Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Space Squids Part 6: Three Chaplains IV

Your humble scrivener recommences his continuing chronicle of the history of that most unique of chapters by returning to the newly created Krakens of Grejoy's offensive upon chaos-held Vestan Prime.

Upon reaching the Vestan System, the Kraken’s fleet was barely slowed by the anarchic blockade assembled by whatever traitors had resisted immediately attacking the Maze, and loyalist boarding torpedoes reached the surface of Vestan Prime’s unending ocean within seven minutes of their transport vessels' exit from the Warp. Another fourteen minutes later, and the torpedoes had reached the ocean bed. The Krakens plan was absurdly simple, and ideally suited to their methodology: they flooded the Maze.

Even the attacking Chaos cultists, in all their blood-crazed insanity, had taken care to keep the complex airtight. Indeed, lacking a space marine’s access to technology, they had little choice. The suddenness of the Kraken attack, combined with its meticulous planning, meant that seventy percent of the cultists had drowned before any combat took place, with most of the others suffering from the after-effects of pressure change (ranging from burst eardrums to fatal embolisms), or cut off and unable to reinforce their brethren. The Word Bearers, of course, had the capacity to face the Krakens irrespective of the crushing pressure of the silt-heavy brine, but their greater experience in general warfare made little difference against the Kraken marines, each of which was now more comfortable under the water than they were above. The flooded halls of the Maze allowed the Krakens to fight a three-dimensional war that the Word Bearers were unable to adapt to. Propeller-fitted servo skulls tracked the enemy as they trudged clumsily through the dark saltwater, allowing the Krakens to set up ambushes; each assault squad waiting until the last second to plunge downwards, hydro-adapted jump packs screaming as they propelled their owners through the surrounding water.

Once the Chaos marines realised just how efficiently they were being hunted, the patrols ended and they began a fighting retreat towards the area surrounding the largest structure in the Maze, Saint Varakus’ Cathedral, hoping to concentrate their forces. It was exactly the move Rekasson had anticipated. Whilst squads of the Third and Fifth Companies harried the retreating Word Bearers, heavily-modified escort vessels bludgeoned their way underwater, carrying the chapter’s Terminators. Once the optimum depth was reached, selected airlocks were double-cycled, allowing sea water to pour in, and the teleport runes were struck, flooding enemy-held compartments with explosions of water, a team of implacable Terminators at the centre of the storm. A room would be swept clear with the thunder of storm-bolter fire and the pale blue flashes of lightning claw strikes, and then the Terminators would cut their way out of the Maze, rendezvous with their ship, and begin again.

It took one week and sixteen casualties for the Krakens of Greyjoy to reclaim Carella’s Maze for the Imperium of Man. With the cathedral city swept clean of living enemies, Rekasson ordered sweeps of what had been so briefly enemy territory, in order to gauge the level of corruption visited upon that once holy place, and determine what should and could be salvaged, if indeed the planet could be allowed to escape Exterminatus at all. Ultimately, it became apparent that the Maze had been luckier than its inhabitants. The traitors had lacked the necessary time to do much more than slaughter the Ecclesiarchy, and had been too far from the warp storms plaguing the core-ward Allagon systems to have summoned daemons of any great strength or in any great number. The damage was extensive (even discounting that which had been caused by the Krakens themselves), but not irreversibly blasphemous.

The question that occurred first, though, was also the most pressing: what was to be done with Saint Varakus’ Cathedral itself? As the largest symbol of the Emperor’s divine power on the planet, and the former base of operations of the Chaos forces, more corruption had been visited upon it than anywhere else in the Maze.

All three Chaplains were present when the last Word Bearer fell and the Krakens gained entrance. What awaited them was a charnel house. Those holy men unfortunate enough to have been captured alive had been flayed here, their cracked skin daubed with profane symbols using their own blood, and draped across the now-headless statues that lined the central hall. The bodies themselves had been arranged on the pews, posed as though staring in wonder at the centrepiece of the cathedral, a eighteen-foot carving of the Emperor, now gouged and broken almost beyond recognition.

Several moments passed before any of the Imperium’s warriors were able to speak. Such pure and unrepentant evil was new to the marines born on Four Feathers, and to those who once called themselves the Emperor’s Shields, this was their first exposure to the true depravity of Chaos since the campaign that entered in disaster above Raxos. There was no question of allowing this blasphemy to remain, not for either group of marines, nor for me, nor you, loyal citizen as you have doubtless proved yourself in order to read these missives. The very moment thought became action, however, and Tolosson ordered his terminators to cleanse the cathedral, Tegatchi and his marines blocked their way.

Perhaps you recall the harsh tales of ruinedKrinngrim, a world cut from crystal and cold, upon which the Emperor was worshipped as the exquisite craftsman of all reality. To the dour Krinngrimi marines, the defilement of Saint Varakus’ Cathedral could only be rectified by carefully rebuilding it, piece by piece and stone by stone, until every line, curve, statue and pew was just as it had always been. Before that could happen, every inch of the cathedral needed to be cleansed by the purity of the chapter’s promethium.

Those marines that hailed from the ever-shifting fungus forests of Cauda on Four Feathers saw the situation entirely differently. To them, the Word Bearers had succeeded in changing the cathedral according to their perverse desires. The idea that somehow this could be undone was obvious folly. Saint Varakus’ Cathedral might change again, would change again given time, but to attempt to turn back the chronometer would be to deny the Emperor his twin roles as destroyer and re-builder. If the Krakens were not to allow this monument to change to stand (and it is whispered in dark corners by the bravest and most foolish of heretics that the Caudan obsession with change is entirely too close to a respect for Chaos itself; a topic to which we will one day return), then it must be destroyed utterly, and rebuilt in a new form. Promethium would not suffice; the situation demanded nothing short of high-yield explosives.

Tegatchi outlined his position in a few clipped sentences. Outraged at his junior’s interference, if not outright mutiny, Tolosson might have ordered the First Company to begin the cleansing by burning down the Caudans had Orfirsson not stepped in. A more diplomatic man than his fellow Krinngrimi, Orfirsson pointed out the sheer impossibility of ever rebuilding the cathedral once it was destroyed. Already Carella’s Maze stood on the knife’s edge of total destruction, its millenia-old spirals, hallways and corridors on the verge of complete collapse. Either the Cathedral was cleansed, or it was destroyed forever; no other alternative existed.

Tegatchi remained unmoved. His only reply to Orfirsson's logic was to order his fellow marines to raise their weapons. For long moments Caudan and Krinngrimi faced each other inside the depraved place of butchery that had once been sacred ground. Tolosson accused Tegatchi of betraying his chapter; Tegatchi responded that he was doing the only thing possible to avoid betraying his Emperor. Facing the possible end of the Krakens of Greyjoy during their very first campaign, Orfirsson tried one last time to salvage the situation. His solution was simple. It was also all but unprecedented, but the need to prevent the chapter from imploding overrode all other concerns.

Solemnly, desperately, Orfirsson placed himself between the two opposing forces, and demanded the argument be settled according to that most ancient of traditions: trial by combat.

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