"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. His ultimate fate following the events of the Horus Heresy is currently unrecorded.
"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 tine 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 body guard, 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 the like 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 were 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 darkling 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 dropship, 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 calibre. 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 as 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 unkown 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 devine 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 Grammitcus, 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.
Numeon's ultimate fate is not known in current Imperial records. It has not been conclusively proven whether or not he died on Traoris, or lived to fight against the servants of the Ruinous Powers another day.
- Vulkan Lives (Novel) by Nick Kyme