Author: Apothecary Meros (Edited by Big Bad Squig)
Legions: Apostles of War (soon to become the Wardens of Light)
Time: Sometime during the early Great Crusade
Major characters: Legion Master Guaire Amalasan, Captain Arngrim Valten, Sergeant Voskatt Moragh, Brother Cervantes de Leon
“We haven’t made planetfall already… what’s the delay?”
“The Captains are still discussing tactics – this is our first encounter with the Orks-“
“Tactics?” The masculine tone released a feral growl of discontent, “we need not bother with tactics! These are primitive greenskins who can barely fire a pistol! We could go in there unarmed and still claim victory in a matter of minutes!”
“You fail to see past your own foolish ignorance, brother. They are no match for the Emperor’s fury, but it doesn’t allow us to show hubris when faced against them.”
“Any other Legion would have pasteurized them without a second thought! Yet we, the noble twelfth of his Lord Emperor’s Astartes, dawdle on this ship discussing tactics!”
“This is our first major xenos engagement, brother, we can’t afford to go in blind-“
A grim pause followed as a third figure, tall and clad in armour, walked slowly to the elevated segment of the command bridge, bathed in a cyan glaze projecting from a holographic image of the planet Batu on a square gunmetal-grey table. He paced his way across from the tall, onyx shaded door fixed to a bland metal wall, his eyes averted from the data displays and sprawling information that filled a number of blue glass screens, and focused on the two grumbling Astartes who stood either side of the hologram.
“Brother-Sergeants Kelenteil and Moragh – Twenty First Company, squad leaders of the Second and Third respectively. I do request you cease your ‘discussion’. We should save our anger for when we are fighting the enemy, not fighting ourselves. I doubt your Lieutenant would be best pleased.” His voice projected around the entire bridge, yet it was not another malicious shout. Soothing authority dominated the room in its stead. A couple of human crewmen in silver uniform turned their heads for a quick glance, letting the temptation of fascination lure them away from their workstations, before returning to their idle state at consoles on the semi-circular bridge of the Firebrand – the flagship of the legion – amongst the rows of astropaths and servitors; their eyes were wide and faces suddenly damp with sweat at the sight of the third figure, regardless of his soft tone. The last time they had felt truly nervous in this way was when they first looked down to see four floors of identical operating equipment suspended over the infinite cosmos. The closest to the void was the Orbital Deployment Command Bridge, with the advantage of the best view of any planet unto which the Firebrand was orbiting. Advancing upwards was the Navigator Choir, Deep Space Auspex Control and Primary Weapon System Command. The crew here busied themselves with Orbital Artillery and Internal Defenses, ignoring the bustle of feet above them conducting a multitude of other vital tasks, from Vox Relay Operation to the Engines and Thrusters. It was a command structure fit for a Primarch. All sentient life aboard the Firebrand hoped that one day they would have proof of that statement.
“Of course, Legionmaster Amalasan. My apologies,” One of the two marines mumbled, his Mk.II Crusade helmet bowed between two white ceramite and plasteel ablative shoulder pads trimmed with a shade of ultra-blue, proudly bearing the black sigil of his legion – a winged fist, clutching a sword in its grasp, raised for a killing blow. His armour was vaguely reminiscent of the ancient knights who roamed the kingdoms of Terra, back in time many millennia when it was known as ‘Earth’. At least, the helmet shared the same design of vertical slits at the facial area, like a visor on the ancient counterpart. That is where the similarities ended. The rest of the armour plating is substantially bulkier, housing within it a biologically enhanced super soldier. A benevolent angel of the Emperor’s will made manifest. A Space Marine.
The other, the more agitated of the two at the table, grunted in recognition. He did not hide his face behind a war helm; instead the twisted frown was completely visible to Amalasan, as well as the swept dull grey hair that covered his left eye, leaving only the right to stare grimly at his commander with an emerald varnish. The wrinkles on his ageing brow contorted, a vein twitching beneath his skin, as he slowly breathed a reply.
“Legionmaster… I… I simply do not understand why we laze upon this starship when the Orks wreak havoc below us, on Batu!” He directed a flat power armoured hand in a gesture to the flickering blue sphere, rotating slowly on its tilted axis.
