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post #51 of 77 (permalink) Old 03-05-14, 02:29 PM
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Xabre - Lessons of the Masters

It was an army worthy of saga, and it had yet to even experience a battle. Regiments of spear-wielding elves, armored, trained with pike and bow to equal lethality. Dragons flew overhead, ranging from large firedrakes, to smaller reds bred for aerial combat, and those meant to draw the Skycutter airships. Knights wheeled on black horses bred for generations for war. As if that was not potent enough, it was led by a great bronze Sun Dragon, Vorastrix, and its rider, the fire mage Eldran’tyr.

No. It is led by a trio of my father’s spies. The fire mage in question stood in the middle of a large chamber, with the three men in question. Eldran’tyr had not bothered to learn any of their names; he did not care about any of them except as a means to an end. He hoped that with enough bowing, scraping, and humbling, these fools would allow him to have his own glory, and run back to the Lord Caledor to explain that he did not need babysitting.

For now, however, the mage and prince found himself struggling to survive their most recent lesson. All three stood in front of him, throwing powerful bolts of raw magic at his direction. They explained it as a lesson in defensive magics. Like Eldran’tyr, the Loremasters were able to cast in full armor, though their chain and scale was less impressive and encompassing than the ensorcelled dragonscale armor he wore. Unlike the Loremasters, however, Eldran’tyr also wore numerous amulets and charms to offer further protection from crude, mundane dangers. Fire mages existed to destroy, not throw up pitiful shields and block spells. Who would hurl fireballs at him as he sat astride Vorastrix?

Needless to say, the prince was not faring as well as he had hoped. As befitted his mastery, his defensive wards shimmered before him like a heat haze in the desert, wavering as they were battered by a combined volley of lightning, molten iron and some dark miasma that threatened to crawl around the edges of his protective spell. He staggered back as the force of all three attacks struck him, barely able to keep his footing. Sweat glistened on his brow, and frustration was obvious on his face.

“I still… don’t understand… the point of this.” The elven prince grunted out, stepping forward again, pushing back against his own wards. The haze of shadow faded away, and Eldran’tyr let his wards fade between attacks.

One of the Loremasters, the leader of the trio, with long flowing silver hair held back by a silver crown, stepped forward. Unlike Eldran’tyr, he did not look like he had been struggling in the least. “You are strong, highness. But that is not enough. Your steed is strong, but that is not enough. We are just as strong as you, and there are three of us. You cannot hope to defeat all three of us, and any enemy that has the same resources will know that. They will not hold back. If you do not have the fortitude to endure what we can throw at us, how do you possibly expect to survive an enemy who would do anything to end you?”

Eldran’tyr seethed at the verbal lashing, refusing to admit that the Loremaster was correct. Instead, he decided to try and humble him. He was tired from the constant defense, using powers he was unused to depending upon. So he turned to what he was good at. The incantation tumbled from his lips easily, almost silently. A sword of flame appeared in his hand, and he leapt forward into his favorite aggressive dueling form.

The lesson failed to humble, at least the way Eldran’tyr planned. Without losing stride the Loremaster stepped back into a defensive guard stance, the elegant two handed sword on his back drawn and countering to arcane weapon. In response, the elder mage parried and riposted, quickly pushing back and sending Eldran’tyr on the defensive. “Did you think that because you were able to wield a blade that you could surprise me? Are your eyes failing? Do we need larger weapons for you to notice?”

Eldran’tyr staggered back against the heavier blows of the ithilmar greatsword. He parried with the magical weapon, the living flame forged into his anger and rage, but he was not trained the way the swordmasters of Hoeth were. It was a foregone conclusion that he would lose a battle against such a warrior.

“Pathetic. You want to lead, but simply assume that your magic and your dragon will carry the day.” The Loremaster lashed out with his blade, pulling blows so that each one was parriable, but with enough force behind it that the prince was hard-pressed with each strike and counter.

“You think you are some great mage, but you are brash. Reckless. You have a sun dragon as your steed, and you think that it is some great feat that you can throw fire? Vorastrix can do that as easy as breathing!” The Loremaster seemed to be growing angry. His temper growing short as he lashed out with each blow.

“Insolent whelp! You are no worthy mage! You think because you have a few tricks, that you can wield a sword, you will be better than another magus? Well now what do you do against your better?” The sword flashed out again, connecting with the fiery sword, and the magical blade fizzled and disappeared. Eldran’tyr staggered back, falling to the ground. He was breathing hard, exhausted, his endurance spent in magical and physical duels.

