The freezing gales of the hills begun to rout on the 7th Company as they waded through the night to the Polar Fortress; their path lit only by pinpricks of light from the chromatic belt of stars above. Flakes of blue paint peeled off their power armour and escaped into the polar storm. Zalthen shepherded the marines through the dark blizzard, squinting through his helmet at the pale aqua screen of his auspex. The auspex struggled to function in the frantic storm, hardware rattling within its plasteel case. Readings of objects far and near readjusted and contradicted each other seconds after identification, frustrating Zalthen to a great degree. Gerad stalked the Ancient with a firm grip on his power pack, who was followed by the Princeps huddled in the Captain's scarlet cloak. He peered up to the abyssal summit, where the stars strung themselves together in chains that bound them in space. The slope was littered with stalagmites and fossils reclaimed from millennia past. Each tactical squad linked themselves together to resist the winds while struggling to find footholds on the rough surface. They slithered in a fluid formation as they scaled the mountain, raising the barrels of their bolters from the hip while gripping onto the pauldrons of their brothers in a straight line. Zalthen felt the rumble of his armour calm faintly as he heaved another step. The Ancient flicked on his vox-receiver.
"The winds are settling brothers, our approach is close to an end!" His triumphant exclamation was distorted by the unrelenting blizzard, yet nothing could dampen the impact of Zalthen's oratory presence. Gerad raised his axe and pinched the activation rune, sparking a beacon of white phosphorescence that shimmered across the tempered steel blade.
"Courage and Honour!" Gerad bellowed behind his battle-brother, which was echoed by his men into the waning night.
At last, the winds receded their ferocious assault. The veil of white tempest had been broken by the 7th Company's ascension. Astral bulbs lit the cliffside with an azure tint, soaking into the snowy mulch on which the Ultramarines tread. Behind them was the vast frozen ocean that girt the polar bastion, where icebergs drifted silently on the foaming waves. Zalthen aided his brothers in mounting the final step onto the cliff's edge while Gerad peered over a naturally formed barricade.
"Squads 3, 4, 8, and 10, establish vanguard on this line," Gerad whispered, drawing a line in the air along the rock wall with an outstretched index finger.
His warriors complied by dropping their weight against the rock formation and mounting their weapons forward, keenly waiting for new orders. The rest of the companies ranks had assembled behind the Captain as he withdrew from his position of overwatch to recoup with Zalthen.
"Are we to be wary of any other Xenos threats on the airfield Captain?" The Ancient muttered under heavy breaths.
"If there are, they haven't made themselves known. I shall elect a small skirmish group to combat any close threats to our primary vanguard. I'll be leading the skirmishers while you march with the main cohort. Understood?"
"Yes sir!" Zalthen gave a gleeful nod to the notion he would be leading the charge.
The highrise of the Southern Fortress Complex sat among the stars, polka-dotted with floodlights and weapon batteries. The station was a cuboid labyrinth that was carved into the ridge of the Southern Alps. A crevice was indented in the centre of the nexus that descended onto a wide embellished avenue meant to lodge the grand titans as they exited from the complex. Defence towers of ferrocrete and reinforced steel were erected at every corner, housing las-turrets and macro-cannons. Bunker domes and makeshift barricades had been left in ruin, punctured with cracks, melted into frothy sludge and covered in chunks of fluorescent gore. What remained of the mortal defenders was ravaged and torn to shreds of pink veal and fused bone. Craters of charred dirt, glass and shrapnel were bored in the courtyards surrounding the inner complex and surrounded by the remains of whoever fought here before them, left pulverised by the titanic rounds of the defence cannons. Glorious banners of the Ultramarines were torn and abandoned across the surface and Aquila statues sculpted in gold were pulled from their perches in utter disgrace. The entrance to the station's main hall had been melted into an acidic puddle of colourless sludge layered by snowy footprints. Gerad assumed the remaining defenders retreated further into the building, and the Tyranids pursued them.
"Starting auspex scan, stand by." Zalthen knelt beside the spearhead, extending his arm to give the auspex a wider area to search. Stuttered beeps sounded from the device as it imprinted a small section of the complex on its display. The meridian screen uncovered no secrets ahead of them, just as he had hoped. He swallowed a hard gulp and issued the advance, triggering the forward marines to vault over the barricade. Zalthen began to follow before he paused to receive another message from Captain Ixion.
"Aye, if you're engaged by any Tyranids this airfield is declared Zone Mortalis and you will coordinate your squads accordingly. Reinforcements from the Auxilia are critical to the mission ahead, so don't go in over your head."
"Aye sire, at once." He replied curtly.
They moved fluidly over the ruins with quick strides in a silent sprint to the west airfield. Captain Ixion and his cohort of company veterans kept their distance from the more methodical force led by the Ancient behind them. Titian lamps bounced off of the marines' armour, exhibiting their scratched and chipped battle-plate that was spotted with leaden shards and splotches of melted hail. The sonorous crash of collapsing steel sounded further up the mechanical boulevard. The Ultramarines darted behind any obscuring terrain, gripping the sides of their weapons and sought anything behind their barrels. Gerad raised a closed fist to signal all behind him to halt. He squinted further ahead to find their perpetrator, yet whatever had caused the ruckus had most likely already been and gone. Slouching down onto one knee and leaning on an abandoned storage container, he croaked a command to the rear gun line to advance and meet his section, to which they complied once more. Feasibly to Gerad, danger could be closer than he anticipated.
The clear night gave way to the air brigade through the blue-lit sky. The hulking silhouette of the Stormbird was cast over the landscape in a stark blue, lit under a thousand stars. In the tides of the swirling constellations, Machellus searched for the landmark systems of Ultramar. Talassar, Circe, Calth, and further into the dark was Espandor, all shining in their blessed domains. It was both a hopeful reminder of what he was fighting for and a grim warning of what was at risk. He forced the doubt out of his mind by referring back to the flight path. He had been staring at the same static formation of ships for the past hour, unconsciously pushing down on the control wheel in a steady dive toward the surface. His case of white line fever was interrupted by a buzz under his right ear, which was followed by a red blipping rune indicating an incoming transmission. He searched around his cabin of machines for the comms panel, opening the signal with the flick of a switch.
"Brother Techmarine, how much longer until your reinforcements reach the fortress?" The agitating voice of Gerad arose from the dashboard speakers. Machellus drew a disgruntled sigh at his impatience and held his tongue, as to not translate his temper into insults. Instead, he brought up a holographic render displaying the route he took, and an estimate of the remaining duration of their flight. The flickering green text read; "ETA 15 MINUTES" Preparing for the Captain's peevish rebuttal, he replied.
"It would seem we're on the home stretch, ETA 15 minutes Captain."
"Good, we are in the process of securing the airfield for your arrival. Are all regiments accounted for?" Gerad said.
"2 brigades full Gerad, 1 under Wing Commander Kahler and the other under Lord Commissar Shahi. All were collected from among the Auxilia's elite, you'll get along well." The Techmarine chuckled to himself, almost immediately overlooking the Captain's temper as soon as it dissipated.
"I'm sure we will. And the dreadnoughts?" Gerad inquired.
"Perhaps a tad shook from the circumstances they've awoken to, but prepared nonetheless," Machellus affirmed.
"Perfect work Brother Techmarine, report back once you're prepared for landing. Until then."
"Until then," Machellus uttered before shutting close the vox-channel. His superior's gleeful attitude vindicated him of any worries he might have had. With the confirmation that everything was going to plan, he fell back into boredom behind the wheel and continued his flight through the silent skies.