Brother-Captain Romulus prayed fervently to the God-Emperor, the Holy Codex clutched tightly in his ceramite power gloves as the extraction pod he was in entered the planetary atmosphere of Holy Terra. He sat there unflinchingly with his standard Imperial bolter rifle lying on his lap and his trusty warhammer hanging from his caped shoulders behind his back, and in front of him was a flat screen monitor transmitting images of the bloody aftermath of a battle which had ensued on the war-torn planet beneath him. They were only low-quality images relayed by Imperial satellites orbiting around Holy Terra, but from the blurry, huge-scale pictures, he could tell that hundreds of his brothers, the Templars, had struggled with the thousands of mindless, quasi-humanoid, metallic-skeletal drones that comprised the terrifying force of the Undying Armies of the Ska’arg. He turned off the screen and continued his prayer. He needed to concentrate on his mission.
He knew his pod had hit planet-side as soon as he heard and felt a really loud collision and the sudden powerful shock which rocked and halted the whole pod. Once the escape hatches were automatically opened, he braced himself, his warhammer now tightly gripped in his left hand while his bolter rifle on the other. After a few last lines of prayer, he hung the Holy Codex which was attached to a gilded rosary around his neck and then stepped out onto the blackened earth of Holy Terra.
The crimson skies shone solemn light, and the air was thick with chaos. His pod had landed right amongst the aftermath of the battlefield, and instantly he saw the flag of the mighty Templars waving triumphantly from a pole planted on a nearby mound. The fallen dead were strewn everywhere, most of them those of the Ska’arg, with their gauss rifles lying not far from their dead hands. Those who still stood around him in victory were the valiant Templars; his brothers-in-arms, huge juggernaut warriors in hulking ceramite power suits, just like him, and they were cleaning up what was left of the Ska’arg invasion.
Some were dragging the thousands of lifeless corpses of Ska’arg drones into huge piles to be incinerated. Corpses that were too big and heavy were heaved by the towering mecha-walkers, bipedal armored vehicles of war equipped with powerful weaponry on one mechanical arm as well as a mighty hydraulic gripping claw on the other. Other Templars took it upon themselves to make sure the surviving drones that crawled with their battered bodies around the battlefield were killed for good. Faint echoes of rifle shots and mortar blasts from the outskirts of the battlefield were signs that there were still a few remnants of the standing Ska’arg force, and they were being swiftly dealt with by his battle-brothers at the moment.
About a few arms’ length to Romulus’s right was a barely-alive Ska’arg drone, or what was left of it, since the creature’s lower-waist was completely blown away and was pathetically dragging it’s torso towards him by clawing the earth with it’s bony, frame-like fingers, it’s face a grim visage of a metallic skull shaped that way by the corruptive S’tan gods that they were bound to and serving for eternity. Romulus switched his bolter rifle to single-fire mode, pressed the muzzle against the cold hard skull of the Ska’arg drone, and pulled the trigger.
He wiped the green ooze off his rifle against his ceramite boots and prayed under his breath for the God-Emperor to give him strength. He then surveyed around, and not far from where he stood, amongst a busy battalion of Templars, he saw the Chaplain-Commander in his decorated power armor and chain-sword in hand. He was waving his chain-sword in the air like mad while fiercely barking orders to his subordinates here and there. From the insignia painted on the Chaplain-Commander’s shoulder plates, Romulus recognized him as the commander-in-charge of the current Templar ground force. He calmly lowered his rifle, hung back his warhammer and crossed towards the Chaplain-Commander, his mighty boots leaving imprints onto the dry earth and a few Ska’arg corpses that were lying along the way.
“Greetings, Chaplain-Commander,” greeted Romulus, holding out a hand towards the commander. “I am Brother-Captain Romulus. May the light of the God-Emperor shine upon you.”
“Likewise to you too, Brother-Captain Romulus,” replied the commander as he shook Romulus’ hand with brotherly spirit, “Although I’m surprised to have the honor of your visit right here amidst this war zone. I am Chaplain-Commander Grievous, and as you can see, we’re all just about done here. We’ve finally broken the Ska’arg invasion, their remaining ranks from afar fleeing as we smote the final blow upon the last of the Ska’arg drones.”
