|Deathwatch Kill-team by 7eme-RuelleRouge|
Ten lunar months had passed since the new recruits first arrived at Watch Fortress Erioch – a speck of time for a Space Marine. For ten months they trained in the ways and traditions that is Deathwatch. Ten months of grueling, relentless training unlike anything they had experienced before, as the Watch Captains oversaw their progress through discriminating eyes. To be selected - to be a chosen champion of their own home Chapters was not enough. Not nearly enough. Only after enduring the mind-numbing procedure of hypno-indoctrination – only after surviving barehanded and armorless combat trials with fearsome alien creatures – only after successfully completing the Kill-team cohesion assessments tests – then, and only then, were they finally accepted as one of the elite of the elites – a Deathwatch Space Marine.
Most succeed, but not all. It was the cohesion assessments that proved to be the most challenging – the obstacle that impeded even the most glorious champions across the Imperius Dominatus from assailing into the hallowed ranks of the Deathwatch Kill-teams. While Space Marines of all Chapters share one unified oath, to serve the Emperor of Mankind until death, they often do not share the same doctrines, beliefs, or traditions. Pride – arrogance – stubbornness – are mankind’s Achilles’ heel. Space Marines are not men, not anymore. They are glorious killing machines - perfected specimens created in the image of the God-Emperor himself - yet they too are not entirely immune to these mortal short-comings inherited by their human ancestry.
Fights broke out often and combat challenges were thrown down with reckless abandon amongst the newly recruited, as egos and ideologies routinely clashed – a circumstance veteran Deathwatcher’s were all too familiar with. Foolishly, even Watch Captains were challenged. Notably, Watch Captain Tarran Cearr - a Storm Warden veteran who consistently went out of his way to goad fresh blood into duels to teach them a thing or two, but mostly to prove his superiority.
MAKING THE GRADE
On the morning after the trials ended, the recruits gathered in the great meeting hall in the belly of Watch Fortress Erioch, their mighty ceramite statures lined up shoulder to shoulder in ranks of five by four. Twenty of the twenty-six recruits made the final cut - a good showing even by Deathwatch standards.
Facing the Marines, seated in a half-circle upon a raised dais that nearly consumed the entirety of the great hall’s far wall, sat the Watch Commander and his retinue. The Master of the Vigil, Watch Commander Mordigael took center stage, his impressive throne extended to the apex of the dais. A Blood Angel by heart, the Watch Commander’s inspiring presence was palpable and undeniable as his fiery gaze enveloped the Marines, silently studying each one in turn. Previously serving three terms as a Watch Captain himself, Mordigael was astute and decisive when assembling Kill-teams to serve Deathwatch. Now, it was the Watch Captains serving under him that bared that burden, though history showed that he would not hesitate to speak out should their merits meet his disapproval.
To his right, hailing from the White Consuls Chapter, sat Epistolary Axineton, Jericho Reach’s Grand Librarian and Psyker. His demeanor was cool and confident, and he exuded a manner of power that left a chill on the bones. The chair immediately to the Librarian’s right held Forge Master Harl Greyweaver of the infamous Space Wolves. Though his dedications to the Watch Fortress were pure, Greyweaver made no apologies for his blatant loyalty to his Space Wolf clan, and had a nasty reputation of clashing with anyone who had the audacity to call him on it.
Flanking the Commander to his left sat a vacant chair, and to the left of that sat Inquisitor Adrielle, the only female stationed on Watch Fortress Erioch. As lead Interrogator in the sector, her tenacity and judicious deportment rivaled any Space Marine that dared challenge her place amongst the iron warriors of the Imperium. Little escaped her prying eyes.
In a row seated below the Watch Commander sat the stoic Watch Captains of Watch Fortress Erioch: Watch Captain Servais of the Raven Guard, Watch Captain Everard DeBarres of the Black Templars, Watch Captain Nikolus Terrantus of the Blood Angels, Watch Captain Tarran Cearr of the Storm Wardens, Watch Captain Andenicus of the Novamarines, and Watch Captain Arius Hyzeron of the Ultramarines. Each one highly-decorated Deathwatch veterans, serving the Vigilant Watch for decades - if not centuries - clearly noted by the surplus of honors adorning their Artificer armor.
The great hall was unerringly quiet, save for the handful of Servitors and Astropaths performing their duties in preparation of Lorem Exercitus Electi, the day when the Watch Captains chose which of the new recruits would be assimilated into their Kill-teams.
Watch Commander Mordigael was first to break the silence. “Captain Nikolus, you have earned the honor of first choice.” Sneers and grumbles escaped the lips of several of the assembled Watch Captains with the Watch Commander’s proclamation. A pair of servitors were quick to pict record and transcribe the Commander’s words as he spoke.