“That was not a suggestion, Kelenteil.” Submitting, the sergeant’s downturned palm rolled into a fist, and he returned his arm to his side, the green balefire of his eye boring into Guaire Amalasan’s noble expression. The Legionmaster let angelic white hair flow down to his shoulders, the minuscule outline of a smirk on his lips below soft azurite eyes. His left hand flexed, the fingers of the Power Fist he wore mimicking the action as it cradled his helmet. His right was tightly gripped around the sheathed hilt of his power sword. Ancient texts described this specific kind of weapon as a ‘Bastard Sword’. Amalasan considered this a more than suitable name, considering their lack of a Primarch. The fitting name humoured him, but a deep seed of concern would always seep through this irony in regard to their lost father. He was out in the cosmos somewhere. He vowed to find him before damnation beat him to it.
“Of course, lord.” Kelenteil worded behind gritted teeth. Any other commander would have discarded a marine with such an attitude, even going as far as execution in the case of the more ‘strict’ legions. Even those who took pride in being more ‘human’ would not put up with such apparent disrespect. Amalasan knew why the Twenty First Captain kept this temperate marine close though, for his rage was a beautiful sight to behold with a chainsword in his hands and a target in his sights. Every commander needs tactical advisors, but Chief Berserker is much more appealing to some than Chief Vox Operator.
“Very good.” He grunts, his smile pushing itself down into a straight line across his face, determination gleaming like the distant light that now shined umber tones through the bridge windows, sprawling an orange glaze all around. “You may be pleased to hear, brother sergeant, that a decision has been made.”
Kelenteil raised his revealed eyebrow keenly. “Then speak, m’lord. I wish not to spend another second aboard this hulk.”
Guaire moved his eyes to his sergeant, after spending a moment to admire the glint of the sun off Batu’s surface. “We have created a battle plan that we believe to be the most effective against the Orks. The entirety of the expeditionary fleet is readying to deploy within the hour.” He paused, looking across to Moragh. “You two are to return to your squads and gear up – details of the plans shall be relayed to you by Captain Arngrim.”
The sergeant had already began moving to the door, his muscles aching with impatience. “Understood, lord.”
Moragh watched his comrade exit, glaring beneath his helmet. His gaze turned slowly to meet the Legionmaster’s and straightened his stance, before promptly bowing and marching purposefully through the dark void beyond the entrance.
Content, Amalasan strode deeper onto the bridge and into the golden light now flooding uncontrollably onto the deck like a virus spreading. A new sensation made him pause for a split second. The illumination brought an aura of heat – natural warmth had become a rarity during their deep space expedition. The corridor was littered either side with serfs at consoles, frantically tapping at screens to ensure the stability of the Firebrand. Guaire took a purposefully slow and dramatic walk between the serfs, watching as each one quivered at the sound of his footfalls. Even the servitors seemed to shrink in their seats, anxious in the presence of their master.
One, however, seemed to resist the aura of intimidation that stalked Amalasan like a shadow.
“Phillipe. What’s the status of the fleet?” Guaire bellowed, his voice deep and slow.
Dwarfed in size by comparison to the towering form of the Space Marine, Phillipe twirled his command throne at the head of the bridge to face the Legionary. The glaring sunlight was now behind him, leaving him drenched in the oily black shadow that hid all facial features in a blank mask. White hands sat upon the armrests - they were all that was visible. In this light, even Amalasan – the Legionmaster of an army revered enough to earn the name the Apostles of War – was ever so slightly unnerved by the shady demeanour of Admiral Abras.
“Our fleet, my Lord, has been orientated in the formerly requested manner,” The man had a very particular speech pattern, his softly spoken words emanating like a dull hum that would be best suited coming from the engineering deck. Each letter rolled off his tongue and slithered to the Marine’s finely tuned ears, and his left hand danced around the armrest; the elastic noise of contracting muscles and stretching skin on his face just audible by the Astartes’ acute senses – allowing Amalasan to hear the Admiral’s sly smirk form on his wrinkled lips. “The warships of the Imperial Army are readying their regiments for immediate distribution to the surface.”
“Good. We shall deploy soon,” Came the reply.
“I know; the terse words between you and your sergeants told me enough, sir.”
