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TitleStorm of Iron
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Page 84

Stuttering volleys of las-fire blasted from the trench, but it was too little, too late as Honsou
dropped into the prepared position and killed with wanton abandon. His sword chopped
through a terrified Guardsman, the reverse stroke disembowelling another. He worked his
way down the trench, hacking a bloody path through the defenders who fell back in horror
from his deadly blade. As Honsou killed the Guardsmen, he revelled in his superiority, and
could well understand the attraction of Khorne's path.
The Iron Warriors swept over the trench killing everything in it with the fury of those who
had fought their way through hell and lived to tell the tale, butchering anything that came
within reach.
* * *
FROM INSIDE THE keep of Tor Christo, Major Gunnar Tedeski watched the slaughter with a
desperate heart. His men were dying and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He'd
gambled with the lower guns, trusting that they would be able to stop the relentless advance
of the Iron Warriors, but they had second guessed him, and now the fortress was as good as
theirs.
He had failed and while Tor Christo's fate had never really been in doubt, it was galling for
it to have fallen so quickly. The attackers had not yet broken out of Kane bastion, but they
would surely overrun the entrenchments behind the bastion soon. He knew the images he
was seeing on the remote pict-viewers did not capture the horror and carnage taking place
outside. Thousands of men were streaming over the walls and it would only be a matter of
time until the Mars and Dragon bastions came under attack from their vulnerable rears. If he
let them, the men there would fight bravely, but they would die, and Tedeski would have no
more deaths on his conscience.
'Poulsen!' sighed Tedeski, wiping dust and sweat from his brow.
'Sir?'
'Send the "Heaven's Fall" signal to all company commanders and Castellan Vauban.'
'"Heaven's Fall", sir?' queried Poulsen.
'Yes, damn you!' snapped Tedeski. 'Quickly, man!'
'Y-yes, sir,' nodded Poulsen hurriedly and ran off to pass the evacuation code to the vox
operators.
Tedeski turned from his aide-de-camp and straightened his duty uniform jacket before
addressing the remaining men and officers standing with him in the Christo's command
centre.
'Gentlemen, it is time you left this place. It grieves me to say that Tor Christo is about to
fall. As the commanding officer, I am ordering you to lead as many men as you can into the
tunnels and make your way to the citadel. Castellan Vauban will need every man on the
walls in the coming days and I will not deny him those men by sacrificing them needlessly
here.'
Silence greeted his words until a junior officer asked, "Will you not accompany us, sir?'
'No. I will stay to overload the reactor and deny our foes this fortress.'
Tedeski raised his arm as objections were shouted. 'I have made up my mind and will not be
argued with. Now go! Time is of the essence!'
THE HEAVEN'S FALL signal has been sent from Tor Christo, arch magos,' reported Magos
Naicin, staring at the encrypted vox-thief before him.
'So soon?' hissed Amaethon, and though his flesh had lost any true emotive qualities, Naicin
saw a passable approximation of genuine alarm cross the face of the arch magos.
'It appears that the men of the Guard are weaker than even I feared,' said Naicin sadly.
"We must protect ourselves! The citadel must not fall!'
'It must not/ agreed Naicin. 'What would you have me do, arch magos?'

