This is a Warhammer 40k story about the Imperial Guard. I wrote it a while ago with the intention of continuing it but other things intervened. Feedback would be great.
Trooper Cayl Eris was going to die. He knew this as a fact and knew that there was nothing he could do about it. He did not, however, accept it and let it come peacefully. The beleaguered guardsman sat hunched down behind a pile of charred rubble that had once been the side wall of a hab-block. His mottled gray uniform was torn and singed from several days of nearly constant combat and his pale, angular face was covered with sooty grime. Two other troopers huddled on either side of him; one was the platoon vox operator, Tevin Kain, the other was a member of a different platoon that Eris did not recognize. The trooper had said that his squad had been caught in a short, brutal crossfire and wiped out by the scything las-fire. Eris decided not to press the issue of how this trooper had survived. He had bigger problems to deal with than a single man’s cowardice.
Over the pile of rubble and across a debris-strewn road, enemy soldiers had taken up positions in the blown-out interior of another hab-block. They now sent out an almost constant barrage of bright red las rounds that peppered the pile of rubble and heated the cool autumnal air to a temperature more akin to a midsummer afternoon. Most of Eris’s platoon lay dead where they had been cut down in the road. Eris and Kain had been in the rear when the enemy troops sprung the ambush which annihilated their friends and they had been able to dive into cover before the las-fire reached them. Small groups of enemy forces across the street had tried more than once to charge their position but Eris had managed to prevent them from crossing the road with some well-placed grenades and the prodigious use of his lasgun. He knew that it would not be long before they were rushed en masse and overrun by the enemy’s far superior numbers.
Eris slammed a fresh charge pack into his lasgun; many burnt out charge packs littered the ground around him. He snapped a couple blind shots over the rubble and the answering salvo blistered the air. Eris leaned over to Kain and had to yell to be heard over the frenzied shrieks of the enemy and the continuous impacts of their superheated rifle fire. “Try to raise command again. We need some reinforcements now!”
Kain frowned at him. “They aren’t going to be there!” he yelled back.
Eris slapped him hard across the cheek. “Try anyway!” Eris felt bad about hitting his rattled friend but he needed the man focused.
Kain looked surprised that Eris had struck him but nodded and tuned in his vox; a red handprint was forming on his cheek. He cupped his hands over the microphone and called out for reinforcements. After a few moments, he turned to Eris and shook his head. He had a hopeless look in his eyes. Eris swore as he unhooked the last grenade from his belt, primed it, and lobbed it over the rubble. It detonated with a loud crumping noise and was followed shortly by cries of pain. Eris smiled grimly at the sound. These bastards would pay dearly for his life.
The guardsman from the other platoon glanced over the rubble during a lull in the firing and jerked back sharply as a las round punched through the front of his helmet. Time seemed to slow down as Eris watched him fall to the ground. The man had a shocked look on his face as he toppled onto his side; his head bounced slightly off the ground. His helmet rolled away and revealed a small, blackened hole in his forehead from which a trail of blue-gray smoke drifted lazily. Eris suddenly felt ashamed that he had not bothered to learn the man’s name and he reached for the dogtags hanging around his neck.
Elgan, Roland E.
Planetary Defense Force.
Beshulan Hive Tertiary.
Eris let the dogtags slip from his hand. “Throne above,” he muttered. “They called up the Tertiary.”
Eris himself was a member of the PDF Primary. He had joined twelve years earlier, just as soon as he was old enough, and had always loved the life of a soldier. That is, he loved the life of a soldier during times of peace and he especially liked the way his uniform attracted the hiver girls. The battle for Beshulan Hive had come quickly and nobody had been prepared for the sudden ferocity with which the enemy attacked. The enemy, as Eris and the rest had been briefed, was a force of renegade guardsmen who had fallen to the corrupting powers of the Great Archenemy. They were traitors to the Golden Throne who had to be wiped from the God-Emperor’s sight.