Guaire walked up to the Admiral, and past his chair, placing his helmet – gleaming golden in the distant sun – over his flourishing white hair. The heat had changed to a sudden chill extending down his spine. Guaire carefully rested his hands on the silver bar running along the length of the bottom of the curved window, being careful not to bend the metal with his strength. “Aye. The pair seem to be ever at arms. One day they’ll end up killing each other, and the blood will be on my hands.”
“That is not a very optimistic view, monsieur.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be, Abras.” He replied, his voice amplified by the internal Vox into a volcanic rumble.
He nodded, slowly. “Now that the petty infighting is over-” He suddenly grunted. The Legionmaster felt at unease with a mere human ordering him around. But while he was aboard the fleet, that was how things had to be. Abras drew his right hand upward to bring down a floating, digital display showing numerous data logs and scans. “Long range Auspex readings show the Orks are banding together, and likely preparing for our planetfall.”
“They can prepare however they see fit, they have no hope of stopping us.”
“That,” he began, grinning, “is correct, mon Seigneur,” The expression soon faded and a sinister tone took over as he stalked towards an officer at a console, his face illuminated in watery shades by the blaring screen. “You, bring the orbital weapons systems online.”
“Yes Admiral!” The officer shouted in response, frantically tapping at the keys – various blueprint images of the ship and its terrifying arsenal flashing up on his screen.
“Très bien, monsieur.” He whispered, his own long and ageing brow caught in the ultramarine hue.
“I bid you leave, Phillipe. I must attend my brothers. Ensure the order that we move out with haste reaches the whole fleet,” The space marine stood upright from his resting position and marched steadily between the quivering serfs, past the floating hologram image on the table and through the sliding onyx door into an elevator – taking him down into the bulk of the ship and far, far away from the warm serenity of Batu’s golden sun.
Gentle thuds of ceramite on deck plates caught her attention. Ill-maintained gears in the neck and upper torso made her click her neck to the right. What were formerly legs, and now a pair of tank-like tracks spun around a second later, and wheeled her toward the noise. Outside of the crosshair provided by her bionic eyes, she saw her outstretched arms that ended in metal rungs, used to lift and carry heavy duty crates or weaponry from storage departments to the Astartes armoury. The steps came closer still, and she paused to think.
++Service protocol 022 enabled++
She reversed and stood parallel to the nearest door, with her head bowing slowly while the servos screamed. A shard of light pierced the gloomy veil, glinting on the blade of an axe. She had seen the weapon before, but she knew that not.
“Understood my lord, I shall assemble them at once.” A brutish, low voice rumbled through the voice amplifier of a curved rebreather covering the figure’s lips and nostrils. His demeanour was a perfect antonym of graceful. The axe swinging with each heavy step in his huge right hand was an unusually detailed and visually pleasing weapon in comparison to its wielder. The head was shaped like the spread wings of a gunmetal butterfly, razor sharp at every edge.
Looking up, the memory implants within her skull sifted through thousands of database entries to find a physical match with the axe’s handler. Half a second and 2836 database entries later, she located an identity which was remarkably similar. The entry shared the same unwavering brown glare and the dark braid which flourished in a downward spiral from the cap of his skull and reaching the tips of the tattered white cloak he wore around his waist. The shredded material provided false implications of how much warfare the legion had seen. However, what little there had been was enough to prove the warrior’s rank.
++Identified: Captain Arngrim Valten – Apostles of War Legion Astartes 21st Company++
++Service Priority: HIGH++
Her voice was not her own, but a static-filled mechanical tone created by a vox implant on her neck. “My lord, what do you require?” She spoke to the armored giant, its dull grey highlighted by a nightshade blue on the shoulders trimmed with marble white. The broad chest was a single slate of dense ceramite with a small vent in the center, from which black pipes sprouted and burrowed into his back and armoured neck.
Arngrim didn’t spare her a glance as he placed the axe horizontally into her open arms – with an uncharacteristically high degree of care that would be expected from a man of his stature. Sensing the cool metal, the clamps at the end of her arms naturally curled around the grip. “Return Agony to her spot in the armoury.” The emotionless broadcast from his mask was one she was all too familiar with, but she knew that not either.
