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At the dawn of the fifth month of the campaign, the Tacita Nocte maintained its orbit of Bruj Secundus. The maleficent weather patterns experienced during the battle for Omega Nine had intensified and spread further across the globe encompassing any areas historically populated. Surface scans return anomalous results at best with the exception of the thermal auspex. Vox traffic was non-existent and and visuals were limited to aerial views of the storms. Time-lapsed imagery of the dust clouds showed faint suggestions of formless faces screaming toward the sky, to anyone staring too long. Reduced to near blindness, an unable to lock surface targets for anything which would classify as a bombardment, the Raven Guard were an impotent force. Unable to confront the enemy, Romitius sent two man recon teams to the surface, to trek into the storm. The teams were without contact for a week at a time before retreating to areas untouched by the warp weather to relay their findings. For weeks this continued with updates offering nothing positive. The population of Bruj were either dead or dying, offering up worship to their pestilent overlords. Fortifications were extensive and becoming more reinforced with each passing day, the craft of the Emerald Fists losing none of its obstinacy with their fall to Chaos. Beyond the reach of their walls, the Fists had begun to construct shrines to their worship with their flock tending to their worship. Romitius could sense the dark powers focusing on the shrines as the humans chanting intensified. Knowing the ritual would soon reach its apex he felt for the first time in his life a helplessness he’d long since thought bred out of him.
As a hand to a drowning man, a pressure built behind Romitius’ eyes and he knew all was not lost. Vox traffic on board the Tacita Nocte was restricted during battle operations in order to effect their stealth yet he knew what this was. Arriving seconds early, the view screen was already focused beyond Occulum, beyond the system’s gravity field. Limited by range, enhanced details were an impossibility yet the tear in realspace could not be missed. A gaping wound in reality ripped open in a torrent of colour before snapping shut soon after. A single blurt of scrap code followed shortly after, a meaningless snippet seemingly identical to standard system interference. The vox officer readily identified the code broadcast on a narrow band frequency. The communique in itself stated nothing, but to a Raven Guard vessel listening for such a broadcast it announced the arrival of the Battlebarge Selue Rhonar; Captain Solari’s command vessel.
The Tacita Nocte announced its location to the Selue Rhonar and eagerly awaited reinforcement. Solari’s forces would include the remaining bulk of 3rd company and support elements from the 1st, 10th and reserve companies.
The battle barge and its support vessels rendezvoused with the Tacite Nocte on the dark side of Occulum 20 hours later. In the months since evacuating Omega Nine, Lieutenant Berkstrom and the other survivors gave their account of the Emerald Fist invasion. Vague recollections of shrines, rituals, fortifications and incoherent memories were given in equal measure. No detail was spared in the briefing Romitius provided Captain Solari who stood silent throughout the proceedings. Once complete, Solari cleared the war room to hold private vigil for his fallen sergeant and protege. Though he felt loss for a fallen comrade, Romitius did not understand the urgency of the vigil nor why Solari had not issued orders. As Imperial bulk landers tore an inelegant rift in realspace Romitius realised Solari had already set his plan in motion.
Before Bruj, Solari’s forces were entrenched elsewhere in the sector; enacting strikes on prime targets while the Imperial Guard waged a war of attrition on a much larger scale. Using his influence, Solari requisitioned a score of bulk landers and diverted them to Bruj. Their previous contents likely dead or destroyed a sector away, they lumbered toward Occulum and held position.
The Raven Guard vessels raised their reflex shielding and returned to Bruj Secundus; their numbers hidden. Scout teams were dispatched to confirm strategic centres, key to the Fists’ dominance of Bruj, guided by information provided by the human survivors and Romitius’ observations. Solari was determined to find the heart of the Emerald Fist forces and excise it.
