls were blown aart! (o+e fell, hasing out
before they hit the ground; others &lung gri+ly to the &aged risoners, du&*ing down a+ongst the+ to self#reair! "
terrible rain of body arts fell as the &atives were stru&* by fire! " few whole bodies &a+e loose and &lattered down
a+ong the +a&hinery!
%he risoners were dead, (aredon told hi+self, or as good as! Even if there was still so+e life left in their +inds, they
were better off with that sar* e.tinguished!
Or, at least, he hoed so!
'''+ in1' &a+e a &ry fro+ Lygris, strangled as if in fear!
Lygris fell li+ as the bla&* &rystal ulsed! %ongues of bla&* light li&*ed off it!
'Close order1' shouted (aredon above the gunfire! 'Raid fire1'
-olley after volley of bolter fire oured into the shadows between the &aa&itors! 6ndying fell and rose u again, so+e
stru&* down three or four ti+es before they hased out! (aredon snaed shots uwards, shooting down the
s*ir+ishing 6ndying s*ittering along the walls! One droed into the +idst of the (oul Drin*ers, and %yrendian drew
his ower sword, sinning into a reverse thrust to drive the blade through the alien's &hest! "nother, one of its blade#
ar+s blown off, &lattered to the ground! (aredon reared u over it, and stabbed the talon of his bioni& front leg through
its s*ull!
'Lygris1' vo.ed (aredon! '%al* to +e, brother1' %he only sound fro+ Lygris's vo. was raid breathing!
($uad (al* was fighting its way down through the ruined wal*ways! (al* hi+self &ra&*ed an 6ndying in the ,aw with
the butt of his bolter, ,abbed the barrel into the alien's +idriff, and blew its sine out of its ba&* with a burst of fire! He
threw the re+ains off the wal*way, and ,u+ed down after it, the rest of his s$uad following hi+!
'Co++ander1' vo.ed (al*! ')e &annot stay long! %he aliens are &onverging on us! %hey're diverting their +ain for&e to
rote&t this +a&hine!'
'%hen the lan is wor*ing,' relied (aredon! 'Brother Lygris1 )e have no ti+e! )hatever you are doing, do it $ui&*ly1'
(aredon ris*ed a glan&e ba&* to the &ha+ber! Lygris lay at the foot of the &rystal, one hand atta&hed to its surfa&e by
the datarobe! He was &onvulsing! Blood was running down his &hin!
'Brother Lygris1 %e&h+arine, answer +e1' %here was still no answer! (ar*s burst around the datarobe in Lygris's
finger, and ower flashed behind his eyelids!
'Da+nation1' (aredon swit&hed to the vo.! '(al*1 3elta#bo+bs on the &aa&itors, long fuse1 )e will bring the fire to
the+1'
'0es, &o++ander1' &a+e (al*'s rely!
'Catain Lu*o1' ordered (aredon! 'Hold the line1'
'" leasure1' said Lu*o, his voi&e distorted by the ha++ering of gunfire over the vo.!
(aredon turned away fro+ the gun#line and ran into the &rystal &ha+ber! Lygris was still shuddering! Blood was
bubbling between his lis and the s*in around his eyes, and the &ollar of his ar+our was burning! (aredon grabbed
Lygris's wrist and yan*ed the datarobe out of the &rystal!
Lygris gurgled an in&oherent &ry, blood sloing down the front of his breastlate!
'"othe&ary1' vo.ed (aredon! ')here are you2'
'(till outside,' &a+e the &ra&*ling rely fro+ "othe&ary 4allas! '%here was no way onto the +a&hine! ''+ towards its
rear! %he 6ndying are everywhere!'
')e're getting off this +a&hine,' said (aredon! '' need your assistan&e as soon as we are out! Brother Lygris is
wounded!'
'How badly2' as*ed 4allas!
'He's bitten off his tongue!' (aredon hefted Lygris onto his shoulder! ')e have en&ountered a +oral threat! ' fear the
worst wounds are to his soul!'
'Co++ander1 3elta#bo+bs set1' &a+e (al*'s vo. fro+ behind (aredon! '%hree +inutes before the &aa&itors go u1'
'Lu*o1 Fall ba&* to +e and reare to brea&h1'
(&a+ander s&ra+bled into the &rystal &ha+ber! His gauntlets were s+o*ing, and i&e fla*ed off the rest of his ar+our as
he +oved!
'"llow +e,' he said! He lanted his hands against the rear wall of the &rystal &ha+ber!
(aredon noti&ed the &rystal! %he reviously flawless surfa&e was +ottled and dull, as if so+e disease had ta*en &ontrol
of it and sread +il*y stains li*e &atara&ts a&ross its surfa&e! )hatever Lygris had done, the war +a&hine had suffered!
Lu*o led the (oul Drin*ers into a tight line in front of the entran&e to the &rystal &ha+ber! Beyond the+, +ore 6ndying
were &onverging! %he (oul Drin*ers were dragging a &oule of wounded battle#brothers; even ower ar+our was
vulnerable to being ried away by the bursts of green fire raining down fro+ the 6ndying! 3any other "startes around
Lu*o were +issing &hun*s of ar+our, &ores bored fro+ shoulder ads, or greaves stried down to bloody flesh!
)ires shorted around (&a+ander as the rear wall +elted!
'/ovitiate1' shouted %yrendian! '(tay your ower1 0ou will *ill yourself1'
(&a+ander stu+bled ba&*wards! %yrendian ran forwards and &aught (&a+ander before he fell, lowering hi+ to the
floor!
'(o+eone ta*e hi+,' said %yrendian, the ure white light of a lightning bolt for+ing in his fist!
One of ($uad Lu*o dragged (&a+ander onto his shoulder! %yrendian turned to the half#+elted wall, and hurled the bolt
right into it! %he flash was so owerful that even a (a&e 3arine's aug+ented eyes were blinded for a slit se&ond!
)hen vision returned, the wall was gone, the +elted +ass blown outwards by the for&e of the lightning! %hrough it
&ould be seen the dust#&ho*ed gloo+ of the streets outside!
'Good wor*, Librarian,' said (aredon! '(oul Drin*ers1 Fall ba&* and out of this la&e1'
%he (oul Drin*ers &harged out of the harvester! %he 6ndying were on every side, but if there was one thing that
Daenyathos had taught the old Chater +illennia ago, it was how a (oul Drin*er &ould turn retreat into atta&*!
%yrendian hurled another bolt that blew an 6ndying off its feet, and Lu*o led the rest of the (oul Drin*ers in oening
fire as soon as they were &lear of the harvester! %he weight of gunfire threw 6ndying to the ground, and beat the .enos
ba&* into the surrounding buildings!
'%hirty se&onds, +y brothers1' shouted (ergeant (al*!
'Get &lear1' ordered (aredon! %he (oul Drin*ers s&attered, firing all the ti+e, heading for the &over of half#&ollased
buildings along the side of the street!
One side of the 6ndying harvester swelled u and burst, sewing fla+e and wre&*age! (hards of hot +etal whi&*ered
around the street, ri&o&heting off walls! "nother e.losion blew the tail off, and the bla5ing &one of seg+ented +etal
ro&*eted ast (aredon, e+bedding itself in the building oosite, and bringing the walls down!
(+o*e and rubble filled the street! 't was denser and bla&*er than the dust that had heralded the harvester's aroa&h!
Everything was dar*ness and noise, do+inated by the ear#slitting howl of the harvester i+loding!
(aredon loo*ed u fro+ &over! %hrough the +ur*, he &ould +a*e out the burning wre&*age of the harvester! %he
&aa&itors, with their stores of ower, had been brea&hed, and that ower had torn the harvester aart!
"othe&ary 4allas and the (oul Drin*ers who had been &aught outside the harvester aroa&hed through the rubble!
'Co++ander,' said 4allas! 'Let +e see hi+!'
(aredon hauled Lygris off his shoulder and laid hi+ at 4allas's feet! 4allas's narthe&iu+ gauntlet unfolded into a robe
that he inserted into a ort on the forear+ of Lygris's ar+our!
'' will do what ' &an,' said 4allas, 'but our brother is in a grave state!'
(aredon nodded, glan&ed down at Lygris, and turned away to loo* u at the s*y ,ust visible through the s+o*e!
'Brother 4hol, what news of the .enos advan&e2'
%he vo. &ra&*led with stati& for a few +o+ents in rely!
'%he .enos are diverting towards you,' said 4hol's voi&e! '%heir for&es to the west of the &ity brea&hed the walls to
defend the harvester! %he &ivilians are on their way out of the south gate!'
'%hen we are su&&essful2'
'(o far, &o++ander!'
'Close in and lend us your fire, brother!' (aredon swit&hed to the all#s$uads fre$uen&y! '(oul Drin*ers1 On +e, +y
brothers1 Let us sell these aliens the streets of "stelo* at a ri&e they &annot ay1'
4allas &arried Lygris as the (oul Drin*ers groued u! %he s+o*e swirled in the wash fro+ the %hunderhaw*'s engines,
and the gunshi's heavy bolters oened u, stit&hing e.losive fire through the 6ndying! %he (oul Drin*ers' fire oened
u, too, un&tuated by %yrendian's bolts of lightning!
Cold and fast, ,ust as Daenyathos had on&e written, the (oul Drin*ers sent 6ndying hasing out on every side as they
advan&ed towards "stelo*'s south gate!
'%he legends, the suerstitions of your Chater, are nothing +ore than stories to the ears of outsiders! But you *now
they are the soul of your Chater, the &olle&tive ad+onish+ents and insirations of every battle#brother who has gone
before you!'
# Daenyathos, %he Borders of 3oral Enduran&e
@6EE/ D0R3'D" )"%CHED fro+ the walls of the sa&e ort! Her retinue of soldiers had *nown better than to
dissuade her fro+ utting herself at ris*, (he had left the relative safety of the &o++and &entre to ta*e to the
battle+ents! 't was her duty to wat&h "stelo* die, for she had +ade the de&ision to sa&rifi&e it!
" dar* all rose over the &ity! 3ost of it was dust fro+ the terrible ath the 6ndying war engine had &hewed through
"stelo*'s heart, but there was also s+o*e and fla+e, and bursts of green light li*e lightning! 3ost of the ala&es of the
&ity &entre were obs&ured by the dust, but the few she &ould see were in ruins, their walls ushed in and their roofs
sagging!
'0our +a,esty2' said 9avins, who had been &hosen for the duty of a&&o+anying the $ueen to the to of the walls! '%he
eole have as*ed for you to address the+!'
')hat &an ' say to the+2' she as*ed! '%hat their ho+es are destroyed2 %hat the troos that stayed behind are dead2 %hey
already *now those things! "nd what of the future2 (hould ' tell the+ that we will deart for a safe haven that +ay not
e.ist2'
'' do not *now, your +a,esty,' said 9avins un&ertainly!
Dyr+ida waved a hand dis+issively! '%hese are not +atters for anyone to &on&ern the+selves with save +yself! 't is +y
resonsibility! Of &ourse ' +ust sea* to +y eole! %hey +ust be &al+ed and reassured! 't is the least they deserve
fro+ +e!'
"stelo*'s sa&e ort was a series of huge ro&*&rete &ir&les, &overed in do&*ing &la+s and fuelling rigs, and +ar*ed
with warning stris &orresonding to the landing gear of various tyes of (elaa&an sa&e&raft! Hangars for e$ui+ent
and vehi&les were dotted around the sa&e ort, and a tall +ulti#sired building &ontained the &o++and &entre, whi&h,
in ea&eti+e, saw orbital &ontrollers guiding down trading and assenger &raft, wel&o+ing the+ to "stelo* in the na+e
of the $ueen!
/ow the sa&e ort was a +iserable +a*eshift &ity! 3aybe three hundred thousand eole were +a*ing their ho+es
there, sleeing wherever they &ould or gathering to ray, tal*, or si+ly sit in silen&e! %he soldiers had set u tents
everywhere they &ould, al+ost &overing several of the landing ads, but there were only enough for the &hildren and the
infir+, and so+e of the wo+en! %he +en gathered together as if they were soldiers, too, +ustering in units, ready to
defeat the 6ndying s&ourge! 4erhas, eventually, they would have to do e.a&tly that!
%he ruse, the sa&rifi&ing of "stelo*, had wor*ed! Dyr+ida's lan had been a su&&ess, but she &ould ta*e no triu+h
fro+ it! %he 6ndying for&es had been fo&used on for&ing their way through the &ity, where the (oul Drin*ers were
fa&ing the+, and so had abandoned the ositions outside the &ity fro+ whi&h they &ould have a+bushed the &olu+ns of
&ivilians +a*ing for the sa&e ort! %he oulation of "stelo* had been eva&uated, +ost of the+, at least! (o+e had
refused to leave, or were +e+bers of the ar+y that volunteered to fight in the defen&e! /o doubt +ore than a few, who
had no loved ones, or had too +any and were always assu+ed to be with so+eone else, had been left behind to die! But
the soldiers had +anaged the &rushes at the south#e+ gate and at the gate of the sa&e ort well enough, and the
6ndying had not des&ended on the &olu+n of &ivilians before they &ould find safety! 't was what haened ne.t that
worried Dyr+ida! On&e off the lanet, there was no telling if another world would be any safer!
'' need a few +inutes to +yself! %hen ' will sea* to the+,' said the $ueen! '' will use the sa&e ort's vo.#&asters, or
there &ould be a &rush!'
%he soldier's eye &aught so+ething by "stelo*'s southern gate, and Dyr+ida turned around to follow his ga5e! 4eole
were e+erging fro+ the southern gate! (he assu+ed they were stragglers, survivors of the devastation, who had banded
together and found a way out!
(he was wrong! %hey were ar+oured in urle and ar+ed to the teeth, bloody and battle#filthy, but +oving $ui&*ly into
the trees and undergrowth that dotted the route to the sa&e ort!
%he (oul Drin*ers, they were alive!
'' )'LL G'-E you your voi&e ba&*, Brother Lygris,' said 4allas! ''t is the s+allest honour that &an be done!' He leaned
over the bed on whi&h Lygris was laid, and finished soldering the voi&e bo. into la&e, a si+ly +etal &ase that fitted
around Lygris's laryn.!
One of the hangars in the sa&e ort had been set u as an infir+ary! %he si&*ly and de&reit of "stelo* had been laid
on beds, or on the floor when the beds had run out! %he dead were &overed in sheets waiting to be &arried out! 3ost of
the others were silent, aslee or insensible, or staring at the &eiling waiting for a friend or relative to find the+! Every
now and again, one of the+ +oaned in ain, or in a night+are!
4allas had set u in a &orner of the infir+ary, s&reened off by sheets hung fro+ the hangar &eiling! %he wounded (oul
Drin*ers fro+ "stelo* were there, tending to their wounds, or lying stried of their ar+our, their in,uries at&hed u
by 4allas! %here were virtually no +edi&al sulies in the sa&e ort, and what little the Raevenians had brought with
the+ was inade$uate for their own needs, so 4allas &ould wor* with only what he &arried on hi+!
(aredon stood by 4allas's shoulder! Lygris +ade for a sorry sight! His right hand and forear+ were bla&* with
ele&tri&al burns, and 4allas had slathered the+ in antibioti& gel! Lygris had not regained &ons&iousness, not fully, but his
eyes were oen and unfo&used, roving, as if wat&hing so+ething that no one else &ould see!
'%he Raevenians have little aug+eti& te&hnology,' said 4allas as he soldered flesh to +etal around the edge of the voi&e
bo.! '' was fortunate that their +edi&s had this devi&e! )hen ' get Brother Lygris ba&* to the Bro*enba&* ' &an give hi+
a far +ore suitable rela&e+ent!'
Lygris &oughed, and a little blood tri&*led fro+ his lis! 4allas had seared &losed the stu+ of Lygris's tongue, but still
it bled!
'Brother2' said (aredon! 'Can you hear +e2 (ea* to +e, brother!'
" +etalli& braying issued fro+ the voi&e bo., a +e&hanised &ry of anguish!
'He should rest,' said 4allas!
'/o,' said (aredon! 'He saw the +ind of the +a&hine! He loo*ed into the .enos soul!'
'One!!! One of the+!!!' sluttered Lygris!
'One of the+2' as*ed (aredon!
'One soul!' %he voi&e was a +e&hani&al drone, devoid of the ain in Lygris's eyes! He still &ould not fo&us, and his eyes
darted rando+ly! 'One +ind! %here is but one +ind a+ong the+! %he ti+e!!! the +illions of years, the +ountains of
steel!!! the lord with the eyes of fla+e!!!'
%he voi&e bro*e down into fra&tured +oans! Lygris &onvulsed again, and 4allas leaned over hi+ to hold hi+ down!
'%hin*, brother1' said (aredon! '%ell +e what you saw! )hat do these .enos want2 )ho leads the+2 How &an they be
destroyed2'
'One1 One +ind1 %he lord with the eyes of fla+e1'
"lerts beeed on 4allas's narthe&iu+ gauntlet! 4allas ,abbed a needle into Lygris's ne&*, and sedatives flooded his
syste+!
'Give hi+ ti+e,' said 4allas! 'His vital signs are flu&tuating! He'll burst a heart without rest!'
(aredon sat ba&* on his haun&hes! ''n +y training at the old Chater's Librariu+, we were warned of this! %o &onta&t
the +ind of a .enos is to invite +adness! 3any good battle#brothers have been lost when a hu+an +ind tou&hes that of
the alien!'
''t is not right for an "startes to live on in su&h a state,' said 4allas! '' &an do no +ore than tend to his hysi&al wounds!
Brother Lygris +ust fight this +adness off hi+self!'
(aredon *new that Lyrgris was strong! "ll "startes were! (aredon also *new, however, that the 6ndying were not
,ust &reatures with alien +indsets; they were not &reatures at all! Lygris had seen what the (elaa&ans had seen at the
white &ity and the forest world, when their s*ies went dar* and the 6ndying began to +ar&h! He had seen death!
'9%'/O( )"( )"'%'/G for (aredon in the sa&e ort's &o++and &entre! He was in the observatory whi&h housed
a giganti& teles&oe that allowed orbital &ontrollers to see sa&e&raft above Raevenian, and assess any da+age they
were reorting! 't was a gri+ly industrial la&e, all greasy +etal and shadows, do+inated by the teles&oe, whi&h
rea&hed u through the do+ed roof far above!
" few of '*tinos's flo&* were with hi+ when (aredon entered! %hey were wat&hing through the teles&oe's eyeie&e or
ta*ing readings fro+ the ban*s of instru+ents beside it! 't was a +easure of '*tinos's standing within the Chater that he
had been the "startes to whi&h those (a&e 3arines had gone to see* leadershi, and it so*e of his dedi&ation that he
had ta*en the+ on as his ersonal &harges!
'Chalain2' said (aredon! '0ou as*ed to see +e2'
'%he situation has &hanged,' said '*tinos! '3ost gravely so!'
'Have the 3e&hani&us tra&*ed us down2'
'3ore than that! 't is best that you observe for yourself!'
%he (oul Drin*er at the eyeie&e +ade way for (aredon, who had to dro down on to the *nees of his +utant legs to
get level with the eyeie&e! He eered through it, and saw the +ulti&oloured +ist of the -eiled Region!
Gli++ers of light sar*led, darting around li*e bright fish in a shoal! %he teles&oe fo&used in on the+, and (aredon
saw that it was a sa&eshi, shaed li*e a &res&ent of dull +etal! (livers of green fire sat fro+ it as it siralled around a
shi of '+erial design!
'8enos2' said (aredon, loo*ing u fro+ the eyeie&e!
'(o it see+s,' relied '*tinos!
')hat of the Bro*enba&*2'
''t is safe for the ti+e being,' said '*tinos! '%he 3e&hani&us fleet and the .enos are fighting one another, and it see+s
they have enough on their +inds not to worry about our hul*! %hat situation will robably not last on&e the .enos have
desat&hed their ene+ies!'
'%he aliens will win2'
'Oh yes, &o++ander! %here is no doubt about that!'
(aredon stood ba&* fro+ the teles&oe! " +e+ber of '*tinos's flo&* too* to the eyeie&e, +a*ing notes on a data#slate!
'Do we *now anything about the &o+osition of the .enos fleet2'
'3ostly battleshis,' said '*tinos! '%he sensoriu+ &rew on the Bro*enba&* are assessing their &o+bat otential, but they
are far advan&ed &o+ared to the '+erial shis!'
'' ta*e it, Chalain, that there is little &han&e of the Raevenian eva&uation +a*ing it through the alien fleet2'
'%here is none, &o++ander!'
'%hen the Raevenians have no &han&e of deliveran&e after all! %hey never did! )hen their transorts leave this sa&e
ort they will be slain by the 6ndying fleet as surely as if they had stayed in "stelo* and waited to die!' (aredon sat
down on his ba&* legs, as he usually did when he had thin*ing to do! '/o +atter what we do or how hard we try,
Raevenia is dead!'
'"gain, &o++ander,' said '*tinos with his &usto+ary sole+nity, 'there is no doubt!'
'Does there e.ist in the gala.y, in this universe, a la&e where ene+ies do not lie in wait for the (oul Drin*ers2 's there
anywhere we &ould loo* where so+e ene+y does not lur*2 'f not the '+eriu+, the +utant! 'f not the +utant, the alien!'
'(u&h is the ath we have &hosen,' said '*tinos!
'%hat ' have &hosen! ' too* on the leadershi of this Chater when ' &hallenged Gorgoleon for it! Everywhere we find
ourselves, ' have ut us there! %hat is what it +eans to be Chater 3aster!'
'"nd what will you do2' as*ed '*tinos! '/ow that we are beset on&e again! )hat orders will you give2'
(aredon loo*ed u at hi+! 'f there had been doubt, it assed in that +o+ent, refle&ted in the eyeie&es of the
Chalain's s*ull#+as*!
')e fight,' said (aredon! ')e are "startes! 't is why we were &reated! )e fa&e the ene+y and we fight the+, and if we
fall, we fall! %hat is the way of Daenyathos! 't was the way of the E+eror!'
'%hen we will fight the 6ndying here, on Raevenia2'
''f we flee, the 6ndying will shoot us down as they will the Raevenians,' said (aredon sharly! '%he Bro*enba&* is
stri&*en and vulnerable! " +an is at his +ost vulnerable when he flees, for then the ene+y &an stri*e unanswered! "
(a&e 3arine does not flee! 0es, '*tinos, we shall stand and fight!'
'%hen ' swear,' said '*tinos, 'that the Chater's souls will be reared!'
'' +ust tell @ueen Dyr+ida,' said (aredon, 'that her eole will not es&ae this world after all!'
'' &an do so, if you wish,' said '*tinos!
''t +ust &o+e fro+ +e!' (aredon ushed hi+self ba&* onto his talons! His +utations had +ade the Raevenians that saw
hi+ gas in disgust, and he *new what they would say when the 6ndying des&ended to ta*e the sa&e ort and wie
the+ out! 't was the +utant! %he +onsters! He ro+ised us deliveran&e, but he delivered us only into the hands of the
6ndying!
't did not +atter what they thought! /othing +attered now! 't was down to duty and dereli&tion, to failure and vi&tory,
and all else was ,ust &haff to be ignored! 't was a strange feeling, to *now that the universe was ared down to those
e.tre+es! " (a&e 3arine was trained, &reated, even, to +a*e the right &hoi&e! 't was, erhas, so+ething of a &o+fort!
(aredon did not need to worry about anything e.&et the fighting! %he endeavour of battle was all that re+ained, and,
as every follower of the E+eror understood, endeavour was its own reward!
%HE (O6/D OF e.losions, +uffled by the hull, shuddered the walls of -oar's laboratory! (a+le ,ars ,angled on
their shelves, and deli&ate &o+onents shifted a&ross the disse&tion table at whi&h -oar sat! "r&h+agos -oar regarded
the noise with +ore annoyan&e than alar+!
%he guns of the "ntithesis were firing, &ounter#+easures robably, srays of &haff and ele&tro+agneti& ulse +unitions
to throw the .enos sensors off as they targeted the 3e&hani&us shis! 'f the .enos used sensors the '+eriu+
understood, of &ourse!!! if they needed to see the 3e&hani&us at all!
-oar had laid out the &o+onents of the disse&ted ne&ron warrior on the table! "r&ane +a&hines were hoo*ed u to it
by ele&trodes and robes! )in*ing lights lit the di+ laboratory, and the only sounds, aside fro+ the dull thuds of the
shi's guns, were the hu+ of the +a&hines and the &li&*ing of -oar's i+le+ents as he wor*ed! %he ne&ron's li+bs had
been bro*en aart into the +any hundreds of struts and servo units that drove the+, and lay in neat iles beside the
torso! %he torso had been &arefully &arved u, and slit oen to reveal the &ir&uitry and &o+onents &lustered around the
ower unit that still glowed faintly green! %he warrior's head had been re+oved and la&ed to one side, but it was still
&onne&ted to the torso by the arti&ulated &able that served it li*e a sinal &ord!
-oar was &lose! He *new it! %he ne&ron's te&hnology was a u55le, &o+letely unli*e anything '+erial or even re#
'+erial that he had ever seen! 't had re$uired hi+ to relea+ so+e of the +ost basi& rin&iles of s&ien&e, of sa&red
&ause and effe&t! 't was unholy, for it brea&hed the basi& tenets of the O+nissiah's logi&, but it was fas&inating! "
wea*er +ind than -oar's &ould have been sedu&ed by it!
-oar oened u a s+all unit in the &hest beside the ower unit! He ared it oen to reveal a silvery &onta&t! )ith
re&ision that a hu+an hand &ould not +at&h, -oar soldered the end of a wire to the &onta&t! He lugged the other end
of the wire into one of the laboratory +a&hines! 't was a highly sensitive s&anner that &ould i&* out all +anner of
e.oti& fre$uen&ies and radiation tyes! 't was erhas three thousand years old, whi&h was how -oar *new it &ould be
relied uon!
-oar &arefully wat&hed the readout dials on the +a&hine's brass &asing as he &y&led through fre$uen&ies! %he ne&rons
had to be &onne&ted to so+ething, so+e &entral sour&e of &ontrol or ower, to a&&ount for their abilities and behaviour!
)hen they hased out, they had to go so+ewhere! %heir ower units were not generators at all, but &aa&itors, ta*ing
energy fro+ elsewhere and storing it! %hat ower had to &o+e fro+ so+ewhere!
(o+eone banged on the laboratory door! -oar loo*ed u, s&owling! He had left orders not to be disturbed, even if the
"ntithesis was about to e.lode! His wor* was +ore i+ortant than fighting a battle the 3e&hani&us &ould not win! 't
did not +atter sin&e the door was sealed with gene#lo&*s that the &rew &ould not a&&ess, but any distra&tion was
unwel&o+e!
%he unwel&o+e guest ha++ered at the door again! -oar ut it out of his +ind and &ontinued to sear&h for signals going
into or out of the ne&ron! He e.e&ted it to be e.oti&, so+ething the 3e&hani&us would never nor+ally &onsider,
so+ething as alien as the rest of the heathen &reature!
" terrible roar of torn +etal filled the lab! %he door was ried &lean off its +ounts, silling the re+nants of the gene#
lo&* onto the laboratory floor!
3agos Crystavayne and 3agos -ionel wal*ed in, -ionel's iron#shod feet sto+ing on the laboratory floor! %he re+ains
of the door were held in -ionel's huge +etal aws!
'"r&h+agos,' said Crystavayne, 'we would sea* with you!'
')hat logi& &o+els you to defy +y orders2' blared -oar!
'Destru&tion1' bellowed -ionel, throwing the door to the floor! '%he re+oval of our *nowledge fro+ the O+nissiah's
wor*1 "ll we have done, all we ever will do, will be undone at the hands of the alien, and you hide here in the dar*1'
'"nd what do you *now of it2' retorted -oar! ')hat &ares the .enos whether ' &o++and or not2 )hat string of logi&
will bring us vi&tory against a foe that e.&eeds us in every way2'
'0our duty,' said Crystavayne, 'is to lead us in the ursuit of *nowledge, whatever for+ it +ay ta*e and whatever
obsta&le +ay stand in our way, even to the oint of destru&tion!'
'But that destru&tion,' said -oar, 'has not rea&hed us! %here has been no suggestion to +e that we will be die here!'
')e &annot win this battle, ar&h+agos1 0ou said so yourself1'
'%he battle, +agos, not the war!'
