As soon as I lowered the picter’s viewfinder, I knew that I had captured something worthy of remembrance.
Even though the very structure of the Godless Faith reverberated under the weight of the firepower thrown against her sleek hull and the entire vastness of its primary launch bays drowned in the roar of returning gunships, I could not draw my eyes from the scene before me. The vastness of space lay distant and unfathomable beyond the hangar’s yawning bulkheads, but instead of the thousands of stars so familiar from the long voyage across the Ophidian lay a vastly different vista indeed. Tendrils and long strands of glittering stardust swayed across the background, dotted by a hundred flickering stars and illuminated, as if from within, by a heady, almost sensual glow. It cast my mind back to the quick, guilty picts I had shot of the dancer Mi’Leina as she performed her expressive interpretation of the “Ascent of the Phoenix”. In the same way her tender limbs had swayed and the glittering silk had fluttered before us, so did this first glimpse of the Phrygian Nebulae seem to dance before my eyes, haunting and enthralling in its almost perverse beauty.
Yet it was not this vista alone which had captured my attention, for into the hangar came the two last Thunderhawk gunships upon wings of roaring fire. Both crafts wore the blemishes of intense fighting upon their proud hulls, their bright purple livery torn by savage burns and pitted by countless shells, and yet they landed in perfect unison, unfazed by the violent thrashing of the great warship. The return of this last wing, despite the shame we had all felt since the order to withdraw came, sent ripples of tangible excitement through our little group of civilians and the human crewmen of the hangarbay alike. The reaction from the fifty odd Astartes were even more marked however. Near on every legionnaire present, whether clad in the purple or the pale, turned to face the lowered landing ramps, some rising to attention despite the damage they had sustained. And as the hissing hydraulic ramps came to a clanging halt, again in near perfect synchrony, a hushed whisper passed through the our little escort of civilians. I could not help but raise my picter once more, despite my instructions.
From the left-hand gunship strode four warriors, each boot falling as heavily and steadily as the brother besides him. They were all clad in the hulking suits of Tartaros warplate I had learned to recognize, yet their plain ivory and muted copper had been pitted and scarred by a hundred shots, splattered with old blood and blackened by the touch of vicious flames. The three legionnaires formed a line behind their sergeant as they stepped onto the deck of the hangar, two sets of archaic volkite weapons held at ease while the third warrior’s short-snouted flamethrower gave off an angry hiss of vented gasses.
However, all eyes fell upon their sergeant as he turned sharply and marched across towards his counterpart from the other Thunderhawk. Hydraulic servos gave of a teeth-clenching wheeze as he strode forth, the haft of his imposing scythe tapping a cold rhythm across the deck with every step while his heavily modified warplate hummed with archaic machinery. The pale warrior came to a halt before the sergeant clad in the flamboyant purple of the Emperor’s Children, his power armour so smeared with gore that the colour was hardly visible. For a long moment the Death Guard’s red lenses rested upon his counterparts murderous chainblade, a weapon every inch as fell as the manreaper he himself carried.
Then, with deliberate care, he slowly removed his helmet, affixed it to his hip before shifting the vicious warscythe over to his left hand. A pair of cold blue eyes, set in a sharp, gaunt face with skin as pale as milk, measured the other sergeant with a calm, inquisitive gaze before the pale warrior slowly extended a massive gauntlet.
He was offering a warriors grip.
“Son of the Phoenician. I am Davith Lamech, Sergeant of the 2nd Line Squad, 42nd Cohort, 1st Great Company of the Death Guard,”
His voice was shockingly soft for someone of his awesome stature, low and yet strong enough to carry through the now almost eerily silent hangar,
“My men were honoured to have fought besides yours… For you showed not only skill but also fortitude.”
Momentarily the silence seemed to me perfect, save for the staccato bark of a pict-recorder and the feverent scribbling of an auto-quill.
“May I ask your name…
Before I could hear the answer, even as Sergeant Lamech’s arm was held fully outstretched the pict-recorder was violently torn from my grasp by Foreman Zarr. He formally hissed at me as he brutally pulled me away, whispering curses onto the rats and filth of Lady van Dracken’s retinue ever as he dragged me off. In surprise, and a mad attempt at shielding my precious recorder I lost sight of the two warriors… Indeed the last I saw of the hangar deck was lady van Dracken’s elegant features, a mask of intense concentration and the ecstatic joy of an artist in the midst of their art. The auto-quill flew across the parchment… and I could not help but wonder what it was she saw…