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SIX

A cold wind blew down from the east, the bite of a harsh Macragge winter easing up now that spring was breaking and the snows on the lower slopes were melting. The landing platforms sat near the foot of the mountains upon which Ptolemy's Library and the Sword Hall were built, the eastern winds an omen of changing times and good fortune.

Uriel did not feel fortunate as he marched from the upper cloisters to a flight of marble steps that led down to where the 4th Company stood in ordered ranks before five Thunderhawk gunships. Steam rose from the edge of the platforms, the aircraft growling as the Techmarines feathered their engines. The banner held proudly aloft by Ancient Peleus flapped noisily in the wind.

Over a hundred warriors in the dazzling blue of the Ultramarines stood as still as statues on the platform, their arms locked by their sides and their heads held high as they awaited the order to embark on this latest mission. The Chaplain, Techmarines, Apothecaries, artificers, drivers and pilots, and ancillary company staff had gathered for the official Company Commencement. Not since the 4th Company had deployed to Tarsis Ultra had its duly-appointed captain led it into action, and such a moment demanded recognition.

Uriel had dreamed of this ever since he and Pasanius had been banished from Macragge, and now that it was here, he found that redemption tasted bitter. For this new beginning marked the first time he had been forced to leave a battle-brother behind.


Escorted by four armed Vanguards, Pasanius had come to bid Uriel farewell in the company chapel the previous evening as he prepared to don the armour of Brother Amadon for the first time. Uriel was clad in a form-fitting under-suit, and was surrounded by four red-robed artisan-apprenta from the Armorium.

Uriel had prepared his flesh with fasting, oils and physical exertion.

His soul was steeled with reflection and speaking the catechisms of battle.

He was ready to be clad in the armour of a Space Marine, and the apprenta recited binaric cants pleasing to the Machine-God as they applied sacred oils to the hard plugs that allowed the armour to interface with his body.

The chapel was a long, vaulted space of silver stone, brightly lit with a dozen flaming brands and the glow from a rose window set high on the western wall. Firelight reflected from the walls, and from the burnished battle-plate that hung on a sturdy frame before a great statue that stood in the curved chancel. Rendered in polished bronze by the hand of Mellicae, the greatest warrior artificer of the Ultramarines, the towering form of Roboute Guilliman stared down at Uriel with eyes fashioned from sapphires the size of a Space Marine's fist.

The Vanguards led Pasanius into the chapel with their weapons bared, and it broke Uriel's heart to see his friend so ignobly treated. The apprenta backed away from Uriel with their heads bowed as Pasanius halted before him, still dressed in the black chiton of the penitent. Like Uriel, he had been found free of corruption in flesh and soul, but, for the crime of failing to disclose the truth of his infected arm, he had been judged guilty of breaking the Chapter's Codes of Rectitude.

'You can go,' Uriel told the warriors escorting Pasanius.

'We are ordered to remain with the prisoner at all times,' said one of the Vanguards, a black-bladed sword held across his shoulder. 'He begins his sentence at sunset.'

Each of the Vanguards was clad in armour forged by masters of their craft, decorated with gold and silver trims, and polished to a reflective finish. No two were alike, yet each warrior had earned the right to wear such armour on uncounted battlefields, through acts of valour that would be unbelievable were any save a warrior of the Ultramarines to relate them.

'This man is a hero of courage and honour,' said Uriel. 'You will not address him as ''prisoner'' in my presence again. Is that understood?'

'Yes, my lord,' said the Vanguard. 'Our orders come from Chaplain Cassius himself.'

'I am sure Pasanius is not going to try and escape,' said Uriel dryly. 'Are you?'

'No,' said Pasanius. 'I'm in enough trouble as it is without adding attempting to escape to my list of crimes.'

For breaking the Codes of Rectitude, Pasanius had been sentenced to a hundred days in the Chapter cells and to endure exclusion from the ranks of the 4th Company for the time it took Macragge to orbit its sun. In addition, he had been reduced in rank from sergeant to battle-brother. To be kept apart from his brothers for even a day longer than necessary was a punishment as severe as any that could be meted out to a warrior of the Ultramarines.

'We will wait for you outside, brother,' the Vanguard told Pasanius as they withdrew from the chapel.

