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post #1 of 19 (permalink) Old 05-22-10, 09:51 AM Thread Starter
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Default Last Testament (Vandemarr III)

Vandemarr number three here; again, a standalone. If you like trench warfare with a side-order of mystery, read on! As always, comments/criticisms welcomed and encouraged.


Concussed and plagued by memory loss, lauded hero of the Imperium Commissar Albrecht Vandemarr awakes to find himself in a pitch black chamber alongside his presumed-dead second in command, Captain Karl August.

Challenged by their captors, both men struggle to determine, through accounts of their separate experiences on the Chaos-held forge world of Carthage, how such a sequence of events has come to pass. However, it is soon evident that there is a lot more at stake than they originally anticipated, And when the chamber begins to slowly fill with water, it quickly becomes a race against time to decipher the mystery, before it costs them, and a great number of Imperial citizens, their lives.



‘Only the awkward question; only the foolish ask twice.’

- Imperial idiom

Unknown location
982 M41


For the second time that day, Captain Karl August found himself at the wrong end of a thorough kicking.

Booted feet landed well-aimed swings at his ribs, stomach and back, and true to form, he adopted a foetal position. Bruises were quick to well up under the onslaught, like blooming flowers, and old, filthy impact lacerations reopened, oozing blood like weeping sores. Above him, the grunting and gasping of at least three men sounded through the pitch black, echoing off the concrete walls that he had thus far seen only once – a glimpse when he was first thrown in.

‘Hai! Gasta ap kesh!’ one of the men snarled. The kicking abruptly stopped, though not so abruptly as to deprive him of one last punt in the bollocks. He cupped his wounded genitals – already dismayingly swollen from a prior beating – and gasped for air whilst a familiar feeling of pain and sickness permeated his guts.

After a few minutes of rolling back and forth on the spot, and catching his breath, he began to wonder why the beating had been over so quickly. By his reckoning they usually lasted a good twenty minutes, although it was difficult to tell anymore. Since being locked in the pitch darkness he no longer possessed any intelligent time-estimating ability. Only meals gave him any half decent idea, though they were intermittent and so derisory even in his starved state he often couldn’t bring himself to stomach them.

‘Golcak am kardir! Ba im dekan!’ the invisible man continued.

Grubby hands grabbed his smock – a threadbare rag smothered in blood and sweat – and dragged him by it further into the cell. He snatched at their forearms and intermittently took the weight off the smock before they tore it off him, and then felt the cold concrete wall slam into the side of his face. The smock, along with his torn trousers, were the only clothes he had left – and the chamber was very, very cold. He’d fought tooth and nail to keep just those scraps.

‘Hai! Gan ab sac ten!’

He adopted the foetal position once again, grimly concluding that this exercise was simply an intermission before they began kicking him half to death again; but to his relief he heard them moving back out the cell. Their footsteps and voices echoed in such a way as to give him a clue of how big the chamber was, since before then he had never moved from the spot for fear of what he might find in the extremities. But then the door opened anyway, searing his pupils with light so completely that he thought he had been permanently blinded.

‘Garla! Im shab het, heh?’

There was laughter, followed by the sound of something heavy thumping into the floor in the middle of the chamber. The heavy metal door slammed shut once again, plunging the room into pitch blackness and allowing August to open his eyes.

For a while, he dared not move, fearful of what the men had put in the room with him. It could have been anything, ranging from some kind of daemonic beast to a fellow captive. Clenching his fists, he tried to control his breathing so that it didn’t echo off the concrete walls, and readied himself for an imminent attack. If he was about to die, he would go out fighting.

‘August,’ came a familiar, though quiet and controlled voice, ‘it’s me.’

His heart felt as though it would punch straight through his sternum as an exalted shot of adrenaline fired through his chest.

‘Vandemarr?’ he breathed hopefully, then fell to coughing violently. The unknown figure waited patiently until it had stopped echoing around the chamber before he began again.

‘Yeah,’ Vandemarr replied grimly, ‘do you want to tell me what the hell’s going on?’

August scrambled to his hands and knees and shuffled towards the Commissar as quickly as he dared. Who knew what pits and traps lay in the darkness?

‘Where are you?’ he hissed, after his initial search earned him only more concrete. Blood was crashing around his ears, and he was so excited that the adrenaline was making him feel sick and shaky.

‘I’m here – ah!’ Vandemarr replied, gasping as he probed a bloody head wound. A few more shuffles and seconds later and he found himself grabbed into a rough bear hug by a stinking man.

‘Emperor man, how long have you been in here?’ he asked, returning a cursory embrace whilst invisibly and silently gagging. August let him go, and then sat back, gasping in pain as various injuries flared up with the action.

‘I don’t know,’ he replied, still ecstatic to see the Commissar. ‘I don’t know. Emperor I don’t know.’

His voice was choked and it was clear he was crying, though whether in joy or desperation Vandemarr didn’t know. He could already sense August had come close to a breakdown.

‘Is it always this dark?’ he pressed, trying to keep him talking.

‘Yeah,’ August replied, sniffing. ‘How did you know it was me?’


‘When you came in?’

‘I saw you, when they opened the door. Next to one of those big concrete pipes.’

August stopped crying and looked up.


‘I saw you,’ Vandemarr replied insistently, poking at the head wound once more. He looked as his fingers, centimetres from his face, but still couldn’t seem them in the blackness.

‘No,’ August said in an entirely worrying manner. ‘What did you see me next to?’

‘A big…concrete pipe,’ Vandemarr said slowly, unsure if he’d grasped the implications of it. The last thing he was concerned about was the layout of the cell he was in. A thousand questions were whirling round his head, and he wanted answers, quickly. How did he get here? Where was here? How long had he been unconscious for?

‘Forget the pipe,’ he said, ‘August, how did you get here?’

‘I don’t know,’ the agitated and distracted Captain replied, clearly some distance away now. His footsteps echoed around the chamber, having clearly thrown caution to the wind.

‘What are you doing?’ Vandemarr asked. His head was still swimming from concussion and the wound to his scalp was throbbing painfully.

There was a short silence whilst the hurried footsteps continued.

‘Vandemarr,’ August said, closer again. The Commissar jumped.

‘I’m he-’ he started, before the Captain tripped over him. He cried out in pain as he landed.

‘Throne Karl, what’s going on?’ Vandemarr murmured, moving towards August. Suddenly he found himself grasped by both shoulders.

‘I don’t know how long I’ve been here,’ August whispered feverishly. ‘The last thing I remember was an enemy assault on the trenches on Carthage. There was an explosion. Next thing I know, I end up here.’

‘Alright, calm down,’ Vandemarr distantly, frustrated that he couldn’t think clearly. ‘I need you to calm down and tell me what else you know.’

‘Nothing,’ August continued, though still seemingly distracted. ‘I don’t know. I think we might be in the enemy camp. I don’t know. They talk in a strange language, I can’t understand it.’

‘Archenemy, yes?’

‘Y-yes, I think so,’ August replied.

‘Why were you checking the chamber just then?’

‘Albrecht,’ the Captain said, moving closer, ‘there are four pipes in this room, big ones.’

‘I’m not really concerned with the pipes at the moment, Karl, I want to know how we got here and where this is,’ Vandemarr said irritably, trying desperately to remember. ‘I think…I think someone in the company betrayed me.’


‘Hoyle – Lieutenant Hoyle?’

‘Wait wait wait, start from the beginning,’ August said, confused.

‘No,’ Vandemarr said, trying to shake off his concussion. ‘You start. I can’t think at the moment.’

And then the pipes began filling the room with water.

Stone Temple Library - Archive of my Vandemarr fiction.

‘Do you think they know we’re watching?’ August asked, focusing his eye back through his lasgun’s telescopic sight. From their vantage point on the sixth storey of one of Gortlémund’s trading hubs, they watched as a bulky Tau sweeper unit cleared the worst of the snow from the cratered roads below with heat blasters. Behind it, a few fire warriors warily eyed the thousands of overlooking windows.
Vandemarr didn’t move. ‘Probably.’
(Fallen City)

Last edited by Zwan; 05-24-10 at 12:19 PM.
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these are really great stories.

