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She bowed arthritically to her guests, who returned the guesture with much greater efficiency.
"Astartes, I am thankful that you answered my call."
"You said it was a matter of the utmost importance, Tzarina. I hope you were correct, for our time is not to be wasted."
Her hand wobbled as she raised it to dismiss the Marine's concerns, "Have no fear, Captain Cassius, I know the value of your time... but humour me, for I am not blessed with your divine strength, and the flesh grows weak with age."
She wandered over to a raised dias and sat down, sighing with relief to be shrouded in the soft cusions of the throne.
"How much do you know of this world, Captain?"
"Nemos is a Gamma-class world, government; matriarchical monarchy, population four-billion, Tithe Grade; Exactis Tertius, Imperial Guard and PDF composed primarily of female-warriors, Threat Assessment 0.03% as of-"
"You've proven your point, Captain," The Tzarina interrupted, "but I believe your final statistic needs updating..."
Cassius looked at her harshly. "Explain," he demanded.
"My husband, the Tzar-Prince Balam, was taken from me many years ago by the Black Ships. They called him a Heretic, and a Taint on the purity of the Imperium. I was lucky to retain the throne after that..."
she paused, closing her eyes and breathing deeply.
"...he told me there would be a betrayal, that as the Crone-ruler passed the throne to the next, the Dark Angels would come to drag us from the light. Half-breeds brought from darkness would seal the blood-pacts of Chaos, and damn the world."
"...Dark Angels, Tzarina? I doubt you refer to the Astartes Chapter."
"I do not... at least, I do not believe he meant them. He told me this long ago, Captain, but I have had time to ponder his words."
"The words of Heretics mean nothing," Cassius replied automatically.
"Then perhaps he was wrongly taken. Regardless, I cannot help put wonder. Many have named me 'Crone', and now here you are, Angels of Death, stood before me four days before I pass the crown to Ju, my grand-daughter. Perhaps these ' ark Angels' refer to some traitor-group, Marines that turned from the Emperor's Light..."
She rose, bones creaking as she did so. She smiled politely at the Marines, "now I must retire, for I tire easily. I would hope that I can sleep soundly tonight, knowing the Astartes watch over us."
As she reached the door, she heard Cassius say "they do, Tzarina," and she smiled as the armoured warriors returned to their Thunderhawk.
The ceremony was long, ritualistic, and exceedingly dull.
Four members of the Marines of The Emperor's Vengeance stood flanking the throne, which was now occupied by a young woman. Her skin was alabaster white, her hair the colour of winter snow. She wore robes of icy blue, and jewelery of white-gold.
The ceremony was finally ending. The Crone-ruler struggled to her knees before the throne, and held up the circlet.
"To you... my daughter's daughter, I bestow the Crown of the Tzarinas. May you rule long and well in the Emperor's Name."
The young woman took the crown, and whispered something into her grandmother's ear, provoking a smile. Ju donned the circlet, and there was a gentle sigh of appreciation.
The door exploded. The Marines moved with paternatural speed, placing themselves between the two women on the dias and the attackers before the foe became visible.
The attackers emerged. They were giants, each easily as tall as a Marine, wearing full-body carapace composed of numerous overlapping place. Servos and motors whinned audiably. They carried heavy-calibre cannons, and crudely-built chainweapons. The overall look was a Marine that had been equipped from a junk yard.
"Hand over the Tzarina and the Crone-ruler!"
Cassius stepped out from the corner off the room, levelling his powerfist and auto-cycling a krak-grenade into the combi-launcher.
"...and if we refuse?"
The figures pushed forward several hostages. The oldest was around twenty, the youngest barely five.
The crone gave a terrible howl of horror, "No! You monsters! Release my grandchildren!"
"What is your answer, Marine?"
Cassius paused, and seemed uncertain. Within his helmet, he mentally activated the inter-vox system, and issued a series of rapid orders.
"Time is up, drop your weapons, or they will die."