The tip of the blade was suddenly at Eldran’tyr’s throat, as the Loremaster stood over him. “Pathetic. Your father was right to entrust us to protect your army.” And with that dismissal, the man turned, walking away. He sheathed his sword, and the other two magi turned and followed.

Eldran’tyr was seeing red. How dare he!? He pushed himself to his feet, panting, breathing heavily. “I don’t need fortitude. I don’t need tricks.” The air grew heavy around him. He raised one hand, and the very shadows seemed to waver, as if cast from a flame. A moment later a powerful inferno surged from his fingers. A living torrent of fire rushed away from him, and washed over all three. “I have anger.” He spat out at the spot where all three mages had been enveloped in flame.

The flames guttered out, leaving the three Loremasters, unharmed behind their own wards. The lead Loremaster looked over his shoulder. “A pity that’s not good enough.”
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post #52 of 77 (permalink) Old 04-19-14, 03:02 PM
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Myen'Tal - Maw of Granite

I once carried the name Hel’xata with great pride. The name belonged to a line of champions in patronage to Tzeentch, yet did not bend knee to him directly. I used to tower over the legion-host as a mighty tower made mobile. Two wicked Sabers, etched with the name of every soul that had previously wielded them into battle, were mine to cleave and rend. My armor was nothing but my scaled and human flesh, save the Sash of Dreams. That lovely sartorial gave my enemies glimpses into my own aspects, which were not me.


I crashed down with the mighty hooves of the Centaur. I danced through the greater champions of the four like a four-limbed genie. I drained away the ages from the mortal races with one cursed bracelet. My masters wished me to turn from warfare, to disgrace myself in order to humble my stoked sense of hubris. Therefore, they desired it, but I never knelt until the centuries had come and gone. Only the tattered banners of the heralds remained to sing the praises of their overlords. The Great Four beckoned me to forsake my allegiance and swear fealty for eternal rewards a demon simply could not shrink at.


I never gave much concern to invading the mortal planes in the universe. Until my Master, Guardian of the Forlorn Towers prepared my host to march into the unknown. I never knew why the sudden change of heart, the Guardian always seemed content to prove himself before the Gods of Chaos. Yet when the portals began to shatter the bonds between our world and theirs, I knew there would be no turning back. Never, so long as mortal souls still defied the whim of the ruinous powers and fought their divine right to rule. What sovereignty isn’t given freely may be taken through conquest.


The Necrons of all species were the first to defy our invasion. Our factions joined in battle on the ashen sands of the tomb world Silvan V. I fought tooth and nail on the frontlines, an endless sea of writhing demons against a phalanx of quicksilver and machinery. Their weapons thrashed through our ranks for weeks, their monoliths and fallen Star Gods slaying even the greatest legends among the Guardian’s armies. The battle soon turned ill. The Guardian called upon my services to slay the aspect of the Star God: The C’tan.


My sabers carved path after bloodless path through their defensive formations, gauss whips lashing into my flesh, peeling away the skin rather masochistically. Only my finest fought and bled with me, until I was sure we would all be no more until the eve of the next millennia. My powers did not seem to have the desired effect on these soulless machines and they continued to press the advantage against us. Their commanders must have convinced themselves the conflict had been won. The ghastly C’tan emerged from a parting host of undead machines, larger and wielding a scythe with unknown powers.


I knew that I must tread carefully, the C’tan feast on souls like any other possessed with their power. The scythe came down, fluid like water against my Sabers. The explosion of unstable powers erupted across the battlefield, the fallout pulsing through the throngs of our minions like a mental thought. I found vulnerabilities in the God’s guard, cleaving through mist and darkness as if I had struck a black hole. The Star God lurched with a monstrous maw, all ghastly grey teeth and utter blackness.


So I revealed my own fangs. My friends in the Forlorn Towers always noted that the bite of my fangs is the hardest. A spew of incomprehensibly burning flames made the strike incredibly more painful. The darkness lurched away from my person, shadows blazing away while it howled the most terrifying wraith-howl to rattle my ears. I leapt into the encroaching blackness, my fangs snapped deep into whatever looked real. The C’tan dropped the scythe. His explosion nearly eradicated my physical manifest, my own chosen were not so fortunate.


The Guardian named me Champion of the Host. I carved through system after system in no coherent fashion. After the Necrons I landed in the Tau Septs and warred for no longer than a year. The young race proved resistant to the influences of the warp, so their worlds were of little value. The Host invaded the Eastern Fringe inside the Imperium next. I challenged my first Astartes in the invasion of Karlia. All one hundred of them came down to face the chosen and myself. One hundred heads claimed for the Gods.


