144 pods plummeted from the sky. One man was secured in each ten-foot metal cylinder. Twelve squads, every squad with three fire teams, in every fire team four men of blood, armed to the teeth and protected by sophisticated active armor—black armor—every suit identical with a featureless, opaque mask and a single golden stripe running down the center from head to groin. Each man could look up from his pod and see the battle raging furiously in space overhead. Volleys of light and steel whipped confusedly about the night sky, which periodically lit up from a flair like lightning as a starship ruptured into a ball of fire which blew through hull and flesh in a second, only to collapse in on itself a moment later in the vacuum of space. A glance down revealed a different kind of chaos: the blazing, intense commotion of a great city. The confrontation overhead accelerated the frantic motion within the massive hub of human activity, as random flashes, some fire-red, some sun-white, illuminated millions of people scrambling ahead of the coming storm. The city’s method of organization only increased the apparent pandemonium: it was built around an almost inconceivably massive mountain and consisted of twelve enormous disks constructed around the rocky cone, each one smaller than the last, until the mountain culminated in a towering construct of steel and stone at its peak. Vehicles and lifts and rails rocketed to and fro, up and down, so that the picture from above reminded the descending soldiers of a hive swarming with insects.

Down the pods fell, each sure of its course towards the glittering mass of construction. They had not far to fall, for their target was near the top of the mountain, at the base of the colossal tower on its peak. Each soldier was silent in his pod; each knew the gravity of what they were about to do. The tower, raised centuries ago by their ancestors, housed the sacred Imperium of their civilization. To hold the Imperium and occupy the Imperial Pike was to be the rightful ruler of Velonna and its vast interstellar kingdom; to approach it under arms or spill blood in its great halls of marble and iron was the highest treason. Yet that was precisely the mission of the descending Iron Knights, and still they fell, nerves steeled, minds focused, eyes placidly staring straight out of the viewports as the sky rushed by.

In each of the soldiers’ helmets the seconds until impact counted down. At the five-second mark, each man braced—unnecessary as a practical matter, but they did it nonetheless—and then the landing rockets fired. Whatever lay beneath one of the dozen pods was instantly incinerated by the downwards explosion, and still the pods struck the ironwork of the city with such impact so as to shatter glass and rattle buildings for miles around. Instantly after planetfall, the front of each pod opened wide, revealing the Iron Knights, inheritors of an order more ancient than the city in which they now stood. They sprang out of their pods, unslinging weapons and sprinting with mechanically augmented speed towards their objectives. Each individual knew where to go; within minutes, the fireteams were formed up and approaching the entrances to the Imperial Pike, and the tower’s defenders opened fire, and the sound of repeater rifles filled the streets of Urbis Magnus for the first time in history.


“Barricade the fucking door! Move!” The Grand General crossed the wide assembly hall in no more than seven long strides, shiny knee-high boots thudding dully on the iron floor, and flipped a heavy wooden table, shoving it towards the twenty-foot golden doors blocking the entrance to the massive room. Around him, the white-and-blue-armored knights of the Order of the Pike sprang into action, piling furniture in front of the doors in hopes of delaying the inevitable assault on the Chamber of the Velonnian Assembly. There was one squad in the room, tasked with defending the gathering of 75 nobles of Velonna to their last breath. Once all available obstacles were placed at the entrance, the general strode back across the hall to where the stepped seating began, drew his saber, and addressed the Assembly. He did not even flinch when a not-so-distant explosion rocked the floor beneath him, sending a number of nobles sprawling to the ground.

“You are the nobility of the Imperium!” he shouted, gesturing at them with his blade. “Yours is a sacred duty, one bestowed on you by the High Powers, ordained to your ancestors at the Forging and passed down by blood to you! You have brought this doom upon yourselves by your own sloth, your own failure, and your own greed; yet still you wear the swords of your office. Draw them now in defense of the true Imperium, and redeem yourselves!” He wheeled about on his heel, facing the gilded door, and waited. A dozen or so nobles drew their blades and assembled about him, but most stayed at their seats, looking nervously at each other. In the end, it was no more than 29 people—twelve knights of the Order of the Pike, 14 nobles, two loyal pages of the Assembly, and the Grand General—who stood to defend the ruling council of the Imperium, held sacrosanct for three thousand years, from the cleansing fire of revolution.


