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MUZZLES FLASHED. ANOTHER wave of the enemy fell.

The massed ranks of Guardsmen took another step forward, towards the enemy. Towards Chaos. Thats the spirit, men! Major Gedrin of the Calxian 3rd barked.

HE RECALLED THE day the first cultists had appeared. He remembered landing with the rest of his regiment on this Emperor-forsaken moon, the next target of the 937th Imperial Expedition Fleet. Everything had gone smoothly at the beginning, with solid areas of control established on each of the four major land masses. In fact, three continents had at least four or more settlements, most of which were easily expanding into cities; the fourth one, however, was mysteriously resisting any and all attempts of civilisation. Some colonists just disappeared overnight; others never managed to report an established settlement, and several never even reported landfall. No scout party that succeeded in getting off a first transmission back to its headquarters ever survived long enough to send a second. Not even a cry for help. Finally, a fleet of Valkyrie assault gunships, carrying a large force of Imperial Guardsmen and multiple armour units, had been despatched to find the true nature of the problem. They had found Chaos. The entire continent reeked of the taint of Chaos. Pools of blood and acid were scattered about, the rivers ran red, and most of what little actual water that could be found was rancid. Skeletons, decaying bodies, and live victims slowly dying of necrosis hung from crude wooden poles. A number of Guardsmen from previous expeditions had been found crucified; others had been drawn and quartered. Someone had discovered a large pit full of bones and rotting body parts and then reeled away, retchingmany of them didnt seem to be human, or had been horribly mutated. Instantly, the purge had begun. As was their duty to the Imperium of Man, the Guardsmen had faithfully started burning and destroying anything that had been tainted by the touch of Chaos. The crucifixes and bodies disappeared in a blazing inferno. The skulls too were purified by flame before being crushed and buried. Then the first cultists had appeared, and the cleansing had begun in earnest, quickly turning into a full-scale war against Chaos. A PITY THOSE cultists didnt stop appearing, thought Gedrin as he gave the wailing, mutated enemy another dose of shells from his boltpistol. The cultists were merely religious fanatics who showed more enthusiasm than skill in battle and were easily defeated, but for each one killed, 10 more seemed to rise to take its place. The screeching mob pressed ever closer, prompting Gedrin to spray another round at them. He swept his power sword in an arc; the message was clear: all who entered the killing zone were as good as dead. Unfortunately, the zealots werent too good at deciphering such subliminal messages. A grenade detonated at a distance where the psychological impact was

greater than the physical one, and he saw a few of his troopers, daunted by the unearthly yells, macabre appearances, and inhuman advance of the fanatics, begin to hesitate. Guardsmen, he ordered in their general direction, hold the line! His voice was almost immediately lost in the tumult of battle. In the name of the Emperor, you shall hold the line against the foul enemy! Advance! he bawled as he shot two of the fleeing cowards in the backs, and this time the soldiers were rallied by their majors cry. Several of them tossed hasty, abashed salutes in his direction, then racked their weapons and charged back into the fray, directing a hail of lasfire and bullets at the onrushing cultists. The ground was slippery with blood, and Gedrin saw some men actually using the heaped bodies of cultists for cover. The sight surprised him; they must have advance quite a distance to have gotten to even the first Chaos casualties. He paused to look behind him to see how far they had driven the mob back since the first strike at dawn, and was heartened to discover that not only had they advanced nearly 50 metres, but for every dead Guardsman there were nearly 100 cultist bodies. The warm feeling soon turned to ice, though, as he realized what that showed about the Chaos advantage of sheer numbers, and he turned back around. Just in time to dodge a blow that would have sent the upper half of his brain pan tumbling over the ranks of his men. A relatively small group of some 25 cultists had burst out of the mob and charged straight for Gedrin, firing blasts at random from a few laspistols and boltpistols. One or two Guardsmen were hit, but the rest of the troopers returned fire in a militarily organised fashion, ruthlessly cutting down a large number of the attackers. However, the cultistslost in fanaticism for bloodwere not daunted in the least by the hailstorm of firepower, and the survivors covered the remaining distance frighteningly quickly, all heading for the major. Gedrin swore and ducked the lead cultists blade, a wickedly long, serrated affair. As he dropped towards the ground, he brought his pistol up and fired two shots directly into the zealots ribcage, killing it instantly. The second cultist leaped forward, swinging a dagger in a two-handed vertical chop. The major stepped to the side, dodging the blow, and stabbed the wailing thing in the stomach with his sword. One of the Guardsmen took the opportunity to blast the fanatic in the face with his hellgun, and the impacts knocked the corpse right off of Gedrins blade. A third zealot took a running start and leaped at Gedrin, howling, from three metres away. With one metre left to cover, it was hit simultaneously by no less than 20 pulses of lasfire. Forward momentum was instantly arrested. It fell straight down like a marionette with the strings cut, and for good measure, Gedrin shot it in the head with his boltpistol. Glancing up, he realised that the rest of the cultists had been dealt with by his Guardsmen, and flicked off a quick hand signal to advance. I will not lose any ground to these screaming idiots. Risking another look, this time to his sides to check on how his men were holding, he saw that similar attacks were occurring at other points in the line as well, although all were beaten back.