My campaigns ended on one fateful decision to launch a surprise assault deep into Imperial territory through an isolated sector called the Hellas. Four worlds by the name of Tarmathon writhed in the flames of war over a protracted period. All seemed lost for the miniscule Imperial presence located there, their effort hinging on only one distant planet. Had it not been for the intervention of one certain Eldar Craftworld, I would have succeeded.


The Aspect Warriors of Teyl-Jhen arrived across the four warfronts in lightning blitzes. Wherever they came, they repulsed us. Their actual numbers remain unknown, but I believed they were few enough given the task they were set to. Never enough to commit to open battle with our kindred, but they freely harassed us whenever they saw fit. The true intent to stop us, masked beneath the annoyances of raiding and ambushes, did not come to sight until the Imperials made to stand with them. We met across the four worlds and met our demise with some honor.


Our own demise came through the great Raihan, Tiger of Teyl-Jhen. A Farseer draped in a shimmering sapphire cloak emblazoned with both the Sea Dragon and the Tiger. He did not stand against me alone. All the council of Seers wielded their potent magic against me. I never yielded before them. Instead, I crushed them under heel. Yet the Tiger’s resolve only seemed bolstered. Raihan alone conjured an eldritch storm powerful enough to send me down to one knee. He gripped his Singing Spear overhand and cast the weapon from his fingers. The Spear was designed to disrupt the physicality of anything beyond the average warp creature’s proportions. And I, Hel’xata, looked disrupted without an eye to gaze through.


Struck blind by a tiny mortal in one eye, I had little choice but to watch him through whatever remained lingering in the physical world. I snapped my jaws at him one last time. One defiance repaid with another.
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Xabre - Earth, Steel & Fire

It was another of those damnable tests, created by the three Wise Men that led his army. Eldran’tyr sat in the war saddle of his great steed, the sun dragon Vorastrix, slowly circling over the training grounds for his budding army. Over the last few weeks, the Loremasters had come up with dozens of drills, activities and tests for his soldiers. The Dragon Mage was willing – begrudgingly – to admit that many of their methods seemed to strengthen his forces, but the idea that these three outsiders were directing his army still grated on the heir of Caledor.

Currently, one of his regiments was spread out on the training field. The large block of elite guardsman moved in perfect, disciplined blocks, their scale armor glinting beneath blood red and black uniforms. Each one held a large shield on their arm and a long spear in their hands. At least, the ones that were in the front lines did. In traditional Elven battle tactics, the soldiers in the front ranks had their spears raised and shields up, defending the back ranks, which had drawn full-sized longbows. With blinding speed, each knocked, drew, aimed, and fired steel-tipped arrows at their target.

Unfortunately, the enemy before them cared little for steel.

The golem, a massive elemental construct made of living stone, stomped through the field. Its body was made of rocks and stone, varying in size from giant boulders for fists and torso, to tiny pebbles grinding in its joints. Slow and ungainly, it staggered and forward unrelenting and unstoppable. Arrows struck the bulk of the elemental, sparks flying as steel stroke stone, wooden shafts splintering and shattering. The rocks showed a few scratches and chips on the surface, but otherwise they were unmarred by the projectiles.

When the golem got too close, the spearmen stepped forward, driving their weapons forward. Made of magically-reinforced wood, the weapons fared better than arrows. The steel spearheads struck the elemental, keeping it from storming forward. Runes carved into each spearhead glowed softly, minor enchantments keeping the weapons from shattering, but not strong enough to do any more to stone than a normal spear might; which was nothing. It kept the creature at bay when it found it could not cross the wall of spears and shields, then stepped back, and looked for another path of attack.

It was a stalemate. The Elven soldiers had no weapons to harm the elemental, while the creature could not overcome the Elven discipline or defenses to defeat its foes. “This is foolish.” Eldran’tyr offered aloud, though only his great steed was near him to hear, swooping above the training field. “Of course our men would not be able to defeat such a creature. That’s why there are other elements to the army. The bolt throwers on our skycutters could pierce that thing, or a drake would pull it apart.” The prince’s voice was tinged with disgust and impatience. What was it about these Loremasters, making up their own rules, not paying attention to the tactics of their own men?

No. Not their men, his men. He would prove these three were fools, and take back his command. Seeing his soldiers holding their own against an arcane construct gave him pride, and made him feel certain that the Loremasters had misjudged his warriors. But at the same time, knowing that they couldn’t defeat the creature, lacked the tools to do so, discouraged him. What was the point of this exercise?