Key structures were quickly identified; the Emerald Fists had accomplished much during their occupation. Newly raised ramparts, bolstered bunkers and fortified strong points were ever present. While cataloguing these areas scouts identified a debased ritual site amid the wastelands. This information allowed Romitius, aided by codiciers aboard the Selue Rhonar, to focus his attentions and could feel the veil between realspace and the immaterium weakening planetside. Romitius knowledge of the arcane was foremost among his chapter and with a focus bred of centuries of meditation he attempted to discern all he could. Without warning, a pang of thought assaulted his mind and he was forced to withdraw his mind from the immaterium. Sparks flew from his psychic hood as damage, well beyond the artifice of the Raven Guard to replace, was done to his ancient wargear. Morteus Commands screamed through his mind as he steeled himself against the mental assault.
Before the Raven Guard could drive the Emerald Fists from Bruj they would have to stop a warp rift from forming and releasing untold horrors into the realm of mankind. The lack of an Emerald Fists fleet in orbit of Bruj Secundus no longer seemed a tactical error. Reinforcements were never arriving by conventional means but from the aether itself. While a protracted siege was central to the Imperium’s war strategy it was not so for the Raven Guard nor would it suffice in this theatre.
Powerful void shields protected the ritual site preventing precision bombardment from orbit. A more traditional assault was required for which the Raven Guard excelled. Solari ordered the bulk landers to move from Occulum toward Bruj Secundus with a target far from the ritual site set as their destination. With luck, the Fists would expect such an attack from the Imperial Army and would divert resources to defend against a landing; drawing forces away from the ritual site. The traitors would have no way of knowing the landers were but hollow shells.
Romitius sensed the vile communion was nearing an end and the Raven Guard could wait no longer. With drop pods at capacity and guided by a scout team on the periphery of the ritual, 3rd company launched for war. Thunderhawk gunships carrying assault squads and land speeders led by Romitius himself trailed behind the fiery contrails of reentering drop pods.
With a fury yet unseen on Bruj, the Raven Guard struck en-mass. Drop pods crashed throughout the compound sending clouds of dust aloft from their retro thrusters. Already thick with the choking fumes abundant where Nurgle walks, the air became opaque to to the eye. Doors blew open and tactical squads hurried to the earth followed by a sternguard veteran squad, hellfire rounds blazing. The denizens of Bruj Secundus were amassed in revelry and it became impossible to miss in spite of the momentary blindness. Land speeders arriving at speed skirted the drop site picking off stray bodies with each pass.Despite the shock of the attack, the Emerald Fists had not been remiss in defending the ritual and the defences flared to life. The ritual had been arrayed around a standard template construct bastion with defensive lines surrounding its perimeter. Hyperios anti aircraft batteries locked on and began to track the Raven Guard land speeders as they banked hard to shake the locks.
A torrent of missiles streaked from the multiple batteries in an instant; felling a trio of speeders.Thunderhawk gunships soared overhead and unleashed their hellfury missiles on the ritual sites before disgorging a score of assault marines with Romitius at the fore. The ordnance exploded with unnatural hues against the strong point’s void shielding doing little beyond burning away the overlying plague fog.
Squad Darius unleashed round after round into the worshipping undead, bolt shells puncturing one rotten corpse before exploding in another. Limbs tore and skulls pulped yet the chanting continued. From among the ranks of decaying humans plague marines strode forward, bolters barking in time with their slow advance. Battle brothers to either side of Darius fell a moment later; their lives given in defence of the Imperium.
With proximity to the despoiled site, Romitius gained a clarity of mind despite having cut himself off from the immaterium. His head throbbed with the ambient psychic stench that surrounded him, yet still he sensed the signs of ritual in three distinct loci. They would divide their forces and disrupt the event utterly or die in the attempt.
The Raven Guard continued to push onward but were slowing against the mass of cultists and prolonged exchanges with plague marines threatened to deplete ammunition reserves. The assault squads broke into small support units and engaged the horde in brutal close quarters combat while the tactical marines focused on the corrupt marines. Black ceramite wedges begin to form and drive ever closer to the shrines.
As the sternguard veterans continued to harry the opposing plague marines with precision shots, a throb of light blossomed from a nearby shrine as a monstrous quadrupedal beast appeared amongst the gloom. With teeth nearly half as long as a mortal the daemon tore its muscular head from side to side impaling those who had summoned it. Instantly tired of rotten meat the beast paused to sniff the air. Rounding on the spot toward the emplaced sternguard the beast began to charge. Hellfire rounds unerringly struck its hide sending mounds of viscera raining down upon the masses which seemed ever more energized by the gore. The spawn was not slowed and plowed into the sternguard, crushing a veteran brother underfoot while clamping its maw upon another.