“You’ve done a commendable job, Chaplain-Commander, and you will be awarded once you return to Segmentum Command.” Romulus felt a strong urge to once more survey around the cratered and blasted lands of the battlefield, his face in a worried expression as if sensing an imminent threat. “But I fear our duty here has not yet finished. In fact, I have every reason to believe that we are quite far from finished.”
“Why, Brother-Captain,” said Grievous a bit perplexed, the smug look on his face hidden beneath staining layers of tar, dirt and blood from the battle. “I can’t say I’m not amazed by your assumption. Take a good look around, Brother-Captain. Thousands of dead Ska’arg litter the ground like a sea of dead wretches after a flash flood. Dozens of piles of their corpses are burning brightly like torches in the night of Imperium Day. Sure, we’ve lost good men today, but as you can see, we’ve won the battle. A few more corpses to dispose of and we’re all done for the day, just as the God-Emperor would have wished it.”
“Yes, it seems that you’ve won the battle,” replied Romulus to Grievous’s condescending remark. “It also mirrors your lack of experience in dealing with the relentless and undying Ska’arg. To be so naïve about their nature is your ultimate weakness.”
Distinct rifle shots nearby interrupted their conversation. It was only a fellow Templar doing his duty by shooting a few barely alive Ska’arg drones lying on the ground. Both men then continued.
“Too naïve about their nature, Brother-Captain?” asked Grievous condescendingly, “All I need to know is that it is their dead bodies, not ours, that litter the ground in defeat. Please, enlighten me if there is anything else that deserves to be known.”
Romulus didn’t reply immediately, for he was staring at a disembodied skull-head of a Ska’arg drone propped against a pile of rocks just a few feet from him. He gazed at the pair of gleaming green light within the hollowed eye sockets of the skull which seemed to stare eerily back at him, and for a moment he was reminded of how his homeworld of Tarsonis V, along with his family and almost everyone else that he held dear, was destroyed by these soulless monstrosities. He then turned back to Grievous, whose smug face still showed his arrogance which will be the undoing of every Templar on this battlefield.
“Countless millennia ago,” started Romulus with a solemn voice of reminiscence, “Before humans even ascended from the ocean with bipedal legs, there existed an ancient alien race beyond the Outer Rim. Although they were highly advanced in the fields of technology and infrastructure, the same cannot be said with their morality. Thus, their unethical pursuits of science resulted in them building a warp gate to the unknown regions of the Immaterium, where demons and half-deities called the S’tan dwell. The ancient race tried to fight back, but all their technology was futile against the dark powers of the Warp. Their entire race was enslaved by the dark gods, their souls encased in bionic mecha-skeletons of many shapes and sizes, doomed to serve their masters for eternity. This ancient alien race is what we’ve come to know as Ska’arg, and their main goal is to-“
“Please, spare me from your boring history lectures,” interrupted Grievous, a look of irritation slowly replacing his smug. “I’m sorry, but we’ll have to cut this chatter short. There are still other things worthy of my attention than listening to half-forgotten legends of alien races.”
“Have you not listened to what I just said?” snapped Romulus. “These…Ska’arg…are undying. Being their slaves, the S’tan gods granted their minions immortality. They can be harmed, but cannot be killed, at least not with conventional weapons. You can cut them, bash them, tear them to pieces, but their souls still remain inside their metal husks. You see them now seemingly lying dead beneath your feet, but it will just be a matter of time before they rise again. They are relentless, they are machine-like, and they will-“
“Enough I say!” shouted Grievous in a fit of anger. “I refuse to listen to this trifle! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more urgent matters to atten-“
The sudden cut of their conversation, as well as the abrupt halt of the Templars’ activities stemmed from the creeping realization that a blanket of shadow was falling upon them. They all looked up towards the sky, and what used to be an evening-red was now greenish-dark as vast clouds of that particular shade had filled the heavens and loomed upon them. Not long after, green lightning forked out of the clouds, each loud thunder not even a second of delay from the next. Grievous witnessed the entire phenomena with awe, but Romulus looked down to his Holy Codex in search of the God-Emperor’s wisdom.
“It is too late,” muttered Romulus, half of his mind in prayer, “They have risen, and they will claim us all.”