PDF Command had assumed that the attacking force was a small one, perhaps a regiment or two, which had made planetfall somewhere in the vast sandy deserts east of Beshulan Hive. Running off this assumption, they did not feel the need to do any reconnaissance and opted instead to simply commit only the PDF Primary Regiment. What PDF Command did not know was that, while the traitor guardsmen did indeed land in the deserts east of the hive city, the number of traitor guardsmen attacking was over four times greater than the total number of the PDF Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Guard Regiments combined.
The attack had begun and after nearly two weeks of fierce and bloody combat, PDF Command’s decision not to do proper field observation led to the loss of the entire eastern half of Beshulan Hive and nearly the whole Primary Regiment. Eris was one of only a handful of Primaries still alive. He was also completely unaware of the gravity of his situation since Kain had not been able to reach Command for three days. The last report they received was a garbled and almost indecipherable mess of interference static and barely audible words. Eris had thought he heard something about offworlders but shrugged it off as a reference to the traitor guardsmen.
The hail of las-fire from across the street suddenly stopped and Eris risked a quick peek over the rubble. The traitor guardsmen he could see were fixing bayonets to their lasguns and had begun yelling in a guttural language that Eris was thankful he could not understand; the very sound of it made his head ache. They seemed to be working themselves up for something and Eris had a sick feeling he knew what it was. He felt the cold iron lump of fear drop in his gut; it was time for him to go. He grabbed Kain’s arm and gestured for the inside of the hab-block whose wall they were cowering behind. Kain nodded and they broke cover to dash to the relative safety of the building’s interior.
At just the same time, the traitor guardsmen charged madly across the street, shouting out battle cries and the name of their blasphemous god. Eris felt sick to his stomach at the sound of the accursed name and he tried hard not to concentrate on it. It reminded him of the ambush, of the screams of dying men and the smell of burning wounds. The name conjured up images of the worst combat Eris had experienced during the battle. The name was blood and skulls. The name was… No! Eris wrested his thoughts back under his own control and concentrated on reaching the hab-block; only a few more meters to the door.
Just before they reached the hab, white hot pain lanced up Eris’s right leg as a las round burned through the meat of his thigh. He howled as he dove through the remains of the door frame. Once inside, Kain helped him to his feet and supported him as they ran down a narrow hall which veered sharply right and afforded them a slight lessening of the noise.
They took cover in a room in which it looked like a tank round had punched through one wall and detonated, leaving the room in tatters. A large hole in the wall that looked out on another buckled and cratered street stood as a silent testimony of the missile’s passing. The two guardsmen closed the door and piled what remained of the furniture against it. Eris righted a fallen stool next to the hole and sat down.
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and rested his head against the wall behind him. Silently cursing his luck to be stuck in a situation like this, he opened a small pouch on his belt and pulled out three pain-killer tablets which he tossed into his mouth and dry-swallowed. After a moment, the searing pain in his leg dulled to a slight throb and he opened his eyes to examine the wound. It wasn’t the worst he had seen, hadn’t even hit the femoral artery. He tied a piece of cloth over the black hole and, when he finished his impromptu bandage, looked up and saw that a poster was hanging on one wall; it was remarkably intact. It depicted a man in uniform standing atop a hill with a sword in one hand pointed out to the front and a flag in the other with the capped skull symbol of the Beshulan Hive PDF on it. Bold lettering across the top spelled out: ‘Action! Adventure! Experience the exciting life of a soldier and join the PDF today!’ He chuckled despite himself and his grim situation. When he was a boy, he’d had a poster almost exactly like it on his wall. He found himself wondering how many other people, like himself, had been scammed into joining the PDF by such heroic propaganda.
“Try Command again, Tevin,” Eris said, still looking at the poster.
Kain did not argue as he dropped to his knees and dialed in the vox. “Command, Command, do you read? This is Primary 4th. Repeat, this is Primary 4th. Command, do you read? Over.”
The vox hissed for what seemed like an eternity before a burst of static issued from it. “…ead you Primary 4th. What is your status? Over.”
