Angel of Fire (Novel)
|This article is about the Novel by William King; for the other uses, see Angel of Fire (disambiguation).|
|Series||The Macharian Crusade|
|Followed by||Fist of Demetrius|
At the dawn of the forty-first millennium, Lord Commander Macharius and his forces embark upon the re-conquest of over a thousand worlds. A man of steel and fire, Macharius is the only one with the will to lead the massed armies of the Imperium to victory. As the crusade rolls onwards, it reaches the world of Karsk. In the city of Irongrad, the Imperial forces face the crusade's end, unless Macharius and his army can defeat the dreaded Angel of Fire.
In a bunker on Kaladon, Veteran Sergeant Leo Lemuel leads a desperate fight against a mob of invading greenskins. After the attack, one of the mortally-wounded Guardsmen notices Lemuel's campaign medals, marking him as a veteran of the Macharian Crusade. Excitedly he asks whether Macharius was truly a Living Saint, as the legends say. Lemuel knows what the young soldier wants to hear, but has to tell the truth: Macharius was perhaps the greatest general the galaxy had ever seen since the Great Crusade, but he was no saint.
While awaiting the next attack, Lemuel decides to commit his memoirs to a dataslate, anxious that the truth about Macharius - or as much of the truth as Lemuel saw - be committed to posterity.
Guardsman Lemuel is the driver of the venerable Baneblade tank Indomitable, part of the Army Group preparing to assault the rebellious Hive World of Karsk IV. The planet is a rich source of pyrites ore, which is vital to the Crusade's supply lines. Apart from that, the only unique thing about the world is the nature of the rebellion, centered around the worship of a figure known as "The Angel of Fire" whom the populace believes is an avatar of the Emperor of Mankind himself.
Because of the planet's importance, Lord Commander Macharius has arrived to take personal command of the invasion. The Crusade is already in its third or fourth year, but this is the first time Lemuel and his comrades have ever been so close to the Lord Commander. In fact, while conducting his tour of inspection, Macharius chooses to mount the Indomitable to address the invasion force.
Karsk is a volcanic planet, and the Hive City of Irongrad is naturally defended by rivers of lava and unstable plates of rock. This, Macharius confides, is all to the good, since it is the one route the heretics are sure to have left undefended. Lemuel and his comrades are as cynical as any hard-bitten Guardsmen with a few years' service can be, yet they are all swayed by Macharius's charisma and conviction.
Lemuel steers the Indomitable on a winding path through the treacherous rivers of lava, and their tank is one of the first inside the city. Looking out their viewports, the Guardsmen are sickened to see numerous "shrines" to the Angel of Fire all over the city, where civilians and captive Guardsmen have been burned alive as tribute.
As the battle progresses, the Indomitable is immobilized by enemy fire, forcing the crew to take up small arms and fight off enemy sappers trying to get inside the tank. Being in the lead of the invasion force means they are too far ahead of reinforcements, and Lemuel and his comrades are trapped on top of the tank, with no way to escape or summon help. Deciding to go out in a blaze of glory, they prepare to leap down into the midst of the heretics and take as many with them as they can, but are halted when drop pods slam down and a strike force of Death Spectres Space Marines debark and open fire with their boltguns. Like most people in the Imperium, these Guardsmen have never seen a Space Marine in the flesh before, and sit back in a daze as the Marines carve through the heretics.
After Irongrad is taken, the Guardsmen make their way to headquarters, temporarily orphaned from their tank and their unit. Their Company Captain recommends them for medals, which are presented to them at a hastily-contrived ceremony by Macharius himself. Lemuel naturally assumes that will be the last time he will ever be so close to the Lord Commander.
Without a tank to drive, Lemuel and his crew are lumped into a "Scratch Company," made up of other scattered elements, and thrown into various security duties around the city, including responding to terrorist attacks by "priests" of the Cult of the Angel of Fire, many of whom turn out to be powerful rogue psykers, specializing in pyromancy.
During an evening's leave, the Guardsmen travel to a local tavern, and strike up an acquaintance with a trio of nurses from the city medicae. One of them, Anna, has a particularly barbed conversation with Lemuel... yet the next morning they are waking up after spending the night together.
The morale of the invasion force threatens to dive when Macharius is wounded fighting in one of the other hives, and he is brought back to Irongrad to recover. Lemuel and the Indomitable crew are assigned as his protection detail at the hospital.
Inquisitor Hieronymo Drake, one of the few persons outside the Guard hierarchy who seems to be close to Macharius, has been warning that the Cult has not been removed from Irongrad, and its activities are becoming more and more dangerous. This is borne out on a night when the city's population revolts, and a horde of fanatic citizens storm the hospital. The Guardsmen team up with Drake - and Anna, who reveals herself as an Imperial Assassin and one of Drake's agents - to evacuate Macharius from the hospital and hide in the Undercity. They are cut off from communication with the other Guard forces in the city, or on the planet, but Macharius remains undaunted.
In private, Lemuel nervously approaches Anna, remembering saying some things during their pillow talk that could easily be called heresy, especially if repeated to an Inquisitor. Anna tells him not to worry, and adds with a smile, "it was fun."
Drake, a powerful psyker, senses terrible danger. The Cult is preparing some kind of summoning ritual that will bring the Angel of Fire - in reality a Greater Daemon of some kind - to the Materium. If this happens, the entire Crusade force could be destroyed. For Macharius, the course of action is obvious: they must infiltrate the cultist stronghold and stop the ritual, by themselves.