“What do you mean-“
From the unholy clouds, a distinctly thunderous sound boomed across the heavens as a pillar of concentrated green light shot down from the dark clouds and struck the ground in the middle of the battlefield, sending reverberating shockwaves that were felt by every Templar in the vicinity. The pillar of green light then disappeared, and the green clouds dissipated to give way for the former red sky.
For a moment, everything was in deathly silence.
And then the Ska’arg corpses came to life.
Grievous was horrified when he saw with his very eyes all the Ska’arg that had previously fallen was rising from temporary demise. Those whose bodies were still mostly intact rose as if from slumber, and slowly picked up the gauss rifles nearest to them as they lumbered forward to answer the call of their dark gods. Those whose bodies are in several pieces twitched and squirmed and crawled, with little bits of their missing parts and appendages coming together to reassemble themselves as if by the power of some sort of black sorcery. Even the ones burning in the piles came to life, their bodies an infernal effigy as they crawled out of the pyres to reach for their alien weapons. They were silent and made no sound whatsoever; there were only the noises of grinding and twisting and screeching from the gears and joints of their automaton bodies.
The Templars, who had never seen such a thing, stood petrified at what they saw, unsure of what to do. Never had they heard of alien foes rising from death, not in their years of training in the Adeptus Academus nor in their lifetime of experience serving as elite warriors of the Imperium. The Templars were trained to kill, but what good are their bolters and warhammers against beings that cannot die?
It took a while, but Grievous was finally able to barely escape from awestruck to utter a few words of bewildered query. “By deacon’s hades, what is going o-“
He didn’t even get to finish his line when he felt a very sharp pain coming from his lower back to his gut, and when he looked down, he saw large blade-like claws protruding out of his mid-section, with enormous amounts of blood gushing out of the wound. He screamed, the pain so agonizing that he almost didn’t realize that his feet were leaving the ground. Romulus, who stood right next to him, saw in horror as a Wraith, a levitating worm-like variant of the Ska’arg with a set of blade claws on each hand, had skewered Grievous from behind with one of his claw hands and lifted him up in the air. Grievous squirmed in excruciating pain, kicking and screaming madly, before the worm-creature sunk another claw hand through his mid-section from the back and, in a gory show of contempt for the living, proceeded to tear his body into two lifeless halves, splattering his blood everywhere, including across Romulus’ power armor. The creature then threw both halves aside and set it’s glaring green eyes on Romulus with it's blade claws reaching out to him.
Romulus reflexively took up his bolter rifle and aimed for the worm-creature. He was just a few inches away from it’s razor grasp before he squeezed the trigger of his bolter rifle, the powerful impact of the .72 bolts in rapid succession pushing the Ska’arg minion back. Other Templars nearby who were shooting at other Ska’arg were alerted and instantly fired upon the creature, their bolts ricocheting off it’s metallic skeleton body and blowing off several of it’s appendages. The creature threw a spasmic fit before it collapsed to the ground, dead again.
That was only one Ska’arg. Surrounding them were thousands of revived Ska’arg drones of many variants, most of them holding gauss rifles which emitted greenish particle-decaying energies that could pierce through even the hardest of ceramite plating. When the Ska’arg drones started to shoot, the Templars knew they had to do battle again.
The flag of the Templars, which before had waved majestically as a sign of victory over these foul creatures, was instantly vaporized by a stray gauss shot from the Ska’arg rifles. The warriors witnessed in horror as the Ska’arg’s gauss fire flayed through their power suits one layer at a time like a sharp knife flaying an onion. They fought back, bringing down dozens of Ska’arg with their bolter rifles and battle axes, but their numbers were overwhelming, and too many of their own had fallen from gauss fire. Even the mighty mecha-walkers and their powerful cannons could not hold back the undying horde; they were so many of them that they swarmed under and climbed up the warmachines’ mechanical legs, bringing them crashing down with sheer weight alone. Within mere moments, no mecha-walker was seen standing, all of them lying in unmoving heaps as the deathless Ska’arg moved on.
It was not long until all that was left of the fighting Templars were a squad of about a dozen warriors, Romulus included, all of them forced into a tight circle surrounded by the Ska'arg. So many were the numbers of the Ska'arg that the dark minions' shoulders touched each other as they closed in on the desperate Templars. Within that trapped position, they desperately fought off the Ska’arg army, the spirit of the God-Emperor being the only hold of hope they had. Morale was dropping amongst them, and more so as they saw one after another of their battle-brothers fell from a gauss shot or an alien blade. It was during this dark moment of hopelessness when a brave voice was heard within the group.
