His knee connected to the ground just as the words left his mouth.
He gazed up with a smile on his face. A true smile, a rare commodity in this era of constant strife for Humanity. He saw an even rarer thing: a true hero of the Imperium, not simply a warrior of skill, not just a demagogue. A hero, caring for its peoples. And he was bidding him to rise.
"I will have no kneeling between men, Matias Rainer", Dante said, his frozen mask of gold somehow showing the genuine warmth of his rasp voice.
Matias Rainer rose, made with a short bow, noting the amused half-smiles of Dante's Sanguinary Guard, and took his place beside his master, Lord Inquisitor Seros. The aged man - yet still very much capable of facing any horror the galaxy threw at him - had a less harsh look in eyes as he followed Rainer's movement, the closest he could come to smiling after a lifetime of waking nightmares. He turned to the Lord of the Blood Angels.
"Young Matias is naturally thrilled to stand before you, Lord Dante. Being a crusader, it is only natural for him to acknowledge a supreme warrior, but know that every single one of us in this room is honoured to be working alongside the Blood Angels."
Not a few eyes turned to General Ariak, the Imperial Guard's Commander for this operation, and he made no effort to hide his reservations about Seros' premise. It was no secret that the Blood Angels were regarded with suspicion by many Imperial Commanders, the word having spread that the vermillion Marines were prone to breaking ranks and going berserk at the height of engagements.
But Inquisitor Seros valued loyalty above all, and the Blood Angels had a massive measure of self-control, their condition keeping them in a state of constante awareness that made them lucid and adhering to the Emperor's teachings like few other Chapters without descending into fanaticism.
Plus, Matias Rainer recalled with further certainty, the Lords of Baal had a score to settle with Abaddon. They would be sweating blood, if need be, to crush the Black Legion's attack on Mahotei-28.
As for the other Chapter they had contacted, Matias could only hope.
Jintas Carol, the foremost psyker in Inquisitor Seros' employ, entered the room, a slightly haunted look on her face, as if she'd exerted her mind too much.
"My Lords", her voice conveyed the same exhaustion, "The Minotaurs are here."
"Show them in, Jintas", Inquisitor Seros asked more than ordered. He'd surely noticed the look on the psyker's face.
Jintas bowed and, with an extended hand, bid the Space Marines inside the War Room of the Endless Task.
Matias Rainer would later remember the tension in those few seconds of thunderbolt-sounding steps on the ship's floor that preceded the Minotaurs' entrance. Only General Ariak seemed almost happy to be receiving them.
The first Terminator entered the room, his brazen and red armour sporting scarce but beautiful decoration. He took his place at the immediate right of the entrance. The other Minotaurs, all of them clad in Terminator armour, entered and formed a corridor to allow their leader in.
A...very wide...corridor, Rainer noticed.
Then he understood why.
Asterion Moloc entered the room, and all eyes save those of Dante and Seros widened in shock.
The Maze Lord was taller than any Terminator Matias had ever seen - even without the majestic crest on top of his armour - and, it seemed, almost square, his shoulder pauldrons like murals showing battle-scenes, as did much of his unbelievably ornate armour.
He sported an enormous shield almost the size of a man, and a grand polearm of black and gold, a screaming eagle concealing something resembling a lasweapon.
But there was something...unsettling about Moloc's form, though Matias couldn't quite place what it was...until he looked at the Chapter Master's feet. They were cloven and the greaves were slightly tilted, making it seem as if Moloc was walking on hooves. It all made sense.
The Lord of Minotaurs' legs were flexed, and his walk was ponderous and inhuman.
The helmet was the key. Where a more ornate helm would make sense, Moloc donned a traditional Terminator helmet, but painted in the colours of the Chapter's symbol. Asterion Moloc was trying to embody the Minotaur of old legend, the beast that stalked the Maze.
Matias looked now to the exquisite polearm, in which a phrase had been carved in old Greko. It read "Punisher of the Unseen", but before Rainer could muse on its significance, Moloc began to speak.
"Greetings", he simply said, the word devoid of true meaning and laced with threat. Even Asterion Moloc's voice was monstrous.
A menial walked to the Chapter Master to relieve him of his arms, but one of the Terminators snorted, the sound coming off a beast's growl from inside a cavern, and the servant returned to his place with his head close to his knees. Moloc didn't seem to notice, but he resumed speaking once the incident was over.
"My Chapter took a small detour on our way here, you'll understand if the Emperor's Work takes precedence."
"This is an operation of the highest importance, Lord Moloc", Seros interjected. "The smallest delay might prove fat..."
"When I speak of the Emperor's Work, and although I do not wield a pen, I expect it to be clear that ours is a sanctioned path, Inquisitor", there was a dangerous pause before the last word, which, coupled with the deafening volume with which Moloc spoke, brought the room into silence.
The Maze Lord reached for the golden chain at his waist and wrenched free one of the heads there, tossing it onto the holo-table.
"A most fruitful trip", the Minotaur growled.
"Matias?", Inquisitor Seros asked, but the Cruzader was already pointing his Archive-log at the severed Black Legion head. The result came quickly...but Matias Rainer had trouble speaking.
"Master", he finally said, turning to Seros. "It is...it's Abrajam Howlon, Lord, Taskmaster to the Despoiler."
Matias knew that, inside his helmet, Asterion Moloc was smiling...and that was even more unsettling.
I'm sorry, Russ, but this is now my new Baby. All hail!