The lance beam tore through the mid-deck of the Bastion of Light, vaporizing its plasma reactor in a heartbeat. The rear quarter of the ship heaved as the colossal energies released tore her apart in an explosion that lit up the darkness of space above Cadia with oxygen-rich flames. Admiral Quarren watched its demise through the viewing bay of his battle-scarred flagship, Gathalamor, and felt what little chance of victory they had had in this battle slip away. Over a dozen Imperial vessels were little more than blazing hulks drifting in space and they had barely scratched the surface of the corrupted Blackstone Fortress. The Eldar ships had taken a savage beating, their alien magicks unable to protect them from the horrendous amount of firepower directed against them. Two listed drunkenly, their curved foresails sagging and broken across their ripped hulls and a third blazed from prow to stern. But the fourth… whoever its captain was, Quarren had to admit he was a master of manoeuvre, slipping through the deadly barrages from the Chaos fleet like liquid. Men and ships of the Imperial Navy were dying to give the Eldar ship the opportunity to close with the Blackstone Fortress, and Quarren just hoped their sacrifice would not be in vain.
Eldrad Ulthran, Farseer of Ulthwe, felt utterly blind, senses attuned to the whispers of futures not yet born rendered mute by the encroaching darkness. He could sense nothing of the future and his sudden impotence left him feeling cold and alone. Was this how the Mon-Keigh felt all the time? How could they stand to live in such blindness, stumbling towards the future with no possible idea of what awaited them? For a brief second he was moved to pity this sightless, upstart race, before remembering the injustices they had inflected on his race; the unthinking xenocidal massacres, the theft of Eldar Maiden worlds and the arrogance to believe that the galaxy was theirs to do with as they wished. The Isha’ra rocked with nearby explosions from ordnance launched by the Chaos fleet, but Craftmaster Kaelisar was the best ship’s captain of Ulthwe and he deftly piloted his vessel through the storm of fire unscathed. The corrupted Talisman of Vaul loomed before them, its twisted spires warped beyond the subtle grace crafted long ago by Eldar hands. Hundreds of explosions burst around it as the combined Eldar and Imperial ships fought desperately to reach the Talisman.
Behind Eldrad, a cabal of Warlocks surrounded a swirling blue nimbus of light, weaving their psychic powers into one powerful lance of energy that sought to unlock the ancient seals holding the wraithgate aboard the Talisman closed. Powerful wards held it shut, but now the Warlocks sought to undo those wards and allow their Farseer to travel through the webway and board the Talisman. Even as he watched, a dazzlingly bright light flared beneath the Talisman, a blazing column that speared towards the surface of the planet below.
“Hurry,” said Eldrad. “We are running out of time.”
Lieutenant Escarno slumped against the rockcrete parapet of the Kasr’s bastion, feeling blood pouring from the gaping wounds in his side. He felt dizzy from blood loss and fatigue. On any normal engagement, he and his men would have been rotated away from the front line, but this was no normal engagement. There were simply no more men to feed the war machine and any man capable of holding a gun stood before the enemy. The soldiers of the Imperial Guard had fought beyond the limits of endurance and only their determination to do their duty to the God-Emperor kept them fighting.
Thudding booms marched through the ruins of the outer Kasr, its bastions reduced to rubble by constant bombardment from daemonic artillery. All that remained was the inner keep, its high adamantine walls proof against anything the enemy could throw at it. The fighting around him raged with undiminished ferocity as he collapsed to his knees, though the sounds seemed tinny and far away. He saw comrades and foe alike, struggling atop blood-slick ramparts, bullets and lasbolts ricocheting around him as the rockcrete of the firing step rushed up to meet him and slammed into his face. He rolled onto his back, realizing he was lying on the ground as he felt warm blood pool beneath him – though he could feel no pain.