-ionel sto+ed forwards, and a floodlight e+erged fro+ one shoulder &owling, whi&h was still s&arred fro+ the ne&ron
fire! %he a&id yellow light glared off the +a&hines and disse&ted arts on the laboratory table! '"nd this will win us that
war2'
'%he &han&es are s+all,' said -oar, 'but they e.ist! "nd they e.&eed any in&rease in the li*elihood of our survival with
+e at the hel+!'
')here is your sense of duty2' as*ed Crystavayne! '-ionel nearly died on the Ferrous! Hesebah is dire&ting the fire of
the Constant as we sea*! 9hrul gave his life1'
'Duty,' said -oar, 'is se&ondary to logi&! 6nderstanding that is the differen&e between +y ran* and yours!'
Crystavayne e+itted a &urse in &li&*ing binary! '0ou are a disgra&e to the "detus 3e&hani&us,' he said!
-oar's hand went to the ornate istol he wore at his waist beneath his robes! ''f you intend to &hallenge +e for
&o++and, +agos, then out with it and let us settle this!'
-ionel steed between -oar and Crystavayne! His rivet gun &y&led, lu+s of +etal thun*ing into its &ha+bers!
'"r&h+agos or not,' he said, 'if you abandon us in this battle, we will ta*e over your offi&e! "nd if you resist, then ' shall
balan&e your e$uation +yself!'
One of the +a&hines &hired shrilly! -ionel turned his floodlight on it! " green light was win*ing in its brass &asing!
''t's found the fre$uen&y,' said -oar!
'%he fre$uen&y2' as*ed Crystavayne!
'%he ne&ron warriors are a&ting on re+ote orders! %hey are only se+i#autono+ous, and the &o++ands +ust &o+e fro+
elsewhere! %hey need a signal to give the+ &oordinates so they &an teleort out when dea&tivated, too! 3y studies have
suggested that both fun&tions originate at the sa+e lo&ation!'
')here2' as*ed -ionel, his rivet gun still trained on -oar!
-oar too* the ower s&alel and a&tivated the tiny ower field around its blade! He fiddled with a &oule of the &ontrols
on the +a&hine and read off the nu+bers fro+ its various dials and readouts! %hen he +oved aside one of the ne&ron's
disse&ted ar+s and s&rat&hed a air of interse&ting lines into the surfa&e of the table! He &arved a few figures beside it,
fre$uen&ies and wavelengths, as he read the+ off!
''t &an be triangulated,' said -oar! ''t's barely er&etible! Either this unit is too da+aged to i&* it u roerly or their
te&hnology is far +ore sensitive than ours! 't is a +ira&le we &an hear it at all!'
-ionel's rivet gun droed! ')here2' he reeated! ')here is it &o+ing fro+2'
-oar too* a data#slate and *eyed in the &oordinates he had ,ust generated!
'%a*e this to navigation,' he said, 'and find out! ' +ust finish u here!'
For a +o+ent, the two +agi did not +ove! %hen -ionel too* the data#slate fro+ -oar, and they turned to leave the
laboratory!
-oar unlugged the robe fro+ the ne&ron's innards and i&*ed u its s*ull! He turned it over in his hands, loo*ing into
its eyes!
'Let us see how you fight,' he said, 'when you are blind!'
'Often we sea* of duty unto death, of defian&e to the oint of e.tin&tion! But what does this +ean2 )hat wor* of ours
&an &hange the gala.y, if it ends along with our lives2 )or*s of true devotion, a&ts of true duty, last far beyond our own
lifeti+es!'
# Daenyathos, %he Four 4illars of (a&red Hate
FOR (O3EO/E )HO had ,ust learned that she was going to die, @ueen Dyr+ida was &al+!
(he had set u a &o++and &entre in the &ontrol tower in the +iddle of the sa&e ort, and had ordered the generals and
staff to leave while (aredon so*e with her! 4erhas she had wanted to +a*e sure the infor+ation he gave her was
roerly &ontrolled, or erhas she ,ust didn't want to loo* wea* if she re&eived his news with sho&*! Certainly, she had
*nown fro+ the +o+ent (aredon had entered that he brought bad news!
')hy have you told +e this2' as*ed Dyr+ida when (aredon finished! '"nd do not tell +e that you are doing the right
thing! /o one on this lanet is doing anything, e.&et what they +ust do to survive!'
''f we were to flee,' said (aredon, 'the 6ndying fleet would shoot us down! Our shi &annot es&ae the+ without fuel!
%hat +eans that we +ust fight, and we will have a better &han&e if the Raevenians fight too!'
'" better &han&e of what2' Dyr+ida's eyes were bright with anger! '0ou say, yourself, that there is no &han&e of getting
off Raevenia, and ' dare say there is none of defeating the 6ndying ar+y on the ground! )hat would you hoe to
a&hieve with the lives of +y sub,e&ts2'
'"n "startes,' said (aredon, 'does not *neel for the e.e&utioner's bullet! He does not beg for a $ui&* death! Every (oul
Drin*er will fight on be&ause it is his duty to ensure that his death does not &o+e &healy to the ene+y! "nd your
+a,esty, ' understand so+ething of the Raevenian way of death! %hin* of the good deaths that would be won at the
walls of this sa&e ort, lost for +onar&h and for world! %hin* of the bad deaths that would be infli&ted if the sa+e
eole tried to flee or surrender! 't +ay not be an easy de&ision to +a*e, but there is only one de&ision in the end!'
@ueen Dyr+ida sighed! (aredon realised how +u&h she had aged sin&e the (oul Drin*ers had first landed outside
"stelo*!
'" death +eans so+ething,' she said, 'only if it is re+e+bered!'
'%hen order your eole to flee and die, or +ar&h out into the 6ndying's hands! But re+e+ber this: the eole in that
harvester were still alive! %hey had not long to live, erhas, but they were risoners, not trohies! 'f nothing else,
@ueen Dyr+ida, that is a fate worth fighting to avoid!'
(aredon had nothing +ore to say! Raevenia was going to die, and nothing he did would +a*e any differen&e to that!
He left Dyr+ida alone with her thoughts!
'(oul Drin*er,' said Dyr+ida as (aredon left the &o++and &entre!
'0our +a,esty2'
Dyr+ida too* a data#slate fro+ a o&*et in her fatigues and threw it to (aredon! ')ere it not for the (oul Drin*ers,
Raevenia would already have been lost! %hose are the &odes for the fuel tan*ers beneath the sa&e ort!'
%he data#slate in (aredon's hand showed strings of nu+bers and letters in the Raevenian alhabet, re&ognisably
derived fro+ Low Gothi&! '3y gratitude, your +a,esty!'
''f the 6ndying truly have this lanet blo&*aded then its value is little +ore than sy+boli&! But on Raevenia we honour
our debts, even in the hour of our destru&tion! 'f any of you survive and the &han&e to es&ae resents itself, ta*e it, and
ta*e whoever survives of +y eole with you! %hen there will be so+eone to re+e+ber all those good deaths!'
'' will need to organise +y "startes,' said (aredon! '%he sa&e ort has +any wea* oints in a siege! 't will need a
great deal of fortifi&ation and lanning to hold it!'
'%he ar+y of "stelo* will do the sa+e,' said Dyr+ida! ''f the 6ndying have any +e+ory, if they have a history of their
da+nable se&ies, then the last battle for Raevenia will be a art of it!'
(ERGE"/% ("L9 )"( waiting at the entran&e to the &ontrol &entre! %he Raevenian shis were being fuelled and
reed for ta*eoff behind hi+! %hey were si+le, sturdy shis, unadorned and fun&tional! Ea&h one was large enough
to hold several thousand eole, and +ore were being brought u on elevators fro+ the hangars below the landing ads!
%hey were enough to &arry al+ost all the Raevenian survivors, +inus the infir+ and wounded, who would be left
behind! /o doubt, thought (aredon, those shis would be abandoned and hauled ba&* into their hangars on&e the news
bro*e of the 6ndying fleet bearing down on the+!
'(ergeant,' said (aredon, 'what news2'
'%he offi&ers wish to sea* with you, &o++ander,' said (al*! (al*, li*e +ost of the (oul Drin*ers, was still s&uffed and
s&or&hed fro+ the battle on the harvester, and &hun*s of his ar+our had been stried down to bare &era+ite by
glan&ing hits fro+ the 6ndying guns!
'"bout what2'
'%yrendian has a lan,' said (al*!
'For what2'
'For everything!'
%HE (O6L DR'/9ER( were waiting in the +a*eshift infir+ary, where 4allas had tended to the wounded "startes,
and heled the Raevenian +edi&s at&h u the few wounded soldiers that had +ade it out of "stelo*!
%yrendian was waiting in the s&reened off area, along with '*tinos and Lu*o! Lygris still lay se+i&ons&ious nearby!
%ogether, they reresented the surviving offi&ers of the (oul Drin*ers! %he sight of the+ re+inded (aredon ,ust how
+any battle#brothers he had lost; the Chater was barely at $uarter#strength!
'Librarian,' said (aredon, 'what have you &o+e u with2'
'%he "detus 3e&hani&us will be destroyed,' said %yrendian! '%hat is &ertain!'
''t is,' said (aredon! '/o doubt you have seen the situation in orbit yourself!
'"nd we will be destroyed shortly afterwards,' &ontinued %yrendian! %he Librarian's +anner was re+inis&ent of +any
offi&ers fro+ the old Chater: suerior and dis+issive, so+ehow &onveying a sense of arrogan&e no +atter what he
a&tually said! (aredon had &o+e to understand that beneath that fa&e was a dedi&ated and intelligent warrior without
who+ the Chater would be worse off! '"long with Raevenia!'
'%his is true,' said (aredon!
'%hen we and the 3e&hani&us are in a si+ilar osition!'
'3eaning2'
'3eaning, we send a delegation,' said %yrendian! ')e +a*e an allian&e with the 3e&hani&us! Lygris has seen +u&h of
the infor+ation stru&ture underlying the 6ndying invasion! %he 3e&hani&us have no doubt sought infor+ation on the
ene+y! 'f nothing else, we &ould fight together and buy +ore of a &han&e than we have now!'
'0ou roose an allian&e with the 3e&hani&us2' as*ed (aredon! '%hey have gone very far out of their way to *ill us!'
'%rue,' said %yrendian, 'but they won't, not if the 6ndying get there first!'
')e have our en+ities,' added Lu*o! '' hate those red#robed frea*s, but they're logi&al, you have to give the+ that! 'f we
give the+ a &han&e to get out of the -eiled Region with their steel hides inta&t then they'll ta*e it!'
'"nd what &an we offer the+2' as*ed (aredon!
'Lygris &an answer that,' said %yrendian!
'Lygris2' (aredon wal*ed to Lygris's bedside and leaned over hi+! 'Brother2 )hat do you *now2'
Lygris's eyes oened a little! '' saw!!! inside the+! %heir syste+! %he!!! the +ind that rules the+! %he lord!!! the lord with
the burning eyes! 3illions of years of hate, all burning through those eyes!!!' %he voi&e bo. strained to turn Lygris's
slurring into intelligent see&h!
'One +ind,' said %yrendian! 'One lord! %he 6ndying are &ontrolled by one intelligen&e! Lygris saw enough of it in the
harvester's data +ediu+ to see it! "nd if we *ill it, there will be nothing &ontrolling the 6ndying!'
'0ou saw this, Brother Lygris2'
Lu&idity sar*ed in Lygris's eyes! '0es, &o++ander! ' saw hi+!!! it! 't wat&hes over everything! 't's a sider at the heart
of the web! 0ou!!! you would not believe it! %o see it! 0ou would not believe anything &ould survive in the gala.y but
these 6ndying! )e are ,ust!!! inse&ts! 3i&robes! Li*e so+ething on a slide to be!!! to be ignored, and allowed to wither
away! )hen we have been forgotten in the gala.y there will still be the 6ndying, and when they rule!!!'
'%e&h+arine1' snaed (aredon! 'Enough of this heresy1 /o alien will have this gala.y! 't does not +atter how long
they have waited! Hu+anity will wie the+ out!'
Lygris &oughed again, blood running fro+ his lis! '%hey!!! they do not have doubt! %hey *now! %hey *now they will
rule!'
(aredon glared at Lygris, but Lygris shifted ba&* into a da5e!
'%he 3e&hani&us,' said %yrendian, '+ight still be able to find this intelligen&e and deliver us to it! 'f anyone in the
-eiled Region is &aable of infli&ting ,usti&e uon it, we are! %hat is the deal we offer the+! %hey find it, we *ill it, and
the 6ndying are halted!'
(aredon loo*ed between the offi&ers asse+bled in the infir+ary! %yrendian and Lu*o had +ade their &ase! 4allas, still
tending to the wounds of his battle#brothers, had not so*en u, and Lygris was in no osition to offer an oinion!
''*tinos2' as*ed (aredon!
'' have,' said '*tinos, '+isgivings about an allian&e with our ene+ies! (u&h a ath would &onstitute a +oral threat! But
+y +isgivings about re+aining on this world to die, when an alternative ta&ti& +ight re+ain une.loited, are deeer
still!'
'Our otions,' said (aredon, 'are to stand and fight, and die; to flee and die, or to ris* an allian&e with the "detus
3e&hani&us! Li*e Catain Lu*o, ' have little enough love for the 3e&hani&us, but given the other two otions, the
de&ision is &lear! %yrendian, will you head this e+bassy2'
'' will, &o++ander, if you wish it of +e!'
'' do! %he 3e&hani&us +ay not tolerate a +utant on their shi long enough to hear our offer!'
'' should go, &o++ander,' said Chalain '*tinos! '3y e.erien&e with dealing with those outside the Chater e.&eeds
yours! 't was one of +y duties in the old Chater! "dded to whi&h, ' a+ not a +utant!'
'0ou will re+ain here,' said (aredon, 'to lead the (oul Drin*ers at the sa&e ort! %he fo&us of the 6ndying +ust be
*et on Raevenia, or there will be little &han&e of any other +ission su&&eeding!'
'%hen the flo&* will hold this ground,' said '*tinos! ''f you need a for&e that will not falter, there is little better &hoi&e
than +y faithful!'
'%yrendian,' &ontinued (aredon, '4hol will ta*e you! He's our best ilot! (oul Drin*ers, to your duties!'
%he Librarian and the Chalain headed out to the landing ad on whi&h the (oul Drin*ers had stationed their gunshis
and transorts! Lu*o and (aredon re+ained in the infir+ary!
''t is not li*e you to *ee so $uiet, &atain,' said (aredon!
Lu*o loo*ed around to see that 4allas was on the other side of the infir+ary and Lygris was un&ons&ious! '' +ust
&onfess so+ething to you, (aredon! /ot as an offi&er to his &o++ander, not even as an "startes!'
'(ea*, Lu*o!'
Lu*o aused for a long +o+ent before he so*e, as if the words wanted to stay hidden in his throat! ')hen!!! when '
found out that the 6ndying were ready to invade, and that Raevenia had no &han&e!!! ' was relieved!'
(aredon did not answer! He had never seen Lu*o vulnerable li*e this! His infe&tious fero&ity, his love of the fight, was
one of the engines that fuelled the Chater's sudden, sho&* assault for+ of warfare! 't see+ed a different +an was
wearing Lu*o's ar+our and lightning &laws!
'' was relieved,' &ontinued Lu*o, 'be&ause it +eant that it would be over!'
'Over2' as*ed (aredon! '0ou want to die down here2'
'' want ea&e,' said Lu*o! '<ust that! <ust ea&e!' (aredon sat ba&*! Lu*o sat on one of the infir+ary beds!
'Everything ' do,' said Lu*o, 'is a lie! Everything! For!!! for years now! (in&e before the (tar Fort!'
'0ou fooled us,' said (aredon!
'' *now! Forgive +e!'
'Lu*o, there is nothing to forgive,' said (aredon! '0ou are the best offi&er ' have! )ithout you leading fro+ the front
we would all have been lost +any ti+es over! How +any (oul Drin*ers owe you their lives2 )hat evils would have
been eretrated against the eole of this gala.y if you had not lived that lie2'
'But that's it, &o++ander! 't was a lie! "ll of it! Every ti+e ' ,o*ed about the *illing or ' a&ted li*e ' was never haier
than in battle, that was a lie! )hat are we fighting for, if not to find so+e truth in the gala.y2'
'"nd so you want to die!'
''f that is the only way it &an end, then yes, ' want to die!'
'0ou will not get what you want!' (aredon stood u to his full height, and he towered over Lu*o! '/ot here! /ot yet! '
ro+ise you, Brother Lu*o, you will never have ea&e while ' still live!'
'' don't *now if ' &an &arry on, &o++ander! ' have layed an "startes for so long!!!'
'0ou are still "startes! 0ou still *now no fear! /othing has &hanged!'
'' &annot go on lying!'
'%hen sto! But *ee fighting! %hat is an order! Do you understand2'
'0es, &o++ander!'
'Good! (tay with your s$uad! 'f '*tinos is su&&essful, we +ay have to +ove $ui&*ly!'
'' understand!'
'"nd &atain2'
'0es2'
''t will end! 3aybe it will be here! 4robably, even! But we won't fight forever! Either we'll die out here, and it'll haen
soon enough, or we will fight until we &arve out a &hun* of sa&e for ourselves! Rule it li*e the 6ltra+arines rule their
own roost! 3a*e of it what the '+eriu+ should be! %hat's the only way we &an &ontinue to e.ist in this gala.y! 'f we
+a*e it, or if we die trying, then our war of survival will be over! 'f you trust +e, Lu*o, trust +e with that!'
%HE DEFE/CE OF Caelano 3inoris &ut a gallant figure as it burned! %he Fleet 3inor gathered around it li*e
allbearers as green fire riled u its hull, for&ing its way in through the tears in its hull! E.losions wra&*ed the
laboratory shi as the fire &oo*ed off stores of &he+i&als and fuel! (aviour ods es&aed, riding on &olu+ns of
&o+ressed gas! (o+e of the+ barely +ade it beyond the shi, and were &aught in flashes of fire, in&inerating whoever
was inside!
%wo ne&ron &ruisers &losed in! %he efforts of the Fleet 3inor, whi&h were deloying every &ounter#+easure they had,
had soiled their ai+ to the e.tent that they had to &lose in to deliver a *illing blow! (in&e the destru&tion of the
Ferrous, the 3e&hani&us fleet had been frustratingly relu&tant to hang still in front of the ne&ron guns, and the .enos
&ruisers eagerly too* to the *ill! %he Defen&e had already lost +ost of its row and a good &hun* of a+idshis, its few
guns abandoned or stried away fro+ the hull li*e roud nails!
%he two ne&ron &ruisers rotated to bring their +ain weaons to bear on the shi! "r&s of ower flitted between the tis
of their &res&ent#shaed hulls as they &harged!
%he Defen&e &arried several &ontainers of highly volatile &he+i&als! 6sually *et in searate lead#&ased &ha+bers, they
had been iled u in barrels ,ust behind the las+a vessel of one of the shi's rea&tors, an e.eri+ental ower sour&e
that rovided great effi&ien&y in return for &onsiderable volatility! 3agos Devwyn, &o++anding the Defen&e in
Crystavayne's absen&e, had reasoned that the rea&tor would e.lode under ene+y fire soon enough anyway!
)hen the burning row of the Defen&e was ointed at the &losest &ruiser, Devwyn gave the order! 't was relayed to a
tea+ of +enials that had volunteered to stay on the shi and &o++and the servitors, who were now set on fire and sent
striding into the &he+i&al sto&*ile!
%he &he+i&als detonated, &reating a vorte. of e.oti& arti&les that obliterated the engine se&tion of the Defen&e! 'ts stern
disaeared in a shining white &loud of vaorised +etal!
%he rea&tor went &riti&al, its &ore bo+barded with arti&les! 'ts +ass was &onverted instantly into energy! %he stru&ture
of the Defen&e held ,ust long enough to send the energy +ass along the length of the shi as it &onverted into ure
yellow#white light and fire!
%he Defen&e fired li*e an enor+ous &annon, al+ost its entire +ass, in&luding the volunteer +enials and even 3agos
Devwyn, &onverted into energy! %he bolt of ower strea*ed a&ross the void and seared the ne&ron &ruiser at the base of
one of its &res&ent wings! %he wing was sheared off, and &hain rea&tions riled along the re+nants of the alien shi,
sraying bursts of shranel fro+ its hull li*e steel vol&anoes!
%he se&ond ne&ron &ruiser's engines flared, and it tore itself out of a firing osition to avoid the titani& &hun*s of
wre&*age sinning out of its dying sister shi! (trange te&hnologies, &hun*s of glowing green &rystal, the bodies of
bro*en ne&ron warriors and srays of li$uid silver oured out of the da+aged &ruiser's wounds! %he lights studding the
surfa&e win*ed out, and the shi drifted dead away fro+ the field of debris +ar*ing the site of the Defen&e's sa&rifi&e!
'/O 9/O)LEDGE CO3E( without a ri&e,' said "r&h+agos -oar!
%he wre&*age that re+ained of the Defen&e boiled away in a &loud of di++ing silver, glittering on the +ain views&reen
of the observatory!
'"nd no ri&e,' said 3agos Crystavayne, 'is aid without leaving its +ar*!'
Crystavayne had been in the observatory of the "ntithesis, following the e.e&ution of his navigational &o++ands, when
the Defen&e of Caelano 3inoris e.loded! 't had been se&ta&ular, erhas as beautiful as su&h destru&tion &ould be,
but 3agos Devwyn had been a fellow wal*er on the ath of *nowledge, one without who+ the 3e&hani&us would
never have enetrated the -eiled Region! -oar and Crystavayne +ourned hi+ in their own ways, in silen&e, with an
internal rayer of +a&hine#&ode &li&*ing through their logi& &entres!
'4rearations are al+ost &o+lete,' said -oar! '' want to be with the boarding for&e,' said Crystavayne! '%hen it shall be
so!'
'Can we win2'
'%hat is a +ore &o+le. $uestion than it first aears,' said -oar! ''t is ossible that we will! (hould there be, for
instan&e, a for+ of &o++uni&ations devi&e without whi&h the ne&ron fleet &annot oerate, and uon whi&h we stu+ble,
then we shall su&&eed! (hould we &ature their shi and are able to oerate it, we +ay flee inta&t! %here are other routes
to su&&ess, but they are too unli*ely to be &onsidered viable! "s they are, the &han&es of su&&ess border on the no+inal!
%hey are still, however, greater than our &han&es should we &ontinue to fight as we do now! %o answer your $uestion,
by the standards generated by a logi& engine su&h as +ine, we &an su&&eed, but by the less e.a&t standards of an
unaug+ented hu+an, we &annot!'
''t does not +atter,' said Crystavayne! '%o ta*e the fight to the alien is its own reward!'
%he te&h#guard troos had been gathered fro+ the fleet's other shis and asse+bled on the "ntithesis! %he "ntithesis
had few boarding fa&ilities, being li+ited to a handful of ar+oured transorts and a single &o+le+ent of boarding
toredoes! 't had not been designed as an assault shi, and to laun&h the atta&* it would have to get &lose enough to the
ne&ron +other shi, the target +ost li*ely to yield so+e +eaningful su&&ess, for the +other shi to stand a very good
&han&e of blasting it out of the void! 'f it got that far, and if the +other shi did not have so+e heathen te&hnology to
defend against boarders, there were no doubt legions of ne&ron warriors on board to fight through!
't was, at least, better than sitting ba&* and waiting to die, but not by +u&h!
Crystavayne too* out the neuro#sword he &arried s&abbarded under his robes! 3ost te&h#riests and +agi were ar+ed,
and Crystavayne's weaon of &hoi&e was a blade of shiny bla&* &rystal inlaid with silver &ir&uitry!
'' +ade this +yself,' said Crystavayne, 'to +a*e sure ' would never be helless should the $uest for understanding
be&o+e a battle! 't will do +e little good against an ene+y without a nervous syste+! )hat do we have left in the
ar+oury that ' &ould use instead2'
'Here,' said -oar! He too* a istol fro+ a holster on the belt of his robes! 't was a +iniature +elta weaon, its gri
+oulded around its fuel &ell! 'Even without this, ' a+ not oorly ar+ed!'
Crystavayne too* the gun! 't was an inferno istol, and was robably the single +ost valuable weaon on the "ntithesis,
in&luding the shi's guns!
'3y gratitude,' said Crystavayne! ')hen does the atta&* begin2'
''n thirty#nine +inutes,' said -oar!
'' have one $uestion before we deloy!'
''f the O+nissiah so wills, it shall be answered!'
'"fter you have attained your ran*, ar&h+agos, after you have lost so +u&h of the e+otional &entres of your brain and
rela&ed the+ with logi&, do you still want revenge2'
'Of &ourse! %he desire for vengean&e is not an e+otion! 't is the urest logi& of all!'
'Good,' said Crystavayne!
"n alert tone &hired in the &o++uni&ators of both te&h#riests! '-oar here!'
'"n aroa&hing &raft,' &a+e the rely fro+ the bridge, 'is re$uesting do&*ing er+ission! 't's '+erial!'
'One of the Fleet 3inor2'
'"startes! " gunshi!'
'"startes2' said Crystavayne! '%he only "startes out here are the (oul Drin*ers!'
'%hen logi& di&tates it is the+,' said -oar! '%he two &hoi&es we have are to re&eive the+ or destroy the+!'
')e &an a&hieve the first without ruling out the se&ond!'
'"greed,' said -oar! 'Bridge, re a de&* to re&eive the+, and do so $ui&*ly! %hey +ay not survive out here for long!'
L'BR"R'"/ %0RE/D'"/ )"( a&&o+anied by ten (oul Drin*ers of ($uad (al*! %hey were +et by several s$uads
of te&h#guard on the laun&h de&* of the "ntithesis, and the +en loo*ed at the "startes as if they were fa&ing a
arti&ularly volatile and dangerous ani+al!
%hree te&h#riests aroa&hed a&ross the de&*! "s %yrendian des&ended the e+bar*ation ra+ of the %hunderhaw*, it
was &lear that they were senior +e+bers of the 3e&hani&us, heavily aug+ented, their robes e+broidered with sy+bols
of ran*! One was an enor+ous industrial +a&hine, shaed so+ething li*e a huge +etal ae! His head was low between
his shoulders, vaguely hu+an with the lower half of his fa&e &on&ealed by a heavy rebreather and vo.#unit!
%he se&ond was the highest#ran*ed, although he loo*ed far +ore hu+an than the first! He was slender and rather taller
than a nor+al +an, with shoulder#+ounted +aniulator units folded over his ba&* and &ir&uitry woven into the s*in of
his fa&e!
%he third was also shaed li*e a hu+an, but one of his hands had been rela&ed with a &o+le. +edi&al gauntlet,
hoo*ed u to vials of li$uid i+lanted in his forear+! One of his eyes was a bioni&, re+inis&ent of a +i&ros&oe, whi&h
was robably the fun&tion it erfor+ed!
%he first te&h#riest sto+ed forwards, and a round &la&*ed into the &ha+ber of the gun he had in la&e of one ar+! His
ar+our was itted and battle#s&arred, and he +ore rese+bled a +a&hine of war than a te&h#riest!
%he lead te&h#riest steed in front of the war +a&hine and gave a hand signal that &aused the asse+bled te&h#guard
troos to lower their lasguns!
'' a+ "r&h+agos -oar of the "detus 3e&hani&us,' he said! '%his is +y shi, the "ntithesis!'
'' a+ Brother %yrendian of the (oul Drin*ers!'
')hat is your urose here2'
'%o roose an allian&e!'
'%o what end2' as*ed -oar!
'3utual survival,' said %yrendian!
'%here was little survival on anyone's +inds at the (tar Fort,' said -oar! ')e *now of you, (oul Drin*ers! %he
'n$uisition tried to delete you fro+ history, but we have long +e+ories! 0ou are renegades and +urderers, and a+ong
those who have suffered at your hands are +e+bers of the 3e&hani&us! )hat ro+ise &an there be that you will not
betray us2 %hat you are not even wor*ing in &on&ert with these .enos2'
'%he .enos are the ene+y,' said %yrendian sharly, 'of any hu+an, renegade or not! "nd they will destroy us as surely as
they will destroy you if we &annot find a solution between us! 'f you wish to die out here, ar&h+agos, without ever
having ossessed a &han&e of survival, then re,e&t us!'
