Haum hurried along the edge of the heavily guarded cloister of the repurposed Administratum building, moving past a pair of sedukhar troopers. He was sweating within his taut new combat armour from the training he had been overseeing and participating in, his new sect was as fresh as ever, he privately cursed his luck for being stranded with the new troopers.
He walked toward an ornate set of doors daubed with warp runes and symbols, the older layer of Imperial signs were defaced and scarred. It was guarded by a pair of sedukhar troopers, both bowed and opened the doors, Haum returned a hurried salute and entered into the briefing room.
Dozens of chatting subedars and sardars from a number of companies were assembled in the place and were all sat facing an empty platform; he noticed that the majority were young and fresh faces that he hadn’t seen before.
To one side of the platform the Sardar-Commander Avigun of the First Brigade, was in consultation with a pair of Sedukhar officers who kept pointing toward the side door, a nearby slave-adept with a lexigraph writer, recorded all the words passed between its Sardar master and the other two with monotonous keystrokes.
Haum slunk into a nearby chair and undid his helmet; exhaling deeply from the effort of the day Haum yawned wiping the sweat from his tired eyes.
“Busy day, subedar?”
The subedar looked up to see a bald man with dark red eyes and a pair of dirty crossed scars that segmented his face; he smiled as he recognised him.
“Subedar Edil Taro, bastard and warrior supreme,” growled Haum with a look of delight in his eyes.
They both slapped their palms and gripped each others’ wrists in a show of old ties. Haum noticed that he was wearing a long, odd looking brown trench coat completely covering him to his boots.
“Tell me; why are you sweating so?”
Haum sighed as he adjusted himself on the chair, “Damned new bloods, from my old garrison. They are terrible soldiers, no discipline and sense; I was training them and showing them how to be a match against the Guard, been up on daily drills because I only serve with the best.”
“So they arrived here untrained?” Edil asked as he slipped on a pair of glare-visor.
“Oh absolutely, no discipline and no objective, they are so ignorant of everything around them that I fail to understand why exactly they were sent here. We don’t need replacements for garrison duty...or in this case a stalemate of a war in the east.”
Edil chuckled, “I share in your resentment, old friend. But I must ask...must’ve been hell back in the east when they first hit.”
Haum soured at the mention of the east, “It is a hellhole and you know what happend.”
“I read the reports in Lorterstown, so you made it once again through the fire, eh Haum?” Edil Taro said with his trademark drawl adjusting his glare-visor.
Haum finally relaxed and smiled, “I guess I am simply charmed by the will of the Lord of Fates.”
“Just like old times, eh?”
“Just like old times,” Haum agreed, “tell me why did you just put on a pair of glare-visor we are inside the building.”
Edil gave a sly grin, “My eyes haven’t cleared since an explosives incident and my eyes aren’t adjusting to the light in here, so I wear these.”
Haum felt something wrong as he paused from conversing, his heart leapt a beat as he felt...something.
“Kuid make it?” Edil asked, snapping Haum out of his strange premonition.
“Uh...” Haum stammered.
“Kuid Shoken, Haum, remember old Kuid?”
Haum nodded, “Yes, yes.”
Kuid Shoken, much like Edil, Kula was an old comrade from their Reaver days; they were members of the same company and had formed a tight comradeship through the wars they had fought for the gods. After the bloody Mosikur Persecution a decade ago all had changed, by then the Khas had returned and with him the Sedukhar were reborn.
Haum, Edil and Kuid had all oathed to the Host and Khas as soon as they had reached back on Sedukh following the conquest of it by the Prophet, after that they had drifted apart, until Kuid and his lot were sent to reinforce Haum’s Clan Company, he remembered promising Kuid a drink after his fateful patrol.
“Yes, Kuid was martyred...”
“Expected as much,” Edil sighed, his eyes hidden behind the visor.
Haum’s mood darkened, “Hardly the way to go caught out by swarming enemies.”