Most disturbingly, these cultists seemed to be exclusively targeting the ranking officers. He watched as Sergeant Parhath experienced a close call not unlike his own, and then he turned to unleash a storm of lead at the crowd, his thoughts in turmoil. Cultists were usually too deep in a battle-frenzied blood rage to plan a strategic attack. More often than not, they merely formed a huge keening mob and rushed straight at the enemy. Their own lives did not matter; they were always willing to die for Khorne. Blood for the Blood God, Gedrin thought sourly. What was troubling was that the fanatics were now employing true battle tacticsin this case, assassination of the command. The attacks werent very cohesive or effective, but still, Gedrin couldnt picture a cultist actually coming up with such a plan; the mutant humans just werent intelligent enough. He knew there had to be some higher force at work. The thought had barely entered his mind when a chorus of terrified yells emanated from the far right end of the line. Damnation, Gedrin muttered. And with that, the Chaos Marines were upon them. Fully three metres talland in most cases exceeding thatthey all but dwarfed the unaugmented humans. Heavily armed and armoured in the deep blue and tarnished silver of the Twilight Legion, they carried in one hand hugely destructive weapons that would have taken 3 Guardsmen to lift, and many sported terrible mutations and marks of the Blood God Khorne. Most of the soldiers, terrified, broke ranks and fled immediately. A few brave men stood their ground, firing with wild abandon at the oncoming wave of destruction; others loosed a few halfhearted shots, then retreated in horror when they witnessed what the Twilight Legionaries did to the Guardsmen they encountered.

HAALQ ROARED AS his prized howling daemon sword cut down Guardsmen in droves. The mere sound sent others scurrying for cover. His other hand, mutated into a sinewy, bloody mass that ended in razor-sharp claws, lashed out with whips of warpfire that flailed about seemingly of their own accord and dealt horrific woundsthere was no need to waste time taking aim at such weak, easy targets. He spun around and sliced two troopers neatly in half with one swing. Shots from hellguns bounced of his armour and one or two managed to penetrate at the joints, but the flashes of pain only fuelled his rage. A wave of lasfire zipped annoyingly close to his horribly scarred and tattooed face and he whirled around, snarling. Five hellgun-wielding Guardsmen stood defiantly, firing pulse after pulse at the oncoming Traitor Marines. For Chaos! he bellowed, and charged, oblivious to the rain of lasfire that bounced off his armour. His left hand, instinctively tracking over, slew 3 of the troopers nearly instantaneously, sending them flying backwards with massive cavities in their torsos, wreathed in warpfire and leaking blood and organs from their chests. Another second and they were within killing range of his blade. The daemon trapped within his sword snarled, a chilling sound that travelled as visible, searing

corposant down the edges of the blade, up Haalqs arm, across his chest, and finally tore its way out of his distended jaws. Haalq leapt a metre into the air and struck straight down, cleaving the first unfortunate soldier in half from the top of his skull to his groin with an ear-splitting crack of thunder. Even as the remaining mans eyes snapped wide in horror, Haalq tugged his sword around and, blade flashing with power, bisected him from waist to shoulder as easily as if he were pushing a hot knife through butter. Kicking the smouldering body aside, he turned and joined the charge against the tanks. Barely 30 seconds after the wave of Chaos, the ground was swampy with blood, and the dismembered bodies of hundreds of Guardsmen littered the battlefield. Haalq grinned, a sickly smile that creased his face and was even more fearsome than the feral snarl that followed. Blood for the Blood God! he roared, increasing in volume from a mere mutter to an unearthly scream. The sympathetic bloodlust of the daemon within his sword was palpable. A slew of explosive shells punched into his left pauldron. The impacts barely shook him, and with a thought, a psychic shield materialised as a crackling, unholy sphere of energy around him. The rest of the barrage bounced harmlessly off the barrier, and one of the large-calibre slugs ricocheted off and blew the head off of a nearby trooper. Haalq barrelled on towards the offending heavy weapons emplacement. Two of the troopers inside were tossed out, burning and lacerated, as another