“I exist to serve.” She turned and hurried down a passage to the Astartes armoury, her tracks emitting a low hum over the sounds of distant training cages as the motor span within her pelvis. The movements inside her were a cause of immense pain, a feeling which would have driven any sentient creature to insanity over the course of her long service to the Apostles of War legion. She wouldn’t complain. Or rather, she couldn’t complain. The conscious part of her mind was a captive within a cell of flesh and bone – a prison engineered by the Legio Cybernetica for her crimes against Imperial rule. Her father had told her to pursue a career in the Imperial Army, instead of petty theft and addiction to narcotic substances – to be like her brother in the Expeditionary Fleets, claiming the galaxy for the Emperor alongside his Space Marines. If only she had listened, and avoided the lure of anarchist rebels and cults who didn’t like to pay their taxes, she would have avoided the desolate and torturous fate within which she was trapped. True, she served in the Fleets with the Astartes. However, this was not the way her father had imagined. Distraught, he had hung himself from the lume-lamp in the living room of the family’s hab-block, unable to find out where he had gone so wrong.
But she knew that not.
Captain Valten dismissed the servitor with a slight nod of his head, keeping his focus on the passage ahead. His only concerns were the maintenance of his beloved war-axe, Agony, and the destruction of those who opposed the will of the Emperor. It was no secret that he urged the warriors under his command to embrace the calling of close quarters battle. He was the physical incarnation of that doctrine. Those with the honour of fighting by his side give their wholehearted support to that claim, one of whom approached him now, with the familiar rhythm of purpose.
“You come to me directly, sergeant?”
“I sought admittance to the training cages sir, although I did not doubt the possibility of finding you here.” An emerald iris glimmered in the dull light. Grey hair swept across the left eye shimmered. The ends scratched at the skin of his lips while they flexed into a sly grin. “Apologies for the disturbance; you seem deep in thought.”
“Thoughts about the best way to beat some sense into you.” Although his superior’s eyes gave nothing away, Kelenteil knew the humour had been returned in what would have otherwise been a threatening gesture. “Besides, I wouldn’t be heading to the training cages right now if I were you, I’m assembling the company on the muster deck for delivery of Lord Amalasan’s orders.”
“I’m fully aware of that, captain. Just as I am aware of his orders,” He paused, looking up with the same distrustful smirk. “Now, I’d like to commence my own preparation for the coming battle.” He slowly cocked his head to the left side, the swathe of hair jumping a centimetre before settling over his eye again.
Muttering a curse under his breath, the twenty first captain shifted to one side. Kelenteil’s grey armour brushed gently against the ceramite of his captain. There was plenty of room to avoid the contact. A deliberate move. A seed of annoyance planted itself in Arngrim’s mind as the sergeant was enveloped in the shadows behind him. It simmered in his mind as an immediate thought came to his lips.
“I wish I had more men like him.”
The Firebrand, in all its majesty, was only one steel warship amongst the sizeable mass of adamantium armour and broadside cannons which called itself the Eleventh Expeditionary Fleet. The Astartes warships didn’t come close to making up half of the fleet’s numbers. Approximately five thousand Astartes covered eight barges and cruisers that lay in formation with a tempest of Imperial Army craft of all sizes. With the Imperial Army soldiers making up for their biological inferiority with sheer numbers, the manpower easily exceeded ten thousand personnel. Despite the stunning figures, it was dwarfed by the countless millions of Orks which now plummeted in their crude scrap metal dropships to the rocky surface of Batu, keen to escape from the jaws of the Emperor’s naval warmachines, in front of Cervantes’ crystalline orange eyes. The unique trait did little to dissuade the youth’s peers and commanders alike that he was no more than a hothead and in the words of his sergeant: ‘so reckless that he’ll get the disrespect shot right out of him’. At least, that’s what it said on the dataslate he has procured from said officer’s records. It was their fault really, for leaving it in such plain view – the locked door, however, should have dissuaded him. It was an unfortunate casualty of the slate’s retrieval that, from what he could gather, was unavoidable. Acceptable losses.
His squad leader had never taken kindly to Cervantes De Leon, not since their training on the ancient plateaus of Basques. This world was a common ground for recruiting tithes of new recruits and slowly whittling them down to a fraction of the size. For the nomadic citizens there, life consisted of trying to find a source of water and not getting picked off by packs of carnivorous birds.