Kain whooped and punched the air. “Primary 4th, Command. The 4th has been almost completely wiped out. We need immediate reinforcements. Large enemy presence in the area. Over.”
“Command, 4th. What is your position? Over.”
“4th, Command. We are pinned down in a hab-block approximately one kilometer west of Templum South. Repeat, one kilometer west of Templum South. Over.”
“Copy, 4th. Reinforcements en route. Over and out.”
Kain smiled up at Eris and gave him the thumbs up sign. Eris smiled wearily at the vox operator. “Now we just have to live long enough for that to matter,” he said.
The door resounded with a heavy blow that shook the pile of furniture. Another hit shifted the door open a crack. Eris stood painfully and looked down at Kain who was staring at the widening gap in fear. Eris cursed at his friend and hoisted Kain to his feet. He shoved the vox operator toward the hole in the wall and grabbed a grenade off Kain’s belt in the process. “Go find cover. I’ll slow ‘em down.” Kain nodded and ducked out through the hole. Eris turned toward the door and primed the grenade. One more crash and the opening was wide enough for the first trooper to begin shouldering through. Eris was able to see past him at the group behind, all clawing and pushing to get to the door first. Eris tossed the grenade over the first traitor’s head and dove out of the hole in the wall. The crump of the grenade and a rain of debris followed him through. He glanced in and could see the mangled bodies and chunks of burnt flesh from the enemy guardsmen who had been massed around the door. “That one’s for Roland!” he shouted as he struggled to his feet and glanced around. He spotted Kain waving at him and limped to his position.
Trooper Eris was once again huddled down behind a pile of rubble but this time it was made up from pieces of what used to be a huge statue of a saint. The telltale gouges of tank treads in pavement revealed that the statue had been hit head on and toppled from the impact. The saint’s head was still intact and miraculously undamaged above the neck, though removed from the rest of the statue. It smiled serenely at Eris as he aimed and fired at the traitors who tried to climb through the hole in the wall from which he had just come. He could not remember the name of the saint who watched him so intently but he felt somehow comforted by its presence, as if it were protecting him with its smile. He made a mental note to find out who the saint was if he survived.
Kain’s voice suddenly rang out from behind him. “Contacts left!”
Eris swore and swung his lasgun to the left flank where a group of traitor guard had been sneaking around to hit them in the side. He squeezed the trigger but his lasgun only sputtered and smoked. His last charge pack was empty. Kain opened up with his own lasgun and brought down a couple of the now charging traitors but the meager firepower was nowhere near enough to stop them in the height of their bloodthirsty madness. Eris fixed his bayonet and prepared to meet his end with the courage he expected of all Beshulan hivers.
The traitor guardsmen screamed madly as they charged without regard to their own safety and a couple of them were even foaming at the mouth. Their uniforms, whatever color they once might have been, were stained a dark reddish brown that Eris suspected was from the blood of the people that they had killed. The traitors were only a meter away from Eris and Kain when they were cut down in a hail of bright las-fire that left dark afterimages in Eris’s vision. Eris turned to find the source of the support and saw three huge men in heavy carapace armor running to his position; each held a hellpistol in one hand and a chainaxe in the other. The vicious weapons were idling in their hands, filling the air with a low growl.
The man in the lead slammed the haft of his axe against his chest armor in salute. He was half a meter taller than Eris and his thick blonde hair cascaded down to the small of his back. “Are you Primary 4th?” he asked, his deep voice thick with an accent Eris had never heard before.
“What’s left of it,” Eris replied.
The man looked over Eris’s head at the street beyond the statue. “We are here to reinforce your position. I am Sergeant Grimson of the Einherjer.”
Eris frowned at the unfamiliar name. “Who are the Einherjer?”
Sergeant Grimson looked down at Eris and grinned savagely. “We are the Einherjer.” He raised his chainaxe into the air and bellowed, “For hearth and home!”
