Beneath Our Feet
This is a number of firsts for me. This is the first WH40K story I've written, the first one I've posted here, and the first time I've entered the Expeditious Stories contest.
I've tried to verify all the details through various print and web sources and consultations, but in the end, any and all mistakes remain my own.
Beneath Our Feet
Word Count: 1082
“I’m sorry, mamzel,” Kira Arden coughed once more, “but I can’t see a way through.” The former jungle fighter stepped back, crunching cinder beneath her boots, to better survey the cave-in. In the light of the luminator mounted on her hellgun, gray ash sifted down onto black rock—the smallest was larger than her head—which blocked the lava tube.
As Arden finished her survey, Inquisitor Chatelain’s static-laced voice sounded faintly from her vox-bead.
“…according to Savini’s readings, if you… back… to the last junct-ksshh, the right-hand lava tube may lead to the su-shhh….”
“Mamzel?” Arden tapped her vox-bead and got only static.
Arden double-timed it to the junction. Just as she was turning, she heard shuffling and murmuring. The volcanic plains beyond the Ignimbrite Hive were infested. When she returned with this information, their mission would not be a failure.
After a moment’s deliberation, Arden doused her luminator and crept into the side-tunnel. She hoped she would not attract their attention. Though for all she knew there were mutants that could hear the proverbial pin drop at a thousand yards or see in this Emperor-forsaken dark.
Before her eyes could fully adjust, Arden found herself pitching forward as a chunk of cinder beneath her boot disintegrated. She bit down on an oath, not wanting to add to the echoes. Lying there listening, she knew they had heard; the shuffling neared.
Pushing herself to her feet, Arden activated her luminator and ran away, heedless of noise. Rounding the bend, she cursed, spotting more mutants down the tunnel.
The mutant’s ribcage caved in and Arden couldn’t pull the hellgun’s stock free. Tapping the quick release, she shrugged out of the backpack power pack, and drew a pair of laspistols. By the luminator’s light, she shot the front rank in their heads. The obstructing bodies allowed her time to toss krak grenades down the cross-tunnels to cave them in.
As more mutants climbed over the dead, Arden continued to shoot, adding them to her improvised bulwark. In the lulls between attacks, she tossed frag grenades. Among the horde, the resulting outright dead was disheartening. The wounded would die before reaching her, her lasbolts would insure that.
Arden hammered the butt of her remaining laspistol repeatedly against the mutant’s face as with her other hand she hacked away with her Catachan fang. She grimaced as the mutant’s face gave way, splattering her. With its face shattered, the mutant collapsed. It was worse than anyone had realized, these weren’t mutants but plague zombies. And she was probably already infected. She let her wrecked laspistol drop from her chewed-up hand and reached for her last krak grenade.
Bodies gave beneath her weight as Arden stepped onto them. The wave of zombies faltered, slowing as they now had to climb.
She lobbed her krak grenade. It bounced off the ceiling, landed against a wall behind the horde, and then blew, causing another cave-in and burying the back ranks in a shower of cinder. With that, the tunnels were closed off. The only way more zombies could show would be to fall through the hole a dozen feet overhead.
Planting her feet, Arden shouted her defiance: “C’mon then, if you think you’re hard enough!” As the infected clambered over their dead, she stabbed and hacked at rising heads and grasping arms. Occasionally, she kicked a head, sending the body tumbling.
She did not know how long she fought. Only that she was suddenly aware that the press of bodies had eased. With some surprise, she realized that she stood on bodies piled high as a man’s head. It was then that insistent whispers filled her head and the air thickened into treacle. She had to get out of here. Much closer, the ceiling was now an option.
Sheathing her fang, Arden tossed a smoke grenade into the horde. The rank dust-filled air turned opaque. Drawing a spare combat knife, she turned to face the tunnel wall and leapt. A corpse dislodged by Arden’s jump slid down the charnel heap and over the luminator, dousing all light.
In the sudden darkness, her knife punched into the cinder and held. Scrabbling at the wall, she pulled herself up, stabbing another knife even higher into the wall. Switching her grip, she held onto one hilt as she planted her boot toe onto the other hilt. Taking a deep breath, she gathered herself and then lunged.
The sharp cinder easily cut through her leather gloves and skin but Arden held on and pulled herself up. Rolling away from the hole, she took a few moments to catch her breath. She hoped that no zombies were on this level. For a moment, she regretted the lost of her spare knives.
When she heard that dreaded shuffling from down the tunnel, she drew her fang and, from her boot, her night reaper. Two knives would have to do.
Arden blinked rapidly, squinting at the blinding glare at the lava tube’s end. She could hear surf crashing against the rocks. Sheathing her knives, she stumbled into the open air beneath a pale green sky. As her boots sank into black chemical-laced sand, she breathed in the metallic salt-tang of a poisoned ocean and coughed.
Turning, she eyed the sheer slope of loose cinder and sand. Knowing it wouldn’t be enough, she tore the hem of her shirt into strips to wrap her already bloody hands. By the time, she dragged herself onto the plain, the razor-edged rock had lacerated her hands to bloody ruins; missteps had gouged open her boots.
Scanning the black lava field, Arden located the shuttle from the sunlight reflecting off its armorcrys. Tapping her vox-bead, she opened a channel. “Mamzel?”
“—Mamzel, I’m sorry to report….”
Arden began walking even as the shuttle was powering up to lift off. By the time she knelt down to pick up her last request, the shuttle had dwindled to a speck.
It took less than an hour to walk back to the lava tube, where she knelt, setting down her burden. With bandaged fingers, she tied on a new red bandana. Still kneeling, she depressed the activation rune on the melta bomb leaning against the tube wall. As the bomb’s timer counted down, she rose and shrugged her shoulders to settle the promethium tanks’ harness. With one last check of her weapons, she lit the flamer’s pilot light and stepped into the darkness, “The Emperor of Mankind is the Light and the Way….”