The Horus Heresy Book 53
War is unleashed on Beta-Garmon as the armies of the Emperor attempt to hold back the tide of Chaos in the last major clash before Horus reaches Terra itself – and the God-machines of the Adeptus Titanicus are on the front line.
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The long-awaited and much-teased battle of Beta-Garmon is here, and with armies of Titans clashing in brutal no quarters combat, Guy Haley has crafted a remarkable tale.
Horus’s armada gathers, and he has defeated all enemies sent against him, even the Emperor’s own executioner. One barrier remains before he can strike for Terra and lay waste to the Emperor’s dream.
The Beta-Garmon system occupies the most direct and only viable route to the Solar System and Terra. To break it, Horus assembles a war host of incredible proportions and Titans in untold numbers. To lose here is to lose the war and Horus has no intention of turning back. But the Imperium understands the importance of Beta-Garmon too. A massive army is arrayed, comprised of near numberless Army cohorts and a mustering of Titans to challenge even the martial might of the Warmaster.
Titans fight against Titans as the God-Machines of Loyalists and Traitors alike go to war. This conflict will be like no other before it, a world-ending battle that will determine the next phase of the war.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Guy Haley is the author of the Horus Heresy novels Titandeath, Wolfsbane and Pharos, the Primarchs novels Corax: Lord of Shadows, Perturabo: The Hammer of Olympia, and the Warhammer 40,000 novels Dark Imperium, Dark Imperium: Plague War, The Devastation of Baal, Dante, Baneblade, Shadowsword, Valedor and Death of Integrity. He has also written Throneworld and The Beheading for The Beast Arises series. His enthusiasm for all things greenskin has also led him to pen the eponymous Warhammer novel Skarsnik, as well as the End Times novel The Rise of the Horned Rat. He has also written stories set in the Age of Sigmar, included in War Storm, Ghal Maraz and Call of Archaon. He lives in Yorkshire with his wife and son.
Read an Excerpt
The First Huntress
There was wind upon her skin.
The breeze was a memory, but it felt real all the same. Life in the tank blurred the past into the present. What was and what had been existed in the same moment for her. Her life had become one long book to be browsed at will, so it did not seem so very strange to smell the animal scents of the mega-herds on the breeze, even though for over a century all she had smelled, tasted and felt was blood-warm amnion. At one and the same time Mohana Mankata Vi was entrapped in the skull of Luxor Invictoria, and she was astride her mount, Hamaj, and she was a sleeping child. She was telling the story of the day the Legio was born to a class of her daughters on Tigris. She was young. She was old.
Memory bled into dream when Mohana Mankata Vi slept. In what lesser minds regarded as the present, her naked body twitched feebly in the fluid that gave her life, her arms brushing against the network of feeder tubes, data tethers and synaptic linkage cables cocooning her.
She did not feel them. She did not see the tiny confines of her bubble world. Her body was imprisoned, but her spirit roamed free.
The wind carried fertile dust off the steppes, depositing it over the forest lands of House Vi. As the wind nourished the trees, so it blew vigour into Mohana Mankata Vi's soul.
Sunlight blazed through hazy air, and she remembered other sensations long denied her. The trees shushed and roared as the breeze blew gently then strong. The flavour of mare's milk lingered in her mouth. It was spring weather, hot and cold at once; the sun was warm on her face even as the raw iron of cold air burned her lungs. She panted lightly. Her face tingled, her body thrilling from her ride to the top of the bluff. Her fingers were numb about the leather of the reins, though she would never let them go. Her grip was too practised for that.
All these details were pin sharp, perfect beyond a human being's ability to note them in the moment, dredged up to be relived from the patterning of her organic engrams and rebuilt by her Titan's immense cogitators.
Hamaj pawed the bluff's flat top impatiently. His metal shoes drew sparks from the rock. His blue-black coat rippled with muscle. The banner of his mane whipped around Mohana's arms, soft yet coarse. He could already smell steam and fire on the racing air. He wished to join the chase.
The memory was important, and she had relived it many times, for this was the day the Legio was made; not the moment the great adamantium bones of the Titans were cast, or when the reactor of the first machine exploded into life, but another day, a day as significant as the forging of the machines of war. A Titan was metal, but it was also flesh and blood.
