They were getting closer. There was no doubt about that now. Sammael risked a glance around the fallen section of masonry that had toppled from the mighty vaulted ceiling above him. Smoke drifted silently across the trail that he and his squad had just climbed, and curled into leering spectres of death that spiralled before his eyes. In the distance the chilling bark of bolter fire echoed around the crumbling remains of the Imperial palace. The Dark Angel withdrew and rejoined his men. They numbered but five now five of the thirty that had left Grand Master Azrael's side in an effort to check the chaos advance through a breached gatehouse in the western wall.
It had been ten days since the first attacks by Abaddon's forces had smashed through the loyalist's front line, tearing asunder mighty walls that had stood impervious since the end of the first Heresy. Since that time Sammael and his force had been fighting a desperate rearguard action to allow their brothers the time to fortify their position, and prepare for the final defence. The palace about them lay in ruins. The constant bombardment of the Banelords had levelled vast stretches of ornate gothic architecture, and had transformed the once mighty structures into a maze of rubble, that only served to cover the advance of the traitor legions. Now, in the ruins of a once sacred basilica to the Emperor, Sammael knew that they would meet the enemy for the last time.
"The traitors approach," Sammael stated calmly. "They must be held here. If the basilica is taken, the road to our brothers will lay open." He turned to a veteran marine clad in pitted terminator armour. His left shoulder pad bore the mark of a librarian, and he held in one armoured glove a force sword. "Brother Zamiel may we expect aid?" Zamiel lifted his hood to reveal a scarred face, lined with the experience of an age of warfare. For a moment his eyes took on a faraway look, as if he were elsewhere, before focusing once again on Sammael. "The advance parties of the Ravenwing have fallen to the heathen, their sacrifice has enabled our honoured brothers in the Deathwing to fall back to the last perimeter. We will not receive their aid. "
Sammael nodded. "Then we shall meet the Emperor alone." He surveyed the three other marines before him. The two terminators at his command met his gaze, devotion and determination in their eyes. Uriel, his ash-white armour smeared with the blood of the traitor marines he had slain, loaded a new clip into his storm bolter and turned away to ready himself for the final battle. Boreas held his Master's gaze a second longer before lowering his assault cannon and kneeling before the cracked altar of the basilica, genuflecting before the master of all mankind. The final marine's face was the grinning skull of an interrogator chaplain. Sammael lowered his power sword and knelt beside Boreas. "Brother Nestor," he addressed the chaplain, "will you lead us in the mass of battle for the last time?" Nestor holstered his bolt pistol and spoke, his mighty voice reverberating around the remains of the basilica; "We are the Emperor's wrath! Let the blood of the unclean act as an offering to the Lion!" As the chaplain completed the first line of the Dark Angel's battle hymn Zamiel turned, his eyes calm, but strangely alive, "The minions of hell are upon us."
Sammael had barely regained his feet when he heard the approach of the traitor marines. They made no effort to disguise their advance. Their guttural voices pierced the calm that had settled over the marines as they knelt before the Emperor. As their bolter shells bit into the stone of the building, Sammael knew hatred. What right had those that had fallen from the light of the Emperor to desecrate his world? What right had they to tear down what he had built, and what had been built in his name? A clarity he had never known settled upon him. He saw the approaching marines advance towards his position, their power armour twisted and corrupted by the gods of chaos, their helms covered in vile iconography and the horns of daemons. He saw his men caught in a momentary beam of Terran sunlight that had broken the dark clouds above them, and behind them he saw the shadow of the Angel of Death, a halo playing about its cowled head.
He drew his power sword and lifted his bolter. Instantly brother Nestor was beside him, his eyes burning red through his helm's visor. His robes swirled about him as though the chaplain was alone caught in a storm of the Emperor's wrath, and energy arced around his crozius. Zamiel, his hood once again covering his head, took up position in front of the altar flanked by brother Uriel. Boreas, his face an impassive mask, donned his helm and brought his mighty assault cannon to bear. As the first traitor stepped foot within the basilica Sammael uttered his battle cry, "Dark Angels! Onward for The Lion and The Emperor!" The traitor legionaries, aware for the first time of the proximity of their foes, wheeled to face their assault. With a peal of thunder Boreas opened fire with the assault cannon. The front ranks of the traitor marines disappeared in a hail of righteous fire, unable to escape the Deathwing's retribution. Seizing the initiative, Sammael and Nestor charged. Sammael saw nothing now but those that had slain the lord of humanity, the kind that had sullied the honour of his chapter. A shell struck his ornamented shoulder pad, and he turned his gaze upon the traitor that had dared to fire upon the Emperor's chosen. Raising his sword, he cut the marine in two and blew its visor apart with a short burst of bolter fire. In front of him he saw the form of Nestor locked in combat with a chaos terminator. What once must have been revered as a relic of the Emperor's might, was now a hideous mockery of its former glory. Gargoyles leered from the marine's shoulder pads and the helm had somehow twisted into the image of a horned daemon. The abomination swung its chain axe ponderously at the chaplain, who nimbly ducked and came up behind his assailant. With a roar of fury, Nestor brought his crozius arcanum down upon the traitor's helm, tearing it apart in a flash of energy.
