Dan Abnett - First and OnlyWarhammer 40,000 Gaunt's Ghosts First & Only Dan Abnett
For Nik, first & only.
A BLACK LIBRARY PUBLICATION Copyright ® 2000 Games Workshop Ltd.
THE HIGH LORDS of Terra, lauding the great Warmaster Slaydo's efforts on Khulen, tasked him with raising a crusade force to liberate the Sabbat Worlds, a cluster of nearly one hundred inhabited systems along the edge ofthe Segmentum Pacificus. From a massive fleet deployment, nearly a billion Imperial Guard advanced into the Sabbat Worlds, supported by forces of the Adeptus Astartes and the Adeptus Mechanicus, with whom Slaydo had formed co-operative pacts. 'After ten hard-fought years of dogged advance, Slaydo's great victory came at Balhaut, where he opened the way to drive a wedge into the heart of theSabbat Worlds. 'But there Slaydo fell. Bickering and rivalry then beset his officers as they vied to take his place. Lord High Militant General Dravere was an obvious successor, but Slaydo himself had chosen the younger commander, Macaroth. 'With Macaroth as warmaster, the Crusade force pushed on, into its second decade, and deeper into the Sabbat Worlds, facing theatres of war that began to makeBalhaut seem like a mere opening skirmish…' — from A History of the Later Imperial Crusades
PART ONE NUBILA REACH
The two Faustus-class Interceptors swept in low over a thousand, slowly spinning tonnes of jade asteroid and decelerated to coasting velocity. Striated blurs of shift-speed light flickered off their gunmetal hulls. The saffron haze of the
nebula called the Nubila Reach hung as aspread backdrop for them, a thousand light years wide, a hazy curtain which enfolded the edges of the Sabbat Worlds. Each of these patrol interceptors was an elegant barb about one hundred paces from jutting nose to raked tail. The Faustus were lean, powerful warships that looked like serrated cathedral spires with splayed flying buttresses at the rear to house the main thrusters. Their armouredflanks bore the Imperial Eagle, together with the green markings and insignia of the Segmentum Pacificus Fleet. Locked in the hydraulic arrestor struts of the command seat in the lead ship, Wing Captain Torten LaHain forced down his heart rate as the ship decelerated. Synchronous mind-impulse links bequeathed by the Adeptus Mechanicus hooked his metabolism to the ship's ancient systems, and he livedand breathed every nuance of its motion, power-output and response. LaHain was a twenty-year veteran. He'd piloted Faustus Interceptors for so long, they seemed an extension of his body. He glanced down into the flight annex directly below and behind the command seat, where his observation officer was at work at the navigation station. 'Well?' he asked over the intercom. The observer checked offhis calculations against several glowing runes on the board. 'Steer five points starboard. The astropath's instructions are to sweep down the edge of the gas clouds for a final look, and then it's back to the fleet.' Behind him, there was a murmur. The astropath, hunched in his small throne-cradle, stirred. Hundreds of filament leads linked the astropath's socket-encrusted skull to the massivesensory apparatus in the Faustus's belly. Each one was marked with a small, yellowing parchment label, inscribed with words LaHain didn't want to have to read. There was the cloying smell of incense and unguents. 'What did he say?' LaHain asked. The observer shrugged. 'Who knows? Who wants to?' he said. The astropath's brain was constantly surveying and processing the vast wave of astronomical datawhich the ship's sensors pumped into it, and psychically probing the Warp beyond. Small patrol ships like this, with their astropathic cargo, were the early warning arm of the fleet. The work was hard on the psyker's mind, and the odd moan or grimace was commonplace. There had been worse. They'd gone through a nickel-rich asteroid field the previous week and
the psyker had gone into spasms....
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