“That much is true, but these days the prospect of death doesn’t seem so bad.”
Haum sighed, “Why haven’t we deployed with the Footmen already? We are simply stuck here waiting for them to come to us?”
Edil nodded, “No, but there are bigger things at work.”
Haum chuckled at what he was a joke and left it at that.
Edil chuckled and slapped Haum on his shoulder, “Regardless, it is well to see you, First Brigade now, eh?”
Haum shrugged, “Apparently so. I couldn’t believe that we are in the first, but in any case it is as it is.”
“Well, Haum, all I can say is welcome to the First,” Edil gave an unenthusiastic shrug with the last part.
“I still don’t understand one thing. You had sent a message for a meeting a week back?”
Edil waved his hand, “It is a business of great import. We will resolve that matter...” he paused and put a hand to his vox bead in his ear and twisted the other to check the time on his old wrist-chron he had looted from an imperial officer. He looked back at Haum, “Soon, very soon.”
Haum frowned at Edil’s peculiar words.
“Silence!” the commanding voice swept through the room like a chill wind, all speaking halted and the heads turned toward the scarred brute with a metal rod in hand.
Sak’ul Avigun, the brilliant commander of the First Brigade stood at the center of the altar, a fine figure in the traditional crimson and brass armour of a Sardar-Commander raised his horned head as his charred lips spoke words of power.
He looked down at the assembled officers and licked his black lips.
“By the sacred oaths that bind us to the Eternal Powers and their wars, I hereby call a council of warriors. Make it known that the last Sedukhar of the Eighth Host meet on the eighth hour of the eight cycle, the numbers are portentous as the holy ones have forseen, change is already taken to the minds of the hosts and a damaging defeat suffered at the hands of the enemy.”
The sedukhar assembled looked at each other in confusion, one of them a Vice-Sardar by his markings stood from his chair and bowed before speaking, “What defeat is this, oh serkar? We are yet to strike the enemy in the east with the Footmen, yet we are lost?”
Avigun bade his junior to sit and took a measured breathe, “It is not in the east that we have failed, but in the stars. Our lord and master Tyrant Sorith Serkar has been slain.”
Wails and gasps of horror rippled through the seated sedukhar, prayers to the gods began being murmured across the assembly. Haum simply watched the debacle around him as officers, sedukhar wept and wailed.
The Lord Sedukhar, Master of the Brigades was dead, the ruler and uniter of Sedukh and the earliest proponent of a systematic holy war on the Imperium and a formative member of the Reclamation War, was dead. The shock of the words was palpable; Haum though a sceptic of the Host Lord, was shaken at the news.
“Our oath-bearer and master lies dead with ten of our brother brigades. The pact our world has made to master Khas and his sacred war of reclamation is now seen as void beneath the gaze of the gods. As our rites dictate the Brigades of the Sacred Host is annulled,” bloody tears streaked down Avigun’s scarred and mutated face.
“What will become of us?” yelled one of the subedar’s from the throng of officers.
As if in reply something enormous thudded outside, the room was silenced. It was followed by the clatter of gunfire and explosions, the building shuddered and dust fell from the unkempt ceiling beams overhead, Haum like the officers began to worry and began to mill around the room, another thud followed as cracks formed on the walls.
Haum tried to fathom the situation and turned to Edil beside him, he sat stock still hands braced around the armrest.
A sudden bright flash and keening thunder erupted at the centre of the room, officers in meeting were all thrown from their chairs as they bleated and cursed, some clawed at their faces, the blinding light burning out ocular nerves.
Haum felt someone push him to the ground, a gloved hand clamped around his eyes, but his ears were the noise, the noise echoed in his head like a nightmare, some word of power multiplied in his brain it coalesced as the sound and pain loud as a gunshot rumbled in his head.
He felt his consciousness slipping, but still felt the hand on him; he hung on to the feeling and shook his head and strained his eyes open, his ears were ringing.