'I'm obliged to you, and I'll be with you directly,' Pasanius assured them as the heavy wooden doors of the company chapel closed behind the veteran warriors.

'You'll want help with that,' said Pasanius, nodding towards the armour.

'I have the apprenta from the Armorium,' said Uriel, indicating the robed acolytes who waited at the foot of the statute.

'Apprenta?' scoffed Pasanius. 'What do artisans know about the wearing of battle plate? No, you need a brother warrior to fit you into that armour. It's only right and proper. After all, this is the nearest I'll get to power armour until you get back.'

Uriel turned towards the apprenta and said, 'Leave us.'

The robed acolytes bowed and made their way from the chapel of the 4th Company.

'A hundred days,' said Uriel when they were alone. 'It's not right.'

'Don't be soft,' chuckled Pasanius. 'I'll do a hundred days no problem; it's no more than I deserve. I lied to my brothers, and more importantly, I lied to you. It's a just punishment. You and I both know it, and I'm not going to complain about it.'

'You're right, I know,' said Uriel. 'You'll be missed within the ranks.'

'I know,' said Pasanius without arrogance, 'but you've good men there as sergeants. Venasus, Patrean Learchus.'

'I've heard good things about Learchus from the men,' said Uriel. 'You read the honour rolls after the 4th's deployment to Espandor?'

'I did,' confirmed Pasanius, kneeling to remove the first section of the armour from the rack. 'A gargant and a greenskin horde. Not bad.'

Uriel laughed at the understatement in his friend's tone. 'It was a grand achievement, Pasanius, as you well know.'

'Yes, but it galls me we weren't there for it,' said Pasanius. 'It feels wrong, knowing our warriors went into battle without us. It feels like we let them down.'

'We did, but the past is done with, and I have a company to lead. When this expedition to Pavonis is over, you'll be reinstated to the ranks, and we'll fight side by side once more.'

'I know that, Uriel,' said Pasanius. 'Just'

'Just what?' asked Uriel when Pasanius didn't continue.

Pasanius looked uncomfortable, and glanced towards the sealed doors of the chapel.

'Come on,' pressed Uriel. 'Out with it.'

'It's Learchus.'

'What about him?'

'Watch him.'

'Watch him?' said Uriel. 'Why? Because his accusations saw us condemned? You know he was entirely correct to speak up.'

'Yes, and I hold no grudge against Learchus for that,' said Pasanius. 'It took courage for him to do the right thing, I see that now.'

'Then what?'

Pasanius sighed. 'Learchus promised he would look after the company until our return, and by the looks of things he's done a grand job: fine recruits, hard training and warriors we can be proud of. Not only that, he led them all into battle on Espandor against a horde of greenskins that would have tested the mettle of a veteran battle company.'

'Then what troubles you?'

'No one expected us to come back alive, Uriel,' said Pasanius. 'Learchus was one of the few who did, but even he had begun to believe us dead. On Espandor, he got a taste of proper command and he liked it. I'm thinking that with us long gone, he figured he'd be the logical choice to take command of the 4th.'

'And then we returned,' finished Uriel.

'Exactly,' said Pasanius. 'Now don't get me wrong, Learchus is a great warrior and I trust him with my life, but he'd be less than human if there wasn't some part of him that didn't resent your reinstatement.'

'I think you are wrong, my friend,' said Uriel.

Pasanius shrugged. 'I hope so, but enough talk, let's get this armour on, eh?'

Uriel nodded, and, piece by piece, Pasanius clad him in the armour of Brother Amadon. He began with the boots, and worked up to the greaves on Uriel's shins and the cuisse plates protecting his thighs. The locking belt snapped together around Uriel's hips, and, once the power coils were attached, Pasanius reverently lifted the eagle and skull-stamped breastplate and fitted it over his chest.

As each segment of armour was fitted to Uriel's body, Pasanius recited the actions the armour had been part of, speaking the names of heroes long dead and battles long since fought. Every honour won and every plaudit earned was spoken, and, soon, both warriors were giving voice to the armour's illustrious heritage.

The plates protecting Uriel's upper arms came next, together with the pauldrons, vambraces and gauntlets. With his arms sheathed in plate, Pasanius lifted the heavy, auto-reactive shoulder guards, and allowed the armour's fibre-bundle musculature to mesh with the internal gyros and motors within.