“This is it, eh? Months of labour in the Apothecarion and these scrawny children are what we call a success? They look like they can barely lift a Boltgun, never mind drive an Assault Bike.” The grumble paused, surveying the line of stone faced neophytes standing firm on the arid rocks. “Prove me wrong, sergeant Moragh.”
I rolled my shoulders back, trying and subsequently failing to find comfort in the officer’s presence. “I can assure you that I shall, lieutenant Valten.” I said, stifling a harsher response, glad for the helmet masking my displeasure of my officer’s somewhat unnecessary, yet dishearteningly accurate deduction of the half a dozen faces looking my way.
Crackling soil underfoot sang while painfully slow steps took the Lieutenant back to his Land Speeder. The neophytes waited until the powerful din of the engines blended with the desolate, whining wind. Slightly relieved, I made an effort of stalking my way along the line of the newly engineered Astartes – not a bad number considering the multiple risks which geneseed implantation presented, not to mention the staggering number of aspirants who died before even reaching that stage. Venomous memories flashed images before my eyes of a human form swallowed by the inescapable maw of a ravine in Basques’ icy northern continents. The lad did not scream, so at least some honour was preserved in death. I suppressed subconscious twitch of my left eyelid as my mind’s eye pictured another young aspirant impaled on a nightshade pillar of stone, the auburn strands of his hair pockmarked with scarlet.
While I methodically marched my way down, one neophyte dared to shuffle his sandal bearing feet, the heat of Terra’s single star burning the bare flesh on his back and areas of the neck unprotected by the blanket of blond hair that cascaded down like liquid gold.
“Struggling with the heat?” I immediately rounded onto the fourth man in line, towering above him like Goliath over David. “When you’re a space marine you’ll need to walk over rivers of fire, wade through volcanic seas, and wield the element of fire itself to smite the enemies of mankind in righteous fury!” I barked, my over-exaggeration clearly hitting some emotional chord when the closest two flinched slightly, although it did brighten my mood to see them keeping their resolve. “You won’t achieve that if you can barely handle the light of a distant star. The difficulties in life to concern yourself with will be not getting shot, and shooting everything you see that doesn’t wear an Aquila.” My target shrank slightly, although I was swift to realize it was only the result of my firm hand pressing down on the human’s shoulder. Content I had suitably shaken the brightly haired youth, I carried on, glaring as deep into their souls as my lack of witch-sight would permit me, scouring the muscle movements of their faces and studying the flashes of emotion behind their eyes for something else I could give them a lecture on. I felt another burst of rhetoric brewing nevertheless, so spinning on my feet at the end of the line I spoke once more. “To be an Astartes you must know no doubt, no regret, no hesitation” I brought my feet together with a minute clank which echoed while I prolonged my declaration, “and above all you must know no fear!” I slammed my right hand against the golden eagle on the front of my armour with a deep clang. Despite their plainly visible discomfort the aspirants follow suit, although their bare skin gave a sound akin to meat being tenderized.
“And they shall know no fear!” They cried in a brutal harmony of harnessed rage and savage enthusiasm for slaughter. They did not need such rage at the moment, they weren’t sent here to kill. Although, that would not lessen the risk of dying, as time would shortly tell.
“It’s quite a view, isn’t it brother?”
Cervantes turned quickly, but relaxed at the sight of alabaster white armour and an Apothecary’s narthecium. “I told you to stop sneaking up on me like that, Alexandre.”
“It’s not my fault you’re more paranoid than an Imperial tax collector in a Hive city.” The white-armoured figure stood alongside him. “Besides, your reaction was quick, something I’d hope for from a jetbike pilot.”
“Sergeant Moragh would rather see me with Sergeant Jorus in the Heavy Support Squad. At least that way I can’t crash into my squad mates,” He smirked in response.
“Sergeant Jorus has had a full squad since the Crusade began. I’ve only seen his name on my medical records once before and that was when he was having his geneseed implants. I’ve seen yours so many times I’m surprised you’re not half adamantium.”
Abruptly they both ceased conversation, sensing a newfound tension and averted their eyes to the twinkling universe beyond the armour-glass window.