This was an instance of the flesh.
This was the day the hunters were chosen.
In her years of youthful incarnation Mohana's vision had been renowned among the women of Procon. She was, they said, a natural choice to join the priestesses of the huntress godess Pahkmetris. Had things been different, she might indeed have gone to the temple, and risen to the position of high priestess as had many first-born women of her house. But those times were in the past, before the outland men came from the stars and told her people the gods were nonsense, first suggesting they be abandoned, then commanding it be so.
The Imperial Truth was the price and blessing of compliance, and although the civil war that came decades afterwards had proved the Emperor's creed to be a story like all the other stories, at the time it had been compelling. Under the Emperor's truth the old ways died so fast that Mohana's faith would certainly have perished completely, were it not for other men with another story, and another god.
After the rogue traders had marked the world of Procon for compliance, the iterators arrived to speak their honeyed words. Then came the priests of Mars.
The lies of men flow so freely from their lips they forget they are not speaking the truth. After the iterators denied the existence of the divine, the priests in red told them of a deity of mechanisms and knowledge. In the space of five years there were two delegations with one ostensible master, delivering two divergent narratives. Wonder became cynicism. Faced with this contradiction, and the covetous way the men who made it eyed her home, Mohana Mankata Vi vowed not to forget Pahkmetris, no matter what the iterators or the tech-priests said.
The day she sat upon the bluff – the day the Legio was born – was the day the houses of Procon competed for the favour of the god of machines. She could not take part in the chase herself. The path of the women of Procon was laid differently to that of the men. She could, however, watch.
From her vantage Mohana Mankata Vi had a fine view over the final stretch: a long tongue of late summer grass cut into the forest, dividing one line of hills from another and marking the borderland where the trees' dominion gave way to that of the steppe. The finishing post was on the plains a few miles further on. The Knights would come that way, she was sure.
She was not the only huntress to have guessed so. Branches rattled at the tree line fifty metres away. A second horsewoman broke from the forest and urged her mount up to the summit of the ridge, expertly guiding the horse around clefts and traps of rock.
Galiana Atum came to a breathless halt at Mohana Mankata Vi's side. The two were cousins of distant degree, linked by blood ties woven over a thousand years of intrigue. They were not friends. Though they were related, Galiana's house was not Mohana's house. Galiana's father was a duke, Mohana's was the king, and there was rivalry between the daughters as there was between the fathers.
'Any sign of them yet?' Galiana said. Rarely did they bother with formal modes of address. Both were adepts of the huntress. The ways of the temple mattered more than lordly custom.
Mohana Mankata Vi gave a barely perceptible nod. She pointed to the woods.
Galiana frowned and shaded her eyes. 'I see nothing.'
'Then you are blind,' said Mohana. 'Watch.'
The movement of the trees became perceptible to both of them. Branches whipped back and forth, cracking loudly, perturbed by the passage of something large through the forest. A tree crashed down in a thrash of shattering wood. A cloud of birds and leaves burst upwards, chased out by a roil of smoke that belched from the canopy and blew on the wind towards the bluff. The damp, hot smell of steam washed over them. The horses' nostrils flared. Hamaj tossed his great head and whickered. The line of destruction was heading for the open land, and gathering speed.
'Is that ...?' began Galiana.
'Yes,' said Mohana. 'They are here.'
The trees at the edge of the tongue of grass parted in an explosion of splinters. A lumbering bipedal machine burst out, revealing itself as an ancient, mechanised warsuit five times the height of a man. It was a Knight, a relic from the long-ago years of settlement, carefully maintained down the centuries and piloted by the scions of Procon's noble houses. The Knights were the protectors of Procon, and the reason the world had weathered the horrors of Old Night when so many others had perished.
The Knight's left hand was a giant, hydraulic fist that swatted away the last branches clawing at its chest. The right arm bore a lance mount filled by a simple shaft of metal without the explosive tip it would carry into war.
Against the weapon's conical guard rested the day's favour, a tilting hoop large enough for a warsuit lance to snag from a target hook. It was made of brass and toothed like a cog. Whoever carried it to the finishing post would win the greatest concessions from the machine priests in the coming negotiations.
