It started as a low, almost imperceptible thrum. Octavius heard it as he reached out to steady himself against a Basilisk, as its crew struggled to reload at the insane rate he demanded of them with screaming orders. At first he took it for a momentary deafness, caused by pumping adrenaline and proximity to the heavy artillery shells firing around him. It wouldn’t be the first time. Though it might be the last.
The tables had turned. Rather than a defensive perimeter protecting the Command Citadel, the 401st and their allies were now keeping the traitors and heretics penned inside. Rows of olive drab Cadians cut down the few Cultists who were brave or stupid enough to attempt to fight back from inside, shredding them with volleys of lasgun fire. The battle cannons of Leman Russ tanks and withering blasts from his Basilisks pounded the walls and gates. None of those trapped inside would have time to make it to their transports before their doom took them.
With a sweaty smile, Octavius looked up at the dwarf planet that loomed large in the northern sky. He and his men might meet their end here, crushed between the steel of the Station and the soil of that unnamed stellar body, but so would the Scourge of Viridian and his mad legion of steel-clad Astartes. It was a trade he knew every man under his banner would make in an instant, and a hundred times over if they could.
The damn thrumming wouldn’t stop, though. It was getting louder and louder, eclipsing every other sound. After a moment, he realized that the rattling tremors of the firing Basilisks around him were no longer momentary things, just one long, teeth-chattering quake. Was the end already here? Had the gravity wells of the planet and the Station begun to collide and rip each other apart so soon? No, it still hung in the sky, so close, but agonizingly far away.
Then he noticed the tank crews, looking to him with confusion and with terror written on their faces. They weren’t firing anymore. Neither were the Russes. The rows of Guardsmen hung on to cover as they were shaken from their feet. Octavius looked to the high steeple of the Control Tower suspended above the Citadel, and made a small, solemn whisper:
Then the Station fired.
The permanent night sky of the Omega Station went blindingly white for an instant. Octavius and the rest of the 401st were thrown to the ground by a wave of concussive sound that was as physical as any tidal wave. Even as he scrambled to his feet, Octavius watched the brilliant line of the planet killing main weapon lash out at the planetoid that had been the one last hope of the beleaguered Imperial forces. As it connected, the beam reduced the planetoid to a cloud that now expanded to cover a significant portion of the horizon. A second dawn. The debris from the devastating blast glowed a sickly yellowish-orange as it expanded.
It had been a good plan, Octavius thought. A damn good one. If only it had worked...
Around him, Octavius heard sighs of resignation, and shouts of pure, maddening despair. His vox unit screamed with varying cries for retreat, of confusion, and of defeat. Victory was no longer possible. The Archenemy had taken the Omega Station, and annihilated the one weapon that could stop him. Octavius glanced at the chewed-up remnants of his forces. Even with the Astartes and the bloody Eldar, taking such a prize would be impossible, and with the planetoid gone, Gorath now commanded an array of weaponry that would make a mockery of any attempt at a new phase of orbital war.
“Orders, sir?” some lieutenant voxed.
“Fortify current positions and have all of our munitions shipped to our lines.” Octavius whispered back. “Dig in. We’re here for the-”
Octavius cut off as the words froze in his mouth.
From the cloud of the ruined planetoid, a rough shape emerged. Yellow-orange on the edges but white hot at its center. A mass the size of a continent, emerging from the cloud like a knife. Beside it and beyond it, hundreds more mammoth shapes glimmered in the darkness, their searing outlines like vengeful ghosts.
They grew by the moment in Octavius’ vision.
“Belay all previous orders.” Octavius said, masking his panic with an officer’s disciplined calm. “Fall back to the transports on the triple. Leave emplaced weapons or anything else you can spare. Move.”
Without hesitation, they began to move.