A Lesson in Futility
The lone Astartes watched them from his vantage point, hidden behind the small grass cairn, he observed unblinking as they danced and capered around their gruesome totem. The smell of them overloaded the olifactors of his helmet and stung his nose, which he wrinkled instinctively. Snarling in anger he listened to their celebrations, their joyous guttural utterings spilling forth, as they prayed and whinnied to their disgusting gods. He would send them to those gods before the day was out.
Their disgusting kind offended him on every possible level.
Their stink burned his nostrils and offended his nose.
Their swine like language and grunted cursing pained his ears.
Their foul appearance stung his eyes.
Their pagan beliefs were an affront to his soul.
Worst of all though, their very existence horrified what little remained of his humanity. He hated them with every ounce of his being; mind, body and soul, and now they had taken his brothers.
For that they would pay.
Their bodies had lain strewn amongst three times their number of Ork corpses, an epic battle damage covered the area, revealing the scale of the fight it had taken to fell his brothers.
He had buried them under a small barrow, not far from where he now stood.
The only indication of their resting place was a small beacon emitter, the sign that would allow his existing brothers to find them, to harvest the geneseed that would allow their Chapter’s legacy to continue anew.
For the first time since his inception into the chapter he had cursed his own lack of abilities.
Perhaps then, if he had chosen a different path upwards through the ranks of his brotherhood, he could use the instruments that his brother apothecary in life had wielded with such skill.
He could offer them the succour of a prayer to grant them passage to the halls of their ancestral brothers such as those bestowed by his brother Chaplain.
He could build them a tomb spire in remembrance to their sacrifice, as those constructed by the brothers of the Tech-hood.
Then, though as he had stood over his fallen brothers, he cursed the fact that he could not even grant them any release.
Not even the release that would come from knowing their geneseed would be born anew creating new brothers to fight their ceaseless war, of knowing their actions would be remembered.
He did what he could though, creating the means for others to find them. Perhaps then those who came after him could grant his lost brethren the peace that he could not.
He clenched his gauntleted fist and hammered it down into the muddy ground before him, expelling some of the rage he felt. The rage that had burned in his chest since that most terrifying of discoveries, at its core an overwhelming desire to avenge this injustice.
He looked up once more, jaw clenched and concentrated on the grim totem the fiends below had erected, one deemed fitting to honour their primitive Gods.
It was a long pole, driven into the hard earth, writhing beneath it, pinned to the ground by the pole’s shaft, drilled through its stomach, was an Eldar warrior.
A warrior who was the Astartes supposed ally in the battle with the green beasts.
It struggled for life as the beasts moved around it, spitting upon its prone form and striking it with weapons and steel toed boots. Blood flowed freely from the eldar's mouth as its struggles brought only more violence upon its frail body.
The Astartes recalled when the Eldar had first arrived. Their appearance heralding the beginning of a tentative alliance between Human and Xenos, as they offered the location of the source of the green skins. A strike by both forces aimed at ending a dire threat to both of them.
The weak minded fool that was the Commander of the Imperial Guard forces accepted without hesitation, forcing his Chapter to accept it to, lest they disrupt imperial order on the planet they sought to defend.
The air above that dusty plain on that cursed day had shismed, torn horizontally as the reek of witchery had filled the air. Worse, it had mingled with the sweet, sickly smell of the xenos that had performed it.
One by one they had poured through that rift, first in ones and twos, then in their hundreds, a steady river of sleek armoured forms. These were followed by the larger, bulkier shapes of their skeletal warriors and dreadnought forms and finally the anti-grav tanks, their deadly weapons pointed to the skies almost in salute of their new allies.
He had stood beside his brothers, unmoving and indifferent to the display of power before them. He and his squad had lined the avenue like statues of bygone glory, standing before this un-human horde like breakers before a tide.
He had stood, rooted to the spot, gripping his weapon tightly, his body rigid and tense as he had watched the tall forms of the wraith warriors march past. He had tangled with their kind in the past and his fingers had twitched upon the grip of his bolter in apprehension. This was testament to the power and the respect he afforded their skills, for he feared nothing.