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post #3 of 19 (permalink) Old 05-23-10, 06:52 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks mate!

Stone Temple Library - Archive of my Vandemarr fiction.

‘Do you think they know we’re watching?’ August asked, focusing his eye back through his lasgun’s telescopic sight. From their vantage point on the sixth storey of one of Gortlémund’s trading hubs, they watched as a bulky Tau sweeper unit cleared the worst of the snow from the cratered roads below with heat blasters. Behind it, a few fire warriors warily eyed the thousands of overlooking windows.
Vandemarr didn’t move. ‘Probably.’
(Fallen City)
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Chapter 1

“If the road is easy, the destination is worthless.”

~ Saint Sabbat

2 Distrikt, Centre-north line
Ultima Segmentum
192 982 M41

In the cold, half-light of the morning, a tired Captain August, recently-appointed second in command of the 427th Farraxian Dragoons’ 9th company, tasted dirt whilst enemy artillery crashed down into the mud around him. Piercing shrieks, followed by the familiar crack-boom of exploding shells, filled the air alongside plumes of toxic water and shrapnel, cutting down swathes of entrenched men in seconds. Bloodcurdling screams muffled by gas hoods were quick to add to the orchestra of death, followed by the late, drawling whine of Imperial raid sirens, and the quick, dismayingly familiar repeat of ‘INCOMING, BRACE! INCOMING, BRACE!’

He cursed after a series of deafening explosions and a sidelong glance told him the next dugout had been zeroed, sending heavy shockwaves through the ground and eviscerating the men sheltering inside. Those lucky enough to have survived were swiftly suffocated by the subsequent collapse of the flimsy mud and duckboard shack.

‘Throne,’ Lieutenant Auskar muttered next to him, a grim-faced and recently- commissioned officer following the untimely death of Lieutenant Bialy. ‘This is longer than last night’s. They’ll be attacking.’

August nodded into two inches of clammy earth, and fumbled to his left to check his lasrifle was still next to him.

Another shell battered the trench ten metres from the entrance to their own dugout, and whistling shrapnel punched arrow-lines through the mud wall above them. One of the men who had been sitting crouched on the bench was decapitated, and warm carotid blood fountained into the air, pattering down onto their backs like light rain.

‘Dammit I said DOWN!’ August shouted to the trembling Guardsmen, ‘faces in the dirt, Emperor’s teeth!’

Those who had remained sitting – an infuriatingly large number – immediately scrambled off the boards and onto the dugout floor, having evidently been fooled by the sturdy appearance of the walls. How they could have still made that assumption, after three months of twice-daily shelling, August did not know.

‘It’s stopping,’ one of the troopers to his right said after another agonising ten minutes, barely audible into the clunky mechanism of the hood’s rebreather.

‘Wait.’ August snapped irritably.

‘We’re not even on shift for another hour,’ Auskar said, snatching a glance at his chronometer. ‘Boys up front’ll be feeling it.’

‘They’ll be fine,’ August replied. He lifted his head out from the dirt, and hastily wiped the plastic eye pieces of the gas hood. He activated his comlink. ‘Get ready.’

As the last of the enemy shells smashed down amongst the entrenched Guard and the raid sirens died down, the harsh trill of whistles penetrated the sudden and eerie quiet. All down the centre-north line, hundreds more took up the call, rallying men to the front lines to repel another imminent assault.

‘Here we go,’ August breathed as the first las bolts snapped loudly in the morning air. Further north, the thick report of a heavy stubber emplacement could be heard. The enemy was coming in force.

‘On your feet, weapons ready!’ he shouted, pressing himself off the floor. He was already soaked head to toe in mud, and exhausted from sentry duty the night before; but he could hardly consider himself alone in his quandary. All around him, fatigued, freezing men scrambled to their feet, shivering uncontrollably and with no stomach for the coming battle.

August didn’t care. He didn’t have time to care.

‘Let’s go, double time!’ he barked, thumbing off the safety catch on his lasgun and ducking out the low dugout entrance. He checked over his shoulder to see if the platoon was following, and satisfied that it was, turned immediately left towards the centre-north line.

All around him was death and destruction. Greasy black promethium smoke billowed into the ruddy atmosphere above from burning tanks and vehicles dotting the surrounding land. The sky was already so thick with a maelstrom of enemy gas and toxic thunderheads that it was a miracle the sun even filtered through at all. At ground level, a ruined, pocked mudscape stretched as far as the eye could see, in several places stained luminescent yellow where gas clouds had reacted with the groundwater, topping it with a skin of frothy scum.

Ahead of him, in no man’s land, the skeletons of gigantic manufactories jutted into the skyline like the remains of some planet-spanning citadel, the only visible proof of the planet’s status as an Imperial forge world. Now the only purpose it served was to form a deadly latticework of rubble and girders that made an armoured assault – much to the dismay of the Kormandolt 3rd armour division – impossible.

‘Faster!’ he snarled as the platoon lagged. He turned at another bulwark, past a rusty slab of corrugated adamantium, and then onto the arterial access trench towards the front line. It was a grim corridor of wounded and dead – made all the more dismal by the dreary surroundings. The trench network was a tangled quagmire of rotting duckboards, flak boarding, sheets of corrugated adamantium and mould-smothered sandbags, peppered with dugouts and rockcrete bunkers that offered about as much protection from the enemy artillery as a tent. In fact, it was not until one travelled two kilometres to the west, where the Imperial gun pits lay, along with the medical tents, GHQ, and vox and orbital relays, that conditions improved – those based there even privy to such luxuries as running water and functioning latrines.

But here, in this poisonous morass of flesh and armour plagued by vermin, there was no such respite – and wouldn’t be for at least another two weeks. And he was all too conscious of this fact as his slowly rotting feet squelched against the duck boards below, past the ranks of bloodied, limbless, miserable wretches that made up the valiant Imperial defenders of Carthage.

‘Captain!’ shouted a mud-drenched figure twenty metres ahead. It was the Lieutenant of second platoon, Aleksi Kasparkova – only identifiable, like the rest of them, from his name badge printed in fading letters on his flak breastplate. The gas hoods –mandatory for survival – created an unavoidable anonymity.

‘What’s happening?’ August asked, his breath rasping loudly inside the gas hood.

‘Assaulting apparently, in force,’ Aleksi said, falling into step next to him. Ahead, his platoon was making swift progress over the never-ending tide of injured flowing back from the centre-north line.

‘Eyes on?’

‘Not yet, we’ve got a south-westerly that’s blowing promethium fog towards us. We’ll be blind in ten minutes, says dispatch. They’re using it as cover.’

‘Great,’ August muttered. ‘What’s the tally?’

‘Company’s down to two hundred. We lost twenty more this morning. Lieutenant Machek was killed ten minutes ago, with Sergeant Cada. Fifth platoon's down
To ten men.’

‘Merge them with fourth,’ August said, stepping over a dismembered leg. ‘How’s everyone else?’

‘Fine sir. Most of the men were in cover when the artillery started, apart from fifth. Third company took a battering, they were on line patrol. Rumour has it there’s none left. Colonel’s not happy.’

‘I’m not surprised.’

Both men ducked as the whoosh of a tube-launched rocket tore overhead and slammed into an embankment thirty metres behind, showering the nearest batch of wounded with mud. Above, the snap and flash of hard rounds and las bolts hissed through the sky. August saw they had only a few hundred metres to go before the last twists of the trench took them to the centre north – currently a sandbagged horizon blocking both men’s view of the ground beyond. A reinforced embankment meant that although the elevated line was more vulnerable to shell fire, it made it nigh on impossible for the enemy to launch a successful offensive.

August was not sure which he preferred.

They made quick progress as the corpse train thinned, turned up the sloping wooden shelves to their left and past coils of rusty barbed wire, until they reached the centre north line – the five kilometre frontline trench of Two Distrikt. It was wide, well-drained, supported by flak-boarding and adamantium buttresses and was grounded with a lattice of duck boards and corrugated iron. Every hundred metres there was a dugout and observation point, and at every fifty was a fortified emplacement, containing a heavy stubber or autocannon. Chunks of earth had been dug away to allow for some armour compliment – the proud forms of Kormandolt Leman Russes, Hellhounds and Medusas.

