Have a thing. And do forgive me if I end up going dark for a little bit again. Turns out the lady and I are moving to Chicago, and we're doing it by the end of this month. The God of Change has blessed by life, though it will no doubt bring a lot of Chaos as we try to pack our things and move in three weeks.
Nothing was left on this particular stretch of the battlefield save for three lone Astartes cornered against the decaying underbrush of the dying world. They had been running, fleeing from their pursuer for minutes that felt like hours, weaving their ceramite-covered bodies through the decaying vegetation as it sloughed away in ochre smears along the dark red and black flame paint. The thick cover of dying plant matter had been their only saving grace as they fled, the underbrush slowing the otherwise speedy chase of their hunter. But now that advantage was gone, thanks to the sheer cliff face rising hundreds of meters above them. The three fallen Astartes had not been running - they had been routed.
Ikram was the first to curse the gods, beating his armored fist against the damp rock. It sent sparks and pebbles flying in all directions, falling effortlessly away from the three superhumans. Though the other two shared his frustrations, they stayed still while he voiced his complaints over the vox.
“Damn them all, every last one of them. Damn the Emperor’s lapdogs and their ceaseless condemnation. Damn the Dark Gods for their constant abandonment. And damn our lord for sending us on this suicide mission on this suicidal planet!”
“I’m starting to think he doesn’t like us that much,” was all Xeph dared offer in reply. Dark moods could often appreciate dark humor, but the slamming of Ikram’s gauntlet into the rough stone once more showed this was not the case.
“Oh really, you think so?! You think the lord doesn’t favor us much? I hadn’t noticed, Xeph, not at all! After all, only the most favored chosen would be granted this detritus-wading, filth-mongering, ever so endlessly pointless-”
Xeph would never hear the end of Ikram’s rant this time. Or ever again. At first the sound was drowned out by an echoing thrum of pulsing energy, that sound preceding the near instantaneous detonation of plasmic fire on Ikram’s torso. The plasma shot ripped a hole clean through heretic and saw him fall immediately lifeless to the jungle floor. The little flesh left uncauterized by the shot would no doubt be already decaying on this death-accelerated world.
Still blinded from the flash of impact Xeph’s auto senses could barely register the distinct sound of a second plasma shot firing, nor the roaring hunger of their pursuer. The champion ducked with lighting speed, hand instinctively reaching for his blade and bolt pistol. Then the second shot exploded upon impact once more.
Rising, Xeph appraised his status, both through the data scroll in his helmet and his own physical examination. All limbs and armor intact. Did… did that damnable loyalist miss? Xeph dared a glance around him and to his sides, looking for the telltale signs of plasmic charring on the plants or rock.
Oh. No. The Space Marine didn’t miss. Tsku was missing his right arm and most of his face, the muscles still twitching as he fell over in a slump. Well. Okay then.
Should Xeph decide to mourn his squad’s death he would have to do it later. True, he probably wouldn’t bother. It’s not like their not replaceable. Besides, he was probably going to die here anyway, assuming the Astartes biker in blue armor has his way. After all, the Marine had gunned the throttle and was not charging straight toward Xeph, power axe raised high and ready to cleave the traitor champion in half. Yup. Probably going to die.
Hastily came the shot from his bolt pistol. The weapon barked as the detonated ammunition flew forward. Xeph had not had the time to aim properly. He had not had the chance to square away his sights and shoot at the soft armored neck or elbow of the charging Astartes. Honestly, his vision was still a bit blinded from the ball of plasma. Beyond the single shot of his bolt pistol, all Xeph could rely on was hope. Once that finger squeezed the trigger and the hammer fell, the Aspiring Champion offered a prayer to whatever deity was listening, Chaos or otherwise. Right here, right now, just this once, intervene and let his shot connect.
It didn’t. It hit the thick trunk of some native tree and failed to do little but chip away at the bark.