Cervantes carried on reading for a few minutes more, only slightly aware of another presence having a look over his shoulder. He opened his mouth again at last, shattering the icy barricade between them.
“How’s the arm?”
“You’ve all lived on the streets of Holy Terra. You should know how to start a bike,” I began, as the trainees braced against great gouts of sand as a result of the snarling updraft from a landing Storm Eagle, “and I would hope you know how to get one past one or two obstacles.” I hoped they could, I was on bad terms with the Apothecarion as it was and giving them more indistinguishable lumps of meat on a morgue slab to sort out wouldn’t brighten their mood.
Had it not been for myself scheduling the Storm Eagle to arrive at this time I might’ve put a bolter round through the cockpit. Our loud prayer had masked the sound of its arrival entirely. However, I was too focused on trying to discreetly slide my pistol back into its holster to be impressed by the Apostles of War junior choir.
A string of brisk orders and the refreshing aroma of promethium disturbed the atmosphere for the briefest of moments, before five expectant Astartes found their mechanical steeds. I was tempted to start another string of barbed orisons until I realized it was the light haired one from my previous onslaught and came to the conclusion that he didn’t deserve another bout of verbal abuse in the space of five minutes.
“I don’t know what the captain might have put you up to previously, but I can assure you that you’ll have a much harder time with me.” With that remark I waved them away to drive off into the horizon. Of course, they knew what they were doing – mostly – I had given them the general instructions during transit to the surface, although I had left this part out due to fears of cracking a smile during the briefing. I hurried into the back of the Storm Eagle as the rear door rotated to a close and slid open the cockpit door.
The pilot serf nodded as I took my place in the other seat. “A pleasure to see you, my lord.”
I returned the sharp head movement and observed six sand trails dissipating in the humid atmosphere through the glass, double checking that there wasn’t a bolt sized hole in it before positioning my hands on the control panel. My vox crackled as it linked to the device in the pilot’s ear. “Swiftly, pilot. These young ones seem to have discovered where the accelerator is. I’d like to reach them before they find out where the triggers are to their Boltguns and we lose a few good bikes.”
“I think those two have already, my lord,” He hinted with a joyful expression and pointed at a pair of metallic shapes which sailed out far beyond the others – a staccato of muzzle flares briefly flashing in the dunes, followed by a small explosion of yellow grains further away.
Without words, I glared at him for a few seconds until he received the message.
“As you wish, my lord,” He responded, pale faced. We lurched skyward, levelling off when their bikes seemed equivalent to the size of my hand. I felt a joystick appear between my clasped hands. Looked like I’d found my own trigger.
“It’s not bad. How’s your ego; still bigger than the Sol System?” The view of Alexandre’s tablet-device was blurred for a moment while he chuckled. Facing away from his companion to lean on the mithril railing that separated them, he flicked the page down and began to read.
“First one to fall off owes the other a drink.”
“Bite me,” He retorted, spitting a few rounds of the nose mounted bolters on our bikes into the sand ahead of me.
“Such harsh language! Didn’t Remembrancer school tell you to be polite to true Imperial servicemen?”
We exchanged many similar pleasantries on our sandy voyage. We humoured ourselves with the knowledge that our other companions were growing ever distant and that we were sure to win. Whether it was a competition or not I had no idea. Either way I doubted there would be a bottle of champagne and a pretty woman at the end.
I braced for my near-white hair slashing at my eyes with the savage elegance of a Howling Banshee to glance over my right shoulder. The kicked-up sand from the thick tires made those two seconds an even more painful moment, yet I endured with my vision just about functioning. Maybe it was just the particles of sand digging in under my eyelids, but I thought I saw a gunmetal grey Storm Eagle rising up behind us. The shout to my left informed me that my current companion, perhaps starting to border on friend – although that prospect unsettled me slightly – had spotted the same thing. “Oi, the Sergeant wants a race it seems!” He semi-snarled, if such a thing was possible, and gunned the engine to its full capacity.