‘Schtan,’ he muttered again as he took in the kilometres of no man’s land. The huge manufactories were being slowly swallowed by a haze of thick black promethium fog – a frequent blight from the burning refineries north east of their position, away in Seventeen Distrikt. The enemy often used it as cover for an attack, though the wind had never been in their favour to do likewise.

‘See?’ Aleksi said, indicating the constant hail of tracer, las bolts and rockets emitting from the fog. The Imperial lines were firing only intermittently, and August soon realised that the firing he had heard earlier was the enemy. They would wait until the enemy was drawn closer. There was only so much ammunition to go around, and no-one was about to waste it on firing at ghosts.

‘Has anyone called this in?’ August asked, stepping off the firing shelf and back onto the duck boards. Aleksi shrugged. ‘Hm.’ August opened a new channel on his comlink. ‘Korbel, let’s see if we can get some artillery,’ he said to his vox officer.

‘Aye sir,’ came the fuzzy reply, ‘it’s already been called in. Dispatch says they’re not firing without line of sight.’

‘Ask them again. Tell them we have line of sight. 300-316-070. Tell them I confirmed it.’

‘Aye sir. They’re not going to believe you.’

‘Then we’ve got nothing to lose, have we?’ August said, and terminated the link.

‘Sir, what are your orders?’ came a voice from behind him. He turned to see first platoon assembled in a muddy, ragged group, lasguns ready.

‘Spread out,’ August said, motioning north. ‘Bayonets. Ten minutes, heavy assault.’

They did so, moving away from him whilst sliding their rusty bayonets into place. He turned back to Aleksi.

‘How many space cells have you got?’

‘Two, maybe three.’

‘This is going to be interesting.’

Ahead of them, the first rolling booms of Imperial artillery detonated in no man’s land.

* * *

Ten minutes later, and the promethium fog was on them. What little sun had remained was blotted out by the thick billows of black smoke, reducing effective visibility to twenty metres. The artillery barrage had stopped long before, and now an eerie silence hung in the air, stifling and unwelcome, penetrated only by distant gunfire.

Spread out in both directions, crude promethium-blackened Guardsmen lined the firing shelf, constantly wiping the lenses of their gas hoods and muttering various prayers. The droplets in the fog, though not dense or oxygenated enough to set the whole cloud alight, quickly settled, transforming mud-soaked men into oil-slicked shadows, barely visible against the hazy backdrop.

‘They’d be mad to attack in this,’ Aleksi whispered.

August grunted, remembering the few occasions when they had massacred droves of promethium-soaked cultists bogged down on the approach. ‘Wouldn’t be the first time.’

Ahead, the outward facing slope of the centre north line – a cratered, scarred mire – was fast turning from a greyish brown to a slippery, greasy black. They would have to burn it off when the threat passed, and hose out the base of the trench. Thankfully, it had outflows down the embankment.

‘They’re not coming,’ Aleksi whispered again.

‘Wait until the fog has cleared,’ August snapped, not taking his eyes off the approach. Every part of him was soaked in something – mud or oil. He was freezing, hungry, on line duty all day, and his feet were turning numb with trench foot. Soon they would start rotting, and then turn gangrenous, and then require amputation. The thought soured him beyond measure.

They all flinched as the roaring of Imperial Marauder bombers thundered overhead, low enough to see through the fog, in tight V formation. A second formation followed, and then a third. The morning bombing runs. A few minutes later, the sound of distant explosions echoed from the rubble of the manufactories in no man’s land.

‘You’re right,’ August conceded. ‘They’re not coming.’

They waited another forty minutes for the fog to clear, then started on breakfast.

Stone Temple Library - Archive of my Vandemarr fiction.

‘Do you think they know we’re watching?’ August asked, focusing his eye back through his lasgun’s telescopic sight. From their vantage point on the sixth storey of one of Gortlémund’s trading hubs, they watched as a bulky Tau sweeper unit cleared the worst of the snow from the cratered roads below with heat blasters. Behind it, a few fire warriors warily eyed the thousands of overlooking windows.
Vandemarr didn’t move. ‘Probably.’
(Fallen City)
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Chapter 2

‘Know thine enemy. You are known to him already.’

- Sermon Primaris, the Ordo Xenos

Unknown location
982 M41

~A Voice in the Dark ~

‘Great. This is just great,’ Vandemarr said as the water began pooling about their feet. He was going to be drowned with a headache on what was fast becoming the worst day of his life.

‘What the hell are we supposed to do now?’ August asked from next to him. He’d calmed down considerably since Vandemarr had first arrived, though not so much so as to assure the Commissar he wouldn’t snap with the slightest provocation. Unfortunately for both of them, Vandemarr had neither the time nor the inclination for subtlety.

‘Shut up,’ he muttered, trying to think. His head felt like it was being slowly compressed in a vice, and thinking was like swimming through treacle; horribly difficult.

‘August,’ he said slowly, his brow screwing up in concentration, ‘go to the nearest pipe, stand on it, and tell me if you can touch the ceiling.’


Vandemarr sighed.

‘I want you to see how high the wall is,’ he said through gritted teeth, ‘so just stand on the damn pipe!’

‘Emperor, alright,’ August said, splashing off indignantly, ‘there’s no need to be a complete arsehole about it.’

Vandemarr fell onto his back, feeling the rising water soak into his fatigues, and groaned, already regretting his sharp tone. But then, the faster they took stock of the situation, the faster they could decipher just what the hell was going on. Some comfort, he supposed, before they were drowned.

‘Well?’ he asked after listening to August struggle onto the pipe. He probed his head wound further, then began checking the rest of his body for further injury.

‘Just,’ August shouted back above the roar of the torrent, splashing back down onto the floor.

‘How high’s the pipe off the ground?’ Vandemarr pressed.

‘It’s about…a metre and a half. The pipe’s a metre wide, I’d guess.’

‘So the wall’s what, four metres high?’


‘Alright,’ Vandemarr said, massaging his temples. ‘Find out the length of the far wall.’


‘Use your imagination.’

He waited another five minutes, again trying desperately to think how he’d ended up in the chamber; but his train of thought was broken when August called out from the far corner of the room.

‘Ten metres.’

‘Now do the same for the next wall,’ Vandemarr said, frustrated that August hadn’t yet caught on to what he was trying to do, yet too annoyed to explain it without being asked.

‘About seven.’

He did a quick mental calculation.

‘Two hundred and eighty,’ he said. ‘Metres squared. That’s how big the room is.’

August made his way back to the centre of the chamber.

‘Well so what?’ he asked, his voice closer. He found Vandemarr and sat down again, out of breath.

‘Well, now we can work out how long we’ve got left to live,’ Vandemarr said, mockingly cheerful.

‘You have three hours left to live,’ came a new voice from above them.

There was an interminable silence.

‘Tell me you just heard that,’ August whispered.

‘I heard it,’ Vandemarr replied, standing. ‘Who the hell are you?’ he snarled upwards, ‘and why have you brought us here?’

‘There are fifteen hundred litres of water entering this chamber every minute,’ the voice continued. It was distorted and gravelly, though whether a product of Chaos or simply some voice-altering augmetic, Vandemarr didn’t know.

‘You are not in any position to be making demands, Company-Commissar Vandemarr.’

‘Where are we?’ August called out, his voice threatening the complete breakdown that had thus far evaded him.

‘It’s not yet important who I am, or what I am. What is important is that you do exactly as I say, when I say it. If you want to live.’

‘We’re not doing anything,’ Vandemarr growled half-heartedly, though in truth he was uneasy, and unwilling to drown simply for the sake of pride.

‘Yes, Commissar, you are,’ the voice sniggered, quickly seeing through his audacious façade. ‘The first thing you must do is guess the date. There are many ways you can do this. I will give you all the time you need, but I warn you the second task is a much longer one and will require more of your very limited time. That will be all for now.’

The voice cut out.