Galiana stood in her stirrups and let out a cry of delight. Brightly painted armour proclaimed the heritage of its rider. The Knight bore the badge of House Atum – her house. The personal heraldry of her brother Agali was emblazoned on its right shoulder guard.
'He has it!'
Mohana Mankata Vi scowled at her. 'The day is not done yet.'
The engines on the machine's back chuffed with effort. Exhaust stacks vented clouds of white steam and alcohol vapour. The Knight accelerated into a laborious run. Pistons hissing, engine roaring, feet thumping dully into hard turf, it headed down the bight of grassland out towards the open plain, where the forest drew back in surrender to the fields of gold, and the wide open spaces of the world began. The land dropped sharply not far beyond.
Agali's Knight got some way, far enough for Mohana to grow concerned House Vi would lose the contest, until whistles hooted from both sides of the strip of grassland. Two more Knights erupted from the forest, one bearing a pair of massive claws, the other a broadsword and a rebated lance.
Both wore black and silver plate, and the blue eagle badges of House Vi. The claw-armed Knight was that of Mohana's uncle Vakrian, the lancer her brother Shunji.
Mohana's uncle smashed into the side of Agali's machine in a high tackle. The clamour of metal striking metal crashed over the landscape, scaring up flocks of avians from all over the forest. The impact damaged both Knights. The shoulder guard of Vakrian's machine ripped off, showering splinters of metal and paint over the ground. Half of the shoulder plate folded itself around Agali's Knight's arm and was dragged off, tangling Agali's movements. Vakrian peeled away on an unsteady arc, steam whistling from a burst leg piston. Agali's Knight stumbled, ran on a few paces before tripping on a broken locomotor shaft dangling from its hip. It fell hard, tearing up a long stripe of turf and exposing the dark soil beneath. His lance bent and sheared off. The cog trophy bounced free. Shunji deftly speared it and raced on, the prize glinting from the base of his upheld lance.
Now it was Mohana Mankata Vi's turn to grin.
'Oh no,' said Galiana. 'He dropped it!'
'My uncle Vakrian dropped him,' said Mohana. 'No one will catch my brother now. He is the finest Knight in the realm.'
More and more Knights were emerging from the woods. Some came through the gap Agali had forged, others attempted their own ambushes, but few could pilot a Knight as well as Shunji. His Knight leapt as deftly as an athlete of flesh and blood around the swiping attempts to grab him. Suddenly there were a score of the machines on the grassland, jostling and fighting with each other. At the back of the line a sprinting Knight plunged its foot into a hidden bog, and down he went in catastrophic impact. Bits of machine flew everywhere. The head came free and bounced down the meadow like a hurled ball. The pilot floundered out into the mud moments before the Knight's fuel tank exploded, sending a blue ball of fire woofing skywards.
Hunch-backed armour suits loped across the prairie to join the stream of metal pounding after Shunji. The running of the Knights trembled the ground, a persistent tremor like the hoofbeats of the wild herds during migration time. It was rare to see so many of the nobility in the field at once. The engine-smiths of every hold had laboured for weeks to prepare the ancient machines for this event. Their pride was at stake. They wished to show their craft was good. They wanted to demonstrate they were worthy. They had as much to prove, if not more, than the Knights they served.
Glory would go to the victorious house, but the Mechanicum's knowledge would go to its smiths.
Galiana's face was a picture of dismay. Her brother's war engine heaved up onto one knee but could not rise. Wood alcohol running from a rupture in the fuel tank ignited on the scalding boiler. The Knight clanged back down. The salvator hatch blew off, and Galiana's brother threw himself free. His helm was half over his eyes, plumes sodden from the leaking engine. He looked ridiculous and Mohana laughed. Her brother Shunji had outpaced his pursuers and he was almost at the open prairie.
'I told you. I told you!' said Mohana Mankata Vi gleefully. She let out a long, wild ululation and urged her horse off the bluff towards the chase. Hamaj plunged fearlessly down the steep scarp, his legs splayed to brake himself, hooves scraping up showers of stones. Then they were off the slope, leaving Galiana blinking at girl and horse's shared audacity as they raced away into the trees.
Hamaj careered nimbly around the trunks without direction from his mistress. An exhilarating few moments later, they were out onto the grass. Hamaj lengthened his stride and held his head up as if he wished to show the galaxy what he could do. The world flew by Mohana. The trees were a dark green streak, the grass a golden ribbon.