“For Miklagaard!” the answering cry echoed down the street with the force of a thunder clap. More of the heavily armored men came streaming out of the buildings, their chainaxes roaring as they revved them up. They formed up quickly into tight ranks and slammed their axe hafts against their chests in unison. There were twenty including the sergeant. Eris was in awe of the size of these men, the shortest of whom would still stand a head taller than he. Their thick carapace armor was trimmed with fur and some had animal pelts draped over their shoulders. None wore any helmets and Eris could see that they all wore their thick hair long despite guard regulations.
Sergeant Grimson patted Eris on the shoulder with a gauntleted hand. “Come, brother,” he said. “We have foes to kill.” Eris turned to see another large group of over fifty traitor guardsmen running down the street toward their position. Grimson held his chainaxe out at the charging enemy and roared, “Protect the Emperor!” The Einherjer echoed his cry and let out a single salvo of their hellpistols’ overcharged las-fire before streaming over and around the fallen saint in a counter-charge that slammed into the enemy guardsmen like an avalanche.
The traitor guardsmen were wholly unprepared for the viciousness of the Einherjer attack. The chainaxes devastated their armor and rent them asunder, sending viscera and limbs flying away in a maelstrom of gore and death. Eris and Kain stood dumbfounded as they watched these Einherjer butcher the traitors with a combination of brutal axe strokes and precision hellpistol fire. They shouted and laughed during the intense fighting and Eris even heard them joking with each other as if this were just another day in the barracks and not a desperate fight for their survival.
Kain stepped up next to Eris and let out a low whistle. “I’m glad they’re on our side,” he said, his voice tinged with awe.
Eris nodded his head slowly. “Are you sure about that?” he asked in a hushed voice.
“Oh, you don’t need to worry about that,” a gravelly voice said from behind them. “Their loyalty is to the Emperor always.”
They both turned at the voice to see a bulky man in a black uniform and a pointed officer’s cap standing with his hands clasped behind his back. Draped over his broad shoulders was a black leather greatcoat which was reinforced with flak armor and trimmed with fur like the armor of the Einherjer. Around his waist a red sash was tied, marking him as a member of the Commissariat. He held a bolt pistol in one hand and had a power axe slung on his waste. He had a heavy brow underneath his hat and a thick jaw that was covered in salt and pepper stubble. A thin, white scar ran from just above his right ear to the corner of his mouth and it twitched slightly when he talked. Eris and Kain snapped to attention and saluted him sharply.
He returned their salute. “What happened to the rest of your company, trooper?” the commissar asked Eris as he watched the fighting that raged just up the road.
“We were ambushed, sir,” Eris replied, still standing at attention. “Much of our company was killed in action during the last few days but that ambush is what did the worst. It got everyone else but Trooper Kain and me.”
The commissar nodded and looked at Eris. “Did you take over command after that?”
“Well, sir, there wasn’t much left to command after that, just me and Kain, but I guess you could say that, yes.”
“And how did you and Trooper Kain manage to survive when the rest did not?” the commissar asked, his voice level and emotionless.
Eris swallowed hard; his parched throat protested the action harshly. He was reminded suddenly of Roland Elgan lying dead with a smoking hole in his head. “Well, sir, Kain and I were part of the rear guard and had enough time to reach cover. The rest were trapped between two sheer walls.” He could feel a cold sweat running down his back. The man’s ornate bolt pistol seemed to catch the meager light of the smoked out sun and flashed in Eris’s eye. “We made a good accounting of ourselves afterward, sir. We held our position for as long as possible and killed many of the enemy before we had to break cover to signal Command. It was just on the other side of that building there.” He indicated the hab they had come from. “You can see what we did, sir.”
The commissar smiled at Eris. “No need to look. You’ve done well, trooper,” he said. “Stand at ease.”
Eris let out a quiet sigh of relief as he relaxed into a more comfortable posture. “Begging your pardon, sir, but who are you?” he asked timidly.
“Commissar Reinhardt. 3rd Varyags Regiment of Miklagaard.”
