Yarrick_ Pyres of Armageddon - David Annandale

It is the 41st millennium. For more than a hundred centuries the Emperor has sat immobile on the Golden Throne of Earth. He is the master of mankind by the will of the gods, and master of a million worlds by the might of his inexhaustible armies. He is a rotting carcass writhing invisibly with power from the Dark Age of Technology. He is the Carrion Lord of the Imperium for whom a thousand souls are sacrificed every day, so that he may never truly die.

Yet even in his deathless state, the Emperor continues his eternal vigilance. Mighty battlefleets cross the daemon-infested miasma of the warp, the only route between distant stars, their way lit by the Astronomican, the psychic manifestation of the Emperor’s will. Vast armies give battle in his name on uncounted worlds. Greatest amongst His soldiers are the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines, bio-engineered super-warriors. Their comrades in arms are legion: the Astra Militarum and countless planetary defence forces, the ever-vigilant Inquisition and the tech-priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus to name only a few. But for all their multitudes, they are barely enough to hold off the ever-present threat from aliens, heretics, mutants – and worse.

To be a man in such times is to be one amongst untold billions. It is to live in the cruellest and most bloody regime imaginable. These are the tales of those times. Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be re-learned. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war. There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.

1. YARRICK

The return to Armageddon was a hard one. As we made our way back from Basquit, the warp convulsed. Waves of insanity slammed against the Glaive of Pyran. The Lunar-class cruiser was a good ship, strong in hull and crew. Even so, cries echoed down its length. Some were the wailing of tocsins as the Gellar field’s integrity was strained by the currents and tides of the immaterium moved to anger. Others came from the Glaive’s astropathic choir and navigator. In the troop holds, we felt the cruiser shake as its reality came under assault and the certainty of its path eroded. At one point, the walls reverberated with a groan that was too deafening to be human, and too agonised to be metal.

And yet this was not the storm. This was the storm building. The Glaive of Pyran held true to its course, and when it exited the warp, we were in the Armageddon System.

‘A rough passage, Commissar Yarrick,’ Colonel Artura Brenken said to me in the shuttle that carried us from the cruiser towards Hive Infernus. There was a jolt as we began re-entry. My grav-harness held me in place as the fuselage shook.

‘Very,’ I agreed. I raised my voice over the violent rattling caused by the atmosphere’s turbulence. ‘I doubt many more ships will be able to enter or leave the system until the storm passes.’

Brenken gave me a sharp look. ‘This storm worries you.’

‘All warp storms do.’

‘This one more than others.’

I gave her a crooked grin. She knew me well. She should, after so many decades. We had first met shortly after my initial mission as commissar. After serving on Mistral, I had been seconded to the Armageddon Steel Legion for the first time. She had been a sergeant, then a captain, and had been a colonel now for over seventy years. She would have made a fine general, and in my more cynical moments, I sometimes thought that was precisely why she had never reached that rank. She was a superb soldier, but a poor politician – an officer who became more uneasy the further she was from a battlefield.

She wouldn’t make general now. She was near the end of her career. We both were. We were old. Juvenat treatments had kept us physically viable, but her face, like mine, had been moulded by the decades upon decades of war. The unnatural smoothness of her augmetic lower jaw stood out in stark contrast to the landscape of wrinkles and scars on the rest of her clean-shaven skull.

No, colonel would be the peak of her ascension in the ranks.

But she had ascended. I was still a simple commissar.

We both had debriefings to attend. She, as commanding officer of the 252nd Regiment of the Armageddon Steel Legion, would be due for official commendation,