Mohana Mankata Vi laughed. Pollen rose in clouds around her. Hamaj shot past the slumped wreckage of Agali's Knight and Agali stood and shouted something after her as she thundered past. She did not hear, but leaned forward, urging Hamaj towards the Knights running ahead.
The Knights were fast, but Hamaj was faster. His legs blurred as he galloped into the midst of their mechanical violence. Always, Hamaj was without fear. The great beasts of the plains did not daunt him, nor did the Knights of steel.
Mohana rode between the sons and fathers of the houses as their machines shoved at each other. Metal fists hit plangent blows. Steam whistles of many pitches shrilled. A lesser mount would have bolted, but not Hamaj. He tossed his head and ran faster towards the leading edge of the Knightly pack, where Mohana's brother Shunji set the pace.
Mohana raced past a Knight as it tripped and fell, its heels curling over its back so high it came close to completing an awkward roll. Shouts from broken cockpits and downed Knights pursued her, challenging her, demanding she turn back.
She laughed at them all.
Shunji's Knight was ahead, close enough now she could see the flex of his warsuit's mechanical claw-toes as they lifted from the ground. Close enough to smell the hot oil and the rich scent of burning alcohol, and to see the pistons gleam as they slid in and out of greased sleeves.
She drew level with her brother. He must have seen her, for his Knight let out a long, hooting war call through its bank of whistles. Hamaj flicked his mighty head in reply. Mohana smiled so wide her face hurt. It was a moment of perfect triumph, her house ascendant, brother and sister side by side, that seemed to last an eternity. It did every time she recalled it. In truth it was fleeting, and cruelly snatched away.
The flanged head of a steam harpoon punched through the chest piece of Shunji's Knight with a sound like a smith's hammer hitting a bell. Steam geysered in every direction from severed feed pipes. The suit lost power instantly and sagged on depressurising pistons. Heavy feet dragged at the ground. The enemies of House Vi were not yet done. Before Shunji's Knight completed its fall forwards, the cable attached to the harpoon twanged taut.
Shunji's Knight was yanked backwards off its feet. The effect on the harpooner was as devastating as it was on Shunji's machine. The harpooner's arm was wrenched free, unbalancing the warsuit, and the Knight pitched face forward into the dirt. Shunji's Knight was ripped apart.
Mohana ducked a piece of flying armour plate that would have decapitated her. Jets of scalding vapour blasted from both wrecked machines, showers of hot water and oil raining all around.
The glorious run was over. Mohana hauled Hamaj to a sudden halt. Knights were gaining on her fallen brother. In their eagerness for the prize, two more collided and tripped over the wreckage of Shunji's attacker. One flipped over the smoking ruin; the other bounced off and staggered into the path of a third charging war machine. The clash of tonnes of metal hitting metal thundered over the world.
Whistles shrieked. The Knights slowed, ponderous heads seeking out the fallen prize with primitive autosenses.
Mohana saw it first. It bounced over the short grass like a live thing fleeing a predator. She watched it hit a lump in the ground and take off, toothed edges flashing in the sun.
Before she knew what she was doing, she set Hamaj into motion. The stallion lunged towards the prize. The cog was rolling along the ground, leaning over, about to come to a circling stop.
Mohana swung low off her saddle. Rushes whipped her face. She reached out and grabbed the cog. It was almost too heavy for her to pull up, so she twisted, sending Hamaj veering sharply to the right, and used his momentum to sling herself back up into her seat.
She hung the cog from her saddle pommel and leaned into the wind.
'Fly, Hamaj, fly!' she breathed into the horse's ear.
Her steed opened up his stride. Behind her, outraged war machines cried shrieks of steam.
The ground shook behind her. Ahead the sky drew near, a false horizon where the land dropped to the plains proper. She was at it in moments, and heading down the long, gentle slope into the sea of grass. A kilometre out from the slope, a vast geometric design had been carved from the vegetation, and the ground beneath fired as hard as clay. At the design's centre, in the shadow of a vast metal voidship, was a golden arch large enough to accommodate a Knight, and beyond that a dais bearing the king and his court.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Titandeath"
Copyright © 2019 Guy Haley.
Excerpted by permission of Black Library Publication.
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