‘Guess the date?’ August said, on the verge of insanity.

‘Get a hold on yourself man,’ Vandemarr snapped. ‘I don’t know why he wants us to find out the date.’

‘Do you think he’s some kind of Chaos Lord?’ he pressed, in an almost comically spookily.

Vandemarr pulled a sarcastic face, lost in the blackness.

‘I think a Chaos Lord has better things to do with his time than torment the two of us,’ he said.

‘Then who is it?’

Vandemarr exploded.

‘Emperor wept, I haven’t a clue have I?’ he shouted.

He sat back down again, audibly calming himself. The pitch darkness was already getting to him, gnawing at his sanity and patience.

‘What was the last date you can remember?’ he asked, as if nothing had happened. One of the many skills he’d acquired as a Commissar.

‘I don’t know,’ August replied, only a little gloomily. ‘When did we make planetfall? On Carthage?’

‘The…hundred and fifth,’ Vandemarr said, almost pained by the thought process.

‘And we were there for how long?’

‘We assaulted Coradion on...two-two-five.’

‘You assaulted the capital?’ August suddenly asked, and in the same instant Vandemarr realised that getting the somewhat temperamental Captain to remember Carthage was the key to reinstating his sanity.

‘Yeah…actually now I think about it, that was only a couple of days after you were pronounced KIA.’

‘You mean…everyone thought I was dead?’

‘Well who wouldn’t after that artillery? Auskar – was that his name? Lieutenant Auskar?’


‘He was given brevet command of ninth company.’

The water was already lapping at their ankles, frothy and stinking.

‘So what was the last thing you remember? Clearly?’ August pressed, all too aware of the rising water level.

Vandemarr racked his brain, searching for his most lucid memory.

‘I was back on the ship,’ he said slowly. ‘It was around the 98th…’

Stone Temple Library - Archive of my Vandemarr fiction.

‘Do you think they know we’re watching?’ August asked, focusing his eye back through his lasgun’s telescopic sight. From their vantage point on the sixth storey of one of Gortlémund’s trading hubs, they watched as a bulky Tau sweeper unit cleared the worst of the snow from the cratered roads below with heat blasters. Behind it, a few fire warriors warily eyed the thousands of overlooking windows.
Vandemarr didn’t move. ‘Probably.’
(Fallen City)
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Chapter 3

‘We are at war with forces too terrible to comprehend. We cannot afford mercy for any of its victims too weak to take the morally correct course. Mercy destroys us, it weakens us and our saps our resolve. Put aside all such thoughts they are not worthy of Inqusitors in the service of our Emperor. Praise his name for in our resolve we only reflect his purpose of will.’

- Book of Exorcisms, The verses of Inquisitor Enoch

INS Blue Bolt
Ultima Segmentum
98 982 M41

~ A Quiet Read ~

Vandemarr awoke with a start, a single sheet of paper stuck to his cheek. He clawed it off irritably – though not so irritably to tear the classified deployment docket – and then strained to hear.

There was a knock at the door – louder, he guessed, than the first had been – and then a muffled ‘Commissar?’

‘Enter,’ he said, clasping and then unclasping his hands on the desk in front of him. The metal door creaked open on its un-oiled hinges, brown from rust, and in stepped a man Vandemarr recognised as Colonel Hasek – the commanding officer of the 427th Farraxian Dragoons. A good man, as far as he’d heard.

‘I’m not disturbing anything, am I?’ he asked. He was late middle age, maybe ten years older than Vandemarr, with a clean-shaven, scarred face and a mop of greying brown hair. He was well built, tall, though not in any way imposing except when he wanted to be. Vandemarr had only seen him once from a distance, at the regimental dinner twenty days ago; an occasion specifically to welcome the influx of new Guardsmen bulking out the ranks.

‘No sir, not at all,’ Vandemarr said, and hastily stood up. ‘Please, have a seat.’

The room was small; a desk, a bunk and a locker making up the vast majority of furnishings. All that remained were Vandemarr’s personal effects, and those were few. Some picts of his parents and himself as a boy, hidden away on a dataslate; a few battered old medals he’d kept over the years from past engagements; a worn, inscribed tankard and a sword, presented to him as a gift on the departure from his first line regiment. Nothing from his time on Gortlémund or the Black Manticore.

‘I just thought I’d come and meet you, face to face,’ Hasek said as he sat down. It was only then Vandemarr realised the man had an augmetic leg. ‘A Commissar as a CO is…something of a rarity.’

For the first time that day Vandemarr became horribly aware of his appearance. His undercoat was unbuttoned revealing a grey smock below, his hair was uncombed and his face was covered in a dishevelled layer of stubble. His boots, unpolished, lay in an untidy pile next to his bunk, and his socks were both holed at the toe.

‘A drink, sir?’ he asked, trying to take the focus off his shabby appearance.

‘Please,’ Hasek replied. Vandemarr grabbed the two tumblers – one dirty from previous use – at the side of the desk, along with a leather-bound flask of ethanec, and poured two measures. He offered Hasek the clean one, who took a sip.

‘Hm,’ he said, smelling the amber liquid. ‘Spicier than I’m used to. But good. Where’s it from?’

‘Gortlémund, sir,’ Vandemarr replied.

‘Ah okay,’ Hasek said. ‘I’ve been once or twice. Kalen Primo, the capital?’

‘I know it,’ Vandemarr said.

‘I seem to recall there being some kind of upset there earlier this year, now I think about it,’ Hasek said, casting his eyes upwards as if searching his brain. ‘A series of trials, or raids maybe?’ He looked back to Vandemarr, raising his eyebrows. ‘Lodges of Guardsmen pledging allegiance to the Tau? Something like that. Rumours, probably.’

‘Trials, sir, yes,’ Vandemarr said, surprised at the notoriety it had achieved. ‘Courts martial. I was on the prosecution counsel for one of them, with Lieutenant Codey. 15th Vargonroth?’

‘Oh really?’ Hasek said, smiling briefly. ‘I don’t know Vargonroth. Did you win?’

‘In a way,’ Vandemarr replied, remembering all too well the look on his junior’s face as he blew his brains out the back of his skull.

The Colonel nodded, evidently satisfied. ‘So you’ve presumably fought line combat before? I mean, Inquisitor MkCormack gave us some details but I haven’t had much time to review them. I thought I’d come and get it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.’

Vandemarr could tell the Colonel was already wary of him – worried that he might screw up and get an entire company killed.

‘It was a request, on my part, sir, to be given a company of men as a gift,’ Vandemarr explained. ‘The Inquisitor was good enough to organise it for me. The Farraxian Dragoons seemed an ideal choice. They had taken casualties, and needed bolstering. They were heading for Carthage to combat the Archenemy, and I have, to answer your question, had extensive experience on the front lines. In fact I spent the first twenty-two years of my career in combat, sir.’

‘A gift, you say?’ Hasek said, trying nonchalantly to sip the ethanec.

‘Yes sir,’ Vandemarr continued. ‘Myself and Captain August, and a few others, were able to frustrate a Tyranid insurrection on board the Black Manticore. It was heading for Terra, sir.’

‘Good lord,’ Hasek started, Vandemarr guessed involuntarily, for he soon recomposed himself. ‘No mean feat, I take it?’

‘Indeed.’ Vandemarr said. He could forgive the Colonel for prying, but he was irritated that the man so blatantly doubted his abilities. ‘I am a soldier first, and a Commissar second, sir,’ he said, hoping to ease Hasek’s suspicions. ‘I know combat, and I know men.’

Hasek waved a finger at him, draining the last of the ethanec.

‘You Commissars always were straight talkers,’ he said, trying to grin off his embarrassment. His face soon faded to an emotionless blank. ‘Forgive me. The last thing I wanted to do was offend. You must understand that my men come first. So many Commissars are…sticklers for glory,’ he was choosing his words carefully. ‘I have no doubts that they perform an invaluable service for frontline morale, but to see one in command is…

‘Something of a rarity.’ Vandemarr concluded for him, repeating the Colonel’s earlier assertion.

‘Certainly in this regiment,’ Hasek said darkly.