Breach, breach, breach!” Sir Cadwell flicked the safety off his repeater and cleared his mind. He barely registered the flash of fire or the steel-shattering crack when the breaching charge went off; only just enough to spring from his crouched position towards the smoking hole in the door. He followed a pair of flash grenades fired from his comrades’ rifles, expecting them to disorient the defenders long enough for him to find his targets and gain the upper hand, but rather than landing in the middle of the hall, they bounced off of a barricade of desks and chairs on the other side of the door and exploded in his face. The grenades were nonlethal, but they went off just a foot from his facemask, which blocked most of the light, noise, and heat but could not prevent his head from snapping backwards violently in the blast and sending him flying heels-over-head into the ground. He landed on his head, breaking his neck and dying instantly.

Two other knights who had been directly behind him were thrown backwards, but they leapt back to their feet and in an instant were following their brothers towards the door. An explosive round blew the barricade to pieces, sending fragments of centuries-old furniture flying around the hall. In this second charge the Iron Knights set foot on the iron floor, and their rifles spewed death at its defenders. The Order of the Pike and the other loyalists returned fire, and a few of the attackers fell, but from the beginning, the defense was hopeless. The Iron Knights closed on their enemies, surging forth from the entrance as a unified entity of armor and fire. The defenders stood in an unbroken line in front of the dais in the center of the hall, the Grand General perched resolute atop the platform, sword in one hand and a pistol in the other. A look of screaming death was on his wrinkled face, and he roared in the face of treason, and was fey in the last hour of his empire. When the Iron Knights reached the defending line, they discarded their rifles and drew long, wide swords from their backs, and smashed into the loyalists with inhuman force. Most were cut down by the first blow, and all were dead in seconds. Last among his people stood the Grand General, and he parried the first wild swing sent his way, and shoved his blade through Sir Sherwick’s neck. The second blow he ducked and plunged his sword through armor plates and into Sir Well’s stomach. The third strike finally met its mark, and Sir Meran severed the Grand General’s head from his shoulders.

The room went quiet. Sir Meran stood still for a moment, then sheathed his sword and looked up into the watching assembly. They knew him to be of rank by the golden cape on his armored shoulder which bore the insignia of his Order and the symbol of a Centurion. He scanned the room, comparing each face to a list in his helmet’s HUD, though the onlookers did not know it. Finally, one man, a tall, stately figure with an air of authority, stood and began to approach Sir Meran at the dais.

“Good Knight, we welcome you in this hall. We wish to convey a message to your—” but he was cut down before he could finish by the armored man’s pistol. The room exploded into chaos, as nobles shouted and ducked under their desks, but within seconds, 28 of them were dead with bullets in their heads. Sir Meran turned on his heel and stepped down from the dais as his knights corralled the remaining nobles towards the door. There would be no troublemakers in the Assembly now. No one would stand in the way of the Reclamation.


Sir Rocklin, Knight of the Order of the Pike, planted his feet and prepared to die. He could hear the periodical explosions throughout the Imperial Pike as the Iron Knights smashed the Chancellor’s defenses and seized the sacred symbol of power. His would be the last of the last stands tonight: only the Chamber of Ancients remained. It was the eldest part of the Pike: underneath the tower, in fact, built into the mountain’s peak during the early days of the Forging as a fortress to guard the Imperium. In this chamber still were the artifacts of rule: the Oakenthrone, the Armor of Velonna and the sword Drafur, and of course the Imperium itself, hidden though it was inside a thick stone ark, as it had been for centuries. Inside also was the Imperial Chancellor himself: that title still stuck in Sir Rocklin’s throat; that latest of reforms instituted by Chancellor Calvert was an insult to the Imperial heritage. In truth, Sir Rocklin hated the frail, reclusive Chancellor for his abandonment of the old ways and attempts to reshape the Imperium into something bereft of glory and honor. Yet he still held the Imperium, and so the Order of the Pike would defend him. That tradition still stood, as it had since the Forging.