The fighting in the street ended with a victorious cheer from the Einherjer. Sergeant Grimson strode out of the soldiers and barked something in a language that Eris did not understand. The rest of the heavy troopers formed quickly into ranks again and fell silent. Eris could not see any fallen Einherjer among the bodies of enemy dead. The Einherjer had annihilated a force of over double their numbers without losing a single man. To say that it was impressive did not begin cover what Eris felt about what he saw. Blood ran in small rivers from the piles of dead traitor guardsmen and the Einherjer were splattered with gore. Their axes filled the air with a thin cloud of exhaust as they idled down.
A sudden cold wind rushed down the streets, moaning piteously through the broken and empty habs. With it came a thick pall of dark clouds that blotted out the already hazy sun, casting the area into deep shadow. Eris felt a sharp pressure pain behind his eyes and could taste the metallic tang of blood in his mouth though it was dry. The wind rose sharply, driving the moan into a high pitched shriek as it whipped through the cracks and broken windows. Loose detritus was ripped free from wherever it had built up and flung wildly around the air. The pressure behind Eris’s eyes grew in intensity with the wind. He dropped to his knees and clutched his head in his hands. The pressure throbbed slowly, causing a thrumming rush in his ears with every beat.
The shrieking of the wind continued to rise in pitch until it became painful to anyone within earshot. The debris flying through the air began to swirl into a cyclone above the ruined form of the saint. Blood from the ground soaked up into the spin of the cyclone and painted it a gruesome red. Eris opened his mouth in a horrid rictus of pain as blood trickled from his nose and ears. The gore-soaked debris of the cyclone abruptly exploded out, peppering everyone in the area with small bits of rock and covering them in a thin spray of blood. The pressure in Eris’s head disappeared and he retched violently onto the ground.
Trooper Kain was the first to notice what remained where the cyclone had been and he let out a shrill scream of terror. Eris looked up and stared in horror at the figure crouched atop one of the fallen saint’s stone shoulders. The air seemed to crack and swirl about the creature and a thin fog coalesced around its feet. Its slick black hide was covered with thin red traceries of script that writhed and pulled against the skin as if trying to break free. Its face was like that of a tailor’s mannequin, smooth and featureless except for the two bright, burning eyes that gleamed with murderous intent. Waves of heat emanated from it and the rock of the statue began to sizzle and pop under its feet. Small rivulets of molten stone ran from between its toes.
Eris was frozen with fear by the sight of the daemon and he could almost feel his sanity trying to break free and run from him. He could only watch helplessly as Kain’s sanity did just that. The vox operator picked up a piece of rebar and, still screaming, charged the daemon. The daemon lashed out a long, clawed hand with a contemptuous swipe. Kain’s screams cut off abruptly as the claws sliced smoothly through his flak armor and into his chest. The cruelly sharp talons punched out of his back and Eris could see blood boiling off them even as the wound cauterized around them. He noted in some small analytical corner of his consciousness that it smelled similar to a las wound.
The daemon ripped its claws from Kain’s limp body and tossed it aside before turning to face Eris. Eris felt a sudden calm come over him as he regained his feet. He had known that he would die and now that time had come. He was surprised to find his lasgun was in his hand and the bayonet still fixed. He gripped it in both hands like he had been taught in training and stood ready to meet the charge of the hell spawn before him.
Everything seemed to slow down again as it had when he watched Roland E. Elgan fall dead. Eris was able to see everything in an instant. The fog at the daemon’s feet froze in its lethargic undulation. The rivulets of molten rock no longer flowed down the side of the statue. Eris noticed that some of the molten rock had dropped onto the head of the saint and made it look as if one stone eye had shed a tear. He could see the Einherjer behind the daemon with their hellpistols aimed and their chainaxes high; the sharp teeth spun slowly on their belts. The commissar had fired his bolt pistol at the daemon and Eris watched bemusedly as the self-propelled round crawled through the air; it left a thin trail of smoke behind it.