“Harken, my battle-brothers!” shouted Romulus, seeking the attention of the surviving Templars, “I am Brother-Captain Romulus, and your chaplain-in-command has fallen. Rally to me now, and we might win this battle yet!”
This is the norm for the Templars. They are valiant warriors who would rather die honorably in battle than cower away and be shamed by defeat.
Being leaderless, the survivors heeded and acknowledged the call. “Brother-Captain,” hailed one of the Templars in the heat of the battle, “We are surrounded and outnumbered! What are we to do now except to fight ‘till the death and pray to the God-Emperor for a peaceful afterlife?”
Romulus did not answer. Instead, he grabbed the warhammer hanging from his back and said a few prayers of enchantment. Suddenly the arcanite head of the hammer started to glow with divine white light along with the humming noise of energy powering up. The noise grew louder as the hammerhead grew brighter, and soon it shone to such a blinding glare that when Romulus held it up towards the sky, all the unholy Ska’arg drones halted, as if discouraged and pained by the shining aspect of the God-Emperor. Even the other Templars looked in awe, their waning morale instantly boosted and were now in peak fighting spirit. Coursing through the warhammer now was the raw power of the God-Emperor himself, and Romulus was about to land His holy wrath upon the unholy Ska’arg.
Romulus pulled the divine warhammer back and swung the Fist of the God-Emperor with all his might against a Ska’arg drone in front of him. The impact was tremendous; so powerful was the force that not only did it utterly annihilate the drone who was unfortunate enough to receive the blow, it also generated a powerful shockwave and threw away scores of the Ska’arg drones several feet into the air, leaving an exposed gap in their circular entrapment in which the Templars could penetrate through. The Ska’arg was, for once, bewildered at what just happened, and Romulus knew that this was his chance.
“Battle-brothers!” he shouted in command while pointing towards a clear hill not far from where they were trapped, “We must make it up the hill over there, and we might be able to use the height advantage to win against them. I shall lead the way, for my warhammer is powerful enough to smite through their ranks. The rest of you shall follow me from behind to cover my back as well as holding off the Ska’arg that will be coming from your sides.”
The Templars unanimously and unquestioningly agreed, thus Romulus held back his warhammer and swung again towards the gap, sending more Ska’arg flying and clearing the way for their strive. With the holy warhammer, Romulus mauled through the Ska’arg’s thick ranks as his battle-brothers followed behind him in a narrow column, fiercely battling away the Ska’arg drones that came at them from their sides with their bolter rifles and battle axes. The Templars that were too far behind the column fell one after another, their screams of pain and their cries for help drowned within the thick crowd of Ska’arg. Although the hill was only a few yards away, Romulus felt it to be too great a distance as he struggled his way through the blanket of horror. Even he was losing hope of getting through.
But he kept swinging and swinging, still having faith that there were still a few of his battle-brothers following behind him. He didn’t even care to look at what was in front of him; all that mattered was his hammerhead forcefully connecting with a Ska’arg and blowing them out of the way while elbowing away the ones who missed his maul. Thus, he staggered a bit when he came to a point where he hit nothing but air, and he soon realized that he had gotten through the horde. With one last stride, he lunged out to embrace his freedom, and when he turned back, he saw that a few of the Templars were still making through, each one gaining in momentum as they saw an exit gap in front of them. In the end, Romulus and a company of five Templars were all who managed to get out of the narrow path alive, although just barely. Their power armor and miscellaneous equipment bore deep laceration marks from alien blades and thinned from the de-atomizing effects of gauss energy.
Having no time to waste, Romulus and his flock went further up the hill, trying to increase the distance between them and the lumbering terrors marching behind them while shooting suppressing fire at their relentless advance. Once they reached a suitable vantage point, he looked and saw that they were not the only ones trapped within the deadly sea of Ska’arg. They were several clusters of Templars out there who were struggling inside surrounded circles just like Romulus and his warriors had been before. There was no hope for them however, since they were too far away to be rescued, and the Ska’arg will overwhelm them eventually. From afar, Romulus could almost hear the litany of loud benedictions and valiant warcries of his trapped battle-brothers before they were silenced forever by alien weaponry. Romulus and the surviving Templars could only pray for their souls to find peace with the God-Emperor in His Kingdom.
