"We have all burned. Down in the fire pits, or from the brander’s iron in the solitorium, we have all touched the fire. It leaves scars, even for us. We carry them proudly, with honour. But the scars we took that day on that battlefield, we bear only with shame and regret. They are a memorial in flesh, a physical reminder of everything we have lost, a burn even we fire-born cannot endure without pain."
Artellus Numeon was a Terran-born Astartes officer who served as the First Captain of the Salamanders Legion's elite 1st Company, known as the Firedrakes, throughout the Great Crusade and the Horus Heresy. He also served as Equerry to the Primarch and commanded Vulkan's elite personal Honour Guard, the Pyre Guard, which was comprised of Veteran Battle-Brothers of the Salamanders Legion. Sworn to protect the Primarch, these were warriors set apart from the rest of the XVIII Legion. Terran-born like their commander, they did not always fully appreciate the earthy sentiments of the Nocturnean culture in which Vulkan had been raised, but they knew their duty deep within their genetically-enhanced bones.
Numeon was present during the tragic events of the Drop Site Massacre on Istvaan V where his Legion was nearly decimated. He survived the Traitors' trap and eventually made his way off the scoured planet, to carry on the war against the Warmaster Horus' Traitor Legions. Leading several small bands of survivors, Artellus Numeon became Legion Master and the spiritual figurehead of the Salamanders' Legion during the dark months where both the Imperium and the Legion believed their Primarch to be dead. Rekindling the embers of hope, Numeon embarked upon a heroic voyage -- a true odyssey -- to reunite Vulkan with his Legion on their homeworld of Nocturne. Never losing faith in his Primarch's fated rebirth, Numeon would eventually concede to making the ultimate sacrifice so that his Legion would rise from the ashes and grow strong again.
"You have suffered. I know this. You have come to the abyss, and almost surrendered yourselves to it. That changes now. I am father, general, lord and mentor. I shall teach you if I can, and pass on the knowledge I have gained. Honour, self-sacrifice, self-reliance, brotherhood. It is our Promethean creed and all must adhere to it if we are to prosper. Let this be the first lesson..."
Long ago, during the turbulent era known as the Age of Strife, Warp travel became impossible and all the worlds which humanity had claimed were cut off from one another, forced to fend for themselves without the support of their neighbours in other star systems. Following the end of Old Night the Emperor of Mankind first publicly revealed himself during a series of conflicts to reunite the disparate techno-barbarian nations of Terra, collectively known as the Unification Wars. Following their successful conclusion the Emperor began to forge the foundation of the Imperium of Man in the 30th Millennium. The Emperor began a massive scientific effort to create the Primarchs -- 20 genetically-engineered sons that would serve as the Emperor's generals and command the Emperor's forces during the Great Crusade to reunite the scattered human race beneath His leadership.
The Ruinous Powers of Chaos somehow manage to spirit the superhuman children away through the Warp, however, leaving them scattered across the galaxy. A massive localized Warp rift was created within the gene vaults of the Emperor's own palace, deep under the Himalazian (Himalayan) Mountains on Terra where the Primarchs were gestating. The gestation capsules containing the Emperor's unborn sons were scattered through the Warp to colony planets long since lost to Mankind. Each of the Primarchs somehow found themselves on ancient worlds of men, planets long since lost to the light of the greater universe beyond the stars. One of these infant children ended up on the feudal Death World of Nocturne. The strange baby was found by a blacksmith named N'bel, who, recognising the child as the one prophesied to be a saviour by the teachings of the Promethean Cult, and named the child Vulkan.
Though the infant Primarchs were lost to him, the Emperor later utilised their genomes to serve as the genetic template from which He crafted His 20 Space Marine Legions. Before Vulkan, like all the Legions, the Salamanders had hailed from Terra. Artellus Numeon was one of the first candidates to be inducted into the nascent XVIII Legion. Like their gene-sire, the Legionaries sired from Vulkan's genetic legacy were volatile, and fiery-tempered. In the early years of the Great Crusade, the XVIII Legion was nearly destroyed, as their intense desire to prove their worth almost resulted in their extinction time and time again during battle. The very fact that there were so few Terran Salamanders left alive was testament to how close the XVIII Legion had come to destruction. Being reunited with their Primarch had saved them, and with the hardy people of Nocturne already students of Vulkan's Promethean Cult teachings, it was not long before the Salamanders saw their numbers swell again.
Vulkan was able to save his genetic legacy because in them, he saw a great potential. The Emperor knew Vulkan was the perfect son to temper the XVIII Legion and forge it strong again. Learning discipline and patience, the Salamanders learned there is no better time to reflect than when they struck their Oaths of Moment and branded them into flesh before battle. Temperance in the face of war was not only prudent, it also saved lives.
The Pyre Guard
"Eye to eye! Tooth-to-tooth!"
- — Pyre Guard battle mantra
When Vulkan was reunited with his Legion, he saw the potential in his few remaining Terran sons. From amongst these survivors he chose the most stoic and fiercely independent warriors; those who had endured the worst of the XVIII Legion's trials and tribulations throughout the early years of the Great Crusade before he had been reunited with them. From these chosen few, the Primarch founded the Pyre Guard, his personal Honour Guard; charged with the protection of their Primarch and to act as his inner circle of advisors.
Set apart from the other warriors of the XVIII Legion, all of the vaunted Pyre Guard were without equal. These individual warriors were hungry, ready for war. Like the deep drakes of Vulkan's homeworld, they were savage and fierce, sharp of claw and tooth. The members of the Pyre Guard were not like other Salamanders; they had more fire, more fury. Like the volcanoes of ancient Nocturne, the great jagged chains of the Dragonspike and Mount Deathfire, they were perpetually on the brink of eruption. Even the warriors of the Pyroclasts were not as volatile.
The Pyre Guard were chosen warriors, those that displayed a level of self-sacrifice and self-sufficiency that exceeded all others. Like the saburai of old Nihon, they were fighters foremost, who could ally as a unit or function expertly on their own. They were also leaders, and each Pyre Guard commanded a Chapter of the Legion in addition to their duties as the Primarch's inner circle warriors. Numeon was one of these chosen elite. Though Terran-born, these elite warriors still displayed the physical traits of onyx-black skin and red eyes, an irreversible reaction to the unique radiation of Nocturne combined with the genetic heritage of their Primarch, which every Salamander, regardless of origin, possessed. The Pyre Guard's number always stood at seven, a number of great cultural significance to the people of Nocturne. When they marched to war with their Primarch, every one of their personal weapons was forged by its bearer, and every one could spit fire like the drakes of old.
Drop Site Massacre
"I can scarcely imagine what inspired Horus to this madness. In truth, the very fact of it frightens me. For if even the best of us can falter, what does that mean for the rest? Lord Manus will lead us in. Seven Legions against his four. Horus will regret rebellion."
- — Vulkan, Primarch of the Salamanders Legion
The Pyre Guard's role during the Horus Heresy is not well known to Imperial scholars; what is for certain is that the XVIII Legion, along with the Iron Hands and the Raven Guard, were part of the first wave of Loyalist attackers during the Drop Site Massacre of Istvaan V. After the announcement of the Warmaster Horus' treachery against the Emperor and the destruction of the four open Traitor Legions' (the Sons of Horus, Emperor's Children, Death Guard and the World Eaters) remaining Loyalists during the Battle of Istvaan III, the Emperor ordered seven full Legions of Space Marines to attack the Forces of Chaos serving his beloved son and former friend. But amongst those seven Legions, four were already secretly Traitors to the Imperium and devotees of the Ruinous Powers.
Seconds after the first drop-ship pierced the cloud layer, batteries of emplaced guns erupted across metres of earthworks dug along the Urgall Depression. Flak fire filled the sky like upwards-pouring rain, chewing through wing and fuselage, detonating arrow-headed cocoons of metal and spilling their lethal payloads into the air. It barely dented the assault, and when the Imperial loyalists finally made planetfall, over forty thousand legionaries tramped out upon the scorched earth. Of their initial complement, only fifteen of the Salamanders' ships and eleven Drop Pods would not make the surface intact. Nigh-on full Legion strength would be levelled against Horus and his rebels. The Salamanders hit along the left flank, the Raven Guard the right and Ferrus Manus with his Morlocks dead centre.
Black sand cratered by ordnance made for uncertain footing. As the vast armies of the three loyal Primarchs ran from the holds of ships or emerged through the dissipating pressure cloud of blooming drop-pods, several legionaries faltered and slipped. Sustained bolter fire met them upon planetfall, and hundreds amongst the first landers were cut down before any kind of beachhead could be established. Fire was met with fire, the drumming staccato of thousands of weapons discharged in unison, their muzzle flashes merging into a vast and unending roar of flame. Dense spreads of missiles whined overhead to accompany the salvo, streaking white contrails from their rockets. Sections of earthworks erupted in bright explosions that threw plumes of dirt and armoured men into the air. Las bursts lit up the swiftly following darkness, spearing through tanks and Dreadnoughts that loomed behind the foremost ranks of enemy defenders, only for return fire to spit back in reply. Flamers choked the air with smoke and the stink of burning flesh, as yet more esoteric weapons pulsed and shrieked. It was a cacophony of death, but the song had barely begun its first verse.
The right flank was swollen with warriors of the XVIII. Salamanders teemed out of their transports, quickly coming into formation and advancing with purpose. The black sand underfoot was eclipsed from sight, as a green sea overwhelmed and overran it. Vexilliaries held aloft banners, attempting to impose some order on the emerging battalions. Methodical, dogged, the XVIII Legion found its shape and swarmed across the dark dunes. At the forefront of this avenging wave was Vulkan, and to his flanks the Firedrakes. Lumbering from the metal spearheads of Drop Pods, the Terminators amassed in two large battalions. They were dauntless, dominant, but not the most implacable warriors in the Salamanders' arsenal. Contemptors, striding through the smoke, laid claim to that honour. Great, towering war engines, the Dreadnoughts jerked with the savage recoil of Graviton Guns and Autocannons. Not stopping to see the carnage wreaked, they slowly tramped after the rushing companies of Legionaries in small cohorts, attack horns blaring. The discordant noise simulated the war cries of the deep drakes and was pumped through vox-emitters to boost its volume.
Disgorged by Thunderhawk Transporters, Spartan Assault Tanks, Predators-Infernus and Vindicators disembarked at combat speed, tracks rolling. The battle tanks rode at the back of the line with a steep ridge behind them, anchoring the dropsite with their armoured might. Three spearheads were driven at the traitor's heart, two black and one green, all determined to bring down the fortress squatting at the summit of the Urgall Hills that overlooked the expansive depression. In seconds the shifting sand became as glass, vitrified by the heat of tens of thousands of weapons, and cracked underfoot.
Vulkan ordered his sons to take the ridge line to gain higher ground. Shells pranging off his armour, the primarch took up the vanguard position, whilst his chasing Pyre Guard tried to keep pace. Behind the Pyre Guard, the stoic advance of the Pyroclasts struggled to keep up as they laid down sheets of burning promethium in front and to the flanks. The Terminator-armoured Firedrakes were also slipping back, unable to compete with the Primarch's speed, and Numeon began to see that there was a realistic danger of becoming estranged from the rest of the Legion. Adding their strength to the spearhead the Primarch was forging, the 15th Company Reconnaissance took up fresh position. Their charge line would take them in alongside the Pyre Guard, able to maintain pace where the bulkier Firedrakes and Pyroclasts could not.
As if sensing that his Legion was losing him, Vulkan slowed but a fraction as the fire-blackened lip of the outermost trench drew close. Hunkered within the partially sundered defences, the Legionaries of the Death Guard brought guns to bear. The XIV Legion were hardy fighters -- the Salamanders had fought alongside them at Ibsen, but those days were gone and now allies had turned into enemies. The flame storm and the ferocity of Vulkan's attack had scattered the defenders but they were rallying quickly and now counter-attacked from three separate channels. Although the trench network was wide enough for three legionaries to stand abreast, the fighting was thick and fierce. Wilting before his charge, the defenders sensibly chose to hang back and harry the primarch with a welter of bolter fire. Meeting it head on, the primarch shrugged off the shell damage as the brass casings broke apart against his near-inviolable armour.
Across the entire Urgall Depression, hundreds of battles between Legionaries were fought. Some were company-strong, others were squads or even individuals. There was no scheme to it, just masses of warriors trying to kill one another. Most of the Loyalist troops had moved on from the dropsite and were engaging Horus’ rebels at the foot of his fortifications, but a few still occupied this beachhead. Scattered groups of traitors had spilled out as far as the dropsite but were quickly destroyed by the troops holding it. These were skirmishes, though, and nothing compared to the greater battle. As the 15th Company pressed the attack against the retreating Death Guard forces, a dirty cloud, too thick and too low to be fog, rolled down the slopes. It spilled into the myriad trench-works, funnelled by the conduits of hewn earth. And it was fast. In seconds it had cleared the no-man’s-land between the previous trench and the next bank of fortifications and was hurtling at Nemetor and his warriors. It overtook the Death Guard first, who adjusted respirators before the miasma hit as if they knew it was coming. It was a deadly gas attack.
The Legion armoury was vast, and not all of its weapons were as obvious as a Bolter or as noble as a sword. There were those who wielded devices of much more insidious potency -- the slow and agonising ones, the weapons that forever scarred both the bearer and the victim. They did not discriminate and made no allowance for even the strongest armour. From the vaunted champion to the lowliest mortal, they were the great levellers and their works were terrible to behold. More than a hundred of the reconnaissance company collapsed, choking and spitting blood. Many of the 15th didn't wear battle-helms, preferring to be unencumbered for the stealth work at which they excelled. These warriors had suffered the worst. Skin sloughed away by virulent acids, ravaged by pustules and choking on vomit, eyes drowning in pus from the dirty bomb, there was almost nothing left of them but half-armoured carcasses. Dozens more were hacked apart or shot down by resurgent Death Guard attacking in the confusion.
The numerically superior Death Guard had already overrun the smaller reconnaissance company and were attempting to encircle the rest of the Salamanders. Vulkan single-handedly prevented that, hitting the overlapping warriors and cutting them apart with his flaming sword. First Captain Numeon and the Pyre Guard joined him fractionally later and a dense, chaotic melee erupted. As battle continued to rage all around them, the din of the melee was pierced by savage and guttural war cries. A ruddy smog was sweeping across the battlefield, fashioned from blood-drenched mist and the smoke generated by thousands of fires. Caught in a crosswind, it slashed in from the east and brought with it the brutal challenge of a Legion that revelled in war. It was the XII Legion -- the World Eaters.