Lastly, Pasanius hefted the heavy backpack that provided power to the armour, and the heat exchangers that allowed it to function. Uriel felt its immense weight, and tensed his muscles, but no sooner was the backpack mounted than the armour hummed with life, and energy flowed through Uriel.

He felt the bio-monitoring dendrites link with the hard plugs implanted in his flesh, and his muscles swelled with power. His awareness of his body's subtle rhythms heightened, and he became one with the armour. It was an extension of his flesh that enabled him to fight and move as though clad in the lightest chiton, yet would protect him from the slings and arrows of a hostile galaxy.

Uriel remembered a similar sensation when being clad in the armour of the Sons of Guilliman on Salinas by the artificers of the Grey Knights, but that was a pale shadow of this experience. The battle plate that had protected him during the fighting within the House of Providence was merely borrowed and no bond had formed between him and the armour.

This was different. This was a level of connection that Uriel had not felt since he had first been honoured with his own armour many decades ago. That sense of unity was like a forgotten golden memory coming to the surface, made all the sweeter for its sudden reappearance.

As the armour came to life around him, Uriel felt light-headed as the legacy of heroic endeavours, of which it had been part, filled him. The expectation of honourable service and duty applied to them both, and Pasanius took hold of his shoulder to steady him.

'How does that feel?' asked Pasanius.

'Like I've come home,' said Uriel.

Pasanius nodded, and looked up past the mighty figure of Roboute Guilliman to the fading red glow shining through the rose window. Uriel watched his friend's face harden as the sun set over the distant mountains.

'It's time?'

'It is,' said Pasanius.

Uriel extended his hand, and Pasanius shook it, wrist to wrist, in the grip that symbolised the bond between warriors who had fought and bled in defence of the human race. Pasanius pulled Uriel into an embrace, his enormous frame almost a match for Uriel in his armour.

They had been friends even before their ascension to the Ultramarines, and the bonds of loyalty between them were as enduring as any the legends told of the long lost primarchs.

They were closer than friends, closer than brothers.

They were Astartes.

'I'd better go,' said Pasanius, nodding towards the chapel doors. 'They'll be waiting.'

'I'll bring the 4th Company back soon,' said Uriel, his voice choked with emotion. 'We'll hardly be gone. It's only a short tour to Pavonis to make sure the peace is holding.'

'I know,' laughed Pasanius, 'and I'll be waiting.'

'Courage and honour, my friend.'

'Courage and honour, Uriel.'


Uriel stepped onto the landing platform, and marched to stand before the warriors of the 4th Company. His warriors were armoured in their battle plate, their faces hidden by their helmets, yet each was known to him.

Space Marines might look faceless and identical to mortal eyes, but nothing could be further from the truth. Each warrior was a hero in his own right, one who had his own legends and a roll of honour that was as magnificent as anything that could be invented by all the poets and taletellers of the Imperium.

It was an honour to stand before them as their captain, and Uriel recognised that this moment was one he would never forget. To have travelled to the places he had seen, and to have survived the horrors he had endured was an achievement few could match, and the pride he felt was for himself, too.

Uriel stood erect as another figure descended the steps that he had just come down, a giant of a man clad in armour of brilliant blue from which a golden cloak billowed like a great wing in the wind.

Marneus Calgar, Lord Macragge, marched towards Uriel with his normally stoic and craggy features open and filled with joy. The Chapter Master of the Ultramarines halted before Uriel, and looked him up and down with a critical eye.

Calgar's legendary deeds were known across all human space, heroic battles that painted him as a mighty warrior who crushed entire armies before him and toppled the mightiest of foes with but a glance. Truth be told, Marneus Calgar was no taller than Uriel, though his shoulders were broader and his waist thicker.

The Chapter Master was a brawler to Uriel's swordsman.

Marneus Calgar was a giant, but it was the sheer power and dynamism within him that made him so. Vitality and strength seemed to ooze from his pores, and just being near Marneus Calgar energised those around him with surety of purpose and determination.

