“Restructured?” Antonius said, as if he was hearing a word in a foreign language.
“Yes.” Perseus croaked through his respirator. Antonius was not used to seeing the old man outside of his Terminator plate. He looked so small, strapped to an operating bench while Apothecaries tended to his wounds.
“So, we will not be replenished from the Reserve companies?”
“It gets worse.” Perseus whispered; eyes downcast. “I’m promoting three of your sergeants that survived to the First Company.”
Only three sergeants had survived that last desperate defense as the Omega Station came apart. Without them, the 4th Company would be less than a dozen strong.
“...and the 4th Company?” Antonius asked, dreading what he knew was coming.
“The 4th Company is to be reserved. Take the Honor and return to Iperin, where you will oversee fleet repairs.”
“I…” Antonius began.
“You have your orders, Captain. You are dismissed.” Perseus cut him off.
Antonius saluted and made his way out of the Medicae in a haze. A dozen men left of a hundred. Antonius thought of each of the fallen in turn as he wandered aimlessly through the halls of His Hammer II. Would the Company die with them? Was this all that was to become of Atrus’ legacy?
So much for nepotism, eh Gehn? Antonius thought with a bitter laugh. He shook his head
An unfamiliar voice broke him out of his reverie. “You look upset, boy.”
Something in Antonius snapped. “I am sick and tired of being called…”
The words died in his mouth.
Ory-Hara stood before him.
“You...you spoke...” Antonius stammered.
“I speak when I wish to. Come with me.” Ory-Hara said. Despite hearing his voice a moment ago, Antonius was shocked again at the words, and the voice he had only heard in projected memories for so many years. Antonius nodded as Ory-Hara turned and walked down a different hall.
They walked down the corridor of His Hammer II in a silence that was much more familiar. Ory-Hara came to the ornate doors of the former Librarium for the whole Chapter. Though the sacred artifacts and contained blasphemies that the Chapter had recorded were now safely in the Fortress-Monastery at Releeshan, the shipboard Librarium had persisted, primarily out of tradition. Ory-Hara swung the silver-plated doors open, revealing the rest of the Librarians, flanking the room in two neat rows. Ory-Hara strode inside.
Antonius stared inside, dumbfounded. He was not of the Librarius’ Brotherhood. This place was forbidden to him.
“Just a bit further.” Ory-Hara said with warmth and kindness, beckoning Antonius to enter.
Antonius stepped inside, avoiding the stone gaze of those Librarians inside. He had heard of no Brother entering, save Librarians and Perseus. Ory Hara led him to an alcove, where a small envelope sealed in red wax rested on a plinth, shrouded in a shimmering teal stasis field. Ory-Hara’s eyes glowed briefly, and the field crackled and died. He lifted the envelope, and turned it over, revealing Antonius’ name printed neatly in a blocky font on the parchment. He handed it to Antonius.
Antonius sighed. “Another prophecy?”
“We do not know.” Ory-Hara replied. “Atrus dictated that letter to an autoscrivener hours before the confrontation on Iperin. He left instructions that it be given to you after a great devastation befell the 4th Company.”
Antonius felt his hearts lighten. Perhaps Atrus had foreseen the 4th Company depleted and left orders to countermand Perseus? He gently undid the seal and took out the letter. The smell of freshly dried ink washed over him. He opened it and forced himself to read the letter slowly, savoring each word.
I would congratulate you on your victory, but I know that your heart is heavy with what has just occurred. Do not blame Perseus. I left him a letter similar to this one. Know that his orders were my doing.
The fog that had lifted in his mind came crashing down again. From beyond the grave, Atrus’ schemes ensnared him, and relegated him to a glorified steward. Antonius heard a crinkling noise and had to stop himself from crushing the letter. He breathed in deeply and counted slowly as he forced himself to read on.
I apologize for this. I know that it seems no honor. Please believe me when I say that this is not just for the good of you, or our Chapter, but for the entire Imperium. This was no destiny-forging vision like the one that led us to defeat Victor Kalan and his successors.
This vision was far, far worse.
Our Chapter has, in the past, worked with the Eldar, and I have spoken extensively with the members of their race known as Farseers. These enigmatic seers describe the future as threads. I view the future more as a river that branches into tributaries. Small changes in course can drastically affect your journey, such as dodging rocks or navigating rapids.
Ahead of us is a waterfall. No matter what path we take, we cannot avoid it. But we can survive it. Soon the forces of the archenemy will be resurgent, and the galaxy will awaken to a greater nightmare.
But there is still hope. My last vision, Antonius, was of you, bloodied and broken, wading through a stream. When you emerged, you were healed and had become stronger than any Astartes. A host followed in your wake, under your banner. Where you marched, darkness could not abide.
I have done my best to shield you from the worst that fate has to offer. When the darkness comes, you must be a beacon for the Chapter to follow. I regret that I cannot be there to help you. Finally, know that no matter how much doom a prophecy foretells, the final story is always unwritten.
Goodbye, my son.
The fog weighing on Antonius’ mind evaporated. For the briefest of moments, he felt relief. He looked up from the letter to see Ory-Hara, staring at him intently.
“Here.” Antonius said, re-folding the letter and handing it to him gently. “Do with it what you wish.”
Ory-Hara glanced at the letter. Almost immediately, it began to crinkle and crack as a deep blue fire consumed it. Ory-Hara shook the dust from his gauntlet as Antonius watched in dismay.
“You would treat my father’s last words with such disdain?”
“I would keep his secrets,” Ory-Hara said. “ What he wrote was not for me to know. It was for you. His words live in your actions. Remember that.”
Antonius sighed. “Prophecy. Destiny. They’re of no use to me, Ory-Hara. I’m a soldier.”
“As am I,” Ory-Hara said. “As are each of us here among the Chapter. You are a soldier. You took command of your Company when your commander fell. You rescued your brethren with unprecedented plans. You are a soldier, and you are a leader of men.”
“That is what was asked of me,” Antonius said. “Those actions were the need of the moment. Captain Ganendra told me that service requires us to do what is necessary, no matter the cost.”
“This moment, too, has its necessities. Its requirements. The only question is if you will stand and meet the moment, or let the moment take you.”
Antonius grimaced and sighed deeply. The old Librarian was right. He could not allow himself to diminish into self-pity and bitterness. That was Gehn’s path; a bleak future and a blackened soul.
“I will stand,” Antonius said, finally. His face relaxed and he smiled at Ory-Hara. “…but I may need the help of an old friend of my father’s.”
Ory-Hara laughed. It was a good laugh, clear and warm and hearty. Antonius realized he had missed it all these years. The Librarian reached out and clapped his hand on Antonius’ pauldron.
“Very well, boy,” he said, chidingly. “But you may get more than you bargained for, there.”
“I would ask for nothing less.”
Ory-Hara nodded, and two made their way from the Librarium. The halls of His Hammer II thrummed as it sailed through the stars and prepared to dive into the Sea of Souls. Outside, the ruins of the Omega Station passed by and slipped into memory as the Adeptus Astartes of the Azure Flames Chapter sped into the future that awaited them.