The Reliquary in the Shrine of the Emperor Ascendant on the most holy world of Mary Mayo had never been defiled by the Archenemy. The solid doors, intricately carved with long dead saints and holy battles thousands of years old had never been breached. The holy inner sanctum, filled with the sacred texts, war banners and the sarcophagi of the sector’s greatest heroes had had never known the touch of any but the delicate, reverent ministrations of the Shrine’s own priests and Mortuary Guard.
The doors to the sanctum smashed open as the dismembered body of their last defender, Cardinal Potentius Calafax, flew through them. His blood stained the finely carved wood, and his skull smashed the face of a saint slaying a daemon as his broken body tumbled to the ground.
Loud rhythmic thuds echoed through the open doorway as a mass of bare ceramite streaked in blood marched into the room. Teufel, Exalted Champion of the Iron Warriors Legion of Chaos Space Marines, took no notice of the Cardinal pawing weakly at his boots; cursing the metallic daemon that had invaded the temple he’d spent his life tending to. The Cardinal’s cries stopped with a sudden jolt as Teufel trampled the man’s skull to jelly without breaking stride. Following in Teufel’s wake were the Siege Lords, a retinue clad in ancient and revered Terminator Armour. Their massive suits crushed Calafax’s remains to an unrecognizable pulp. As they entered, they scanned for signs of remaining defenders, finding nothing in the stillness and silence.
Teufel stopped in the center of the sanctum, taking stock of the Imperial treasures that lined nearly every surface. Sacred relics and ancient artifacts were displayed in glass cases around the edges of the room, seated within wrought ironwork bars hand-etched with prayers. A cluster of ornate pews, made from rare and exotic emberwood, sat in the forward area of the room, doubtlessly for most high of the faithful to tend to ritual cleansing and prayers. Teufel took special notice of a war-banner, one of dozens, that hung from the immaculate crystalline ceiling. It commemorated the deeds and valor of the Verusian 12th. He remembered it well, just as he remembered giving the command to shell the men and women of the 12th into oblivion. That banner, he thought with some amusement, was probably the last living memory of the regiment.
His attention quickly turned to the far wall, which held the sanctum’s true prize - a masterfully-carved frieze of devotion, plated in the finest ur-gold, bedecked with gems enough to bankrupt full sectors, which spanned the full width of the room. The devotional featured scenes of holy war and of the Imperium’s arrival, benighting cowed natives with their wisdom. Saints, depicted with the heads of noble beasts, all gathered in worship at the carving’s center, around a single figure that dominated the piece - one hand filled with holy flame, and in the other a sword, the Emperor of Mankind towered above all others, surrounded in a halo of pearl.
Teufel grunted out a hollow, mirthless laugh. “As with all liars and pretenders. As with all who would dare forget our name, and those who would defy the Will of Iron.” he intoned, and aimed his bolt pistol at the central work.
He halted as a ragged, wordless snarl filled the room. As one, Teufel and his squad of Terminators turned.
Lord Gorath of the Iron Warriors, master of the horde that now assaulted and burned the world of Mary Mayo, strode into the Sanctum. His enormous suit of Tactical Dreadnought Armor towered over even the largest of his Chosen. As one, Teufel and the Terminator guard quickly kneeled before their commander.
“The Reliquary is secured, my Lord. As you have commanded,” said Teufel.
“So I see,” Gorath drawled, gesturing to the Cardinal’s ruins. “Holy men and their soft acolytes. Truly worthy opponents, Teufel.” Gorath approached his Lieutenant, the marble flooring cracking under his bulk. “A battle so hard-fought and filled with glory that you feel yourself worthy to defile my prize, Champion.”
Teufel bowed his head in shame - and confusion. “Lord, I was not aware that this room was to b-”
“It is of no matter,” Gorath spat. “So long as you do not forget your place, Lieutenant.”
Gorath moved past his warriors, taking in the full display of the reliquary. He noted each scroll and coffin, each priceless artifact and hanging. Finally, he rested his gaze on the golden depiction of all that he and his loathed most. The sound that crackled from his vox-speakers could have been a growl, or a long, rumbling sigh.
“Leave me,” he said.
“Lord?” Teufel asked, slowly turning his head towards Gorath’s towering form.
“Make preparations to evacuate this worthless scab of a world within two standard hours. Give the fleet captains my command to target this citadel - this room - for annihilation by cyclonic bombardment as soon as our Astartes have been fully recalled. This world will burn in our wake, Teufel. So Kalan has decreed.”