Ash-fall from the many thousands of fires turned the sky grey. It baptised a cohort of warriors, clad to various degrees in ancient gladiatorial trappings and wielding ritual caedere weapons. They were the Rampagers, a deadly breed even amongst the Eaters of Worlds, and a throwback to Angron's incarceration as a slave-fighter. Bellowing guttural war cries, they charged ahead of a Contemptor Dreadnought to engage the Salamanders. Emerald-armoured Astartes balked at what the battle-maddened World Eaters attempted. Though there was no more than thirty men - just three squads - they charged over a hundred. Several went down to sporadic bolter fire. Some were clipped by shrapnel but kept on coming. Only those too injured to fight, unable to run because of missing limbs or critical wounds were halted. Something urgent and terrible spurred them on. Even when they were the War Hounds, their reputation in battle, particularly close-quarters, was fearsome. As the reborn World Eaters under Angron, they had become something else. Rumours abounded within the ranks, of arcane devices that manipulated the legionaries' tempers, simulacra of the ones embedded in Angron's skull by his slavers. Now that the Salamanders saw them, ignoring pain and injury, frothing with frenzy, they believed those stories to be true.
As the Salamanders and World Eaters fought in bloody close-quarters, elsewhere on the slope, a much larger force of Firedrakes fought Angron's personal bodyguards, the Devourers, to a bloody stalemate. For once, the Lord of the Red Sands was close to his Honour Guard. Angron bellowed a challenge to his brother Primarch. Vulkan's name was heard amongst the guttural syllables of the World Eater's native tongue. Anointed in blood, partially obscured by scudding clouds of smoke and shimmering heat haze, Angron continued to bellow his challenge, this time in High Gothic, "Vulkan!" His voice was like the fall of cities, rumbling and booming across the vast battlefield. Angron jabbed down to his brother with one of the motorised Power Axes he carried. Its blade was burring, roaring for blood. "I name you high rider!"
Farther down the slope, Vulkan gripped the haft of his immense warhammer Dawnbringer and went to meet his brother's challenge. But before the two Primarchs could come to blows, an arcing salvo from one of the traitor gun emplacements spear-headed a missile up into the air and all the way down until it struck part of the slope between the two Primarchs. A firestorm lit the hillside, several tonnes of incendiary ordnance expressed in the expansive bloom of conflagration. It swept outwards in a turbulent wave, bathing the lower part of the slope in heat and flame. This was nothing compared to its epicentre. Firedrakes were immolated in that blast, blown apart and burned to ash in their Terminator Armour. Though Vulkan was wreathed in flames, he stepped from the blaze unharmed. The remaining Firedrakes gathered to him, tramping over the dead where they had to. Mauled as they had been by the World Eaters, Vulkan knew that his warriors had suffered but would not stop until they were dead or the battle was over. But it was grievously attritional, and he was not ashamed to admit relief when he heard that the reinforcements coming in to make planetfall behind them. Hundreds of landers and drop-pods choked the already suffocating sky, emblazoned with the iconography of the Alpha Legion, Iron Warriors, Word Bearers and Night Lords. The Primarch merely watched impassively as the manifold shuttles touched down and the loyalists took up position on the edge of the depression. Of Angron, there was no sign. The firestorm had beaten him back, it seemed, and now with the arrival of four more Legions, the Lord of the Red Sands had ordered a retreat.
Both the Raven Guard and the Salamanders withdrew towards their drop site to give their recently arrived reinforcements a chance to earn glory against the Traitors. Vulkan and his brother Corax tried to persuade their fiery-tempered brother Ferrus Manus to do the same. But the Gorgon would not be dissuaded from his task. The scent of blood was in the air, and so, the Iron Hands pressed the attack against the retreating Traitor forces. Unknown to the Loyalists, the drop site had been fortified by the four secret Traitor Legions, who had been intended to form the second wave of the Imperial assault on Horus' forces. While the retreat of Horus' rebels was ragged and disorganised, the warriors of the XVIII and XIX Legions fell back in good order. Tanks returned to column, rumbling slowly but steadily back down the slope. The scorched trenches emptied as legionaries filed out in vast hosts, company banners still flying. They were battered but resolute. The dead and injured came with them, dragged or borne aloft by their still standing brothers. It was a great exodus, the black and green ocean of war retreating with the tide to leave the flotsam of their slain enemy behind it.
On the northern side of the Urgall Depression, a fresh sea made ready to sweep in and carry all of the mortal debris away. Across from the muster field of the Salamanders, which was little more than a laager of drop-ships, were the Iron Warriors. Armoured in steel-grey with black-and-yellow chevrons, the IV Legion looked stark and stern. They had erected a barricade, the armoured bastions of their own landing craft alloyed together, to bolster the northern face of the slope. Great cannons were raised aloft behind it, their snouts pointing to the ash-smothered sky. A line of battle tanks sat in front, bearing the grim icon of a metal-helmeted skull. And in front of that, Iron Warriors arrayed in their cohorts, thousands strong. They held their silence and their weapons across their bodies, with no more life than automatons. Not a single Legionary about the XVIII stood idle. Yet the Iron Warriors, the entire muster on the northern slope, neither spoke nor moved beyond what was necessary to assemble.
Not one responded to the Salamanders' hails. Only the wind kicking at their banners gave any sense of animus to the IV Legion throng. Only when Vulkan started in the direction of his brother, Perturabo, the Lord of Iron returned the Lord of Drakes' gimlet gaze with one of his own. It was only at that moment, did Vulkan realise that they had been betrayed. More than ten thousand guns answered, the weapons of their allies turned on the Salamanders with traitorous intent, crushing the Loyalists between the hammer of Horus' forces and the anvil of the fortified drop site. Wrath drove Vulkan up the side of the hill, that and a sense of injustice. The ignoble actions of his brother primarchs had wounded Vulkan to the core, far deeper and more debilitating than any blade. Vaunted warriors all, the Pyre Guard could scarcely keep up.
Battle companies followed in the wake of their lords, captains roaring the attack as thousands of green-armoured warriors chased up the slope to kill the sons of Perturabo. Withering crossfire from both the north and south faces of the Urgall Depression cut down hundreds in the first few seconds of deceit. The XVIII Legion was shedding warriors like a snake sheds scales. But still they drove on, determined not to back down. Tenacity was a Salamander’s greatest virtue -- that refusal to give in. Upon the plains of Isstvan V, against all of those guns, this quality almost ended the XVIII Legion. Only as the majority of the Salamanders crested the first ridge, did they first see the arc of fire. It trailed, long and blazing, into the darkening sky. The tongue of flame climbed and upon reaching the apex of its parabola bent back on itself into the shape of a horseshoe. Rockets screaming, it came down in the midst of the charging Salamanders and broke them apart.
A savage crater was gored into the Urgall hills, like the bite of some gargantuan beast resurrected from old myth and birthed in nucleonic fire. It threw warriors skywards as if they were no more than empty suits of armour, bereft of bone and flesh. As a bell jar shatters when dropped onto rockcrete from a great height, so too did the Legion smash apart. Tanks following after their lord Primarch were flung barrel-rolling across the black sand with their hulls on fire. Those vehicles in the mouth of the blast were simply ripped apart; tracks and hatches, chunks of abused metal torn to exploded shrapnel. Legionaries spared death in the initial blast were eviscerated in the frag storm. Super-heavies crumpled like tin boxes crushed by a hammer. Crewmen boiled alive, legionaries cooked down to ash in that furnace. It went deep, right into the beating heart of the Salamanders ranks. Only by virtue of the fact that they were so far ahead were the Pyre Guard spared the worst.
With immense kinetic fury, it threw them apart and smothered their armoured forms in a firestorm. An electro-magnetic pulse wiped out the Vox, a threnody of static reigning in place of certain contact. Tactical organisation became untenable. In a single devastating strike, the Lord of Iron had crippled the XVIII Legion, severed its head and sent its body into convulsive spasm. Retreat was the only viable strategy remaining. Droves fell back to the dropsite, trying to climb aboard ships that were surging desperately into the sky to outreach the terrible storm of betrayal below. It was not a rout, though for any force other than the Legiones Astartes it would have been, faced with such violence. Many were cut down as the traitors threaded the air with enough flak to wither an armada.
Despite a heroic defence, the three Loyalist Legions who took part in the battle on Istvaan V were practically destroyed; all but a handful of Battle-Brothers fell on that fateful day and the Primarch Ferrus Manus of the Iron Hands was beheaded by his former best friend Fulgrim, the Primarch of the Emperor's Children. After this sad defeat, the Salamanders, as well as the other two betrayed Space Marine Legions, were unable to perform any further tasks the Emperor had planned for them and spent the rest of the Heresy rebuilding their shattered forces. Both Vulkan and his brother Corvus Corax survived the ambush on Istvaan V. Conflicting reports by the few survivors stated that Vulkan, also gravely wounded, had to be dragged away from the fight onto a Thunderhawk gunship by three of his Pyre Guard and then managed to escape back to Nocturne. But the reality of the Salamanders' Primarch's fate proved to be far more dire.
Flight of the Fire Ark
With the full treachery of the Traitor Legions revealed, and the whereabouts of Vulkan unknown, Numeon saw that retreat was the only viable strategy remaining. Droves of Loyalist survivors fell back to the dropsite, trying to climb aboard ships that were surging desperately into the sky to outreach the terrible storm of betrayal below. It was not a rout, though for any force other than the Legiones Astartes it would have been, faced with such violence. Many were cut down as the Traitors threaded the air with enough flak to wither an armada. Groaning, feeling the extent of every one of his many injuries, and ignoring the urgent cascade of damage reports scrolling down the left side of his one still-functional retinal lens, Numeon staggered to his feet.
A piece of armour, one he knew well and had seen before, lay within his grasp. He took the sigil once worn by Vulkan and tucked it into his belt. His Pyre Guard brother, Leodrakk was with him, but he couldn't see Vulkan or the rest of the Pyre Guard. Smoke blanketed the ridge and the ash-fall had intensified. Heat haze from the still-burning fire blurred his vision. He saw the crater -- he had been thrown back from its epicentre -- and the hundreds of twisted bodies within. They were incinerated, fused into their armour. Some were still dying. Numeon knew he had to reach a Drop-Ship, he had to save himself and Leodrakk. They must have slipped into a narrow defile that had shielded their bodies from the fire. Numeon assumed that he had blacked out. There were fragments, pieces that he did not possess in his eidetic memory of what happened after the missile strike. He remembered Leodrakk calling out his brother's name. But Skatar'var had not answered. None of the Pyre Guard were answering.
Finally reaching the dropsite with Leodrakk, Numeon found visibility was almost zero. Like tar turned into air, the blackness was virtually absolute. Auto-senses were of limited use, but Numeon managed to get as far as a ship. Leodrakk was retching in the vile smoke, so thick it would have killed a lesser man. He clung to Numeon’s left shoulder and let the Pyre captain guide him. But Numeon was struggling, too. The dropship was close enough to touch but the filth besieging them made it impossible to gauge the location of the entrance ramp or if it was even open. Out of the darkness, a hand reached for them, and together they stumbled onto the deck of a crowded Stormbird. It was black within the lander; smoke was also filling the hold and the internal lighting was out. Numeon slumped and rolled on his back, his eye burning like someone had thrust a knife into it and twisted the blade. He was more badly wounded that he had at first realised, having taken several hits during the descent as he shielded his Pyre Guard brother from harm. Leodrakk was on his knees, coughing up the wretched smoke from his lungs. Then unconsciousness took him and he was lost to it.
Verud Pergellen, one of the Iron Hands' elite Honour Guard known as the Morlocks, had saved Numueon and Leodrakk's lives on the plains of Istvaan V. So few of the Morlocks had escaped, so very few of the Iron Hands' Clan Avernii left to continue its great and noble legacy. When the shells were falling and the full horror of the betrayal revealed, it was Pergellen who had fought his way back to the dropships when other Iron Hands warriors were losing their minds at the death of their Primarch Ferrus Manus. The survivors of Istvaan V had been a mess of disparate units and Legions. Not all had survived the escape. Some were simply too badly wounded or had been dead when they were dragged aboard. Of the forty-seven Legionaries that took flight on that vessel, only twenty-six survived. They lived long enough to be reunited with the Fire Ark, a Salamanders Strike Cruiser that had escaped the carnage -- one of the few. It had not done so unscathed. Many of the crew were killed during that desperate flight. Wounded, weary, they had levelled what guns they had on the dropship emerging from that self-same chaos, not realising they were friends, not foes.
There were no Legionaries aboard, not one. Every single able-bodied warrior that could don war-plate had been sent to bring the disgraced Warmaster Horus to heel. It was extravagant, Numeon realised in retrospect -- a means of showing force to force and hoping the latter balked in the face of the former. How wrong they were. It did not seem like extravagance now; instead, it smacked of ignorant sacrifice. And how Horus had prepared his altar for their willing offering. The blades of his Traitors were sharp indeed on that slab of Istvaan V. Since finding the Fire Ark and the brave but depleted crew aboard, they had lost three more Legionaries. Numeon had allied them together, given them back some semblance of purpose. But it did not come without risk, and a vein of fatalism was growing in this company. He had expected it of the Iron Hands, but they bore the loss of their Primarch with a quiet and steely determination that did the Medusans much credit. No, it was the Nocturneans, the sons of Vulkan, that suffered most. Of all the Salamanders, only Numeon believed. In his heart, he knew that his father had survived. The rest, despite his impassioned arguments, were not so convinced, and fought for vengeance instead of hope and a desire to serve. Numeon knew these men were broken. Bereft of leadership, they would have destroyed one another, and with no way to return to their Legions they were cut adrift and aimless.
