Like any structure built by the Astartes of the Iron Warriors Legion, The Black Morass was built as an impregnable fortress. Hallways overlapped and doubled backwards and wandered in deliberately circuitous paths. Boarding parties, or simply those without the Legion’s own sense of malicious paranoia, would be inevitably lost within a madman’s nightmare, easily picked off and dispatched by its architects. It was an intricate trap built of steel, iron and blood, and deep within its black heart, Teufel awaited his doom.
He had failed. He had gambled everything, and he had lost. Cruel and unforeseen chance had stolen victory from him. Now his hated Lord was on his way here, to Teufel’s quarters, alone. So, not a public execution. Perhaps, Teufel thought, the Black King did not even intend to leave a body behind.
Still, Teufel had foreseen the possibility of this moment, and had one final card to play. Just as any son of Perturabo would, Teufel had planned for every eventuality. With deliberate care and over an achingly long timespan, Teufel had installed a dozen shaped melta charges around the hatch leading into his quarters. With a gesture, the heat and power of a small sun would be concentrated on anything unfortunate enough to occupy the doorway. Nothing - not even Gorath’s famed suit of Tactical Dreadnought armor, rumored to be forged by their gene-father’s own hand - would be able to withstand the sheer destructive energies clustered together in such a small space.
He had never intended to dispatch Gorath so crudely. It was an assassination, cold and brutal, carried out in desperation without any of the byzantine maneuvering that defined the power struggles of his Legion. Rivals would sense weakness in such a lack of sophistication. Rather than a clear ascension to power, Teufel’s actions would fuel a war for control of the 9th Company. He had marked all of those who would challenge him, and devised failsafe means to dispatch each of them, but the chaos of it grated against the precision and certainty burned into the heart of every Iron Warrior. It was not the clean win he had dreamed of and labored for, but he would survive. Gorath would not. In this moment, it was all that mattered.
From the hallways, even though the inch-thick plasteel of the door, he could hear the talons that long ago replaced his Lord’s legs thudding into the flooring. There was no subtlety in the approach. No hesitation. Teufel’s hearts began to beat faster in anticipation, and his leathery daemonic wings instinctively wrapped around his ceramite-clad form to shield him from what was coming. The chime of an entrance code being accepted rang out from the doorway. There was the hiss and grind of the door retracting into its bulkhead, and Lord Gorath, Master of the 9th Company, stepped into Teufel’s quarters.
“Lieutenant,” boomed the guttural rasp of Gorath’s voice. His helmet, newly repaired, lowered in the natural challenge of a master facing his errant vassal. The mass of the feared Soul Hammer swayed loosely in one hand, twitching almost imperceptibly against Gorath’s grip.
The moment had come. After a final, hateful glare, Teufel blink-clicked the rune that would ignite his long-awaited victory.
Nothing at all.
“Do you truly believe, Teufel,” Gorath said, cocking his head in mock curiosity, “that I do not know everything that happens on my ship? Every plot and every scheme, every machination hatched by those that I rule within my own domain?”
Teufel growled and unfurled his wings, his power sword crackling to life. So, now it came to this. His odds were infinitesimal, but at least he would go down fighting…
“Spare me the theatrics, Lieutenant,” Gorath said, shaking his head wearily. “Today I have watched the work of centuries burn to dust and have fled the thrice-damned servants of the Corpse God as they revel in their victory. What small amusement I might have in annihilating you would not grant me even a moment’s succor.”
Teufel did not move. “If you believe I will grovel for your forgiveness—”
“I do not forgive, Teufel,” Gorath snarled. “Do not insult us both by pretending otherwise. You are of more use to me alive than you would be dead. That is the balance in which your life rests, as it always will. When your insolence outweighs your value, I will end your worthless existence with a force you cannot imagine. Until then, you serve me.”
“Or,” Teufel said, flexing the clawed fingers of his gauntlet, “until I achieve my aims.”
Gorath grunted in dismissal. “And if you did topple me, what then? Would you turn this vessel around and take your vengeance in flesh and fire from those who have denied us our prize? Succeed where I have failed? Would you bring war to Terra and cast down the Palace’s walls? Would you put your spear through the Emperor’s heart and finish that which we started ten millennia past?”
Teufel was silent for a moment. “Perhaps I would.”
“No. It would be no different. You would raid and pillage and tally your meaningless pinpricks against the back of the Emperor’s great Leviathan. You would revel in your small measure of glory until you were thrown back, again and again, by those who serve that implacable beast. In the end, only the gods truly gain from these endeavors. Our fate is to rage and to burn for so long as we are able, to be extinguished and forgotten as another Champion begins the cycle anew.”
Teufel said nothing.
“We are damned, Teufel. All of us. You and I. Every Astartes fighting the Long War. There is no final victory, no true power to be attained, only the empty succor of pride. That is all we have, and while I will not let you take it from me, you are welcome to try and fail as you have today. Just know that in this existence, you will never truly be the master. Only a different sort of slave.”
Teufel remained mute, but the sounds of his power sword died away, and all aggression left his stance. Gorath nodded slowly. No weapon wounded like truth.
“Now return to your duties, Lieutenant. The 9th Company requires new blood and new wars to renew its strength. Once again, we will strike the Imperium with the steel of our swords and the acid of our hate. Even the damned must live out their purpose, and we will serve ours to the fullest until the end claims us.”
Gorath turned to leave but stopped as the familiar crash of ceramite-on-ceramite rang out behind him. He glanced back to his Lieutenant, who stood, straight-backed, a fist held to his chest.
“Iron within,” Teufel said, bowing his head.
“Iron without,” Gorath said as he exited the room. “As it has always been. As it shall always be.”