There was a crump from outside, and a heartbeat later, the south wall turned to a storm of dust and shrapnel. Hypersonic trackers annilihated everything they hit, and pummelled the attackers at head-height. A microsecond later, the solid crack of Bolters joined the storm of fire. As one, the fire stopped, and all five of the enemy fell, bloodied and broken. Not one of the hostages was harmed.
The Dreadnought thundered through the wreaked wall, and turned to Cassius.
"We Are Detecting Multiple Engagements Between PDF And Unidentified Assailants. We Are Deploying To Counterattack."
"Understood, Brother," Cassius turned to the Tzarina and her family, "it seems you were correct, we have traitors in our midst. Cassius to Strike CruiserDeliverer of Vengeance, deploy an Apothecary to the Hall of Tzarinas, I have something you may wish to look at..."
The Apothecary emerged from the laboratory, and addressed the assembled staff.
"It was a Marine, of sorts. It was originally female, but had mutated considerably. Most worrying was the use of Gene-Seed... our gene-seed."
Cassius spat a curse, "our heresy returns to haunt us... Librarian, what can you tell us?"
A vessel. A Strike Cruiser bearing the marks of Chaos. Within its cargo bays and crew quarters are endless pods, filled with wires, cables and bile-like fluids. Each container carries a tortured soul; immobile, but concious, living out their entire lives unable to move, speak, sleep, or escape the pain of their existence, and the endless, tormenting chatter of Chaos.
A pod flares into life. The life-support mechanisms retract, and the occupant drowns in the foul liquids. The pod drains, and two armoured figures, titans compared to their withered charges, remove the body and extract from it two Gene-Seeds before dragging the body off to be recycled into nutrient feed. Another child-slave is dragged into the room and stripped, implant nodes rammed into his flesh. He writhes in agony as the auto-finders gut him from within, hooking him into the damned device. He is hauled into the pod, and sealed in as it floods with sickening green liquid, and the life-support mechanism slices through his throat, silencing the last sound he will ever make, and damning him to decades of torment.
...They are our taint, traitors of our Chapter. We called it The Hive, for the vessel's only purpose is to grow Gene-seed. They have operated for centuries, stock-piling it and creating more and more of these geno-warriors. However, they are imperfect. So few can become True-Marines that they have to exhaust massive stocks just go get the smallest of squads. However, they can gain greater success with mutations; half-formed Marines. They deem them unworthy for anything save cannon-fodder, but they sell them to the best buyer, and thus they came here..."
Cassius snarled, "how many?"
"Tactical assessment indicates approximately three-hundred Chaos Marines, and close to three-thousand Geno-Troopers... accompanied by almost thirty-thousand genetically-enhanced Traitor-Guard."
"Has Colossus been contacted?"
"Yes sir, they are on route."
Cassius nodded, "until they arrive, we have two choices; either fight as long and as hard as we are able, hoping to buy the defenders time, or we withdraw, and await our full Chapter before commensing an attack."
The hall was silent, save for the sarcastic, smirking laugh of the Techmarine.
"I'll ready the Thunderhawks."
Lord Sethri watched the battle unfolding below him. The Arbites were holding well, gunning down the tides of Gene-Traitors, and deploying enough heavy-guns to hold back the anti-tank teams seeking to blast down the precinct doors.
A soldier scrambled through the rubble, bowing before the towering Chaos Lord. The monsterous warrior turned, his voice eminating from the vox-amps in a feral snarl.
"The precinct was to have been taken by now."
"My lord... the Arbites are proving-"
The warrior was hauled to his feet by a pair of Chaos Marines. Sethri aimed his Bolter at the man's gut.
"What is our cant, Lieutenant?"
"...crush the weak, destroy the coward, annilihate the unworthy, let only those with pure malice survive!" the soldier replied.
"...and yet here you stand, having failed me..."
The Bolter fired, blowing the unfortunate Gene-Traiter in half.
"Order the Whirlwinds to bombard the Square of Justice. When the weak are destroyed, we shall take the precinct ourselves."
The Marines nodded, and marched away. Sethri looked down casually at the dismembered warrior at his feet.
"Perhaps, if you live long enough, you will witness how True Warriors fight..."