When time reasserted its normal track, Eris had only a second to react to the daemon’s charge. He jerked his lasgun forward and squeezed his eyes shut. He felt the impact of the daemon on the lasgun an instant before he felt its claws slam into his stomach. The burning pain lasted only a moment before his nerve endings seared shut after which he felt only cold below his chest. He could smell his own burning tissue and he could hear the sizzle of his blood. When he opened his eyes, the daemon’s smooth face was merely inches away, its burning red eyes level with his. Eris still held his lasgun out but it ended in a melted nub where it met the daemon’s flesh. Darkness clouded his vision as Eris felt his strength ebbing away. In one final act of defiance, Trooper Cayl Eris spit blood into the daemon’s eyes. It blinked and flinched back from him. He felt a small triumph in that and died with a slight smile curling his lips, his eyes on the saint’s crying face.
Commissar Reinhardt’s bolt rounds peppered the back of the daemon as the body slid off of its claws. It rounded on him in time to dodge a wide swing from his power axe which crackled with lethal energy. The commissar recovered quickly and swung again, shearing off one of the daemon’s hands as it tried to block the blow. He fired a couple shots from his bolt pistol but his aim was off and the explosive shots detonated harmlessly in already crumbling walls. The daemon swung its remaining claw at his head. The attack was unnaturally fast and Reinhardt only barely managed to avoid it. His hat, however, was not so fortunate. It became hooked onto one of the daemon’s claws and ignited. Sergeant Grimson of the Einherjer came in from the daemon’s side and swung his chainaxe into its exposed flank. The teeth chewed deep before the belt melted through and snapped. Thick brown liquid spurted from the wound and sputtered as it melted whatever surface it touched. The daemon swung and hit the sergeant with a backhand blow that sent him reeling.
The commissar swung his axe up in a smooth arc that caught the distracted daemon just above the shoulder and sent its severed head spinning away from its body. With its death, the daemon’s head and body disintegrated into thin, red smoke that dissipated after a few moments. Commissar Reinhardt deactivated the energy field around his axe and slipped it back into its belt loop. He looked down at the still form of the PDF trooper lying dead at his feet and shook his head sadly. He knelt beside the body and pulled the dogtags from under the uniform.
Eris, Cayl S.
Planetary Defense Force.
Beshulan Hive Primary.
Commissar Reinhardt sighed. “Trooper Cayl S. Eris of the Beshulan Hive PDF Primary,” he said quietly, “you have served your Emperor faithfully and with great courage. This I swear to you: the enemy shall pay for your death a thousand times over before the end. Rest now knowing that you have died with honor in the defense of your home.” He set the dogtags down and stood.
Sergeant Grimson stepped up to his side and stood at attention. An angry red burn was beginning to blister across the left side of his face but he showed no signs of pain. “Orders, sir?”
“Vox the PDF that they need to recover the body of one of their heroes,” he said.
The sergeant looked down at the dead trooper. “Hero, sir?”
The commissar nodded. “This man stood his ground against a daemon’s charge and spit his courage into its face. Such bravery is rare in the PDF.”
“What about that one?” Grimson gestured to Kain’s body.
Reinhardt snorted derisively. “Courage born of madness is no courage at all. That man deserves nothing. This man, however, deserves a burial of the highest honor.” He paused for a second. “Closed casket would be best, I think.” The sergeant laughed harshly and turned away. Commissar Reinhardt stood over Eris’s body and looked at the dead trooper while his sergeant relayed the command to the Einherjer’s vox operator.
After he was satisfied that the message was sent and received, he turned to his men and saw that the wide street was teeming with many platoons of the 3rd Varyags Regiment as they caught up with the heavy assault troopers. The commissar jumped up onto the statue and looked out over the sea of pale faces and brown uniforms. He raised his voice for all to hear. “My Varyags!” he yelled. “The Forces of Chaos think that they found an easy target here. They presume that they can march unchallenged through these streets. Let us show these foul heretics the error of their ways. Let them learn what it means to fight the servants of the Emperor. Let them feel the terror of knowing that the Varyags of Miklagaard come for them!” The answering cry could be heard a kilometer away.