Bright fire lit the void as the Endless Penitence struggled to escape from the combined barrage of three Space Marine Strike Cruisers. However, it was in vain. The shields of the Word Bearers cruiser shimmered and flashed out of existence seconds before a salvo of magma bombs bloomed against its hull, leaving glowing yellow craters to pockmark its ancient skin.
Lance fire from its starboard array showed that the Chaos cruiser was far from helpless as Antonius rocked in his command throne from the impact. Wounded and desperate, the Endless Penitence eschewed diverting power from emergency containment in favor of its massive plasma batteries. The void shone with fire again as the Strike Cruiser Honor took the brunt of a full broadside.
“Report!” Antonius shouted above the fray.
“Minor damage to starboard batteries.” an Astartes crewman answered. “Estimated fifteen minutes to repair.”
“Come about to one-one-three mark three-three-nine, and tell port guns to fire at will. Open a channel to the Sacrifice.”
The grim face of Captain Dakota of the 6th company appeared on his screens. “Are you ready to break off, Antonius?” he asked.
“Change of plans.” Antonius answered. “We’ve taken a bit too much damage, but the enemy seems to have ignored the Sacrifice. You have the best chance to guide His Anvil into the warp. I need you to make the connection.”
“Somehow I knew you were going to say that…” Dakota sighed.
“Break on my mark. The Word of Truth is held fast by His Anvil’s tractor beams; ignore it. Edgard and I will deal with the traitors. Don’t spare your engines.”
Dakota nodded grimly and closed the channel. Antonius gave the signal to cease the attack. As one, the three Strike Cruisers abandoned their circling and set course for the wounded Battle Barge and its captive.
The tactical position spoke up. “Captain, I am reading a surge of energy from the Word of Truth.”
Antonius growled softly under his breath. The traitors had found a work-around to restore the power dampening effect of the tractor beam. “How long will it take for them to break free?”
“It’s not the engines, sir, it’s their weapons!”
Antonius’ eyes went wide as a bright line connected the Word of Truth and the Sacrifice. A heartbeat later, more lances from the Endless Penitence preceded a wall of plasma fire that engulfed the Sacrifice.
These traitors are no fools. They are targeting whichever ship has the best chance of making the rescue. Antonius thought. Disturbingly, the power output of the Sacrifice dropped, and it began a lateral spiral that it seemed unable to correct. Antonius opened a line to Dakota again, and patched in Edgard.
“Your engines, Dakota?” Antonius asked.
“Useless.” Dakota replied. “We can’t land like this…”
“We cannot prevail against this firepower.” croaked Edgard. “If we punish the Endless Penitence until it disengages we may have a chance.”
“They won’t disengage.” Dakota answered. “They have troops aboard His Anvil.”
“Edgard, can you take the Duty and keep the Penitence busy?” Antonius asked.
“Yes, but not for long.” Edgard answered.
“Do it. Dakota, give me as much covering fire as you can, and lend your Thunderhawks to supporting Edgard.”
“You have that look on your face again, Antonius.” Dakota said with a smile.
“…and which one is that, brother?”
“The one that says ‘I’m about to do something incredibly foolish.’”
“I will not argue with you when you’re right.” Antonius quipped, and then cut the channel. “Send a message to the rescue team, text only, encrypted. Tell them to cut the tractor beams on my mark.” He paused for a quick sigh. “…and give me ramming speed.”
A chorus of ayes followed, and within moments the Honor was screaming toward the helpless shape of the Word of Truth on a collision course.
“Sir, shall I lower emergency bulkheads?” a crewman asked.
“No, divert all power to the engines. Ready the signal to the rescue team. Time to impact?
“One minute. Direct hit from Bombardment Cannons” Tactical answered. The ship rocked as more lance fire penetrated their shields.
“Give me full thruster control.” Antonius shouted. Antonius corrected the veering course of the Honor, making hundreds of micro-thrusts per second.
“Fifteen seconds to impact, lower bulkheads?”
“No! Give me a countdown.” Antonius shouted.
“Twelve seconds to impact. Eleven. Ten. Nine…”
“Signal the rescue, cut the tractor beams!”
“Signal sent. Seven. Six. Confirmed tractor deactivation. Four.”
“Lower bulkheads. All hands, Brace for Impact.” Antonius ordered.
Heartbeats before the Honor contacted the Word of Truth, the shimmering teal lines of energy connecting it to the disabled hulk on the asteroid crackled and failed. Untethered, the ship lurched forward as its engines once again came to life. A moment after that, the Honor struck the Word of Truth on its forward quarter, bending the superstructure of its prow and sending it into a spin. With its engines at full, the Word of Truth veered out of control into the McClellan asteroid belt. As it struggled to control itself, its stern impacted another body within the belt, crushing its engines. Fire burst from seven places about the hull and the ship came apart, erupting with the force of a small sun.
“Burn retros!” Antonius ordered. “Come about. Calculate a landing vector directly atop His Anvil’s dorsal array. All hands, prepare a boarding action. This is far from over.”