He turned to face the rest of them, every part of his body screaming out to strike here to crush a blue armoured form or there to lash out with his bolter, tearing fleshy chunks from the solid mass of red armoured infantry.
Instead, he did nothing, as was expected of him.
As the remnants of their forces arrived he had noticed the almost ethereal form of their witch lord, as it move towards the platform, there waiting for his arrival, the imposing forms of the Lord Commander of the Imperial Guard and his own Chapter’s Commander of the Third.
He had opened his internal vox, thinking for a fleeting moment to share his displeasure with his brothers. Instead he had merely snarled, noting with some satisfaction, the same reaction emanating from his brothers. This was an unholy alliance, an alliance sure to turn to betrayal for was not that the way of the Eldar, that most arrogant and deceitful race?
He smiled at the thought of the battle against them that was surely to come.
His Captain had gripped the witch lord’s arm in salute and nodded as the agreement was reached between them, though no words were spoken for that was left to the Lord Commander of the Guard.
As the General had spoken his dulcet tones rang out in a speech that hailed this new union as one that would end the greenskin threat once and for all. The Captain had left the stage, moving towards his brothers, as one they had turned and left, the moment of the joining between Imperial and Eldar lines was not one they would celebrate.
One last glance back had returned the feeling of rage, blood boiling in anger as he watched the Xenos forms corrupting the purity and power of the humanity on display.
Thoughts returning to the present, he decided he would make his move. He rammed the bayonet affixed to his bolter into the soft earth and rose to his feet, leaving it handle up, ready for his return.
He began to stroll down the slope of the cairn, tensing each muscle then relaxing them in turn, igniting the combat stimms within his armour, allowing their powerful chemicals to mingle with his blood stream.
A feeling of enhanced readiness engulfed him, before a second wave of feeling near invincibility coursed through him.
He upped his pace.
The Eldar had noticed his approaching form and had turned its head to face him.
One of the smaller beasts had sniffed the air, before its head shot up and it altered its capering course to intercept him.
His body surged with anticipation of the combat to come and he voiced a quick prayer to the God Emperor, offering the impending bloodshed in his name.
The beast was several metres away now and charging hard towards him. He never even halted his stride, simply lashing out with a solid boot that connected with the creature’s midriff, sending its broken form sailing hard through the air, only to smash into the solid form of one of the larger beast’s chests. This one was of the larger caste, slightly bigger even than he was and it bellowed in rage, raising a huge, rusting cleaver above its head.
In its other hand it held a clumsy looking stubber which barked twice in quick succession, the first of the shots veering wide before the second found its mark, striking his pauldron, and denting the armour there.
He grunted in anger, raising his fist as the creature’s charge finally met his and their bodies collided in a clash of armour and slab like muscle.
The ork’s cleaver connected solidly with his helm, a glancing hit that knocked his head to one side and angered him further. Dropping to one knee he hammered both of his fists into its stomach. A burst of ichor spilt forth from its mouth and it grunted in pain as it stumbled backwards.
He didn’t give it a chance to recover, stepping forward to clasp the fist that gripped the cleaver and crushing it within his own. The creature howled in agony, though he ignored its pitiful whines and stepped forward, gripping the second fist that held the stubber, ramming it forward into the beast’s torso, he pulled the trigger, obliterating its spinal column.
He watched as its eyes glazed over before it tumbled backwards to the ground. He stepped over its prone form as a second smaller beast charged forward swinging a two handed claymore. He caught the blade within his armoured fist and grinned in satisfaction as the servos within strained to their maximum, crushing the metal.
The ork snarled and rammed the broken blade into his side, he grunted in pain as he felt it pierce his armour and skin in a shallow cut. He kicked out in disgust at its temerity taking its legs out from under it. The greenskin dropped to the floor and he stepped forward to stamp down upon its exposed head. He felt the skull pop beneath him as a heavy, viscous fluid puddled around his armoured boot.
