An Iron Tomb – Zone Mortalis Short Story

This is a short story I wrote for the Eye of Horus Zone Mortalis contest they were running. I haven’t written anything for many a year so this was a fun exercise. I came in at almost 2000 words but had to cut it down to 1500…forgot about the limit :). Hope it’s okay.

An Iron Tomb

You never get used to the feeling of being a living torpedo. Decades of service to first the Emperor, and now to the Warmaster, had seen Captain Skarn wedged into a dimly lit boarding torpedo and fired into the side of an enemy vessel on numerous occasions. But this time it was different. Captain Golg had ordered Skarn’s company to take the lowly and unimportant frigate Cairns Heart. This was a task fit for green troops, new legionaries looking to prove their mettle. This was a personal insult delivered to him from Golg, who still resented him after he won Perturabo’s reluctant praise for his actions over Golg’s own at the battle of Graspansii IV shortly before the start of this New War.

The torpedo slammed into the hull of the enemy vessel and its explosive tip ripped open a hole for the interred legionaries to disembark. Within seconds of the explosion their harness’ has been released, bolters raised, and the first barks of covering bolter fire began. The squad disembarked into a lifeless, cramped hallway only wide enough for 3 marines standing abreast. Red light, barely visible through the thick smoke of their entry, strobed throughout the hallway.

“Cantrellök,” said Skarn to his vox-link operator. “Stay tapped into the fleet network and appraise of me of any major developments. Sargent Corublos, take four men and secure sections 3 through 13. Occupy the enemy forces until we reach the bridge. The rest of you, with me.”

It took only minutes of travelling through the dim, cramped confines of the ship to encounter the first resistance. Human auxilia that were no threat for hardened legionaries. The screams of the last man burning alive from Grigoris’ flamethrower was left behind to die alone beside the scraps of flesh that were once his squad.

As they neared the bridge the Imperial Fists made their presence known. Led by marines with breaching shields, two squads converged on the command squad, and began firing immediately. Three Iron Warriors had their armour crumple to ruin from the mass-reactive bolt shells tearing them to pieces. Their sacrifice allowed the others in the hallway to take cover and fall back into neighboring corridors. Half the squad peeled off down a side junction to try and flank the new arrivals.

Two Iron Warriors began firing alternated bursts with their graviton guns into the enemy, their breaching shields folding in on themselves crushing the Imperial Fists’ arms as they shrunk down into balls of scrap metal and crushed bone. The Iron Warriors stepped up their torrent of bolter fire, eliminating the lead Imperial Fist breachers and exposing the troops behind them. A gush of fire blew right past Skarn’s position, lighting one of his marines on fire from within his armour, melting through the seals to cook the flesh within. A shot from Skarn’s bolt pistol into the flamethrowers fuel tank caused it to explode in the Imperial Fists hands and knock him down, burning from promethium fire himself now.

As the Imperial Fists began to push in towards the pinned Iron Warriors, a locked access hatch near the rear of the enemy exploded outwards, vaporising the nearest marines and sending others sprawling down both ways of the corridor. The remainder of the outflanking Iron Warriors squad burst through after the demolition charge detonated into a swirling and cramped melee. The struggle lasted less than a minute until the final Imperial Fist had his torso explode in a shower of gore from Skarn’s humming power fist. Skarn spared no time for his injured and dying as he pushed onto the command room.

Corublos and one surviving marine with him rendezvoused at the bridge doors seconds after the main party. The squad took their positions on either side and Skarn gave a nod indicating for the graviton weapons to do their work. Both marines fired up their weapons and the door began to crumple and crush itself under its new extreme weight. As the door fell to the side bolt and lasgun fire pierced through and one of the marines was hit by a salvo, falling back in a shattered ruin as the other took cover. Skarn’s men tossed a volley of different grenades through the door at the concealed defenders and waited for the detonations to advance.

There were over a dozen Imperial Fists, human auxilia and ship’s crew ready to defend the bridge to the last man. They were spread across the bridge evenly behind extra equipment, prepared barricades and half dead servitors still working away in their enslaved consoles. One of the grenades landed right in the middle of a group of ship’s crew and two marines. A naval officer dove on the grenade in an attempt to shield his comrades at the cost of his life. But the plasma grenades blast couldn’t be held back by the weight of a human body. The light of a small sun burst through and turned the brave officer and the crew around him to ash, and fused the two marines armour into the bulkhead wall beside them as their now liquid flesh and organs seeped through the holes in their armour.

The Iron Warriors stormed the bridge in two’s, as that is all that could fit through the door at one time, attempting to overrun enemy as quickly as possible. The first three through were torn to pieces only meters from the doorway from the heavy fire, stumbling and dying on the grated floor. The rest managed to get through and returned fire into the enemy ranks. Marines on both sides were falling in a ruin of shattered plate. One human auxilia let out a piercing scream as he was hit by a stray graviton shot, the left side of his body being crushed into a sack of meat and powdered bone.

 

Skarn spotted the enemy captain near the command throne at the center of the bridge and decided to eliminate the source of enemies organised defense. He surged forward, firing his bolt pistol as he did so to keep the captain pinned. A couple of return bolt rounds exploded across Skarn’s pauldron, sending shrapnel into the side of his helmet and knocking him slightly off course. The enemy captain rose to meet him and power sword met powerfist as they both tried to find a way through each other’s defense. Loud cracks of energy sent sparks flying as their weapons crashed together. The Imperial Fists’ sword was making quick cuts into Skarn’s armour, taking chunks of plate and flesh with it.

“Your legion was never good for anything but backwater guard duty”, the enemy captain snarled in disgust. “Cowardly trai— “

Skarn had no interest in trading insults. He feigned a punch but shifted his weight into a cracking head-butt instead and sent the enemy captain reeling backwards. He fired his bolt pistol into the sword arm of his opponent, the wrist coming apart in an explosion of metal and flesh. Skarn slammed his powerfist down onto the captain’s head, leaving nothing left but a cratered mess. The body toppled over onto its side, but as it did so a stream of bolter fire hit Skarn across the torso sending him stumbling backwards into the side of the command throne. Slumped up against the chair he tried to stand but couldn’t move, his limbs wouldn’t respond. He was paralyzed and bleeding faster than his body could heal itself. He spat blood on the inside of his helmet as he coughed, anger flowing through him as he realized he would die here, a useless death on an unworthy ship.

The battle for Cairns Heart was over. The Iron Warrior attack had faltered in the face of  stalwart Imperial Fists defense. The ships engines burnt hot to fall back in line with the rest of Imperial fleet returning to Terra. The highest ranking human bridge officer left alive took command on the throne, sitting amongst a pile of dead warriors from both sides. Skarn still lived however. The Imperial survivors didn’t notice anything as his external vox grill was turned off and they couldn’t hear his ragged breaths. Before he was cut down by an Imperial Fists’ chainsword, Cantrellök had patched his fleet vox-link back into his captain’s feed. Skarn had to listen to the humiliating reports over the channels of the losses the legion suffered while the enemy still managed to escape. But as his vision began to fade, a new report was coming in.

“…–peat, Captain Golg is dead,” An unknown marine was saying over a ship to ship transmission. “His ship is commandeered by the enemy. Contrador last seen leaving with the Imperial forces.”

For the first time in decades, a genuine smile crept upon Skarn’s blood coated face. He began to choke on his own blood while a weak laugh crept from his chest before falling silent. The officer on the command throne looked down as Skarn’s body seemed to twitch momentarily, before going still once more.

 

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