Perhaps the Loremasters think that your warriors carry pickaxes. Vorastrix’s words echoed in its rider’s mind. The barely constrained violence in the dragon’s thoughts was obvious to Eldran’tyr. He could agree. He would much rather take the great dragon hunting in the mountains, but the Loremasters had requested his presence to watch the exercise. The sooner this farce was over, the sooner they could get back to the nature of a true dragon.

The Loremasters themselves were nowhere to be found. After summoning the creature, the warrior magi had stepped back past the soldiers, told them to defeat it, and disappeared into the shadows as if they never existed. They were probably still somewhere close, watching, but Eldran’tyr could not see them from this height, and if Vorastrix could, the dragon was not pointing them out.

Again and again the cycle repeated itself. The golem would lumber forward, be pressed back by hardened spears, but the Elves could not cause any damage to the construct.

“I have had enough of this. I will show them my pickaxe.” Vorastrix growled beneath Eldran’tyr, feeling the rage in his rider. The growl turned into a roar of conquest as it fell into a dive. The massive dragon came at the training field at a sharp angle, and even as they descended the mage was summoning a sword made of living flame, intending to tear through the elemental himself, but the dragon beneath him had the same idea.

With a terrible crash of claws and stone, Vorastrix smashed into the stone elemental. Claws sharper than swords tore chunks out of the granite body and the dragon’s massive bulk crushed it to the ground. Even after all that, the animated golem stroke to rise, finally having an opponent to fight. Eldran’tyr lashed out with his sword, but the elemental was blocked by Vorastrix’s profile. Finally the sun dragon opened its mouth, unleashing a blast of liquid flame. The fire from the creature washed over the stone elemental’s form, and the rock began to melt, starting to run like mud. As everyone watched, the stone softened, and the magic animated the creature faded into the air like purple smoke.

Then it was done, the elemental dead, half melted, unmoving. Vorastrix reared back, roaring in triumph. Eldran’tyr felt a glimmer of disappointment at not having a chance to kill himself, but at least he and his steed had had a kill together. The mage jumped down from his mount, looking around at his fellows. The warriors had all raised their spears in salute to their lord.

Hidden in the shadows, the three Loremasters watched the triumph of the dragon mage. “Fool. It took him long enough to realize he was supposed to help defeat the elemental. He keeps thinking of himself as a lord, and not a weapon the soldiers can rely on.”

“He will learn. We will teach him. His head is like granite, but eventually it will sink in.”
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Dark Angel - Brotherhood

For the fifteenth time, Elias Krateron slapped a magazine into his bolt-pistol and expelled it. He was armoured, like all of his brothers, in the sea-green of the Sons of Horus, a belt of pteruges ringing his waist. There were hundreds, thousands, of warriors around him - Each undergoing their own preparations, checking armour seals, boasting and bantering amongst one another, revving the motors of their long, barbaric chainswords. Krateron's own squad, 17th of the 17th Company - Some naysayers claimed, that after Murder and the loss of four brothers, they were unlucky, damned and doomed and damned again - Were crouched together, silent and statuesque, their helmets sealed and their weapons ready, though unloaded.

Snap-click, sixteenth time.

'We are the speartip,' Krateron heard someone say, jovially, nearby. 'We'll go in, beat the Isstvanians around a bit, and let Abaddon mop up the mess.'

Snap-click, seventeenth time.

Isstvan. Vardus Praal, the local governor, had revealed his true colours, murdering Imperial officers, throwing up his arms in open revolt. He was a turncoat, a bastard traitor, blind to the light of the Emperor, to Horus Lupercal and the Imperium. And now the might of not one, not two, but four Legions had fallen upon the Isstvan System - The Sons of Horus, the Death Guard, the World Eaters and the Emperor's Children were all present, and in massive numbers. It was almost unprecedented.

Snap-click, eighteenth time.

But something felt strange about this undertaking. Here, upon the Vengeful Spirit, a task-force had assembled, over a third of the XVI were present - An ad hoc formation of individual squads and formations, pulled from a hundred companies. Everyone had noticed the subtle rearrangements in the command hierarchy; tested, popular and capable Terran officers being rotated out in favour of younger, zealous Cthonians. Indeed, Esarhaddon now commanded the 17th, the Hesperus Guard, having replaced old Tybrean on the outset of the Isstvan Campaign.

Snap-click, nineteenth time.

'If you keep doing that,' Rasped a voice, low and brittle. 'You'll cause a malfunction.'

Krateron's head snapped around. One of the Sons of Horus, his armour so superbly polished that it shone like a mirror, stood over him. He was bareheaded, with wide-set amber eyes and a straight, dignified nose.

'Sarnbael,' Krateron called out, embracing his brother with a clatter. 'Brother.'