Vandemarr nodded, pretending he’d mistaken the Colonel’s tone.

‘Of course, there is Captain August as well, formerly of the…141st Hussars. He’s your second in command, yes?’ Hasek said, quickly moving on.

‘Yes sir,’ Vandemarr said.

‘A good man? You say you’ve worked with him before?’

‘One of the best,’ Vandemarr said. ‘I met him on Illythia – an agri world in the western Mordant Zone –’

‘I know it,’ Hasek interjected testily.

Vandemarr looked at him in a second of uncomfortable silence, and then continued.

‘He was my guide whilst I was conducting my investigations. As I said, he accompanied me to the Manticore.’

‘Where you destroyed this…Tyranid insurrection?’ Hasek finished for him.


The Colonel regarded him with freshly-narrowed eyes.

‘Quite an illustrious career you’ve had,’ he said, with barely concealed cynicism. There was clearly some contempt gnawing inside him. Or was it resentment?

‘Indeed,’ Vandemarr said again, unwilling to be in the presence of this man any longer. ‘Will that be all?’

Hasek slammed the tumbler down onto the desk and leant forward.

‘Enough with these pleasantries,’ he hissed venomously. ‘I don’t like you, Commissar. I don’t like frag-handed pissants accepting companies of my men as ‘gifts’. I don’t give a crap if you’ve got the sponsorship of some Inquisitor, if you so much as – ’

‘That’s enough!’ Vandemarr said, launching to his feet and knocking over both tumblers and the flask. ‘I am an Imperial Commissar, Colonel! If you value your command and your life, I suggest we end this meeting here, before someone says something they’re going to regret.’

There was a deadly silence whilst both men eyed each other, punctuated only by the deep vibrations of the ship’s engines and the tricking of ethanec as it hit the floor below the desk.

‘Hm,’ Hasek snorted, standing up. ‘I think we understand one another, Commissar.’

He let himself out.

* * *

Clean-shaven, washed and dressed, Vandemarr knocked back another measure of ethanec, then made his way from his quarters towards the ship’s library. It was not the quiet, calming walk he sought – everywhere various people bustled through the cramped passageways. There were three Farraxian regiments on board, the Kareshian Dragoons and Light Auxiliary, and the Kormandolt 3rd armour division – many replete in full war gear and gas hoods, fresh from the training decks. All were moving back to the barracks levels or the various municipal mess halls, for food, five card las and contraband.

Neither hungry nor in the mood to bond with his new company – the 9th, Vandemarr moved through the hordes of unruly Guardsmen and ship hands, using the schematics bolted onto the walls for guidance. It took him fifteen minutes to reach the library, through the most populous parts of the ship. The corridor leading to it was wide, maybe ten metres, and ran through the exact centre of the Blue Bolt. Had he wanted to continue through the library, he would eventually reach the chapel, and beyond that the stairs leading to the officer’s quarters, embarkation level, and the bridge.

But he didn’t. A few hours of solitude and quiet reading would calm his nerves.

He continued down the corridor, pushing open the two large wooden doors that constituted the library’s entrance at the end, and was greeted by a vast chamber, stretching, he guessed, all the way up to the embarkation deck a hundred metres above. All around, thousands of books and dataslates were ranked in colossal cases, each one lined by a score of ladders and servitors. Ahead was a set of stairs leading to a gallery, which contained glass cases and statues exhibiting trophies of war and artefacts millennia old, and high above, a myriad of flags were draped, each one representing an Imperial Guard regiment billeted on board.

‘Whoa,’ Vandemarr gasped. Such a wealth of knowledge – uncountable tomes of history, accounts of great victories and crushing defeats, and the minds of some of the most brilliant men and women in the Imperium poured onto paper and slate. One couldn’t hope to get through it all in a hundred lifetimes.

After half an hour of searching, he’d found an appropriate volume, and settled down at a wooden desk slowly succumbing to centuries of dry rot. But mere minutes after he’d sat, a slow creaking issued from the other side of the bookcase, rhythmic like footsteps, and incredibly annoying.

‘Hello?’ he called out slowly, his voice startlingly loud against the silence of the library. Even the ever-present rumbling of the engines was absent.

The creaking abruptly stopped. Instantly, Vandemarr brought a hand to his side and slowly unbuttoned the holster there, leather-gloved fingers tracing the grip of his compact autopistol.

‘My name is Commissar Albrecht Vandemarr,’ he said, lifting the pistol from its holster and bringing it into a two-handed grip. ‘If you’re trying to surprise me, you’d better have a very good reason.’

He trained it on the corner of the bookshelf, and slowly advanced, feeling his pulse rate increase.

‘Come out, slowly, and you will not come to harm,’ he lied.

Seconds later, the pistol was knocked from his grip, and strong, gloved hands grabbed him from behind. Two more men appeared from round the corner – gas-masked, wearing the dull brown uniform of the Kormandolt 3rd division, and crashed into him, pinning both of his arms to the desk.

‘Damn you men!’ Vandemarr roared, lashing out with his feet. He hit one of his attackers in the groin, and then again in the face as he fell to the floor, feeling the rebreather smash into the man’s nose and mouth through the cap of his boot. And then a knife was produced, and pressed against his neck.

‘I know who you are, Albrecht Vandemarr,’ one of the men above him snarled, his voice muffled and unrecognisable from the gas hood. ‘I know all about your little excursions.’

‘Let me go now,’ Vandemarr growled, ‘and you may die quickly.’

‘Shut up,’ the talker said, though the man next to him briefly hesitated with the coercion in the Commissar’s trained voice. Vandemarr took the opportunity, freeing his right hand and punching away the knife in one quick movement. Then, throwing off the punches of the talker, he struggled up from the desk and brought his foot down on the man’s instep. The knife wielder, still clutching his forearm where the Commissar had fractured it, was punched in the stomach for good measure.

‘Kill him!’ the talker shouted frantically as Vandemarr dove to recover the pistol from the base of the bookcase, and the knife wielder moved to grab the blade; but Vandemarr was quicker, and turning on his heel, fired a healthy burst into the man’s torso. His eyes widened behind the lenses of the gas hood, and he let out a strangled cry as the bullets tore into him, spraying the surrounding books with blood.

As he collapsed, Vandemarr rounded on the talker; but he had already gone.

‘Schtan,’ Vandemarr muttered, jogging to the central aisle of the library. There was no sign of him anywhere, and a twenty minute search of the area only confirmed this.

Whoever he was, he had effectively vanished.

Stone Temple Library - Archive of my Vandemarr fiction.

‘Do you think they know we’re watching?’ August asked, focusing his eye back through his lasgun’s telescopic sight. From their vantage point on the sixth storey of one of Gortlémund’s trading hubs, they watched as a bulky Tau sweeper unit cleared the worst of the snow from the cratered roads below with heat blasters. Behind it, a few fire warriors warily eyed the thousands of overlooking windows.
Vandemarr didn’t move. ‘Probably.’
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Chapter 4

‘Knowledge is power; hide it well.’

- Imperial Idiom

Unknown location
982 M41

~The Date~

‘You were attacked?’ August asked, shouting above the roaring water. ‘By Hasek’s men?’

Vandemarr shook his head, more in frustration than denial as his thoughts dissolved.

‘I don’t know,’ he replied, ‘maybe.’

They were sitting in thirty centimetres of water, still in pitch blackness. Their open wounds stung with the cold, frothy fluid – August’s in particular, whose body was covered in scratches and open cuts.

‘I think we might be in a sewage outfall,’ Vandemarr said as some of the vile fluid touched his lips. He spat at retched violently, wiping his mouth on the only dry part of his smock.

August nodded invisibly.

‘What are we going to do about the date?’ he asked worriedly. ‘How do we work it out?’

Vandemarr once again massaged his temples, as if it would coax coherent thoughts from his brain. It didn’t.

‘I don’t know,’ he muttered. ‘If we assaulted Coradion on two-two-five, then it has to be after that. But we could be anywhere.’

‘You think we’re still on Carthage?’ August asked, more a statement than a question, as if seeking confirmation rather than a potentially horrifying answer.