“I wouldn’t bother trying, he’s got a lot more fuel than you and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he has more ammo t-” I was cut off by the ground being sliced between myself and Cervantes caused by a dozen high velocity bolter shells smashing the sand apart. We veered away while more rounds traced our paths. The rounds stalked me like a shadow, weaving as I weaved and scattering large amounts of hot sand onto my back, which I far from appreciated considering the sun was already doing the best it could to make my pale flesh uncomfortable. The firing paused and the white-hot bolter muzzles hissed in exasperation high above me, almost impossible to hear over the engines. Cervantes decided that instead of highlighting his concern for possibly becoming a smear of scarlet paste trapped in the inferno of a flaring bike, he’d relish in the chance to stand out in Moragh’s eyes. It was a success, if you count standing out as being intensely hated for years to come.
“First one to get shot owes the other a drink!”
“You’re a fool, Cervantes. A wonderful, wonderful fool.” I roared in time with my engine, a harmony of flesh and machine which, perhaps rather ironically, would be what I would become by the end of all this.
We drew our bikes in closer together, bathing in the dark shroud projected by the dropship. I suppose you could say I was quite surprised that the sergeant was willing to fire live rounds at us – more so at the bikes with which from past, although limited, experience I knew he had a strange metaphysical bond. Unless it wasn’t the sergeant and the local wildlife was decidedly more intelligent than we first perceived.
“Incoming!” My foolhardy companion clamoured. Expecting a hail of bolter shells, I curved my steed to the right hand side. I braced, the clap of bolt impacts spearing through my cochlea, after which the stream of empty shells created a merry tinkle that seemed very much out of place. To my unhidden bewilderment, a taste of the crimson fluid that had splashed across my cheek during the fusillade wasn’t mine. How pleased I felt knowing that I still had all four limbs and a functioning bike seemed irrelevant when the gaping maw and nine inch talons of a Basques Uçan bird presented itself upon the flat ground no more than twenty meters in front.
“Emperor’s blood!” I darted back to the left, skimming the tires over the edge of its wings and leaving a dark smear behind me.
Squawking animalistic curses, a flock of nearly a dozen Uçans descended upon myself and the other aspirants – who it would seem had noticed the danger long before Cervantes and me, and had done their upmost to catch us up – with sets of five fatally sharp talons on a pair of legs thick with muscle and sinew. Their beaks seemed akin to a Terran Kestrel, if Terran Kestrels were capable of snatching up a speeding bike and swallowing its rider whole as these did, as the gargled shriek from behind told me.
“Cervantes, maybe we can use the bolters mounted on the front.” I yelled, pulling up to his right flank. By the time we were level however, it would seem that – to use an ancient Terran saying – great minds think alike.
Wrenching free the Boltgun mounted onto the left of the front fender, De Leon sprayed the sky with wild, random bolter shots apparently aimed toward the circling flock before they came back. By now, Moragh’s pilot had split off and was following the Uçans like a harvest servitor would herd Grox on an Agri-World. A feathery hulk drooped from the crowd every now and again and made a small crater in the bronze sand. My companion’s fire drew their attention to us – something which I would have rather preferred not to happen. To my surprise a good few met the spout of Cervantes’ bolter, but even when affixed to a bike, those weapons only had a limited ammunition supply.
They seized us, trying to wrench us off our handlebars, and keen to show off their scything talons and their ability to gouge painful lacerations across my back. To this day, the Uçan variety of Paraves have the most impressive unguis on a creature of their size in my records. Impulse reaction took Cervantes to his combat knife – more akin to a gladius outside of the power armour we would soon wear – and saw that one particular foul organism was a couple of arms short. Maybe the one on my back had been a close friend, for its attack grew into a violent frenzy. Not to say that it had been like a back massage before; the scars running the length of my spine provide enough evidence for that. My own attempt to reach for my weapon was hampered by the disablement of my right arm. I wasn’t quite as educated as the Apothecary I am today, but screaming so loud that it bounces off the distant mountains is normally a good sign that something is definitely wrong. My right arm fell limp, and I heard the clattering of my sword against the side of the bike and then the whoosh of air as it flew away behind me. This was the moment I began to theorize on the intellectual properties of the Uçan, as well as curse it to the warp and back for being sentient at all. Both of its legs grappled around my shattered bone and launched me into the air. The smell of promethium died away and my senses were flooded by moving air and rhythmic flapping. My attempts to rid myself of the beast’s hold had the look of a child squirming when faced with an arachnid.