Their vessel, the Fire Ark, had been badly damaged in the exodus from Istvaan V. Some weapon systems were still functional, though these were insufficient to last long against a fully operational ship of the same caliber. Life support, power for lighting on certain decks, the engines and warp drive still worked, albeit at a reduced and unreliable capacity. Communications were another matter, however. Shipboard Vox worked well enough but long-distance augurs and the sensorium arrays were beyond repair and use. Even ship-to-surface vox was extremely patchy. Captain Halder had achieved the near-impossible in effecting a successful escape, but they had limped on ever since and knew nothing of the greater war. Or even if there was a greater war. For all they knew, everyone was dead and Horus had won. Numeon refused to believe that. Just as he refused to believe that Vulkan had died along with Lord Manus. He had not seen the Primarch fall, but the news from their fellow survivors who had, was compelling as it was grim. They would fight on, hoping that others did too.
Pursuit of the Word Bearers
The months that followed saw the Fire Ark embark on a series of hit-and-run attacks on the Traitor forces. During their campaign of hit-and-run tactics, the survivors of the Fire Ark had come across the world of Viralis. The entire planet was filled with corpse-filled streets; bodies defiled and mutilated in service to the Dark Powers. The Traitors had left something else behind as well. The few survivors had been greatly changed, human no longer. They had become...things. The Loyalists soon discovered that the perpetrator of this horrific atrocity was none other than the hated Word Bearers Legion, specifically, a Dark Apostle named Valdrekk Elias, who was sworn to the service of First Chaplain Erebus. The survivors of the Fire Ark soon tracked the whereabouts of the cleric to the world of Traoris. They had discovered that the Word Bearers had been tracking a frontier archaeologist named Caeren Sebaton to an ancient fortification. They were intent on acquiring an unknown object from the dig site of an ancient fortress. Though the Loyalists were unsure as to the purpose of the Word Bearers' presence on the planet, they intended to save Traoris from suffering the same fate as Viralis.
Twenty-three Legionaries comprised Numeon's disparate company, himself included. It was barely more than two squads. The majority were Salamanders, mainly line warriors with a few Pyroclasts, as well as himself and Leodrakk from the Pyre Guard. A pair of Battle-Brothers and Codicier Hriak represented the Raven Guard. And of the Iron Hands Legion, there were only Domadus and Pergellen. Ever since the evacuation from the Istvaan V killing fields, there had been no contact with any other Legion force. Over the course of a few weeks, as events played out, Numeon's warriors saved the mortal Sebaton. After intense scrutiny and the invasive psychic scrying of Codicier Hriak, the archaeologist revealed that he was the mysterious individual known as John Grammaticus, a human operative of the mysterious xenos organisation called the Cabal, and had been genetically altered by them to become what they referred to as a "Perpetual", a being who was capable of regeneration and therefore was effectively immortal, much like the Emperor of Mankind.
He had been tasked to come to Traoris to obtain a relic from the ancient ruins of a fortress built by Chaos Cultists millennia ago. Within the fortress was buried a spear, though not a spear as such. This so-called "spear" was a piece of fulgurite, a fork of lightning crystallised in rock. The sublime artefact had been formed from the infinite power of the Emperor when he annihilated the servants of the Ruinous Powers in millennia past. The Dark Apostle hoped to obtain it in order to utilise the divine power within to ascend to Daemonhood. Grammaticus also informed Numeon that the relic had something to do with the Salamanders' Primarch Vulkan, but as to what, he could not say. Though initially distrustful of the strange mortal, Numeon relented, and attempted to help Grammaticus escape off-world.
The remaining Loyalists were being hunted by the relentless Word Bearers Huntsman, Barthusa Narek, a servant of the Dark Apostle Elias, as well as the Chaos Cultists of Traoris. Over the course of making their way towards Traoris' lone spaceport, many of the surviving Legionaries were killed. The Raven Guard had hidden their Thunderhawk gunship within the lightning fields located on the high peaks that surrounded the spaceport. While some of the surviving Loyalists futilely attacked the spaceport in order to draw the bulk of the encroaching Word Bearers away, Numeon, Grammaticus and Codicier Hriak made their way towards the hidden gunship. Unfortunately, Narek and two of his fellow Word Bearers followed them, having tracked the Raven Guard's psychic spoor. The Raven Guard willingly sacrificed himself as he confronted the encroaching Traitor Marines. As Numeon went to assist Grammaticus, the mortal utilised a laser Digital Weapon and fired it into one of Numeon's retinal lens, burning out his eye and searing his face beneath. The trauma of it put him on his knees.
Half-blind, he snatched for the human. Grammaticus took the fulgurite from Numeon's scabbard, deftly avoiding the Salamander's grab. Before the human departed, he wanted to know only one thing, did Vulkan truly live? The mortal believed that he did. Suddenly, the Pyre Captain convulsed as he was shot by a Bolt Pistol from behind. Grammaticus froze in place as he was confronted by the Dark Apostle Elias himself, who stood on the lowered ramp of the gunship. Without warning, a tear in reality appeared before them, the form of Erebus stepping forth. Elias thought that his master had come to help him achieve his ascension. Handing over the fulgurite relic, Erebus lashed out with the lightning spear and slit the other Dark Apostle's throat. Elias sank to his knees, dying, unable to staunch the grievous wound from the god-weapon. Erebus had killed his former servant for attempting to betray him. Erebus then ordered Grammaticus to take the relic, making no attempt to stop him. Cautiously, the human took the proffered relic and departed Traoris in the lone gunship.
Regaining consciousness despite his severe wounds and the loss of his right eye, Numeon attempted to reach the Fire Ark which had miraculously survived this far, but was instead captured by another company of the Word Bearers.
Imprisoned on board of the Demagogue, a Hunter-class Destroyer belonging to the fleet of Dark Apostle Quor Gallek, and tortured over several months by the Dark Apostle's lieutenant -- a daemon-possessed Word Bearer that answered to the name of Xenuth Sul. Numeon's mind was stretched to its very limits and beyond. It became quickly apparent that the Unburdened sought information on the whereabouts both of the fulgurite stone -- the esoteric weapon created by the Emperor's divine power -- and of the traitor Barthusa Narek, which had been tasked with retrieving the fulgurite but had since betrayed his Legion for unknown reasons. Artellus Numeon witnessed first hand the depths in which the Word Bearers had sunk as the Demagogue resembled more a flying sacrificial altar for Xenuth Sul and Quor Gallek to conduct their unholy blood-rites, than a warship of the Legiones Astartes. Fortunately for Numeon, the Demagogue and its sister-ship, the Dark Sacrament, were attacked by a Strike Cruiser of the Ultramarines Legion later identified as the Defiance of Calth.
The Defiance of Calth’s attack having disrupted whatever blasphemous ritual had allowed Quor Gallek to manifest himself onboard the Demagogue, Numeon succeeded in freeing himself from the restrains chaining him to the sacrificial altar and although very weak, he decided to seek out revenge and retrieve Vulkan's sigil from the dead hands of Xenuth Sul who had taken it from him. Freed, Numeon was surrounded by the corpses of Loyalist legionnaries which were already dead. As he looked around the grim abattoir, he encountered one survivor of the Iron Hands who was had been mercilessly tortured and brutalised by his Word Bearers captors. Numeon ended up killing the grievously wounded Legionary as a final act of mercy, promising him that he would make the Word Bearers pay, before seeking out his chosen target. Meanwhile, the Dark Sacrament was burning as the Ultramarines of the "Red-marked" company, led by their charismatic and battle-hardened leader, Sergeant Aeonid Thiel, had also boarded the Demagogue. Discovering the sacrificial altars within the torture cell, Sergeant Thiel quickly realized that one of the prisoners had escaped. Thiel led his squad for the bridge, realizing that whoever had been imprisoned, would likely seek to settle their score with the commander of the ship. Having scavenged a Bolt Pistol and a Combat Blade from dead Word Bearers, Numeon had thus far managed to head to the bridge unopposed, but was now blocked by a Legionnary in full battle-plate standing guard in front of the bridge. Half-naked and ill-equipped, Numeon prepared himself for a futile, if glorious, charge when the Word Bearer was killed by disciplined bolter-fire from Thiel's strike-team. Storming the bridge on his own, Numeon found Xenuth Sul alone and prepared to confront him, when Thiel and his Ultramarines interrupted him, seized Xenuth Sul and retrieved Vulkan's sigil without a fight. Numeon was then transferred to the Apothecarion of the Defiance of Calth to have his wounds attended to, while the ship made its way to the heart of Ultramar, to Magna Macragge Civitas and the Fortress of Hera, were Vulkan's body had been entombed since his death at the hand of Bartusa Narek.
During the shorty journey, something akin to friendship quickly developed between Aeonid Thiel and Numeon. The Ultramarines' Sergeant informed Numeon of the events that had taken place since the Battle of Calth, and of the struggles the Realm of Ultramar now faced and of Roboute Guilliman's initiative to declare Terra as having fallen and the Primarch's proclamation to begin Imperium Secundus. More importantly, he told Numeon of Vulkan's apparent madness following his month-long torture at the hands of his former brother Primarch, Konrad Curze -- the murderous Primarch of the Night Lords -- and his Primarch's eventual death. Despite this dire news, Numeon refused to believe in Vulkan's demise, convinced that Vulkan lived, and might ultimately still be restored to life. However, Thiel did warn Numeon that the Ultramarines had Vulkan's presumed killer in custody and that their new prisoner, Xenuth Sul, would soon suffer a similiar fate.
Upon reaching Macragge, Numeon discovered that he was not the only son of Vulkan to have reached the homeworld of the XIII Legion, nor were the Salamanders the only shattered Legions present on Macragge -- delegations of Iron Hands and Raven Guard were also present, as were lone warriors of the White Scars and even the Space Wolves Legions. But supreme amongst the Loyalists stood the triumvirate of Ultramarines, Dark Angels and Blood Angels -- the legions of the founders of the new Imperium. While Numeon's return was celebrated with due rejoice, the sad certainty of Vulkan's death overshadowed the reunion between Numeon and his brothers. Almost upon arrival, Numeon demanded to be taken to his Primarch's resting place. Escorted by two of his brothers, Numeon reached the vault where Vulkan's body had been laid to rest in an ornate golden casket, only to find that the Primarch's mortal remains had mysteriously vanished. Neither Numeon nor the honour guard standing vigil around their Primarch had seen or heard anything, which only served to deepen the mystery of the Primarch's true state.
Almost immediately, search parties from the Ultramarines most elite troops, the Invictus Guard, were despatched to cover the entire fortress and city, but in the initial phase, the Salamanders were purposefully kept from joining the search. It would take a personal audience of Numeon -- rightly regarded as the de facto Legion Master of the Salamanders Legion, being the sole surviving senior officer of the XVIII having been saved from the black sands of Istvaan V -- to sway the mind of both Lord Guilliman and that of the new Emperor, the Primarch Sanguinius of the Blood Angels. Numeon argued his case with charisma, and although he failed in convincing the gathered three Primarchs of Vulkan's return to life, the Salamanders were permitted to search for their lost Primarch. Their efforts would however, largely be in vain. Nevertheless, this episode marked a decisive turn of events for the sons of Vulkan, firstly because the enterprise they showed in questing for their missing Primarch served to strengthen and renew the bonds of brotherhood between these scattered survivors and secondly, because more and more of these legionaries were now looking to Numeon for guidance and leadership. Some of the legionaries had even started believing in Numeon's mantra, "Vulkan lives," that their Primarch may indeed still live, but this new uplifting spirit was soon sorely tested when Titus Prayto, amongst the most senior Librarians of the Ultramarines, revealed to Numeon and his closest advisors the full and horrible truth about their Primarch's arrival on Macragge; that Vulkan had truly died upon arriving on the Ultramarine homeworld and had miraculously come back to life shortly afterwards to battle against Night Lords murderous Primarch, Konrad Curze, but also that the trauma he had experienced had bereft Vulkan of his sanity. Ultimately, Titus Prayto revealed a final secret that Roboute Guilliman had not shared with Vulkan's sons -- that the man behind Vulkan's murder, the Word Bearer, Bartusa Narek, was imprisoned within the Fortress of Hera and that Xenuth Sul had also been transferred there.
Numeon ultimately grew to the task of leadership he had never had desired, to lead what remained of the XVIII Legion. As an exterior symbol of his new responsibilities, Numeon was presented with a new suit of Power Armour, a Salamanders' forged suit befitting of a Legion Consul, and armed with the very best weapons at their disposal. Chaplain Var'kir had relinquished his ornate Bolt Pistol, the bronze-chased and serpent-headed, Basilysk, while Sergeant Zytos presented the Legion Master with his own sword, an artificer-wrought Chainsword forged from the teeth of the mighty Nocturnian salamander Draukoros. Thus armoured and armed, Numeon would lead his brothers on their first mission -- the interrogation of Bartusa Narek.
By the time a Thunderhawk gunship was summoned to take the small party to the Eastern Keep of the Fortress of Hera, pandemonium had broken out. Unknown to his captors, Xenuth Sul had been one of the dreaded "Unburdened," the elite demonically-possessed warriors of the Word Bearers Legion, which he had now utilised his unnatural powers to free himself, and gone onto rampage through the prison facility. The sacrifice of the Demagogue and the Dark Sacrament, his own capture and transfer to the Eastern Keep, had all been done willingly, so as to get closer to his intended target, the renegade Bartusa Narek, from which his sombre master, the Dark Apostle Quor Gallek, hoped to learn the secrets and powers of the fulgurite stone. In company of Aeonid Thiel and one of his Red-marked, Numeon raced after Xenuth Sul to confront him, but the Unburdened was faster, and reached Narek's cell first. Thiel, one of his warriors and Numeon stormed the cell to confront the Word Bearers Legionary inside the cell, only to realise that they were confronting Xenuth Sul and not Bartusa Narek. Revealing his true demonic nature, Xenuth Sul attacked the Loyalists, knocking Thiel unconscious and killing his companion. Numeon lashed out with his new blade, Draukoros and severely wounded Sul, but the blade remained trapped in the daemonic flesh of his opponent, effectively disarming him. Numeon was forced to fall back and utilise his secondary blade -- an Ultramarine Gladius -- to desperately fight for his life. Xenuth Sul pressed his advantage and sought an easy kill, but hesitated when confronted with Vulkan's Sigil, which gave the arriving legionaries comprised of the Salamanders Zytos and Var'kir and two Ultramarines guards more than enough time to rake the Unburdened with deadly bolter fire. Hurled back by the deluge of shells, Xenuth Sul staggered, giving Sergeant Thiel enough time to regain his senses, and launched another attack. Hard-pressed by both Thiel and Numeon, Xenuth Sul was finally vanquished when Artellus Numeon retrieved Draukoros from its unholy flesh and beheaded the foul creature.