-oar aused only for a +o+ent to &onsider this, but there was little doubt that logi& engines in his head were whirring
through ban*s of data!
')hat &an you offer us2' as*ed -oar!
')e have infor+ation on the .enos +a&hine#sirits! )e *now of a single intelligen&e that rules the+,' said %yrendian!
''n addition to whi&h, you will find no better assault troos than two &o+anies of "startes! )hat &an you offer us2'
')e *now where they are,' said the third te&h#riest, the +edi&al se&ialist! %he ar&h+agos glan&ed at hi+, but said
nothing!
')here2' as*ed %yrendian!
'Does it +atter2' as*ed -oar!
')e *now who we are fighting,' said %yrendian! '0ou *now where it is! %a*e us there and we &an *ill it! %he 6ndying
oerate under the &ontrol of a single intelligen&e, and, if it is slain, we will buy ourselves our only &han&e at vi&tory!'
%yrendian indi&ated the te&h#guard! ')ith these troos you &an do nothing against an 6ndying stronghold! )ith the
(oul Drin*ers, you have a for&e that &an brea* through the 6ndying and *ill it! )e ,ust need to get there!'
'%he "ntithesis &ould do it,' said the third te&h#riest! ''t's the fastest shi we have! 't &an't hold out forever, but we &an
stay ahead of the .enos fleet for long enough!'
'Do we have a deal2' as*ed %yrendian!
"r&h+agos -oar thought for a longer +o+ent! %he te&h#guard were tensed ready to raise their guns, and there was no
doubt they had orders to e.e&ute the (oul Drin*ers at a sign fro+ the ar&h+agos!
'Logi& di&tates,' said -oar, 'that we do!'
%yrendian wal*ed between the s$uads of te&h#guard and held out a hand! "r&h+agos -oar shoo* it!
''n the na+e of Rogal Dorn,' said %yrendian, 'this allian&e is stru&*!'
-oar glan&ed at the huge industrial te&h#riest beside hi+!
'%hat will no longer be ne&essary, 3agos -ionel,' he said! %he te&h#riest's gun thudded as it unloaded the rounds ba&*
into its a++o hoer!
')here is our ene+y2' as*ed %yrendian!
'Here,' said -oar! He too* out a data#slate, and one of his +aniulators inserted a robe into it! " star +a fli&*ered
onto the s&reen! He handed the slate to %yrendian!
'(elaa&a,' said %yrendian!
'0ou *now of it2' as*ed -oar!
''t was the &aital of the e+ire the 6ndying have destroyed! %he lanet beneath us is Raevenia, where the last
survivors of the e+ire are +a*ing their final stand! 4art of the fleet you are fighting is the invasion for&e that will
&o+lete the &ature of the lanet! On&e Raevenia is gone, there will be no hu+an for&e left between the 6ndying and
the '+eriu+!'
'%hen it is unli*ely,' said -oar, 'that the &o+letion of their lans in the -eiled Region will have a ositive i+a&t on
the hu+an ra&e!'
'On that we &an agree,' said %yrendian! ')e +ust +ove $ui&*ly! /either of our for&es &an hold out for +u&h longer! '
suggest that we ta*e word ba&* to our &o++ander and return with an assault for&e! )ith your leave, ar&h+agos!'
'' &on&ur! ' will osition the fleet to fa&ilitate a brea*out! 4ri+ary +anoeuvres will begin in two hours!'
'6ntil then, ar&h+agos,' said %yrendian! '(oul Drin*ers1 E+bar*1'
'*tinos, %yrendian and the (oul Drin*ers of '*tinos's flo&* filed ba&* u the ra+ into the %hunderhaw*, and the ra+
swung u to seal the+ in!
"( %HE (6/ went down on the sa&e ort, the (oul Drin*ers loaded the last of the weaons and a++unition ba&*
onto their transorts! %hey travelled light, and everything they needed to wage war had been stowed in a +atter of
+inutes! %he old Chater had never fought with +any heavy weaons or vehi&les! (aredon had taught the+ to fight
with hands and teeth if need be, u &lose in the ene+y's fa&e! %hat was how the hilosoher#warrior Daenyathos had
written that the (oul Drin*ers should fight, and that was how (aredon believed an "startes was at his +ost effe&tive!
(aredon and '*tinos had been ,oined by @ueen Dyr+ida! (he had infor+ed the eole of Raevenia, over the sa&e
ort's vo.#&asters, that the 6ndying would try to ta*e the sa&e ort, and they +ust be fought off before the Raevenians
&ould be delivered fro+ their fate! 't had not been &o+letely true, but it was &loser to the truth than she had been
e.e&ting to tell!
'Chalain '*tinos will re+ain on Raevenia with his flo&*,' said (aredon! '%he 6ndying will be free to atta&* before we
&an su&&eed! 0ou will have to fight hard before this is over!'
'3y ar+y is ready,' said Dyr+ida! '' had e.e&ted your "startes to re+ain until the end of this e+ire, but if by ta*ing
the fight to (elaa&a you &an stri*e a blow against the 6ndying, ' a+ willing to see you leave! Have you ta*en the fuel
you &a+e here for2'
')e will return for it,' said (aredon!
'%here +ight be nothing left to return to, &o++ander!'
'3y duty,' said '*tinos, 'is to ensure that there will be! )e have a defensible osition and an ene+y oerating under a
ti+e li+it they *now nothing about! )e will revail, your +a,esty!'
')e &an hold these walls if you &an ta*e down their &o++ander,' said Dyr+ida! ''f you +an the gates, and if the
6ndying &an be halted fro+ afar, then we &an hold!'
'' wish,' said (aredon, 'that ' &ould give your world a better &han&e!'
'Re+e+ber the Raevenian way of death, &o++ander! )e will all die fighting for our ho+e world, against an inhu+an
ene+y! %here are few in our history that &an &lai+ a better death than that! Do not fear for our ability to hold this sa&e
ort, for we fight as soldiers with nothing to lose! Even in death, we shall have vi&tory! )hen dying is not defeat, we
&annot be beaten!' Dyr+ida grased (aredon's gauntlet and shoo* it! 'Best of lu&*, Co++ander (aredon! )hen you
return, you will find us vi&torious, whatever haens!'
'For Dorn,' said '*tinos!
'For Dorn, Chalain,' said (aredon!
'Ready for ta*eoff,' vo.ed Brother 4hol fro+ the &o&*it of (aredon's %hunderhaw*!
'' will sea* with you both soon,' said (aredon!
''f you do not,' said Dyr+ida, 'die well!'
'''ll do +y best, your +a,esty,' said (aredon, and s&uttled towards the %hunderhaw*, whi&h was already obs&ured by
the wash of heat fro+ its war+ed#u engines!
'Loo* into the fa&e of the ene+y, and re,oi&e1 For to stand before hi+, to bas* in his fury, is to tell hi+ that you fear
hi+ not, and that he is within a sword#thrust of destru&tion!'
# Daenyathos, 3usings 6on E.ter+ination
%HE CO/(%"/% )E/% down fighting! Her full &o+le+ent of +enials and te&h#guard went down with her, be&ause
they were needed to wor* the fusion &ha+ber! %he nova &annon fired until the end, the final blast barely ai+ed, in the
hoe that the ro,e&tile would ni&* a ne&ron shi and send waves of fissile +aterial ulsing through the ene+y's
&orridors and engine roo+s!
%he ne&ron +other shi too* advantage of the Constant's sudden la&* of +obility! 't turned its +ain gun on the &ruiser,
even as it absorbed a nova &annon blast that stried away one of the surs rea&hing fro+ its &entral sire! %he +other
shi rotated +a,esti&ally until its gun was in line, and then it fired, a lan&e of green#white ower slitting the Constant
through her row and tearing all the way through her stern! For a +o+ent, the 3e&hani&us &ruiser was i+aled! %hen
the for&e of the +other shi's gun shredded what re+ained of her interior stru&ture, and boiled away the hull into
burning wiss of +etalli& gas!
%he Fleet 3inor threw itself as one into the +other shi's ath! %he ne&ron &ruisers rallied around the +other shi and
blew the few re+aining transort and sensoriu+ &raft aart! %he +other shi itself sent out a sheri&al ulse of green
fla+e that tossed the s+aller &raft around li*e shis on a stor+, riing guns and instru+ents fro+ hulls, and slintering
the hails of toredoes the Fleet 3inor was firing at it in deseration!
%he ne&ron fleet's &o++and routines swit&hed fro+ the harrying of a deter+ined foe to the annihilation of an ene+y
&ollasing under the sy&hologi&al ressure of battle! (o+e of the Fleet 3inor had fled, disobeying orders to buy
the+selves a few +ore hours or +inutes of life! Guided +unitions and a few broad gun barrages were all that were
needed to turn the fleeing shis into srays of steel dust!
Others defied the +ost basi& tenets of logi& to &harge into the ene+y, so+eti+es ai+ing to ra+ the ne&ron shis in
so+e vulnerable sot! %hey were even easier to deal with! " few oint#blan* turret volleys ut aid to +ost of the+!
%he few that got through i+a&ted without &ausing any signifi&ant da+age to the hulls of living +etal in whi&h the
ne&ron shis were &lad!
%he ne&ron fleet &losed in around the +other shi, as if the +other shi was the ste+ of a vast steel flower and the
&ruisers were its etals, to &on&entrate fire on the re+nants of the 3e&hani&us fleet!
Only the "ntithesis did not su&&u+b to the brea*down the ne&ron fleet dete&ted in the +anoeuvres of its sister shis!
%he &ruiser siralled away fro+ the heart of the battle, releasing every for+ of &ounter+easure it had: short#fuse
toredoes, ele&tro+agneti& &haff, burning fuel and even heas of refuse fro+ sent shell &asings to the bodies of its
dead, to fool the ne&ron guns for a few +o+ents longer! 'ts +ain engines *i&*ed in, and it owered away, for&ing oen
a war rift and diving in! %he ta&ti& was dangerous in the e.tre+e; entering the war in ea&eful &onditions &ould be
dangerous enough! But the "ntithesis +ade it!
%he ne&ron +other shi $ui&*ly re&al&ulated its resonse to the &hange in 3e&hani&us ta&ti&s! %he 3e&hani&us had not
given u the fight as the ne&rons' li+ited intelligen&e on hu+an behaviour had suggested! 'nstead, the "ntithesis had
sa&rifi&ed the rest of the fleet to es&ae!
%he +other shi sent its &ruisers ahead of it, folding sa&e#ti+e to follow the "ntithesis! One of the+, wounded by a
lu&*y blast fro+ the Constant, bro*e aart as it a&&elerated, so+e &riti&al syste+ giving way and &ausing the &ruiser to
slit in two and i+lode!
't did not +atter! %he only two en&laves of hu+an interloers were on Raevenia, and in the "ntithesis, and neither had a
&han&e of survival given the resour&es arrayed against the+! "s the +other shi ,oined the ursuit of the "ntithesis, the
ne&ron transort &raft began the des&ent onto Raevenia! %hey &arried with the+ +ore than thirty thousand ne&ron
warriors and &ountless war +a&hines, enough to sub,ugate an entire world!
%heir lower hulls began to glow with heat as they lunged through Raevenia's at+oshere!
@6EE/ D0R3'D", (%"/D'/G at a window of the sa&e ort's &o++and tower, wat&hed through a air of
+agno&ulars as the first white strea*s of falling sa&e&raft aeared in the s*y over "stelo*!
'(ighting fire1' shouted Dyr+ida! One of the offi&ers around her so*e an order into the &o++#net and the &rew of the
anti#air&raft guns on the walls swivelled their $uad#+ounted &annon to ai+ at the falling &raft! (har &ra&*s of guns
e&hoed around the sa&e ort as they sent tra&er rounds u into the afternoon s*y!
%he reserves of @ueen Dyr+ida's ar+y were stationed around the &o++and tower ready to a&t as a reserve to +ove to
any brea&h of the walls! %he $ueen was in full battle#dress, heavy irides&ent &araa&e ar+our over $uilted fla* ar+our,
over her dar* red royal robes! (he &arried a reeating stri*elo&* rifle, a finely &rafted weaon with three rotating barrels
and a +iniature generator in the hilt! (he wore the si+le battle#&rown, a s+all tiara of steel, whi&h was the regalia of
sovereignty when at war!
%he oulation huddled in whatever shelter they &ould: e+ty fuel &ontainers beneath the landing ads, sa&e&raft
hangars, e$ui+ent sheds and narrow +aintenan&e tunnels! %heir fear was as obvious as the sunlight beating down on
the sa&e ort, or the s+ell of fuel and gun oil!
3ost of the soldiers were on the walls! %hey did not *now fro+ whi&h dire&tion the 6ndying would stri*e, so they were
stationed all around, ere&ting sniing ositions and +a*eshift battle+ents of e+ty fuel dru+s and sa&e&raft arts
iled u!
%he +ain gates were the wea*est oint of the walls! %he sa&e ort had not been built as a fortress, and the gates would
be easier to stor+ than the walls! %hat was where Chalain '*tinos had set u, along with the thirty or so (oul Drin*ers
he referred to as his ''flo&*''!
'%hey're &o+ing down in the &ity,' said Lieutenant 9avins, who was attending uon his $ueen! Dyr+ida saw that he was
right!
'%hey're ,oining u with the rest of the harvesting for&e,' she said!
'%hen we *now they'll be &o+ing fro+ that dire&tion!'
Dyr+ida s&anned the s*y on the other side of the sa&e ort! Bright strea*s of vaour were trailing behind &raft
lu++eting towards the woods and hills south of the ort!
'' wouldn't be so sure, 9avins,' said Dyr+ida!
''n&o+ing1' &a+e the yell fro+ one of the sharshooters on the roof of the &o++and tower! Dyr+ida followed his
outstret&hed ar+! One of the 6ndying landers, wounded by anti#air&raft fire, was siralling out of &ontrol towards the
sa&e ort! )ith a terrible sound li*e reality tearing, it ha++ered through the air, and sla++ed into one of the landing
ads in a burst of s+o*e and shranel! %he ground shoo*!
%roos ran fro+ the &o++and tower to sna fire at the shaes they saw +oving a+ong the fla+es and +olten +etal! "
half#+elted 6ndying &la+bered out of the fla+es, and its head was blown oen by a well#la&ed round! "nother was
&ut aart as it wal*ed out of the fire, destroyed before it &ould raise its gun! 3etal &orses dissolved away into nothing!
't was first blood, whi&h +eant so+ething in Raevenian fol*lore of war, but in this battle, it +eant nothing! %here were
lenty +ore where those 6ndying had &o+e fro+!
" &oule +ore landing &raft were blown out of the s*y! %hey were shaed li*e inverted yra+ids, their lower surfa&es
studded with engines that glowed white as they slowed the 6ndying des&ent!
" few of the+ were larger, +assive ar+oured sheres, tu+bling, aarently without any +eans of slowing the+, to
i+a&t li*e falling bo+bs in the ruins of "stelo*!
Dyr+ida a&tivated the vo.#bead that '*tinos had given her!
'%hey're +a*ing landfall,' she said! '%hey're all around us, but the +a,ority will be &o+ing fro+ the dire&tion of the &ity!
(traight towards you!'
'6nderstood,' said '*tinos fro+ his osition by the gates! '3ay Dorn's strength be with us!'
'"nd the (un 4rin&e's blessing with us,' said Dyr+ida!
(ilver shaes were already gathering on the walls of "stelo*, stranger#shaed ene+ies a+ong the ran*s of +etalli&
warriors! %hey hovered or drifted, or s&uttled down the walls on all fours!
3ore landing &raft sla++ed into the forests to the south, within sight of the walls! %he 6ndying gathered, and began to
+ar&h!
%HE F'R(% ('GH% the "ntithesis had of (elaa&a was in infor+ation for+, i&*ed u by the shi's long#range sensors!
%he first rea&tion of the sensoriu+ &rew was to wonder what was wrong with their sensors! Reeated s&anning showed
the sa+e results, however, and eventually they had to go to "r&h+agos -oar with infor+ation they were sure would
in&ense the ar&h+agos with its utter la&* of logi&!
(elaa&a, it see+ed, was hollow! 'ts &ore had been bored out and vented into titani& &louds of ro&* dust that orbited the
lanet in long trails of +i&ro+eteorites! "nd yet it had retained its +ass, a fa&t so i+ossible that +any of the shi's
&ogitators refused to a&&et it and sat it out in hails of un&h#&ards and sools of torn rintout! 'ts interior was a latti&e
of steel and stranger +etals, suorting &ontinent#si5ed stru&tures that ulsed with as +u&h energy as the syste+'s sun,
&aged and &o+ressed into e.oti& radiation that the &ogitators didn't re&ognise! Craft, tiny inri&*s of ower, flitted
over the surfa&e and through &lose orbit! %here was ower everywhere, running through the lanet's e+ty &ore,
s&ribing glowing lines on the surfa&e, even bleeding out into the to.i& re+nants of the at+oshere!
%he surfa&e was a ruin! %he &ities of (elaa&a had been destroyed, s&or&hed or urooted, or ounded flat! Here and there,
the +onu+ents to the heart of the (elaa&an E+ire re+ained: the ar+s of a harbour wall en&losing a graveyard of
sun*en battleshis; a great fortress in the heart of a desert, walled in by ne&ron defen&es and left to starve; do5ens of
villages, untou&hed but devoid of life as they +ouldered away in the hearts of forests!
Enor+ous wounds &ut through the greatest &ities! %hey led into the lanet's interior, shattered buildings and shredded
layers of history giving way to i++ense +etalli& avenues and &onduits of ower!
%hese wounds were ringed by ne&ron fa&ilities, landing ads and barra&*s, and sheets of +etal, the si5e of islands,
where glea+ing ne&ron warriors e+erged to +ar&h!
3onoliths, i++ense +enhirs of brushed steel, stood at re&ise intervals between the wounds, an&horing the &o+le.
webs of ower that flowed a&ross the lanet! (war+s of s&arabs attended to the+, reairing the +i&ros&oi& da+age
done by the arti&les of dust that whied by on the burning winds that +ar*ed the death throes of (elaa&a's
at+oshere!
/ot one living thing was dete&table on (elaa&a! %he absen&e of life re$uired by the ne&rons was total! Life, to the+, was
li*e death was to hu+ans: an uni+aginable aberration, a state where nothing &ould e.ist! 't had to be banished before
any great wor* &ould begin! )hatever the lans of the ne&ron e+ire of (elaa&a, of the whole ne&ron ra&e and its gods,
it re$uired the obliteration of life! %hat lesson had never been taught so bluntly as through the dead, torn hus* of
(elaa&a!
"r&h+agos -oar was absorbing this infor+ation when Co++ander (aredon arrived on the bridge!
'' had not been infor+ed,' said -oar, 'that you were a +utant!'
''t's not so+ething that &o+es u in &onversation,' relied (aredon! %e&h#riests did not generally have a sense of
hu+our, and, given -oar's silen&e, the ar&h+agos was not an e.&etion! ''t is a &o+li&ated story, and one ' a+ not
good at telling! 't does not affe&t +y ability to lead!'
'3utation is an abhorren&e, &o++ander, but as was +ade &lear in our negotiations we +ust be willing to overloo* a
great +any sins, given our resent situation!'
')hat do the .enos have waiting for us down there2'
-oar gave the rintout another s&an, and waved one of his +aniulator units! " servitor, little +ore than a torso on
wheels with a ro,e&tor unit e+bedded in the dead s*in of its &hest, trundled over!
'' forget so easily,' said -oar, 'that not all audien&es are e$uied with logi& &ir&uits! -isual aids are ne&essary!'
%he holo#unit ro,e&ted a fli&*ering i+age of (elaa&a! (aredon tried to ta*e in the i+li&ations of the s&arred lanet
with its hollowed#out, +etal#filled &ore visible through tears in the &rust, but it ,ust didn't see+ to fit into his +ind! %he
ne&rons # he still wanted to &all the+ the 6ndying # +ust have been ento+bed in (elaa&a sin&e long before the hu+ans
of the (elaa&an E+ire had ever set foot there rior to the Great Crusade!
'%he sa&e&raft see+ to be transort and industrial shis,' said -oar, 'or the ne&ron e$uivalents! %he surfa&e stru&tures
are robably ower generator and &aa&itor fa&ilities! %he interior is oa$ue to our sensors, but a great deal of ower is
being &onsu+ed there!'
''s there a way in2'
'Here,' said -oar, 'the lanet's &aital! %he site of the largest surfa&e e.&avation! 't is li*ely that the ne&ron for&es first
e+erged fro+ here after awa*ening! %he signals dire&ting the ne&ron for&es e+anate fro+ here!'
(aredon i+agined the ne&ron ar+y +ar&hing fro+ a tear in the ground, *illing and harvesting as they &on$uered
(elaa&a! He &ould al+ost see the lanet's &ities falling, one by one, the bla&*out of one fuelling the fear in the ne.t!
')hat wo*e the+2' he as*ed!
''+ossible to say! "n e.&avation by the eole of (elaa&a! (o+e trigger at a ne&ron outost, a&tivated by a new &olony
or off#world e.loration! Or, erhas, ,ust ti+e! Given the +ateriel being gathered on the surfa&e, it see+s they have yet
to fully awa*e! )hat the (elaa&an E+ire has witnessed is the first hase of the ne&rons' refounding of their e+ire!'
'%he first and the last,' said (aredon! 'How do we go in2'
'%he "ntithesis is designed for at+osheri& flight,' relied -oar! '' intend to ilot her into the +ain e.&avation in the
&aital &ity and deloy fro+ there!'
'" &rash landing2' as*ed (aredon with a raise of one eyebrow!
'" +ost re&ise and &al&ulated landing, &o++ander! %here will be no &rashing involved! %he "ntithesis is rather +ore
advan&ed than '+erial /aval standards! Besides, ' a&&et the ris* to +y shi to fulfil our +ission!'
')hat for&es &an you bring2'
'" regi+ent of te&h#guard! (even hundred and thirty#three +en! %he te&h#riest offi&er &ors of the "ntithesis, +yself
and the +agi of +y fleet!'
'"nd two hundred "startes,' said (aredon!
'Given the li*elihood of our being ursued by the ne&ron fleet,' &ontinued -oar, 'our ta&ti&s +ust e+hasise seed over
&o+le.ity! On&e on the ground, we enter the +ain e.&avation!'
'"nd we *ill everything we find until either we or they are dead,' finished (aredon!
'@uite! Landfall will be in two hours and fourteen +inutes! 'f you have any rearations to +a*e, ' suggest you +a*e
the+, &o++ander, as the ne&rons +ost assuredly *now we are here!'
%HE F'R(% R"E-E/'"/( to die in the last battle for "stelo* were ioneers: tough, resour&eful +en and wo+en
re&ruited into the ar+y of @ueen Dyr+ida fro+ a+ong the hunters and traers that lived out in the wilds between &ity#
states! " few of the+ were &aught out by landing &raft &rashing through the trees al+ost right on to of the+, in the
tangled woods lining the road fro+ the &ity to the sa&e ort! 6ndying warriors &la+bered out, unfolded their an&ient
+etal li+bs and i++ediately set about *illing the ioneers, who tried to flee or hide a+ong the trees!
%he 6ndying guns flayed the+ to the bone, and left the bleeding, half#fleshed s*eletons! Other ioneers were brought
down by s&arabs that for&ed their way into their +ouths or burrowed through their s*in with dia+ond#hard +andibles!
%he ioneer units had *nown before the battle began that they would be vulnerable outside the &ity walls, and that few
of the+ &ould be e.e&ted to survive! %hey a&&eted this fate sin&e they were fighting, not for the+selves, but for the
eole huddled beneath the sa&e ort waiting for the 6ndying to &lai+ the+!
%he 6ndying +ar&hed relentlessly through the forests, where they had landed to be safe fro+ the Raevenian sniers and
heavy weaons on the walls! 't was a si+le &al&ulation for the guiding intelligen&e and the offi&er nodes of the ar+y to
+a*e! 't had also been +ade by @ueen Dyr+ida and her generals!
%he tras set by the ioneers eruted ,ust as the 6ndying units gathered together to +ar&h in ran*! Do5ens of the
6ndying were blown to ie&es by frag+entation bo+bs +ade fro+ fuel &ells and shranel! Canisters of sa&eshi fuel
e.loded inside the trun*s of trees, sending shards of wood and &ollasing tree trun*s &rashing into the 6ndying! (o+e
bodies self#reaired, but +ore hased out!
%he offi&er nodes raidly re&al&ulated the angles of aroa&h! %hey +oved their advan&ing units towards the +ain road
into the sa&e ort, and a large area of &learer s&rub on the oosite side of the sa&e ort, where the ioneers would
have had a tougher ,ob &on&ealing booby tras!
Hidden its &ollased, lunging 6ndying warriors into troughs of battery a&id! 4ioneers that had begged for a good
death on this day +anned the guns of vehi&les half#buried in the ground, throwing off heas of bran&hes and &a+o#
netting to blast at oint#blan* range into the 6ndying! %hey died soon enough, torn aart by s&arabs or 6ndying guns,
but they wied out enough 6ndying to +a*e their deaths good ones indeed!
%he 6ndying for&e lost relatively few of its nu+ber, but the threat was grave enough to for&e it onto the oen ground!
6 on the walls, the +en of @ueen Dyr+ida's ar+y +anned the guns trained on the target 5ones, and waited!
%HE (O6L DR'/9ER( on the +uster de&* of the "ntithesis &ut a frightening enough sight that even the te&h#guard
units, +any of who+ had e+otional da+ening surgery, loo*ed at the+ with fear! %wenty s$uads of ten were ran*ed u
for (aredon to inse&t, along with 4allas, Catain Lu*o, %yrendian and (&a+ander! (al* and Graevus's s$uads had the
ri+e la&es on the ends of the ran*, sin&e (aredon &onsidered the+ the senior sergeants of his &o++and! %e&h+arine
Lygris was there too, for he had re&overed enough lu&idity to de+and to be ta*en on this +ission!
%he te&h#guard were being so*en to by the te&h#riests who would lead the+! %hey tal*ed about sa&red duty,
obedien&e and sa&rifi&e in the O+nissiah's na+e, and of the hateful nature of the .enos threat! (aredon noti&ed the
+agi a+ong the+, -ionel, a +assive glowering +etalli& resen&e at&hed u with welded#on ar+our lates, and
Hesebah with e.tra ower a&*s i+lanted into her ba&* to fuel her las&annon! (aredon had heard see&hes li*e that
before, ba&* in the old Chater where his &atain, Caeon, and Chater 3aster Gorgoleon would sea* to the (oul
Drin*ers of their osition at the to of the hu+an food &hain, and of their divine right to herd the rest of the se&ies
towards the E+eror's goal!
'(oul Drin*ers,' began (aredon, 'within the hour, we +a*e landfall at (elaa&a, and fight there against a foe with
effe&tively infinite nu+bers and every reason to *ill us! %he ne&rons *now we are &o+ing! )e have fa&ed the+ before,
and every one of you *nows how unwilling they are to die! 3a*e no +ista*e, battle#brothers, the ne&rons are the ene+y
of everything we have fought for! %hey will turn the -eiled Region into a base fro+ whi&h to treat the hu+an ra&e as
&attle to *ill or harvest! 'f we ever had a duty, it is to sto the+! Chalain '*tinos is relying on us, as are all the eole of
Raevenia! %hey do not deserve the fate the gala.y has la&ed on the+! )e have the ower to &hange it! 'n doing so, we
will &hange our own fate, for we will be &hanging this gala.y for the better when so +any have tried to use us to &hange
it for the worse! Catain Lu*o2'
Lu*o steed out of his s$uad to ,oin (aredon! He loo*ed li*e he would tear through the shi's hull if it would get hi+
into battle $ui&*er! 'Brothers1 )e *now what we're fighting! )hatever intelligen&e leads the ne&rons, that's what we're
here to *ill! )e've seen what these +a&hines &an do to good honest flesh, but they're not so dangerous that a &oule of
&o+anies of "startes &an't turn the+ into iron filings! %he one advantage the ene+y has over us is nu+bers, so we
*ee +oving! )e never sto or ta*e a ba&*wards ste! 9ee &harging on, for&ing the+ ba&*, and ush on faster than
they &an wa*e reinfor&e+ents! 'f you get left behind, you die! Cold and fast, (oul Drin*ers, and we'll *ill their e+ire
before they finish &on$uering it!'