Sarnbael and Krateron were polar-opposites - Krateron, tall, pale-skinned and grey-haired, one of the XVI's Terrans, old and hardened; Sarnbael squat, broad and bald, one of the true Sons of Horus, having been raised from the slump-hives of Cthonia, and later, inherited the Lupercal's noble features. Despite these differences, friendship had blossomed between the two, and their squads often worked in tandem - Sarnbael's choleric nature complimenting Krateron's steadier, calmer outlook.

'Sergeant,' Sarnbael said, tersely, disengaging from his friend. He straightened, eyeing the gathering of Legionaries, and whistled. 'Quite the show, isn't it?'

'It is,' Krateron replied, nodding in agreement. 'I did not know you were selected for the speartip.'

'I wasn't,' Sarnbael said, with a disappointed smile. 'I have other duties to attend to aboard the Minotaur, but that is later.'

'Came to see us off, then?' Krateron ventured.

'I did,' Sarnbael meeting Krateron's gaze. 'I wouldn't miss this for anything.'

'Praal's a fool, a dead fool,' Krateron added, after a moment of silence. 'Fulgrim's peacocks have been given the duty of securing the Precentor's Palace, though.'

'Not all of the Emperor's Children are songbirds, Elias,' Sarnbael growled, his expression hardening. 'Remember that.'

'I meant no offence, brother,' Krateron said, grinning. 'Nevertheless, it shall be a glorious day. We'll be back by nightfall, mark my words. We're going in with Endall's lot, straight for the Sirenhold.'

'Or an infamous one,' Sarnbael grunted, folding his arms across his chest.

Krateron raised an eyebrow. 'Infamous? You're mistaken, brother-'

'Infamous,' Sarnbael interrupted. 'Days like this, where such a show of hand is needed, are infamous. The war with the Interex and the campaign on Aureus were the same. No glory, just blood and piss and infamy. Isstvan will be the same. Many will die.'

'I don't understand, Praal is a rebel-'

'You don't understand,' Sarnbael cut in, smiling sadly. 'Of course you don't. How could you? You see only one thing, brother - War. It rules you, you see no other purpose. Isstvan, to you, to these,' He indicated the crowd of Marines with his hand. 'Is just another war.'

'Why are you telling me this? Are you envious, brother, that Horus has put you on deck-washing duties?' Krateron laughed heartily.

'I'm telling you this, Elias, because I am your friend. Because my conscious wouldn't let me remain silent,' Sarnbael paused, pursing his lips. For a moment, he was lost in thought, in consideration. 'Isstvan is the turning point, the paving stones to something newer, something greater. Nothing will be the same after Isstvan. These next few hours, days, weeks and months and years? That will be the judge of whether today lives on in infamy or in glory.'

Krateron opened his mouth to speak.

'Speartip units to posts!' Commanded the deck officer, his voice echoing throughout the cavernous hanger.

'This is it, then,' Sarnbael said, offering his hand. Krateron clasped it in his, shook it, and nodded. 'Farewell, Elias, watch yourself down there.'

'Don't miss me too much, Sarnbael,' Krateron laughed, slapping a fist against his chest. 'Lupercal!'

'Lupercal,' Sarnbael mimicked, grimly, and spun on his heel, marching away.

Krateron jogged away, leading his squad from the front, lowering his helmet over his head. For a moment, everything was bathed in blackness, before reality snapped back into being, fuzzy-green.

He and the men of 17th entered their drop pod, buckling themselves into their harnesses, slamming magazines home, uttering oaths of moment.

What had Sarnbael been talking about? He was on the point of raving, of lunacy. He made little sense. Krateron made a mental note to inquire further into the subject, after he returned from the surface.

Slowly, deliberately, Krateron loaded his bolt-pistol.

Snap-click, twentieth time.
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Dave T Hobbit - Chuckle


*Beep Bip Beep Bip*

Lucas eased himself upright, and then winced. Sleeping in the flight chair wasn’t ideal, but since the accident left them with reaction drives there were frequent alarms. And with Anderson dead, there was no-one to spell him. Neck finally agreeing to straighten, he silenced the warning.

The main thruster was reporting a fuel interruption. Superb. He stretched for the intercom. “Engine Room from Cockpit. Do you read? Over.... Engine Room from Bridge, over....” Who was supposed to be on duty? “Wilson, do you read...?” Probably inside something, or dozed off. He could shout, but that would wake everyone else up. He needed a stroll anyway, to get the kinks out.

The corridor lights flickered as he passed. Since the experimental drive crapped out, everything was on the blink. And there weren’t enough of them to keep it going. On the plus side, the reduction in crew numbers would made the profit share very healthy.