Bartusa Narek's escape resulted in a renewed city-wide search, but as for the search for the Primarch of the Salamanders, both parties of Ultramarines and Salamanders returned empty-handed. With their only lead on their Primarch's whereabouts now lost to them, the surviving Salamanders gathered together in council. The new brotherhood of the sixty-six surviving sons of Vulkan took the name of the Pyre and now, more than ever, looked to Numeon for guidance. Narek's escape and the disappearance of their father's body left them precious little reason to stay on Macragge, and most of them desired to undertake the perilous journey back to their home world of Nocturne. But most of these survivors of the XVIII Legion refused to be treated as a mere tool of propaganda for the Ultramarines' new Imperium. However, Numeon overwhelmed by grief over the repeated loss of his Primarch, refused the position that was offered to him and isolated himself to mourn in one of Magna Macragge's former cemeteries. Seeking solitude, Numeon instead encountered the Primarch of the Dark Angels, Lion El'Jonson, the new Lord Protector of Imperium Secundus. Far from trying of convincing Numeon to remain on Macragge, the Lion confessed his doubts regarding the fall of Terra and reminded Numeon of his duties as the new Legion Master of the Salamanders. Still reluctant, Numeon answered him that he had neither desire, nor claim to that title, upon which the Primarch of the First Legion answered that Numeon's was the only true claim. Although their causes might have seemed lost or futile, they were still warriors of the Imperium and their oaths and honour demanded that their quest should nevertheless be accomplished. Left alone with his thoughts and broken dreams, Numeon wandered in the cemetery until he encountered a honourary statue of Ferrus Manus, the slain Primarch of the Iron Hands Legion. Denied his vengeance and single hope, Numeon let his bitterness flow, but was struck by silence as his eyes fell on another statue -- there in the shadows, sitting upon a marble throne was Vulkan's body.
Reunited with his Primarch, Numeon's convictions grew strong -- Vulkan would be restored -- not on Macragge, but on their home world. The Salamanders would bring Vukan's body back to Nocturne.
The Odyssey of the Charybdis
"We are the Pyre, and we must endure... for Vulkan."
- — Sergeant Zytos addressing the gathered survivors of the Salamanders Legion
With the miraculous recovery of their Primarch's body, the Salamanders soon went forward with their plans and departed Macragge to attempt the perilous voyage to Nocturne. Under normal circumstances, this would already have been a long and arduous voyage, but since the Ruinstorm, the immense warpstorm that was ritualistically summoned by the Word Bearers on Calth, warp-travel had proved erratic at best and deadly at worse. The Ruinstorm was not only dangerous because of the powerful warp turbulences it had brought with it, but because it occluded the light of the Astronomican, and thus, rendered Navigators practically blind, which successfully impeding all warp traffic. Macragge was the only known exception to this as it had been -- for lack of a better word -- "lit up" by the xenos artefact known as the Pharos, located beneath the largest peak on the world of Sotha. As Nocturne lacked both the light of the Pharos and that of the Astronomican, the Salamanders' quest to reach their home world was not only inherently dangerous, but would also likely prove to be fatal. It was no surprise that Roboute Guilliman appeared reluctant to let the Salamanders so easily depart Macragge and his new Imperium.
However, Roboute Guilliman's position had been severely weakened by the inability of his most elite warriors both to recapture the fugitive Bartusa Narek and to relocate the corpse of his slain brother. Furthermore, Macragge and Ultramar still needed rebuilding and on a purely strategic matter, the sixy-six Salamanders would hardly make a difference. Leaderless, the Salamanders had been easily subdued, but with the emergence of Artellus Numeon as their new Legion Master, the Salamanders’ reputed stubborness would prove difficult to overcome. In a private audience with the Lord of the Ultramarines, Numeon made it clear that the Salamanders intended to leave Ultramar, with or without Guilliman's blessings. Although he would try to convince Numeon to stay on Macragge, in the end Guilliman would let the Salamanders depart unhindered.
The Charybdis was a venerable vessel, a Battle Barge, and more importantly than her size and the sheer power of her formidable arsenal, the Charybdis was a survivor. Never would she be considered beautiful or majestic. War had branded her as surely and indelibly as any fire-born. Despite her aesthetic imperfections, the Charybdis did have something going for her. She was unyielding. Few ships of the XVIII Legion escaped the atrocity at Isstvan V. Her flanks were scored and dented. Burns marked most of her dorsal aspect. Gouges in her hull had been sealed and resealed, then patched with ablative armour. She was scorched and beaten, battered and bruised, but like her Legion, the Charybdis endured. Though her previous captain had also died above Istvaan V, her new bridge crew under Shipmaster Kolo Adyssian and Lieutenant Arikk Gullero, though young, were both experienced and battle-hardened. Guilliman had offered to despatch ships to escort her to the edge of Ultramar, but Numeon had refused, and so the Charybdis would begin her journey and brave the dangers of the Immaterium alone. Shortly before her departure while Artellus Numeon was still contemplating the ship that would take him back to Nocturne, the leader of the Pyre is joined by Aeonid Thiel. Like his Primarch, Thiel did not believe that Vulkan could rise again, but in Numeon he saw a worthy successor for the Lords of Drakes -- a strong leader for a broken Legion.
Despite the lack of armed escorts the beginning of the Charybdis’ voyage was without incident. On the edge of the Macragge-system the Salamanders encountered evidence of where a major naval battle had taken place, leaving an immense debris field through which the Battle Barge had to navigate to reach the system's Mandeville Point. At the heart of this desolation lay an gargantuan ship-wreck, vasty superior in size to the Gloriana-class Battleship -- one of the dreaded vessels of the Word Bearers' -- an Abyss-class Battleship. As the Charybdis was clearing the debris field they received an Imperial distress-code emanating from a civilian fuel depot designated as, "Rampart," which had come under attack by a vessel of the XIV Legion, the Death Guard. Closing with the the depot, the Charybdis identified the enemy vessel as a Gladius-class Light Cruiser, the Necrotor, which had already launched landers to assault the civilian station. This placed the Salamanders in dire situation -- although the Charybdis immensely outgunned the Necrotor, the Salamanders’ vessel was woefully undermanned, leaving it vulnerable to eventual boarding actions. However, Zytos and Xathen would not readily let a chance such as this -- to exact retribution on those who had betrayed their Legion on the sands of Istvaan -- pass. Further communications also revealed the presence of an unknown Space Marine operating alone on "Rampart" and opposing the Death Guard. Despite being more than likely outnumbered, the Salamanders organized a landing party which would be led by Artellus Numeon. Both Sergeants agreed upon this course of action, as Numeon had been standing vigil over their Primarch's body and mourning him ever since their departure from Port Hera.
Xathen and Zytos would not risk the full-complement of Astartes aboard the Charybdis, and so, merely twelve legionaries in a single gunship, the Draconis, would make the descent to aid the beleaguered civilians. These twelve would however, include Numeon, both Xathen and Zytos, Epistolary Ushamann and Techmarine Far'kor Zonn, a powerful strikeforce. Using his long repressed psychic gifts, Ushamann screened the station beyond telepathically, confirming the presence of the unknown Astartes and the Death Guard's usual brutality, which in all likelihood had released toxic agents inside Rampart. However, overwhelmed by the psychic link, Ushamann began to lose control, prompting actions from another Legionary who knocked him out as a matter of precaution. Thus deprived of perhaps their most powerful asset within their small group, the Salamanders reached Rampart. Just before landing, Xathen and Zytos exchanged their opinions on Numeon's ability to lead. While having fully recovered, physically speaking, Numeon had failed to step forth and take command of operations or assume true leadership as both sergeants had hoped. This blooding on Rampart would not merely be an act of vengeance, it would be the anvil upon which Artellus Numeon would be broken definitely or reforged in the fire of battle.
Setting foot on Rampart, the Salamanders found the landing zone desolate, with no Death Guard present to challenge their approach. Xathen and Zytos hopes were almost immediately deceived as Numeon stepped down and left command to Zytos. Hiding his anger as well as he could, Zytos ordered his squad to split into five-men combat squads, a novelty for the XVIII Legion which almost always had deployed only en-masse since their reunification under Vulkan in the Great Crusade. However, each and every Legionary present had been a survivor of Istvaan V and was by then well used to such guerrilla tactics. Since entering the station proper, the Salamanders had discovered traces and evidence of some toxic or viral agents being utilised by the Death Guard. A long-standing rivalry had always existed between the Death Guard and the Salamanders, both being reputedly the most resilient Legion, but Vulkan had always forbidden the use of such horrors such as Phosphex, dirty bombs and chemical warfare -- domains in which the Death Guard had always excelled. Fully ignoring the depths to which the Death Guard had fallen, the Salamanders initially simply believed to be facing a Destroyer-cadre. Advancing further into the complex, Techmarine Zonn, who had stayed behind, voxed ahead that he had found the crews of both Death Guard gunships dead, killed by precise head-shots of mass-reactive shells through the canopy of their Thunderhawks. Whoever opposed the Death Guard on Rampart was quite the marksman. Having still not encountered the enemy, the Salamanders reassessed their position, closing on the main generatoria of the facility where the survivors would without doubt be located. The Death Guard's methods of war had always been deliberately slow, mercilessly grinding their enemy into utter destruction.
Encountering the enemy at last, the Salamanders fall upon the Death Guard rearguard, a single, seven-men squad, which went down fighting. Initially held back by heavy weapons fire of a Volkite Culverine, the Salamanders doused the entire corridor in cleansing flame. After Sergeant Zytos had clipped the enemy weapon carrier, Numeon led the charge, uttering his personal battlecry, "Vulkan lives!" Numeon struck two legionaries down with Draukoros and Basilysk, and engaged a third before the rest of the Salamanders could reach the hand-to-hand combat. Easily dispatching a Death Guard Legionary with a swing of his Thunder Hammer, Zytos saw the sole unengaged Death Gaurd Legionary grab for a bomb at his waist. Warning Numeon of the impeding danger, he shoulder-charged the Death Guard he was struggling with, into the path of his comrade, who absorbed a great deal of the blast but left him alive. It was only then that Numeon realised that he was now surrounded by a cloud of toxic and acidic vapours, eating away at his armour's hermetic seals. Although less close to the blast, Zytos' armour registered similar damage, the deadly vapours having easily been able to kill the entire squad in the limited confines of these corridors, Zytos had no other choice than to give the order to burn the toxic miasma. Again Vorko stepped forward, dousing the entire corridor in cleansing flames, only this time the blast was directed against their captain.
The Salamanders Legion claimed their name from the hugely powerful predators of their home world Nocturne that resided in the planet's fiery depths. Their hides are extremely resilient and almost impervious to flames and it is customary for the Legion’s officers and elite troops to hunt down and kill such a beast as a rite of passage and to wear the beast's hide as a token of valour. As captain of the Pyre Guard, Artellus Numeon had also participated in these rites, however, his equipment had been irremediably lost on Istvaan and Traoris, meaning that he no longer had the fireproof protection of his noble drake-hide. As the horrified Salamanders looked upon their leader, now entirely surrounded by flames, few doubted that they now witnessed the funerary pyre of Artellus Numeon. The Salamanders thought they had roasted their own commander alive. But to their astonishment, Numeon's voice could still be heard on the squad's vox channel, invoking Vulkan's name, followed by silence. As the fiery inferno abated, Numeon's bent form could be seen, clutching Vulkan's sigil in his hand. The servos of Numeon's armour had been seared shut and the proud drake-green livery had been burnt away and replaced by soot. His helmet was a ruin while in some places his armour's ceramite was bare and glistened with heat, but ultimately Numeon had somehow survived. As the Salamanders were about to rejoice, a Death Guard Legionary attacked from Numeon's flank, clenching their captain's throat with his hands and tried to suffocate him. Numeon grasped for the gladius at his side that Sergeant Thiel had gifted to him on Macragge, and rammed the weapon deep into the Death Guard's skull, thus ending the fight. Galvanised by this new miracle, the Salamanders pushed on.
Having been forewarned by their comrades in the corridor, a small detachment of Death Guard had been ready to receive the onrushing Salamanders, confining them for the time being to the role of spectators: three Aegis Defence Lines had already been overrun by the fourteen remaining Legionaries of the XIV Legion, which marched unimpeded through a deluge of las-fire and solid slugs, their Power Armour impervious to such weapons. Yet the Death Guard had not gone unbloodied, as attested several dead legionaries brought down by precise Bolter-fire. Their would-be ally could be seen firing from one of the gun towers -- a grey Legionary in plain armour of an unknown but undoubtedly advanced pattern. With Vorko impeeded by his leg-wound, having been clipped by the Death Guard's Volkite Culverine in the corridor, the four remaining Salamanders split up in teams of two and used the wreckage as cover to close in with the XIV Legion's rearguard. The four Legionaries opposing them, already compromised and burning from Vorko's sustained fire, went down swiftly, stalling the Death Guard's advance which now needed to split their attention between the Salamanders and their quarry. The "Angel" -- as they had taken to call him -- laid down suppressing fire to further disturb the reorganising Death Guard. Vorko switch to his side-arm to lay down suppressing fire as well, the enemy now beyond range of his flamethrower. The loss of his right eye had impeded Numeon more than he had readily anticipated, as the loss of depth perception severely compromising his ballistic skills. However he had always excelled in close combat and only needed his brothers to allow him to close with their enemy. Following Numeon, the Salamanders quickly went for hand-to-hand combat where their superior weapons would make the difference, Zytos smashing the enemy with his thunder hammer and Numeon slashing with Draukoros. The grey Legionary also charged in, killing two Death Guards in quick succession, his fighting style brutal and not elegant -- a pugilist more than a fencer.