Legionary tossed a frag grenade into the sandbag-guarded embankment. Granules of sand, some of it fused into mica glass by the heat of the detonation, scattered in all directions, blinding the two remaining troopers and pinging off the Chaos Marines ceramite armour. Haalq fired a searing stream of warpfire that seemed to tear a hole in the fabric of reality and directed it straight into one of the Guardsmen at point-blank range. The hugely destructive sorcery immolated his flak-vest with little effort and vaporised his torso, leaving the mans head and limbs to fall to the ground with wet thuds. There was little blood; the sheer power of the blast had

simultaneously blown apart and cauterised the arteries. Haalq snarled. The Blood God required blood, and blood he would give him; the sorcerer neatly sliced the mans skull in half with a flick of his wrist and what little blood remained soiled the ground. The last soldier managed to snap off a burst of lucky shots from his hellgun that slammed into and penetrated Haalqs left knee joint, causing him to stagger slightly. Growling, the Legionary slowly straightened up, glaring malevolently at the Guardsman. The man dropped his weapon and stumbled backwards, his mouth working wordlessly in fear. Haalq lunged forward and, grabbing the trooper by the waist, tossed the man into the air. He focused his will on the trooper, who could only watch in horror as his body defied both his mind and the laws of physics. Instead of falling, he remained hovering in the air, and he was powerless to resist as his arms slowly rose of their own accord until he appeared to be mounted on a crucifix. Haalq raised his left arm and pointed it at the Guardsman. He clenched his mutated hand into a fist.

The troopers back arched beyond physical capability, and his spine emitted several sickening, wet pops as it snapped in multiple places. His mouth opened as if to scream, but no sound came forth. His body convulsed as his skin ruptured, sending forth gouts of flame. Then the eyes burst in nauseating pops of jellied matter, and fire jetted out of his mouth and the cavities in his skull. Haalq let the smoking remnants of the trooperburnt beyond recognitionfall to the ground, and let loose a mad roar that was the pure embodiment of rage and fearlessness. Nearby soldiers lost their minds. The Twilight Legionary sent several crackling balls of warpfire at a nearby Hellhound that was bathing his brethren in chemical flame. The sorcerous missiles impacted with blinding flashes, igniting the fuel tanks and initiating a devastating chain explosion that sent nearby mentroopers and Legionaries alikeflying as it ripped the vehicle apart and transformed it into a roiling, crackling fireball. He howled exultantly, and a man died of fear. Haalq thought he felt the daemon trapped within his blade hiss sharply. Reacting purely on instinct, he bent his Khorne-blessed arm and drove his elbow backwards, twisting his body to add more power to the strike. There was a sickening crunch, and Haalq heard the troopers gurgling attempt to gasp as the bone spur protruding from his mutated elbow punched into the mans throat. The Legionary sadistically twisted his arm, and the breath was soon released in a wet rattle as he ripped the spur out and the Guardsman collapsed to the ground. Haalq raised his arm to the sky, hand wreathed in sorcerous flame, and howled in triumph.

A MIST OF blood filled the air as a Traitor Marine with a mutated, club-like mass of distended flesh for a hand smashed a man into pieces. Another unleashed a hail of fire from his heavy boltgun at the fleeing Guardsmen, stopping many in their tracks as he mowed them down. Concentrated boltgun fire from the rest of the Legionaries slaughtered even more of the soldiers, whose lasfire merely bounced off the ancient armour of Chaos. What did manage to pierce their armour had little or no effect; indeed, the superhuman warriors of Khorne seemed to revel in the blood and pain. With the Guardsmen distracted, the crowd of cultists pressed towards them, grasping with deformed arms and swiping with long blades, trying to bleed them dry for Khorne. Several men fell under the unrelenting rush of the fanatics, their throats and limbs slit. By the time the other troopers remembered about the cultist threat, it was too late; they turned around in horror only to find their comrades sinking, mouths agape and faces twisted in agony, reaching out for help that would never come. Gedrin watched as the Guardsman to his immediate right was dragged down by a crowd of cultists. His eyes shone with terror. Oh, damnation, the major muttered, whipping his boltpistol around and firing a single shot into the unfortunate mans temple, killing him instantly. The mob hissed, cheated of their blood, and turned as one to face the new threat. Gedrin riddled them with shots even as he backpedalled furiously to join the rest of his men.