Haum’s vision was dotted by black gaps as the smoky room began to resolve.
Everything was slow, he saw sedukhar officers grasping their ears and eyes, some were weeping blood like their sardar, but not because of devotion, others were having seizures and fits. Something flashed to his left as blurred figures with what could only be weapons, raised and primed began filing into the room from the entrance, las bolts fizzled and flashed from their weapons as they advanced.
Haum felt a stranger over him crouching and warding the unknown gunmen by strenuously waving his hand toward the far end of the place.
The ringing in his ears diminished slowly as he felt his vision clearing, his mental faculties returning he tried to assess and observe what was going on.
He saw Edil shouting something and sweeping his hands, it seemed that one of the figures was conversing with Edil, two other were covering him pointing their weapons at the crouched Edil wearing black fatigues like the rest; the unit markings were too blurred by all the smoke and strobe flashes of las discharge, but he felt a strange inkling in some half forgotten memory.
He saw Edil stand, and pull his trench coat off; beneath it he was wearing the exact same fatigues as the assailants, he flashed something at them and pointed to Haum. They lowered their weapons and walked away.
Edil bent close and took Haum’s hand in which he pressed a crest-badge into, his eyes still hidden behind the glare-visor, but not because of his poor eyes.
Strong hands grabbed him and supported him up, Haum felt his senses finally return with his control.
“Can you hear me?” he heard the muffled voice of Edil beside him.
“Stop shouting,” Edil grunted carrying him through the pock marked and burnt door way into a burning and rubble littered cloister.
Haum watched all the destruction and death around him completely lost for its reason, figures in black were swarming through the place gunning down sedukhar troopers.
A tracked carrier was parked at the far end of the entrance into the cloister, its doors were open and an unknown black clad trooper was waving for them to approach, the wind picked up around them and dust began to swivel in circles, Haum looked up to see the bellies of a pair of dark grey gunships ropes trailed from either side of the wings.
The gunships thundered as it began hammering the face of the structure behind them with a blistering rate of autocannon shots. Masked troopers rappelled in all around them and advanced past, he could hardly make them out in the dust kicked up by the gunships.
“Who are these soldiers? What the hell is going on?” he gasped in the choking dust being kicked up around them.
“You remember Akaris and what we did there?”
“That was a long time ago and I hated that place...” Haum paused as he realised what Edil was implying, he looked around to a black clad trooper behind cover, he noticed the eight fingered hand imprint on his shoulder pad,
Edil met Haum’s reptilian eyes as they looked up, “We are re-called, Haum. I called in the favour. They accepted.”
He felt himself being carefully put into the carrier, Edil followed him and the another trooper joined them.
The other trooper was in the black fatigues of the assailants, he wore a dulled silver skull mask with a pair of kill markings stamped beneath the left eye.
“Welcome, brothers!” the vox-altered speech of the trooper grated Haum’s ears, “How does it feel to witness the momentous fall of the sedukhar?”
“It’s all the same, serkar,” Edil said casually as the carrier growled to a lurch and started moving, he nodded at Haum, “This is Subedar Haum Serapis, and he was with me since Horxan Extermination, he was in Ged Hamar’s Cadre Auxilis on Akaris.”
The gloved hand of the trooper undid the skull mask and slid it off to reveal a brutalized and pale face, a savage gash dominated the width of his left jaw to his torn ear, and yellowed jutting teeth of his molars could be seen through the wound, his left eye was a red bionic replacement, the cheeks were scarred ritually and a marks of Khorne was branded into his bald and gashed head.
But his other eye, the unnatural eye with the unmistakable black orb and white pupil, the hate and horror behind them, Haum recognized the man.
“Ghar Xukol...” Haum said it like he had touched an old aching wound.
“That is Hetman Ghar Xukol,” stretched his cut lips into a feral grin of yellowed fangs, “but at least you remember your betters, Serapis.”
There is no intelligence. Only degrees of Idiocy.