He looked up to see the final two eye him warily, to his surprise they exhibited a basic form of tactics, they separated, looking to flank him on both sides.
[I}Fools[/I], he thought, like they ever had a chance of stopping me.
He picked out the biggest of them, the one on his right, and charged forward to meet it. The creature, to its credit showed no fear and embraced his armoured form within an iron grip. The beast breathed heavily with exertion as it tried to rip the helmet from his head.
The second creature was not slow in trying to capitalise on the situation either. It rammed its axe forward punching it hard into his armoured backpack. The blow was deflected by the armour there, though warning signs blinked within his helm, telling him it would not survive a second blow.
He roared with effort as he spun around throwing the ork he grappled with into the path of its companion’s second blow. The creature yelped as the axe bit home tearing into its muscled back and wounding it grievously, it spun away clawing at the weapon.
The marine removed his own combat blade from the sheath at his belt. Moving forward he shouldered the wounded ork hard, knocking it onto its back and driving the weapon deeper into its flesh. The beast’s whines rose to an ear piercing scream and it writhed upon its stomach, grabbing at its wound.
The second ork tried to meet his charge head on before he side stepped at the last second and hammered his blade hard into its right eye killing it instantly. It dropped forward as retrieved the blade, landing hard upon the first, who grasped its last breath.
He wiped his blade upon one of the dead orks cloth jerkins and re sheathed it, before turning to face the wounded Eldar, who glared at him, waiting to see his next move.
The stimms were beginning to leave his system now. The adrenaline quickly followed, he inhaled deeply, feeling the anger within him subside.
Finally he moved forward towards the prone xenos.
He gripped the shaft of the long pole and stared down at the creature who was his ally in name.
So frail, so weak, he thought, no wonder their race is dying; they have no strength left to defend themselves.
He made to remove the shaft and perhaps give this creature the mercy it deserved when a wave of compassion washed over him, causing him to pause, a thought coming to him that overpowered all others.
This noble warrior does not deserve to die here. He deserves my aid.
He knelt before it, removing one of his gauntlets and snapping the pole just above the wound, before lifting the Eldar gently off the remainder. The creature grunted in pain as it was softly placed once more onto the ground.
He then lifted its head with his bare hand, feeling the pallid almost translucent skin.
A second wave washed over him. This time a feeling of nausea.
Anger filled him once more.
How dare this creature attempt to manipulate him? How dare it use its repulsive powers to force him into actions not of his choosing?
“Shi’slan caranas vo’ sintal Mon-Keigh,” it whispered, its voice frail yet somehow alluring in its beauty.
He did not understand its language and once more felt revulsion at the creature’s strangeness, its outright alien form, so human, yet so different at the same time.
As different as his own form was to a human, though where his own form was post human, the
creature before him was most certainly not. It was xenos. It was his enemy.
He moved his thumb over the creature’s eyes, remaining silent as he did so.
He grunted with exertion as he thrust his thumbs forward, forcing the creature’s oval eyes backwards.
As with everything, beauty makes way for brutal function.
It began to scream words in its language, yet more drawl that he did not understand.
“I am Astartes xenos, only the Emperor himself can control my actions.”
He pushed harder until the creature’s own words faded into a scream, a scream somehow more bestial than even the dead greenskins had managed. It thrashed underneath him and he pushed harder until something popped, the socket caving in and the creature fell silent.
He squeezed harder then, venting his anger, as the skull gave way and he felt the brain matter and fragments of bone cover his hand. He raised his head and roared into the quiet sky above him, challenging both Ork and Eldar Gods to face him, to come down from their lofty sanctuary and meet him in battle.
There was no answer other than the twin heartbeats thundering within him.
He smiled, knowing his Emperor would be pleased, for here on the altar of war, the xenos was cleansed by his hands.
After several minutes of silent prayer in the name of his Lord, he rose to his feet, leaving the bodies of his victims strewn across the ground where they lay.
