Chapter the First: Scattered Clouds pt 5 of 5
At a time before the Annihilation, the Tyranid Invasion, in the calm before the storm, a dwarven woman stood before a mirror. Fresh and black, rimmed in angry red, two runes newly tattooed across her cheeks stood out, dominating any other aspect that might catch a man's eye. No one would comment upon the luxurious fall of her brunette hair. Brutally short away, it lay in a scattering circle about her feet. The bright blue of her eyes would not bring flirtatious smiles from the more amorous who might cross her path and catch her gaze. Either one of the runes would kill such greetings with utter finality. No man's eye would surreptitiously sink to gaze, however briefly, upon her bosom, or perhaps fall even farther to admire the lay of her day's choice of clothing. Those looks and glances would instead flick from rune to rune and then upward to her hair. Her woman's glory would declare not her pride and beauty, but darkest tradition. Tradition so old that no tale told of its birth. Sickly greens, off whites and colorless grays now stood in lieu of her once brown hair. Lye, in ritual application, now bleached her hair. The lye's presence stiffened the once pliant glory that she had taken such pride in and now brought out such horrid color. Her hair now stood upright and molded into an array of spikes. The days of her existence would no longer be counted in years, but counted in battles. Should there be more than one, other tattoos would join the two on her cheeks, but today there would only be the important ones, Loss and Abandonment.
Battles later, on another planet, at a later time, a Living Ancestor slapped her hard. Though her head snapped back, the Ancestor no longer had the strength anymore to cause real harm. The blow did bring her out of her drunken stupor. She did not remember what had been going on, the grog that had been in her tankard had finally stopped filling and refilling, the damned thing, and she had been staring at the somehow empty tankard. She knew it was empty, but not what she should do about it. There had been quite a commotion in the tent, but Jyn paid it no mind. When the horns would sound, she would take her place with her brothers and sisters to kill and kill and, should the ancestors relent, die. Then the Ancestor slapped her.
With a cry of rage, Jyn hopped to her feet. Her combat dagger shot out in her fist. The silly thing always knew when she would need it, she never even needed to reach to its sheath. It would simply appear in her hand to cut and maim whatever needed it. Strength and determination drove her arm forward to bury the blade deep in the eye of the ancient squat in front of her. Honor demanded the strike be returned and death would be the result of it. Jyn was a berserker. Her hair was dyed purple to red in full spectrum. More battles than colors in life and Jyn was still killing. No one commented to a berserker, but another berserker and no one struck one. Death dealt from a berserker was never prosecuted. Berserkers were already accepted as dead in society, they were simply still breathing.
The knife point stopped inches from the Ancestor. Movement stirred behind the shrunken old squat. Armor clad attendants shifted their weight, preparing to intervene, but Jyn stayed her hand. Berserkers were not struck as a matter of safety, but no one struck an Ancestor. They were the living conduit to all those who had died throughout all the ages. The Living Ancestors were ageless creatures who spoke to and heard counsel from the dead. No one struck an Ancestor, no one. With a sob, Jyn turned from the Ancestor and threw her free arm down on the field table she had been sitting at. With jerking motion, she carved another rune into the flesh of her forearm, cutting across half heal scars of other runes. Marring the angry red and partially healed wounds, she chanted to herself over and over as blood flowed from her and she carved a new rune, “Shame. Shame. Shame.”
The Ancestor stood, impassively watching Jyn cut upon herself. After a few minutes Jyn looked up, surprised to see the Ancestor still waiting.
“Jyn”, the Ancestor said, once she stood before him. Jyn nodded, the blood from the runic wound dripped unnoticed to the ground. The guards behind the Ancestor looked on, disgust apparent on their faces. Berserkers were despised by the average squat for they were individuals who committed a crime or chose to pursue death rather than face whatever problem they encountered in their life. The two runes on Jyn’s cheeks told of a woman abandoned by her husband and who chose to die instead of resolve her problem.
“I am Desdyn and I have a task that you need to do.”
Another time, a new day, a different battle. Jyn reached up and touched the unit patch on the chest of her flak jacket, it was the flaming hammer of the Sixty-First. She didn’t understand why Desdyn insisted she add the patch to her kit, but it was one of the instructions he told her. Checking a map reader, she compared the time and location. She did not understand why the Ancestor sought her out, there were others in the tent that were the same as her. The route that had been sketched for her in the map reader had taken her in a very circuitous route to the side of a low hill. Her instructions had been explicit. She was not to engage any enemy, unless attacked. That prohibition ended at the hill she had come to at the bottom. She smiled when she heard the sounds of battle. Pulling her pistol and drawing her combat knife, Jyn ran with all her speed towards the conflict ahead of her.