Aboard the Fidem et Ignis, approaching Thanixx System.
War was in the air. Damasious could almost taste it. Within the hangar of the Fidem pre-combat operations were taking place and the sound it generated was astounding. Technical crews scurried here and there, servitors hummed and whined as they went about dozens of pre-programmed tasks. Power tools screeched and howled, shouts and orders echoed around the vaulted chamber as ammo hoppers were loaded and drop ships were fuelled. Priests walked the ranks of Battle Sisters, offering prayer and blessings. From her vantage point above the hangar, on the raised dais with Allria, Damasious watched the Preceptory assemble for battle. It never ceased to fill her with pride. They were warriors of legend, the best the Imperium could produce save the Astartes themselves and too see them fully armed and battle ready was enough to stop the heart. If what Serene said was true, that Elexyr commanded a force of traitor Sororitas then every single one of them would need their hearts and souls sealed against treachery, their faith would have to be absolute. Seeing her Sisters assembled like this put a fire in Damasious belly that left little doubt they would succeed.
"Sisters!" Allria commanded. Her voice amplified by the vox units built into the gilded railing that surrounded the dais. "Hear me." Immediately all sound stopped. All eyes turned the Canoness and her assembled Celestians.
Allria pressed her palms to it and leaned on the railing as she surveyed the warriors under her command. "We have been given a divine task." She began. Damasious watched and listened, aware of the electric desire for war hanging in the air. Allria would stir her sisters to fury unbound. It would be needed.
"We take the fight to our enemies once again, to lay low the traitors that dare blaspheme against our God- Emperor and believe themselves above His justice!"
The Silent Sister saw many of the priests nod in agreement, clouds of incense shrouding them almost as thickly as the robes draped over their shoulders.
"As you already know, many of these traitors were once our comrades in arms. Though they fought in another Order they were still Battle Sisters."
Mira tensed, her jaw set. She like Damasious already knew all too well what the corrupting powers of Chaos could do to a single Battle Sister. With an army of traitor Sororitas at her command, with all their zeal and righteous fury turned to excess and hatred, Elexyr was no less dangerous than a commander of traitor Astartes.
"Do not let this cloud your judgement. Steel yourselves and remember that they are no longer worthy of sisterhood or your comradeship. They chose the wrong path and now they will suffer the consequences of those actions. Your emotions must be tempered with steel, your hearts locked behind a cage of divine hate. You will not hesitate, you will not show mercy, you will kill and you will cleanse. Ave Imperator!"
"Ave Imperator!" chorused the assembled Sisters.
As one the Precptory began to board their transports. Fuelling pipes were disengaged and ammo loaders withdrawn. Allria turned to face her Celestians.
"I am dividing you, Amendera can I trust you to act in my stead as commander of the ground assault?"
Amendera blinked once then nodded. "Absolutely Canoness but may I ask why?"
"Something about this Serene troubles me, she plans to assault to the tower directly with her Scions while we fight from the ground up. I intend to follow her in whether she likes it or not and ensure this mission is completed correctly and that Elexyr is slain and not taken prisoner. "
"You believe that is what Serene intends?" Freya inquired.
"Honestly sister I do not know but I will make sure Elexyr dies for her crimes as is right and just." Allria snarled that last part of the sentence her annoyance blatant. "Amendera take with you four sisters and Rachel, the banner will be best used at the front lines to rally our troops not hidden inside a tower."
Rachel nodded her agreement, still clutching the sacred relic as if it were a child. It depicted Saint Katherine and the black bleeding rose.
Amendera too turned to address the Celestians. "Mira, Amber, Aurora, Damasious your with me as well."
Allria regarded Damasious carefully even as she spoke to Amendera, "Make them suffer sister." She said and turned to leave, beckoning the remaining Celestians to follow her.
"Alright then." Amendera said quietly, pushing a lock of hair from her face. "Let's mount up."
Heeled boots thudded up the ramp to the Stormraven designated to Amendera and her squad. There was none of the bravado that may be found among the Imperial Guard, no taunting or jokes, instead the Sororitas were stone faced and silent as they took their places in the grav harnesses. Damasious settled her own seat, Mira at her side, and brought Stormfang to her lips, laying a gentle kiss upon the black casing. Even deactivated the weapon was bathed in permanent frost but the cold was of little concern to the Silent Sister now. She was sure she could stand on Valhalla's frozen surface naked and not suffer an inch of frostbite, such was the influence of the sentient weapon she wielded. Stormfang growled inside her mind in response to her touch. Soon, she soothed, he would taste blood. With a growl of engines the Stormraven powered into motion. Damasious felt her guts tighten as the craft lurched into the air. Amendera stood by the cockpit hatch, one hand in the overhead netting for balance. Her free hand thumbed the pommel of her power sword absently, Damasious could see the weight of her assignment was pressing her friends shoulders. Amendera's emerald eyes found Damasious' own and she nodded encouragingly. Amendera smirked and returned to looking through the forward viewport. Damasious let her head rest against the padded grav harness, she would swap Allria for Amendera as Canoness in a heartbeat. A small, knowingly cruel, part of her hoped Allria would die here and Amendera could take the reins.