Another explosion echoed from the vaulted ceilings of the halls, and Rocklin and his fellow knights, the last line of defense between their ruler and the oncoming heretics, readied themselves. In another second they could see the enemy: several fireteams of black-clad knights blasted through the door on the opposite side of the atrium and poured from the entrance, diving for cover as Rocklin and his men opened fire. The defenders were well-entrenched behind hastily-erected barricades, and the room had been stripped of most of its cover by the Chancellor’s bodyguard. They were able to hold the Iron Knights at bay for some time—Rocklin did not bother to keep track of how long, it scarcely mattered now—before the rest of the attacking force arrived in the atrium, having cleared the rest of the Pike of loyalist forces. Rocklin grimaced. His was the last detachment of the Order left alive. It was fitting, he thought: the Dux Imperialis standing at the last with his closest brothers in defense of the Chamber of Ancients. No death could be more worthy of memory.

Finally, the Iron Knights charged. The front line was cut down quickly and efficiently, as was the second, but now they were within striking range, and their swords were drawn, and the black knights clashed with the white for a final time. The melee was fierce, but one-sided; the treasonous forces far outnumbered the loyal. Yet Rocklin fought on, heaving his broadsword again and again, cleaving armor from man and man from himself until he took a blow to the head and went down.


Grand Admiral Maxwell Damirius, clad in the ceremonial uniform of his rank and carrying a drawn saber, strode into the atrium. The Iron Knights snapped to attention and raised their swords, dripping with blood, in salute. The Lord of the Order, several large dents in his armor, turned to him and saluted.

“My lord, the Imperial Pike is taken. Only the Chamber of Ancients remains to be breached,” he reported in a low, gravelly voice with a colonial accent.

“Excellent work, Sir Maybiourn,” Damirius replied after returning the salute. “Are any of the Order of the Pike yet alive?”

“Only one, my lord,” the knight replied. “He wears the symbol of the Dux Imperialis. He was injured during the battle, and we kept him alive for your arrival. Shall we execute him?”

Damirius shook his head slowly. “No,” he said. “We must not end the Order of the Pike. It has defended the Imperium since the Forging, and it will continue for all time! Bring the knight to me.”

Sir Rocklin was lifted by his arms, secured behind his back, and dragged before the Grand Admiral. He looked up sullenly at the treasonous officer, but there was no hatred in his eyes.

“Sir Rocklin, Lord of the Order of the Pike, you have fought well in defense of the Imperium. Yet I fear your loyalty is misplaced. The Imperial Chancellor, as he calls himself, is an abomination to the Imperium you are sworn to defend. I come to restore things to their right and natural way. What you now defend is not that for which your Order was created; I come to bring back that greatness which Calvert has discarded. I did not desire to kill your brothers, yet that was the price which had to be paid. To end your life would be to end your Order, and I wish dearly to avoid such tragedy. Join in my restoration, that your life may be spared!”

Rocklin closed his eyes for a moment, and when he reopened them he was staring straight ahead, a look of frustration on his face. “I serve the Imperium, and I defend he who holds it,” he said. “All else is treason.,,I cannot abandon that responsibility, lest I break my sacred oath.”

Damirius nodded slowly, and a deep sadness crept across his face. “Indeed, you are true to your Order,” he said quietly. “It is a terrible thing that such a noble kinship should perish for so degenerate a man.” With that, he raised his saber and plunged it deep into the knight behind his head, killing him instantly.


One final blast threw wide the door to the Chamber of Ancients. The Iron Knights entered first, rifles at the ready, fanning out from the entrance and scanning for hostiles. As the Grand Admiral strode through the doorway, he saw that there were none; only the Imperial Chancellor, standing unarmed in front of the Oakenthrone. Damirius’ saber was still drawn, and blood dripped off of it as he advanced towards the small man before him.

“What is the meaning of this?” cried the Chancellor, though he knew very well what was to come. “You have betrayed your people and desecrated the sacred places! For the sake of the Imperium, stand down!”

Damirius did not stop advancing, and barked a short, harsh laugh. “Coward! You are the last protector of the Imperium! Why are you unarmed?” He stopped a stride short of Calvert and gestured with his saber, and Calvert flinched. “Look! There is the Armor of Velonna! Look! There is the sword Drafur! They are yours by inheritance, given to you so that you may stand in defense of the Imperium. Take them up and redeem yourself!”

