Tome of Fire

VULKAN’S SHIELD

A dull explosion resonated through the hull of Fire-wyvern. The Thunderhawk gunship bucked against the resulting pressure wave, throwing up emergency icons inside the troop hold. Displaced shrapnel caromed off its armour in a burst of muffled plinks.

‘Another like that and we’ll be going the rest of the way on foot, if at all.’

Ko’tan Kadai smiled. His burning eyes flared with amusement in the gloom, limning his onyx-black skin in a visceral red.

‘Their aim is worse than yours, Fugis,’ said Kadai. ‘It’s nothing.’

Apothecary Fugis scowled at his captain, his thin face drawn so tight it was almost sharp.

‘It’s a needless risk.’

Kadai had stopped listening. His gaze travelled down the troop hold, along the grav-harnesses where the rest of his Salamanders were locked in. Armoured in green battle-plate, the snarling orange drake icon of 3rd Company upon their left pauldrons, they were Salamanders, the Fireborn. Like their captain, the eyes of his retinue glowed red behind their helmet lenses. The effect was almost infernal.

Despite the restrictive confines of the Fire-wyvern, they still managed to perform their pre-battle rituals. N’keln led them. It was his duty.

‘In Vulkan’s image are we crafted, our bodies are his immutable instruments...’

Kadai watched the veteran sergeant reach into a fiery brazier wrought into a support column and withdraw a fistful of burning coals. The others echoed him, Vek’shen and Shen’kar. Together, they crushed the coals into dust and used the hot soot to anoint their armour.

‘What is that?’ remarked another warrior in the hold. This one was not a Salamander. He wore the black ceramite of the Raven Guard. His left pauldron carried his Chapter’s icon, a white raven with outstretched wings. Whereas Salamanders were onyx-black, the bare-headed Raven Guard was stark white with eyes like tiny shards of jet. Together, they were a contrast in chiaroscuro.

Vek’shen had scribed the effigy of a dragon’s head upon his forearm.

‘Unguh’lar,’ he said, ‘The great drake slain in ritual combat whose mantle I wear.’ The Company Champion touched the scaled cloak draped over his back and carefully fashioned around his power armour’s generator. ‘I carry this sigil to honour him and grant me fortitude in battle.’

‘Yours is a savage culture, Nocturnean,’ said another. The remark was directed at Kadai, who turned to face the speaker.

‘The Promethean Creed is not for everyone, Adrak.’

The Raven Guard stared through the dark lenses of his white battle helm. The bulky jump pack on his back made him lean forwards in his grav-harness. It gave a false sense of earnestness that Sergeant Adrak Vraver didn’t feel. He and three more of his battle-brothers had hitched a ride on the Fire-wyvern, pledging to aid Kadai in his extraction mission. The two went back a long way. Vraver was veteran of dozens of campaigns. Kadai had served in some of those in his two centuries and more of service.

‘And I suppose your stubbornness is kindled from the same embers?’

There was mirth in the Raven Guard’s tone that Kadai couldn’t see.

Outside, the explosions intensified. The interior shuddered constantly. Metal groaned in abject protest. They rode a storm of ordnance now.

‘Not too late to go back,’ Vraver added. ‘Our battle-brothers are pulling out, Ko’tan. This city is lost, but the war is won. There’s nothing for the Space Marines here. Let the Guard flatten it.’

Kadai laughed but it didn’t reach his blazing eyes.

Perhaps that was true for the Raven Guard. Prosecuting a guerrilla war behind enemy lines, they had crippled communications, sabotaged transport links and executed several insurgent officers, including the world’s corrupt lord-governor. For Kadai, however, the mission was not yet ended.

‘Months ago, before undertaking this mission,’ the