The gods went silent for the first time in Matthius’ memory.
Moments before they had been a cacophony that Matthius had trouble blocking out. Nurgle was mumbling happily about an age of Chaos Ascendant in which his gifts would be given to every living thing, and the word “healthy” would be the vilest of slurs. Khorne was roaring in approval as Gehn had murdered Morgail, and was anticipating a fight full of hatred, savagery, and blood. Tzeentch whispered contradictory things in eighty one distinct voices. Slaanesh was delighted, moaning as she savored the secret that Gehn had revealed about his hatred towards Antonius.
Then Antonius had said those fateful words.
“Gehn, I’m sorry.”
Gehn’s stance changed. He faltered. The ruins of the Omega Station’s Command Center went absolutely quiet. Shock played across the faces of Matthius’ most loyal followers. The atmosphere, burning with Gehn’s hatred and determination moments ago, froze into an icy tension.
Matthius had felt something like this before. When he had found Victor Kalan. When he had slain the Ork Grimgull. When Esharradon had fallen on Iperin.
This moment was a nexus of fate.
History would be decided by what transpired in the next few moments. Matthius saw the conflict of the long war, spiraling down and condensed into this room.
Before he could react, Antonius spoke again.
“Did you think I didn’t know that you had seen me on that day, when I was in the camps? I was a filthy refugee; malnourished, orphaned, and scared. I was ready to lay down and die, just to escape the horrors of war. Then you came. The fourth company of the Azure Flames came to the camp, and led us to safety. I remember you, standing tall and proud at the gates. You stood as a symbol of the Emperor’s Angels of Death, protecting the weak and vanquishing the unclean. That was the moment I wanted to join you. I wanted to stand tall, just like you did that day. You are the reason I volunteered. I only joined the Azure Flames because of you, Gehn.” As Antonius spoke, Slaanesh moaned quietly within Matthius’ mind as she tasted the secret that Antonius had revealed. She went silent again afterwards.
If before Gehn’s stance faltered, now he was reeling. Matthius realized that the war for the Omega Station would be decided here; in the battle for Gehn’s soul.
Gehn took a step forward, slamming his boot onto the plascrete of the floor. “How ironic, boy, that I should be the instrument of your inspiration and your death, you spoiled brat. Your nepotism is the height of hypocrisy.”
Matthius suppressed a grimace as Gehn misused the term of irony, but smiled as Gehn rebuked Antonius’ arguments.
“Do you think it was by my choice that I was promoted?” Antonius said in calm, even tones. He gestured with his free hand to the laurels that decorated his shoulder. “I would trade these, and all of the responsibility and power of my position just to fight by the side of Captain Ganendra again. And by yours. Despite all you have done, you are still my brother.”
“Y… you… I can’t believe that!” Gehn spat.
“You were right, Gehn. My father sent you to die. But it was because he had a vision that you would fall to the Ruinous Powers. He felt that a death in service to the chapter would have been saving your soul. But he was by no means perfect. Indeed, his actions were what forced you into the captivity of this… prophet. In trying to save you, he sent you to damnation. He was wrong, and because he is not here to apologize, I do so on his behalf.” Antonius said.
This was going poorly.
Gehn sighed. “That… doesn’t make up for it…”
“I know. Nothing can.” Antonius said. “But the final decision is up to you. You can walk away from the madness of Chaos. Remember the words of Vulkan: ‘He who dwells in darkness may still seek the salvation of the light.’”
“That is quite enough.” Matthius interjected. Gehn turned to him, his face pained. The memories of his long-abandoned duty and honor tortured him. His features were a portrait of his internal struggle. “Gehn,” Matthnius continued “…do you really think you can go back? Imagine what you would do in his place if one of your brothers had praised the Gods. Could there be forgiveness? Even if there was, would you want to go back? To be chained by your duty? Look at where that duty led you; to a death sentence laid down by a blind man.”
Gehn’s mouth twisted at that thought.
“Yes, you see now. Ask yourself: when was the best time of my life? Were you content in your service to the corpse god? Or were you more satisfied in the exultation of freedom that the True Gods offer? He is right about one thing, Gehn. This is your decision. Choose: the slavery of duty, or the freedom of heresy.”
As Matthius finished, Gehn smiled again. He turned back to Antonius. “A valiant effort, boy. Did you really think you could save my soul? Your words are dust. Now, I will show you the skills that went unrecognized for decades. When I finally crush your pathetic heart, you will know why I am better than you will ever be.”
Matthius sighed in relief. He had battled many opponents before, but none as worthy as Antonius. The man had an eloquence that befitted his station. But the battle was over. Gehn had chosen damnation over redemption.
Matthius heard Tzeentch scream.
“Kill him! Kill him now, Gehn!” Matthius barked.
“Do you know why you were never promoted, Gehn?” Antonius shouted as he briefly crouched to grasp his fallen banner. “There were ample opportunities for the saviour of Arkh. You were passed over again and again for one reason.”
He paused dramatically as he was backlit by floodlights coming in from the void beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows of the command center. A deep blue Thunderhawk Gunship dropped into view, its turrets swiveling menacingly.
“…you could never tell when an enemy was stalling for time.” Antonius said, full of righteousness.
Until that moment, Matthius had never understood Gehn’s hatred of this boy. Now he knew.
“DOWN NOW!” Matthius screamed as the windows shattered under the assault of hundreds of explosive mass reactive rounds. The windows exploded outward, exposing the command center to the vacuum of space. Antonius fell, wreathed by shattered glass, into the gaping maw of the Thunderhawk’s assault ramp. Several of Matthius’ most faithful followers were shredded by heavy bolter fire, and others were blown out into the void, too slow to react.
Gehn slammed his power fist into the ground, shattering the plascrete and falling through the floor. Matthius felt huge rounds deflect off of his shoulders and greaves as he dashed for the opening Gehn had made. He fought the overwhelming air currents of the room’s decompression and landed next to Gehn.
“Your revenge will have to wait, Lord Gehn. Come. This situation can still be salvaged.” Matthius ordered. Gehn nodded reluctantly. Matthius advanced, keeping Gehn in his peripheral vision.
He could never again turn his back on Gehn.