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Big Game VI – Chapter Six: Opening Gambit

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Even as The Word of Truth lashed onto its target, the attention of its captain was elsewhere. Apostle-Commander Absalom of the Sicarii Host watched his viewscreen with a detached curiosity as his Master’s fleet aligned itself alongside those of the traitor, Gorath. One by one, the ships began to disappear into the Immaterium, leaving a haunted miasma of ether in their wake. What promises and revelations, thought Absalom, had stayed his Lord’s hand when a reckoning for Iperin had been so close? The Apostle did not know, nor did he know the significance of the rendezvous coordinates he had been given. He knew only his Master’s will, and that will would be done.

Absalom waved his gauntlet at the viewscreen, turning its oculus to the battered hull of the Loyalist Battle Barge, tethered to his own Cruiser by a beam of nearly imperceptible light. Beyond, his battlegroup awaited – a Cruiser and Escorts, a steady stream of gunships running to and from the Azure Flames’ vessel bearing boarding troops to wipe out the crew that remained onboard. The ancient Astartes warrior felt a twinge of pride and anticipation blossom in his breast. The Sicarii’s retreat on Iperin still cast a baleful shadow over the Host, but with a prize of this magnitude? Perhaps they could sail once more among the stars, bold and strong and feared. He and his would cleanse the False Emperor’s minions from the face of the vessel, and reshape it to their dark will, as the Sicarii would do to the whole of Man.

“My Lord,” boomed a vox-augmented voice, breaking Absalom from his reverie. “Detecting several energy signatures at extreme range.”

With the flip of a switch, Absalom’s command throne turned to face The Word of Truth’s bridge once more. At the foot of the dais upon which Absalom was seated, eyes cast downwards, knelt his most trusted mortal officer. The lower portions of the man’s face had been replaced by an elephantine array of vox-grilles and amplification devices, just as his name had been replaced by the title given to each of Absalom’s helmsmen over the Long War’s many millennia.

”Voice of The Word,” Absalom drawled. “Report.”

“A wing of five Astartes Thunderhawk Gunships approaches.  They have not yet accelerated to attack speed.”

Absalom snorted. “Launch fighters to intercept,” he ordered, “and open a channel to The Endless Penitence.”

“As you command,” The Voice nodded, relaying his Master’s command to the bridge’s crew. The officers and slaves moved in silence, but with utmost quickness to implement Absalom’s orders. Whether out of respect or fear, none beyond Absalom’s chosen servant dared look upon the face of the Apostle.

Absalom could scarcely believe the Emperor’s dogs would even make such a pathetic display. Could the Loyalists be attempting a rescue mission with such a miniscule force? A simple extraction of troops, while leaving the vessel to plunder? Perhaps. It would be of no consequence, but he would not allow the Loyalists even that succor.

A chiming tone from the command altar drew Absalom's attention. He opened the channel to his viewscreen, revealing the blood red helm of Ebiasaph, the Slaughtering Wrath, his head bowed.

“You beckon, Lord?” asked The Endless Penitence’s commander.

“These children are tenacious, Champion.” Absalom answered.  “They cling to their dying Battle Barge like cornered animals.”

Ebiasaph nodded, his gaze meeting Absalom’s “The ship will be pacified within five hours, Apostle, as you have commanded.  It simply remains to be seen how much of it survives the fires these fools are starting in their quest to deny us.”

Absalom’s face contorted as a frown wrinkled his features.  “Be warned, the Azure Flames have sent a wing of gunships.”

Ebiasaph barked a harsh laugh.  “Oh, so these spawn of Vulkan can do more than run with their tails between their legs?”

“They can die, in a futile gesture.” Absalom said.  “I have launched fighters to intercept them.  They are hopelessly outnumbered.”

“Just fighters? No ships?”

“No…” Absalom trailed off.  In his long years as a commander, both on the field and in the cold void, he had seen the Emperor’s lackeys attempt no small number of heroics. Nearly all of them had failed, but only rarely were they pointless. Absalom’s mind raced through the possible reasons for such a waste of men and munitions but could find none.

“The Loyalist Thunderhawks,” he said, turning towards his helmsman. “Are they destroyed?”

“Our fighters report that they broke formation the moment they were engaged, Lord,” the Voice answered. “Not yet destroyed, they’re -”

He was cut off suddenly by a shout from the bridge. Absalom watched as The Voice’s eyes went wide, then narrowed.

Absalom pushed himself out of his throne roughly.  “Tell me.”

“The Thunderhawks have deployed some sort of electromagnetic ordnance,” the helmsman answered. “Many of our fighters are disabled. We cannot confirm the location of the Thunderhawks yet, but…”

“They’re landing,” Absalom growled. “On the hull of the Battle Barge.”

Turning to his command throne’s tactical map, he saw the exactly what he had predicted. “Bring the ship around and prime weapon arrays,” he shouted at The Voice. With a series of keystrokes, Absalom re-opened the vox channel to The Endless Penitence. “Ebiasaph, you may have guests.”

“It matters not.” Ebiasaph replied.  “This ship shall be…” he cut off in a burst of static as the lights on The Word of Truth’s bridge flickered and the floor lurched slightly.

“Power disruption, Lord,” the Voice spoke, crackling frustration bleeding interference into his amplified words.  “Caused by feedback from our tractor beams.”

“Feedback? How-”

The ship shook again, more violently this time, and clarity came to the Apostle. So, the dying Barge was not as helpless as it seemed.  His Anvil’s tractor beams had been activated, on an inverse frequency to the beams emitted by the Word of Truth.  The feedback had not only disrupted power, it held them. Held fast, and with so many fighters disabled, The Word of Truth would be nearly as crippled as the Battle Barge…

An alert klaxon came from the bridge. Absalom glanced back to the viewscreen, knowing what the display would show before he approached.

Three Strike Cruisers, on an intercept course.

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