Lucas yawned hard, and then leaned into the engine room. “Wilson. You sleeping on the job again?”
Everything was sealed up tight, and there was no sign of anyone. Must have gone for parts. Lucas tapped the intercom. After a brief crackle the power light flickered out. Which explained why Wilson hadn’t answered.

He could wait for him, but if something else crapped out he needed to be in the cockpit to deal with it. So check the stores. He jogged along the corridor, and then slid down the service ladder. Peering into the half-darkness, he realised there were legs stretched out of a duct at the far end. “Wilson?”

The figure slid out of the duct.

“No need to get up. Main thruster’s reporting a fuel blockage. I need to get back to the cockpit before we hit a planet or something.” Lucas headed back without waiting for an answer.

There were several amber warnings waiting for him when he got back, but nothing critical. And the thruster was back to normal. He revised the course to account for the interruption, then started working through the amber warnings.

*Beep Bip Beep Bip*


Another fuel interruption to the main thruster. He stopped with his hand half-way to the intercom. The power light was out in the cockpit too. Looked like he was walking again.

There were hand-helds in the stores. If they taped them to the walls, it would having to walk back and forth all the time.

He slid back down the service ladder. Whatever Wilson had been fixing, it wasn’t the lights. Staring into the murk, Lucas tried to remember which cabinet the hand-helds were in.

He dived flat as something whooshed through where he had been. Rolling over, he narrowly avoided Wilson’s down swing.

“It’s your fault,” shouted Wilson, raising the wrench over his head. “It must be you. Laughing at me.”

Lucas kicked him hard in the crotch. Save the monologues for the movies. Standing, he kicked the wrench away from Wilson’s prone body. This was just getting better and better.

“Laughing from the shadows,” gasped Wilson. “But I’ll show you.”

Lucas peered around. Wilson had clearly lost it, so he couldn’t just leave him. But there was no way he could get him up the ladder. So he needed to improvise. Smacking Wilson behind the ear to make sure he stayed down, Lucas began to empty out the nearest cabinet.

With Wilson’s unconscious body locked in the cabinet, Lucas headed for the bunks. But it looked like Wilson had been there already.

Trying not to heave at thoroughness of the murders, he backed out slowly and then ran for the engine room. Hopefully there was a e-manual somewhere.

Something made a gurgling chuckle behind him. Scooping the wrench back up, he spun round. There it was again, behind the drive casing. He advanced confidently. Jumping around the casing, he saw nothing but pipes.

Something chuckled again. It was coming from that yellow pipe. Checking the valve tag, he let the wrench hang lose. The coolant for the experimental drive. Must be bubbles in the system. Wilson was right about it sounding like laughter though. He returned to his search for a manual.

There had to be one somewhere. It was a bloody requirement. He finally found it in the scurf locker.

Right, fuel interruptions. There it was. Following the diagnostics, he confirmed there was a real problem. And that he needed to purge the fuel lines to fix it. Which produced an significant drop in the gauge.

He ran back to the cockpit. The board was miraculously clear, and stayed clear when he powered up the main thruster. But, as he had feared, purging the lines had used too much of the reserves. So, the only option was to use the experimental drive again. It had worked fine the first time, and whatever happened the second time had only affected people actually in the engine room, so he should be fine in the cockpit.

He ran back to the engine room. The manual didn’t mention anything about the drive. He looked around. They were monitoring when the accident happened, so what were they doing it with?
Checking the drive case, he found an integrated terminal.

Operational and Diagnostic Logs. Manual restart. Automatic restart.

That was more like it. He tapped the icon.

System status preventing automatic restart.
Run diagnostic? Y/N.


Yes, of course you piece of junk.

Coolant system inoperative.

Superb. And no option to turn it on. Must be in another menu. Probably the logs.

Coils. Generator. Coolant.

System Status: Offline.
Coolant Reservoir: 0%

The bloody reservoir was empty. That made no sense. He called up the detailed logs. The last entry swam in front of his eyes. The accident had superheated the system. He remembered Wilson talking about needing to recharge the reservoir, but he hadn’t realised he meant the system was empty. But if the pipes were dry, then what-

Something chuckled in the shadows.
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unxpekted22 - Mayhem

Jrvil’s boots hit the ground with a jarring thud. He had jumped from the third story of a ruined skyscraper. Undaunted, the Marine continued on his way.

He had been here so long, that the desert had made its way into the abandoned city streets. The once magnificent royal purple of his power armor was caked with sand and dirt, as well. Though, parts of the silver trim still held some shine, even after all these years.