Daemons of the eldar and the Ruinous Powers had fallen before Calgar, and some, jealous of his stature and tally, called him proud, but Uriel knew that was not so. The pride that drove Calgar was that which drove all warriors of noble virtue to war, the defence of those who could not defend themselves.

'Brother Amadon's armour,' said Calgar, his voice rich with approval.

'Yes, my lord,' said Uriel, standing tall and with his shoulders back.

'It looks good on you,' nodded Calgar, reaching out to touch the brilliant white ''U'' on Uriel's shoulder guard. 'The last time I saw you armoured thus it was without heraldry, and you were leaving to an unknown destiny.'

'That was another life,' said Uriel. 'I see now why we have our code.'

'I know you do. Varro told me of your words within the Arcanium, and he is a good judge of the hearts of men. He says you have learned what you needed to learn.'

'I have,' agreed Uriel. 'Some lessons are learned the hard way.'

'Some men need to learn their lessons that way or they're not lessons at all.'

'And what lesson will this mission teach?' asked Uriel.

Calgar smiled and leaned in close so that only he could hear his words. 'It will teach those who watch from above that you are a true warrior of Ultramar.'

Uriel nodded, and looked over Calgar's shoulder towards the gallery where the Masters of the Chapter currently on Macragge had gathered to watch the 4th Company's departure. Here were the warriors who had once sat in judgement of him, but who now gathered to see him become one of them again.

Agemman of the veterans stood at the forefront of the masters, his noble features brimming with pride, and Uriel gave an almost imperceptible nod of respect to the Regent of Ultramar. This great warrior had spoken to Uriel the night before judgement was pronounced upon him. It had been Agemman who had convinced Uriel to accept his punishment for the good of the Chapter, and for that he would forever be in the First Captain's debt.

Beside Agemman were three of the battle captains of Macragge, Masters of the Ultramarines and guardians of the Eastern Fringe. Their names were legend, their deeds mighty and their honour boundless: Sicarius of the 2nd, Galenus of the 5th and Epathus of the 6th.

Of all the warriors here gathered, only Sicarius's eyes were as cold as a winter sky, his unflinching gaze never leaving Uriel as the 4th Company snapped to attention in unison, the sound like a hundred hammers slamming down.

'Lead with courage and honour, and you will win over your doubters,' said Calgar, following Uriel's gaze.

Uriel hammered his fist against the eagle upon his breastplate.

'Permission to depart Macragge, my lord,' he said.

'Permission granted, Captain Ventris,' replied Lord Macragge.

The roar of the Thunderhawks' engines surged in volume, and Uriel gratefully took the hand his Chapter Master offered him.

'It is fitting that this mission should be to Pavonis,' said Marneus Calgar.

'I remember,' said Uriel, 'my first mission as captain of the 4th Company.'

'Let us hope that this tour is not as eventful.'

'As the Emperor wills it,' said Uriel.


The base of the canyon was planed smooth, and Uriel recognised the application of Mechanicus scale meltas in the rippling, liquid texture of the rock. Lingering rain pooled in the darkness of Deep Canyon Six, and shadows from the high cliffs kept the temperature low. Patches of thick scrub, and wiry clumps of overgrown mountain gorse clung to the edges of the canyon. Tendrils of clammy fog drifted through the upper reaches of the forest of vox-masts that filled the canyon.

Uriel kept still and scanned the canyon. Nothing moved save streams of water pouring from cracks in the rock and the windblown undergrowth, yet Uriel had the acute feeling he was being watched.

Every one of his senses told him that this canyon was deserted, yet ones he could not name told him just as clearly that he and his warriors were not alone. He eased from the stepped gully that had brought them from the Thunderhawk's landing site, and the rest of his squad moved out with him. Two hundred metres to the north, he could see Lord Winterbourne's green frock-coat emerge from a narrow gap in the rocks, his storm-troopers forming a protective cordon around him. Uriel shook his head as he saw one of the storm-troopers holding the leads of the vorehounds. Taking unruly pets like that into a potential firefight was madness.

Uriel held his bolter out before him, scanning left and right, and allowing his auto-senses to gather information on his surroundings. The air had an electrical tang to it, which wasn't surprising, but it also had a strange, meaty aroma that the softly falling rain couldn't entirely mask.