“Commander Mordigael,” the Librarian interjected. “Might I remind you that Watch Captain Nikolus has hardly earned the honor, as you have put it. His vanguard Kill-team, a five man squad of Terminatus to be exact, disastrously failed their last mission and was lost to Hive Fleet Dagon that now consumes the Castobel system, while the rest of his Kill-teams were stripped from him during investigations. It is only because of his failings that he finds himself in this favorable position,” Librarian Axineton said with aplomb, his carefully chosen words ripe with pedantry.
Master Harl snarled; his long fangs noticeably displayed in the Librarian’s direction.
“Are you suggesting, Epistolary Axineton,” the Commander replied, “that I am giving preferential treatment to a Brother whom shares my same banner?”
“No, I can assure you that your intentions are pure of heart, Commander,” Axineton replied smoothly. “I’m only suggesting that term ‘earned’ seems a bit out of place here. ‘Default’ would be better suited wouldn’t you agree? Unless, unbeknownst to me, we have amended the doctrines to include failure in the list of virtues that make up honor.”
“And let me remind you, Epistolary Axineton, Watch Captain Nikolus has been cleared of any wrong doing or negligence, and has been reinstated to the status of Watch Captain with full Honors.” The Commander’s tone was cool, but his eyes were ablaze with contempt.
“It is true,” spat Watch Captain Arius Hyzeron. “As decreed by the Order of Magistratus in accordance with the Deathwatch Doctrina Codex, any Watch Captain reinstated shall be given the honor of first selection upon the first Lorem Exercitus Electi that the Watch Captain is eligible for.”
Watch Commander Mordigael breathed in hard. “Thank you Brother Arius for your wisdom and insight, but it is not necessary.” Mordigael paused and stood. “Doctrine or no, I am the Master of the Vigil, if I decree that Watch Captain Nikolus Terrantus shall receive first selection in the Lorem Exercitus Electi, regardless if it is perceived to be honorable or by default, then he shall do so.” He let his words ferment in the minds of his subordinates before continuing. “Is there anyone amongst us that wishes to challenge my ruling?”
The great Commander’s eyes patrolled the room with the resolve of a Venerable Dreadnought. Dead silence is all that was returned. Not even the binary chatter of servitors pierced the stillness of the great chamber.
Satisfied, the Commander returned to his sacred seat.
“Captain Nikolus Terrantus,” the Watch Commander barked.
The Watch Captain snapped to his feet. “Yes, Sir!”
“Since you are without, you may choose up to six Marines to replenish your Kill-team, but not a soldier more. Understood?”
“Yes, Commander,” he replied with a shallow nod.
“Marines, when your name is called assemble to the front,” the Commander added.
“Yes, Sir!” The great hall erupted in unison from the ranks of the iron warriors.
“Watch Captain Nikolus, you may call your first selection.”
The Watch Captain said not a word. Instead, he began to descend the tiered staircase that split the great dais. Whether perceived or imagined, the Veteran Watch Captain Nikolus Terrantus seemed to be a titan amongst giants. Eyes locked on the gathered Marines, the Captain strode the staircase with his winged helm clinched in his mighty power fist and his right hand resting upon the hilt of his Deathwatch Relic blade. His chest-piece was barely recognizable, buried beneath an array of bejeweled adornments and Chapter Honors. Each step he took was purposeful and deliberate. Not a single movement was wasted.
Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, the Watch Captain paused, his face chiseled into a mask of contemplation. While their armor still carried the hues and markings of their respective home Chapters, the Marines assembled before him were Deathwatch Marines now.
Watch Captain Nikolus renewed his march and began to walk along the front ranks of the Marines: two Blood Angels, a Raven Guard, an Ultramarine, and a Dark Angel. He walked by without saying a word, only stopping momentarily to look at each one cold in the eyes before moving on to the next. The second row started with a Black Templar – he passed him up too. Then a Space Wolf Bloodclaw. It had been nearly two centuries since a Bloodclaw had seen the halls of Watch Fortress Erioch.
The Veteran Watch Captain turned to face the Space Wolf as he had done with the others. The Captain was measurably taller, but the Bloodclaw met his piercing gaze with matched intensity. Suddenly, a deep guttural growl reverberated within the sanctuary of the great hall. The mighty grumble seemed to emanate from the Bloodclaw, though his mouth was clinched hard. As the Watch Captain continued to glare into the feral eyes of the Space Wolf, the growling became more intense, causing the Bloodclaw’s armor to shutter violently, as if coming alive. Sweat began to bead up on the Bloodclaw’s forehead and his grizzled mug was flush from strain. Blood oozed from a large laceration running down his left cheek, and a fist-sized knot jutted from his brow, looking like an overripe, mottled plum that was set to burst.
The Watch Captain momentarily let his gaze wander in the direction of Watch Captain Tarran Cearr, whose lower lip was swollen and split. He looked back at the Bloodclaw to find a fanged roguish grin.
“You,” said Captain Nikolus. He pointed to the Bloodclaw then nodded in the direction of the dais.
The growling radiating from the Space Wolf’s armor had tempered, but only marginally so. “You chose wisely, Captain,” Helphgar replied between clinched teeth.
