For ten thousand years, Cadia stood as a bastion against the daemonic tide spewing forth from the Eye of Terror. But now the Fortress World lies in ruins, its armies decimated in the wake of Abaddon the Despoiler and his Thirteenth Black Crusade. Those who survived, though haunted by the loss of their beloved homeworld, remain bloodied and unbarred, fighting ruthlessly in the Emperor’s name.
Amongst them is the indomitable Sergeant Minka Lesk. Sent to the capital world of Potence, Lesk and the Cadian 101st company soon discover that a rot runs through the very heart of the seemingly peaceful world. Lesk knows she must excise this taint of Chaos, for it is not only her life and those of her company at stake, but also the honour of Cadia itself.
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From the ceiling of the Macharius dining room, situated in Upper D Quadrant of the Imperial Heart, long chains of gilt-framed portraits hung down the walls. They were the faces of Astra Militarum generals with starched uniforms, gold braid and rows of ribboned medals, all meticulously reproduced with oil and brush. Many were cracked with age, or stained a deep yellow by centuries of after-dinner smoke. Cadian generals filled one entire wall, a fact that galled the Praetorian general, Ser Reginald Monstella de Barka.
He brooded as the table conversation focused on the upcoming crusade.
'Who should lead?' a voice queried from the end of the table.
'The Cadians,' a blunt Catachan voice stated. 'This was their territory once. Theirs to reclaim.'
There were murmurs of agreement in a dozen accents. Mordian. Aquarian. Saturnine.
Ser Reginald could bear it no longer. He slammed his hand down a little too hard. 'No, the Cadians should not lead,' he pronounced. 'They are not up to it. Not now. Not since the debacle of the Cadian Gate. The Mordians are as good as any Cadian outfit. Any one of your armies. Or, indeed, my own Praetorians!'
The other generals, old even by Astra Militarum standards, turned to his end of the table in surprise.
Ser Reginald felt emboldened. He gesticulated expansively. 'We've given the Cadians everything they wanted since anyone can remember. The best arms. The best supplies. The toughest assignments. But look! The prison-warders were caught napping. Their failure has set the whole Imperium in doubt!
'Where are the Cadians now? See, none of them are here. They daren't show their faces!'
As he spoke, an ornately carved and decorated antique dining chair scraped back across the polished walnut. There were a few shocked gasps as the man stood and showed himself. He had the same pale complexion as many of the portraits hanging on the wall, the same drab uniform, and the badge of the Cadian Gate, in black on a field of white. He fixed the Praetorian with pale, violet eyes. 'If I may say so, general, you don't know what you are talking about.'
Lord General Reginald de Barka's cheeks coloured, but he ostentatiously swilled the last of the claret about his mouth. 'You should address me properly. I am a lord general. And I know exactly what I am talking about.'
A frock-coated attendant saw the danger and came forward with the bottle of amasec. The Cadian put up a hand. 'No, thank you.' His jaw was tense, his cheeks flushed red. 'You may be a lord general,' the Cadian said, 'but that does not stop you being a damned fool.'
The silence deepened. Even the servo-waiters stopped in the half-open doorways and stared at each other in slack-jawed confusion, boats of cream and red sorbet held in their unthinking hands.
The Cadian spoke louder this time. 'I demand that you withdraw your words.'
Ser Reginald paused for a moment, and then slid his own chair back and stood to his full height of six foot five. 'Tell me your name, sir.'
'Well, General Bendikt. You cannot demand anything from me. Those days are over. The Cadians are a dying breed. Failure hangs around your necks. Your defeat is like a brand burned into a criminal's cheek. As for your behaviour this evening, I shall expect a formal apology from you and your commander.'
Bendikt crossed the space between them in two strides. 'Here's my apology!' he hissed.
His fist caught the lord general under the chin. There was a sharp crack of hind teeth being slammed together, a low grunt of pain and then Bendikt was on the bigger man, hands reaching for his throat.
It took two of the younger generals to haul him back. At last they held his arms out to either side, and he stood dishevelled, breathless, furious as a pit-slave.