'Combat formation,' ordered Uriel over the internal vox-network. 'Primus envelop right, Secundus left. Nice and slow. Harkus, you're with me.'

Proximity to the huge mast array was degrading communications, and his words were overlaid with squalls of biting static. To ensure there were no misunderstandings, Uriel placed his right fist in the centre of his chest and moved it in a slow outwards arc. He transferred his bolter and repeated the gesture with his left fist, slowly advancing towards the vox-masts.

The Space Marines spread out, Uriel and five warriors curving their route to the left as Learchus led the others along the contours of the canyon walls. Uriel advanced with Harkus at his side. The Techmarine had a bolt pistol drawn, and carried a cog-toothed axe, reminding Uriel that, despite his loyalty to Mars, Harkus was a warrior of the Ultramarines first and foremost. The armature limbs of his servo-harness were drawn in tight, soft spurts of gas venting from exhaust ports on his back.

'What can you make out?' asked Uriel, knowing Harkus would see the terrain in a very different way to the rest of the formation.

'The arrays are non-functional,' said Harkus, his voice flat and devoid of tone. A whirring lens apparatus clicked into place over the Techmarine's right eye. 'The residual flux readings tell me the generators are still functional, and'

'And what?' said Uriel, holding up an open palm and pulling it down to his shoulder.

Instantly, his warriors halted and dropped to their knees with weapons trained outwards.

'I can see a number of attached devices that do not belong on this equipment,' said Harkus, scanning his head from side to side.

'What kind of devices?'

'Unknown, but they are not of Imperial manufacture.'

'Tau?'

'The energy patterns match previously encountered xenotech,' confirmed Harkus.

Uriel passed the word to Clausel and Winterbourne. 'Looks like the tau have definitely been here.'

'We have the northern approach covered,' said Winterbourne.

'In position on the ridge above,' reported Clausel. Uriel looked over to Learchus and nodded.

Both combat squads moved out, advancing carefully towards the array of vox-masts. The air snapped and fizzed with discharge, and Uriel's auto-senses were fluctuating wildly with the distortion and interference generated by the masts. An army of greenskins could be hidden within a hundred metres of him and he wouldn't know it. With a thought, he disengaged all but the most basic of his auto-senses, knowing that his instincts for danger would serve him better.

Step by step, they drew closer to the array. Uriel could see the devices that Harkus was talking about attached to the base of around fifty of the vox-masts and a few of the generators. Rectangular in shape, they were about the same size as a Space Marine backpack and formed from a hard, plastic-looking material. Etched into the surface was a circle that encompassed a smaller circle drawn from the larger circle's apex.

Uriel recognised it as a tau icon that represented one of their settled worlds, but he had no idea which one. 'What are they?' asked Uriel.

'I cannot answer that with certainty, Captain Ventris,' replied Harkus, the arms of his servo-harness unfolding and flexing like a collection of scorpion tails. 'Not without disassembly and study.'

'Then give me your best guess.'

Harkus didn't move, but the arms of his servo-harness seemed to shrug, as though the very idea of an acolyte of the Machine-God guessing at something was abhorrent. The light behind the lenses of Harkus's helmet flickered as the Techmarine accessed the vast wealth of knowledge implanted in his augmetics.

'Assessment: the interference in the vox networks suggests they are jamming devices, which would explain the build up in unknown spectra of wavefronts I am detecting.'

'Can you disable them?'

'Potentially,' replied Harkus, 'if I can ascertain the power source of the devices.'

'Do it,' said Uriel.

Harkus crouched before the nearest of the devices, the servo-arms of his harness extending a number of strange devices and tools. Uriel left the Techmarine to his work, and moved to where Learchus held his combat squad in readiness for action.

'Re-form the squad,' ordered Uriel. 'Set up a perimeter and hold at a hundred metres.'

Learchus nodded and asked, 'What are those things?'

'Harkus thinks they're jamming devices.'

'Tau?'

'Yes. I recognise the markings on them.'

'This should be all we need to make Governor Shonai mobilise his armed forces,' said Learchus. 'Not even he can ignore this.'

'I hope so,' said Uriel. 'I just pray we're not too late.'

No sooner were the words out of Uriel's mouth than the devices attached to the vox-masts exploded.