'%o your stations,' said (aredon! 'Final aroa&h1'
%he engines of the "ntithesis s&rea+ed as the shi lunged into the to.i& at+oshere of (elaa&a!
" B'LL'O/ LE/(E( turned uwards! (&arabs aused their wor* on +onoliths and ower &onduits to loo* at the
glowing strea* in the s*y! )at&htower &onstru&ts, towering robots wal*ing on sindly legs with thora.es &overed in
sensors and artifi&ial eyes, tra&*ed it and sent its esti+ated landing site to the &o++and syste+s in the lanet's interior!
"t the &entre of those syste+s, the oint at whi&h every node &onne&ted, so+ething vast and owerful stirred! 't had
slet for longer than +ost biologi&al &reatures &ould i+agine! 't, too, had been biologi&al on&e, but that was so long ago
that the +e+ory of that ti+e, if it &ould be said to ossess +e+ories in the hu+an sense, was ,ust a sli&e of infor+ation
filed away a+ong trillions of other statisti&s in the &rystal#filled lanetary &ore that +ade u its brain!
't &ould not +ove or thin* for long, only enough for a few *ey syste+s to war+ u and a handful of +illise&onds +ore
to &on&o&t the strea+ of ele&trons that +ade u its orders! %he ne&ron e+ire it ruled was so effi&iently &onstru&ted that
it need give only that single order and its will would be trans+itted to every individual ne&ron that &ould lay a art in
+a*ing it a reality!
)a*e the+, it said, all of the+!
"nd then wa*e +e!
')ar is the only la&e we &an be &o+lete! Battle is the only a&tivity at whi&h our e.&ellen&e &an be +eaningful! Do not
believe that you &an be a s&holar, or a hilosoher, or a leader of +en! 0ou are a warrior! )hen you are not infli&ting
death, you are not ,ustifying your life!'
# Daenyathos, 4rin&iles of %he "startean 3ind
"/0 O%HER (H'4 would have been &o++itting sui&ide, sa&rifi&ing itself and its &rew to s+ash into the target! 't had
been done before by '+erial &raft whose ordnan&e was used u and whose gun batteries were dry or who had suffered
su&h grave da+age that the only thing they &ould still do was +ove! %he ne&ron defen&es assu+ed that this was the
&ase, and reared for little +ore than surfa&e da+age and the loss of a few thousand s&arabs and other easily rela&ed
units!
%he "ntithesis's engines were, however, u to the tas* of slowing it down even as its row glowed blue#white with heat!
%he thin at+oshere rovided ,ust enough of a &ushion for the shi to slow to a +anageable seed under the +assive
de&eleration of its forward#firing engines!
%he shi &rashed through a net of thread#li*e +etalli& fila+ents, built to *ee +eteorites fro+ da+aging the ne&ron
fa&ilities in the &aital &ity! 't sheared straight through a s*y#bound +onorail, silling &ontainers and their &argoes of
ore! %he shi levelled out, slowing further, and roaring arallel to the ground! 'ts enor+ous row &arved through steel
and stone buildings, the hurri&ane of its e.haust howling through what had on&e been the tee+ing streets of (elaa&a!
Finally, its +ain engines &ut out, and the retro thrusters brought it down, grinding row#first into the +ass of the &ity!
%he destru&tion was tre+endous! Buildings were torn down li*e aer! %he hull of the "ntithesis slit and tore,
throwing &hun*s of +etal li*e titani& shards of shranel as the *eel hull was stried away! Broadside guns were torn
off and tu+bled through ruined streets! %he bea* of the row rode u through the re+nants of an a+hitheatre,
s&attering &hun*s of ale stone!
%he "ntithesis shuddered to a halt! 'ts artifi&ial gravity had been stressed to brea*ing oint to absorb the lethal
de&eleration that would have turned any living thing inside it to aste! (yste+s failed and ower &ells burst, throwing
showers of sar*s fro+ the tears in the hull! Fires bro*e out along the stri&*en shi's length! Fuel oured fro+ a
rutured fuel tan* and ignited, blowing out a se&tion of the engine housing in a tre+endous tongue of fla+e!
%he "ntithesis would not fly again, but if the "startes &ould do what they &lai+ed, it wouldn't need to!
L69O )"( F'R(% out! (aredon &ouldn't have stoed hi+ if he had wanted to!
'Go1 Go1' shouted Lu*o, and hauled hi+self u through the e.it hat&h before it had fully oened!
%o.i& air rolled into the "ntithesis, foiled by the resirators in the hel+ets of the (oul Drin*ers and the gas +as*s worn
by the te&h#guard! %he (oul Drin*ers had +ustered in +aintenan&e &ha+bers near the uer hull, where the i+a&t
would not &ause so +u&h da+age, and Lu*o had ta*en the first la&e beneath the hat&h that would let the+ out!
%he first i+ression (aredon got of (elaa&a was of a s*y the &olour of night, s&attered with stars and obs&ured by
steel#grey wiss of &orruted &loud! He &la+bered out, his talons an&horing hi+ to the uer hull of the sa&eshi! %he
fallen &ity was +etal and stone, edged in silver by the unfiltered light of (elaa&a's sun: half a fallen &olu+n, a &ollased
wall, a statue of so+e (elaa&an noble, standing in a field of rubble!
3etal had sread a&ross the ruins li*e a stain, dee ools of it, and thi&* webs of it li*e the &o&oons of +etal beasts!
Dar* steel towers +ade u a s*yline that had on&e been do+inated by +onu+ents and &ivi& buildings, sewing e.haust
gases into the air! %here was even +etal in the s*y, orbital installations li*e sindly new &onstellations!
%he &ity that had on&e stood here had been s+othered by the webs of steel! Here and there, it fought to the surfa&e as a
&ollased wall or a hea of rubble that +ight have been so+e great ala&e or basili&a! %he i+ressions of streets still
re+ained, and a s*yline of fra&tured towers! 't was losing, however! 't would not be long before the s&arabs finished
sinning their +etalli& &aul, and (elaa&a de&ayed away to nothing! Only the alien would re+ain!
)as this what the ne&rons wanted to do to the universe2 (+other it in steel, and &rush the life out of it2
%hen there was gunfire!
Lu*o &aught a blast on the shoulder! He didn't brea* stride as the blast sli&ed a &hun* out of his shoulder ad, and he
dived out of (aredon's eye#line, s&ra+bling down the torn hull of the "ntithesis! His s$uad followed hi+, their bolters
oening u before they hit the ground!
'Deloy1' yelled 3agos Hesebah, who led the first unit of te&h#guard! %hey were assault se&ialists with grenade
laun&hers and las+a weaons, loo*ing al+ost as inhu+an as the +agi with their gas +as*s and the heavy ribbed
&ables &onne&ting their weaons to sensor a&*s lugged into their sines! %he te&h#guard e+erged fro+ hat&hes a short
way along the hull, Hesebah in the front ran*!
(aredon followed the te&h#guard down towards the &ity streets! Graevus, ower a.e in his +utated hand, was leading
the first of the assault s$uads beside hi+!
(aredon s&urried down the hull, and hit the ground running! E+erald blasts strea*ed around hi+, boring &ores out of
the stone and +etal of the wre&*age surrounding the "ntithesis!
Behind the shi was an i++ense valley of ruins, torn by the shi's &rash#landing! 'n front of it was a yawning &has+ in
the ground, ringed by ruins leaning oised to &ollase over the edge! %he ground sloed down into the &has+, where the
dar*ness was studded with ulsing green lights! %he ruins were infested with ne&ron warriors, their +etalli& shaes ,ust
visible a+ong the destru&tion! Lu*o's s$uad was running for &over a+ong the ruins surrounding the &has+!
'%here1' shouted Hesebah! '%hat's the +ain shaft!'
'(oul Drin*ers1' yelled (aredon! 'Forward1'
%he (oul Drin*ers iled out of the "ntithesis, firing as they ran! /e&rons fell, s*ulls blasted oen! 3ore e+erged fro+
the ruins as if they had been roosting there, &la+bering over bro*en stone to &lose to firing range! (aredon saw Lu*o
,u+ing a ruined wall and sli&ing a ne&ron into ribbons with his ower &laws, as bolter fire &ut down another that
lur&hed u at hi+! (aredon followed in Lu*o's wa*e, and fired a bolter volley into +ove+ent that aroa&hed through
the dar*ness!
(trea*s of &ri+son light e+ted fro+ Hesebah's las&annon, the barrels sinning as raw energy ulsed fro+ the ower
&ells +ounted on her ba&*! %he walls of a nearby building disintegrated, and &harred roboti& li+bs &lattered to the
ground a+ong the debris!
(aredon dived into &over alongside Catain Lu*o! 'Lots of the+ out here,' said Lu*o! '"nd there'll be +ore!'
'Hesebah1' shouted (aredon! '%hin* you &an *ee u2'
'3o&* +e not, +utant,' relied Hesebah!
(aredon &harged on, Lu*o beside hi+, leading the (oul Drin*ers into the +aw! He saw one (oul Drin*er falling, leg
sheared off by a blast that tore u into his abdo+en! "nother was being dragged along by his battle#brothers, one ar+
stried away to bloody bone! 4allas was suorting another who had lost a art of his leg, blood u+ing fro+ the
wound in his greave!
(aredon rea&hed the edge of the shaft, and his eyes ad,usted to its dar*ness! 't &urved downwards into the lanet's
&rust, a +etal#shod siral tunnel li*e the lair of an i++ense +e&hani&al wor+! 't was wide enough to a&t as a
thoroughfare for huge vehi&les li*e the ne&ron harvesters! %he "ntithesis &ould have wedged itself inside if it had
stoed a few hundred +etres later!
Behind the (oul Drin*ers, the te&h#guard were &overing the rear, sending gouts of las+a ouring into the ruins around
the +aw! Grenades blew ne&rons off their feet or brought buildings &ollasing around the+, and Hesebah's las&annon
ar+ reaed +ore wre&*age a+ong the ne&ron warriors! %he other +agi were further ba&* with the rest of the te&h#
guard, and so+e of the 3e&hani&us soldiers were stranded, inned down by fire and left behind by the seed of the
assault!
%hey would be left there! %here was no way the atta&* &ould stall to res&ue the+! 'f they stoed, they would all die!
3any of the te&h#guard had si+le logi& i+lants, and they would understand! %he others would die alone and terrified,
&ursing the (oul Drin*ers! %hat was the way it had to be!
6 ahead, swar+s of s&arabs were e+erging in shi++ering strea+s fro+ holes in the walls of the +etal shaft! (oul
Drin*ers &arrying fla+ers ran to the fore, sraying a &urtain of fire ahead of the+! (&arabs ran into the fla+es and were
i++olated in the burning fuel, ainting strea*s of fire a&ross the walls and &eiling as their syste+s went haywire! %e&h#
guard units +ade it to the front, and hosed the walls with their own fla+ers!
'Lygris,' vo.ed (aredon, 'are you still with us, brother2'
'' &an feel it,' relied Lygris, who was towards the rear of the (oul Drin*ers for+ation! '' &an hear its voi&e!'
'/ot for +u&h longer,' said (aredon!
%he s&arabs disersed, +any of the+ &lattering to the floor as hus*s of s+ouldering +etal! %he te&h#guard were
&at&hing u, and (aredon sotted 3agos -ionel &lut&hing a dis+e+bered ne&ron &orse in one of his huge industrial
aws! -ionel threw the body to one side, and it hased out!
'Forward1' ordered (aredon! '"r&h+agos, we &annot tarry here!'
'%hen we leave the wounded,' said "r&h+agos -oar over the vo.! '%hey are &o++ended to the O+nissiah! %e&h#guard1
"dvan&e1'
(aredon led the way down into the dar* +etalli& throat! 't &urved down beneath the &ity, its walls threaded with
glowing green &hannels of ower! %he (oul Drin*ers and te&h#guard advan&ed at a run and &overed the distan&e
$ui&*ly, every +an and "startes well aware of the ne&rons that would be &onverging on the &ity to hunt the+ down if
they hesitated!
Di+ light shone fro+ below, and, after a final *in*, the throat ended in a &ir&ular oening, beyond whi&h was an
enor+ous e.&avation dee into the earth!
%he ne&rons had not invaded! %hey had always been there, waiting beneath (elaa&a for whatever signal the (elaa&ans
had inadvertently given the+ to wa*e u and re&lai+ their e+ire! For a +o+ent, (aredon &ould only stare at what
they had &reated!
%he ne&ron to+b#&ity stared ba&*!
7 7 7
'' "3 3'/DED to ray,' said Chalain '*tinos, 'for all of us! For our brothers on (elaa&a! For the eole who fa&e
death around us! For ourselves! But also, for our future!'
'*tinos *nelt before the gates of the sa&e ort! Gunfire was &ra&*ing fro+ the walls on either side as the Raevenian
sniers in the gatehouses too* ranging shots at the 6ndying warriors advan&ing in ran*s down the road fro+ "stelo*!
'*tinos's flo&*, nu+bering +ore than thirty (oul Drin*ers, *nelt around hi+! Only '*tinos truly understood the &hange
that had &o+e over the+ sin&e they had nu+bered the+selves a+ong his followers! %hey were not ,ust re+nants of
ravaged units loo*ing for a leader! %hey were not even siritually enthusiasti& "startes, who attended to '*tinos as an
e.ression of their faith! %hey had be&o+e so+ething else! 'n a sense, they were not even (oul Drin*ers any +ore, for
they did not follow (aredon and his ideals, but '*tinos and his lans! )hi&h, though (aredon did not *now it, were
very, very different!
''t is an honour,' said one of the flo&*, 'to die for this future!'
''t is a greater honour to live for it,' said '*tinos!
'But to live to see his lan &o+leted,' said another, 'is a blessing too great for +e to beg!'
'Do not fear to as* to serve,' said '*tinos! '3any of you will fall, and you will have done +ore for +an*ind than any
other in the ten thousand years of +isery the '+eriu+ has suffered! %hose who live will honour the fallen with every
ste they ta*e beyond! Cherish the life that fate +ay grant you, and wel&o+e death1 4raise the day that gives us this
fight1 4raise the death and the dealing of it1 Bless every bullet you fire and every wound you ta*e, for it is all art of the
sa+e fate! %hin* not of failure if you die, or of sha+e if you live! %hin* only of the future!'
'*tinos too* out his &ro5ius and laid it on the ro&*&rete of the gate road!
'%his weaon is an instru+ent of +y will,' he said! '%his will is vi&tory! %his vi&tory is to build a future for the hu+an
ra&e! 'f +y will is undone, the vi&tory will be lost and the future will die! %his is what lies on our shoulders!'
Every battle#brother of '*tinos's flo&* laid his weaons # bolters, &o+bat *nives, fla+ers, las+a guns # on the ground!
%hey e&hoed '*tinos's words in an intense +ur+ur! 't was not a rayer that &ould be found in any sa&red wor* of the
(oul Drin*ers' Chalains, or in the Cate&his+s 3artial of the legendary Daenyathos! 't was '*tinos's rayer! %his was
his fight! His will was being done, and, through hi+, the will of his +aster!
'*tinos's rayer was finished, and he loo*ed u at the s*y of Raevenia! 6ndying landing &raft were still searing down
through the s*y, and the dull thuds of the anti#air&raft guns oened u again, sitting red#bla&* &louds of burning fla*
into the air!
" &o++otion u on the walls beside the gate rea&hed his ears! (o+ething had alar+ed the +en u there, and it too* a
lot to fa5e +en that had seen their ho+e &ity torn to shreds by the 6ndying!
'*tinos headed to the gatehouse, a wat&htower built into the suort on one side of the +assive double gates! 3a*eshift
barri&ades had been iled u in front of the gates, welded with si*es and hoo*s to snag the 6ndying as they &la+bered
over! '*tinos wove a ath through the+ and rea&hed the gatehouse door! He ran u the stairs inside, ushing ast sniers
stationed at windows along the stairway!
%wo +ore sniers were stationed at the to of the wat&htower! %hey started as '*tinos &li+bed u into their roost! %he
(a&e 3arine barely fitted into the s+all roo+!
'"startes,' said one of the sniers!
')hat have you seen2' as*ed '*tinos!
%he view fro+ the gatehouse was enough to sa +ost +en's wills! %housands of 6ndying were trooing along the road,
so vast in nu+bers that they trailed al+ost to the gates of "stelo*! %hey were in stri&t for+ation and in erfe&t ste, all
holding their guns at ease, all with the sa+e un+oving gri+a&e on their +etal s*ulls! %he air vibrated with the i+a&ts
of their +etal feet on the dirt! '*tinos $ui&*ly &al&ulated there were at least ten thousand in the forward +ass, and who
*new how +any +ore aroa&hing fro+ other angles or still hidden by the forests! 't was an ar+y large enough to
sub,ugate a world, and it had been arrayed against the single sa&e ort that still resisted the+ on Raevenia!
%he snier ointed to the edge of the wood that bordered the road! %he woods were still s+ouldering fro+ the booby
tras that had funnelled the 6ndying towards the gates!
" vehi&le was &rashing through the trees! "t least, a vehi&le was the best des&rition that '*tinos &ould thin* of! 't was a
stee yra+id, several storeys high, &arried along on a &ra&*ling bed of energy that s&or&hed the grass beneath it! "
huge green &rystal was e+bedded in its inna&le, fro+ whi&h ar&s of ower were laying down the sheer bla&* sides!
"round it were the barrels of four energy weaons, driing with the energy barely &ontained in their glowing
&aa&itors! One side of the +onolith slid oen, revealing a li$uid bla&* ool susended i+ossibly verti&al, riling
with energy! 6ndying warriors +ar&hed alongside it li*e an honour guard! '*tinos &ould see that these warriors were the
elite of the ar+y, bigger and less hu+anoid with ar+our lates, not of dull +etal, but of dee &ri+son &overed in glyhs
i&*ed out in gold! %his was the royal guard of whatever &alled itself the +onar&h of the 6ndying!
"nother of the huge +a&hines was &run&hing through the trees on the other side of the road! %he dar* aths &arved
through the forests further away suggested there were +ore still, advan&ing slowly, but relentlessly!
')hat is it2' as*ed the snier!
')e will find out soon enough,' said '*tinos! ')hat is the range2'
')e've had a few sighting shots! %heir front ran*s are still ast rifle range! %he!!! war engines, whatever they are, will be
in range a lot later than that! )e *now how far the warriors &an shoot, but those +a&hines +ight out#range us!'
'Do not fire uon the 6ndying in earnest,' said '*tinos, 'until they are three ran*s in! 0ou &annot *ill the+ all! (ow
&onfusion instead!'
'0es, sir,' said the snier! His voi&e was sha*ing, and it was i+ossible to tell if he was +ore afraid of the 6ndying or of
'*tinos!
'*tinos e.a+ined the aroa&hing 6ndying +ore &losely! " few of the flying warriors were hovering along the edge of
the treeline, +any of the+ with long#barrelled &annon that loo*ed li*e they had the range to stri the gatehouse away at
any +o+ent! %he elite, the i++ortals of the 6ndying horde, were falling into ste alongside the warriors, dwarfing
the+ with their hul*ing si5e!
" few a+ong the warriors were taller than those around the+, wal*ing fully uright in a gri+ e&ho of a +an! %hey
&arried staffs instead of guns, and their +etalli& for+s were wrought into +ore elaborate shaes li*e ornate ar+our!
%heir eyes burned brighter with intelligen&e, and energy &ra&*led around the+ li*e e+erald haloes!
'/ote their leaders,' said '*tinos!
')e!!! we *ill the+ first, right2' said the snier!
''f you &an,' said '*tinos! But the truth was, he did not thin* the sniers had +u&h &han&e of infli&ting anything +ore
than no+inal losses on the 6ndying! 9illing as +any as ossible would not win this battle! Raw sho&* and devastation
would be the *ey! %he (oul Drin*ers, and the Raevenians before the+, had assu+ed that the 6ndying were i++une to
su&h things, that they had none of the +ental wea*nesses of +en! '*tinos saw that their wea*nesses si+ly had to be
e.loited!
'%here are leaders a+ong the+,' vo.ed '*tinos to his flo&*! 'Leaders +eans a &hain of &o++and! "nd a &hain +eans it
&an be bro*en! %he soulless ones are not i++une to the terror and &onfusion of war; a (a&e 3arine is! %hat is how we
will win, +y brothers! %he .enos need logi& to fun&tion, but an "startes &an a&hieve vi&tories that defy all logi&! )hen
they see the &ertainty of their vi&tory brea*ing down, they will be&o+e as vulnerable as any other ene+y!'
'*tinos headed ba&* down the stairs to ,oin his battle#brothers behind the gates!
'(ir,' said the snier, 'when the 6ndying get here!!! where do we go2'
'0ou stay here,' said '*tinos, 'until you die!' %hen he du&*ed out of the wat&htower and left the sniers to their hoeless
fight!
" C'%0 OF to+bs stret&hed so far it disaeared into the hori5on, where the +etal#&lad s*y +et the ground!
Every to+b was a +asterie&e! Crafted fro+ brushed +etal, stone and gold, they were the resting la&es of the ne&ron
ar+y's generals, la&es of worshi, +onu+ents to a future without biologi&al life! (o+e were li*e te+les, their
&olu+ns surrounding sar&ohagi &arved with the i+ages of the regal, s*eletal things inside! Others were blo&*s of steel
&arved deely with stylised i+ages of &on$uest and geno&ide, sub,ugated .enos and alien eyes i&*ed out in gold! One
was an enor+ous hand of bla&* stone bones, holding a ne&ron for+, &urled u li*e an obs&ene foetus, in its al+! One
was a steel s*ull with its inhabitant ,ust visible in its +outh, wide oen as if in +id#s&rea+! %here +ust have been
thousands of to+bs, arranged in a grid to for+ avenues between the seul&hres!
%e&h+arine Lygris ushed to the front of the (oul Drin*ers as they for+ed a gun line at the entran&e to the to+b#&ity!
'Get +e to an interfa&e,' he said! '' &an lead us through!'
(aredon &ouldn't see Lygris's fa&e be&ause the te&h+arine wore his hel+et, but the strength an "startes &arried in his
voi&e was gone! Lygris was a wre&*, bro*en by whatever he had seen when he interfa&ed with the ne&ron infor+ation
networ*! (aredon *new that if his old &o+anion were ever to be&o+e as he on&e was, it would not haen on
(elaa&a!
'(tay ba&*, Lygris! 9ee alive! Lu*o1 Lead us forward! %he .enos will be &lose behind!'
%he (oul Drin*ers advan&ed in a tight for+ation, Lu*o ta*ing the far right of the line as it +ade its way between the
first rows of to+bs, the te&h#guard following! (&a+ander, as was so often the &ase, was beside %yrendian as they
+oved! His eyes were s+ouldering!
'4ower si*e,' vo.ed -oar!
'' don't li*e the sound of that,' said Lu*o's voi&e over the vo.! '%ighten u, (oul Drin*ers1 3utual &over1 Graevus,
you're fast resonse1'
'0es, &o++ander,' relied Graevus, whose assault unit was ,ust behind the +ain gun line! Half the (oul Drin*ers s$uads
advan&ed with the other half &overing the+, training their bolters down the long avenues between to+bs!
')e'll need to get one of these oen,' vo.ed Lu*o! '%hey loo* solid enough!'
%he to+b ,ust in front of Lu*o, shaed li*e a &hun* of battle+ent fro+ an iron fortress, slit oen down the +iddle!
Free5ing vaour oured out, &linging to the ground li*e li$uid! Green light bled fro+ the dar*ness inside!
'Da+n,' said Lu*o!
Lu*o dived to the side ,ust as a blast of e+erald light tore out of the sar&ohagus towards hi+!
'Close u and &over1' yelled (aredon, wat&hing fro+ the &entre of the line!
Lu*o's s$uad leat into &over as blasts of ower shredded the walls of the to+bs beside the+!
(aredon heard the grinding of +etal on stone! %he to+b ne.t to hi+ was oening, slivers of an&ient stone fla*ing away
fro+ a stylised fa&e s&ulted as if it was half#buried in the floor! %he golden shere of the fa&e's single eye rolled out of
the fra&tured so&*et and thun*ed to the floor! Light bled fro+ the so&*et, stuttering as so+ething +oved inside!
%he stone slit oen, and the ne&ron inside unfolded with an an&ient +a,esty!
'ts s*eleton was tarnished gold inlaid with dee blue! 'ts eyes flashed green and &ri+son, and its s*ull was set into a
headdress li*e &oiled sna*es &as&ading down over its shoulders! " &ae +ade of lin*ed anels of gold and steel &lan*ed
around it! 't &arried a staff toed with a blade, inset with a fat green ,ewel!
(aredon rea&ted first! He du&*ed beneath the edge of the slit sar&ohagus and heard the hiss of a blade &utting
through air! He &a+e u, bolter bla5ing, ha++ering shots into the ne&ron's torso!
%he ne&ron turned on hi+ and lashed out with his staff again! (aredon turned it aside with his forear+, but the staff
fired a shard of brilliant green energy that threw (aredon off his feet!
(aredon sla++ed into the to+b behind hi+, slintering abstra&t &arvings! %he breath was *no&*ed out of hi+ and his
head swa+! 'nstin&t too* over, and he fired at the blurry gold shae advan&ing on hi+, rolling to the side and sringing
u on his ara&hnid legs!
%he ne&ron wren&hed the bolter out of (aredon's hand and &rushed it in its owerful +etal fingers, flinging it away!
(aredon drew the ".e of 3er&aeno fro+ his ba&*, and, for an instant, barely a assing of ti+e at all, it showed
hesitation when it saw the for&e weaon in (aredon's hand!
't had no fa&e to e.ress e+otions with, ,ust a leering s*ull, but its body language suggested an arehension that was
beyond the s&oe of a +a&hine's e+otions!
%he ne&ron stru&* again and again! (aredon &aught the blows on the haft of his a.e, and fli&*ed the butt of the weaon
u into the ne&ron's fa&e, snaing its head ba&* and sending it reeling! 't was taller than hi+, erhas twi&e as tall as a
ne&ron warrior, and it was stronger and +ore resilient by far, but it had a wea*ness that they did not!
'0ou were alive,' snarled (aredon! '0ou used to have a soul!'
%he ne&ron +ight even have understood hi+! 't didn't +atter! 't would get the +essage sure enough!
(aredon let the for&e well u inside hi+, siralling around the aegis &ir&uit built into his ar+our! 't burst u into his
+ind li*e a vol&ano, and flowed out of hi+, hot and violent!
For the first ti+e, the ne&rons bore witness to the Hell!
("R4EDO/ D'D /O% even re+e+ber when he had first dis&overed the Hell!
't +ight have been when he was a &hild, before the Chalains of the (oul Drin*ers ever found hi+! Or, +ore li*ely, it
was a refine+ent of raw, for+less owers he had de+onstrated ba&* then, and had first &o+e to be in the Librariu+ of
the (oul Drin*ers, flagshi, the Glory, as (aredon was being tested and trained by the Chater's Librarians!
't was a for+ of teleathy, but a brutal, un&ontrolled one, a raw +ental bludgeon! 't was rare indeed a+ong sy*ers, but
as a weaon it was for+idable! %yrendian's lightning and (&a+ander's fire were weaons in the si+lest sense,
i+le+ents of destru&tion! %he Hell atta&*ed its ene+y's +inds ,ust as other Librarians atta&*ed their bodies!
%he *ey was fear! %he hardest lesson (aredon had learned was that fear did not +a*e itself! He had to find it in the
ene+y, draw it out and give it for+! 't was a strange thing for a (a&e 3arine to thin* so deely about fear, whi&h the
E+eror had &reated hi+ to &ontrol and ignore as an unwanted sensation, but (aredon had to understand it! )hat did a
ne&ron fear2
%HE /ECRO/ )R"44ED its ar+s around (aredon, and, unable to &rush hi+ through his ower ar+our, threw hi+
against the to+b behind hi+! (aredon struggled to his feet! He &ould hear gunfire everywhere, and gli+sed +ore of
the ornate ne&rons batding the (oul Drin*ers all along the line! 3ore were e+erging fro+ their sar&ohagi! (o+e were
being battered ba&* by bolter volleys, but so+e had e+erged a+ong the (oul Drin*ers and te&h#guard, and were
throwing bodies aside as they *illed!
(aredon *i&*ed out with his front legs, but the ne&ron held fir+! (aredon ried the ".e of 3er&aeno u into its
torso, and felt the blade bite into unnaturally hard +etal, gouging a furrow u to its throat! %he ne&ron hauled hi+ into
the air, and sla++ed hi+ down on the roof of the to+b!