“Shut your trap, pup, and form up as your Commander has instructed,” the Captain barked.
A menacing growl erupted from the Bloodclaw, but this time it didn’t originate from his armor. He bit down hard in restraint then moved swiftly to the front of the dais.
Captain Nikolus continued his visual assessment, working his way down the remainder of the row: a Storm Warden, an Ultramarine, and a Crimson Fist. He passed them by, and on to the third row. A hulking figure – a Techmarine - was the first in line. He wore the colors of an Ultramarine, but his helm and Servo-arm were polished in crimson. Even though he had seen many months of punishing trials, his armor shone as if it had just been delivered to him fresh off of the Cult Mechanicus assembly line.
The Watch Captain drew his Relic blade and approached him. It hummed brilliantly with a crackle of electrostatic energy. The Captain stopped short of the Techmarine and brought the blade parallel to his waist. To his credit, the Techmarine held his ground.
“Techmarine,” the Captain addressed him. “Are you familiar with this Relic blade?”
“It is a Deathwatch Relic blade, forged more than a century after the Horus Heresy. Its craftsmanship is unequaled, and its power…”
Without warning, the Watch Captain let loose his grip on the heirloom blade. The craftsmanship of the blade kept it true to the horizon as gravity quickly pulled it to the polished stone of the great hall’s floor. With lightning speed, the Techmarine caught it with his servo-arm, and with equal grace presented it to the Captain as it were.
“Your blade, Sir.”
The Captain retrieved the Relic blade and examined it carefully from tip to pummel. “Not so much as a scratch.”
“Not on my watch, Sir,” Erasmus replied.
The Watch Captain nodded. “You may join your Kill-team Brother.”
The Techmarine did as instructed, and Watch Captain Nikolus resumed his examination of the Marines, passing up an Iron Fist and a White Scar before stopping in front of a Storm Warden. He had the markings of a Devastator and an adornment that indicated he had served honorably as an Armored driver in his Company.
The Watch Captain looked him dead in the eye. “Where is your Sacris Claymore, your heirloom blade?”
“In my chambers, Sir.”
“A Storm Warden? Without his Sacris? Are you ashamed of your heritage? Ashamed to carry the Blade of your ancestors Storm Warden?”
“No, Sir. I prefer the roar of a heavy bolter in my hands, Sir.”
“And why is that, Marine?”
“Because a Sacris, as mighty and fine a blade as it is, can’t destroy an entire hoard of ravaging Orks at 300 meters quite like a heavy bolter can, Sir.”
“I like the way you think Devastator, now take your place amongst your Battle-brothers.”
“With pleasure, Sir,” Aedhon said.
Watch Captain Nikolus continued down the line, passing a Raven Guard before moving to the final rank of Marines. First in line, standing eye to eye with the Captain, was a Black Templar. His eyes were calm and content, yet unyielding. He stood at the ready, his hands resting upon the hilt of his great sword, presented point down into the polished floor in front of him.
The Watch Captain looked the Marine over carefully. “Are you expecting a war Marine?”
“War is amongst us always, whether we are expectant or not, Sir,” the Black Templar replied.
“A Marine not prepared for that grim truth is ill prepared to serve our God-Emperor.”
“A Marine not prepared for that grim truth is ill prepared to serve our God-Emperor.”
The Watch Captain returned a rhetorical nod. “You served under Champion Malon Klee?”
The Marine considered the question for a brief moment, and then gave the Captain a nod of agreement. “I serve him still. His memory. Every heretic, mutant, or xenos I slay is in honor of Malon Klee, the finest Emperor’s Champion to grace Terra.”
“I had the pleasure of serving with Champion Klee for nearly a decade here on Erioch. We were Battle-brothers serving under Watch Captain Arelius. He was a good Marine.”
“The best, Sir,” the Black Templar was quick to reply. “No disrespect, Sir.”
A reverent grin cracked the Watch Captain’s chiseled face.
“Do you think you have what it takes to lead that vagabond group of Marines Sgt. Markus Helbrecht?”
“Without question, Sir.”
“Then take your place amongst them, Squad Leader.”
The Black Templar gathered up his mighty two-hander and made his way to the dais, while the Watch Captain continued his examination of the remaining Marines: a Blood Raven and two Salamanders. He stopped to scrutinize each one as he had done before, but did not speak a word to any of them. Instead, he moved to join his assembled Kill-team at the base of the dais.
“Watch Captain Nikolus, you still have two selections remaining,” reminded the Commander.
“With all due respect Commander Mordigael, only four Marines that met my requirements,” the Watch Captain said, turning to address his superior. “I honorably relinquish my remaining selections to do as you please, Sir.”
Kil-team Sigma-Kappa-Delta had been chosen, a monumental occasion in the annals of the Deathwatch Chapter, yet the Watch Captain’s words left a vacuum of silence in the room.
Michael A. Walker
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