Glancing at his arm now, Alexandre felt the servos of his armour working to lift the ceramite plate on the outside closer to his eyes. His fingers flexed with dread and anticipation. Fighting the feeling, his eyes fixed once more on the screen. Cervantes found himself hesitant to continue. The entities within his mind were not so considerate, and cast memories of a decade ago into images scrolling past his eyes.
The bike next to me buckled and swayed, before tipping over on its side and rolling in the sand a dozen times while I rode on past. For a single moment of fleeting apprehension, I thought that my friend was amongst the twisted metal remains. Feeling relief after identifying his safety I began to grow in viguor, but then I found myself washed with dread at the sight of his dangling legs 25 feet above my gormless expression.
“I hate to admit this Cervantes, but I think I might need a bit of help.” He shouted down, shaking in his voice.
“Fear not, Moragh is coming round for another pass.” I yelled back, turning my head to see the sleek silver hull approaching and the nose mounted cannons spooling.
He clearly wasn’t as pleased as I’d imagined. “You can’t be serious! By the time he’s stopped firing I’ll be more bullet than man!” He tried to shake free of the grip around his shoulders but to no avail. A more violent method of punching the Uçan’s underbelly was attempted but without any physical enhancements courtesy of power armour it was as effective at hurting it as using a toothbrush to wash the tracks of a Fellblade.
I was conflicted to say the least. My mind was alive and flaring with activity, at the time I was searching for alternate methods but I knew from the moment he was caught that the Bolter in my hand was the only useful tool I could employ. Moragh’s ship flew by for a final time to scatter the shattered remains of the flock. This one here though was determined to fly off, yet their ignorance at their inability to ascend and carry the full weight of a Space Marine was somewhat of a blessing.
My target was shaking as if we were amidst a sea-bound tempest. My shaky, one handed grip on the bike’s steering and the irregular flight of the Uçan assisted in making this an even more perilous shot. I was timing myself, steadying my aim until the bird’s feet came directly into the sights. Making my last heavy breath I gritted my sand filled teeth together and squeezed my index finger around the trigger.
An unpleasant chill emerged from the base of my neck and snaked a path down my spinal column. The sensation sent my armored steed into a swerving pattern like a pendulum, before embracing the tires with its icy illusion and shaking the sand beneath. Now nested in the ground, whatever thought had escaped my mind reached up with phantasmal hands and warped around the legs of the aspirant. Panicked agony pierced into his pale flesh with enchanted blades and lured the masculine form downward on a lucid plume of vermillion. My work done, my errant vision faded into sand, as did a bleeding body which Cervantes could never forget was of his inception.
The Apothecary rested a hand on the biker’s shoulder pad. His recipient didn’t feel the warmth of kinship that was intended, only the icy shiver of regret.
“You should know it was the right thing to do. I’d prefer being shot by you to being eaten by a giant bird any day.”
Cervantes smirked and rolled his eyes with masked ire at his own history. Alexandre didn’t appear to have changed since then, if his choice of words was anything to go by. Yet even the most imperishable relationships can be a source of deceit.
“At least your aim has gotten sharper since then.” Cervantes squinted, trying to uncover a hidden barb in the remark but seeing only a sly grin spread across the healer’s mouth. “You’re too easy, honestly.”
A light crackle emerged from concealed vox relays in the ceiling and ushered a monotone and controlling voice from within. “Twenty First Company, assemble – you know where. War is calling. We shall answer.” It cut off abruptly, allowing silence to slowly diffuse back into the air.
“Valten sounds thrilled.” Cervantes stood up straight and affixed his helmet with a clank and a delicate hiss.
“That’s his happy voice,” The other replied. “Try being in his command squad; you’ll swiftly learn that right now he’s absolutely ecstatic.”
The pair paced along the length of the starboard window, occasionally breaking step to allow a huddled serf to scurry past. Their steps masked the muted throbbing of the ship’s power. Cervantes could see its veins and arteries twining above his path. Thick rimmed tubes of iron stretched for miles, drawing fuel and energy from all over the ship to the starship’s herculean engines protruding from the stern.
They took a turn and went deeper, until their footsteps faded into the steady heartbeat of the Firebrand.
Edited by Apothecary Meros, 13 October 2016 - 10:00 PM.