Antonius felt even his superhuman mind begin to waver. In the past, he had traversed the most inhospitable jungles, survived searing deserts, and borne underhive conditions that would have killed a normal man in hours. In a warzone, his training and enhancements could let him patrol, run, and fight for days without rest. But now, he felt fatigue sting at his eyes. This was beyond anything he had ever endured.
“Tell me again, what is the most favorable attack angle against a Scylla pattern Battle Barge?” Piers asked.
Piers’ question snapped Antonius’ mind away from the seven dataslates he had been memorizing. “All Scylla pattern ships have ancient engines, more advanced than their modern Imperial equivalent. Similar to the more recent Despoiler class that was based on them. However, they are still slow to maneuver. Attacks along the aft ventral spine avoid most of the heavier weapons and force the opponent to constantly circle to keep amidship batteries within fire arc.”
“An interesting choice…” Piers chided. “Why not a dorsal approach from astern? It opens up attacks on the bridge and lance relays.”
The surface of the dust cloud, still for centuries, undulated and rippled. Shadows within moved like ocean predators, and running lights betrayed the presence of the ships lying in wait within. Bright orange flashes preceded the surface of the dust cloud boiling and spreading as a salvo of shells bigger than main battle tanks erupted from the cloud. Brutal blue shapes followed, trailing gouts of dust as they emerged from the cloud. With a speed that belied their power, three Space Marine Strike Cruisers tore a breach in the cloud larger than some planetary bodies as their engines drew immense amount of energies from their plasma reactors and accelerated towards the Word Bearers’ fleet and their true target: The Promise of Absolution.
Aboard the lead Strike Cruiser, the Honor, Antonius saw all of this information and more unfold. Just as their intelligence had shown, The Dread Lord’s flagship sailed with only the barest escort, separated from the main Sicarii fleet. He watched the vessel slowly move closer in the tactical display. Details from the sensors flashed into view. The Promise of Absolution was a feat of brutal but brilliant engineering from a time when the Emperor himself led his Legions in conquering the galaxy. It was huge and glorious - and wounded.
Antonius scanned the reports and visuals that scrolled across the viewscreen, showing fresh battle scars visible across several sections of the ship’s armor, some still venting smoke and debris, while others were being actively sealed with crude bulkheads. Craters pockmarked the great beast’s plasteel skin, and whole sections had been visibly sheared away by weapons fire. Given the unusually light escort it traveled with, Antonius could only imagine that the Sicarii had, once again, parted bitterly with another of the strained alliances that the Word Bearers had been forced into since their defeat at Iperin. Years of pursuit and harassment by Imperial forces, led at every turn by the vengeful fury of the Azure Flames, had etched their toll on the Sicarii fleet. The dogs of Chaos could smell weakness, and one by one, many erstwhile allies had turned on Esarhaddon to take what he could not keep.
“Fire Bombardment Cannons, Thunderhawk flights away.” Antonius ordered to a chous of “aye” replies. The underbelly of The Promise of Absolution was tantalizingly close in the tactical display of his throne aboard the Honor. “Come about to 030 mark 351.”
Underneath his breath Antonius whispered “You’re mine now, you bastard.”
As Antoinus’ whisper was engulfed by the clamor of battle, more contacts sprang to life on his display. The rest of the fleet emerged from a nearby asteroid belt, encircling the traitors. Antonius’ face was lit with an intense green as dozens of torpedo contacts appeared on his screens. One enemy vessel was annihilated before it could even respond with a volley.
“Captain!” one of the Azure Flames Marines manning the bridge shouted. “Incoming enemy bombers on attack vector!” Sure enough, Antonius’ display began to glow red with traitor bombers, seemingly without number.
“Direct our Bombardment fire into the enemy attack craft. When the enemy turns to port, come about to 270 mark 0. Stay on them.”
“A dorsal approach would allow the enemy to fire without turning as drastically. Honestly Piers, this is your plan to destroy The Promise of Absolution, why did you feel the need to consult me?”
“Because of your abysmal performance in void combat class.” Piers replied.
“Void combat?” Antonius asked. “Did Daniel even teach a void combat class?”
Piers responded with a smile.
“Oh.” Antonius said. “This is the void combat class.”
“Precisely, brother. You are the captain of the Honor. You need to know how to command her to the best of her abilities.”