" si*e of dar* steel was driven through (aredon's ba&*a&*, through the ba&* of his ar+our and out through his
&hest! He was i+aled there, stu&* li*e a inned inse&t with his legs *i&*ing out in every dire&tion! %he ain ha++ered
through hi+, and he felt one of his lungs deflate, bubbling blood out into his &hest &avity!
Li*e fear, ain was so+ething a (a&e 3arine +ight feel, but never bow to! 4ain was the E+eror's way of re+inding
hi+ there was wor* to do! "n "startes' duty overrode ain! 't even overrode death!
Death! %he ne&rons were death, the death that had des&ended on (elaa&a! %hat was how the (elaa&ans +ust have seen
the+: an ar+y of oblivion +ar&hing through their &ities to snat&h the+ away!
%here was only one thing that death +ight fear!
%he Hell too* for+! 't was life, infinite, seething life, an avalan&he of fe&undity! " stea+ing se&tral ,ungle unfolded,
thousands of redatory eyes glinting! Every surfa&e was &overed in ravenous life! 'nse&ts swar+ed in dar* +asses in
every &orner! -ines slit the an&ient stone of the to+bs! %hey wraed around the legs of the ornate ne&ron, bursting
into flower or seed! (li+y li+bs rea&hed u fro+ the swa+y floor and tried to drag the ne&ron down!
't had a soul! Or at least, it used to! 't had on&e been alive, and it still re+e+bered so+e of what that +eant! 't still
retained so+e of the ersonality of whatever da+ned &reatures had be&o+e the ne&rons! %hat was all the Hell needed to
ta*e a hold!
')hat is the alien2 't is +ore than +erely a &reature of non#%erran origin! (u&h a thing would hold no holy disgust for
us! %he alien is an idea, a &on&et, deadly by virtue of its +ere e.isten&e! %he very ossibility of the alien be&o+ing a
do+inant for&e a+ong the stars is &orrosive to the hu+an soul!'
# Daenyathos, " %housand Foes
/OR%H OF %HE sa&e ort gates, the advan&ing 6ndying &rossed rifle range! %he sniers yelled a warning, and the
offi&ers of the Raevenian ar+y gave the order to fire!
Raevenian guns oened u in su&h nu+bers that the view fro+ the walls was blurred, as if through heavy rain! %he
sound was aalling, li*e an earth$ua*e, an endless e.loding din!
6ndying fell! (o+e were shredded beyond self#reair, s+ashed into shards of +etal that hased out before they hit the
ground! One of the lords, the tall, regal 6ndying with ornate &araa&es, held u an ony. shere that ulsed with bla&*
light, and the fallen 6ndying around hi+ &la+bered to their feet, even s&attered shreds of +etal flowing ba&* together
li*e $ui&*silver to re#for+ into warriors!
One of the flying warriors &rashed into the trees, a neat hole un&hed through its s*ull by a snier's bullet! " ro&*et
battery oened u on the walls, and a &hain of e.losions ried through the front ran*s of the 6ndying, throwing
shattered warriors into the air!
%here were so +any of the+! " +an &ould not &ount the+, and the destru&tion around the+ did not slow the+ down!
Death +eant nothing to the+, be&ause they were death!
%he 6ndying bro*e the &over of the trees to the south of the sa&e ort and +et a si+ilar &urtain of fire fro+ the
southern walls, where the Raevenians had set u +ost of their heavy weaons: +a&hine#gun nests, +issile laun&hers
and vi&ious +ortar#li*e devi&es, whi&h fired &louds of ra5or wire that turned the aroa&hes into near#i+ossible
terrain! %he 6ndying warriors were slowed down by the wire that draed over the+ li*e silver siders' webs, &at&hing
li+bs and gun barrels! %hey tore their way through it with +etalli& hands, but they &ould only advan&e at a &rawl, and
the guns battered into the+! %he 6ndying nobles issued their silent &o++ands, and the 6ndying bro*e for+ation,
heading this way and that to +a*e for less te+ting targets! One noble was &aught in a +issile blast and was sheared in
two, its lower half &lattering to the ground, dead and useless! 'ts uer half was i&*ed u and dragged along by the
6ndying around it!
7 7 7
@6EE/ D0R3'D" )"%CHED fro+ the bal&ony of the sa&e ort's &ontrol tower, fro+ where she &ould ,ust see the
tos of the +onoliths aroa&hing behind the +ain 6ndying line, and the shuddering of the trees to the south as they
were battered by stray fire! 't sounded li*e the air itself was tearing!
'0ou should ta*e &over, your +a,esty,' said 9avins!
'' *now,' said Dyr+ida, 'but when they rea&h us, ' will fight!'
'"s shall we all! But your art in this battle has been layed! 0our lan has been ut into +otion, and you &an do
nothing now to &hange its &ourse!'
'' &an go to the+ and show the+ ' a+ willing to earn +y throne by fighting alongside the+!'
''f we lose you,' said 9avins, ' +ore har+ will be done than good!'
Dyr+ida loo*ed at 9avins, who had the fa&e of a veteran that had been through lenty of wars and &o+e out the other
side with his 5eal and aggression rela&ed with weary e.erien&e!
'' *now all of this,' she said, 'but at least down there ' would *now ' was doing so+ething to aid +y &iti5ens!'
'0our +a,esty,' said 9avins, a note of urgen&y in his voi&e, '' suggest you retire to the situation roo+! %he 6ndying +ay
have longer#range weaons than we e.e&t, and you will be a ri+e target!'
Dyr+ida followed the offi&er into the &o++and &entre! %here were offi&ers everywhere, &oordinating the a&tions of the
troos on the walls and on the landing ads! Raevenian soldiers stood guard to rote&t the+, and Dyr+ida *new how
+u&h they would rather be in the battle than waiting for the 6ndying to brea* through! %he gunfire was loud, even here,
+a*ing it i+ossible to &on&entrate on anything other than the aroa&hing destru&tion!
'%hey're going through a++unition li*e it's water,' one offi&er was saying! ')e'll have to send runners!'
'Hold,' said another into a field telehone! 'Da+n it, hold the+ at the west1 ''+ not having these things &li+b over
undefended walls when our ba&*s are turned1'
Offi&ers saluted Dyr+ida as she assed, and she returned their salutes al+ost un&ons&iously! %he rear e&helon detritus
of war littered every surfa&e: +as sread out on tables and floors or inned to the walls, sidear+s and a++unition
&rates, +ess tins and furniture ushed out of the way to +a*e roo+ for i+ro+tu &onferen&es! Everything s+elled of
gun oil and sweat!
'0our +a,esty1' said a ,unior offi&er &lut&hing the re&eiver of a field telehone! '"nother +onolith sotted!'
'How +any is that2' as*ed Dyr+ida!
'Four! %his one's to the south!'
'%hen they will ut u a fight there! Redeloy so+e of our anti#tan* reserves! )e +ust *ee it fro+ the walls if we &an!'
'0es, your +a,esty!' %he offi&er began relaying her orders into the telehone in the abbreviated see&h tyi&al of her
soldiers!
'Do we *now yet what they do2' Dyr+ida as*ed 9avins!
'%he +onoliths2 (iege engines robably, but we won't *now for sure until they get in range!'
'9ee +e udated if any +ore e+erge! 3a*e their destru&tion a riority!'
'"lready done!'
%he $ueen and the offi&er rea&hed the situation roo+! 't was a flight &ontrol roo+ hurriedly set u as a nerve &entre,
with a nu+ber of the &ontrol &onsoles re+oved and rela&ed with a +a table! %he +a of the sa&e ort on it was
&overed in ins and annotations showing where the various units were stationed! " nu+ber of &o++uni&ations offi&ers
sat at the &onsoles relaying orders and reorts!
'0ou,' she said to the offi&er wat&hing the i&t feed fro+ the northern gates, 'what news fro+ '*tinos2'
'/one,' the offi&er relied! '%he (oul Drin*ers have gone $uiet!'
'Let us hoe they find their voi&e when the gates fall,' said Dyr+ida!
(ituation reorts were &o+ing in on the si5e and &o+osition of the 6ndying for&e! Dyr+ida was soon overwhel+ed by
it all, the ene+y see+ing to get +ore nu+erous with every +o+ent, even as their warriors were shot down!
7 7 7
'/ " CORR'DOR on a lower floor of the &ontrol tower, where an i+ro+tu triage station had been set u to handle
&asualties fro+ around the tower, a air of +edi&s loo*ed u at the shouting nearby! %wo soldiers aroa&hed,
suorting a third! %he wounded +an was &overed in blood, dee wounds in his &hest and fa&e!
'Over here1' shouted the +edi&!
%he soldiers half#dragged their wounded &o+rade to the triage station and laid hi+ down!
')hat haened2'
'Loo*s li*e a +ortar blew u or so+ething,' said a soldier! '4roer shredded hi+!'
%he +edi&'s artner oened a trau+a *it, a bag a&*ed with all the bandages, dressings and sti+ulants needed for a
tyi&al battle wound!
'He's +essed u,' he said!
')ill he +a*e it2' as*ed the soldier!
'(ure,' said the se&ond +edi& without +u&h &onvi&tion as he &ut oen the wounded +an's fatigues!
'Da+n it, that's a erforated bowel,' said the first +edi&, wrin*ling his nose! '0ou guys, get ba&* to the walls! )e'll deal
with hi+!'
'Right!'
')hat's his na+e2'
%he soldier shrugged! 'Don't *now! )e found hi+ wandering around outside! 3ust've &o+e down off the wall!'
%he soldiers left, wiing the blood off the fronts of their unifor+s!
'Forget it,' said the first +edi& as the se&ond too* out a bundle of sutures and dressings! He was holding the wounded
+an's wrist! '/o ulse!'
'%hen this is how it starts,' said the se&ond! ')e de&ided where the bodies go2'
'3aintenan&e roo+, one floor down,' said the first! 'Lu&*y guy,' he said to the body! '0ou get a body bag! %hey're gonna
run out soon!'
%he se&ond +edi& headed to the other side of the &orridor where a suly of bla&* body bags was iled u against the
wall!
/either +an noti&ed the green glow brea*ing through the dead +an's eyelids!
%HE %O3B#C'%0 G"-E the i+ression of having been silent for aeons! /ow, it was filled with the din of gunfire,
lasguns and bolters ha++ering, ne&ron weaons hissing as they tore through stone, ar+our and flesh! %he te&h#guard
were inned down by the e+ergen&e of the ne&ron lords, their advan&e &ut into *nots of soldiers and te&h#riests,
finding what &over they &ould before it dissolved around the+!
"r&h+agos -oar noti&ed the +asses of ghostly ,ungle sreading a&ross the to+bs, but he did not &are +u&h! He was
&on&entrating on +ore i++ediate +atters!
"nother te&h#guard died beside hi+, sli&ed in two! %he +en around -oar were yelling, running fro+ &over to &over as
they tried to outflan* the air of ne&ron lords that were sowing &arnage through the+! Las&annon fire fro+ 3agos
Hesebah strea*ed around the+, but a shi++ering energy field leat u and dissiated the torrent of &ri+son energy!
'Devi&e Ga++a,' said -oar! One of the te&h#guard behind hi+ handed -oar a +etal shere, with a transarent se&tion
revealing twin he+isheres of +etal wraed in wire! -oar ran his hand over the a&tivation anel and the devi&e
hu++ed to life!
He threw it li*e a grenade ast the &olu+ns of the to+b behind whi&h he was sheltering! 't rolled along the ground
between the two ne&ron lords, and burst, throwing out a shower of white sar*s: ele&tro+agneti& &haff, si+ilar to the
&ounter#+easures used by the 3e&hani&us sa&e&raft, but &rafted to interfere with the wavelengths that -oar had
dete&ted &o+ing fro+ the destroyed ne&ron in his lab!
'Forward1' yelled -oar, his voi&e a+lified to +a.i+u+!
%e&h#guard &harged forwards around hi+! Green fla+e dan&ed around the+, but it was wild and unfo&used! Half#
blinded and deafened, the ne&rons &ouldn't ai+ roerly at the advan&ing te&h#guard!
Fire oured into the two .enos! 4las+a bursts &rashed against their ower fields, sitting globs of li$uid fla+e
everywhere! %wo te&h#guard hauled a +ulti+elta into la&e beside the to+b, one sla++ing a fuel bottle into its side as
the other oened fire!
%he ower field around one of the ne&rons overloaded with a white flash! %he lord was lated in itted rose gold, its
s*ull &overed in dee s&rollwor* and its hands in silver blades! Ea&h al+ was fitted with a &rystal fro+ whi&h it fired
bolts of green fire, but, in its blinded state, it was shooting at rando+!
%he +ulti+elta re&harged and the te&h#guard ha++ered fire at the shieldless lord again, the air riling as ure heat
radiation thru++ed fro+ the weaon! %he ne&ron's torso +elted and shifted, revealing layers of &ir&uitry beneath! %he
lord stu+bled ba&*, +olten +etal dribbling fro+ its wounds!
-oar +oved with raid re&ision ast the to+b and into range of the stri&*en ne&ron! His +aniulator units slithered
fro+ his shoulder, stri*ing li*e sna*es to i+lant their +etal hoo*s in the ne&ron's +olten &hest! -oar a&&essed his
internal &aa&itor, and delivered a +assive blast of ower into the .enos +a&hine, tailored to the e.a&t fre$uen&y that
would shatter its &ir&uitry!
%he ne&ron lord's torso burst oen, throwing &hun*s of +etal ribs and sine! %he re+nants of the ne&ron &lattered to the
floor! 'ts wounds &overed over with $ui&*silver as it began to self#reair! -oar stood over it, snaing a +aniulator
into ea&h of its eye so&*ets! He for&ed the re+aining &harge into it, and its s*ull e.loded!
%he se&ond ne&ron lord was si+ilarly &onfused by the interferen&e fro+ devi&e Ga++a! 3agos -ionel bro*e &over and
sto+ed u behind it, grabbing the lord around the waist and hurling it against the &losest to+b, slintering +arble and
bron5e! -ionel's other ar+ fired three rivets into the lord, inning it to the to+b through its ne&* and one ar+!
%he lord struggled! 't was strong, but the fat rivets ier&ing its +etalli& fra+e held fast! 'ts senses were still s&ra+bled,
but it &ouldn't have +issed 3agos -ionel utting his enor+ous steel shoulder down and &harging towards it!
-ionel i+a&ted so hard that the to+b &ollased, and the lord was &rushed down into a +ass of bro*en stone! -ionel
reared u and &rashed down again, sla++ing his shoulder into the lord! He beat enor+ous +etal fists against it,
throwing out &louds of dust and shards!
%he lord tried to drag itself to its feet, but there was nothing left of its +otive syste+s! 'ts ar+s and legs were s+ashed
and its torso slit oen! One eye had oed out, a fli&*ering green lens dangling fro+ a wire! 't loo*ed li*e a &rushed
inse&t, fluttering with the last sar*s of life!
-ionel rea&hed down and twisted the lord's head off! " &oule of sar*s flew fro+ the stu+ of its bro*en sine, and
then it died! -ionel droed the battered +etal s*ull and sto+ed it flat under an iron&lad foot!
''t wor*s, then,' vo.ed 3agos Hesebah!
'Forward1' ordered -oar again! %he te&h#guard advan&ed through the to+bs, ausing to glan&e at the wre&*ed re+ains
of the ne&ron ene+y!
("R4EDO/ 46LLED %HE ".e of 3er&aeno fro+ the ne&ron's ribs and threw the thing aside! %he Hell had wor*ed! 't
had given hi+ the oening he had needed to *ill the alien +a&hine!
'Here1' vo.ed %e&h+arine Lygris! (aredon saw that Lygris was &la+bering through the re+ains of the wre&*ed to+b!
''t was &onne&ted!'
Lygris had found an interfa&e into the rest of the ne&ron networ*, in the re+ains of the lord's to+b! 't was a &luster of
bla&* &rystals on the sar&ohagus floor, li*e an obsidian flower, that would have fitted into the ba&* of the ne&ron lord's
s*ull!
(aredon loo*ed u to ta*e sto&* of the situation! %he nearest ne&rons had been destroyed or disabled by the (oul
Drin*ers and -oar's te&h#guard, but +ore were wa*ing, and their honour guard # the larger, less hu+anoid warriors the
3e&hani&us had &odena+ed the '++ortals # were +ar&hing into the to+b &ity fro+ outside!
%he (oul Drin*ers had to +ove $ui&*ly! 'f they were inned down in the to+bs, they would be swa+ed by ne&rons!
Lygris had re&overed +u&h of his lu&idity sin&e the harvester, but he was still not the "startes (aredon *new! Lygris
would be ris*ing his soul as well as his life if the ne&rons assaulted his +ind on&e +ore! 'f Lygris gave the (oul
Drin*ers a &han&e to turn the battle, however, (aredon had to ta*e it!
'Go,' said (aredon! '(hield your soul, +y brother!'
" datarobe e.tended fro+ Lygris's finger and sun li*e a drill bit! He bored into the &rystal with it, slu+ing down as
his &ons&iousness slied into the infor+ation lands&ae inside!
'4eri+eter1' shouted (aredon! %he (oul Drin*ers +oved u to for+ a &ordon around (aredon's osition, loosing bolter
volleys at the ne&rons ,ust visible advan&ing between the to+bs!
Catain Lu*o slid into &over beside (aredon!
'' hoe he gets out inta&t this ti+e,' he said!
'F %HERE H"D been a soul in there, a +ind that &ould thin* and &o+rehend, then it was so utterly alien that a hu+an
+ind &ould not en&o+ass its nature!
Lygris &ould feel nothing, see nothing! His +ind would not let hi+! 't was shielding hi+, &losing li*e a uil in a bright
light, to rote&t hi+ fro+ being overloaded!
Lygris did not re+e+ber what he had seen when he bored into the &rystal that had &ontrolled the ne&ron harvester! His
+e+ory, li*e his &ons&iousness, had &losed ran*s to *ee hi+ safe fro+ it! He had only the vaguest of i+ressions: of
i++ense age, beyond hu+an i+aginings; of things born before +an*ind had &rawled fro+ whatever ri+al o&ean had
sawned it on an&ient %erra; of ower, and of hate!
4ure, +e&hani&al, soul#&rushing hate, as owerful as a suernova and as &old as the dead star that re+ained, that was
what &ould *ill hi+! %hat was what &ould ta*e everything hu+an in hi+ and flay it away until there was nothing left of
Lygris!
He &ould hide fro+ it forever! He &ould shut hi+self off and save hi+self fro+ that fate, but an "startes had a duty that
de+anded everything fro+ hi+, even unto death! Lygris had +ade that oath every ti+e he had wal*ed into battle for his
Chater and his E+eror! He would not ba&* down fro+ it now!
Lygris oened his +ind, and let the hatred in!
L0GR'( )"( %HRO)/ &lear of the shattered to+b in a shower of green sar*s! (aredon &aught hi+ and dragged
hi+ into &over!
/e&ron fire was &o+ing fro+ every dire&tion! %he te&h#guard had lin*ed u with the (oul Drin*ers, and together they
for+ed an entren&hed osition a+ong the to+bs! %hey were holding well, but +ore ne&rons were arriving at the far end
of the to+b#&ity, and e+erald fire was striing away the &over of the re+aining to+bs!
')e've got +ore &o+ing in behind us1' vo.ed Lu*o, who was dire&ting his s$uad's fire nearby!
'9ee the+ busy1' relied (aredon! He loo*ed down at Lygris! He was un&ons&ious, but alive!
4allas arrived beside (aredon!
'He's out,' said (aredon! ')e need hi+!'
4allas e.tended an in,e&tor fro+ his +edi&ae gauntlet, and stabbed it into a ort in the ne&* ,oint of Lygris's ar+our!
Lygris's syste+ flooded with sti+ulants! He bolted awa*e, &oughing u a &lot of blood!
'"re you with us, brother2' as*ed (aredon!
'' a+, &o++ander!' Lygris's see&h was slurred, and his +ove+ents were un&oordinated!
')here do we go now2' as*ed (aredon!
Lygris struggled to his feet! '/owhere,' he said!
%he ground shoo*! 'n the &entre of the &ity, ne&ron to+bs san* into the ground, and an enor+ous s$uare it was
revealed, ta*ing u a good third of the &ity's area! Chun*s of +asonry and steel fell as titani& engines ground away
beneath the &ity with a sound li*e an earth$ua*e! %he whole &ha+ber shifted to a&&o++odate it, the ground sloing
towards it, the &eiling rising!
'Hold osition1' blared "r&h+agos -oar's vo.#unit! '(teel yourselves1 %he O+nissiah wills the hu+an soul to revail1
Before no .enos tri&*ery shall we falter1'
%he it deeened and be&a+e a shaft of bla&*ness! %he di+ light glinted on the ti of a stru&ture e+erging fro+ its
deths!
'(weet sires of 3ars,' whisered a te&h#guard nearby!
Level by level, with a slow and alien +a,esty, a yra+id e+erged fro+ beneath the to+b#&ity!
'Death holds no fear only for the fool! "n "startes' duty is to &ontrol that fear and to turn it into a blind hatred of the end
of his life, for it brings with it the inability to fulfil his duty to the universe!'
# Daenyathos, %o+e of 6niversal %ruths
%HE 4'LE OF bodies had started out as a single bagged &orse thrown into the &o++and &entre's storeroo+! %he roo+
had been &hosen be&ause it was e$uied with air#sealable doors, and no one wanted the stin* of the dead filling the
&o++and &entre!
%here were about a do5en bodies there! 3ost of the dead fro+ the unfolding battle lay where they had fallen, or in
heas below the walls! %he bodies in the store roo+ reresented those who had +ade it to the tower for treat+ent and
had su&&u+bed to their wounds, or who had died &loser to the &o++and &entre as weaons e.loded or &hun*s of
shranel flew fro+ fire on the walls!
%he ile settled again, a rattle of air es&aing dead lungs! One of the &orses wriggled, li*e a shiny bla&* wor+, out
fro+ underneath the other bodies!
't was the first body that had been thrown in there! 6nli*e +ost of the+ it had been 5ied u in a body bag before
being du+ed in the roo+!
%he seal on the bag slit oen! " bloody hand rea&hed out and ulled the bag aart! %he body inside, a Raevenian
soldier &a*ed in blood, &la+bered to its feet! 't was half#bent over in a osition that a hu+an sine &ould not +aintain
for long, its head thrust forward li*e an ani+al's! 'ts wounds were so disfiguring it was i+ossible that it was still alive!
'ts eyes fli&*ered green!
%he &orse oened the door with the hiss of a brea*ing air seal! /o one had thought to bar the door fro+ the outside,
sin&e the idea of a &orse wal*ing out was ridi&ulous!
%he dead Raevenian sha+bled down the &orridor, assing storeroo+s full of abandoned e$ui+ent! 'ts gait be&a+e
surer as it went, as if it was raidly relearning how to wal*! %he &orse roo+ was in the &o++and &entre's base+ent,
and was not being used by any of the &o++anders and suort staff of @ueen Dyr+ida's ar+y! %he +uffled thunder of
gunfire was the only sound aside fro+ the &li&*ing of +etalli& heels on the floor!
Footstes &a+e fro+ u ahead! " soldier e+erged fro+ a bend in the &orridor! He was wearing the unifor+ of a +edi&,
and was dragging a body bag along behind hi+! His unifor+ was s+eared with blood, and his hands were red with it!
%he soldier saw the &orse and stoed!
'Hey,' he said! 'Hey, you're a live one, right2 (tay there, don't +ove! ''ll get you hel!' He droed the bag and hurried
u to the &orse! 'Listen, sit down, and ''ll get so+eone fro+ ustairs! Got it2 (ea* to +e, al! Co+e on!'
%he &orse grabbed the ba&* of the soldier's ne&* and sla++ed hi+ against the wall! 'ts other hand un&hed into the
soldier's ba&* and &losed around his sine! 't ried out a handful of vertebrae!
%he soldier gased, and floed to the floor, his legs useless! Before he &ould s&rea+, the &orse rea&hed down and slit
his throat with ra5or#shar fingertis! " whiser of breath gased out of the wound, followed by a sray of blood!
%he &orse steed over the body bag as it left the soldier to die! 't found the +aintenan&e door it had been sear&hing
for! 't was lo&*ed, but it ra++ed the al+ of its hand into the door ,ust below the lo&* and it burst oen! " &hun* of
bloody al+ was torn off and slied to the floor! %he &orse did not see+ to noti&e! Blood#sli&*ed +etal glinted
through the wound!
%he roo+ &ontained shelves of tools, lubri&ants, aints and other +aintenan&e sulies! (et into the floor was a large
+etal hat&h with a wheel lo&*!
%he &orse *nelt down and hauled on the wheel lo&*! Fla*es of rust bro*e off, and the lo&* s$uealed as the &orse
for&ed it oen! )ith a boo+, the lo&* snaed oen and the &orse hauled the hat&h u!
Burning green eyes loo*ed u fro+ the dar*ness of the +aintenan&e sa&e below!
%he 6ndying &li+bed u through the hat&h! %hey were s*innier than the warriors, la&*ing the broad &araa&es over
their shoulders, and they didn't &arry any weaons! 'nstead, long silver &laws folded out fro+ their forear+s, fitting over
the ends of their fingers!
%he &orse led the+ out of the roo+! One of the+ *nelt down beside the dead soldier and slit his ba&* oen with its
blades, re+oving bones and organs with inhu+an seed and a&&ura&y! "nother oened the body bag and began doing
the sa+e to the dead soldier inside! " neat ile of organs and bones was iled u beside the bodies, arranged as
re&isely as the ie&es of a +a&hine! 'n less than two +inutes, the soldier the &orse had *illed was hollowed out, and
the 6ndying ulled its still#&lothed hide into it, fitting its li+bs and torso inside! 't ulled the dead +an's fa&e over its
s*ull! %he third 6ndying finished its disse&tion and did the sa+e! %he soldier it wore had been *illed by a blast that tore
away one side of his &hest, its bloody +etal ribs visible through the wound!
3ore 6ndying were &o+ing u fro+ the +aintenan&e sa&e where they had been waiting atiently for the infiltrator to
let the+ through! %hey followed the &orse towards the stairwell leading u into the &o++and &entre! %he three
wearing the s*ins of the dead too* the lead! %he others went na*ed and undisguised, but it did not +atter! (oon there
would be enough bodies to go around!
%HE 40R"3'D )"( i++ense! 'ts inna&le tore into the &eiling, and its base had dislodged al+ost half of the to+b#
&ity! Chun*s of rubble tu+bled down its sides li*e rain! %he yra+id was +ade fro+ glossy bla&* stone, deely
ins&ribed with glyhs and atterns that e&hoed &ir&uitry!
%he yra+id was steed, and on ea&h level stood bla&* +enhirs, li*e the standing stones ere&ted all over (elaa&a,
&hannelling infor+ation a&ross the lanet's surfa&e! (o+ewhere in its vast#ness and +a,esty was a very re&ognisable
arrogan&e, the roortions designed to awe, the triu+hal i&#togra+s of stylised ne&rons +ar&hing a&ross wasted
lanets! %he ne&ron warriors were soulless, but the intelligen&e that had &aused the yra+id to be &onstru&ted had
enough of a ersonality left to want to ro&lai+ its sueriority!
" wide stair&ase hundreds of stes high led to the uer levels! %he to $uarter of the yra+id was a &olu+ned te+le,
its entran&e flan*ed by obsidian statues of ne&ron '++ortals er+anently at guard! 4atterns of gold siralled around the
&olu+ns, ulsing with energy!
%he ru+bling stoed! %he yra+id had for&ed its way fully into the to+b#&ity!
%e&h+arine Lygris, being heled along by "othe&ary 4allas, loo*ed u at the yra+id!
''t's another to+b,' he said!
'%he intelligen&e2' as*ed (aredon! ''t's in there2'
'' &an taste its thoughts,' said Lygris!
'f Lygris had still been able to sea* with his own tongue, thought (aredon, would he have dete&ted a note of fear in
the %e&h+arine's voi&e2
'"r&h+agos,' vo.ed (aredon, 'we need you to hold the base of the yra+id! 9ee the ne&rons off our ba&*s!'