He moved away, slowly heading for the small cairn to await the coming of more xenos and the fight he would ask of them.
As he walked, he recalled the lesson his Brother-Sergeant had offered him as rose through the scout ranks.
“Only in death does duty end,” the sergeant had said.
Only now did he realise this was not true. For he knew he would die here and yet he also knew with a certainty born of the zealous, that his death would not be the end of his duty. His death would serve as a lesson to his brothers.
They would learn from his sacrifice, they would see the bodies of their enemies piled high around him and they would learn that they must never surrender, even when death was certain. They must never stop; they must fight with every breath available to them. They must resist the enemies of mankind until death came for them and then they must spit in death’s eye and defy their enemies with their last breath.
It would be a noble death, though it would also be one borne of shame and a need for revenge.
He thought back to the moment he had found his brothers and the accompanying feeling of absolute loss that came with it.
He was bred to be a wolf, not in totem like his cousins of the Space Wolves chapter, but in spirit like his fore bearers. Moulded in the image of his Emperor, he knew he was alike that most noble of warriors in all but one way.
Only the Emperor had the strength to fight alone, only He in his uniqueness could manage such a feat, for everyone else must take solace in the shared power of their brothers, their comrades, their allies.
To fight alone was a burden worthy only of a god.
A wolf needs his pack to hold the back the myriad of forces that would see him die alone.
As a warrior, nay an Astartes, he was more capable than most of fighting on alone, however when he had found his brothers dead, their blood mingling with the dust, he had learned the weakness that came from being truly alone.
He felt somehow diminished, almost as though he had lost a limb, though even that would not have ailed him as much as his current predicament.
He felt like a wraith, awaiting his final journey to the halls of the dead, there to find succour amongst his brothers, his forebears, his primarch, to bathe in the light of his Emperor.
For now though, he must continue to fight alone.
He had reached the summit of the cairn when he spotted the cloud of dust arriving upon the horizon.
They come then, he thought, they come to accompany me on the journey to the halls of death.
He gripped his bolter lifting it free from the dirt.
He raised it before him, then whispering to its spirit, cocked it.
“Death to the xenos, purge the un-human.”
The two figures stepped forth from the rift, stepping forward as a second group emerged in their wake, before moving forward to secure the area, their orange armour glinting in the waning sunlight. Wordless gestures passed between them, making their actions seem almost perfectly synchronised.
The taller of the first two walked away from the group, coming to a halt before the mound of bodies piled before them.
The figure, female by her form, stooped to the ground to touch the earth.
The second figure moved to stand beside her his eyes taking in the countless bodies of the uruk and the armoured mon-keigh warrior perched on top of them.
Helmetless, face locked forever in a grimace of battle; the mon-keigh’s dead eyes stared back at them, the blade that killed him protruding forth from his neck.
The figure turned to look at the still kneeling form of the female.
A thousand complex mind thoughts passed between them, their complexity unfathomable to a human mind, roughly translated to a single question asked by the standing figure.
The first said nothing, for she knew something of the mon-keigh’s spirit.
For she shared their basic understanding, an understanding that made her ashamed of her race’s continuing flight from that which pursued them, the understanding that for those who would stand against the great enemy, there could be no respite, no quarter.
The only option was to fight, to spit in the eye of the fell gods, cursing them with the very last breath.
The others of her kind did not understand this.
Even this warrior before her, his spirit forever lost upon the path of war, had little belief in sacrificing his life for a lost cause. Even though he understood the nobility of such an act, he saw little in its true meaning.
She turned away from him, a single tear forming to drop down her flawless cheek.
No, he would not understand.
Finally, still saying nothing she turned away and headed back to the rift.
The warrior watched her depart then turned to the warriors around him.
Bel’Shias found the end of his path here, retrieve his soul stone from this mound of death.
Then burn it. Leave no traces behind.
With that he followed the other, leaving the warriors to follow his command.