This world, Gehrta Tertius, was nothing like it was when he first laid eyes upon it. Massive cities, one after the other, lined several enormous rivers that made a spiderweb of the continent. He had checked several of these rivers. Some still had running water, which had helped keep him alive. The fish and vermin had helped with that, too.

He looked up around him, taking it all in.

Familiarity struck hard, as he recognized this place. He had fought here, a battle, years ago. He chuckled lightly to himself in amusement, and amazement. He had searched seven of these infinite cities, their various levels, the floors of their buildings, their alleyways, shadowy depths, and hidden corners. He had traversed the expanse of land between them, walking on the sand strewn roads and bridges. Until now, he thought he was in city number eight.

There, he pointed for his own benefit, he had gunned down one of the traitors with his bolter. The holes in the side of the broken grav-car were still noticeable, though widened as the metal was thinned from corrosion and weathering. The sound of his heavy armor lumbering around the road bounced off the buildings beside him. There, he pointed again, silently, was where brother Farva had met his end. By that building’s corner, behind that fallen chunk of building. An enemy had been laying in wait around the corner, and stabbed his brother like a coward, pushing a blade up through the side beneath his chest armor.

He made his way over, slowly, and his eyes widened to see that Farva was still there. The armor was, at least, and the bones. All of it grey and covered in dirt. No one had ever recovered him. Jrvil’s face curled with a mixture of outrage and disappointment, but he didn’t know where to aim the emotion. Was he more resentful at the enemy for this, or his allies?

He knelt down, resting his knee in the sand, and picked up the helm that had been mag-locked to his brother’s waist. It had rolled away from the rest of the remains, connecting instead with the fallen building pieces beside him, the suit’s power supply having run dry long ago. For his own armor, he had found various means of keeping it functional over the long weeks and months.

He turned the helm over in his hands several times, noticing a few traces of purple yet to be erased. It did not feel right to set it back down. He took his gladius from the hip, and scratched his brother’s name into the side of the now grey MkVII Helmet. Then, he attached it to one of his own maglocks before moving on, recalling more scenes from the battle.

His entire chapter had come here, to this world. He had traversed the skeletal remains of two of his Chapter’s fallen strike cruisers, that had crashed into the vast desert. There were oceans on this world, and other continents. The rest of the fleet could have crashed anywhere, if they had fallen as well. He could still hear the fading sounds of war; the last gun shots that echoed through the streets of one of these massive cities.

As far as he knew, the war was still on. He had never received confirmation that the war was over. To that end, nothing was certain. He had never stopped walking, searching, hunting for any enemies that had survived. Whether or not he was the only Marine of his chapter left changed nothing for him. He was still here, still alive, and his mission of exterminating the enemy forces on the ground had not changed.

What was certain, is that he would die, one day. It was always certain he would die, even after he became ‘immortal’.

Ironically, he thought, he became immortal to age and disease only to be sentenced to death, flung into the most dangerous war zones the Imperium could offer. He had already lived so much longer than he ever would have before his transformation into an Astartes, but that time was only used to tear more down and take more lives away, rather than to use that extra time to build something greater.

Perhaps he could. Perhaps all his brothers and brother-cousins could, if the tides would finally cease their relentless crashing. The waves of traitorous uprisings, xenos invasions, demonic incursions...they never stopped. They hadn’t for thousands of years. Their hands were forced to use their immortality in the service of defense. If they stepped down from their martial place, humanity’s death wasn’t a question, it was certain.

“My choices ensure certainty of life and death, but little else.” he said to himself.

He smiled.

“I suppose it's appropriate then, that mortal men label me a god.”

Maybe, just maybe, he continued thinking, death was no longer a certainty for him . Maybe he had become the only Space Marine to ever really get the chance to not die. If he was the only living thing left on this planet, and age was nothing to him...what could he do with so such time and freedom?

He shook his head, worried about how long it had been since the guidance of a Chaplain or another Brother. His mind was wandering, and had been, for far too long.

His chapter symbol had faded so much, but his memory never would. He stretched his neck and shoulder to try and see it again. Frustrated at barely being able to see it, he took a deep breath and yelled his Chapter’s name at the top of his lungs, hearing his powerful voice echo on forever into the city, “The Warriors of Mayhem!”

He paused in his tracks to listen, hoping the echoes would remind him of his Company shouting it together, hoping to reawaken the pride he once held dear.

Nothing.

Silence.

A crunch, in the dirt, as he began his steps anew.

He would use his immortality here. Something would come of all the time spent here. He would begin something, build something. Of this, he was certain.
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unxpeketed22 - Of Verdurous Nature

Johnathon pushed forwards, on his feet. Nothing was wrong, really.