Ser Reginald pushed himself to his feet.
He dabbed his lip. There was blood.
A Saturnine Dragoon general stepped forward. There were splatters of blood and wine on his white frock coat. His face was severe. 'Make peace, men. This will not do. Not at all. We are military officers. We all serve the God-Emperor. Shake hands and we shall all forget this happened.'
'I would rather die,' General Bendikt spat.
Ser Reginald put his hand to the worn pommel of his duelling sabre. 'That can be arranged,' he said.CHAPTER 2
'Don't record this,' Lord Militant Warmund said to his scribe as he entered Bendikt's private chambers. They were on the mid-levels of C Quadrant, and Warmund was chief Cadian on board the Imperial Heart.
He was a slab of a man. Solid, ruthless, deeply loyal to everything that his home world had once been. Behind him trailed an entourage of attendants, savants, scribes and a pair of hovering servo-skulls. The sudden bustle within his private quarters shocked Bendikt.
'Bendikt,' Warmund said as he strode inside. 'I had to take a lighter from A Quadrant and it's still taken me an hour and a half to get here. You've caused me a lot of trouble.'
Bendikt leapt to his feet. 'Sorry, sir.' He saluted smartly.
Warmund waved him back to his seat. 'I said don't record this,' he repeated, and the bald-headed savant nodded. His metal claw lifted the stylus from the parchment roll. There was nothing organic about the movement.
Warmund's voice had been enhanced for battlefield audibility, but he kept it to a low rumble now, like the purr of a giant feline. It made the wood-panelled walls tremble. 'Bendikt. I've been told that you struck Lord General Reginald Monstella de Barka with your fist. Is that true?'
Bendikt paled. He cleared his throat. His voice betrayed him. 'Yes, sir.'
'Good man!' Warmund's face broke into a huge grin. 'We're all glad you hit that pompous prat. He's been challenging our leadership since day one!' He seized Bendikt's hand and there was power within his handshake that Bendikt had not felt before. Warmund's hand had been augmented, he realised, and as its grip closed on his own, grinding bone and gristle together painfully, he felt the unspoken threat.
Warmund let go and paced up and down, hands behind his back, head thrust forward on a thick, bull neck. He had a brisk, businesslike manner that was familiar, even though he and Bendikt had never met before. It must be, Bendikt surmised, a Cadian trait. 'We've all been celebrating your punch, General Bendikt, but I'm not beating about the bush here. You'll have to go to that damned Praetorian fool and apologise.'
Bendikt nodded. He understood.
Warmund went on. 'You don't have to do it publicly. I can arrange a private venue. It doesn't even have to be particularly profuse. Sorry if, all that, you know ...'
Bendikt tried to speak, but Warmund kept talking.
'We've allied with the Saturnine Dragoons and together we're petitioning people with influence. Navigator House Benetek are with us. They tell me that this is going to be the next front line. The new Cadian Gate! El'Phanor is on the shortest route from the Cicatrix Maledictum towards Holy Terra, apparently. It's going right to the top. The High Lords of Terra.'
Bendikt coughed to clear his throat. 'I'm afraid I cannot do that, sir.'
'Apologise. In all good conscience.'
Warmund stared at him for a moment. 'I don't care about your damned conscience. The position of the Cadians has become precarious. Vultures are circling and they wear the two-headed aquila of the Imperium of Man. De Barka might be the most pompous but he is not alone. There are a number of other lord militants and lord generals who think they deserve command. Our representatives are fighting round the clock to make sure Cadian generals retain control of this front. This is the chance we need, to repair the loss of Cadia. A chance to regain our glory!'
Warmund went on at length. At the end Bendikt nodded. 'Yes, sir, I understand, but I'm afraid I cannot do as you wish.'
Warmund stopped pacing and fixed an augmented eye on him. 'Can't or won't?' There was threat in Warmund's voice now and the water glass on Bendikt's bedside cabinet rattled. 'I don't care about your pride, Bendikt. I'm ordering you to apologise.'