‘Yeah,’ Vandemarr said, offhand. ‘I just…I can’t think how long I’ve been unconscious for.’

There was a silence, broken only by the gushing of water, as both men struggled to think.

‘He said there would be a way to tell,’ Vandemarr hissed, frustrated. ‘There has to be something we can gauge it by! If you went missing the day before the assault on Coradion that means that you’ve been here since two-two-four!’

‘No,’ August said, ‘I was knocked unconscious before they put me in here. They might have kept me like that for weeks.’

‘How do you know? In this darkness it wouldn’t take long to lose track of time! A day even! In could be two-two-six for all we know!’

‘I haven’t been in here for two days!’ August snarled, spittle flying from his mouth. ‘Have you any idea what I’ve been through? Beatings! Meals a dog would turn its nose up at! More beatings! They pulled off my damn fingernails, Albrecht!’

He lurched forward and grabbed the Commissar, thrusting his fingers into the man’s face.

‘Look at me! Look at me damn you!’ he raged. Vandemarr couldn’t see a thing, and thrashed around in the water trying to find purchase on both the manic Captain and the floor, to stop himself being drowned. After a brief struggle, his hand found August’s hair, and he yanked him off.

August splashed back into the water, sobbing. Vandemarr sat back, breathing heavily from the sudden and unexpected exertion, his head throbbing in agony where more of the sewage water had found its way into the scalp wound.

‘Emperor,’ Vandemarr panted, more stunned than anything else.

‘I’m sorry,’ August was snivelling, his voice choked, ‘I’m so -’

‘Karl,’ Vandemarr cut in, feeling the stringy clump of unwashed hair between his fingers. ‘Your hair. How long is it?’

August abruptly stopped sobbing, and then slowly felt his hair and face.

‘It’s long,’ he breathed. ‘I…I hadn’t even thought about it,’

‘Neither had I,’ Vandemarr growled, instantly angry with himself for not picking up on it earlier. He moved through the water towards August and grabbed his head once more. His hair was noticeably longer, and a fine half-inch of stubble was coating the Captain’s face. Then he felt his own hair and face – both in a similar vein of ragged unkemptness to August’s.

‘When was the last time you shaved?’ Vandemarr asked.

‘The-the morning I was knocked out,’ August said. ‘We had to.’

Vandemarr nodded, remembering the mandatory shaving for every man not on line duty, every morning, to maintain the airtight seal between the skin and the gas masks they wore like second faces.

‘How long would it take you to grow a beard like that?’ he asked.

‘About a month?’ August said, not yet grasping its implications.

‘And I. That would make it two-five-four.’ Vandemarr concluded sourly. ‘It’s going to have been at least two days between when you were captured and when I was. So, what, two-five-six?’

‘I’ve been in here for a month?’ August asked, his voice breaking.

‘I don’t know,’ Vandemarr said. ‘I don’t know how long you were unconscious for before they put you in here. As I said earlier, you might have only been in here for two – that is, for a relatively short time, and unconscious for the rest.’

There was a silence whilst both men checked and re-checked their hair and faces. From a lifetime of service in the Guard, it was the longest it had ever been on both of them.

‘But…if you went missing the day after I did, and you’ve only just been put in here now…’ August continued through his probing, desperately trying to grasp the elusive solution to the mystery, ‘it has to be more than two days! It has to be! It feels like a lifetime!’

Vandemarr sat back in the water, then quickly sat forward again, remembering it was sewage.

‘I don’t know. I can’t explain in,’ he said resignedly. ‘I’m sure we’ll find out from this frag-head what’s going on, eventually.’

He stood up and cupped his hands around his mouth, looking directly upwards.

‘Two-five-six,’ he shouted above the cascading water. ‘That’s the date.’

There was a brief pause.

‘No,’ said the distorted voice, ‘it is not. But you are close. Seeing as you are running out of time, and I am eager for you to complete the second of your three tasks, I shall tell you.’

There was another pause, whilst both August and Vandemarr held their breath.

‘It is the two hundred and sixty-second day of nine-eight-one. Two-six-two. I want you to know this because it should help you decide where you are, which in turn will be of paramount importance in deciding how you arrived in this place. I want you to find out who I am. I want you to find out why I have brought you here. And I want you to do all of this before your time runs out. Then you will be given the third and final task. If you complete it, you will be freed.’

Vandemarr clenched his fists.

‘Damn you to hell!’ he roared to the ceiling.

‘Your time is running out, Commissar Vandemarr. I suggest you get to thinking.’

The voice cut out, and Vandemarr splashed back down into the water, angry. To be played on such a level was infuriating. He’d experienced it once before, at the hands of Inquisitor Brochs during the auxiliary trials. To be manipulated in such a way riled him beyond measure, and the anger was clouding his thoughts.

‘Two-six-two,’ August said distantly, snapping the Commissar’s focus back into the chamber. ‘Thirty eight days since I last saw Carthage.’ He snorted. ‘The hell hole that it was.’

‘Thirty seven,’ Vandemarr said. ‘For me.’

There was a silence, and the name, Lieutenant Hoyle, came to him again. It had been with him this whole time, gnawing away at the back of his mind. There had been something about him, something…odd.

‘Do you remember Lieutenant Hoyle?’ he suddenly asked August.

‘Yeah,’ the Captain replied. ‘He was a strange one wasn’t he? Following you around like that.’

‘Hm,’ Vandemarr said, trying desperately to remember.

‘Why do you think knowing the date is going to help us work out where we are?’ the Captain pressed.

‘Why do you think he wants us to work out who he is?’ Vandemarr replied vaguely, still preoccupied with Hoyle.

There was another silence.

‘You think Hoyle’s the reason you’re here?’ August asked, startling Vandemarr from his thoughts.

‘I do,’ Vandemarr replied grimly. ‘It was on Carthage, around two-two-two…’

Stone Temple Library - Archive of my Vandemarr fiction.

‘Do you think they know we’re watching?’ August asked, focusing his eye back through his lasgun’s telescopic sight. From their vantage point on the sixth storey of one of Gortlémund’s trading hubs, they watched as a bulky Tau sweeper unit cleared the worst of the snow from the cratered roads below with heat blasters. Behind it, a few fire warriors warily eyed the thousands of overlooking windows.
Vandemarr didn’t move. ‘Probably.’
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Chapter 5

“A good soldier obeys without question. A good officer commands without doubt.”

~ Imperial Guard maxim

2 Distrikt, Centre-north line
Ultima Segmentum
222 982 M41

~ Lieutenant Hoyle ~

‘DRIVE THEM BACK!’ Vandemarr roared, driving his sword through the thick sinew of the plaguebearer’s neck. The obese, wretched creature gurgled violently, spewing toxic effluents from its mouth as it writhed and snatched at his, by comparison, slight form. Vandemarr grunted as he yanked his sword free with both hands, and kicked it in the stomach. It burst, and a host of slippery, rotting guts exited, landing on the firing shelf of the centre-north line.

‘Die, damn you!’ Vandemarr snarled, pulling his bolt pistol from its holster and firing three shots into the plaguebearer’s head. It quickly and explosively disintegrated, and the hideous wretch collapsed, rolling back down the embankment.

He stepped back to take stock of the situation – almost impossible to do efficiently in the gas hood– and then instinctively ducked as a trio of Marauder bombers thundered overhead, releasing promethium bombs into the horde of advancing Chaos. Igniting, they streaked the approach with great barriers of flame, coating the advance in promethium and burning hundreds to an agonising death.

And still they came. Thousands of cultists, plaguebearers, mutants and Defilers crashed against all five kilometres of the centre-north line like a tide of fetid water, barely held at bay by the beleaguered Imperial defenders. Nurglings and other Chaos vermin covered the duckboards, worrying at corpses and gnawing on feet, whilst scores of diseased cultists charged and overran weapons emplacements. From the embankment, lethal volleys of las fire and solid shot hissed overhead, pitting the sandbags lining the firing shelf and tearing up chunks of earth from the back wall of the trench.