“Yes, my Lord,” Teufel said. “And I shall inform our allies as well?”
“I leave that entirely to your discretion, my Exalted. I will rejoin you presently. Now, begone.”
“Understood, my Lord,” Teufel said. “Iron within!” he shouted, slamming his ironclad fist to his chest with a crash.
Gorath’s dismissed his men without fire in his voice, or even a turn of his head. “Iron without.”
Reluctantly, with the rest of the Siege Lords, Teufel made his way out of the room. He closed the doors behind him, tugging great brass rings to move the hefty carved masterpieces, leaving his master to the silence of the dead.
For a long while, Gorath stared wordlessly at the frieze, his great maul “Soul Hammer” swaying loosely in his hand. Finally, with a cadaverous scar of a voice, he spoke:
“I am so...tired of you, Corpse God.”
He approached the carving, staring straight into the multi-hued gems that made up the Emperor’s eyes.
“I am tired of massacring your empire. I am tired of cursing your name and burning your sad houses of worship. I am tired of your Imperium and its ignorance of history...and of those who built it with blood. With flesh. With iron.”
The Emperor’s golden visage was silent. Gorath turned away from the frieze, stalking down the rows of pews.
“I am tired of killing those fleeting motes of mortal dust that pray to you, that give themselves so willingly to you. I am tired of butchering them in the name of men who would be daemons, who would exalt themselves in the name of bringing you low.”
Suddenly, Gorath swung his mighty Daemon infused hammer, flinging pews into the surrounding cases of precious relics. The loud, low clanging of leaded glass shattering filled the air with a symphony of crashes and tinkling shards.
“I am sick of these fools and their trinkets, of their posturing and preening. Even as they deny you, they cry out to you, use you to feed their delusions. I am weary of being ensnared in their web of pride and ego, of being a puppet to their whims and to their thrice-damned ‘gods’.”
He whirled the hammer and lashed it out at more of the relics. Bones of saints long forgotten were powdered by the hammer’s dark energies. Splinters of a pew filled the air as he crushed them in his armored fist and tossed them at the Emperor’s holy form.
“I am weary of this need to kill you. To feel your flesh cleave like clay between my talons. To spit in your withered face and smash it to dust. To burn your Imperium to ashes, to drink the blood and tears of man, to sit upon your Golden Throne while the galaxy crumbles, to see all of your dreams in flame and ruin and laugh as the galaxy gasps its last.”
Gorath crashed and clattered his way to the golden wall once more, coming face-to-face with the likeness of a master that had enslaved and broken his sons, his empire, his legacy. The false master of Mankind.
“I am so tired of hating you, you withered, lying whoreson! All these centuries, slaved to this broken, worthless purpose! I want it to end, you bastard. I need to it end!” he shouted, and spat at the figure. His saliva bubbled and smoked as it burned through the gold. He lashed out with his clawed gauntlet, dragging scars through the precious metals. Then, with a final shout, Gorath hefted the daemon maul and, with all of his superhuman might, brought it down on the Emperor’s cold and uncaring face.
The frieze crumpled instantly. Priceless jewels shot through the room like bullets. Gorath panted with rage and ragged exhaustion, and began to turn away, to stalk back to his position of command at the heart of yet another crusade he knew would lead nowhere.
He stopped, noticing the smallest gleam of unnatural light behind the wall. A cavity behind the frieze, seemingly impossible given the room’s layout. Something glittered from within, and Gorath felt the long-dead pangs of curiosity well within him. With great care, Gorath gripped the remains of the frieze, and parted them, slowly tearing the opening wider.
Moments later, he stopped, coming to a true understanding of what lay before him.
His mind, seconds ago raging with an inferno of hate, was now a mass of wheels and gears, spinning out schemes. His eyes dilated and his breath caught as he gazed into the opening, and beheld something even he, in his long life of destruction and plunder, had never so much as hoped to see...
Throughout the sanctum, into the ruined and burning halls of the Shrine, a sound began to echo, like great iron drum, beaten by giants. Like a storm that would rip through metal and flesh. Like a galactic predator roaring triumph over its kill. As he burst through the doors of the reliquary and made his way towards the building’s ruined facade, Gorath’s laughter built to a roar as he planned the downfall of an empire.