Bendikt's voice seemed quiet in comparison. 'I am very sorry, sir. I cannot.'
Bendikt cut him off. 'Sorry, sir. If you would excuse me, but someone has to make a stand. It's not just the ownership of this front that is at stake here. It is the honour and pride of every Cadian who still draws breath.'
Warmund started to laugh. 'Bendikt. Be serious. You're a soldier, not a preacher.'
'I'm a Cadian,' Bendikt said. 'And, with respect, this is beneath you.'
Warmund turned his whole body towards Bendikt and his voice was low and deep and made the whole room rattle. 'What do you mean, exactly?'
Bendikt felt the vibration in his gut. 'Cadians have nothing to be ashamed of. We held the Cadian Gate since time ... for as long as anyone can remember.'
'Yes. But the Cadian Gate fell.'
'Not through any fault of the Cadians.'
Warmund waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. 'Don't be an idealist. We've lost whole sectors of Imperial space. Let's face facts. Maybe de Barka has a point.'
Bendikt felt his blood rising. 'Lord militant, were you on Cadia?'
'No. You know I wasn't.'
'Well then. With all due respect, sir, you cannot say the Cadians failed. De Barka is wrong. You are also wrong. I was there. I know. We were winning. Creed was winning.'
Creed was a word that everyone used once. Now his name was passing into memory. But it gave Bendikt strength.
Warmund laughed caustically. 'If you were winning, how did we lose?'
Bendikt could barely control himself. 'The Imperial Navy let us down. The Imperium let us down. Throne be damned! Every Cadian who was not there let us down. Lord Militant Warmund, if you were not there, then you let us down!'
Bendikt found that he was shouting into Warmund's face.
There was a dangerous look in Warmund's eye as he stepped forward. Bendikt swallowed, but he did not back down. He was done with manners. He was a soldier, and a fighter, and he fought his corner.
'How dare you accuse me, Bendikt. If anyone failed, it was you and Creed and all the other defenders. Cadia fell on your watch, not mine!'
Warmund was shouting too now. The vibrations were sickening and the bedside lumen cracked. Bendikt had to swallow back his nausea as he returned the lord militant's stare. He remembered Ursarkar Creed's words about the dreadful old waxworks who ran the Cadian forces, how hidebound they were, how their warfronts were on Holy Terra, in the infernal politicking of the Administratum.
He started to speak but Warmund put up his hand. 'I am fighting the war for the survival of our regiments. That is why you must go and apologise. Today.'
Bendikt took in a deep breath and paused for a long moment. 'I am afraid I cannot, sir.'
All the charm had fallen from Warmund. He bristled. 'I am giving you an order, Bendikt.'
Bendikt looked to see if there was a commissar in the room. There was. Warmund had planned this all along. Bendikt had been cornered. He took a deep breath. This was now a matter of life and death.
Bendikt spoke deliberately. 'I understand that, sir. But still, I cannot allow the name of the Cadians to be impugned in this way.'
'That was a command.'
From the corner of his eye Bendikt could see the commissar put his hand to his bolt pistol. Bendikt nodded. 'I know that. If it means me dying, then that is what I shall do.'
He watched as the bolt pistol slid from its black leather holster, then looked away.
The commissar stepped forward. Bendikt drew in a long breath. The barrel of the bolt pistol was cold against his skin.
Warmund watched his face almost eagerly.
'Do it,' Bendikt hissed, and quoted an ancient song. 'Weep for those whose faith is weak. I rejoice, for my faith is bottomless.'
He heard the click as the firing pin was brought back. Bendikt closed his eyes. There was a long silence. Lord Militant Warmund paused and turned to the savant. 'What is General Bendikt's old unit?'
His savant answered without a moment's pause. 'Cadian 101st, tank regiment.'
'And where are they serving?'
'The Gallows Cluster.'
'Bendikt. Consider yourself under house arrest. I shall leave you now in the guard of my men. You have three hours to apologise to Lord General Reginald.'
