A Hydra in Hiding
By Glenn High
"Nikitas Gavos" read the letters, freshly etched into the marble. Anatu let his fingers trace the recesses they made in the stone. It hadn't even been a single day, not twenty-four hours. Yet, already the servitors had added Nikitas's name to the great memoriam that stood before him. And even now, the flickers of light above Thirteen-Sixty-Four had not died out. That is the efficiency of the Imperium...
Thirty-Six hours earlier:
Nikitas was stalwart, and tall, even by astartes standards. Short black hair clung to his head like a crown. His features were defined, his chin cleft, and his eyes were a gleaming green. His armour smelled of lapping powder and shone bright as Terran daylight. The plasteel of his Ultramarine cuirass was a deep blue, ornate with golden trim. Oaths of moment hung from his greaves and spaulders, a testament to his obstinate will.
He strode down the corridor with terrible purpose. As he made his approach, the massive steel doors at the end of the pathway slid open vertically, resembling the maw of some great beast. Waiting for him through these doors, were two-hundred astartes warriors. Each resplendent in a full suit of MKV battle-plate, alight with the colors of the Ultramarines.
Nikitas made his way to the center of the warrior-gathering. He set his golden helm upon the dais there, and stepped up.
" My brothers..." He began.
"We've come to this world to free it from the grip of Chaos. The silver tongues of Alpha Legionaries have crept into the ears of the populace. Now these rebels denounce the Emperor, and his great truth. This heresy shall not stand! We sons of Calth will crush these traitors under foot, and silence the wicked tongues of our lost brothers!"
He made the sign of the Aquilla, and every assembled warrior reciprocated the gesture. Nikitas stepped down from the dais, towards the line of Ultramarines. He stopped before the only other warrior who remained unhelmed.
The Astartes that stood before Nikitas was, nearly, a mirror image of himself. The same cropped black hair, and cleft chin, but, this warrior had eyes the color of bloodied mud.
"Anatu, step forth."
The warrior stepped forward, saluting in the old manner by slamming a clenched fist to his chest.
"Captain." Uttered Anatu.
"Are you prepared to oath yourself to this moment?"
Anatu drew his sword, a blade nearly two-meters in length. The hilt was a dark brass color, the pommel crafted into an intricate dragons head. With the flick of a power stud, it would turn from a mere blade, to an energy wreathed death-sentence for any who opposed him. The power field was left off for the purpose of the ceremony. He held the blade with the point only centimeters from the metal grating of the hangar-bay. Nikitas knelt, and Anatu began.
"Do you, Nikitas Gavos, accept your role in this? Do you vow to lead your men into the zone of war, and conduct them to glory, no matter the ferocity or ingenuity of the foe? Do you swear to crush the insurgents of Thirteen-Sixty-Four, despite all they might throw at you? Do you pledge to do honour to the XIII Legion and the Emperor?"
"On this matter, and by this weapon, I swear."
Anatu sheathed his gigantic sword, and grabbed a slip of parchment from the dais. He placed it on Nikitas's left pauldron, securing it with a generous dab of a blood-red substance that resembled wax.
Nikitas stood, retrieving his helmet and placing it on his head. He flicked a pair of clasps and the helmet was secured with a hiss of pressurization. Anatu followed the captains example, securing his helmet before returning to his place in the formation of warriors.
"Embark!" Shouted Nikitas, his voice now artificially amplified by the vox emitter in his helmet.
With that, the warriors boarded the three docked Stormbirds arranged to carry them to the surface of Thirteen-Sixty-Four.
The Stormbirds glowed orange as they tore through the atmosphere, descending on the capitol like shrieking daemons. They touched down just outside of the city, only five-hundred meters from the massive stone wall surrounding the great dwelling. As soon as the craft touched down, the loading ramps were lowered. Ultramarines poured forth onto the red-tinged grass. They swept for threats and formed a perimeter as the rest of the company disembarked.
Anatu followed Nikitas down the ramp of their landing craft, along with thirteen other marines. This was the honor-guard, the companies fiercest veterans. Each member of the guard had their mettle tested a thousand times over. They had truly proven themselves masters of war. Nikitas swept his hand, making a quick gesture in astartes battle-sign, the guard fanned-out behind him. They wasted no time, once all the warriors had disembarked, they made for the walls.
There was little resistance as they pushed into the city. Pockets of human rebels engaged them, but to call these encounters "fights" would be unjust. The humans were dispatched with ease, bolt rounds reducing them into piles of blood and viscera. The Ultramarines encountered heavier resistance as they ventured into the belly of the city. But, the rebel fighters could not hinder the pace of the astartes. The capitol building was near, now, and this rebellion was about to be put to an end.