Through the shattered parapet, he could see tens of thousands – more even? – of the warriors of the enemy massing before the walls. They stretched as far as the eye could see and even as his vision blurred, he knew there was no way they could stand before such a monstrous horde. But then he saw a miracle, a shining light piercing the heavens that lit up the clouds with a pure brilliance that could only be the fury of the Emperor come to punish these traitors that dared to defile His world. He smiled and watched as a rippling cascade of blazing light dropped from the skies and touched the surface of Cadia, setting its surface alight. White-hot fires leapt from the ground, a thousand metre high pillar of light that incinerated everything in its path. Distant screams echoed from far off and Escarno wept tears of joy as the kilometers-wide curtain of fire scorched the Chaos filth from the surface of his world. They had held for long enough and he smiled as he died, content to know that he had done his duty.
“We’re finished…” said one of Creed’s advisors, watching the incandescent curtain of fire searing its way towards the inner keep. Though tens of thousands of the enemy were dying, the lethal energy was slowly, but inexorably, moving towards them. It would destroy them also, and with them, the last Cadian bastion of the east.
Ursarkar Creed rounded on his advisor and snarled, “I won’t hear that kind of talk, damn it. Anyone else voices an opinion like that and I’ll shool hem myself.”
“Sir,” said Jarran Kell, softly. “He may be right. If the xenos do not succeed soon, there will be nothing left of Kasr Partox. The lexmechanics calculate the energy beam will reach the walls of the keep within the hour.”
Creed said nothing, his face set in an expression of grim resolve as he stared across the blasted wasteland towards the deadly beam that reached from space to destroy his world.
“Come on,” he whispered, raising his head skyward. “Do not fail us…”
An explosion of psychic energy lashed around the bridge of the Isha’ra, crackling arcs of lightning leaping from the cabal of Warlocks and felling them with powerful psychic backlash.
Eldrad clutched his head, gritting his teeth in pain as the screaming darkness of the long-sealed webway portal rushed free in a wash of shrieking souls. A howling gale of warp-spawned energies rippled from the rent in space, smashing delicate wraithbone columns and tearing gracefully curved panels free from the walls. Eldrad picked himself up as the screeching subsided and saw a dark edged ripple of energy gently spinning in a circle of dazed Warlocks. Some, he saw, were already dead, their spirit stones cracked and dark and he felt a great sadness at the thought of their souls devoured by the Great Enemy.
He glanced over his shoulder, seeing the Talisman’s deadly beam still blazing in space, a column of unimaginable power that would scour the surface of the Mon-Keigh planet bare of life. He limped across the buckled deck of the Isha’ra, shouting, “Warlocks! With me!” before plunging into the newly reopened wraithgate.
The walls were abandoned, the stonework first vitrifying, then melting as the fiery beam swept slowly onwards. Where it had passed, the ground was nothing more than molten slag, smoking and dead, barren forever more. The outer walls of the keep were gone, its proud towers and barbicans sliding from the walls like wax from a candle, and Ursarkar Creed knew he had failed. They could not hold Kasr Partox and the only option left to them was retreat. The Commissars talked of dying to a man, but Creed knew that while there was still a chance to resist, they would not be needlessly sacrificing themselves. The order to pull out had been given and the soldiers of the Guard and the Space Marines were pulling back to the docks and loading bays at the shores of the Caducades Sea, ready to make for Kasr Gallan to strand once more.
Crushing disappointment settled over him like a shroud and he cursed the name of the Despoiler. He cursed the Eldar seer for giving them hope and, most of all, he cursed himself for his own failure to defeat the Emperor’s enemies.
Eldrad felt his soul smothered with darkness as he set foot on the perverted Talisman of Vaul. He retched, feeling the corrupted heart of the Talisman thirst for his essence. Like a dark mirror of the spirit stone he wore around his neck, it hungered to drink his very soul and torment it forever within its crystalline depths. A handful of Warlocks had managed to join him, two fighting to hold the wraithgate open that they might escape. Wasted effort, knew Eldrad, but he could not bring himself to tell them that.