“I’ve been memorizing schematics for traitor ships, approach vectors, and charts of the systems where the Promise has been seen. I could follow your plan to surround the traitors with my eyes closed…”
“Divert power from the ventral thrusters to the targeting systems. Keep the Duty out of our firing solution.” Antonius ordered. The Promise of Absolution bloomed with fire as the Honor emptied its guns. Just outside of this carnage, the dark blue streak of the Strike Cruiser Duty broke through enemy lances and disgorged tiny motes of yellow fire. The oily multi-colored hues of the Promise’s void shields flickered and gave way as another salvo launched from the distant Battle Barge His Anvil rained hell on them.
“Boarding parties of the Duty are away.” another Marine said.
“Keep firing until His Anvil can get within range. Target weapons.” Antonius ordered.
The Duty fell away from The Promise of Absolution, shrugging off crackling blue tractor beams and collecting far fewer of the yellow motes than it had launched. As they fell away, the bright magenta lights of the enemy engines faded.
“Power drain in enemy reactor. We’ve got them now, Brother Captain.”
“Excellent, Come about and have the Thunderhawk bays stand by. I want a full wave to hit them right as the torpedoes from His Anvil arrive.”
Piers sighed. “Antonius, what did Daniel teach you about making battle plans?”
“The best laid plans are naught but dust as soon as the first bolt round is fired.” Antonius recited.
“…and do you think that void combat is different?”
“I suppose not…” Antonius trailed off.
“You suppose not?” Piers shouted. “What if the enemy has unexpected reinforcements? We could be caught flat footed and lose half the fleet!”
“New contacts at long range.”
“Is it Flame Squadron?” Antonius asked.
“No, they're reading enemy signatures. Four cruisers, several escorts, and… hold… confirmed…Throne of Earth!” The helmsman turned, his eyes wide with shock. “Captain, it’s The Black Morass!”
Antonius watched his viewscreen as the lumbering steel behemoth of Lord Gorath's flagship bored its way into realspace at the head of its pack, weapons already firing at the Azure Flames’ fleet.
“Gorath’s command ship… we’d need the whole fleet to match them…” Antonius whispered. His thoughts were interrupted by an incoming channel. He connected it to see Khalil of the 8th Company, captain of His Anvil. The whitish scar across his face accented his scowl.
“You saw?” Khalil asked.
“Yes.” Antonius answered. “This won’t save him. We can still…”
“Negative!” Khalil cut him off. “I want revenge as much as you, but revenge isn’t worth half the Chapter. Disengage.”
“We’ve been waiting fifteen years!” Antonius shouted.
“We can wait a little longer. Disengage.” Khalil hammered.
Antonius’ lip tightened. “The enemy is on a pursuit course. The Duty and the Honor are out of positon.”
“We’ll hold them off, Antonius.” Khalil said with a smile. “You know what to do.”
“Brother,” Antonius chided “the enemy would need overwhelming numbers to challenge us.”
“The moment you assume that the enemy will do what you want, you have planned your own death.” Piers scolded. “You say you know this plan backwards and forwards? What if we needed to abort and disengage?”
“Duty and Honor are more maneuverable, so they can move spinward to stay ahead of the enemy. His Anvil is slower, and provides covering fire as they approach the McClellan asteroid belt.”
“…and?” Piers asked.
“We call in reinforcements of our own to divide the enemy’s attention.” Antonius replied.
“Enemy escorts are engaging Flame Squadron. Two cruisers moving to intercept.”
“The Black Morass?” Antonius asked.
“Still headed for His Anvil, with the rest of the enemy fleet.”
“Get out of there, Khalil.” Antonius whispered. He watched as His Anvil turned towards the enemy, accelerating into them. Another communication flashed on Antonius’ screen. The Duty had successfully made warp translation. “Power up the Gellar Field and take us out of here.” he commanded. Just before transitioning into the Empyrean, his displays showed His Anvil wracked with explosions as it burst through the spine of an enemy ship.
“Good, it seems you’ve covered all the angles.” Piers said.
“All but one,” Antonius countered “this leaves Khalil alone against The Promise and whatever fleet is large enough to force us to withdraw.”
“Yes.” Piers answered.
“That’s all? Yes? You have no plan other than to dive for the asteroids and pray?”
“If this contingency is needed, prayer is all that can save us.”
Inside the Cubica Astropathica, white light came from the eyes of one of the three Astropaths therein. After he recovered, he sent the message on to Antonius.
The armrest of Antonius’ command throne buckled as he pounded it.
“As soon as we translate back to realspace, get me the rest of the fleet,” he ordered. “…we need to go back for them.”