All around him, hundreds of mud-soaked, gas-hooded Guardsmen, dragged from every available dugout, billet and bunker, fired back.

‘You are soldiers of the Emperor!’ Vandemarr bellowed as more cultists poured over the trench wall. ‘Know no fear! Have no mercy!’

He batted aside a crude iron blade, and eviscerated its wielder.

‘You will hold the line, in His name! He is watching you, now in this hour of darkness! Fear not! He will see you through! I will see you through! Courage, men of Farrax! Courage for the Emperor!’

He stabbed his sword into the ground and lifted his lasgun, and fired a healthy burst on full auto into a group of plaguebearers lumbering up the embankment. Then he let it fall back onto its strap and lifted his sword.

‘Get up!’ he snarled at a cowering Farraxian next to him, then turned as another cultist braved the Imperial fire and dropped into the trench. Vandemarr ducked past a clumsy bayonet swing, then brought his sword up into the attacker’s groin.

‘Fear the Emperor’s wrath, scum!’ he spat, rage drunk, and heaved his sword upwards. Blackened intestines splattered onto the duckboards, and an un-filterable stink erupted from the horrendous wound. The cultist collapsed into the blood-soaked trench.

‘Get up!’ Vandemarr snarled as he turned back to see the weeping Farraxian still crouched. He was beginning to draw the attention of his comrades.

‘Get up and fight!’ Vandemarr shouted again, lashing out with a boot. ‘Damn you man! Fight!’

He pulled his bolt pistol from its holster and aimed it at his head.

‘INCOMING!’ someone screamed, and the man and a good deal of the surrounding trench explosively disappeared in a ball of flame. Vandemarr was propelled backwards into the next Farraxian, and both fell onto the bloody duckboards.

‘Schtan,’ he grunted, pressing himself up. And then the ever-present Nurglings surrounded him, scrabbling over his armour and fatigues. Horribly aware of the taint and disease they each carried, he launched himself off the duckboarding and swatted them off rabidly, stamping on their small, bloated forms and crushing them underfoot.

The Farraxian he had landed on was not so fortunate. With a boot stuck in the rut between the duckboards and the trench sump, the Chaos vermin were quick to tear into his skin and rummage around in the warm organs inside.

Vandemarr put a bolt through his skull.

‘Sir!’ came a voice in his earpiece, ‘enemy armour moving up the western flank!’

Vandemarr turned in cold horror to see two Defilers spidering up the embankment through the smoke, blasting great chunks out of the centre north with their chest-mounted cannons. They were huge lumbering hulks of iron, draped in flesh, covered in impaled heads and oozing corruption like bloated corpses. Maggots and putrefying vermin slithered and crawled over their contaminated surfaces, writhing through bulging armour plates and feasting on the fleshy tumours swelling at the joints. For once, Vandemarr was thankful for the gas hood.

‘Carver! Get the Kormandolt on those Defilers!’ he shouted to his vox officer.

‘They’ve got no shells left, sir!’ the man replied over the comlink. ‘I’ve already sent a message to dispatch!’

‘Then call in the air!’ Vandemarr shouted back, turning to see the Farraxian next to him suddenly dissolved in a stream of corrosive vomit. He charged forwards and decapitated the plaguebearer, then stumbled as another blast rocked the trench, hurling duckboards, sandbags and sheets of adamantium down the embankment. Swarms of cultists and diseased mutants rushed to fill the breach, cramming into the maw with an insatiable bloodlust.

‘Now, Carver!’ Vandemarr cried. If they did not stem the tide soon, the whole centre-north would be lost.

Seconds later, a deep rumble filled the sky. As the Defilers prepared to unleash another barrage on the trench, a squadron of fleet-arm Thunderbolts tore through the toxic maelstrom of gas clouds above, and in attack formation, strafed the two wretched Chaos machines with salvos of rockets. The Defilers were slammed sideways with the tide of munitions, flayed of armour and limbs under the unrelenting hail of rockets, explosively stripped of rotting viscera and Nurgling symbionts. Craters of earth were torn up around them as the Thunderbolts shot past, a blur of Imperial air power in the bright cerulean livery of the Blue Bolt in orbit above, before the aircraft banked and pulled back up into the maelstrom.

‘Now men!’ Vandemarr roared, exhausted and drenched in mud and blood. ‘Deny them! Now is the time!’

He unleashed a full salvo with his bolt pistol, and tossed it aside when it clacked empty. If they did not retake the advantage now, they would not retake the advantage.

‘Onwards! Drive them back! Death or glory!’

He drew his sword once more, and led the 9th company out of the trench.

* * *

The dugout was a low one, a large pit excavated out the bottom of the trench a kilometre back from the centre north line, built specifically as a gas-free cavity. Lining the walls were opened sacks of caustic soda and ammonium bicarbonate, absorbing any of the gas unfiltered by the fans above, and cages of vermin and canara, a local bird, hung from the ceiling to detect any leaks. It was one of the only gas-free dugouts that hadn’t taken a direct hit from the enemy artillery, and as such it was crowded with mud-encrusted Guardsmen from all three regiments manning the centre north line.

Vandemarr relished in removing his gas hood, breathing in the musty, stale air of Carthage for the firth time that week. Although it reeked of sweat, blood and filth, it was a hundred times better than the close confines of the hood and rebreather – an apparatus one never accustomed to.

He made his way down the wooden shelves and into the base of the dugout – some sixty metres long and decked out with benches, tables and a recaff and fresh water station at the far end. The noise of hundreds of shouting Guardsmen – most gambling or watching vermin fight in small pits – filled the air. It was almost claustrophobic, enclosed by the ranks of Farraxian, Kormandolt and Kareshian Guardsmen, all mask-less, all trying to shout above each other.

Most parted for him as he made his way through the masses, and a pair of Kormandolt, in their distinctive, stiff brown jackets, shuffled over to allow him access to a bench. He sat down, slumping against the rusty adamantium sheet behind him, and then began the task of removing his boots.

‘Commissar, sir?’ came a familiar voice. Vandemarr looked up and saw Lieutenant Hoyle from third platoon standing over him.

And sighed.

Hoyle was a commander’s worst nightmare, the kind of man who meant well but ended up being incredibly annoying. Hoyle had followed Vandemarr like a shadow, offering him everything from his extra rations to shining his boots for the officer’s dinner at GHQ. If Vandemarr led an attack, Hoyle would be there at his side, screaming for all he was worth; whenever Vandemarr was carrying out a punishment, Hoyle would be there, praising his efforts and denouncing the punishee. Vandemarr’s dealings with Hoyle had ranged from bemused tolerance to outright contempt, though he had never found – irritatingly – an excuse to relieve him of the command of third platoon, who he was sure had no respect for the man.

And here he was again, a young man with a crop of damp brown hair and piercing blue eyes, standing in front of him, smiling.

Vandemarr grunted as he managed to free his left boot, and turned his nose up at the smell his swollen, clammy feet exuded. They were white, puckered and mouldy, not unlike a drowned corpse, and about two days from gangrene. The Kormandolt mumbled something about the smell, and Vandemarr rounded on them.

‘Have you men checked your feet today?’ he asked, narrowing his eyes.

‘No, sir,’ they both said uncomfortably.

‘Failure to do so is punishable by summary execution,’ Vandemarr said darkly. ‘I trust you read your Primers before planetfall?’

‘I’ve checked mine, sir,’ Hoyle said hopefully.

‘Thank you Lieutenant,’ Vandemarr replied, not turning away. Both Kormandolt men began hastily unlacing their boots.

‘That’s better,’ he growled, turning back to his own. He pulled out a damp rag from his webbing and began towelling them off, removing the mould and excess moisture.

‘Was there something you wanted, Lieutenant?’ he asked, starting on his right boot. It was encrusted with three inches of mud, and in the small alcove under the heel, a preserved Nurgling eyeball was embedded in the wet, clay-like earth. He flicked it out with his bayonet, and resumed unlacing.

‘No, sir, just…seeing how you were. Can I get you anything?’

‘I’m fine for the moment,’ Vandemarr said grimly, as his second stinking foot was freed from its cold, wet prison.