The fighting was even fiercer here. Giant auto-cannons defended the entrance to the capitol. Even astartes armour would not stop a round from such weapons. The humans had greater numbers here, also. Still, the Ultramarines pressed forth. Dashing from cover to cover, they killed mercilessly as they inched closer to the auto-cannons. Hundreds of rebels lay dead and dismembered. The crack of lasrifles, and the bark of bolters was deafening. One of the dozen auto-cannons was blasted from it's place on the wall by a fusillade of lascannon fire. Another fell after being sabotaged with a melta-charge. One-by-one, the cannons were disabled. The Ultramarines had won their way into the heart of the city.
The inside of the capitol was desolate. Why were the rebels so willing do defend this shell of a building? Something wasn't right, and Nikitas was on-edge.
"Ahhh, you've arrived." The voice came from the center of the chamber.
"I am Desric, leader of the free people of Jol'Nuhr, and-"
Nikitas cut him short by placing a bolt round through his head. Desric's body tumbled backwards, down a steep staircase. Nikitas signaled for the marines to follow his corpse.
They must have descended a thousand steps before reaching the bottom of the passageway. There lay Desrics bloodied corpse, minus a head. Nikitas leaned close to examine it. The man was covered in primitive tattoos, the most prominent of which was a blue hydra on his chest, the symbol of the Alpha Legion. The underground fortress was massive. The ceiling was easily ten meters high, and the corridor impossibly wide. Nikitas activated his vox.
"This is where the fight truly begins, brothers."
He signed for the company to advance, and so, they made their way deeper into the lair of the hydra.
It wasn't long before the Ultramarines were out of sight of the steps. The walls in this place were smooth and barren, no lights, no decoration. If it weren't for the Occulobe implants received by all fledgling marines, the astartes would be blind in this darkness. All two-hundred warriors tread carefully, the Alpha Legion was known for their ability to manipulate any situation to work in their favor. One wrong move, and this place would become a tomb for the sons of Guilliman.
Nikitas held his fist up, signaling the column of warriors to halt. He peered into the distance, his bolter at the ready.
"Movement, fifty meters"
Before the Ultramarines had time to react, parts of the floor gave way beneath them, an impossible feat. The floor was made of giant stones, each the size of a Rhino transport. How could this be? A full two-thirds of the company was lost in an instant.
"MOVE!" Shouted Nikitas.
The remaining warriors dashed through the corridor. Ultramarines were falling into the blackness one-by-one, as more of the floor gave way.
The seventeen warriors that survived the ordeal came to a halt in a vast chamber with a domed ceiling. There were lights here. They cast a pale orange glow on the Ultramarines. There were three passageways besides the one they had entered through. Each one narrow, and low, compared to the main path. Anatu addressed the Captain from the rear.
"What now, sir? We nearly
lost the entire company, and we haven't seen a foe
Sudden blasts of bolter fire rang out, cutting the sergeants inquiry short.
The fire clearly came from all four tunnels, cutting down the remaining Ultramarines. The only two that remained were Nikitas and, Anatu. An odd coincidence, Nikitas thought to himself. But before he could put words to the thought, Anatu ran him through from behind, puncturing his first heart. The glowing edge of his power sword stuck through the polished armour of Nikitas's cuirass.
"How could you? You're a son of Guilliman, an Ultramarine!"
Nikitas gasped, blood gargling in his mouth. Anatu withdrew his sword, letting Nikitas fall to the ground. He kicked the Captains bolter away.
"I am no Ultramarine." Anatu said, flatly.
He plunged his blade into Nikitas second heart, killing him instantly.
Three Astartes emerged from the smaller tunnels. Each clad in the black armour of the Alpha Legion stealth squad. One of them spoke.
"Good work brother, they
never expected a thing."
Anatu killed the power field around his sword, and re-sheathed it.
"Indeed, the sons of Guilliman are as blind as their Primarch." The four warrior saluted each other, and, departed. The three members of the stealth squad exited through one of the smaller tunnels, Anatu ventured back through the main passage.
"This is Sergeant Anatu, the captain's dead, along with the rest. I need an evac ASAP!"
The urgency in his voice seemed authentic, he let a wry smile cross his lips. A single Stormbird streaked through the sky, landing a hundred meters from a sprinting Anatu. He came dashing towards the landing ramp, surging up it as if there were a fire behind him.
"Go, go, go!"
Anatu took a last look back as the landing ramp shut. He didn't take immense joy in killing Nikitas. He did, however, revel in the fact that it took only four Alpha Legionaries to decimate the entire company of Ultramarines. When they boarded the ship again, Anatu was named captain in place of Nikitas. He wasted no time ordering the Exterminatus of Thirteen-Sixty-Four. The chosen method, Orbital Bombardment.
Anatu stood before the great memoriam wall. The Imperium thought itself "efficient". He scoffed at the notion. Two-hundred warriors, lost, never having seen their foes. He turned from the wall, and looked down at Thirteen-Sixty-Four. The bombs were tearing the planet apart. Soon it would be nothing but ash.
"We are Legion."
He muttered to himself, as he watched a planet die.