With the Death Guard defeated, Numeon finally stepping up as the group's leader asked the "Angel" for his name. The situation was tense, Numeon still aimed Draukoros at the grey Legionary's heart. On closer inspection, Numeon realised that the Legionary's armour was not totally bereft of iconography as they had previously thought, but was adorned with the rune of Malcador the Sigilite. Raising his hands in surrender, the Legionary presented himself as Brother Kaspian Hecht, and that he was indeed one of Malcador's Knights Errant. With matters sufficiently resolved, to allow a plan of evacuation for Rampart's survivors, the combat squad was joined by Xathen's group, which had been exploring another part of the station and had thus missed the battle. This reunion was however cut short by Techmarine Zonn's urgent communication, advising the landing party that a third gunship of the Death Guard had appeared and were now trying to destroy the Draconis. Quickly redeploying, the Salamanders had little hope of seriously damaging the gunship, as they carried no heavy weapons, but a lucky shot from Xathen's Bolter blew out the port-side turbine which considerably destabilized the gunship. Almost on cue, the Draconis’ rear ramp lowered and Epistolary Ushamann stepped out, his armour illuminated by blue-green witch-fire. Directing his fingertips at the looming gunship, he relased a serpent of eldritch fire against the vehicle, gutting the gunship before its fuel-reserves ignited and the gunship exploded mid-flight. The Death Guard had had no time to evacuate the striken craft, and those who had survived the explosion and the fall were quickly despatched by the Salamanders. Ushamann, exhausted from the use of his powers, fell to his knees, explaining to the onrushing Zytos that he had beheld a vision of their Primarch compelling him to rise and aid his brothers. "Vulkan lives..." he told them, and none present, doubted his worlds, even Kaspian Hecht was convinced.
Into the Ruinstorm
As gratifying as the eradication of the Death Guard had been, the encounter on "Rampart" had put an unwanted light on the Charybdis’ voyage. As the Salamanders had feared the landing ships of the Death Guard had been able to transmit a distress signal which had not only reached the Necrotor, but had been relayed by the light cruiser to its overlord, Commander Malig Laestygon. Unknown to Numeon, other traitor legionaries had also been tracking the Charybdis’ progress -- the Word Bearers Dark Apostle Quor Gallek -- the infamous "Preacher," in whose service Xenuth Sul had been. Both traitor forces had by now taken interest in the Charybdis and were more or less aware of its precious cargo.
A further unknown variable had been introduced in the equation in the form of Kaspian Hecht, the mysterious "Angel of Rampart." As a precautionary measure, Kaspian Hecht was interrogated by the suspicious Sergeant Zytos, but to little avail. As a Knight Errant of Malcador the Sigilite, Kaspian Hecht acted with sanction of one of the Imperium's highest authority, and was also able to testify that Terra still stood -- however he was not at liberty to divulge the details of his mission. With little other way than to take Hecht along with them, but most importantly, it was a situation in which Artellus Numeon took absolutely no part. Almost as soon as stepping back on the Charybdis the former First Captain had taken up his isolation, watching over Vulkan's casket. Tempers flared between Numeon and Sergeant Zytos regarding Numeon's lack of leadership and his fixation on Vulkan's rebirth, the two Astartes briefly turning to fists instead of words. Numeon's faith in Vulkan's rebirth had begun to tell, as slowly more and more warriors of the Pyre were convinced of their inevitable success at the end of their voyage. This optimism was, however, soon crushed when the Charybdis’ first warp-translation failed. Unknown to the Salamanders, Quor Gallek had worked foul rituals to further disturb the Warp and track the Charybdis. Despite the measures taken by Epistolary Ushamann, the Charybdis’ Navigator was almost immediately overwhelmed.
This unexpected warp-drop however severely crippled the Charybdis, stripping it of Void shields and depriving it of its weapon, sensors and propulsion systems.The Charybdis was effectively drifting defenceless in space, which likely motivated the crew of the Necrotor -- which had stayed close by -- to launch a boarding assault. Worse yet -- the warp-drop had also opened every door on the Battle Barge, releasing Kaspian Hecht from his confinement in the interrogation cells. As the Pyre was mobilized to defend their ship and Primarch against the Death Guard, command naturally fell to Sergeant Zytos, Numeon being reluctant to leave the Primarch's side. Firstly Zytos went to confront Kaspian Hecht which had, as suspected, left the interrogation cell. Putting up no fight, Hecht convinced Zytos to let him help with repelling boarders for his continued freedom.
Where as the Imperial Fists are undoubtedly considered as the masters of void-warfare, every Legiones Astartes is trained in this matters and excels at boarding actions. The Death Guard were no exception to this. Their assault, when it came, was well organised, targeting the key compartments of the Charybdis. They did not however, count on the Salamanders' tenacity. In the Enginarium, Techmarine Far'kor Zonn had established a tight line of defence which successfully held back the first assault. When the Death Guard advanced further in the corridors, they triggered a cluster of proximity mines which effectively sealed off the Enginarium. Thus secured, Zonn could now work unimpeded on restoring the power to the ship. Meanwhile the true target for the Death Guard's assault was identified when Numeon confronted a five-man Seeker Squad of Death Guard trying to reach Vulkan's casket. Ambushing the first one, leaving him impaled on Draukoros, and killing a second one with his ornate Bolt Pistol, Basilysk. Using the impaled Death Guard as a meat-shield to cover himself from the return-fire of the remaining Death Guard. Raising the alarm by vox, Numeon retreated back into the cargo-hold, Basilysk on full-auto, wounding a further Death Guard Astartes before it clicked empty. With Draukoros still impaling the first Death Guard, this left Numeon effectively unarmed save for Vulkan's Sigil, which while shaped as a hammer, made for a poor weapon. Looking out from cover upon hearing no sound of pursuit, Numeon realised the two remaining Death Guard had put the time to good use erecting a Teleport Homer.
In a sudden flash of blinding light, a monster appeared amidst the cargo hold, an aberration somehow resembling one of the dreaded Deathshroud Terminators which made up Primarch Mortarion's personal Honour Guard, a Cataphractii-armoured Terminator equipped with twin Lightning Claws, monstrous and likely degenerated. The monster charged, heading for the casket. Numeon did likewise, hoping that Vulkan might rise when threatened, or rather, that he would be able to wield the Primarch's legendary warhammer. The two remaining Seekers were forgotten, the Terminator became the sole object of Numeon's concerns. Reaching the sanctum before the lumbering Terminator, Numeon valiantly stood in its path, the Sigil gripped firmly in his hand. The Terminator-abomination charged. Numeon stood his ground, calculating his blow for maximum effect, but prepared to die in defence of his Primarch. The Terminator roared, charging Numeon, which swung the Sigil bellowing his Primarch's name. Seconds before his blow connected, the Terminator was struck by a high impact mass reactive bolt round in the back, blowing out a chunk of ablative armour. Another bolt round from behind blew out the Terminator's knee servo, making his footing unsure -- the Terminator stumbled, eyes still fixed on the arrogant Salamander which stood in his way, ready to crush him. But then the Sigil struck the Terminator's solar plexus, crackling the Ceramite, caving in the breastplate and shedding adamantium as easily as skin. Mesh, muscles, bones and organs were destroyed by the blow as the Terminator's mass abruptly came to a standstill. The monstrosity was dead before it even hit the floor. No blood marred Vulkan's Sigil -- a true miracle. Zyos who had witnessed the entire scene stood still in fascination, whispering words he had not dared voicing until them, "Vulkan lives..." Lightning quick, Kaspian Hecht came out of the shadows, loosing two shots which missed Numeon by a small margin before killing the two Death Guards Legionaries sneaking up on him from behind, thus saving the First Captain's life.
With the Primarch's chamber now secured, the boarding assault had been held in check. Soon afterwards, Far'kor Zonn signalled from the Enginarium that power had been restored, enabling the Charybdis to strike out at the much smaller Necrotor and annihilate it with a single broadside. Thus forged anew in the fire of their first battle, the sixty-six members of the Pyre gathered together in solemn communion within the Igneum -- the Hall of Relics of the Charybdis. There the fate of the grey Legionary, Kaspian Hecht was debated. Hecht had surprised them with an unusual idea -- instead of looking for the Pharos or the light of the Astronomican to guide them through the Ruinstorm, the Charybdis should look to itself, and the hope and faith radiating from its crew, to forge their own path through the terrible Warp Storm. While Hecht's loyalties were still being discussed, Numeon joined the gathering and settled the matter, formerly recognizing Kaspian Hecht as their fellow battle-brother. The Death Guard's assault on the Charybdis had Numeon finally accept the leadership bestowed upon him by his brothers -- until Vulkan's return, Numeon would lead the warriors of the Pyre. He would take up the mantle of Master of the Legion.
The Clutches of the Neverborn
The Necrotor’s destruction, while celebrated as a small victory, was more importantly a spiritual rebirth for the warriors of the Pyre. However,unknown the Salamanders, the Necrotor’s destruction also heralded the Charybdis’ darkest hour. Recognition would soon dawn upon the Salamanders -- the enemy wore many faces and disguises, and they had only seen the most human of it.
Prior to its destruction, the Death Guard ship had informed its choleric master of its attempt to destroy the Battle Barge, thus keeping Maelig Laestygon updated to the Salamanders' position. Worse yet, the baleful warleader of the Death Guard was in league with the Dark Apostle Quor Gallek, which had also been following the Charybdis’ trace - even within the Warp. The vile rites conducted by Xenut Sul and his dark master had created an untraceable psychic bond between Quor Gallek and Artellus Numeon, the valiant captain becoming a beacon for the Word Bearers to follow. Through other rituals and the sacrifice of many prisoners, Quor Gallek succeeded in invoking apparitions aboard the Charybdis which soon began to manifest themselves in greater numbers. Only when these apparitions began to massacre the human crew and sow fear amongst them was the threat fully acknowledged as a true attack. Quor Gallek fully knew that the Salamanders' honorable nature would compel them to act -- to try to protect their human serfs and those refugees they had taken aboard, thus dispersing their already meagre fighting force. With search-parties patrolling the ship's innards, the Dark Apostle would then be able to infiltrate the Charybdis and reach their objectives. The Dark Apostle patiently awaited for the Charybdis to reenter the Warp before springing his trap.
As always, when not pressed by urgent matters, Artellus Numeon was meditating over the Primarch's casket. Chaplain Var'kir interrupted Numeon's meditations, curious about the previous miracle that had occurred, when Vulkan's Sigil had enabled Numeon to vanquish a Terminator-armoured foe, and thus save his and the Primarch's lives. Despite this miracle, Var'kir still doubted that Vulkan truly lived, and Numeon's unshakable faith in the contrary rested ill with him. Departing from Vulkan's funerary chamber, Numeon headed for the bridge to join the search parties, leaving Ran'd and Orhn, two battle-brothers of the Firedrakes to stand vigil over their Primarch's body. The search-effort had been coordinated by Sergeant Zytos, despatching teams of Fireborns to the Charybdis’ cursives, but it would be Techmarine Far'kor Zonn and Legionary Igen Gargo that would first encounter one of these apparitions. Overseeing the Charybdis’ workcrews repairing the ship, they were alerted by the discomfort of the human serfs and set out to track what they tentatively identified as "ghosts." As reports came in, it soon appeared that the ghost being tracked by Zonn and Gargo was not the only warp manifestation aboard the Charybdis. One of these ghosts had attempted to kill Chaplain Var'kir during his divinations, trying to push the Chaplain into the flames. The attempt on Var'kir's life had only been thwarted thanks to the timely intervention of Kaspian Hecht. Meanwhile the search team consisting of the few remaining Pyroclasts was also assailed by one of these ghosts which altered the mind of Pyroclast Sergeant Xathen, leading him to attack and kill two of his companions. Other apparitions were also reported from the ships lower decks until one of these ghosts manifested itself on the bridge.
As the apparitions grew more powerful and manifested themselves as true daemons, the Salamanders tried to fight back, preferring hand-to-hand combat, as Kaspian Hecht had warned them that their Bolters would be quite useless against these creatures of the Immaterium. With the comms falling silent, Zytos and Numeon rushed to the bridge, only to discover the slaughtered remains of the bridge crew. The bridge had become a abattoir, with dead crew members hanging from the ceiling by the ropes of their own intestines. One of the daemons still lingered there. It manifested itself in the form of a human female child wearing a pristine white dress and oily black hair that covered her face, "You shouldn't be here," she teased the Astrtes, using the voice of the dead crewmen. She mocked Numeon about his misplaced faith in Vulkan's rebirth but quickly vanish without engaging in combat. The only survivor of the bridge crew confirmed that the Charybdis’ captain, Solon Adyssian, had left the bridge earlier, but was nowhere to be found. The shipmaster had also pursued one of the apparitions, believing her to be the ghost of his dead daughter. Upon suspecting the truth, Adyssian had fled, which probably saved his life. Fortunately for him, his panicked flight had led him straight into Epistolary Ushaman, whose psychic abilities were the best weapons against the Neverborn.
With the warriors of the Pyre dispersed among the Charybdis’ corridors and cursives, the Word Bearers struck; their ship -- the Monarchia -- emerged from the Ruinstorm alongside the Salamanders' vessel. Chaplain Var'kir sought to confront them, but being unable to raise the ship's complement of armsmen on the vox, the Salamanders were woefully outgunned. Yet the Word Bearers did not press their advantage, retreating along the corridors, keen to avoid prolonged firefights. It would be the Knight Errant, Hecht, that would recognize the Word Bearers true intent -- to destroy the Geller Field generators and simply overrun the Charybdis with daemons. But the Word Bearers' haste was for another reason. Quor Gallek, who personally led the assault, could feel it quite distinctively -- something was approaching through the Warp -- something big and powerful, but more importantly, something he had not summoned.
In another part of the ship, Numeon and Zytos were following another apparition, yet one they had not anticipated -- Vulkan was walking the decks of the Charybdis! Mesmerized, both Salamanders followed their would-be Primarch, convinced that the miracle of Macragge had finally occurred yet again. Yet something bothered Numeon... Zytos simply murmured, "It's not possible," before hurrying after Vulkan. But still, something didn't sit quite right with Numeon -- a strange smell, like that of burning metal. Considering the apparition of Vulkan more carefully, Numeon discovered that the fulgurite stone was missing -- a small detail Zytos had missed. As Numeon's doubts increased, he noticed that the smell was coming from his own armour. Vulkan's Sigil was blazing hot, burning his armour's paint. This made Numeon stop, just as the vision changed. Vulkan was no longer standing alone in the corridor, but another figure stood behind him -- his tormentor, Konrad Curze, the bloody-handed Primarch of the Night Lords. Distressed, Zytos began to run, shouting Vulkan's name to warn his father of the looming danger. Meanwhile Numeon's fingers brushed the Sigil and the lie unravelled. Numeon grasped Basilysk and let loose a triple spread of bolts, but before the detonations brought Zytos back to his senses, Vulkan's expression changed from one of beckoning to one of fearful dread. Instantly Zytos slowed down, before Numeon's volley made him stop entirely, barely avoiding falling into a gaping chasm in the corridor's floor. Looking up from the trap, Zytos saw that Vukan had vanished, replaced by the apparition of a giggling girl -- the very ghost they had been tracking. He quickly recognised the enemy for what it was -- a daemon. Tapping into the vox-network, Numeon and Zytos learned of the search for Solon Adyssian and quickly joined the search effort. Still unaware of the Word Bearers' presence aboard the Charybdis, Numeon and Zytos headed out.