Fire and light surged out and upwards in a series of percussive detonations. Uriel was hurled from his feet by the blast wave, and slammed into Learchus. The two of them were smashed to the ground, and Uriel felt the breath driven from him. He lost his grip on his bolter and tasted blood.

A handful of red icons flashed to life as his armour registered breaches. His visor was opaque, an automatic reaction to the blinding light, but it was already returning to normal.

He was lying on his back, looking up at the high cliffs of the canyon and the flaring remnants of a blooming cloud of debris. Shards of broken metal and rock were raining down, and he could hear a terrible groan of tortured metal.

Uriel quickly checked the status icons of his squad, and was relieved to see that everyone was alive. Shaking off the disorientation, Uriel rolled to his feet and saw his bolter a few metres away. He retrieved it quickly, and checked for the rest of his warriors.

Pulverised rock dust billowed around Uriel, and he heard a sharp snapping sound, like the crack of a whip, which was quickly followed by a succession of identical sounds.

At first, he thought they were gunshots, but a second later he realised what he was hearing.

'Move!' he shouted. 'Get to the canyon walls!'

The smoke twitched in front of him, and he threw himself flat as a whipping guy wire slashed through the air above him like a scythe blade. Another sliced past, and then another. Uriel pushed himself to his feet, and ran towards the edge of the canyon as metal buckled and the towering vox-masts began to fall.

The huge towers twisted as the high winds and gravity did their work, tonnes of metal crashing down in a graceful, almost leisurely fashion. Height and proportion rendered the vox-masts slender and delicate, but they were incredibly solid pieces of engineering, and slammed down with the force of artillery strikes.

One after another, the masts thundered to the ground amid the noise of snapping wires and screaming metal. The canyon shook with the power of the impacts, and Uriel staggered like a drunk as he fought through the chaos of destruction. Something struck his shoulder-guard, and he stumbled, dropping to one knee under the weight of the blow.

A snapped spar of metal hammered into the rock beside him, like a spear hurled by a vengeful god, followed by chunks of spalled metal and shattered rock. Uriel swore and pushed onwards, weaving a Codex evasion pattern before realising that it would be ineffective against randomly falling debris.

He felt the presence of others around him, but could only identify them through the icons on his visor, such was the thickness of the dust thrown up.

At last, Uriel reached the edge of the canyon and pressed his body against the rock wall. Looking around, he could see other members of his squad. They were battered and scarred by the explosion, but appeared otherwise unhurt.

'Rally on me!' ordered Uriel as the destruction of the vox-masts continued unabated.

His warriors formed up around him, and Uriel whispered a quick thank you to his armour as Chaplain Clausel's voice came urgently over the helmet vox.

'Uriel! Uriel, are you reading me? What happened down there?'

'Devices attached to the vox-masts,' said Uriel. 'Turns out they were explosives as well as jammers.'

'Casualties?'

'No one is hurt,' said Uriel. 'Though I cannot see Techmarine Harkus yet.'

'We shall drop into the canyon with you.'

'No. Remain where you are, Chaplain,' ordered Uriel. 'I don't want to bring anyone else in until we're sure there are no secondary charges.'

'Very wise,' conceded Clausel. 'Very well, I shall await your orders.'

Uriel shut off the link as Learchus edged towards him along the canyon wall. The sergeant looked as though he'd been through a boarding action, the frontal plates of his armour dented and scarred from multiple impacts. Blood leaked from a gash in his armour somewhere below his right shoulder. 'You're hurt,' said Uriel.

'It's nothing,' said Learchus. 'What in the name of Guilliman just happened?'

'I'm not sure. Harkus was examining the devices and, well, you saw what happened after that.'

'They must have had anti-tamper traps worked into them,' said Learchus.

'No. Harkus would have found them,' said Uriel, as a new and unwelcome thought arose in his mind. 'They were detonated manually.'

'That means the enemy is close.'

Uriel nodded. 'Take your section and see if Harkus is still alive.'

'What are you going to do?'

'I'm going to link with Winterbourne.'

Learchus passed the word, and, as his combat squad formed up, yet more sharp cracks echoed from the sides of the canyon. This time, Uriel was sure it was gunfire.


| Ultramarines 5. Courage and Honour | SEVEN