Sammael whirled as a super-heated ball of plasma seared the air, and moved besides Boreas. The terminator's helmet was streaked with blood and the crux upon his right shoulder had been blown apart. He caught a glimpse of Zamiel and Uriel behind them, maintaining their position before the altar. A number of the traitor marines had broken past Sammael and now approached the two Dark Angels. In that instant, reality slowed for Sammael. The figure of Zamiel seemed to grow in stature as the enemy closed in around him and Uriel. The librarian's force sword crackled with barely suppressed energy and beneath his hood his eyes had turned snow white. Sammael suddenly became aware of a low noise building around him, growing steadily within the confines of the basilica. For a moment he thought that the structure was shaking under the strain of weapon's fire, or the approach of a titan, but he suddenly recognised it to be the voice of the librarian, barely more than a growl, but growing in volume and power. In his hand Zamiel held an ancient tome and the emblem of the broken sword upon its leather-bound cover shone with a divine light.
Sammael side-stepped as a traitor marine thrust at him and effortlessly decapitated the prone figure. Still the voice of Zamiel grew, and the words became clear. "And from the darkness came light. The light of redemption. The light of Purity. The light of the Emperor and of his children." Sammael's mind swam with visions of the glory of his chapter and of the sacrifices of the Emperor and the Lion. To his left Boreas, his assault cannon spent, ran through a traitor marine with his honour dagger. "And of his children we were born. Angels of vengeance. Bringers of salvation to the innocent. Bringers of death to the unclean." Next to Zamiel, Uriel's stormbolter flared brightly, casting harsh shadows over the terminator's face and hurling another foe to the floor. "Stand before us and face the wrath of the Lion!" More chaos marines had begun to pour into the basilica now, attracted by the din of battle. Sammael dispatched another legionary and heard the click of his bolter as it put forth the final round. Beside him he heard the crash of Boreas being knocked to the ground. The marine's armour had been split by a plasma blast. Wielding his blade two-handed he tried to reach his fallen comrade, but was pushed back by the swell of chaos marines. "Borne forth on the wings of Death!" The broken image of his battle-brother was suddenly surrounded by the blessed Watchers. They moved silently, clad in the robes of the order, capped by golden halos. The slain Dark Angel was lifted amidst the maelstrom of fire, his body seemingly impervious against his foes.
Nestor appeared beside Sammael, his power armour glistening with the blood of the enemy. Together they stood against the black tide. Zamiel's voice swelled around them filling them with strength, "Upon the field of battle, we stalk the heretic!" Nestor lunged forward, burying his crozius deep in the chest of a legionary and blowing the eyes out of its visor with his bolt pistol. With a vicious twist he sent the traitor marine spinning away, blood leaking from its ruined armour. Another rose to face the interrogator. With a blow augmented by daemonic energy Nestor was sent sprawling back, his crozius arcanum shattered. As Sammael leapt to his aid the chaplain fell, his rosarius held aloft, his skull mask split by the daemonic blade. Sammael fell back besides Uriel. "We are the retribution of Right!" Zamiel's words split the air. Sammael turned. A nimbus of light played around the librarian's head and the image of the Angel of Death hovered around him. A storm of shells swept the altar, knocking Sammael and Uriel to the ground. Sammael reached over to Uriel, but the terminator had been torn apart. Struggling to stand, Sammael hauled himself towards Zamiel. The librarian had moved forward to confront the chaos marines, his force sword and book held aloft. Something thudded into Sammael's breast-plate and he fell back. "And on the day of judgement," Zamiel's words thundered now, "Look upon me and realise your doom!" With blurred eyes Sammael saw Zamiel cut down three traitor marines with a mighty sweep of his force sword and send another sprawling with an armoured boot. The Watchers flanked the librarian now, surrounding him on all sides. Sammael felt himself lifted off the ground as he was borne to the Emperor. Struggling futilely to return to the aid of the librarian he saw the traitor marines surge forward. As they met the Dark Angel, Zamiel exploded in a pillar of fire. Blue flames shot from his outstretched hands, incinerating the enemies of the Emperor and curling around the pillars of the basilica. With a bass rumbling, the building rocked. Through the darkness Sammael saw Zamiel step back, a grim smile on his face. The librarian knelt, head bowed before the altar, strangely invulnerable before the sections of masonry that had begun to tumble down. As the life faded from Sammael's body, the roof caved in atop the enemies of the Emperor, burying them and the Angels of Death beneath.