With chainblades choked on gore and the assault beginning to falter without the guns of the sternguard, Solari materialized on the surface clad in ancient terminator plate. With him, two full squads of tactical terminators formed a half circle of unobstructed firing lines. Assault cannons roared to life and in an instant shredded the massive daemon. The Raven Guard redoubled their efforts, inspired under Solari’s command the the presence of the terminator elite.
As the strike force drew ever closer, the shrines pulsed again releasing a plethora of lesser spawn, warped beyond recognition from an amalgam of ancient Terran creatures. Romitius, guarded by a squad of terminators followed in the wake of the assault marines in their push toward the nearest obelisk. As the last of the cultists encircling the shrine were dispatched the true defenders became evident. Content to let the undead and near-dead slow the Raven Guard, an Emerald Fist terminator cadre had stood stoically defiant of the intruders, letting their ultimate devotion fuel the occult ritual. Upon their jetpacks the assault marines propelled themselves away from the superior foe to bolster squad Darius and the assault on the remaining shrines.
As Romitius and his honour guard engaged the chaos terminators the opposing shrines continued to pulse as lithe bipedal cyclopean creatures with engorged and distended abdomens began to emerge, headed by a giant worm like creature. Their blades showed the rust of centuries and the green pallor of their skin heralded far worse to come. Darius and his squad, bereft of ammunition began to exchange blows with the daemons. Decapitating strikes quickly became evident as the only method of truly destroying the creatures. The blades seemingly beyond disrepair were honed to a razor’s edge. Where they did not carve flesh, ceramite began to flake and adamantium tarnished. A heavy flamer from Solari’s honourguard drove the fel creatures back as the Raven Guard pressed on.
With the warped terminators downed, at the cost of two honoured Raven Guard elite, Romitius strove with purpose toward the glowing statue. With his hands outstretched they disappeared within the putrid light before embracing something either solid within the material realm or coalesced within the warp. With his mind sheltered from chaos and his psychic hood sparking in protest, he attempted to recall neigh forgotten lore which could close the rift.
With ever increasing tempo, the shrines pulsed further, as a mechanical daemon engine came into material being. In a grotesque approximation of a Mechanicum war walker, a hulking daemon was chained to a six legged machine. Belching clouds of smoke and oozing puss the construct lurched forward. Solari, a veteran of centuries knew the fight would end soon with the Raven Guard’s chance to be the victor diminishing rapidly.
Breaking his concentration, Romitius was apprised of the deteriorating situation and accepted the realization that his mental barriers would need to be lowered in order to end the ritual and ultimately close the developing rifts. His eyes began to glow with the Emperor’s divine light while the shrines dimmed. They pulsed in further rebellion and the daemonic hordes appeared to falter. A soft whisper begins to echo within Romitius’ mind “Morteus claims thee”. As the psychic chant grew louder Romitius understood his mistake but his hands could not be removed from the otherworldly realm. The white light in his eyes began to cloud as the shrines pulsed brighter than they had ever shone. “Morteus claims thee” chimed one last time before his head dropped forward and his knees hit the earth. A psychic scream erupted from his soul as the sorrow of his failure transcended realspace. The small tears in reality bled together, fueled by Romitius’ soul scream.
As the rift grew in size, scouts across Bruj Secundus reported and additional six confirmed ritual locations. With Romtius revealed as an unwilling lynch pin in the opening of a huge warp rift and similar scenarios unfolding across the planet’s surface, Captain Solari ordered a full withdraw. In disciplined ranks the Raven Guard backed away from the site, all the while brandishing combat blade and chainweapons while Solari and the terminators covered the flank. As they reached the outskirts of the strong point, waiting Thunderhawks, which had long since run their hoppers dry, swallowed up the Raven Guard. Solari watched in resignation as the hatch closed and the thunderhawks fled for orbit.