Meanwhile, in yet another part of the ship, Techmarine Zonn and his companion Igen Gargo tenaciously defended the Geller Fields generatoria against the approaching Word Bearers. Led by Quor Gallek himself, and his right-hand -- Master-of-Arms Degat -- the Word Bearers, vastly superior in number, kept pushing ever forwards. Unable to collapse the corridor behind them, the two Salamanders both fought tooth and nail. One Word Bearer succumbed to their defensive fire, but quickly the Salamander's ammo count was running out, and bloody hand-to-hand skirmishes soon erupted. Many Word Bearers were killed by the two valiant Fireborn. For a moment, it seemed that the Salamanders might hold the generatoria, but then another fighter emerged from the crimson-clad throng. Master-of-Arms Degat -- a giant of a warrior that had fought and been bloodied in the World Eaters' fighting pits -- attacked Igen Gargo, causing the loss of his shooting arm. With his bionic arm, however, Gargo successfully pressed the Word Bearers officer back, shattering his breastplate, and giving Far'kir Zonn ample opportunity to step in. The Techmarine and officer continued to duel, but despite his enhanced resilience, Zonn simply was no match for Degat. When Fa'rkir Zonn's plasma cutter refused to fire, his fate was sealed, and the victorious Degat soon brandished Zonn's severed head as another grisly trophy. With only Igen Gargo remaining, the Word Bearer’s victory seemed assured, until a high precision shot blew out a Word Bearers Astartes' head. Kaspian Hecht had successfully retraced his step and found an alternate route to the generatoria to help Zonn and Gargo.
Not far from there, Zytos and Numeon’s timely arrival saved Adyssan’s life, blasting at the daemon with their Bolters. In vain Adyssan had tried to protect the unconscious form of Epistolary Ushamann, reciting passages of the Lectitio Divinitatus to keep the daemon at bay. Fortunately for him Numeon and Zytos had not come alone but was leading a congregation of four Salamanders including Zytos. The daemon quickly disappeared, leaving the mortals and Astartes alone. Mindful of Adyssan’s security, Numeon decided to pursue Ushaman’s original plan, to bring the captain to the Epistolary’s sanctum where protective wards would hopefully keep the daemons at bay. Suddenly the vox-network came back to life and contact reestablished with Chaplain Var’kir, who quickly informed Numeon of the Word Bearers’ attack and the dire situation the Charbydis was now in. Hecht’s intervention had given the Salamanders the time needed to gather fresh forces. By now Pyroclasts were engaging the Word Bearers, but as Igen Gargo dragged himself out of harm’s way, a small detail sprang to his eyes; the Preacher leading the assault was nowhere to be seen. Quor Gallek had discreetly left his warriors and made his way to Vulkan’s funerary chamber. His plan was to retrieve the fulgurite stone - the Emperor’s power made manifest - which was still embedded in the Primarch’s chest. Where Artellus Numeon had failed, Quor Gallek was sure to succeed, for he had in his possession a weapon of terrible power: the Asirnoth Blade - fashionned from the bones of the slain Primarch of the Iron Hands, Ferrus Manus.
The One-Eyed King
"And as the heavens weep tears of flame, you enter the mountain to find your sanctuary and your doom. The last image of your existence is obscured by pyroclastic cloud until eventually nothing remains but a shadow and a memory."
- — The Prophecy of the One-Eyed King
Nocturne is a land of myths and mysticism which has brought forth many philosophers and prophets. During the Charybdis’ voyage several incidents related to the obscure prophecy of the one-eyed king. Firstly, the Charybdis’ Navigator experienced a vision and began uncontrollably mumbling the one-eyed King's phophecy, then, the unconscious Epistolary Ushamann scratched a line of the prophecy into bare metal, "Unearths Kabar." Nobody truly knew what to expect, save perhaps Quor Gallek, the Dark Apostle.
The one-eyed king manifested himself in the middle of the fierce fighting aboard the Charybdis. Those psychically gifted amongst the Astartes had been feeling it for several minutes now: a vast bow-wave in the Aether, the coming of an immensely powerful being. The one-eyed king’s coming interrupted the fighting in every quarter of the ship: Xathen, the Pyroclast Sergeant bent on redemption after his previous failings was dueling the Word Bearer know as Degat after having slaughtered six of his men. With kaskara-sword and long serrated knife he had been battling Degat’s roaring chainaxe, loosing ground and his weapons until a well-timed shot from Techmarine Zonn’s retrieved Plasma Pistol let the Word Bearer fly backwards. But just as he aimed his new weapon for a perfect headshot, Xathen’s prey disappeared, pulled back through the Warp. Quor Gallek who had reached Vulkan’s body after having dispatched of Kaspian Hecht, was likewise interrupted in his attempts of retrieving the fulgurite stone, his Asirnoth Blade allowing him nonetheless to escape with a small fragment of the stone. Sensing the onrushing bow-wave, the Dark Apostle annulled his spell and transported himself and his warrior back onbard the Monarchia through the Immaterium. Such was the power of the approaching entity that the daemons - which had by now been revealed as Daemonettes of Slaanesh - fled the Charbydis’ corridor where they had surrounded Artellus Numeon, leaving the former First Captain to face this new threath alone. Then the one-eyed king manifested himself. His mere presence had caused the Salamanders’ enemies to flee, leaving the warriors of the Pyre disorientated but ultimately victorious. None truly knew what was happening, and as time stood still some of them perhaps wondered what had happened; save for one brave one-eyed warrior which still stood resolute before the one-eyed king and would thus learn the truth of it : Artellus Numeon. Still clenching Draukoros in his fist, Numeon starred defiantly at this new apparition, more terrible and powerful than those he had already faced. But where the ghosts and daemons had been an unknown enemy to him, Artellus Numeon knew fully well whom he faced now: the omnipotent One-Eyed King whose arrogance would cause his fall, the Crimson King of the XV Legion - Magnus the Red, Primarch of the Thousand Sons.
It became quickly appearant that this was not the true Primarch of the XV Legion but a simulacrum, a mental projection across the Immaterium much as the daemons were. Despite his best efforts, Numeon automatically fell to his knees, his defiance only strong enough to stare at the Primarch. As equerry to his Primarch and father, Numeon had of course met Magnus the Red, but their encounter had been brief and many years ago; yet Numeon remarked that this Primarch somehow seemed diminished. Something had obviously happened to Magnus, for his temper seemed up and the air around him shimered with heat radiance. The Primarch-apparition was talking to itself, conductinga sombre monologue whch Numeon did not dare interrupt. This ultimately proved to be wise, as both the Salamanders’ and the Primarch of the XV’s fates were balanced on a razor’s edge; waiting to see which way they would fall. Magnus finally turned his attention to the still kneeling Numeon, scolding him for his carelessness and his ignorance of the realm they sailed and the dangers it carried. Sensing that nothing could be gained by duplicity, Numeon did not try to hie the fact that they were utterly lost, and that without Magnus’ help they would surely perish. Numeon argued that if Magnus had truly come to destroy them, he would have already done it, thus implying that the Primarch’s presence had other reasons. Was he too covinced that Vulkan still lived? Clearly the Charbydis’ odyssey did carry meaning, otherwise the Primarch would not have appeared at all.With this in mind, Numeon confessed his faith in Vulkan’s ressurrection, that his father and Primarch could be restored through the Circle of Fire. So he did the only sensible thing: he asked for Magnus’ help.
The Primarch apparition did not flinch or seemed surprised at this request, rather amused. Magnus asked him why he should help them at all before taunting Numeon. In a mere matters of seconds the Primarch’s apparition changed, his flashing red mane of hair disappeared to be replaced by a shaven onyx-black head, his armour grew additional layers out of thin air, changing from ruddy bronze to emerald plate, his entire stature became bulkier and more powerful and even his cape suddenly grew the scales of a Salamander’s hide, suddenly a perfect simulacra of Vulkan stood before Numeon - even his voice had become Vulkan’s. This transformation infuriated Numeon to the point of finally being able to overcome his previous paralysis, standing on his two feet Numeon recused the apparition, knowing fully well that this was not his father. "You are not him..." Numeon said, "This is a lie". The apparition did not take this rebuke kindly, seizing Numeon by the throath and pressing him onto the wall of Vulkan’s funerary chamber. "A lie, is it?" the apparition countered with Vulkan’s voice, yet with so much venom in it that the true Primarch would have never said it. Still choking Numeon the apparition changed yet again, drake-like fangs erupting from its mouth where a forked tongue slithered forwards to taste the air; its eyes became more reptilian and when it blinked a nictating membrane covered the would-be Vulkan’s eyes. Lastly the false Primarch’s skin was covered in scales resembling more than ever a true dragon of Terran mythology. Fighting the unconsciousness that dared to take him, Numeon answered the apparition, that he was not Vulkan and that maybe he was not even Magnus. This prompted the apparition to let go of him and resume its inital appearance. Restored Magnus the Red towered again over Numeon taunting him with his truths: that he had died on Traoris and been ressurected himself by the will of Magnus, that all the miracles he had witnessed had not occurred through Vulkan’s power, but through his. Yet again Numeon refused to believe these lies, he had been touched by Vulkan’s might and he would see him restored; this was nothing more than an other test of his faith and resolve, one that he would pass. The apparition asked him one final question, what would he sacrifice to see Vulkan restored?, upon which Numeon answered that he would give everything to reach Nocturne. Displeased by this answer, stating it was not what he had asked, the apparition surrounded itself with light and send the Charbydis crashing back into reality.
The translation into reality was not a smooth one, and it was almost miraculous that the Charbydis did not suffer more severely from it. With their tethers to the Immaterium severed, the daemons quickly vanished leaving the Salamanders bloodied, diminished and confused. Numeon himself was thrown widely along the cargo hold, hitting unsecured items mid-flight with enough force to dislocate his shoulder; hadn’t it been for the assistance of Kaspian Hecht which had quickly recovered his wits, his injuries could have been much more severe. The Word Bearers had left in disarray shortly before Magnus’ arrival and found themselves in a difficult position as well. The Reaper’s Shroud, Maelig Laestygon’s vessel had caught up with their own ship and was undoubtedly even now calculating firing solution on the Monarchia to ensure Quor Gallek’s compliance. Despite Degat’s misgivings of being kept from a promising duel, the Word Bearers‘ mission had largely succeeded for Quor Gallek had retrieved a sliver of the fulgurite stone, and even ascertained that the traitor Barthusa Narek was present onboard the Charbydis, mascarading as Malcador’s Knight Errant Kaspian Hecht. Certain that Vulkan was already dead and with little reason to doubt that Magnus the Red would not destroy the Salamanders himself, Quor Gallek assumed that he had reached all his objectives. Yet, Magnus’ intent had been quite different: not only was the Charbydis still alive and warp-capable, but the Crimson King had allowed the vessel to overcome the Ruinstorm, and to the Salamanders’ great surprise they found themselves not in the vicinty of Macragge, but that of holy Terra. Numeon tentatively suggested that the reason for this was a last gesture of fraternity, Magnus and Vulkan - however different - having always been close.
Sacred Soil of Nocturne
"Sons and daughters of the Emperor. Terra stands. Heed my words, the words of Rogal Dorn, Lord of the Imperial Fists and the Emperor's appointed Praetorian. Terra. Still. Stands. We endure, unbowed and defiant against the treachery of Horus. The Emperor beseeches you, return to the Throneworld. All loyal Legions must return to the Throneworld immediately. Terra stands. Ave Imperator!"
Contrary to what many within Imperium Secundus believed, Terra still stood. When the Charybdis reemerged into reality it almost immediately picked up the rallying cry issued by Rogal Dorn which was being broadcasted continuously from the Imperial Palace itself. This profoundly affected the Salamanders as they had all been led to believe that the war had already been decided. Artellus Numeon quickly grasped the implications of it; that Guilliman's faulty information had three entire Legions, all loyal sons of the Emperor, sitting idle at Macragge whilst Terra grimly awaited the inevitable assault. This put the Salamanders in an uncomfortable position: duty demanded that, even severely depleted as they were, they joined the Emperor's forces on Terra. Strategic intelligence would dictate for them to try to reach Macragge and inform the three Loyalist Legions of Terra's continued defiance -- honour demanded something else. Honour demanded them to venture on, to turn their backs on Dorn's plea, to forsake their duty to the Emperor and continue to Nocturne. With responsibilities resting solely upon his shoulders, Numeon retreated yet again to the cargohold to stand vigil over Vulkan's body. Pondering over Magnus' words, Numeon had an epiphany -- the Unbound Flame, a potent symbol in Nocturean mythology that Numeon kept seeing, was not as he had been believing a sign of doom, but a symbol of rebirth. Fire and death. Deathfire, Nocturne's sacred mountain. Strengthened by this new revelation, Numeon convened an emergency meeting with Chaplain Var'kir and instructed him of his newfound wisdom -- Vulkan could be restored if only they brought him back to Mount Deathfire and let him rejoin the Circle of Fire. With this piece of the puzzle now added, Var'kir used the Ignax's ancestral art of pyromancy and was fully convinced.