Romulus turned away from the appalling crowd that was slowly marching towards him and his warriors. Without a second thought, he gestured for his men to follow him to a particular spot up the hill where they might be able to entrench themselves or rally any other surviving Templar in the vicinity - if they were any. Far up the elevating ground, he saw a loose line of several Ska’arg drones walling up, poised to pacify them. ‘No problem,’ he thought, since his company was more than capable of handling a few of those drones of undeath. Each Templar picked their targets, and soon trails of rapid bolter fire hailed the Ska’arg line, slowly killing them one at a time.
“Bolt them all, bolt them all to the ground!” cried one of the Templars in a rage. The warriors were beginning to gain hope when suddenly a maelstrom of green energy began to develop behind the Ska’arg line. At first, Romulus and his men were confused and feared at what they were witnessing, but then they soon realized that something colossal was materializing behind the line, slowly phasing into solid form from the ground up. It was a Ska’arg Citadel, a powerful, levitating, pyramid-shaped, 50-feet-tall, horrifying battle fortress of evil warped into the war zone by the uncanny powers of the S’tan gods to aid their already horrifying Ska’arg minions. The sides of the pyramid were veined with thousands of tubes coursing with green plasma, giving the monument a greenish glow. However, none of the Templars, not even Romulus, knew what that monument of war was, and they virtually had not even the slightest idea of what it was capable off. They saw from afar the apex point of the citadel lighting up with crackling green energy, much like the lesser energies fired from the gauss rifles of the Ska’arg drones.
The surviving heroes were awed and bewildered, so much that they almost stopped firing their bolter rifles to brace for whatever unfathomable threat the mighty Citadel was about to unleash upon them.
Suddenly, loud roars of jet engines were faintly heard coming from the sky at the horizon. They looked toward the direction and saw from a long distance four dots which grew bigger by the moment, and they soon realized that their prayers to the God-Emperor had been heeded; It was a squadron of three Imperial warfighters followed by a bulky dropship, probably carrying hundreds more of the Templars to aid them in the tight situation.
“Blessed be the God-Emperor!” cried Romulus as if all his worries were suddenly lifted upon him. “Imperium Command has sent air support along with more of our brethren to wage war against these unholy abominations. Continue the assault, and we will win this one for the glory of the Imperium!”
The shrieking warfighters streaked across the sky as their mighty cannons unloaded all sorts of devastating armaments into the thick of the Ska’arg, decimating hundreds of them, while the troop freighter circled around the battlefield searching for a suitable landing zone.
The climactic scene of th warfighters laying waste upon the Ska’arg riled up the spirits of Romulus and his men. Soon, they cheered loudly and shouted warcries as they continued their assault, shooting at whatever Ska’arg they saw, both from behind in the thick sea and from the front at the loose line.
“Death to the enemies of Man!” shouted one over-excited Templar as he emptied his bolter rifle towards the dark sea behind them.
“Taste the fury of the God-Emperor through my bolter!” cried out another Templar as he sniped the deathless drones in front of him, landing a headshot each time.
However, high-spirited and drowned in the heat of battle, they had forgotten about the Citadel that loomed from afar. They were too busy shooting to realize that the apex point of the monolithic structure had charged up to its maximum, the peak now glaring so brightly with alien currents that it was almost impossible to directly look at the light source without hurting their eyes. On the sky above, the dropship strafed too close to the peak of the pyramid, and suddenly a bright flash erupted from the apex point. A giant bolt of gauss energy shot out and struck the dropship, blowing out the rear side. The battered craft left a trail of black smoke as it cruised down and skidded into a group of Ska’arg before blowing up in a fiery display of erupting flames and flying metal parts, killing every Templar inside.
Pilots of the warfighters were shocked at what had happened. They then set the Citadel as their prime target and proceeded to lay fire towards the levitating doom. Bolter cannons were fired, photon bombs were dropped, but the Citadel showed not even a scratch on its surface. The pyramid was extremely impervious to damage, but the pilots realized this too late. The apex point charged up again and struck one of the warfighters, sending it crashing down. It charged up again, and shot the warfighters one after another with its deadly gauss bolts until all three of the metal crafts were grounded and burning.
