This story was never, and probably will never be completed; it’s an idea I had about two years ago, a Warhammer 40,000 novel based on the Aurora Chapter Space Marines, who hold a special place in my heart as being the victims of my first attempt at model painting nearly 20 years ago.
The story idea was going to be one that explored the “administrative” side of a Space Marine Chapter, as it followed Tykerios, the newly-appointed Captain of the Tenth Company, the Scout company. As a Space Marine, Tykerios is a man who has been literally made for war… and is unable to go to war, because he has to stay in the Chapter’s fortress and train the noobs. He’s denied any kind of bonds of brotherhood with his men, because the Scouts he trains will either die young, or leave him and be assigned to the command of other Captains. He has a rank that demands respect and honour, but at the same time it’s the job that no one else wants; he’s a leader of boys, not battle-brothers.
This is part of the prologue, and was pretty much all I wrote. Black Library, if you’re reading, give me a shout. I’d be happy to finish it off. I mean, fuck’s sake, you gave CS Goto a chance…
Aphelios was the start of it. It was the first link in the chain of events that led me to where I am today.
What I remember most about Aphelios is the sky. Dark and tempestuous, always roiling and thrashing, a cauldron of boiling ink. Aphelios was a nothing-world, barren and monochrome. The air was thin and bitter, and to draw breath burned even gene-blessed Astartes lungs. The Cult Mechanicus, secretive servants of the Machine God, maintained a few small research facilities at the planet’s poles, but apart from the skeleton crews of minor tech-priests and servitors, the planet was abandoned.
Well. Apart from them. And us; nearly three hundred Marines of the Aurora Chapter, the entirety of the First, Third, and Tenth, furious and beautiful in armour the colour of sunlit forests. We were the only splash of colour on Aphelios, knights of shining emerald, pearl, and onyx.
There would normally be no reason for us to come to Aphelios, no reason at all for us to set foot on this inconsequential, forgotten world. That day, we had a reason. We had an exceptional reason.
The Gilded Beasts embodied every secret shame of the Adeptus Astartes. They were renegades and maniacs, defilers of flesh and murderers of cities. They resembled us in the way that a shadow resembles the man who casts it – similar in shape, but twisted and distorted. Where we were bright and noble, they were dark and depraved. Where we stood in sacred duty, oathbound to the law of the Emperor, they were sworn to the promises of their daemon-gods.
The Beasts were all that remained of the Golden Griffons, a once-loyal Chapter declared Excommunicate Traitoris a century before my birth. I wasn’t privy to what the Griffons had done to incur such judgement. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t much care. I doubted the story would be any different to the one I had heard a hundred times before, when weak men succumbed to pride, rage, or corruption.
Over the decades, we had skirmished with the Beasts and bloodied them as they launched assaults on settlements within our sub-sector of Ultima Segmentum, but we had never managed to extinguish them completely.
Not until Aphelios. The Aurora strike cruiser In Radiance Clad had hunted the Beasts across the void, torn the heart out of the Tarnished Crown – a cousin of the Radiance and as corrupted and hateful as its masters – and forced them down upon the surface. The Crown carved a twenty kilometre-long scar across Aphelios’s northern continent.
There was no telling how many of the Beasts survived, but estimates put their numbers at three hundred, plus another six to eight hundred mortal cultist-warriors. We’d seen escape craft leave the crippled ship and scatter across the surface of Aphelios. There was nowhere for the Beasts to hide, no cities of helpless Imperial citizens they could threaten. They were stranded, and they were vulnerable.
They outnumbered us, but we were superior to them in every other way that mattered. As a nomadic, void-based warband commanding only a single vessel, the Beasts lacked heavy weaponry and armour, two things we Auroras have always had in abundance. In the Radiance’s holds, Predators, Razorbacks, and Land Raiders stood idle and waiting, their animus mechanicae as eager for war as we were.
First Captain Orath ordered a ground assault immediately, eager to wipe the traitors from existence. Logic called for orbital strikes so that we could resolve this quickly and precisely, but Orath’s mind was set, and we loved him for it. He knew we wouldn’t be satisfied unless we resolved this with bolter and blade, face to face with the Beasts who had hounded us and the Imperium for so long.
The Beasts had split into three groups, perhaps to increase their chances for survival. The largest group, nearly two-thirds of their total strength, set down in a bleak valley – the tectonic memory of some vast upheaval – and dug in, daring us to come at them head-on. Captain Orath declared that he would lead the main strength of the First and elements of the Third into them, and break them.
Another group diverted to a string of islands around Aphelios’s equator. Captain Jerudan, venerable and decorated commander of the Third, would lead the remaining elements of the Third against the Beasts. Exemplar Aresadon, Champion of the First, Orath’s strong right hand, and leader of the Chapter’s foremost Terminator squad, would accompany Jerudan.
The third group – numbering between forty and fifty Beasts and a large number of their human and mutant followers – landed in a rocky mountain chain not far from the fallen Crown. Our tanks would be unable to traverse the terrain, something that I’m sure that the Beasts had realised.
The third Aurora strike force was led by Ralhaas, Captain of the Tenth. He’d brought with him eight squads of Aurora scouts, a significant portion of our senior novitiate strength. The scouts were top-level, one mission away from earning their armour, and Aphelios promised to be a demanding final test of their skills.
The scout teams were ideal for the terrain that we would be heading into, but they alone would not be able to stand up to full-fledged Astartes. Therefore, Orath ordered that squads from the First – Vilaedus and Koriad – would accompany Ralhaas and supplement his light recon force with some much needed bite.
I was First Company, sergeant of Vilaedus. I’d commanded the squad for nearly two decades at that point. The squad was as old as the Chapter, and took its name from a hero from the age of the Great Heresy, one of the first-generation Aurora Marines who had founded, baptised, and led the team. Under my leadership, Vilaedus had accrued an enviable string of honours, which had earned us favour in the eyes of not only Captain Orath, but also the Chapter Master.
Going by the combat logs, I was one of the first Aurora to stand beneath that boiling black sky, one of the first points of light on that drab world.
It was a fine way to begin the last real war of my career.