Page 85

'Blow the tunnel, Naicin! Do it now!'
CAPTAIN POULSEN HURRIED down the carved steps, clutching bundles of paper folders and an
armful of data-slates. The fear was unlike anything he had felt before. He'd never been on
the front line before, his talents in organisation and logistics making him much more
valuable to the command echelons behind the line.
But standing on the walls of the Kane bastion with shells exploding all around him, he'd felt
the bowel-loosening terror of an artillery bombardment and was desperately grateful he had
been spared the horror of combat. Hundreds of men thronged the tunnels beneath the keep,
descending into the depths of the promontory and heading for the wide cavern-tunnel that
led back to the citadel. Similar underground passageways allowed the men from the flanking
bastions to escape, though it was too late for the men in Kane bastion.
It was inevitable that some men would have to die so that the others might live.
Weak illumination from the glow-globes strung from the ceiling cast a fitful light over the
soldiers around him. Fearful and guilty expressions were writ large across his fellow
officers' faces. Dust drifted from the ceiling and sputtering recyc-units struggled to keep the
air moving in the hot, stagnant underground.
Eventually, the steps ended and the tunnel widened into a large, roughly circular cavern with
passages leading off into the rock beneath Tor Christo. Men from the Dragon and Mars
bastions were already streaming from these tunnels, yellow-coated provosts attempting to
impose a semblance of order of the retreat with limited success. Major Tedeski's order to
withdraw was being obeyed with speed. Four giant, blast-shielded elevator doors studded
one wall and, ahead, the cavern narrowed to a well-lit underground highway, nearly twelve
metres wide and seven high.
Normally this level of the fort was used to move artillery and ordnance between Tor Christo
and the citadel, but it was equally well-suited for large scale movements of troops. Poulsen
jostled alongside sweating troopers, the shouts of fiie provosts and soldiers almost
deafening. The heaving mass of men moved towards the main tunnel and Poulsen felt
himself being carried along with it. An elbow dug painfully into his side and he yelped,
dropping the armful of data-slates to the painted floor.
The bureaucrat in him took over and he fell to his knees to gather up the fallen slates,
cursing under his breath as a booted foot crunched the nearest one to splinters. A hand
grabbed him and hauled him roughly upright.
'Leave them!' snarled a grim-faced provost. 'Keep moving.'
Poulsen was about to protest at this rough treatment, when the ground shook and cries of
alarm echoed around the cavern. A rain of dust dropped from the roof and an eerie quiet
descended upon the chamber.
'What was that?' breathed Poulsen. 'Artillery?'
'No/ hissed the provost. 'We wouldn't hear artillery down here. That was something else/
Then what?'
'I don't know, but I don't like the sound of it/
Another louder vibration shook the cavern, then another. Shouts of alarm turned to cries of
terror as Poulsen saw a hellish orange glow race towards them down the main tunnel,
followed by a furious whooshing roar. Poulsen watched the approaching glow with
incomprehension. What was happening?
His unasked question was suddenly answered as someone shouted, 'Emperor's Blood, they're
blowing the tunnel!'
Blowing the tunnel? That was inconceivable! While there were men still here? Castellan
Vauban would never give such an order. This couldn't be happening. Hundreds of soldiers
turned in panic and attempted to race back into the tunnels they had recently fled, pushing

Page 167

Hydra Cordatus with the same speed and efficiency with which they had arrived.
Never in his whole life had Hawke felt quite so alone. With the departure of the enemy
forces, the silence was unnerving. The constant rumble of artillery and explosions was gone,
as was the distant screaming of men in battle. Only now, with it absent did Hawke realise
how omnipresent it had been.
Not a soul moved on the plain below and he decided that enough was enough. He scavenged
a few unspoiled ration
packs from the torpedo facility's crew quarters as well as some hydration tablets and,
thankfully, some detox pills.
With the battle over, he began the long trek to the valley floor, a skinny shambling wreck,
covered in dust and blood. Quite what he intended to do when he got there, he didn't know,
but knew that it sure beat staying in the mountains.
It was on his third day's travel, as he rested in the shadow of a tall boulder, that he saw the
ship. It roared low along the valley before vanishing to land beyond the smashed walls of
the citadel.
Though he knew he was too far away to be heard, he shouted himself hoarse, scrambling
downhill at a furious rate. The fact that he was almost a day's journey from the citadel didn't
occur to him, and soon he was breathless and exhausted, his head pounding in pain.
When he recovered, he set off once more, filled with fresh determination. He travelled for
another five hours across the treacherous terrain of the mountains, when he heard the whine
of the ship's engines once more.
Hawke watched the ponderous craft rise up from the distant citadel and angle itself towards
the crimson sky.
'Oh, no,' he moaned. 'No, no, no... come back! Come back you bastards! Come back!'
But the crew of the ship ignored his pleading and the craft shot upwards on a burning tail
plume. Hawke dropped to his knees as the craft vanished from sight, weeping and cursing its
crew.
He was scanning the sky, desperately hoping the ship would return, when the first orbital
lance strike lit up the sky with unbearable brightness and streaked through the atmosphere to
impact on the citadel.
He sat bolt upright as a massive explosion mushroomed from the citadel, scrambling
backwards as a cascade of light fell from the sky, enveloping the citadel in blinding explo-
sions.
Hawke watched, horrified as the barrage continued for another three hours. By the time it
was complete, there was nothing left to indicate that the citadel had existed at all.
He slumped onto his side, closing his eyes as the weight of the last few weeks crashed down
upon him and he realised he was trapped on Hydra Cordatus. He squeezed shut his eyes and
rolled onto his back as exhaustion finally claimed him.
ROUGH HANDS SHOOK him awake and he grunted in pain as he felt himself being dragged to his
feet. He tried to open his eyes, but they were gummed with dust. All he could make out were
blurred, yellow forms and shouted questions. Shapes either side of him held him upright as
an insistent voice nagged at him.
'What...?' he slurred.
'What is your name?' repeated the voice.
'Hawke/ he managed, 'Guardsman Hawke, serial number 25031971, who the hell are you?'
'Sergeant Vermaas of the Imperial Fists strike cruiser Justi-tia Fides,' said a voice in front of
him.
He felt hands lifting his dog-tags from beneath his uniform jacket.
Hawke blinked his eyes and turned his head, seeing two giants in yellow power armour

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