A gathering of the surviving warriors of the Pyre was conducted under the twin-authority of Numeon and Var'kir on the cargo deck of the Charybdis. There they remembered the dead in accordance with the tenets of the Promethean Cult, adding coal to a burning brasero. While the coal quickly burned to ashes, Artellus Numeon addressed the gathered warriors. He told them that they had been severely depleted -- barely half of those that had set out from Macragge still lived -- but that he didn't see defeat in them. What he saw was a brotherhood renewed and united, a Legion with a new purpose -- to sail forth to Nocturne and resurrect their beloved Primarch. One by one the gathered Salamanders inscribed the Nocturnean sigil of resurrection upon their foreheads, using the still hot ashes of the burning coal. All save one -- Rek'or Xathen, the Pyroclast Sergeant. Turning to Var'kir whom he had always confessed of not believing in Numeon's faith, the Sergeant refused to indulge in this madness, claiming that their duty was to Terra and the Emperor, not the dead corpse of their father. To return to the Ruinstorm would be the death of them, he stated, believing his ally Var'kir would back him up, only to be disappointed when Chaplain Var'kir claimed he had seen a path in the flames of his solitorium. Under the pressure of his brothers, Xathen followed suit but quickly broke the circle of gathering once matters were concluded. Thus did the Salamanders decide of their fate: they would face the storm again and through faith and brotherhood reach Nocturne.
The only way for the Charybdis to enter the Warp successfully was through her Navigator, however the brush with a Primarch's conscience, the terror of the daemonkin invasion, and the effort of fighting off the effects of the Ruinstorm had considerably weakened her. With their translation to Terra completed, Circe, as she was called, had fallen into an almost catatonic state. It was a mystery to no one aboard that she was most likely dying. Yet, the success of their ultimate voyage rested upon her frail shoulders, and despite the misgivings of the ship's captain and her husband, Circe consented into sacrificing herself to let them reach Nocturne. Ironically, they would now do what Kaspian Hecht, Malcador's Knight-Errant, had suggested to do in the first place -- to focus not on the light of the Astronomican or their destination, but on themselves -- a ship buoyed by hope. Thus did the Charybdis make for the system's Mandeville Point, every one on board fully understanding that this was going to be their final journey, one way or the other, and that it was going to be a journey that would take them to the gates of hell itself.
The Salamanders prepared as best as they could. Every warrior was armed and armoured to defend the ship. Their main efforts would focus on holding the bridge and the generatoria, where Igen Gargo, the former black-smiter had erected defensive positions alongside what remained of Techmarine Zonn's combat servitors and engineseers. The remaining Pyroclasts had joined him there, all save for their illusive sergeant which was stalking the ship's cursives like a caged animal. Epistolary Ushamann and Chaplain Var'kir had had gathered on the bridge in company of Artellus Numeon and Sergeant Zytos. They would bear the main effort, as Var'kir would devise a path to Nocturne through his craft of pyromancy, while Ushamann would pry the information from Var'kir's mind and transmit them mentally to the Navigator, who was secured within her chambers. The bridge's security doors had been lowered and the remaining Salamanders, all at full battle-readiness, had been gathered one deck further down, ready to rush to wherever the enemy might manifest itself. Renewing their common belief that Vulkan lived, the Charybdis reentered the storm. Its ferocity was unabated and yet the Charybdis ploughed its way through the tides of the Warp. For weeks on end, the Salamanders' vessel crawled closer to its destination, the strain telling on the faces of Ushamann and Var'kir, and the nerves of the mortal crew.
As they neared their destination, Numeon, who had been standing an ever-vigilant watch on the bridge, noticed that something was amiss. Gesturing to Sergeant Zytos, both of them closed on Ushamann, believing the Librarian was possibly possessed by one of the daemons of the Warp. He would have to kill the Librarian to prevent a possibly daemonic incursion through the Librarian's mortal shell. Just as Numeon was about to strike him down, he stopped, as Ushamann's head lurched back violently, as if pulled by a powerful cable, his eyes spilling cerulean light. Through gritted teeth, and a face disfigured by the telltale signs of agony, Ushamann gritted two words, "...Not... me." As if on cue, the doors to Circe's novatum opened, the seals and locks posing no hindrance to the chamber's new occupant. The frail form of the Navigator stood proudly erect in the doorframe, with a strength she had never possessed in life. Almost gliding onto the bridge, a well-known siren song accompanied her. The Salamanders aimed their weapons at once at the possessed Navigator, but could not fire, as a lone human figure stood between them and their target -- Solon Adyssian, the Charybdis’ shipmaster. Slowly he approached the Unburdened, the daemon residing in the mortal shell of his wife, which had unveiled her warp eye to kill them all. "My love," the thing beckoned to him. "You are not my love," Adyssian told the thing wearing his wife's flesh, before releasing the pin of the Krak Grenade he had been holding. The explosion shock the bridge, annihilating both the shipmaster and the possessed Navigator, throwing deadly shrapnel across the bridge, and killing one of the Salamanders guarding the entrance. Numeon had the presence of mind to shield Lieutenant Esenzi from the blast, safeguarding the Charybdis senior officer's life. Bereft of the Navigator's help, Ushamann had to take the full strain of guiding the Charybdis upon his shoulders. The powerful frame of the Epistolary quickly withered before Numeon's eyes, as the baleful power of the Warp ground at him with every passing second. Despite his inevitable fate, Ushaman smiled despite facing his imminent demise, for the Salamanders had finally reached their destination -- Nocturne.
As the tumultuous red orb, Nocturne, filled the viewport, Artellus Numeon's gaze fell over the devastated bridge. Nothing remained of Epistolary Ushamann but a heap of ashes -- neither bones nor the ceramite plates of his armour remained. Chaplain Var'kir had also payed a high price for the Salamanders' success, for his eyes had been reduced to two blackened orbs. This spared him the baleful sight that now presented itself to Zytos and Numeon -- two warships emerging from the Warp -- the smaller one bearing the hell-red livery of the Word Bearers, and the other, a far more massive, resplendent in the dirty white drab colours of the Death Guard. With the heroic sacrifice of Shipmaster Adyssian, command of the Charybdis fell to Lieutenant Esenzi, whom immediately took her predecessor's soot-blackened and blood-stained seat. With natural authority, she quickly took command of her makeshift bridge crew -- most of them being retasked servitors from other segments of the Battle-Barge, and identified the approaching ships as the Reaper's Shroud and the Monarchia. By all evidence the Death Guard had caught up with the Charybdis to avenge the Necrotor. Almost as soon as they had fully translated into reality, the Reaper's Shroud launched a large number of boarding craft, most of them being Thunderhawk gunships. Facing possibly five hundred enemy legionaries, everybody aboard the Charybdis’ bridge knew that they were doomed. Together, the Traitor forces of both the Monarchia and the Reaper's Shroud formed a cordon between the Battle-Barge and its intended destination -- a last ditch effort to thwart the Salamanders' efforts to reach their homeworld. Realising that she would die no matter how the battle would swing, Lieutenant Esenzi dared to suggest what none of the Salamanders gave voice -- to sacrifice the Charybdis and every soul aboard in a desperate effort to buy Numeon enough time to convey Vulkan's corpse to Nocturne's surface. The now blind Phaestus Var'kir was determined to remain aboard and help defend the bridge to his dying breath. Acknowledging Lieutenant Esenzi's and Var'kir's final request, Numeon honoured both their sacrifices and made his way to the cargo bay. All the remaining warriors of the Pyre quickly joined Numeon, with the obvious exception of Var'kir.
Demise of the Charybdis
When the Charybdis reentered realspace, Kaspian Hecht had confided himself to one of the ship's solitoria. His encounter with Quor Gallek had considerably shaken him. The growing sense of unease he had felt had become more acute, a sense of not being himself -- or rather, of not knowing who he was. His skin, his hands and even his face seemed unfamiliar to him, as if they belonged to someone else. Taking his polished knife, Hecht made a cut on his cheek, fascinated by the lack of blood flowing from the wound. Digging deeper he found a second skin beneath the face -- his true flesh. It showed tattooed Colchisian cuneiform. Realization dawned upon him: he was Barthusa Narek. Yet he was also Kaspian Hecht, the true Knight of Malcador having somehow imposed a part of his personality in Narek's psyche. As he true self reasserted itself, Re'kor Xathen confronted the Word Bearer, uncaring of where Narek's true loyalties lay. Xathen only had one intent -- to kill the Legionary whom he perceived as a traitor in their midst. Even when Narek stated that the Emperor's power had changed him and led him to betray his Legion, Xathen would not be swayed. Confident in his own fighting abilities, Narek readied himself to fight his erstwhile brother, when Lieutenant Esenzi's voice cut over the ship's vox. She quickly informed the crew all that had transpired -- Adyssian's death, the fact they had reached the end of their voyage and the emergence of the Reaper's Shroud and the Monarchia, and that they were about to engage. Baffled, Xathen had a second-long hesitation, more then enough time for Narek to rush the Salamander and knock him unconscious. Fearing the return of his former superior, Degat, Barthusa Narek began to look for a way to escaped the doomed ship.
In the Charybdis’ launch bays, a lone gunship awaited its precious cargo -- the last remaining twenty warriors of the Pyre and their dormant Primarch. Vulkan's gilded coffin slowly glided aboard the waiting Thunderhawk on its anti-grav impellers. Mu'gara and Zarak, Xathen's two last remaining Pyroclasts, had volunteered to stay behind and defend the Charybdis. None had seen the brooding Pyroclast Sergeant since his earlier departure, and with time short at hand, none could spare the time to leave and look for him. With the ship's reentry into reality the mortal crew of the Charybdis were able to move freely again, all of them bearing the Nocturnean sigil of resurrection on their brows in echo of their masters. Numeon exchanged a final word with Chaplain Var'kir. As much as it pained every warrior on board the gunship, their mission had to succeed. The Reaper's Shroud and Monarchia opened fire on the Charybdis, their broadsides and lance strikes designed to strip void-shields and cripple their vessel, not destroy it. The true killing blow had already been launched -- assault craft quickly closing with every passing moment. Once the Salamanders gunship had successfully cleared the Charybdis’ starboard launchbays, Lieutenant Esenzi considered her options. Her mission was a simple one -- focus the enemy's attention on the Charybdis in order to distract the two Traitor vessels from the clandestine departure of the lone gunship carrying all of the Salamanders' hopes. Her ship was doomed and she fully well knew it -- for she had even suggested it herself -- but she would be damned if she would not go down without a fight. With the Charybdis taking heavy hits, Esenzi ordered all available weapons to target the Monarchia. The smaller cruiser quickly succumbed to the Battle-Barge's brutal barrages. However, by the time the enemy boarding parties reached the Charybdis it was already being gutting from the inside. The assaulting legionaries made short work of the valiant armsmen, and by the time the Monarchia succumbed to a huge fireball, the boarders had already broken through sixteen choke-points and barricades.
Quickly it became apparent that the enemy still believed Vulkan aboard the Charybdis, the assault parties having split-up and continued to conduct a sweep of the cargo decks, while other parties reached for the bridge. The boarders had not reached the Charybdis unscathed though, as several gunships had been shot down and some parts of the mighty Battle-barge had intentionally been flooded with coolants or Promethium overspill which would be ignited when the enemy drew near. Some where cooked alive and other were blasted clear of the ship and left to freeze in the void. This strategy undoubtedly hurt the Charybdis, but it did not matter. Nothing mattered anymore. In a desperate gamble to earn Numeon and his brothers a little more extra time, Esenzi ordered all power diverted to the plasma drives, crashing through the shattered remains of the Monarchia in an attempt to reach and possibly ram the looming Reaper’s Shroud. With the enemy only two decks beneath her, the shipmistress covertly clutched a little pendant of the Aquila and began muttering prayers for Numeon and his companions. Those Salamanders that had gathered on the bridge were too busy readying themselves for the fight ahead to care. Many decks below, the Traitors finally turned on each other -- truth be told -- it had only been a matter of time. Degat, who had been leading a joint party of both Death Guard and Word Bearers in the quest for Vulkan's casket, had found the cargo deck emptied of its precious cargo. In a fit of rage he betrayed his allies before they could vox their master Maelig Laestygon. The Primarch or the Emperor's power made manifest, didn't interest him, for his goal was far more personal -- to kill the betrayer Barthusa Narek. Dismissing his own warrior, he began to prowl the cargo decks in search of his quarry only to be confronted by Xathen who was also hunting for Narek. Recognising each other, both warriors holstered their weapons and drew their swords to resume their earlier duel. Degat was halfway down the corridor when he realised his mistake. Narek had used Xathen as live bait and quickly appeared behind Degat, blowing out the Word Bearer's brains with a high precision shot. Despite Xathen's desire that he do so, believing the Word Bearer a traitor, Narek refused to take a second shot at the Salamanders, disappearing into the darkness and leaving Xathen to rush for the bridge.
Aboard the Reaper’s Shroud, word had finally reached Laestygon that Vulkan had been exfiltrated by the Salamanders and all auguries were retasked with finding the fleeing remnants of the XVIII Legion. They quickly identified the fleeing Thunderhawk amongst a flock of saviour pods from the Charybdis, and almost immediately fighters were launched to shoot down Numeon's transport. Infuriated beyond sense by this turn of events, Laestygon ordered all weapons to open up on the Charybdis without consideration for the lives of those warriors which were still assailing it. On the dying Battle-barge, the last chapter of the tragic story was being played out. Breacher Squads of the Death Guard were charging the bridge even as the Reaper’s Shroud launched its killing bombardment, killing Esenzi, her armsmen and the pair of Pyroclasts, before Xathen charged in and thus saved the life of Chaplain Var'kir. Though blind and missing one of his legs as it was blasted off in the brutal fight, the Chaplain had to lean heavily on the Pyroclast Sergeant in order to stand. In the Charybdis’ final moments, the Chaplain and the former unbeliever looked upon Nocturne’s orb and hoped that their sacrifice had allowed their brothers to succeed. Then the valiant ship at last broke apart and the subsequent engulfing fire consumed them.
However the Charybdis’ death did not mark the end. Believing the Salamanders’ strength destroyed on the sands of Istvaan, Malig Laestygon’s hand could not be swayed. He would kill Vulkan by any and all means and claim the Primarch's skull as his personal trophy. Despite Quor Gallek's warnings not to do so, the Death Guard ordered his warriors to prepare to assail Nocturne. This close to the Reaper’s Shroud, the Charybdis’ death throes had severely damaged the ship and killed dozens of warriors on board, even killing Laestygon’ second-in-command, which stood a scant few meters from him. Yet Laestygon did not relent. A pair of Fire Raptor Gunships and a Storm Eagle had closed with Salamanders’ craft and were opening fire on them even as they entered Nocturne’s atmosphere.