'-ery well, &o++ander,' relied -oar! %he te&h#guard were ,ust behind the (oul Drin*ers, +oving to ta*e u ositions
a+ong the to+bs! '/e&rons were already e+erging fro+ the tunnel that led ba&* u to the surfa&e, the vanguard of the
for&e that had ursued the+ through the ruins above! %he ti+e you have shall be bought with the blood of the
O+nissiah's faithful! Do not waste it!'
'"ll s$uads1' ordered (aredon! '"ssault units to the fore1 (oul Drin*ers, advan&e1'
%he (oul Drin*ers bro*e &over and +ade for the base of the yra+id! %he ne&rons that had survived the yra+id's
e+ergen&e oened fire, but they were in disarray! %he (oul Drin*ers were as fast and ruthless as any "startes, Graevus
leading the assault units u front that leat obsta&les on their ,u+ a&*s and brought down the ne&rons in their way
with &hainswords and bolt istols! %he te&h#guard engaged the ne&rons on their flan*, swaing fire with the aliens to
tie the+ down and *ee the+ fro+ blunting the advan&e! (aredon gli+sed the fat bursts of laser fro+ 3agos
Hesebah, and even sotted a bro*en 6ndying being hurled aside by the industrial strength of 3agos -ionel!
Lygris was on his feet, and snaed shots off at the ne&rons between the to+bs! %he (oul Drin*ers had al+ost rea&hed
the yra+id!
'Heavy resistan&e,' vo.ed Graevus fro+ u ahead! '%hey're throwing warriors at us!'
'Oen us u a ath,' relied (aredon! 'Lu*o1 (al*1 )ith +e1 6 the stes1'
(aredon ran forwards at full tilt, Lygris struggling to *ee u as (aredon s&ra+bled over the ruined to+bs in front!
4allas and %yrendian were there, too, %yrendian s&or&hing the shadows between the to+bs with a bolt of lightning that
blew an '++ortal to burning ie&es!
%he assault units were battling with the ne&rons u ahead! (aredon ran ast the+, leading the rest of the (oul Drin*ers
onto the stes!
'(uort fire1' shouted Lu*o as his s$uad +ade it onto the stes! His (oul Drin*ers turned and ai+ed down into the
to+bs, where do5ens of ne&rons were +assing to +ar&h on Graevus's e+battled assault troos! 'Fire1'
($uad Lu*o ra*ed the to+bs with e.losive fire! /e&rons fell, &la+bered ba&* u self#reaired, and fell again with
+assive wounds blasted through their +etal &araa&es! ($uad (al* ,oined in, and a unit of te&h#guard +ade it onto the
botto+ level of the yra+id to lend the weight of their las#fire to the battle!
%yrendian and (&a+ander ,oined (aredon and Lygris at the front!
'How do we *ill it2' as*ed %yrendian! '"ssu+ing we even *now what it is2'
'' don't *now,' said Lygris! 'But we have to do it now!'
'Heads u1' shouted (&a+ander, loo*ing towards the inna&le of the yra+id! Hundreds of bla&* +otes were swar+ing
fro+ inside the te+le entran&e!
'(&arabs,' sat Lygris!
'Guns u1 %he .enos are uon us1' ordered (aredon! 3ore and +ore (oul Drin*ers were +a*ing it onto the yra+id
stes, for+ing a firing line of bolters that was sweeing the +ined to+bs of ne&ron defenders! 3any of the+ turned to
see the new threat fro+ above!
'6nless we are to shoot the+ all, one by one,' said (&a+ander, '' suggest you all get down!'
%yrendian loo*ed at the young 6brarian! 'Can you do it2'
'' &an!'
'%hen &o++ander,' said %yrendian, '' suggest we all do as he says!'
'Everyone,' ordered (aredon, 'down1'
%he (oul Drin*ers threw the+selves onto the stes! (&a+ander stood and wal*ed forwards! %he swar+ des&ended:
s&arabs, hundreds of the+, bu55ing down on steel wings, their ,aws glowing +olten red as they reared to bore
through ower ar+our!
(&a+ander raised his ar+s! His hands glowed orange! '&e for+ed around his feet, &ra&*ling a&ross the bla&* stone!
(&arabs flowed around hi+ in a bla&* &loud, eager to for&e their way through the ,oints of his ar+our and eat hi+ alive!
(&a+ander yelled, and a wave of fire e.loded fro+ around his hands! Billows of fla+e radiated out fro+ hi+, li*e a
red stor+ with (&a+ander at its eye! (&arabs flew haywire, &ir&uits burned out and wings on fire! %he fire riled over
the heads of the (oul Drin*ers, s&or&hing the ba&*a&*s of their ar+our as it li&*ed u the stairway and a&ross the
ornate slabs of the yra+id!
%he roar of the fire died down! Burning s&arabs were everywhere, inging against the sides of the yra+id as they flew
blinded and out of &ontrol! " +etalli& hail of dead s&arabs fell, trailing s+o*e!
(&a+ander fell ba&* onto the stes! His ar+s and shoulder ads s+ouldered! %he rest of hi+ was &a*ed with i&e, hissing
where it tou&hed the heated ar+our! (&a+ander began to roll down the stes, un&ons&ious! %yrendian hurried forward
and suorted hi+, hauling hi+ into a seated osition, and roing hi+ u against a terra&e of the yra+id!
'"othe&ary1' &alled %yrendian, but 4allas was already there! (&a+ander's +outh lolled oen, and his eyes were rolled
ba&*!
'9ee +oving1' ordered (aredon! %he (oul Drin*ers advan&ed u the yra+id, the te&h#guard rea&hing the lower levels
below the+! (aredon &ould see Hesebah's &annon ra*ing the ruins below!
Only the te+le re+ained before (aredon: the te+le +a*ing u the to of the yra+id! Between the bla&* stone
&olu+ns of its entran&e there was a dar*ness so rofound that his enhan&ed eyesight &ouldn't enetrate it!
'' &an feel it,' said Lygris! ''t's wat&hing us!'
'/ot for long,' said (aredon, and s&uttled into the te+le!
6nnatural di+ensions assailed hi+! (a&e did not fold u &orre&tly in the te+le! Even in the dar*ness, the angles of
the walls did not add u &orre&tly, and even u and down see+ed s*ewed, as if reality was being distorted through a
lens! (aredon struggled to *ee his footing as his e$uilibriu+ told hi+ that left was right!
He was in a &ha+ber of brushed steel, that +u&h he &ould tell! But it was not a &ha+ber, it was an interse&tion of a
larger stru&ture, one that &ould not ossibly fit into the te+le at the to of the yra+id! %he ne&rons had folded this
la&e to fit inside the stru&ture, blashe+ing against the basi&s of hysi&al reality!
"bove was a s*y &o+osed of infor+ation: half#for+ed &hains of nu+bers and &o++ands, fli&*ering i+ages of
bluerints, &hains of data strea+ing off into infinity! 't hurt (aredon's eyes ,ust to loo* at it! 't didn't want to fit into his
+ind! He loo*ed down at a floor, inlaid with the s*ulls and &araa&es of ne&ron warriors, beaten flat, erhas da+aged
warriors re&y&led into building +aterials or so+e grand sa&rifi&e of the alien +a&hines to their leader!
(aredon &la+bered u the wall of the &ha+ber, and rea&hed the to to give hi+self a better view! " labyrinth of
+a&hinery led off as far as he &ould see: enor+ous engines, half#for+ed as if in the ro&ess of +elting into slag; forges
&hurning out ne&ron warriors and s&arabs; forests of &atives, nothing +ore than s*eletons wraed in tendrils of
bleeding +us&le; grand to+bs, their sar&ohagi lying oen, waiting to re&eive lords yet to be built; an i++ense sire of
glowing steel with warshis su&*ling ower fro+ it; o&eans of in*y bla&* infor+ation, infested with hunter#rogra+s
that writhed and darted li*e translu&ent shar*s; 5iggurats of ure &arbon, and +onoliths of obsidian!
(aredon's +ind whirled with the i+ossibility of it all! 't &ould not be real, this at&hwor* of te&h#heresies!
Lygris ulled hi+self u onto the to of the wall! (aredon &ould see that the %e&h+arine was e.hausted! (o+e of the
datavaults built into his ar+our had +elted!
''t's infor+ation,' said Lygris, loo*ing out a&ross the hellforged labyrinth! '%his is what they want, what they lan to
build! %his is what they will do with the gala.y if they get their way! %he wall between infor+ation and reality is thin
here! %heir designs and their lans, they!!! they brea* through!'
')here is their ruler2'
''n the labyrinth, at its heart! ' &an ta*e you to hi+! ' &an feel hi+ wat&hing +e in every interfa&e ' have!'
')e +ust hurry,' said (aredon! '%his la&e &ould *ill us as surely as the ne&rons!'
'"greed,' relied Lygris! 'Follow +e!'
%he (oul Drin*ers advan&ed into the te+le behind (aredon, through the shadowy gateway that +ar*ed the te+le
threshold! %hey were thrown into disarray by the sudden shift in reality, but their offi&ers ordered the+ forwards!
%yrendian suorted (&a+ander, who loo*ed se+i#&ons&ious and drained, his hands still s+ouldering, and his feet
leaving i&y rints on the +osai& of dis+e+bered ne&rons on the floor!
'%his ,ust gets better and better,' snarled Catain Lu*o! ')here's the thing we're suosed to *ill2'
'/ear,' relied Lygris!
'Good,' said Lu*o! 'Dis+antling these +a&hines has left +e thirsty for a roer fight!'
Ghosts drifted through the walls of the labyrinth! %hey had the fa&es of ne&rons, e+otionless s*ulls with burning eyes,
but they drifted above the ground, trailing long whiing tails of &ables and robes! %heir hands were bundles of
syringes and glowing blades! %hey were broader and far $ui&*er than a ne&ron warrior, and, +ost disturbingly of all,
they were only half#there, transarent and shi++ering as they fli&*ered in and out of reality! " do5en of the+ e+erged
fro+ the walls, +oving swiftly to surround the (oul Drin*ers! 3ore of the+ were diving down fro+ the infor+ation
s*y li*e se&tral &o+ets, a whole host of the+, al+ost +at&hing the hundred or so (oul Drin*ers in nu+bers!
'%hen drin* your fill, &atain,' said (aredon!
)HE/ %HE 6/D0'/G had &o+e to Raevenia, and even before, when the worlds of the (elaa&an e+ire were
win*ing out, one by one, tall tales of the aliens' &aabilities had been swaed between the fearful &iti5ens of "stelo*!
"+ong the+ were stories that e&hoed grueso+e fairy tales of s*eletal &reatures that &a+e invisible in the night and
wore the s*ins of those they *illed! /o one really believed the+, of &ourse, for who &ould be left alive to ass the+ on2
But still they sread, and be&a+e e+bellished with stories of glowing green eyes and blades for fingers, and a death that
&ret fro+ the shadows unnoti&ed!
%he offi&ers and troos +anning the &o++and &entre's situation roo+ learned, in that +o+ent, that the stories were
true!
'(entries to the situation roo+1' yelled General Da+as*, who was overseeing the &o++and &entre! '/ow1 Gods, now1'
%he door burst oen, revealing the bloodstained +a&hine beyond it! %he roo+ beyond the +a&hine was in ruins, the
&o++uni&ations offi&ers inside &ut to ribbons, lying in foul gory shreds on the floor, or draed over their swit&hboards!
Da+as* drew his sidear+ and snaed shots into the Flayed One! (hots ha++ered into its torso, and it fell ba&*wards!
%wo +ore too* its la&e, darting into the roo+!
Raevenian troos burst in through the far door! One of the+ swore and raised his gun i++ediately, sraying fire at the
Flayed One! Bullet holes stit&hed a&ross the doorway! %he Flayed One hurtled through the fire and sla++ed into
Da+as*!
't was heavy, all +etal and blades! Bright slashes of ain oened u in the general's ar+s and hands as he fended off the
blades that sni&*ered down at hi+!
'9ill it1 For the &rown's sa*e get this thing off +e1'
%here was +ore gunfire as +ore troos burst in! " Flayed One fell, s*ull blown oen! "nother &lawed its way along the
&eiling li*e a huge +etal sider, and droed down on to of the first soldier, &arving through his throat with its finger
blades!
" +etal hand &losed around Da+as*'s throat! 't sli&ed shut, and his head &a+e away, his ne&* &ut to ribbons! His gun
&lattered to the floor, and the last sound he +ade was the long gurgling breath es&aing fro+ his severed windie!
''nfiltrators1' so+eone shouted! '6ndying1 (eal the+ off1'
%he soldiers in the roo+ turned as the door behind the+ was hauled shut, a loud boo+ing indi&ating that +a tables and
do&u+ent &abinets were being iled u behind it! %hey yelled and swore and ha++ered on the door, but it stayed shut!
%hey tried to *i&* it in and shoot the hinges off, but the half#do5en +en in the situation roo+ were traed!
" Flayed One s*ewered a soldier through his rib&age fro+ behind, lifted hi+ u, and dashed his brains out against the
edge of the +a table in the &entre of the roo+! 3ar*ers indi&ating the Raevenian ositions around the sa&e ort
s&attered onto the floor, and blood sattered a&ross the diagra+ of the sa&e ort's walls and landing ads! "nother
soldier ba&*ed against the door, and yelled as he fired on full#auto, e+tying his gun's +aga5ine at the Flayed Ones
entering the roo+! %he gun's +ove+ent &li&*ed on an e+ty &ha+ber, and bladed hands rea&hed for hi+! He fought
the+ off, s&rea+ing, even as his fellow soldiers were dragged down and but&hered! Finally, his abdo+en was slit oen,
and the s&rea+ &aught in his throat, drowned in the blood gurgling u fro+ a wound in his lung!
%he Flayed Ones see+ed barely to noti&e the barri&aded doors! One of the+, still wearing the tatters of the +edi&'s s*in,
rea&hed u and ulled down a &eiling tile, revealing a &avity between the &eiling and the floor of the level above! )ith
inhu+an ease, it slid into the sa&e, followed raidly by half the other Flayed Ones! %he others turned to the +etal
shutters on the situation roo+'s windows and began to tear the+ fro+ the walls!
'0O6R 3"<E(%0, %HE0'RE here,' said 9avins!
@ueen Dyr+ida loo*ed u fro+ the field radio with whi&h she had been trying to get an e.lanation for the din &o+ing
fro+ the lower floors! (he had set u her $uarters on an uer floor, where she &ould have a good view of the unfolding
battle, near the landing &ontrol roo+ with its ban*s of &o++uni&ations &onsoles and +onitors! %hey2'
'%he 6ndying! Flayed Ones!'
Dyr+ida stood u! 'How2'
')e don't *now!'
Dyr+ida drew her sidear+! (he was well#ra&tised with it, as good a shot as any of her soldiers, but s*ill at ar+s had
not saved the +en undoubtedly dying beneath her feet! 'Can we get out through the lower floors2'
'/o,' said 9avins! ')e're sealing all the ways u! " &argo lifter ' had detailed to ferry a++unition to the walls is landing
on the &ontrol tower roof!'
'Can we &ontain the 6ndying in this building2'
'4lease, +y $ueen, do not let that &on&ern you! )e +ust get you out of here!'
9avins led her towards the e.it leading to the stairwell! %he other troos in the &ontrol roo+, +ostly &o++uni&ations
offi&ers, were hurriedly disengaging their &o++ syste+s and &he&*ing their guns!
%he sound of tearing +etal &a+e fro+ the floor! One of the offi&ers s&rea+ed and disaeared through a hole in the
floor! Dyr+ida &aught a gli+se of bloody silver through the flesh of the soldier's legs before he was gone!
'3ove1' shouted 9avins, sraying fire fro+ his sub#+a&hine gun at the hole!
Bullets flew in every dire&tion! One soldier was &aught by a stray round! " Flayed One dragged itself out of the hole
and was shot to ie&es! "nother hole oened u, and another +an died, blades sli&ing u into his abdo+en and through
his sine!
Dyr+ida ran for the door, the offi&er &lose behind her! He sla++ed the door behind hi+ and hauled its lo&* shut! %he
stairwell was white#ainted and narrow, +ade to serve as a +aintenan&e a&&ess to the roof of the tower! %he door
boo+ed with the stray gunshots hitting it, and Dyr+ida heard the +en traed in there s&rea+ing!
9avins had shut the+ in there to die so that there was +ore &han&e of the $ueen es&aing! (he *new that she should be
asha+ed of that fa&t, but the feeling was drowned out by her heart ha++ering in her &hest!
(he ignored the thought and ushed uwards! Gunfire e&hoed fro+ below, +ingling with the sounds of the guns on the
walls! (he hauled on the wheel lo&* on the door in front of her, and the door swung oen to the roof! 't was s&attered
with antennae and re&eiver dishes!
%he s+ell of gun#s+o*e hit her! 't was thi&* in the air, drifting in a all fro+ the soldiers on the walls! "&ross the
landing ads, she &ould see her soldiers +anning the defen&es, *eeing u a hail of fire against the two &olu+ns of
6ndying aroa&hing fro+ the north and south! %he +assive bla&* yra+idal vehi&les, the +onoliths, were drifting
towards the +ain gates, aarently i++une to fire, thousands of 6ndying tee+ing around the+! %he (oul Drin*ers
*nelt on the other side of the gate, waiting! Hundreds of soldiers had flo&*ed to hold the walls to the south, and heavy
weaons thu+ed as they sent anti#tan* shells and +issiles into the 6ndying advan&ing through the s+ouldering
re+ains of the forest's edge!
9avins sla++ed the door shut and readied his gun!
'Hold here, your +a,esty,' he said! ')e'll get you off here soon!'
'Do not ris* your life for +e, 9avins,' said Dyr+ida! '%oo +any have died that way already!'
''t will not &o+e to that!'
9avins ointed as the lifter rose above the edge of the &o++and &entre roof! 't was a stubby bo.#li*e &raft with short
stabiliser wings, and it rose on a air of verti&al ,et engines on a &olu+n of riling hot air! 't was a s+all &raft, big
enough for erhas half a do5en assengers! %hrough the &o&*it windshield, Dyr+ida &ould see the ilot, brow
furrowed as he held the &raft steady!
%he rear a&&ess ra+ of the lander oened, and the &raft swivelled to bring the ra+ over the roof! 3etre by +etre, the
&raft des&ended, until 9avins was able to run over and grab the li of the ra+! He held his hand out!
'0our +a,esty,' he said!
Dyr+ida ut her foot on 9avins's hand and ushed herself u onto the ra+! Her uer body was on the ra+, and her
legs were *i&*ing out over the roof! (he ulled herself towards the safety of the &rew &o+art+ent!
Dyr+ida heard gunfire over the roaring engines, and loo*ed ba&* to see 9avins firing at so+ething on the edge of the
roof!
't was an 6ndying, one of the Flayed Ones, still wearing the s&ras of s*in it had worn as a disguise! Bullets sar*ed
against its s*ull, and it fell, but +ore followed it, &la+bering onto the roof!
9avins aused for a +o+ent to wave at the ilot, indi&ating that the lander should ta*e off without hi+!
'/o1' shouted Dyr+ida! ')e &an save you1 %urn ba&*1'
One of the Flayed Ones was s&aling an antenna! Dyr+ida, still &linging to the ra+, ai+ed her sidear+ at the Flayed
One and fired, but the shots snaed wide! (he *new what it was going to do, and she &ouldn't do a thing to sto it!
%he Flayed One leat fro+ the antenna onto the front of the lander! Dyr+ida &ould ,ust hear, over the roar of the
engines, the sound of the lander's front windshield shattering!
%he lander lur&hed suddenly, al+ost throwing Dyr+ida out! %he &o&*it door burst oen, and the ilot flew ba&* into
the &rew &o+art+ent in two ie&es, his body &arved aart fro+ one shoulder to the oosite hi! %he sundered &orse
tu+bled ast Dyr+ida as the lander it&hed ba&*wards! %he blood#sli&*ed 6ndying loo*ed at Dyr+ida through the
oen &o&*it door, the gore fro+ the ilot's death running thi&*ly down its grinning s*ull!
9avins loo*ed u as the lander's shadow assed over hi+! He dived out of the way as its bul* floed down onto the
roof of the &o++and &entre! Half the roof &ollased into the &ontrol roo+ below! Debris shattered u into one engine,
and it e.loded in a stor+ of fire and +etal, throwing torn Flayed Ones off the roof! Fla+e billowed a&ross the roof, and
torn fuel lines srayed through the fire!
@ueen Dyr+ida didn't *now where she was or what was haening to her! "ll she *new was that one half of her world
was agonisingly hot and the other was not! (he rolled away fro+ the fla+es, too &onfused and sho&*ed to register the
ain fro+ bro*en bones in her leg!
(he was still holding her gun, for her hand had &losed around it in a lu&*y refle.! (he wied her other hand a&ross her
fa&e, getting so+e of the blood out her eyes! Behind her was the wre&*ed lander, e.losions sha*ing it as fuel &ells
&oo*ed off inside! %he satters of blood on the lander's nose were bla&*ening in the heat!
(he saw 9avins in front of her! He was lying on his ba&*, and a Flayed One stood over hi+! 't s$uatted over his &hest
and un&hed its blades into his eyes! 9avins sas+ed, and then he wasn't 9avins any +ore, but ,ust another body laid
low by the 6ndying!
Dyr+ida tried to get to her feet, but her leg &ollased under her! %he ain threw her into a white la&e of agony, and she
nearly bla&*ed out, for&ing herself to stay &ons&ious for a few +o+ents +ore!
Flayed Ones were &la+bering over the edge of the roof and wal*ing towards her! %here was little hurry in their
+ove+ents! %hey didn't need their seed now!
%heir blades were so shar that their edges glowed orange with the light of the fla+es, li*e slivers of fire! Dyr+ida
i+agined the+ &utting through her, sli&ing her aart into bloody &hun*s!
(he would not go through that! %hey would not &arve her u while she was alive!
@ueen Dyr+ida of "stelo*, Regent of Raevenia, ut the +u55le of her istol to the underside of her ,aw!
%he Flayed Ones advan&ed on her, fi.ing her with their burning green eyes! %heir fa&es didn't &hange fro+ the
i+assive ri&tus of +etal! (o+ehow, it would have been better to see their hate!
Blades tou&hed her s*in!
Dyr+ida ulled the trigger!
'How +any have died2 /one but the E+eror *nows! How +any of their stories are re+e+bered2 Barely a dro in that
o&ean! (trive to over&o+e not only the standards of your heroes, but of everyone who has died forgotten!'
# Daenyathos, %he Bullet and the (*ull
%HE BL"(% R'44ED right through the ruins of the to+b, and sheared through "r&h+agos -oar's legs! -oar hit the
ground, te&h#guards running to his aid! One of the+ was shredded to ato+s by another fat erution of green fire, but
two +ore grabbed -oar by his shoulders and dragged hi+ &lear, sraying las#fire at the ne&ron destroyer that had fired
on the+!
-oar's auto#senses raidly too* sto&*! His legs, si+le but sturdy +otivator units, had been &o+letely destroyed, one
flayed off at the *nee, the other fused and useless! %hey held no vital syste+s, and he &ould fun&tion at al+ost full
&aa&ity, save for the ability to +ove under his own ower!
'0ou,' he said to the te&h#guard *neeling beside hi+, firing raid las#fire at the destroyer, 'Carry +e!'
'0es, ar&h+agos,' said one of the te&h#guard, and ulled -oar's ar+ over his shoulder so he &ould half#&arry, half#drag
-oar around!
%he vo.#net oened u! 't was barely ossible to +a*e out voi&es a+ong the distortion! -oar engaged his logi& &ir&uits
and rearranged the stati&#filled sniets of sound into re&ognisable words!
'%his is (aredon1' said the voi&e over the vo.! ')e're under atta&* fro+ so+e ne&ron +a&hines that &an hase in and
out! Bullets ass right through the da+n things! "dvise1'
'' had anti&iated this ali&ation of their hasing te&hnology,' said -oar! He a+lified his vo.#unit to address the te&h#
guard around hi+! 'Devi&e Esilon1 /ow1'
One of the te&h#guard ran forwards &arrying a se&ond weaon si+ilar to the devi&e Ga++a: a +etal shere wraed in
&ir&uitry and wires! %his one &ontained a ower sour&e that turned the +etal translu&ent as it ulsed!
'Crystavayne,' vo.ed -oar! '' a+ in&onvenien&ed! Deliver devi&e Esilon to Co++ander (aredon!'
'0es, ar&h+agos!' Crystavayne ran through the ruined to+bs and *nelt beside -oar! %he infe+o istol that -oar had
given hi+ was still in his hand, its +u55le glowing a dull red with the &onstant fighting!
'"r&h+agos, be still! ' &an fi. the#'
'' a+ in no danger,' snaed -oar! '%he sa+e is not true of (aredon! Deliver the devi&e Esilon! %hat is an order!'
'-ery well,' said Crystavayne, ta*ing the weaon fro+ the te&h#guard!
'"nd be $ui&*,' said -oar! '"n&ient they +ay be, but the atien&e of the ne&rons has run out!'
%HE L"B0R'/%H )"( twisting again, waring sa&e to throw the ghost#li*e ne&rons in greater nu+ber into the (oul
Drin*ers' osition!
(aredon sla++ed the ".e of 3er&aeno into the &hest of one of the +a&hines, and the ower field slit dee into its
torso! %he +a&hine shifted out of hase with reality again, turning transarent, and the a.e slied through the
aarition har+lessly! One of its li+bs solidified, and stabbed a bundle of *nives and in,e&tors at (aredon! He was a
fra&tion of a se&ond $ui&*er than the +a&hine anti&iated, and grabbed the li+b with his free hand! He drew ba&* his
ar+ and hurled the ne&ron at the wall, but, ,ust in ti+e, it shifted again and assed right through it!
'Give +e a whole &o+any of %raitor 3arines to fight,' sat Lu*o, who was fighting ba&* to ba&* with (aredon,
lightning &laws bla5ing! '"t least when you hit the+ they stay hit,'
(oul Drin*ers were dying to the ne&ron ghosts! One lay, throat oened u, his hel+et wren&hed ba&* off his head!
"nother was dragging hi+self along, trying to hold in his entrails as they silled through the triangular hole slashed
oen in his ar+our!
One of the ghosts had been destroyed, hasing out a +o+ent too late to avoid the volley of bolter fire that sla++ed into
it! 't lay half#shifted, fli&*ering li*e an i+age on a faulty i&t s&reen, ba&* blown oen and silling ghostly &ir&uitry
a&ross the floor! "nother had been s*ewered through the head by a &hainblade, and had fallen li*e a +etal uet with
its strings &ut! %he others were faster, +aterialising to stri*e, and then be&o+ing ghosts again faster than the (oul
Drin*ers &ould target the+!
%hey fun&tioned naturally in the abnor+al di+ensions, too, shifting in and out of folds in sa&e, waring fro+ one la&e
to another! %his was their ho+e ground! %he (oul Drin*ers were the intruders, and the ne&rons had the+ traed in their
labyrinth!
One of -oar's te&h#riests stu+bled over the threshold into the +idst of the (oul Drin*ers! He loo*ed +ostly hu+an,
with only a +edi&ae gauntlet on one hand and &ranial interfa&es in his s&al to suggest his aug+entations! 'n one hand
he held an inferno istol and in the &roo* of his other ar+ was a devi&e li*e an oversi5ed grenade! (aredon
re+e+bered hi+ as 3agos Crystavayne, one of the offi&ers of -oar's fleet!
'Co++ander1' shouted Crystavayne!
't was the only word he got out before the ne&ron ghost behind hi+ shi++ered into reality and seared hi+ through the
ba&* with both sets of blades! 'n,e&tors u+ed to fill hi+ with a&ids that would eat hi+ away fro+ the inside, and
blades vibrated to sli&e easily through his bones and organs!
3agos Crystavayne slu+ed to his *nees, still i+aled on the ghost's blades! %he ghost shifted ba&* into se&tral for+,
as twin fountains of blood srayed fro+ the +agos's ba&*!
)ith his last +o+ent of life, Crystavayne thu+bed an a&tivation &at&h on the devi&e he held! His inferno istol droed
fro+ his hand, and he slu+ed down onto his ba&*!
%he devi&e slit oen! " glowing orange#white &ore was revealed, and it ulsed, flaring u to fill the labyrinth
interse&tion with ainful light!