Calinius did not move, save to take a step back from Damirius and nearly trip on the platform where the Oakenthrone sat. “Damirius, have some sense!” he cried. “Can’t you see that this is madness? My reforms will end the unrest and the corruption, they will expand democracy—”

“You are a disgrace to you fathers! Even now, at the hour of your death, you prattle and make excuses. You seek to hide your weakness in an overabundance of words. Fool! It is not words that bring peace, but strength! Your failures have led thousands to their deaths, and now you have made the Order of the Pike to fall in defense of your disgrace. They were nobler men than you, Calvert, no matter their plebeian blood.”

Calvert glanced around the room, looking one last time for some hope of escape, and then faced the Grand Admiral. “Damirius, don’t do this. The people will never follow you, not after a coup. You will destroy Velonna and all that it stands for!”

“That you have already destroyed. You now defend weakness and worthless ideas no older than yourself. I come to restore the old ways, lest your reforms,” he spat that word with vitriol, “lay to waste all that is good and worthy.”

Calvert swallowed, hopeless now for himself, and looked down. “If you will not spare me or my government,” he said quietly, “spare at least my sons. They take no part in my work.”

Damirius’ eyes were as cold as stone. “Fatherless sons grow to be avengers,” he replied, almost in a whisper. “To bear your blood is treason.” And with a flick of his saber, he cut the Chancellor’s throat.

Damirius stepped back as the man before him crumpled to the ground, grasping at his throat in vain, and turned to the knight beside him. “Bring me Drafur,” he said. “It is time for the Imperium to see light again.”


Damirius stepped out onto the balcony and approached the edge. He was now regaled in the golden Armor of Velonna, and at his side was the sword Drafur. On either side a line of Iron Knights drew their swords and raised them in salute as he stepped up to the podium. Looking out, he could see rank upon rank of uniformed Marines, a select few from the handful of divisions which had supported his mad gambit. Beyond them was a mass of thousands of civilians from the city, eager to learn the purpose and outcome of the strange battle which had taken place in the night. Damirius took a deep breath, glanced at the row of cameras which were broadcasting the event around the planet, and raised his right hand in salute. When the people saw what he held in that hand, the crowd erupted into a deafening cheer. Damirius grasped the Imperium itself, hidden for 400 years and now reclaimed to bring about restoration. The ancient device consisted of a long axe of steel, forged beyond memory and wielded by the First Fathers. Its edge was buried in the gilt skull of a Hillbuilder, the ancient terror of Velonna, and around it were fastened twelve iron arrows, one for each of the Olden Kingdoms, said to be made from the hull of the Ark which had borne the First Fathers to this world. The cheering below lasted for five jubilant minutes as the people looked upon that which only their fathers’ fathers’ fathers had last seen: the symbol of their dominion, unity, and nation. When Damirius lowered the device, the roar died down quickly. The people were as curious as they were excited.

“People of Velonna! The former Imperator, Calinius Calvert, has for too long trampled on the traditions of our great Imperium in order to mask his own weakness. He has allowed corruption and insurgency to run rampant, he has made our military weak, he has dishonored our ancestors by altering the sacred order which has governed us for millennia. He has endangered our cities, he has alienated our colonies, he has nearly brought Velonna to ruin. I could not allow my homeland to be desecrated in such a way! I have led Velonna’s forces, those loyal to the true Imperium, against the traitor Calvert, and I stand victorious. He called himself a Chancellor; today, I tell you that the Chancellor is dead!” The crowd roared again, and again Damirius saluted.

“Today I have brought forth from its fortress the Imperium, the artifact of our nation, for today is the Reclamation of Velonna!” The cheering did not die down this time, and Damirius roared into the microphones. “Now, as the Imperator, I take up the task of restoring order to our Imperium! The corruption must be rooted out, the insurgencies must be utterly destroyed, the criminals and republicans must be brought to justice! Therefore, I take upon myself the ultimate responsibility. In the name of the Imperium and its people, I hereby claim the office of Tyrant! Let the traitors fear, for the degeneracy of Calvert will be stamped out, and the Imperium will be restored to glory! Hail Imperium!” The assembly roared again, louder than ever, and swords, guns, and hands were raised in salute as the call resounded through the city.

“Hail Imperium!”

“Hail Imperium!”

“Hail Imperium!”


“Reclamation” was a runner-up in Terror House’s Pulp Submission Contest. To read the winning stories, click here.