For a long moment, Gorath faced the warrior before him and said nothing. A low rumble like that of approaching thunder echoed from the ancient Chaos Lord’s helm as he studied his opponent. The blue-on-blue markings that adorned the loyalist’s pauldron identified the man who stood between him and his goal.
“The Master of the Flames.” Gorath sighed. “Could it be that you are as weary of these confrontations as I am?”
In response, the blue-armored Astartes brought his shimmering, bladed shield before him in a defensive crouch. On its face, the name “Perseus” had been emblazoned in gilt scrollwork.
“Do not deny me, son of Vulkan. You and yours have heaped time and treasure and futile blood upon the pyres of these unending conflicts. Surely, the sheer boredom of it curdles your soul as it has mine. The games of maneuver and counter, never ending, always another foe ready to threaten your Emperor and his domain. You have endured it for centuries, Loyalist, but I have watched this cycle play out for millennia. Since times of legend even to your most ancient brethren. Since the shores of Terra burned in Horus’ vain ambition. Since the very beginning of this sad and endless Long War.”
Gorath loped forward towards Perseus on his steel talons, Soul Hammer swinging loosely in one hand.
“I am not that Word Bearer who felled your Prophet in some deluded attempt at godhood. I do not seek to enslave your Imperium; to sacrifice the race of man to daemons and dark gods. I do not even want to kill you, Loyalist. Depart from here, and you will never again need to face me across a battlefield. Or, if you wish, come to take your vengeance out upon me after my ambition is slaked in the ashes of Terra. I care not, but before I die I will see Terra burned, and this war ended once and for a—”
The bladed shield swung straight for his throat. The strike had been timed well, Perseus moving with a speed and grace that should have been impossible for a man in Terminator armor. Only Soul Hammer’s prescient nature kept the cracking blade from contact, the blow slamming into the daemon hammer’s haft with the tone of an iron bell. Sparks flew as the edge slid upwards, leaving Perseus’ face mere inches from Gorath’s helm. The Master of the Flames stared into Gorath’s eye lenses with a grim and determined smile.
“You talk too much.”
With a grunt, Gorath dug his claws into the metal flooring, shoving the Azure Flames’ Chapter Master back half a step.
“Very well,” Gorath said. “Then let us begin.”
Esarhaddon batted the Angel’s hammer aside with a backhanded swing of his clawed gauntlet; the air around them sparked and sizzled where the two power fields met. Grunting, the Angel reversed his swing, bringing it around to strike at Esarhaddon’s flank, only to find it parried by the heavy and ornate head of the Chaos Lord’s relic war mace, the feared Na’hazarheim.
Still, the Angel pressed on, roaring at the Word Bearer Lord with unbridled wrath.
Behind the impassive mask of his tusked helm, Esarhaddon wore an almost feral grin as he continued to turn aside the Angel’s furious attacks. For centuries, he had studied the madness of Sanguinus’ sons and the curse that lay hidden in their blood. The rages that eventually gave way to a true psychic break, a connection to the dying moments of their Primarch. Captured Blood Angels and those of their lineage had revealed their secrets to him, and the berserker rages of their doomed final acts held no mysteries to him now.
Even the heightened physique of an Astartes could only operate at such extremes for so long. Eventually, their bodies would be unable to keep up with the demands of a Primarch’s fury, and they would falter, even just for a moment. All that was required was patience, and Esarhaddon had the sour patience of a man denied for millennia.
Then the Angel stopped. Glaring at Esarhaddon over his ornate shield, he let out a few growling breaths, then spoke with an unexpected softness.
“Horus. Brother. Do you not know me?”
Esarhaddon unsealed his helm, looking upon the Angel with curiosity. He had seen so many versions of Sanguinius’ end, filtered through the broken minds of his sons. Some bathed in their primogenitor’s own melancholy, others screamed in disbelief at whatever foe they imagined to be their cosmic betrayer. Most simply gave into unthinking rage. But Esharradon had never seen the Angel’s last moments play out quite this way. This, whatever it might be called, had not yet shown its nature.
“I know you, Angel of Man,” Esarhaddon spoke. “I know your works and the blood you shed in the name of a pretender, a false god.”
Again Titus came forward, his blows finding only air or the swift rebuke of the Na’hazarheim. Esharradon’s response was equally cautious, forcing the Angel to turn back his advance. As they danced, testing each other’s defenses, their fight spilled into the adjoining hall. The dark red of emergency lighting was offset by pools of dim white light cast by armored observation ports in the ceiling. Tiny orange bursts and lines of white and red caught Esharradon’s eye as the orbital battles above the station raged.
“You could end this now,” Titus said softly. “My friend. My brother. It is not too late.”
Esarhaddon gestured to the observation port above them, as men and ships and dark creatures all died in a great conflagration. “I stand now with the power to bring an end to this weak race of Man, and the Emperor they put forth to save them from their own indolence. The hour is far too late, Son of Baal. The Imperium shall burn.”
“You would burn it all? All we have worked to build? You more than anyone know the price Humanity has paid in blood to carve our place in the galaxy. Was it all for nothing?” The Angel said. With a loud clang, his weapons dropped to the floor. He stepped towards Esarhaddon, arms held wide. “We are brothers, Horus. Look into your soul; you know that this cannot be the way. Can you truly kill me?”
The talons of Esarhaddon’s claws dug deep into the plated ceramite of the Angel’s armor, in through the belly, drawn slowly and inexorably upwards to shear through twin hearts.
“I have killed you again and again, Angel,” Esarhaddon said with a growl. “For thousands of years, I have shed your blood, and now I will shed that of your Emperor and shatter his beloved Terra. Know your failure as you die. Know that you could not save the Imperium, or his fallen race.”
Gasping for breath that barely came, the Angel slowly backed away, then fell to his knees, lifeblood flowing to the Station’s deck from the wound in his chest. Esarhaddon stepped forward, casting his gaze down to drink in the agony of realization.
“I’m sorry, brother, that I could not...save you,” Titus said, wheezing, eyes up cast at the viewport at the battle that raged outside. “But at least I can save them.”
Then the light forever faded from his eyes, and the Angel fell to the ground.
Esarhaddon stood over his body, considering those final words, then opened a channel to The Promise of Absolution, cycling through the communications and status reports from his fleet, and those of their allies. A picture began to assemble itself in his mind, and all became clear.
A long, rasping breath exhaled from the Lord of the Sicarii, his cracked and wrinkled brow furrowing with cold fury. “Gorath,” he spoke softly. “You fool.” Then, with a simple set of keystrokes entered into a keypad in the thigh of his armor, he engaged the teleportation sequence that would return him to a wounded fleet and a meager existence of little more than sustenance. A bright flash enveloped the hallway, and Esarhaddon was gone.