%he light died down, (aredon's auto#senses fighting to ad,ust! " ne&ron above hi+ shuddered as if its i+age was
obs&ured by stati&, and suddenly it was real! 'ts s*ull slit aart as its ,aws oened, wren&hing a tear a&ross its fa&e li*e
a ragged grin, and it s&rea+ed!
'%hey're real1' yelled (aredon! '9ill the+1'
3ost of the (oul Drin*ers droed to one *nee and fired, bla5ing full#auto at the ghosts suddenly lo&*ed into their
hysi&al for+s above the+! (aredon saw one )raith +aterialise halfway through the wall, writhing as its innards
fused with the wall, sar*s bleeding fro+ its eyes!
Lu*o *illed another, leaing over (aredon to grab the ne&ron's tail of &abling and sine, dragging it down and
sla++ing it into the floor! He leat on it, and slashed its s*ull into three sli&es with a swee of his &laws!
(aredon saw so+ething li*e ani& in the +ove+ents of the ne&ron ghosts! %hey were darting around at rando+,
throwing the+selves out of the way of angles of fire! 't didn't wor*! For&ed to stay in hysi&al for+ by the 3e&hani&us
devi&e, they were little +ore than target ra&ti&e for the (oul Drin*ers!
'%hey're fleeing fro+ us, &o++ander1' vo.ed (ergeant (al*, who was *neeling, dire&ting his s$uad's fire! One of the
ne&rons &lattered to the ground behind hi+, its head and one li+b +issing! )ith its &aa&ity to hase out gone, the
wre&* stayed there, s+ouldering!
'3ore will follow,' said (aredon! 'Lygris2 Can you lead us on2'
Lygris stu+bled u to (aredon and leaned against the wall, breathing heavily enough to distort the vo.#unit that 4allas
had fitted hi+ with!
'' &an,' he said! ''t is far through the labyrinth, but ' &an lead us through!!! through the bro*en sa&e! 't will not be long
before we rea&h it! 't is tal*ing to +e!'
')hat does it say2'
'%hat we will all die!'
(aredon ulled the ".e of 3er&aeno fro+ the body of the ne&ron he had *illed!
'For a &reature of su&h intelligen&e,' he said, 'it has little i+agination!'
'Follow +e,' said Lygris!
7 7 7
'% )"( (6R4R'('/GL0 $uiet by the +ain gates in the northern walls of the sa&e ort where Chalain '*tinos and
his flo&* waited for the real battle to begin! %he gunfire fro+ above was +uffled by the walls and the gatehouses, and
the 6ndying +ade little sound save for the grinding of their feet in the dirt and the o&&asional falling tree, *no&*ed
down by the advan&ing +onoliths!
" few soldiers were running, here and there, to &olle&t a++unition or &arry wounded &o+rades to triage stations!
Reserves waited nervously in a +aintenan&e hangar, wishing, at the sa+e ri+e, that the 6ndying would not brea&h the
walls, and that the aliens would hurry u and for&e their way in so they &ould get the fight over and done with!
%he &o++and &entre was burning! Fla+e#shadowed s+o*e billowed fro+ its tower, and the fire was sreading through
the building! Co++uni&ations fro+ the &entre had &eased!
" soldier ran fro+ the dire&tion of the reserve! He was wounded, one of his hands half blown off and the stu+ of his
wrist wraed in a bloodstained bandage! He had evidently been ressed into servi&e as a +essenger be&ause he &ould
no longer hold a gun! He was young, his fa&e and short blond hair s+eared with gun residue and blood!
'Chalain1' he shouted as he ran! 'Chalain1 %he &entre has fallen! @ueen Dyr+ida is lost!'
Chalain '*tinos *nelt before the gates! %he thirty or so (oul Drin*ers with hi+ *nelt too, their heads bent in
&onte+lation! '*tinos loo*ed around at the +essenger's aroa&h!
'' see,' he said! '%han* you!'
')e!!! we don't have anyone in &o++and! Her generals are gone too!'
'%hat will be all,' said '*tinos, and turned away again!
%he +essenger stood for a +o+ent, unsure what to say! %hen he ba&*ed off, turned, and ran towards where the reserved
were stationed, erhas to see if there was anything else he &ould do!
'(oon,' vo.ed '*tinos $uietly to his flo&*! 'Re+e+ber, +y brothers! 't +atters not who survives, so long as there is one
of us!'
%he drone of a +onolith's engines rea&hed '*tinos's ears! 't was on the other side of the gate!
'/othing +atters,' &ontinued '*tinos, 'but the (alvation!'
Enor+ous energy weaons tore at the gate with a sound li*e industrial saws grinding through las&rete! %he gates
shuddered, and &ra&*ed lines aeared, des&ribing a +assive re&tangular shae li*e another doorway set into the surfa&e
of the gates! %he ground shoo*, too, thru++ing with the s&ale of the ower being unleashed!
%here was ani& on the walls! 3en were running, so+e away along the to of the walls, others into the &ra+ed
stairways leading down! (o+e were standing &lear of the defen&es, heedless of the danger, be&ause on Raevenia a good
death was as +eaningful as a good life, and there were good deaths to be won defying the aliens, even now! Green fire
riled along the walls! 3en fell, half their bodies flayed away! (o+e stood and defied for a few se&onds +ore, yelling
their anger and firing their weaons even as their bodies were flayed away into gnawed s*eletons!
%he &ra&*s in the gate deeened into +olten#edged furrows! " huge se&tion of the gates fell inwards, sla++ing into the
ground with a sound that deafened +en! %he (a&e 3arines' auto#senses rote&ted the+!
%he +onolith, the si5e of a building, loo+ed over the+, susended a +etre above the ground on a shi++ering field of
energy! %wo +ore glided behind it! 6ndying warriors +ar&hed alongside it, hundreds of the+ in stri&t for+ation! 3any
of the+ had at&hes of bright silver where they had been shot down, self#reaired, and re,oined the advan&e! Closest to
the +onoliths were the '++ortals, the larger warriors with twin#barrelled weaons, their &araa&es ins&ribed with
ornate atterns as if to a&*nowledge the +a,esty of the +onoliths!
'Charge1' yelled '*tinos! %he (oul Drin*ers leat to their feet and ran forwards, &hainblades whirring, bolters stuttering
fire into the 6ndying!
(o+e of the flo&* died there, i++olated in the green flare that ra*ed through the+ fro+ the guns +ounted at the
inna&le of the +onolith, but it did not +atter! Only the (alvation +attered!
L0GR'( H"D BEE/ right! %he short srint through the labyrinth had been an unholy few +o+ents of +utilated sa&e
and obs&ene di+ensions, the soul#ollution of reality defor+ed by an alien will! /evertheless, Lygris led the+ to the
labyrinth's heart, and to what lay there!
(aredon saw the to+b of the ne&ron overlord and wondered if there was anything in the gala.y that &ould truly be holy
if su&h a thing &ould e.ist at the sa+e ti+e!
't was an enor+ous beating heart of grey flesh the si5e of a tan*, a bio+e&hani&al +ass surrounded by a tangled nest of
&abling and wires, ower &onduits that dried ure energy and &hun*s of alien +a&hinery in glossy bla&* slabs!
" &onveyor syste+ sent +e&hani&al ar+s rattling overhead on tra&*s! %hey &arried hu+an bodies, &ative Raevenians,
and droed the+ into vats of bla&* +etal fro+ whi&h ran thin &ables glowing bright with their life for&e! %he &ables
ran into the heart, and every ti+e it too* a revolting, fleshy beat the &ables shone brighter and another body fell!
%he (oul Drin*ers ran into osition behind (aredon and Lygris! %hey were too fine a &adre of soldiers to fall
du+bfounded at the sight, but their sho&* was still obvious, engendering +uttered oaths at its si5e and foulness, and
growls of anger that su&h a thing should e.ist! @uite aart fro+ its aearan&e, the heart e+anated su&h a rofound
sense of wrongness that it +ade the labyrinth around it see+ +undane!
'%he ne&rons are advan&ing towards your osition,' said "r&h+agos -oar over the vo.! '%hey are reinfor&ed in greater
nu+bers! )e &annot hold and are falling ba&*! )e are slowing their advan&e, but they will be uon you soon!'
'"&*nowledged,' relied (aredon! ')e've found it!'
'%he intelligen&e2'
''ts to+b!'
'%hen E+eror's seed, &o++ander,' vo.ed -oar, 'and let the word of the O+nissiah sea* of your wrath!'
'Graevus,' said (aredon, '&ut that thing oen!'
Graevus led his s$uad towards the heart! Free5ing vaour &oiled around their feet as Graevus too* his a.e in his +utated
hand!
'(teel your souls,' he said!
%he (oul Drin*ers behind hi+ levelled their bolters at the heart!
%he heart slit oen, and a gale of i&e and &he+i&als roared out! Graevus was thrown off his feet along with +ost of his
s$uad! %he billow of white vaour was blinding!
(aredon drew breath, but his throat felt as if it was &losing, so &old was the air! His ears were full of noise!
By his feet, Graevus was rolling onto his ba&* and drawing his bolt istol!
'Reort1' shouted (aredon!
'Got nothing,' vo.ed Lu*o fro+ behind!
'(ounds fro+ behind,' said (al*! 'Covering!'
'Hold osition1' ordered (aredon! 'Graevus, did you see it2'
'/o,' said Graevus! '($uad1 "dvan&e1'
-isibility was 5ero! (aredon &ould barely +a*e out his own lower li+bs rea&hing out before hi+! %he faint glow of
Graevus's ower a.e through the i&y gloo+ was the only sight he had of his brother "startes, and then it was gone!
(aredon s&uttled a few a&es forwards, the ".e of 3er&aeno heavy in his hands!
Green fire gli++ered ahead: two eyes, burning!
'Conta&t1' shouted Graevus over the vo.! 'Get down1 ($uad, down1 Covering fire1 /ow1'
(aredon hit the ground, ready for the volley of bolter fire to tear over his head fro+ the (oul Drin*ers behind hi+! "
few fingers s$uee5ed down on triggers! 3ost did not have the &han&e!
%he gale &a+e again, a hundred ti+es stronger! Graevus flew ba&*wards and sla++ed into (aredon, al+ost throwing
(aredon along with hi+! (aredon's talons dug in to the +etal of the floor and he held on! Graevus boun&ed ast, and
two of his s$uad followed!
%he vaour was whied into a whirl, li*e a white#strea*ed tornado! (aredon &ould see (oul Drin*ers being &aught u
in it, i&*ed u off their feet or sla++ed into walls! (everal tu+bled away down the &orridor through whi&h the (oul
Drin*ers had advan&ed, their ar+oured for+s &lattering away through the labyrinth! (o+e were thrown right over the
labyrinth walls!
(aredon gritted his teeth and dug in harder! Chun*s of +etal were swirling, s+a&*ing against hi+ li*e shranel!
%hrough the vaour, he &ould see the heart had slit oen, but it was still beating, slabs of torn +us&le li*e i++ense
etals of dead flesh ulsing obs&enely!
%he ne&ron overlord that e+erged fro+ the stor+ was three ti+es (aredon's height! 'ts s*ull hung low in its &hest, its
shoulders huge slabs of &urved steel! 'ts torso was a sar&ohagus, an ornate &as*et shaed li*e a s&arab, inset with a fat
bla&* ge+ of data&rystal! 'ts ar+s were long enough to tou&h the ground, but its hands were, in site of their great si5e,
so+ehow elegant, the fingers li*e arti&ulated *nives!
'nstead of legs, it had a hovering +otivator unit li*e one of the floating ne&rons! 6nli*e the+, its abdo+en was
e$uied with do5ens of li+bs, li*e the legs of a &entiede, wriggling underneath it as if sear&hing for so+ething to
grab!
't held a s&ythe, wrought in twisted gold, as ornate as the average ne&ron warrior was lain! Green fla+e riled u the
blade, +at&hing the fla+e in the overlord's eye so&*ets!
'ts s*ull was so long and gaunt that it lost any si+ilarity to a hu+an for+! 't had no +outh, as if the hori5ontal slit in a
ne&ron s*ull had been ,udged surlus to re$uire+ents! 't was ,ust a long, teardro#shaed +as* of +etal, its eyes the
only hint of the hu+an for+ about it!
'ts +etal was dull red, fle&*ed with gold, and it was glea+ing! 't had not slet under the earth of (elaa&a, stained with
age! 't had been *et ristine in its obs&ene heart, erfe&tly reserved, waiting to wa*e!
Cables glowing with life for&e snaed off so&*ets in its thi&* sine, whiing around in the wind! 'ts fuel was the life
for&e of the (elaa&an &atives being drained away in the vats!
'ts burning eyes fo&used on (aredon, narrowing to e+erald slits!
'Die,' it said!
'BRO%HER(1 FOR %HE future1'
'*tinos bellowed at the to of his voi&e, and erhas so+e of his battle#brothers &ould hear hi+ over the &haos eruting
before the sa&e ort's ruined gates! %he Chalain's &ro5ius &arved down again, shattering through the +etal torso of the
6ndying i++ortal in front of hi+, its head s+ashing through the glowing barrels of its weaon, silling li$uid ower
over the &ollasing re+ains!
%he +onolith loo+ed over hi+! '*tinos's flo&* was setting about it with bolters and &hainswords, the +etal rents in its
surfa&e riling and &losing u as if the +etal was alive!
%hey were surrounded, and they were dying! Five of the flo&* lay dead already! 't was +agnifi&ent, this sight, for it
+eant that those brothers had died for the (alvation! " ti+e would &o+e when '*tinos would enter their na+es in a roll
of honour, and they would be&o+e legends!
%he +onolith turned, and a re&tangular ool of shi++ering bla&*ness that dran* the light do+inated the side fa&ing
'*tinos!
'Brother -o5h1' &alled '*tinos! '3elta#bo+bs1'
-o5h had been in an assault s$uad before ,oining the flo&*, and a air of large &ylindri&al +elta#bo+bs were &la+ed to
the sides of his bul*y ,u+ a&*, e.losives that burned hot enough to bore through ar+oured vehi&les! -o5h ran
through the &haos to '*tinos, handing the Chalain the +elta#bo+bs!
-o5h was surrounded by bedla+, hundreds of 6ndying, &rowding around the (oul Drin*ers! %heir re+ains lay thi&* on
the floor, only to hase out, one by one, +a*ing the ground undulate li*e the surfa&e of a +etal sea! %he gatehouses on
either side were &ru+bling and afla+e, ra*ed by fire fro+ the +onoliths! )ithout the (oul Drin*ers, the 6ndying would
have swar+ed into the sa&e ort, and the whole la&e would have fallen in short order! Only the sheer fero&ity of the
(oul Drin*ers was lugging the gates, for every 6ndying who +ade it through had no &hoi&e but to turn and fight the+
to avoid a bolter shell through the ba&* of the s*ull or a li+b lost to a &hainblade!
%he +onoliths had been brought forwards to grind through the (oul Drin*ers, to si+ly roll over the+ and &rush the+!
%hat was not a fate that '*tinos a&&eted!
'*tinos shouldered his way ast one 6ndying, and ried the ar+ off the '++ortal between hi+ and the side of the
+onolith! He tore the ins fro+ the +elta#bo+bs, and hurled the+ both into the verti&al ool in the +onolith's side!
6ndying were e+erging fro+ the ool, the shaes of their s*ulls and &araa&es for&ing through the fil+ of bla&*ness!
%he +elta#bo+bs detonated! %he surfa&e of bla&* li$uid disaeared, and with it any arts of the 6ndying that had
&o+e through! /eatly severed s*ull se&tions and li+bs &lattered to the ground! %he sa&e beyond, deely inset into the
+onolith's interior, was sattered with white#hot bolts of suerheated +atter boring through the +etal!
'*tinos threw hi+self to the ground! (o+ething inside the 6ndying vehi&le rutured, throwing &hun*s of burning &oils
and *nives of living +etal! %he +onolith groaned li*e a wounded giant, and listed to one side as anti#grav units burned
out! 4urlish fla+es li&*ed fro+ its wounds!
%he stri&*en +onolith blo&*ed the gates +ore effe&tively than any +a*eshift barri&ade &ould! %he vehi&les behind it
were traed outside, and turned their weaons on the gatehouses to bring the+ down and for&e a ga oen!
'%a*e it to the+1' yelled '*tinos! '3y brothers, to +e1 Give the+ not one foot inside1'
%he flo&* &losed ran*s, dragging the wounded! %hey &ra++ed ba&* to ba&*, a tiny island of urle ar+our in the +ass
of tarnished steel that surrounded the+!
't was the *ind of fight a (a&e 3arine was &reated for: fa&e#to#fa&e, brutal and lethal, where strength and deter+ination
&ounted for everything! %he 6ndying +ight be relentless, they +ight feel no ain, but that &ounted for nothing in the
fa&e of the sheer *illing ower of "startes with orders to stand their ground!
Brother -o5h died, half his head and one shoulder flayed away, even as he sitted an '++ortal through the torso with
his &hainblade! "nother (oul Drin*er followed hi+, his legs blown out fro+ under hi+, disaearing beneath the
&lubbing gun butts of the 6ndying that &rowded over hi+!
%he &ir&le of (oul Drin*ers shran*! 3ore 6ndying were torn aart!
%he future that '*tinos i+agined would be worth every dro of "startes blood!
("R4EDO/ H'% %HE wall hard!
His +ind was divided in two! One half, the hu+an side, was full of ain and sho&*, battered against the inside of his
s*ull and barely sensible! %he other half, the "startes +ind, steed ba&* fro+ the ain and ani&, and &oolly too* sto&*
of the situation! One of his rear legs was shattered, twisted and useless underneath hi+! His s*ull was fra&tured, and
slathering blood down his fa&e! His bolter was gone, &lattered away so+ewhere in the labyrinth where (aredon *new
full well he would not find it!
He was alive, and he was still holding the ".e of 3er&aeno! %he overall assess+ent, then, was ositive!
(aredon had &o+e to rest a short distan&e fro+ the overlord's heart! %he overlord had hurled hi+ there, i&*ing hi+ u
with one outsi5ed +etal &law and flinging hi+ into the winds it &on,ured around it! Bro*en ower &onduits hung,
driing life for&e! Chun*s of bio+e&hani&al +a&hinery rolled along the ground, i&*ed u by the i&e#&old wind!
(aredon loo*ed u! %he overlord was drifting over the wre&*age of its heart towards hi+, its s&ythe in its hand!
(aredon for&ed hi+self to his re+aining legs, the ruined one dragging behind hi+, sraying i&hor fro+ a rutured
artery!
'One day!!!' snarled (aredon, 'One day we will s&our this gala.y of everything li*e you!'
%he wind sounded so+ething li*e laughter!
%he overlord darted forwards and reared u, insert legs wriggling! (aredon tried to roll out of the way, but his rear leg
bu&*led, and he slu+ed to two *nees! %he overlord was on hi+, the weight of its body sla++ing into hi+!
%he legs on the overlord's underside wraed around (aredon, and held hi+ tight, lifting hi+ u off the ground as the
overlord reared again! 4in&er#tied li+bs dug into the &hitin of (aredon's legs! " +etal hand ulled his head ba&*,
and the s&ythe blade assed in front of his fa&e as it was brought down to the level of (aredon's throat!
(aredon for&ed an ar+ out fro+ the overlord's gras! He grabbed the s&ythe blade a finger's breadth fro+ the s*in of
his throat!
%he blade &ut through the &era+ite of his gauntlet! " line of red ain oened u along his fingers, and he *new that, in a
few +o+ents, he would lose the+ to the blade! He &losed his fist around the blade and wren&hed it down, trying to
for&e it fro+ the overlord's gri!
%he overlord's gri held fir+, but (aredon &ontinued to ull the blade down! (eeing his oening, he twisted it around
and used it to &ut through one of the inse&t ar+s that held hi+! %he overlord's li+b &lattered to the floor, i&*ed u by
the howling winds and sent sinning away!
(aredon's other ar+ was free! He tore the ".e of 3er&aeno out of the overlord's gri, and ried it u into the side of
the overlord's abdo+en! %he blade sli&ed through the living +etal of its &araa&e, and (aredon twisted, feeling
&ir&uitry and ower &oils &run&hing!
(aredon threw hi+self free of the overlord! %he gales hit hi+ again, and he stabbed his talons into the floor to *ee
hi+self fro+ being &arried away on the wind!
He tried to find his fellow (oul Drin*ers! 3ost of the+ were s&attered, unable to &o+e to (aredon's aid as they were
battered against the walls or thrown hellessly along the &orridors of the labyrinth! He &ould hear gunfire, and *new that
others were fighting the ne&ron warriors that had +ade it through the te&h#guard and into the te+le!
He was on his own, but he did not feel frustrated or betrayed by that fa&t! He &ould leave the defen&e to his battle#
brothers! He had +ade the de&ision to &o+e to (elaa&a and fa&e the overlord, and in a way it was right that he should
fa&e the alien alone!
%he overlord's s&ythe &a+e down! (aredon du&*ed to the side, still *eeing his ur&hase on the ground! He sli&ed u
with the a.e, burying it in the lower li of the overlord's &hest, and riing it u through layers of +etal! %he overlord
reared u, its eyes flaring in anger, and slid ba&*wards on its anti#grav!
(aredon and the overlord fa&ed ea&h other, both wounded, searated only by a few +etres of free5ing vaour! %he rent
in the overlord's &hest silvered over, &losing u as its self#reair syste+s *i&*ed in! 't lowered its s*ull li*e an ani+al
rearing to &harge!
(aredon set his re+aining ba&* leg, an&horing hi+self to the ground, and drew the ".e of 3er&aeno u into a guard!
He *new the overlord would &harge, and the overlord *new he would drive off the first few stri*es of the s&ythe with
seed and strength well beyond any hu+an the ne&rons of (elaa&a had ever en&ountered! Faster than an unaug+ented
eye &ould see, (aredon arried the great &urved blade as it ar&ed down at hi+, throwing it ba&* in the hoe of for&ing
an oening to the overlord's torso or s*ull! %he overlord, however, was as fast as (aredon was, and oened u aths of
its own: a stri*e with the butt of the s&ythe to the side of (aredon's head, a lash with a lower li+b that threw (aredon
onto three *nees, and a ba&*hand sla that sla++ed into (aredon's &hest#late and drove shards of rib further out of
osition!
(aredon was going to lose! He was going to die!
He saw a bundle of &ables glowing with life for&e, sraying li$uid green ower li*e a severed artery! 't was whiing
down fro+ its +ountings above the re+ains of the bio+e&hani&al heart!
(aredon du&*ed down low and srinted along the floor, for&ing his way against the wind! He rolled under the overlord,
barely registering the s&ythe whiing down and sli&ing off his bro*en ba&* leg! He s&rabbled uright again and ran for
the heart, e.e&ting, any se&ond, for the s&ythe to fall oint#first and i+ale hi+ li*e an inse&t on a in, transfi.ing hi+
wriggling to the floor while the overlord set about +urdering the rest of the (oul Drin*ers!
't did not &o+e! (aredon was a slit se&ond too fast!
He grabbed the &able in one hand! 't burned with ower! Dros of life for&e sattered onto his ar+our and burned li*e
+olten +etal!
He turned to see the overlord above hi+, s&ythe raised to &ut hi+ in half!
(aredon turned every dro of strength inside, and unleashed the Hell!
Light and life filled the bio+e&hani&al &ha+ber! " sun burned overhead, a thousands suns, their brilliant light in every
&olour of the se&tru+! Life boiled li*e a &hurning sea underfoot, swar+s of inse&ts, &oils of vines and soaring trees, an
endless lands&ae of life rolling out on a seething &aret! %he light was burning, the raw anger of the stars fuelling a
terrible +ass of relentless life that boiled over and rose in a flood of li+bs and organs!
%he overlord reeled! Everything the ne&rons desised, everything that still held so+e +eaning in what was left of its
soul, flooded its alien senses!
't would only last a se&ond! 't was all (aredon needed!
(aredon leat, letting the howling wind &at&h hi+ and throw hi+ towards the overlord! He drew ba&* his ar+, and
drove it forwards as he fell onto the overlord!
His fist, &lut&hing the bundle of &ables, un&hed into the overlord's &hest! %he s&arab slit down the +iddle, and
(aredon's fist drove dee into the +a&hinery inside!
%he life for&e still flowing through the &ables dis&harged in a tre+endous blast of raw energy, dire&tly into the
overlord's body! (yste+s overloaded, and &aa&itors burst with the sudden flood of ower! (aredon was thrown by the
for&e of the sho&*, &lattering along the ground, his senses full of light and noise!
%he overlord's anti#grav units rutured, sraying green fire, and it tied onto one side as it fell! 't droed its s&ythe
and &lawed at its &hest, +etal &o+ing away under its &laws!
(aredon learned that even a fa&e with no features, with ,ust a air of burning eyes and an e.anse of blan* silver,
&ould still register ani&!
%he overlord's &hest e.loded! Green li$uid fire srayed fro+ the rutured stu+ of its sine! Chun*s of &araa&e
banged off the walls, trailing fla+e!
(aredon shoo* the stati& out of his head! %he overlord's body fli&*ered with fla+e! One hand, still atta&hed by a bent
length of +etal, floed to the floor!
%he overlord's s*ull had &o+e to rest nearby! (aredon hauled hi+self to his feet and sta+ed on it, sli&ing it in two
with the talon of one foreleg!
%he wind had died along with the overlord! %he other (oul Drin*ers were +a*ing it into the heart &ha+ber, bolters
trained on the overlord's re+ains!
''s it dead2' as*ed Catain Lu*o, his lightning &laws unsheathed ,ust in &ase!
'0es,' said (aredon!
')hat's going on ba&* there2' &a+e a vo. fro+ (ergeant (al*! '%he 6ndying ,ust bro*e for+ation! 't's as if they're blind!'
'%he intelligen&e is dead,' said (aredon! '%here's nothing guiding the+!'
''n that &ase, advan&ing,' relied (al*!
%he bolter fire be&a+e thi&*er as (al* and his +en advan&ed through the labyrinth, shooting down the ne&rons whose
resistan&e suddenly fell aart, their ta&ti&s redu&ed to individual rando+ +ove+ents!
(aredon loo*ed ba&* at the rutured heart! %angles of flesh#ribbed &abling lay around the &radle in whi&h the overlord
had slet, shaed so+ething li*e a nu+ber of +etal hoos, sli&* with greyish gore, strung with the wires that had held
the overlord &urled u li*e the larva of so+e giant inse&t! %he free5ing winds had left the flesh dead and whitish, &a*ed
in fle&*s of i&e!
" thousand tiny silvery siders swar+ed fro+ the dead etals, s&urrying li*e a &aret of blades! (aredon hurried ba&*
as they aroa&hed, their tiny in#li*e legs &li&*ing along the +etal floor!
%hey flowed over the body of the overlord! " grou of the+ bro*e off and i&*ed u the s*ull, and, before (aredon
&ould rea&h it, they had brought it over to the rest of the body!
'Fla+ers1' shouted (aredon! 'Fla+ers forward1'
%he head was ba&* on the body! (aredon tried to grab it and wren&h it ba&* off, but the overlord's hand shot u and
gried his wrist!
%he fla+e of its eyes lit u again! Li$uid +etal flowed into tenta&les that rea&hed fro+ the overlord's rutured
breastlate! 'ts +ined, losided s*ull see+ed to grin as it self#reaired and yan*ed (aredon off his feet again!
')hen the battle is won, your wor* is not done! 0our duty is not a destination! 't is a ,ourney! -i&tory is +erely a
land+ar* on that road! 0ou will never rea&h a ti+e when your wor* is done and you &an leave the fighting to another!
0ou will die with the road still to be wal*ed!'
# Daenyathos, E.a+inations 6on Duty
L0GR'( R"/ "CRO(( the &ha+ber ,ust as the gunfire started!
He had seen the ruined body of the ne&ron overlord, and had *nown that it was not over! " &reature li*e that would not
la&e the future of its e.isten&e in the fallible hands of a single hysi&al vessel! %he overlord that (aredon had fought
was ,ust a weaon, a +a&hine under the &reature's &ontrol! 'ts +ind was so+ething else entirely!
%he (oul Drin*ers oened fire, but the overlord dried with bright silver li$uid +etal, and every bullet s&ar healed
instantly! (aredon was held in &lose, the overlord trying to &rush hi+ or twist his head off! %he (oul Drin*ers were
good enough shots not to hit their Chater 3aster, but the overlord was shielding its head and torso, ,ust waiting for its
weaons to solidify fro+ the +ass of shi++ering $ui&*silver growing fro+ its ba&*!