Romulus could not believe at what he just saw. He and his men could not bear to look at the fate of their battle-brothers, their bodies now burning and crushed within the twisted heaps of scrap metal, which were being prodded and salvaged by the lifeless automatons. Their hopes and spirits were crushed, their excitement of possible victory replaced by impending defeat. They still continued to fire their rifles, but their warrior spirit had left their hearts, and the bolts that fired from the nozzle of their rifles felt ever so meaningless. The battle was over. They had lost.
Romulus, now downtrodden and beaten, stopped firing. To the surprise and morale chagrin of his battle-brothers, he broke down and knelt as low as his bulky power armor allowed him to. He looked down at the earth beneath his eyes and then looked around towards the Ska’arg that were beginning to close in on him and his men. He shed a few tears and sought with his hands the Holy Codex hanging from his neck, and from the sanctimonious tome he recited under his breath the Last Words of the God-Emperor.
‘In times of darkness and despair,
When you look up the sky and see no light of mine,
When the shadow of your enemies looms behind you,
When the warrior spirit has left your heart,
and in turn the demons of fear creep in,
When your righteous actions are as futile as turning the ocean waves,
When all things that pleased you and comforted you has left you alone,
When evil entities surround you like a concealing mist,
When death confronts you with his Black Book in hand,
Always remember me, the God-Emperor,
For even if you do not know it, my holy spirit guides you,
I am in your heart, always leading you, aiding you in your struggle,
Follow your heart, follow me,
And I will set you free.’
Romulus then closed the book and, with renewed strength, stood up tall amongst the hopeless Templars who had begun to realize their doom. He turned to the men to speak his last words.
“Today, our enemies have gotten the better of us,” he began, “I’m certain that this battle will be the final pages of our lives. I know that all of you are more than disappointed at how this will end.”
Romulus paused for a moment to hold back his emotions. He then continued.
“But does that mean that we should drop our arms and give up? Do we, as the venerated Templars, heroes of the Imperium, fighters for the cause of good, stand down and admit this defeat? As Brother-Captain of the Templars, I say not!”
Romulus’s men were shocked and inspired by his speech. Even against the looming darkness of the Ska’arg horde, they felt the warrior spirit as well as their will to fight returning into their hearts.
“Right now we only have two options. The first, we surrender and hope they will grant us swift death. Even if these vile creatures are even capable of mercy, we will cross into the afterlife in shame, knowing that we had given up. The second, we pick up our bolter rifles and our battle axes, shout our last warcry, and charge at them with the full fury of the God-Emperor. Make no mistake, each one of us will perish, but we will die with our duties fulfilled right down to the last breath!”
The men were now hysteric. These Templars had survived a thousand wars on a thousand worlds. Romulus made them realize that just because it would be their end, it did not mean that they had lost their glory. They had earned it from all their battles in the past, and that day, that moment, they were about to go out with their dignity held up high to their chests.
“Are we Templars?!” howled Romulus.
“Whoaarggh, whoaarggh!” the Templars howled back in unison.
“Are we Templars?!”
“Are we Templars?!”
“Great! Now let us charge our last charge. When the God-Emperor asks us in Heaven, we will tell Him that we did our best to give them hell!”
Romulus charged with his bolter rifle firing at the Citadel, followed by his inspired men. Although the monolith was overpowering and was guarded by the loose line of Ska’arg, he and his men could not care any less. They might die that day, but these men will be honored for standing their ground and, in the end, dying on it.
Once within close proximity with the loose line, Romulus threw aside his bolter rifle and brought his warhammer to bear against the Ska’arg drones. His frenzied battle-brothers did the same, ditching away their ranged weapons in favor of their battle axes. The squad slugged and cleaved their way through in no time while Romulus wasted none and continued his glorious charge at the Citadel.
The peak of the Citadel was charging up again. Romulus was aware of it, but it did nothing to shake his determination. The peak glared to the point where he knew it was about to let out another deadly energy bolt, and he knew he was about to meet his end. Thus he looked away from the glaring doom and towards the beautiful crimson sky which shot down blades of heavenly light through the thick clouds. He was comforted that such a magnificent view will serve as the backdrop of their last charge.
“For the God-Emperor!” he shouted one last shout.
A gauss bolt shot out from the peak. A surge of pain overwhelmed his senses.
And then everything went dark.