Guardsmen of the Imperium, reform! he screamed. You shall not falter! Emperor damn it, get back in line and face the enemy now! But even as the words left his mouth, he knew it was futile. He gave up trying to run backwards and shoot at the same time, and just turned around and ran, using whatever he could find as cover. Suddenly, a crackling noise, accompanied by the sickening smell of burnt flesh, caused him to skid to a stop. He turned around out of curiosity, and immediately wished he hadnt. A trooper was hovering impossibly in the air, and as Gedrin watched, horrified yet unable to tear his eyes away, the man began to convulse. Strange shadows appeared on his skin, as though clouds were passing over himbut then Gedrin realised that the shadows were caused by something under the skin. A second later, the mans skin and clothing tore and burst into flame. As the charred skeleton dropped to the ground, the major made an appalling realisation. The man had been burnt from the inside out. The troopers killer was instantly apparent. The Chaos Marine was cackling as he lashed out with flashing blade and sorcerous flame, dealing horrific damage to anything he touched. He was not wearing a helmet, and there was an eight-pointed starthe ancient symbol of Chaostattooed around his left eye in what looked like blood. An inexplicably malevolent, purplish aura, flickering with lightning, surrounded the thingfor it could hardly be called a man. By the Emperor, he gasped. A Chaos sorcerer. Oh, damnation, this is bad. He sprinted for the tattered remainder of the 3rd, now yelling, Retreat! Back! We dont stand a damn chance! His men were only too happy to comply. They all rushed for the relative safety of the tanks, which were still firing but were fast becoming disadvantaged as the distance between them and the enemy rapidly decreased. The heavy weapons mounted on the side sponsons of the Leman Russ tanks, as well as various anti-infantry weapons of other vehicles, began to chatter. A missile roared overhead, prompting several Guardsmen to throw themselves prone on the groundwhich reduced them to little more than cannon fodder for the Chaos Marines. Gedrin watched as the ordnance slammed into the gun turret of a Leman Russ tank with a massive, deafening explosion that threw nearby men off their feet. As the smoke cleared, he saw that the turret had been ripped apart like a piece of paper. The jagged, gaping hole in the roof of the tank where it had been was charred and smoking, and flames licked hungrily from within. Gedrin sheathed his swordit was useless now, anywayand grabbed the hellgun of a fallen trooper, diving behind the husk of the Leman Russ as he did so. A sleet of boltgun shells, fired a millisecond too late, tore through the space hed just vacated and then tracked over to hammer the remains of the tank behind which he was hiding. Breathing heavily, Gedrin popped his head up, slung the hellgun over on top of the tank, braced with both feet, and began firing at the pursuing Legionaries. He managed to hit one in the knee joint, causing it to stumble and fall, andmore by

luck than designhit another through one of the helmets eyepieces while searching for another target. The traitor clapped his hand to his eye and tripped; Gedrin finished him off with a barrage of armour-piercing shots to the head. Major! came a shout from his left. He glanced at the trooper, who was similarly hiding behind a tank and was staring at him in horror. Returning his gaze to the battlefield, he saw a missile spiralling directly for his position. Damnation! he swore, dropping the hellgun and sprinting away for all he was worth. The impact tossed him 10 metres away, where he hit the ground hard and heard several cracks as various bones snapped. He screamed in pain and tumbled down into a blackened, smoking crater. He lay there, gritting his teeth, leaning against the side of the crater with his back to the battle. His stomach convulsed, and he coughed up blood. He knew he was dying. He listened to the impacts and detonations of missiles, to the whine and chatter of hellguns and lasguns and boltguns, to the roars and howls of the Chaos forces, to the pitiful screams and cries of doomed men who had but seconds left to live. They had failed. He had failed. Again. Damnation.