‘Do you need any socks? I have spare,’ Hoyle continued.

‘I’ve got some,’ Vandemarr said, rubbing the swollen, pallid flesh. ‘You’ll need them more than me.’

There was an uncomfortable pause, in which Vandemarr pretended to be preoccupied with his feet.

‘Sir?’ Hoyle said, slowly.

‘Yes Lieutenant?’

‘That attack you led today…out from the trenches. That was amazing.’

‘All in the service of the Emperor,’ Vandemarr said, gasping slightly as he removed an inch long needle of wood from his heel.

‘You sensed the advantage really well…I’ve never seen such inspired battlefield tactics, sir,’ Hoyle continued, evidently oblivious to how obsequious he sounded.

‘Thank you, Lieutenant,’ Vandemarr said, still not looking up. Satisfied with his feet, he tucked the rag back into his webbing and pulled out a fresh pair of socks. All around him, he noticed Guardsmen doing the same.

‘Just thought I’d say,’ Hoyle finished. ‘Sir.’

‘Duly noted,’ Vandemarr said, sensing the man’s concluding tone. ‘I’ll see you on line duty,’ he said.

‘Yes, sir.’ Hoyle replied, then snapped to attention, pivoted, and marched off.

Vandemarr bunched his old socks together and tucked them into his webbing, then noticed the two Kormandolt men looking at him with quizzically bemused faces.

‘Don’t ask,’ he growled, and began re-lacing his boots.

Stone Temple Library - Archive of my Vandemarr fiction.

‘Do you think they know we’re watching?’ August asked, focusing his eye back through his lasgun’s telescopic sight. From their vantage point on the sixth storey of one of Gortlémund’s trading hubs, they watched as a bulky Tau sweeper unit cleared the worst of the snow from the cratered roads below with heat blasters. Behind it, a few fire warriors warily eyed the thousands of overlooking windows.
Vandemarr didn’t move. ‘Probably.’
(Fallen City)
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Chapter 6

‘Blessed is the mind too small for doubt.’

- Inquisitorial maxim

Unknown location
982 M41

~ Schtan ~

‘He was strange,’ August shouted above the frothy torrent, ‘he followed me around for a bit as well, though nowhere near as much as he did you. Though I can’t understand why you think his weird love was a reason to betray you.’

‘There’s more to it than that!’ Vandemarr snapped, trying desperately to remember. ‘When we assaulted Coradion…there was…’ flashbacks flickered through his head – the explosions, the screams, the sound of his own breath in the rebreather.

‘I can’t think with all this damnable water!’ he snarled, dashing it with his fist. It was up to the top of their chests sitting down, and was starting to make breathing difficult; but it was, perhaps worryingly, warm – certainly warmer than the air above it, and both Vandemarr and August were willing to sacrifice a few more minutes of easy breathing if it meant keeping temperatures at an acceptable level.

Vandemarr sighed as his memory failed him. Without August to constantly prompt him, he doubted he’d have been able to remember anything at all. Perhaps that was the reason why the thing behind the voice had put them in the chamber together.

‘Any more thoughts on why we’re here?’ August asked dejectedly, having long given up on his own theories.

Vandemarr paused, unsure whether to voice his opinions. He had indeed been giving it thought, though August hadn’t exactly had a history of taking bad news well.

‘Yes,’ he said hesitantly. ‘But if you don’t think you can handle it, I’m not going to tell you.’

Throwing all tolerance and diplomacy to the wind, he leant back and awaited August’s response.

‘Alright,’ the Captain said tightly. ‘I’m not insane, Vandemarr. Just shaken.’

Vandemarr smiled. August’s anger had been the most encouraging emotion he’d displayed so far.

‘Good,’ he said, quickly, riding on the Captain’s indignance, ‘because I don’t think we’re on Carthage anymore.’

There was a silence.

‘That’s…not good,’ August said eventually.

‘No,’ Vandemarr conceded. ‘It isn’t.’

He waited for August to talk again.

‘So where do you think we are?’ the Captain asked slowly, annoyed. His voice betrayed no signs of any emotional breakdown – no imminent collapse of sanity, no quiver. Vandemarr silently thanked the Emperor, and took a deep breath.

‘I think we’re on a Chaos-held world,’ he said. ‘I think it explains the month we’ve lost. I think that’s a month’s worth of transit. I also think that if we were still on Carthage, given our huge advantage by the time we assaulted Coradion, we would have been liberated right now. And it also might explain away the difference between how long we’ve both been in here. If we were brought here on two separate ships, one might have been delayed. It explains why we’ve both been missing for roughly the same amount of days but haven’t spent the same time in this cell.’

He finished the monologue, stood up, and inhaled deeply, unable to take the pressure of water on his ribcage anymore. ‘That’s what I think.’

He waded through the water towards the closest wall, and leant against it, waiting for August’s response.

‘Wow,’ the Captain said from the middle of the chamber. ‘That’s…really not good.’

Vandemarr shook his head.

‘No,’ he said again, ‘it isn’t.’

They both waited in silence for the other to speak, listening to the cascading water. Vandemarr knew, since his entire career had been devoted to inspiring men, that he should be the one to offer a word of comfort; but he was too wrapped up in his own thoughts, or lack thereof. It was difficult to grasp the fact that the water – thus far reasonably harmless – would eventually cause his death. He didn’t believe for a second that guessing who their tormentor was would cause him to shut it off. He was simply playing mind games with them. The only reason Vandemarr persevered was for his own satisfaction, in the hope that he may yet escape and throttle the whoreson himself.

‘You mentioned that Hoyle followed you around for a bit,’ he prompted eventually. Not exactly comforting, but they were on a time limit, and August was a grown man.

‘Yeah,’ August said distantly. ‘He did. As I said, not as much as he followed you. Maybe he was just the following type.’

Vandemarr snorted.

‘Maybe,’ he replied grimly. ‘I think there was something about him, though. Some men are good actors. Maybe Hoyle was just a very patient man with a grudge. In the auxiliary trial – the one I was telling you about?’

‘The one where you blew your partner’s head off after you found out he was a Tau sympathiser?’ August said, sneering.

Vandemarr nodded, then remembered they were in pitch blackness.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Codey.’ He paused as he remembered it; the crowded bar, the music, the look on his junior’s face as the back of his head exploded. It was currently the only memory he had no wish to keep.

‘The point is,’ he continued, relegating it to the back of his mind, ‘the man we were defending, a Captain called John Garrick, had me believe – very convincingly – that he was innocent. Not once did I doubt him. So strong was my conviction I was willing to kill to defend him, to defy Inquisitors and the whole of Kalen Primo if necessary. To find out that I had made such a terrible error in judgement was…’

‘Schtan?’ August offered.

‘Schtan.’ Vandemarr agreed, sighing. ‘Evil men can be excellent actors, August. Never forget that.’

There was a brief pause.

‘Why on earth would Hoyle have a grudge against you, though? August asked, evidently unconvinced. ‘You only met him on Farrax-Carthage port!’

‘I’m a Commissar,’ Vandemarr said. ‘A Captain-Commissar, now. I don’t need to have done anything to make enemies.’

For what seemed like the thousandth time, the roaring water took up the cessation in dialogue.

‘When did he follow you around, then?’ Vandemarr asked. He was sure there was something wrong with Hoyle, he just needed to remember what it was.

‘You remember that conversation we had in the bunker? It must have been around…two-two-three?’ August said.

‘I remember it,’ Vandemarr said, barely remembering it.

‘Well it started then…’

Stone Temple Library - Archive of my Vandemarr fiction.

‘Do you think they know we’re watching?’ August asked, focusing his eye back through his lasgun’s telescopic sight. From their vantage point on the sixth storey of one of Gortlémund’s trading hubs, they watched as a bulky Tau sweeper unit cleared the worst of the snow from the cratered roads below with heat blasters. Behind it, a few fire warriors warily eyed the thousands of overlooking windows.
Vandemarr didn’t move. ‘Probably.’
(Fallen City)
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post #10 of 19 (permalink) Old 05-30-10, 11:28 AM
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this is really awesome, great work.

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