Then the forward port was filled with nothing but stars. Damasious felt the engines propel the Stormraven out through the void shield and into space. She clenched her teeth, hissing at the brief feeling of weightlessness as the craft angled down toward Thannixx and rapidly the viewport was instead filled with its ruddy, rust coloured surface. A dirty looking world on which to wage a dirtier war. Rachel made the sign of the Aquila and began her silent prayer.
"Pilots, be on alert, we are likely to see some anti aircraft fire on our approach. By now they will be aware of our presence." Serene's voice was cold and calm on the vox.
Damasious knew across the system forces of Imperial Guard would be making planet fall but the most important battles would be fought here, in Thanninhive.
For a long time there was little but silence as the wave of transporters hurtled across the void toward the planet. No one offered a word and as per usual Amber appeared to have fallen asleep. At one point Mira squeezed Damasious' hand and gave her a tight smile. Neither of them were particularly fond of deploying into combat by drop ship. It wasn't a pleasant experience, falling through the atmosphere in a metal box and being unable to do a damn thing to defend yourself. As if on cue, there was a crackle on the Vox.
"We're breeching the atmosphere!" Serene warned. "Brace yourselves."
Damasious watched stone faced as flames flickered toward the front of the craft. She heard the metal around her straining as the craft shuddered and bucked through its descent. There was no heat but Damasious imagined the flames licking along the hull of the Storm Raven, reaching out for her. She gripped the harness in a vain effort to stop herself being shaken around so much.
"Incoming." Serene said almost casually.
Las fire licked across the sky as the carriers descended. Damasious saw them, streaking over the canopy like slashes of blood.
Serene's calm tones once again filled the vox net, "Take evasive manoeuvres."
"Steel yourselves sisters. Our time is almost here!" Allria added, fire in her voice.
There were clouds in the sky and the sun blazed above them bright and unyielding. Below them the desert was a complete wasteland. No wildlife, no plant life. Nothing. To step beyond the safety of a void shield on this world was to die an agonizing death as the intense heat cooked you alive. Damasious dreaded to think what might happen to those Sisters that survived being shot down. As if indented to darken her thoughts further the barrage of fire intensified.
Through a storm of death the transporters descended. Anti air missiles now detonated amidst the Storm Ravens, some went down, trailing flames or were blown apart in the air in clouds of oily flame. Damasious clenched her teeth as her pilot jinked and dived, las fire streaking so close by it scorched paint work. They were drawing closer to the city. She could see it ahead, a black spot on the rusted wasteland beyond. Heat haze made it difficult to focus on but it was there. Damasious felt her guts lurched as the Storm Raven jinked again, leaning to port then dipping her nose to the ground and pulling up through a trail of missile vapour. The Silent Sister found herself eternally grateful she wasn't a pilot or indeed Seraphim. Flying was certainly not her forte. She watched the black blur sharpen, its monstrous smoke stacks and spires becoming more obvious the closer they came. Thanninhive was huge, much bigger than the Silent Sister had thought.
"Breaching the shield!" Serene had lost some of her calm, she sounded strained.
Almost immediately the bright sun blasted sky seemed to darken as they passed into the void shield and the view became slightly smudged again only this time by smog.
Damasious could see the hives primary tower rising above the rest, its upper half gleaming steel and glass. It was from around the lower half of the tower that the bulk of the anti aircraft fire was coming, although there were numerous batteries on the roof tops across the city. In a moment Serene's Ravens would break formation and head for the tower, followed by Allria acting under her own authority. It was a dangerous decision, Serene could easily order Allria executed for disobeying orders but the Canoness was convinced the Inquisitor was up to something. Whether she was or not however was something Damasious would never discover.
Fate it seemed intervened.
A fresh barrage of missiles speared down from above them. One struck Serene's ship in the rear, smoke and debris billowed outwards and the Raven began to lose altitude. Two more Ravens were hit, one tumbling to the streets below and the other slamming into a tower block and erupting from the other in a ball of flame and rubble.
Damasious could hear the Inquisitor bellowing on the vox though she couldn't see what was happening to the other Raven from where she was sat.
"We're hit! I repeat we're hit! Where did that come from?"
To answer her question a large formation of lightning fighters streaked over head, leaving white vapour trails in their wake. There had been no suggestion the enemy had aircraft.
Damasious heard Amber growl, she had woken up at last. "Seems our Inquisitor underestimated our enemies strength."
"Wouldn't be the first time." Aurora added.
Amendera glanced back over her shoulder, "Though I agree, it would be wise to keep your opinions to yourselves."
From the vox chatter it sounded like the drop ships were getting hit hard but were giving just as much in return. Ravens were rugged transports, built for Astartes deployments. Damasious still had no idea how Audenianna had managed to acquire so many but it matter much now. They were massively out numbered and their pilots weren't Space Marines.
"For the Emperor Sisters! Hold firm!" Allria was unfazed by the developments, her faith ever strong.