The soldier on the bike with the axe would come crashing into Xeph in less than a second now. His one good chance at survival had failed. Though, really, every chance of survival on this planet had faded long long ago. Perhaps how long he lasted in the dying jungles would be its own reward, a record set in a trial of endurance. Not that such a thing had meaning. No one would know, save the Throne-lover come to kill him. Oh, well.
In the fleeting moments Xeph had left to live, he thumbed the activation of his power sword and spun his body away and to the right. He couldn’t avoid the impact of the bike, but he may do something to lessen it. He pivoted on his right foot and attempted to dodge, sword-arm held out in a wide arc as he turned. Maybe one of the Pantheon would give him the nimble reflexes to sidestep the oncoming-
No. He didn’t dodge. Not even a little. The front end of the bike smashed into his flank and sent Xeph flying back three meters. The Loyalist had predicted the maneuver and corrected for it. Xeph slammed into the ground, the heaps of dying plant matter - and some corpse of local fauna - did nothing to soften his fall. His skull bounced inside the ceramite helm while his organs danced between his fused ribs. That had hurt. A lot. But somehow, surely thanks to his armor, he survived.
...except his hands no longer held either of his weapons. Damnit. Well, some much for that little shred of happiness since hadn’t died instantly. Now that he was disarmed and lying flat on his powerpack in the jungle there would be an axe blade cleaving through him in no time. Any second now the Space Marine would whirl around and start chopping off limbs or just go for an instant killing blow. Within moments Xeph’s soul would bleed back into the Warp and become fodder for the Neverborn. Yup, he would die, just like the rest of his miserable brotherhood. Any second now.
Why wasn’t he dead? Where was his hunter? And why… why was the engine of the bike idling quietly instead of roaring with a charge. Oh, of course - the noble marine wanted an honorable duel. Well sure, fine, why not? Better than dying on his back, right? Ugh… at this point Xeph was just ready to be dead already - the build-up was killing him enough!
Snapping his hips and legs he shot up from the prone position, standing and charging toward the idled bike. A combat blade was already in his hand, and death was on his mind. Except… there was no Champion of the Emperor waiting for him. There was no brandished axe crackling with energy, no bellows of challenge or litanies of damnation, and no Marine in sight. There was just a bike slumped against the rocky cliff that kept Xeph pinned here moments earlier. So where was…?
“Oh. Ohhh… heh… heheh… hah!”
And soon enough, Xeph was doubled over in laughter, sharing the dark joke with the universe. There, two meters from the undamaged bike leaning on the rock rested the Astartes in blue armor. He was on his side, his axe within grasp but lying inert on the ground. And there, with the tip straight through the upper chest, was Xeph’s power sword. It had impaled the hunter and killed him before he could strike.
But… how? He never felt the blade connect. All the Champion could recall was the violent impact of the bike when… no. No! There’s no way! When he lost his grip, the sword actually flew out and stabbed the Space Marine?! Huh… perhaps one of the Dark Gods was listening to him after all. Only they, like Xeph, had a dark sense of humor.
Walking over Xeph pulled the blade free and maglocked it to his side once more. But as he did there was an alien energy coursing through his body. Aetheric energies spun around and through him, imbuing his flesh and his soul with new power. Caressing his body was a new aura, imperceptible to sight. Xeph watched as reams of hoarfrost coated the underbrush around him no matter where he moved. Not only had the Gods saved him, but they rewarded him!
Nothing came free, however. There was a subtext to his new aura of ice. He had not heard it, he had not felt it, but somehow Xeph knew what he must do in thanks to his new boon. Still chuckling, the heretic Astartes walked over to the idling bike and climbed aboard it. Yes. Somehow, for some reason, this just felt right. Maybe it had always been that way, or maybe it was the will of the gods, but Xeph knew that this bike was his bike, and on it he would ride eternally. Or until he died. Either one.
And so, imbued with the gifts of his impossible victory on this dying world, Xeph Caleph, newly endowed Biker Champion of the Company of Misery gunned the throttle and plowed his way through the underbrush.