He limped towards the center of the chamber, a Warlock collapsing before him as his soul was drained from his body by the corrupted, thirsting heart of the Talisman. He passed the corpse, little more than a shriveled sack of bones, making his way to where a great basalt wall displayed the furious battle raging outside. The Imperial ships were taking a heavy beating and it would not be long before they were annihilated. He squatted in the center of the chamber, slowing his breathing as he entered a trance-like state that would allow him to commune with the Talisman’s heart – the corrupted spirit stone at its centre. If he could somehow reach the part of it that remembered the glory it had once possessed, then there was a chance. A chance, nothing more than that, but it was all he had.
Admiral Quarren clutched the brass rail of his command lectern as another impact slammed into the side of the Gathalamor, red warning runes flashing and the sacristy bell chiming in alarm. Flames and smoke spewed from cracked vents and he could tell his vessel was dying. Through the viewing bay, he could see predatory Chaos battleships closing with his vessel and knew that this was the end. A shark-nosed enemy cruiser turned its prow towards the Gathalamor and Quarren knew that a salvo of torpedoes was seconds away from being launched.
But then a series of rippling explosions blossomed along the flanks of the Chaos ship and portions of its hull were ripped from its structure as flaring bolts of lightning enveloped it. Confused, Quarren shouted, “Wide aperture on viewing bay!”
Seconds later, he saw a sight that he had never expected to see in all his years with the Imperial Navy. Huge, silvered ships, shaped like crescent moons swooped across the Chaos battle line, crackling bolts of energy hammering the Chaos vessels with devastating close-range firepower as they raced towards the Blackstone. Quarren’s heart skipped a beat as he saw enemy ship after enemy ship reduced to wreckage by the unexpected arrivals. Quarren recognized the alien ships from the briefings he had attended at Cypria Mundi. Necrontyr. He knew them for the deadliest enemies, yet here they were attacking the Chaos ships!
Centuries of malice and hatred filled Eldrad’s mind. Centuries of pain, torment and anguish. The heart of the Talisman burned with rage at what had been done to it, and as he opened his mind to its pain, he knew that he had made a grave mistake in attempting to reach out what had once made this ancient Talisman Eldar. The anguished remnants of the Talisman’s consciousness had long since died, replaced with a vile, hateful core of ever-thirsting darkness, and as it reached out to claim hem, he realized in horror that it was no random power of the Dark Gods that had corrupted the Talisman. It was the power of She Who Thirsts, The Great Enemy… Slaanesh.
Eldrad tried to free his spirit from the Talisman, but it was already too late. The darkness reached out to swallow him and his soul was dragged screaming into the depthless heart of the Blackstone Fortress for all eternity.
Ursarkar Creed stood on the shores of the Cadcades Sea. He has watched with heavy heart as the dazzling beam of light from the heavens destroyed the last of Kasr Partox. Its proud walls had collapsed in a blazing pyre, smoke billowing into the shy from the destruction of the fortress as intolerable heat advanced towards the shoreline. Though the beam had since vanished, the day here was lost, any fool could see that. All that was left to them was vengeance. The Eldar had been obliterated and the alien ships that had unexpectedly come to their aid were hone; wiped out in an instant by the Blackstone’s terrifying defences. Admiral Quarren had informed him that victorious Imperial ships from other sectors were even now converging on Cadia, forcing the Blackstone to disengage – though the damage it had inflicted before departing was incalculable.
“Sir,” called Jarran Kell, from the open hatch of a Valkyrie flyer. “We have to go.”
“We lost…” said Creed, his voice hollow and flat.
“This time,” replied Kell, “but there will be other times, sir. Kasr Gallan still stands and while we live, we have hope. The Emperor protects.”
“Aye,” agreed Creed. “The Emperor protects…”
Creed took one last look at the ruins of his fortress and turned to join his soldiers.