Bolter fire from the Storm Ravens chased the formation of lightnings, many of them were torn apart but the fliers were sweeping in for another attack run regardless.
"If this turns into a dog fight I might actually throw up." Mira muttered.
Damasious squeezed her hand, a half smirk creasing her lips.
Still taking heavy casualties from the Ravens guns the enemy lightning's unleashed another missile salvo. Gritting her teeth the Silent Sister felt her innards flip as the Raven jinked and rolled to avoid being hit.
Serene was once again on the vox. "I'm going down, we can't hold course. Allria take that tower, I'll meet you there."
"Acknowledged…" there was a bang and hiss of static.
Damasious felt her whole world lurch violently to the left as the pilot swung the Raven aside to avoid being struck by the wreckage of another ship. How Amendera kept her footing was beyond the Silent Sister, the superior had clambered further up into the cockpit to get a better picture of the deployment.
Then Damasious heard Allria roaring in defiance on the vox, "Going down..!", another boom was followed by silence.
Astonished stares were shared between the assembled Celestian's. In the space of a minute both of the highest ranking members of the invasion force had been gunned down and no one knew whether either of them was alive or dead.
Amendera grabbed the back of the pilots chair, "Take us around, go back! Canoness do you copy? Canoness come in? Allria...?"
Another massive explosion almost seemed to stop the drop ship mid flight. Amendera was thrown backwards into the troop compartment, a gout of flame and metal fragments followed her through the hatch. Damasious gripped Mira's forearm as tightly as she could, feeling the Raven begin spin. They'd been hit badly.
Lights flashed red and warning klaxons wailed, all the while the five Battle Sisters still conscious could do little but hang on as everything around them turned to madness. There was a horrific impact that slammed the Sisters hard against their restraints. Rachel cried out as a rib broke. Damasious saw the hull tearing open, the sound of metal and stone being smashed to pieces utterly consuming her senses. They'd hit a building and were currently sliding down its side, carving a ragged trench in its walls. Glass shards and metal fragments bounced around the interior, cutting Aurora's cheeks and peppering Damasious. With another shuddering bang the starboard wing caught another building arresting the speed of the descent but only slightly. With horrified realisation Damasious saw the unconscious Amendera sliding toward the forward exit ramp, which had been ripped off its mountings in the initial impact. She looked at Mira who had her eyes scrunched shut, her teeth clenched. Taking a deep breath the Silent Sister disengaged her restraints and leapt forward.
Suddenly aware of her partners actions Mira screamed but the sound was lost amidst the chaos.
Damasious thudded against the deck, slipping the fingers of one hand into the grilled decking and caught Amendera's wrist in the other. It felt like her shoulders were going to dislocate, even with the enhancements granted by her power armour. Damasious held on though, she refused to let Amendera die. She knew it could all have been for nothing as the Raven was ripped apart around her there was a high chance everyone of them could be dead in moments. It didn't matter to her, clenching her jaw at the pain she held on. She looked up at Mira fully expecting her lover to be furious at her recklessness but the red head just nodded knowingly even as tears streamed down her cheeks. They hit the ground with a deafening crash. Damasious was bounced into the air, her grip loosened by the impact, she hit the ceiling with a crunch, air exploded from her lungs and blood sprayed from her lips. The last thing she saw was the deck racing back to meet her.
"Malhok's fighters proved their worth." Maya stated idly picking her nail with the tip of her knife. "Thank you for what you did in the audience chamber by the way. Been a while since I've finished that hard."
Lilith ignored her sister and stared out across the city. They both stood on one of the towers landing pads, wind tugging at their hair and clothes, what little Maya wore at least. Malhok's men had indeed done a fine job bringing down the invasion forces but Lilith knew there would still be hundreds of Battle Sisters alive on the streets below and they would be coming here. The real fighting would be done there, hand to hand if needsbe. She wondered how Malhok's men would fair then. A smile crept to her lips imaging them all dying one by one as they underestimated their enemy, charging blindly into combat at the behest of their new mistress.
She turned to one of her own Sisters, a dagger faced woman with thick black hair and a melta in her hands. Her name was Isabel.
"Assemble the troops." Lilith commanded. "Malhok's men upfront." She added glancing meaningfully at her Sister.
Isabel seemed to get her commanders meaning and smiled. "Of course my lady." She replied and turned to walk back inside.
"Do you think the others are a as jealous as you are?" Maya asked.
Lilith frowned. "We are her chosen. He doesn't deserve her attentions. Aren't you annoyed?"
"I'm sure you can work that out for yourself. Lick your fingers you can taste how annoyed I am." Maya stroked Lilith's arm but the other pulled it away.
"This is best discussed later. We have an invasion to repel and his men can serve as useful cannon fodder."
Lilith drew one of her bolt pistols and licked her lips. She need to kill and now she could. "Those are Sororitas down there." she muttered icily, thinking of the challenge it would bring, the thrill.
Maya shrugged. "I care not. I live to serve Her."
"As do I." Lilith stared once more into the smoke filled horizon. "And one day so will the rest." She turned her eyes to the sky. "Every last one."