%hey would *ee it busy! %hat was all Lygris needed!
Lygris rea&hed the overlord's oen sar&ohagus, his feet &run&hing through layers of fro5en flesh! %he datarobe slid
fro+ his finger! 'nside the sar&ohagus, nestling between the torn etals of +us&le, was a &olu+n of bla&* +etal that
ended in a &o+le. shae li*e an oen hand with &lawed fingers, ea&h &law ending in a ,a&* that fitted into the ba&* of
the overlord's s*ull!
Lygris glan&ed ba&* at the battle behind hi+! %he overlord was a +ass of silver tenta&les, the resour&es of the &radle
wa*ing u ,ust in ti+e to ar+ hi+ with +ore weaons every se&ond! (aredon would be dead soon!
Lygris inserted the robe and let his +ind dro away fro+ his body!
%HE H"R-E(%'/G 3"CH'/E had been a &rude &age of si+le orders! %he to+b#&ity had been a towering 5iggurat
of unholy light! %he overlord's +ind, the intelligen&e that &o++anded the ne&rons of the -eiled Region, was so+ething
that &ould not even fit into a +etahor &on,ured by Lygris's +ind! %here was no way it &ould +a*e sense!
't was a stor+ of *nives; a sea of hate; an eruting star of ti+e, sewing the future, &old and +etalli&, into aeons to
&o+e!
%here was ,ust enough left of Lygris's soul to s&rea+ out a last note of defian&e! %hen, he let it ta*e hi+ over, and he
reared to send the last +o+ents of his life &ausing as +u&h da+age as he &ould to the overlord's +ind!
%HE GR'4 O/ (aredon's throat tightened!
%he silvery li+b wraed around his ne&*, &ho*ing the life out of hi+! Other li+bs, li*e silver sna*es, snared his waist
and ar+s! He was about to die!
%hen, suddenly, its strength was gone!
(aredon turned around and lanted a foreleg in the overlord's &hest! He ushed off it, riing silver tenta&les away, and
landed free of its gras on the floor!
%he light in the overlord's eyes was going out! %he fresh bullet holes in its &araa&e were not self#reairing! (ilver
siders fell fro+ between the ,oints of its body, shedding li*e s&ales that lin*ed onto the floor!
%he anti#grav +otors died down, and the overlord's body san* to the floor! %he final lights went out in its eye so&*ets,
and its li+bs and s*ull hung li+ly! 't toled over, and &lattered onto one side!
%here was no sound, save the faint hiss of the overlord's &aa&itors &ooling down! Even the &ables and &onduits &arrying
the (elaa&ans' life for&e were turning dull!
(aredon wat&hed the overlord for a long +o+ent! (oul Drin*ers advan&ed to stand beside hi+, guns trained on the
+a&hine's &orse!
Out of the &orner of his eye, (aredon noti&ed +ove+ent! 't was Lygris, lying in the re+ains of the bio+e&hani&al
sar&ohagus! He was &onvulsing! (aredon ran to hi+, and ulled his datarobe out of the interfa&e the overlord had
used to dire&t the ne&ron ar+ies!
'Lygris1 Brother1'
Lygris did not rely! (aredon turned his head over! %he %e&h+arine's eyes had rolled ba&* and were blan*!
'Lygris,' said (aredon, 'it is done! %he foe is dead! (hare in this vi&tory! (ea*, brother1 (ea*1'
4allas was at (aredon's side! His +edi&ae gauntlet sni&*ered oen and a needle e+erged! He inserted it into the ort in
the ne&* of Lygris's ar+our!
'His heart has stoed,' said 4allas! %he gauntlet hissed as it in,e&ted a hefty dose of adrenaline into Lygris's veins!
'/othing!'
%he other (oul Drin*ers were gathering! %hey were all battered by the overlord's onslaught! (o+e had bro*en li+bs, or
were &lut&hing bloody rents in their ar+our! %hey stood in a &ir&le around (aredon and Lygris, and none of the+
so*e!
4allas's gauntlet in,e&ted Lygris again! He ulled off Lygris's hel+et and held one of the %e&h+arine's eyes oen with
his finger, but it had rolled ba&* and was blan*! Blood ran fro+ the tear du&t!
(aredon wat&hed!
'Brother,' he said! 'Do the E+eror's wor*! (tay alive!'
(o+eti+es, an "startes &ould stay dead for a long ti+e without a heartbeat, far longer than a nor+al +an, and survive,
sitting bolt uright and suttering ba&* to life with a new reason to see* revenge! Lygris did not!
'%he ne&rons have bro*en off their atta&*,' vo.ed (al* fro+ the labyrinth! '%hey're in disarray!'
'Hold osition,' vo.ed (aredon! He loo*ed fro+ Lygris to 4allas!
'Our brother,' said 4allas, 'is gone!'
(aredon &losed Lygris's eyes!
'%a*e his gene#seed,' he said to 4allas!
%he (oul Drin*ers were silent! %hey had lost brothers before, friends and fellow warriors, irrela&eable and +u&h
+issed, but they had never *nown a loss li*e this! Lygris had been there fro+ the start! He was art of the Chater's
soul!
Lu*o steed forwards fro+ the asse+bled (oul Drin*ers!
'He will ,oin the E+eror at the end of ti+e,' he said, 'and fight on!'
')e will ,oin hi+ there,' e&hoed %yrendian! '/o brother is ever lost! He fights on a different battlefield now!'
')e all will,' said (aredon! He &losed Lygris's eyes! ''n death he has avenged hi+self on these aliens! %here will be
ti+e to +ourn our brother when we have left this world! ' will &arry hi+! )e +ust +a*e haste ba&* to the "ntithesis!'
(aredon swit&hed vo.#&hannels! '(aredon to -oar! )hat is your situation2 %he .enos leader is dead! Co+e in, -oar1'
He heard nothing in rely but stati&!
'%he te&h#guard +ay have been overrun! Lu*o, Graevus, ta*e the oint! %he rest, stay &lose! )e're brea*ing out!'
(aredon hefted Lygris's body onto his shoulder, and the (oul Drin*ers advan&ed!
CH"4L"'/ '9%'/O( (%OOD surrounded by the bodies of his flo&*! %he 6ndying had *et &o+ing, thousands of
the+, but the flo&* had held fir+ and sold their lives for a ri&e the 6ndying &ould not ay! %he (oul Drin*ers that still
lived at the gate brea&h were a tiny island in the sea of alien steel, but they had not ta*en one ste ba&*!
%he aliens faltered! %heir relentless advan&e stu+bled, in +any &ases literally, the warriors losing all &oordination and
srawling un&ontrollably onto the bloodstained ground! %he +onoliths ground to a halt, and their guns lowered and fell
silent!
'*tinos &la+bered on to of the bodies and loo*ed through the gates! %he whole 6ndying ar+y was +illing ai+lessly,
its individual warriors reverting to &rude la&eholder rogra+s that had the+ atrolling at rando+, firing ill#&oordinated
blasts u at the walls!
One of the surviving flo&* &la+bered over to '*tinos! His na+e was Brother (ar*is, and he had lost +ost of his leg,
flayed away to the thigh! He &hanged the +aga5ine of his bolter as he aused to draw breath!
'Chalain,' he said! ')hat has haened2'
'(aredon has been vi&torious,' said '*tinos! He swit&hed to the vo.#net of the Raevenian ar+y! '(ons of Raevenia1 %he
6ndying have been bro*en! %heir +inds are addled and their wills bro*en! (tri*e now, for Raevenia1 (tri*e for your
$ueen1'
%he reserves bro*e &over and ran forwards, the fore+ost shouting war &ries to sur their fellow soldiers on! %he +en
ta*ing &over on the walls e+erged fro+ shelter and brought their guns to bear on the 6ndying again! %he few survivors
of the &o++and tower, bloody and ragged offi&ers for+ing a &rowd of wal*ing wounded at a triage station, de&ided, as
one +an, to ,oin in the final routing of the 6ndying!
For the sons of Raevenia, it +ust have been a glorious +o+ent, one they would sea* of for generations, and that
would adorn wor*s of art and fan&iful histories long into their future!
/one of that +attered to '*tinos!
%hey swar+ed ast '*tinos and his surviving flo&*! Gunfire ha++ered relentlessly, and the 6ndying fell in their
hundreds, li*e &attle enned in to be slaughtered by Raevenian fire!
Less than a do5en of '*tinos's flo&* lived! %hey gathered around hi+ now, +ost of the+ wounded, so+e hauling
the+selves u fro+ beneath the bodies of the dead! %hey had all on&e been battle#brothers of the (oul Drin*ers, but
now they were so+ething else, their ersonalities subsu+ed to '*tinos's! %hey served hi+ now, and, through hi+, his
+aster!
'' have brought us here,' said '*tinos, 'and we live! %hus has our vi&tory been won! On this dis+al and distant soil, we
have sown the seed of +an*ind's future! )e +ay not live to see the future unfold, but have faith, +y brothers, that it
will &o+e to ass1 %he words of the rohet will out1 His will shall be the truth1'
'*tinos's flo&* bowed their heads and *nelt a+ong the dead, the ground beneath the+ &onse&rated by the blood of their
fallen brothers!
'*tinos too* his &oy of the Cate&his+s 3artial, the +anual of war written by the hilosoher#soldier Daenyathos, fro+
where it hung by a lin* of &hain fro+ the belt of his ar+our! He held it u to his &hest, over his ri+ary heart, and
bowed his head in rayer!
')e +ay not survive what is to &o+e,' said '*tinos! '%hose we on&e &alled brothers, the hunting dogs of the &orrut
'+eriu+, +ay not see fit to sare our lives! 't +atters not! For hi+, what we have sought here will be found! He who
has dire&ted us, who has written out the future history of the gala.y for us to read, his will shall revail! )e have
served1 "nd so we, too, shall revail1'
%he (oul Drin*ers at the gate &lut&hed their own &oies of the Cate&his+s 3artial as they &hanted!
')e shall revail1'
%HE (O6L DR'/9ER( advan&ed at a run through the to+b#&ity! Gun s+o*e was heavy in the air, tinted by the
unnatural ha5e of burned alien +etals!
%he ne&rons had s&attered! %hey fell before volleys of bolter fire and a few well#la&ed &hainblade thrusts fro+
Graevus's s$uad! %hey were roa+ing at rando+ through the re+ains of the to+b#&ity, even the ornate ne&ron lords
stu+bling blind! Li*e those in the labyrinth before the+, they were unable to +ount a defen&e against the (oul
Drin*ers!
%here was no sign of -oar and his +agi, save for the bodies of the fallen te&h#guard, draed in ools of blood over the
wre&*ed to+bs!
')here in the hells are the 3e&hani&us2' snarled Lu*o! His body language suggested he would rather the ne&rons +ount
a roer defen&e, so he &ould get his &laws into so+e +etal!
'%hey fled,' said (aredon, still &arrying %e&h+arine Lygris's body on his shoulders! 'Or were &atured!'
'/o survivors2' as*ed Graevus u ahead! '/o &o++uni&ations2'
'Let us hoe,' said %yrendian blea*ly, 'that they did not ta*e the "ntithesis transort &raft with the+!'
%he (oul Drin*ers &rossed the threshold of the tunnel leading u fro+ the to+b#&ity! %he tunnels were si+ilarly devoid
of de&ent resistan&e! Graevus's s$uad &ut down the few ne&ron warriors that &a+e towards the+ out of the bla&*ness, or
shot isolated s&arabs off the walls!
'-oar,' vo.ed (aredon! 'Co+e in1 )here are you2'
%here was still no rely! Even as the (oul Drin*ers aroa&hed the surfa&e, the te&h#guard's vo.#&hannels were e+ty!
(aredon wat&hed the battle#brothers around hi+ as they &overed the tunnel ahead of the+ and behind the+! Every
"startes was battered, and +any were wounded! %here was not one who did not have a &hun* of his ar+our flayed or
sli&ed away! " few &ould not +ove on their own, and were suorted by their battle#brothers! %he for&e that +ar&hed
towards the oening that led to (elaa&a's fallen &aital nu+bered barely one hundred (oul Drin*ers! Even if '*tinos's
for&e had survived on Raevenia uns&athed, (aredon &o++anded little +ore than one#tenth of the Chater's original
strength! " Chater under the '+erial yo*e &ould e.e&t to be disbanded with su&h irre&overable losses, and added to
the long list of Chaters that had been destroyed in the long war sin&e the "ge of '+eriu+ began!
(aredon would not let the enor+ity of that hit hi+, not yet! %here would be ti+e to &onsider the Chater's future later!
For now, they had to rende5vous with -oar, if he was still alive, and get off (elaa&a!
%he ruins of (elaa&a's &aital be&a+e visible at the end of the tunnel! " few bursts of bolter fire shattered the s&arabs
still &linging to the walls and &eiling! %he dee wound in the earth and the all of s+o*e fro+ the &rash#landing ointed
towards the resting la&e of the "ntithesis, whi&h -oar had assured (aredon &ontained enough transort &raft and fast
fighters to get the (oul Drin*ers off the lanet!
(aredon dire&ted the (oul Drin*ers to a ridge overloo*ing the stri&*en sa&e&raft, several hundred +etres away! %he
battle#brothers for+ed u along the ridge, wat&hing the aroa&hes to the sa&eshi warily!
'-oar, &o+e in,' vo.ed (aredon again, taing into the shi's vo.#net! ')e're +a*ing our aroa&h to you!
"&*nowledge!'
'(till nothing2' as*ed Lu*o!
'/othing!'
'%hen we go in2'
'0es! "ll (oul Drin*ers,' ordered (aredon, 'aroa&h in line1 E.e&t resistan&e1'
"s if in rely to his words, a blue#white lan&e of energy tore down fro+ (elaa&a's s*y, and seared the "ntithesis
a+idshis! %he sound was aalling, a shrie* of suerheated air riing through the &ity! %he ground shuddered, and
ruins tu+bled, bringing down ne&ron stru&tures, and revealing the raw stone of the fallen &ity through the wounds that
oened u!
'Down1' yelled (aredon! '%a*e &over1' He threw hi+self down on the reverse sloe of the ridge, rolling Lygris's body
off his shoulder to the ground by his side!
Chain rea&tions ried through the hull of the "ntithesis! %he shi was hundreds of +etres long, and, though double
that length lay between it and the (oul Drin*ers, the ground beneath the+ shoo* li*e an earth$ua*e! Fissures oened u
in the ruins, sending the re+nants of (elaa&an buildings and ne&ron stru&tures ali*e falling into the networ*s of to+bs
and warrior forges below! " flare of las+a ried u into the s*y fro+ the shi's engines, and another &hain of
e.losions tore right through the heart of the shi, riling u the side of the hull and bursting its sides! Broadside guns
and &hun*s of de&* flew trailing fla+es! Bolts of +olten +etal fell in a searing rain, si55ling against the &era+ite
ar+our of the (oul Drin*ers! %he sound was tre+endous, li*e the roar of a stor+y o&ean a+lified a thousand ti+es!
%he din died down, but the heat rolled over the ridge, hot enough to s&ald the lungs! (aredon ulled hi+self u to the
edge of the ridge so that he &ould see!
Over the &ourse of several +inutes and hundreds of e.losions, the "ntithesis was utterly torn aart!
%he final &hain of detonations blew off its row, and +olten +etal flowed fro+ its severed ne&* in a red#bla&* torrent,
li*e thi&* gore fro+ a +assive wound! %he ground below it sagged with the heat billowing out of the wre&*, and, as it
dissolved away, the huge &harred hull se&tions began to sin*!
(aredon loo*ed u at the s*y! %he afterglow of the atta&* still fli&*ered in the thin at+oshere! Only one for&e &ould
do that to the wre&* of the "ntithesis! 't had been an orbital stri*e, fro+ a sa&e&raft flying high above the+!
(aredon didn't have to say anything! "ll the (oul Drin*ers *new what the loss of the "ntithesis +eant! %hey were
stranded on (elaa&a!
(aredon &la+bered ba&* onto the reverse sloe, and slid down onto his ba&*!
'%he ne&rons2' vo.ed Catain Lu*o!
'' don't thin* so,' said (aredon! '%hat was a lan&e stri*e! '+eriu+ te&h!'
%he sound of engines bro*e (aredon's &on&entration! He loo*ed u to see three %hunderhaw* gunshis &ir&ling around
the +ushroo+ of s+o*e u+ing fro+ the wre&*ed sa&eshi! %hey were not (oul Drin*er &raft! %hey were ainted a
dee golden yellow, with the i+age of a &len&hed fist sten&illed on their sides and tail fins!
'Blessed %hrone,' hissed Lu*o! ')hat are they doing here2'
'Draw ba&*1 Defensive ositions1' ordered (aredon!
%he (oul Drin*ers +oved raidly, (aredon ausing only to heft Lygris's &orse ba&* onto his shoulder! %he ruins of a
&ivi& building rose fro+ the botto+ of the sloe, half#buried in debris fro+ the ne&ron e.&avation of the tunnel! (tatues
of the lanet's dignitaries, +issing heads or li+bs, stood guard outside an e+ty doorway that lead to a half#&ollased
do+e! (oul Drin*ers too* u ositions in the doorway, and behind the dra+s of fallen &olu+ns half#buried in the earth!
%he %hunderhaw*s' engines got louder as they &a+e down to land, vanishing ,ust out of sight of the (oul Drin*ers'
osition!
(al* was beside (aredon, in &over behind a length of fallen wall!
')e are betrayed, &o++ander,' he said!
(aredon loo*ed at the sergeant!
')e are,' he said!
0ellow#ar+oured "startes were advan&ing into sight! Ea&h %hunderhaw* had &arried about thirty (a&e 3arines, so, an
al+ost &o+any#strength for&e surrounded the (oul Drin*ers' ositions with their bolters levelled at the rains!
'Fists,' snarled Lu*o!
%he '+erial Fists had on&e been a brother Chater of the (oul Drin*ers, both having been &reated fro+ the '+erial
Fists Legion following the Horus Heresy! %hey had the sa+e ri+ar&h, Rogal Dorn, and +any ti+es before the (oul
Drin*ers had bro*en fro+ '+erial rale, the two Chaters had fought, feasted and lanned &a+aigns together!
'Give the order,' vo.ed Lu*o!
'Hold your fire,' ordered (aredon! '"ll (oul Drin*ers1 Hold your fire until +y order1'
'%hey will surround us,' said %yrendian! '(tri*e at the+, &old and fast, as Daenyathos wrote1'
'/o1' snaed (aredon over the vo.! '' will not die down here, not after all we have a&hieved1 "n "startes' bolter is not
a fit weaon to ta*e the life of a (oul Drin*er1 Do not give your lives so &healy1'
')e &an ta*e the+, &o++ander,' said Lu*o!
'Hold your fire1' bar*ed (aredon again over the vo.! '%hat is an order1'
%he air slit and &ra&*led in front of the +ain for&e! )ith a sound li*e tearing sil*, reality burst oen for a +o+ent, and,
suddenly, twenty "startes in golden#yellow %er+inator ar+our were standing in front of the+: First Co+any "startes,
elites, wearing the an&ient suits of %er+inator ar+our their Chater had &arefully +aintained sin&e the days of the Great
Crusade!
%heir leader was bare#headed, a giant brute of a +an with a blunt, solid fa&e, a shaven head and several +etal studs in
his forehead! His ornate ar+our was e+bla5oned with i+ages of stylised fists and lightning bolts! 'n one hand was a
thunder ha++er too large for even +ost (oul Drin*ers to wield, and on the other was a shield bearing the heraldry of
the First Co+any!
'Da+nation,' said (aredon as he &aught sight of the offi&er!
'0ou *now hi+2' as*ed Lu*o!
'By reutation!'
%he offi&er strode forwards, &overed by the bolters of +ore than a hundred '+erial Fists!
'' a+ First Catain Lysander of the '+erial Fists,' shouted the %er+inator offi&er! '' a+ here to ta*e you and your +en
into &ustody! ' have the entire %hird Co+any and half the First at +y disosal, and guns in orbit trained on your
osition! "s a fellow "startes, ' a+ willing to give you death in battle if you so &hoose, but if you resist, you will die!
3a*e your &hoi&e!'
Lysander was a legend a+ong the "startes, ese&ially the '+erial Fists and their su&&essor Chaters, of whi&h the (oul
Drin*ers were one! He was relentless and stubborn! )hen the battle needed a +an who would stand fir+ and never
brea*, and for&e the sa+e out of his +en, the '+eriu+ had few better than Lysander!
He was also a +an of his word! 'f he said he would wie out the (oul Drin*ers, he would do it!
(aredon loo*ed between the (oul Drin*ers sheltering in the ruins! 'f he ordered the+ to fight, they would fight! %hey
would all die if he did that, to a +an, for the wrath of betrayed battle#brothers was too owerful a for&e to sare any of
the+! "t least then it would be over, and they would all have the ea&e that Lu*o had so*en of!
''t will not end li*e this,' said (aredon, but he was sea*ing to hi+self!
'(aredon1' shouted Lysander! '%raitor and +utant1 (how yourself1'
(aredon strode out of the doorway, his +utant for+ lain to see for the '+erial Fists whose guns fo&used on hi+! He
saw their sergeants and &atains, the "startes &arrying heavy bolters and +issile laun&hers a+ong their ran*s, the
do5ens of bolters trained on hi+, all of the+ ready to turn hi+ into a &loud of burning &era+ite at Lysander's order!
'0ou are a disgra&e,' said Lysander, 'to your '+eriu+ and to your ri+ar&h!'
''t is the E+eror and the ri+ar&hs who are disgra&ed,' relied (aredon, 'by the &orrution of the '+eriu+ that has
&o+e to be!'
'(till you blashe+e1' retorted Lysander! '(till you defy1 3y orders are to ta*e you and your renegades in alive, but
there will be few angry words so*en should ' bring you in dead! One final ti+e, down ar+s and surrender, and you
will live long enough to are&iate that your deaths will be $ui&*!'
(aredon s&anned the troos behind Lysander on&e +ore! "+ong the+, he sotted a figure dwarfed by the ter+inators,
flan*ing the '+erial Fists &atain, a nor+al#si5ed hu+an, wearing the red robes of the 3e&hani&us!
'-oar1' shouted (aredon! '0ou have betrayed us1'
'Did you e.ert anything less2' relied -oar &al+ly! He steed forwards fro+ between two of Lysander's %er+inators,
and ulled his hood ba&* to reveal his al+ost#hu+an fa&e! 'Our allian&e was a +atter of e.edien&y for both of us! "s
soon as ' learned that we fa&ed the (oul Drin*ers, ' &onta&ted their fleet, whi&h heled se&ure our ,ourney to the -eiled
Region! %he ath we forged through the -eiled Region was theirs to follow Did you truly believe that a servant of the
O+nissiah would not have seen the &onse$uen&es of our allian&e, and reared a&&ordingly2 Do you thin* a servant of
the '+eriu+ and a s&ion of 3ars &ould ally with renegades and +utants on your ter+s2'
'' e.e&ted nothing less,' relied (aredon, 'but +y hatred of the .enos over&a+e that! )hat gala.y is this where ' and
+y brothers are desised even +ore than the alien2'
'Enough words1' roared Lysander! '3a*e your &hoi&e, (aredon1'
(aredon swit&hed to the vo. Lysander would not hear hi+!
'Lu*o,' he vo.ed! ''f ' fall, down weaons and surrender,'
'(urrender2' relied Lu*o! 'Co++ander, what are you!!!'
'Catain,' said (aredon, '' trust you with what +ay be +y last order! "s an "startes, as +y battle#brother, e.e&ute it as
' &o++and!'
(aredon unfastened the seals on his hel+et and too* it off his head, &asting it into the rubble and dust at his feet, so
that he was fa&e to fa&e with Lysander! He too* the ".e of 3er&aeno off his ba&*!
''f you want +y Chater,' he said, 'you will have to &o+e and ta*e it!'
Lysander s+iled! '%here is so+e shadow of honour in you yet, +utant,' he said!
Lysander strode forwards, and (aredon advan&ed to +eet hi+! %he to.i& at+oshere of (elaa&a was raw in (aredon's
throat, his aug+ented lungs fighting to +a*e it breathable! 't was worth it to loo* into Lysander's eyes!
'Hold your fire,' vo.ed Lysander to the '+erial Fists! He &losed off the vo.#lin*! ')hat ossessed you2' he said! ')hat
&ould +a*e an "startes forsa*e the '+eriu+ he is sworn to defend2'
'' saw it for what it truly was,' relied (aredon!
'Duty to the '+eriu+,' said Lysander, '+ust blind a +an to its ills!'
''f you believe that,' said (aredon, 'then you will always be +y ene+y!'
Lysander hefted his ha++er over his head, and roared as he sla++ed it down! (aredon ,in*ed ba&*, s+a&*ing the haft
of the ha++er aside with his a.e! %he i+a&t of the ha++er hitting the ground and dis&harging its ower field threw
(aredon onto his ba&* talons, and he stu+bled ba&* as he tried to bear his weight on the leg he had lost to the ne&ron
overlord!
Lysander saw the oening! He swet the ha++er in a +assive ar&, and sla++ed the head into (aredon's &hest!
(aredon was lifted off his feet and thrown ba&*, tu+bling end over end in the dust! Lysander darted forwards to finish
hi+ off, and the ha++er ar&ed down again!
(aredon rolled to one side, and the ha++er ounded the ground beside hi+! Lysander ra++ed his shield into
(aredon, and threw hi+ ba&* again! (aredon rolled to his feet, and the two "startes fa&ed one another again!
%he breastlate of (aredon's ar+our was dented and s+ouldering! He had fought his way into the to+b and out again,
and the +auling fro+ the ne&ron overlord had left hi+ slower and wea*er than before! His li+bs felt heavy, and every
+ove+ent hurt! Lysander was fresh to battle, and had &o+e ready for a fight! (aredon &ould tell fro+ the loo* in the
'+erial Fist's eyes that he was en,oying this!
%he two "startes &ir&led, si5ing one another u for the ne.t stri*e!
'Half the (e&ond Co+any is arriving at Raevenia as we sea*,' said Lysander with relish! ''f your Chalain lives, we
will have hi+ in &ustody within the hour, your sa&e hul*, too! 't is over, (aredon! 0our Chater &eases to e.ist on this
day!'
'%hen you will have the (oulsear, too,' relied (aredon! ''t is in a void#safe in the ar+oury of the Bro*enba&*! ' trust
you will ta*e better &are of it than the 3e&hani&us!'
'Blashe+er1' yelled Lysander!
(aredon du&*ed under the ar&ing blow of Lysander's ha++er, and drove the a.e u into Lysander's &hest! %he head of
the a.e tore through the &era+ite of Lysander's ar+our, throwing sar*s of ower!
For a se&ond, the two were lo&*ed together, (aredon fighting to wren&h the a.e fro+ Lysander's ar+our! Lysander
for&ed (aredon &loser with his shield, and headbutted (aredon on the bridge of the nose!
(aredon reeled! He fell, leaving the ".e of 3er&aeno e+bedded in Lysander's breastlate! He tried to get to his feet,
but the ha++er *no&*ed his +any legs fro+ under hi+, and he srawled to the ground again!
Lysander lanted an ar+oured foot on the ba&*a&* of (aredon's ar+our, for&ing hi+ down into the dust! %he lower
edge of Lysander's shield ressed down on the ba&* of (aredon's ne&*! (aredon &ould not +ove, inned to the
ground!
''f you e.e&ted an e.e&ution here and now, (aredon,' said Lysander, 'then ' a+ leased to disaoint you! 0our death
will serve as an e.a+le to the '+eriu+ of the wages of betrayal! 3y Chater's e.e&utioners will e.tra&t their debt in
full view of Rogal Dorn, when we ta*e you to the 4halan. and ro&lai+ your &ri+es to the gala.y!'
(aredon &ould not rely! %here were no words left! He loo*ed u at the ruins where the (oul Drin*ers were sheltering,
and he rayed silently that Lu*o would do the right thing!
Lysander raised his shield, and sla++ed it down on the ba&* of (aredon's s*ull! Bla&*ness fell over his eyes and
&ons&iousness left hi+!
%he last thought (aredon had was of his Chater in &hains, and of the senten&e of death that would fall on the+ when
the '+eriu+ found the+ guilty!

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