'Or you will be sent to the penal colonies and your name shall be struck off the Imperial monuments. Your regiment will be disbanded. Their colours will be consigned to the regimental shrine on Ophelia IV, and the companies will be broken up to fill the ranks of other, more reliable regiments. The name, the proud legacy, the existence of the Cadian 101st shall be no more. The whole regiment shall die with you.'
There was a twitch under Bendikt's left eye. It pulled once, twice, three times. He felt his throat tightening. He felt tears welling up and by sheer force of will he drove them back. He dared not blink. He could not show weakness.
From somewhere he felt stillness within him. He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. 'I will apologise,' he said at last, 'when de Barka does likewise.'
'That'll never happen.'
'Then I leave the fate of the 101st in your hands, sir. There is only one way to resolve this honourably. We leave it for the Emperor to decide who is right.'
'Don't think I'm making empty threats, Bendikt.'
Bendikt opened his eyes. 'Unfortunately, I don't.'
The lord militant sighed. He had tried threat and bluster, and neither of them had worked. Now he tried a different tack. 'He'll kill you, you know.'
'That is not certain.'
'Have you seen him fight?'
'Well, that's one thing Praetorians are good at. And de Barka is the best duellist on this quadrant.'
Bendikt nodded. He was strangely calm. 'The Emperor will decide.'
Bendikt stood at the door as the lord militant and his staff filed out.
Warmund's handshake was brief. 'You're a stubborn fool, Bendikt. It'll be a shame to lose you.'
Bendikt nodded and said nothing. He did not trust his voice not to betray him.
Warmund gave a curt nod. 'Goodbye then, General Bendikt. I do not think we shall meet again.'
Bendikt nodded and shut the door, closed his eyes, and tried to swallow back the grief.
But nothing could stem his pain and humiliation.
He was Cadian. The Holy Emperor had entrusted his people with a sacred duty: to defend the Imperium against the enemies of mankind. To do this they had been given the best weapons, the best training, forge worlds devoted to furnishing their every need.
And they had all failed.CHAPTER 3
The time and location for the duel was set by their go-betweens.
Dawn. Firing range Alpha-2, on the second sub-level of D Quadrant. 'It's a quiet spot,' Bendikt's adjutant, Mere, said. 'On an unused deck of the Imperial Heart. I'm assured no one will disturb you.'
Bendikt nodded and took the news with calm detachment. Duelling was officially banned by Administratum protocol, but it had an archaic status among many martial cultures within the myriad regiments of the Astra Militarum, and there were simple precedents to follow. No armour, no lasweapons, no interference from other men, no champions, no psychic tricks. Just a straight duel, blade to blade.
It would be left to them. No one would intervene or stop this fight. Just Reginald, Bendikt and their appointed seconds.
May the Emperor aid the righteous.
At 0300 hours the next morning the lights came on in Bendikt's chambers. He'd closed his eyes, but sleep had not come. He spent the night thinking back over his life. A child, a cadet, and then the long period of active service, a time he thought of as being both terrible and jubilant.
He could hear Mere in the antechamber starting to prepare, and pushed himself up. He had not got used to the size of the Ramilies star fort. It was like being on a planet. Each quadrant had a separate day, so that as one quadrant went to sleep, the next one was waking up. The only sounds were the distant, low hum of the plasma generator, the moan of the superstructure being pulled at by the planet's gravitational field, the echo of other quadrants still at midday, and the resonant clunks of cruisers docking alongside the Ramilies.
Bendikt was buttoning up his shirt when Mere entered. 'I'm sorry to involve you in this.'
'I'm honoured,' Mere said. His involvement in this duel would be a stain on his otherwise untarnished record.
'You don't have to come.'
'I wouldn't be anywhere else. Honestly.'
Mere stood silently watching as Bendikt finished buttoning up his dress-jacket of Cadian drab, the embossed brass buttons each individually polished to a parade-ground brightness. Bendikt laughed bitterly. In a pistol fight or a match of military acumen the Praetorian would be a dead man. But the weapons of the duel ring were blades, and Bendikt was shorter, smaller and facing a man whose planet and class meant that duelling was the chief sport.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Cadian Honour"
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