Battle For The Draconius Gate
Despite the pilot’s best efforts, the gunship was sent crashing down, the twin-linked Avenger Bolt Cannons mounted in the Fire Raptors’ nose making short work of the Thunderhawks’ armour. Five more Drakes were killed as shots shredded through the troop compartment before the gunship hit the ground in the Arridian Plaine. In the distance, a fimiliar silhouette stood on the horizon -- Mount Deathfire -- their ultimate goal. Yet the mountain was way too far away for any hope to reach it on foot. Three more Fireborn had not survived the crash -- amongst them the pilot -- and thus, the Pyre had been reduced to just twelve warriors. Luckily Zytos and Gargo were counted amongst the survivors -- Numeon as well, but their survival was only a question of minutes. Trying to make a run for it would only end with their pointless deaths, run down by the relentless gunfire of the descending Fire Raptors. Likewise, their lack of heavy weapons meant that they could not hope to damage the aircraft. All that remained was to seek cover in the ruins of their downed gunship and wait for their killers to set foot on Nocturne. Despite their dire situation and demorilisation that they face imminent death, the survivors of the Charybdis found some solace in that they would at least die on the soil of their beloved homeworld.
Extracting Vulkan's casket from the Thunderhawk, the Salamanders gathered for their a final last stand. One of the Fire Raptors overflew them, no doubt relaying their position to the Reaper’s Shroud’s mobilizing troops before turning back to make a strafing run. It's Avenger Bolt Cannons were cycling up as the gunship was suddenly hit by a missile which send the Fire Raptor to explode on a rocky wall. Three gunships, in the unmistakably green livery of the Salamanders Legion, rushed overhead, dispersing the Death Guard flyers which prudently retreated. From the lead gunship, a communication channel was established, the speaker identifying himself as the famed Nomus Rhy'tan, Lord Chaplain of the XVIII Legion and Keeper of the Keys of Prometheus. Quickly realizing the importance of this new arrival, Rhy’tan ordered his gunships to land to seek out Numeon who had likewise announced his identity across the vox. Stepping from the gunship’s ramp with his personal bodyguard of Firedrakes, upon meeting him, Nomus Rhy'tan clasped Artellus Numeon's hand in the old ways of warriors and quickly asked about Vulkan's condition. "He's sleeping," answered Numeon, confessing his belief in Vulkan’s possible resurrection. He told the Lord Chaplain of their hardships they had to endure to reach Nocturne. With the Reaper's Shroud descending into low orbit, time was short at hand and any lengthier explanation or tale of their adventures would have to wait -- war had come to Nocturne -- and no matter how severely depleted the ranks of the Salamanders Legion were, they intended to fight to their dying breath. To Numeon’s relief the Pyre soon found out that the venerable Chaplain had not waited for reliable information to act upon in regard to his Legion's status, but had heeded his own counsel and fortified Nocturne as much as he could. Several outposts, formidable in every aspect, had been erected to withstand just this kind of peril they were now facing, and the continued training of the Legion’s Neophytes meant that the Legion had almost 800 trained and armed warriors at hand. Legiones Astartes all, they could be quickly be gathered to man these formidable defences. Quickly gathering the survivors of the Pyre and Vulkan’s casket, the Salamanders embarked on the gunships and rallied to the closest of these new outposts, the Draconius Gate.
As Vulkan’s chosen regent, the task to command the defense of the Draconius Gate fell to Nomus Rhy’tan, Numeon wisely choosing not to challenge the Lord Chaplain’s authority. In accordance with Rhy’tan’s intentions the veterans of the Pyre were disseminated along the line so that the Nepophytes may benefit from their experience. Iden Gargo, the former artisan had joined the Techmarine Covenant that would attend the outpost’s void-shield generators, which only left Zytos and Numeon to accompany Nomus Rhy’tan to his command bunker. The Lord Chaplain hoped that by mustering the strength of his Legion at the Draconius Gate he would lure the Death Guard to attack them head on rather than ravage Nocturne’s civilian settlements. It was a tactic Numeon was sure would work because the enemy commander obviously still wanted to claim Vulkan’s body. The fight would be a grim one: barely 800 Salamanders, most of them having never seen actual battle, yet fought Traitor Marines against a likely superior but most importantly battle-hardened force of the dreaded Death Guard. Yet the Salamanders would fight on their homeworld, in immediate vicinity of one of their most sacred grounds and to protect their Primarch. Perhaps these elements would make a difference?
Faithful to their brutal method of war, the Death Guard began the battle with a prolonged orbital bombardment from the still-functionning guns of the Reaper’s Shroud. The bombardment was not a conventional one but had been comprized solely of vile virus-weaponry, flesh-eating bacteria and other deadly nerve-agents. While the shells themselves harmlessly exploded on the outpost’s void-shields, its deadly payload was not such easily dismissed. Most worlds would have died to such a bombardment, their armies reduced to slurry, their war machines to corroded and useless chunks of radioactive or contaminated junk, but Nocturne was not just any world, Nocturne was a Death World, a world ending life since it creation where only the hardiest of survivors endured. As soon as they were released the airborne poisons burned in contact with Nocturne’s volcanic atmosphere. Yet such was the deluge of shells that this was not enough and soon a bite-yellow miasma began to creep ever closer to the Draconius Gate’s outermost bunkers. Rhy’tan however quickly saw the danger for what it was and orderd the burners engaged: batteries of auto-flamers releasing an inferno that sanatized Nocturne’s surface for good. After twenty minutes of continuous burn, the Death Guard realized that their stratagem had failed and stopped he bombardment. Now the true battle could be joined.
As the Death Guard began to land their troops, the outpost's anti-air and orbital weapons exacted a heavy toll, shooting down some of the Death Guard's Fire Raptors and Thunderhawks while others crashed to the planet's surface, their turbines choked by the volcanic ashes carried upon Nocturne's hot winds. The Death Guard would however not be so easily denied, that much Numeon knew for certain. The Death Guard commander, the relentless Malig Laestygon, was determined to claim the honour of being the very first Astartes to truly slay a Primarch. As the Death Guard casualties mounted and their batallions gathered on the plaine, it quickly became apparent that the Salamanders were greatly outnumbered and outgunned. The XVIII Legion supported only three gunhips which hadn't even taken to air and there was no heavy armour support on the ground. Meanwhile, the Death Guard had deployed several armoured battalions they were justly famed for -- great formations of Land Raiders and Sicaran Battle Tanks -- capable of overwhelming the void-shields through their shere firepower. Yet the Salamanders stayed oddly inactive. Zytos did suggest trying to discreetly exfiltrate Vulkan’s casket to Prometheus, but Numeon didn’t consider it seriously for more than an instant. They had reached Nocturne and this story would end on Nocturne, so much he told Zytos before fixing the assembling Death Guard, waiting intently for Nocturne to show its true strength.
The landing zones chosen by the Death Guard accounted for the first casualties, as gunships and Drop Pods landed in magma-trenches or vanished in opening chasms. Some of the less fortunate were cooked alive within their own battle plate or their transports as these were caught in searing geysers of super-heated steam which erupted from Nocturne's soil. Any warlord trying to assault a Death World was a fool, even if that warlord was of the Legiones Astartes, but the Death Guard had always vaunted themselves on their tenacity and resilience and were confident in their eventual victory. It would just be harder fought than what they had initially anticipated. In contrast, the Salamanders knew fully well what dangers lurked beneath the ground and eagerly anticipated the moment the Death Guard would realise it. As the Death Guard's armoured battalions assembled, the seismic disturbance created by so many tanks awakened the aggressive fauna of Nocturne. Soon gnarlwyrms, urdrakes, basilysks, wyverns, drakons and targons spilled forth from their earthly domains and ran rampant amongst the Death Guard formations. The more massive gnarlwyrms charged the Sicaran and Land Raiders, their horns more than able to rip asunder the tanks armour, while the fire-breathing urdrakes burned legionaries and tank armour to molten slag. By now the XIV Legion's assault had been badly mauled, just as Nomus Rhy'tan had predicted.
Seeing the Death Guard beleaguered forces in disarray thanks to the monsters in their midst, Rhy'tan as overall commander of the Salamanders ordered the void-shields lowered and the Salamanders to charge. As last survivor of the famed Pyre Guard, Artellus Numeon was invited to join the Lord Chaplain amongst the Firedrakes, the very best of the XVIII Legion. Leading the couterattack from the fore, Nomus Rhy'tan and Artellus Numeon picked up speed and charged the Death Guard’s front ranks. As both formations were about to meet, sensing a turn in the tide of battles, the drakes of Nocturne let go of their prey, leaving a virtually disorientated and helpless Death Guard preciously little time to reorganise their ranks and receive their charge. From the Draconius Gate Thudd Guns shelled the Death Guard's rear lines to further disorganise the enemy while the charge hit home. The Death Guard’s front ranks were quickly overwhelmed, but the Death Guard would not be undone so easily, even when a Talon of counter-charging Death Guard Contemptor Dreadnoughts were brought down by disciplined fire from both Lascannons and Volkite Culverines, Mortarion's sons died fighting, weapons in hand. Overhead the artillery duel between the two opposing forces continued unabated until a large magma chasm opened up and swallowed a large part of the Death Guard's artillery-train. With the battle quickly turning in favour of the Salamanders,the only true treath remaining were the enemy commander -- Maelig Laestygon and his Terminator-elite. Still convinced he could snatch victory from the hands of defeat Laestygon announced himself in pompous fashion, but his angry diatribe was swiftly cut short in single-combat by Numeon. With their commander’s death the heart of the Death Guard's assault had been cut out and those that remained only faced utter annihilation. Soon Nocturne would swallow and destroy every sign of the Death Guard passage and the very name of the warlord who had believed he could conquer the Salamanders’ homeworld would be lost to time.
"Lord of Drakes, saviour of Nocturne, glorious son of the Emperor of Mankind, Vulkan, we commit you to fire.In the heart of the mountain you shall burn eternal, a beacon for those who remain, a reminder of you teachings and wisdom. Unto the Anvil, oh Lord of Drakes! Our father and Primarch!"
- — Lord Chaplain Nomus Rhy'tan, The Passing of Vulkan
With the Death Guard vanquished and Vulkan’s corpse safely returned to Nocturne, Artellus Numeon had o reason to believe that Vulkan would not be reborn. With Nomus Rhy’tan help the Lord of Drakes would finally be resurrected - of that Numeon was sure. However Numeon could not have anticipated that the respected Lord Chaplain would oppose him;it was not that Rhy’tan refused to conduct the sacred burial rites of the XVIII Legion, rather he did not believe that Vulkan would rise again at the rites’ end. As his pupil,Var'kir before him, Rhy'tan lacked the belief that Vukan's state was anything other than the eternal slumber of death. He had of course heard of the miracles witnessed by those few of the Pyre that remained, but did not believe them. The Circle of Fire’s lessons of immolation and rebirth were only spiritual, but by laying Vulkan to rest in the heart of Mount Deathfire, another leader could emerge -- Artellus Numeon, if he wished so. For the sake of their Legion’s future, Rhy'tan would not challenge Numeon's claim of leadership over the XVIII Legion, confident in Numeons abilities to federate and reforge the Salamanders. Hope still remained that those garnisons stationned on Gerreon and other places could be raised and called back to Nocturne. Numeon however declined the Lord Chaplain’s offer, in his eyes only Vulkan was fit to lead the Salamanders back into the war. Vulkan would live again.he invaders and brought Vulkan's body to the sacred ground beneath Mount Deathfire.
Despite his misgivings, Nomus Rhy'tan agreed to conduct the proper burial rituals for his Primarch for he was wise enough to see that the Legion -- or all that remained of it -- was in dire need of a sense of closure. So it came to pass, that the last sons of Vulkan -- by now fewer than 800 in number -- witnessed his passing. Each and every one of them had received the brander's mark that would commemorate the death of their Primarch. Armoured but unhelmed, their drake-hide capes fluttered occasionally in the heat, the Salamanders bore witness to the bier carrying Vulkan to his final resting place. Vulkan was born to the heart of Mount Deathfire on a bier of granite with Dawnbringer, his mighty warhammer, still clenched in his grip and the fulgurite spear that had claimed his immortal life still jutting from his chest, for none had been able to remove it. Ceremonial chains had been wrapped around the Primarch's arms, legs, torso and neck to bind his spirit to his body, allowing both to be consecrated to the flame. The bier advanced to the monotonous beating of hammers on anvils, and the gathered Salamanders struck their breast in unison. Before the bier, his head bowed in supplication, marched Lord Chaplain Nomus Rhy'tan. Reaching the mountain's caldera, Rhy'tan raised his fist and silence fell over the chamber before the Lord Chaplain started to recite the traditional verses in the old tongue of Noturne. A cadre of four Firedrakes gathered around their Primarch, holding him aloft while the chains that would let him descend into the heart of the furnace were pulled taut enough to hold him. With the final words of Rhy'tan's speech still ringing in their ears, Vulkan's body was lowered into the caldera. As the Primarch's body disappeared into the magma, the Salamanders daubed their fingers into burning ash and traced the Nocturnean sigil for rebirth on their bare foreheads. Then the Firedrakes let go of the chains and Nomus Rhy'tan destroyed the bier which had borne Vulkan this far with a strike of his mighty warhammer. Thus it was done -- Vulkan had been consigned to the fires of his homeworld. Minutes turned into hours, hours into days and still there was no sign of Vulkan rising.
After over a week of waiting, this turn of events sufficiently broke Numeon's spirit. As the next Time of Trials drew near, Numeon renounced his rank and position. Long had he been meditating over the words of Magnus the Red "How much would you sacrifice to see Vulkan restored?" He now had his answer. Stripping off his power armour and weapons which he both reverently put away in Vulkan’s golden casket, Artellus Numeon stealthily and secretely departed from his fellow legionaries. Wandering away into the burning ash wastes around Mount Deathfire, he offered himself as a final sacrifice so that his father and Primarch could be restored. Descending into one of the volcano’s magma vents, Artellus Numeon departed the world of the living, never to be reunited with his gene-sire again.
- Vulkan Lives (Novel) by Nick Kyme
- Deathfire (Novel) by Nick Kyme