The world around him moved on, it pushed on forward alongside him. The leaves fell from the trees around him, dying, floating past on the summer breeze. Skyscrapers rested their sleepy heads on the pillows of clouds in the sky on all sides of the spherical background.

He looked down, seeing his pants. Brown, clean creased, the fold showing in front of his shins above his shoes.

His palm opened again, where gold glittered with alacrity. A pendant rested in his hand. Encased within, was a picture of his mother.

Everything else was in abeyance, during this traipse through the park. His blue eyes stared down into the portrait of his mother, seven years now lost. Helen Schaeffer. Had he spent enough time with her, had they had enough conversations? Did she die happy?

The portrait was encompassed by lines of purple and lavender, her favorite colors. She was in color, too. The lightly applied blush on her cheeks, soft. The blue eyes she had passed on to him. The brown curls of her hair.

She had given him everything he could have asked for, and more. The whole time he was trying to figure out his own life and then, before he could rightfully pay her back, she passed. People told him it was alright, that was she was happy just knowing her son was still alive in the world, living his own life.

He supposed it was normal for people, to think kindly, and warmly, of their mothers. But John swore, his was truly the epitome. She would run up to people, stop them in their tracks when they were looking down at their feet, looking sad, looking hurt. She always found a way to make them rethink their troubles. She presented herself with little fear, though he was sure she had just as many as the next person, inside.

He looked up again, his eyes following the tan stone path weaving its way through the verdant landscape. He was approaching something, some kind of social event. He smiled, eyes thinning, the corners of his lips pulling up, the lines his face catching the contagion, multiplying the expression.

It was a birthday party, for a little girl.

There were balloons, all bright. An enourmous cake laying half intact, and half obliterated, on one of the many picnic tables. Children, dozens he counted, running around.

His knees suddenly felt sore and weak, remembering what it was like to run everywhere when he wishes to move, without even noticing he was running. He wasn’t even thirty years old, but already in the past couple of years he’d picked up on his aging.

Everything the comedians had always joked about, his older relatives, people in movies, teachers. It was coming to embrace him. Tell-tale signs, slowly but surely, harbingers of his own death-to-come all too soon. His back was sore more often than not, his hearing wasnt what it used to be, his eyes…

He found himself stopped, watching the celebration. One of the little girls, wearing a white dress with furls, ran up to him exclaiming that it was her birthday.

At first, he was caught by surprise, not expecting anyone to run him, to speak to him, to involve him in their world. An excited smile lit up the girl’s face.

“It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday!” she exclaimed, laughing afterwards, as if he should come and join in the festivities.

She didn’t turn and run back afterwards, but stayed in front of him just smiling, waiting for him to react, he supposed.

She had light brown hair falling naturally into curls at the ends, and bright blue eyes that demanded interaction.

After a moment he said all he could think of, slipping the pendant back into his pocket.

“Well, happy birthday then! How old are you now?”

“Seven!” she giggled, not needing nearly as long to think of a response as himself.

Not seeming to care that he didn’t have another response yet, she continued for him.

“Why are you sad? It’s my birthday you know? My name’s Helena and I’m seven years old now. What’s your name?”

Johnathon turned his head slightly, looking away. His brows furrowed in perplexity. His heartbeat, maybe, changed slightly for a moment.

“My name is John, John Schaeffer. Nice to meet you, Heleena.”

Her eyes lit up like he had something awe inspiring. She reached up to shake his hand, eager to meet a stranger. Around her wrist was a multitude of bracelets, all various hues of purple. Her cheeks had some rose under them when she smiled.

He went to shake her hand slowly, when a woman called out her name, approaching quickly. He pulled his hand back.

“Helena, come back to the tables sweetheart.” The woman turned the girl around, leading her back the way she came. The woman smiled at Jonathan briefly over her shoulder, but he could see the mistrust in her eyes, if barely for a moment.

He hurried to return to his walking, so as not to look even stranger. His mind raced.

He heard a child yell out the woman’s name behind him.

“Mrs. Schaeffer! Can I have more cake?”

His eyes widened, but he felt like a fool. It was a common enough last name.

A safe distance now, he turned, spotting Heleena easily in her white dress. His fingers, clutched the pendant in his pocket. He pulled it out again, hastily flipping it open. He felt he might accidentally crush the tiny frame, so he loosened his grip, breathing.
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Myen'Tal - The Fire of One


Bork’an’Shas’O’Y’Suam bellowed over the wailing klaxons, the image feeds linked to his crisis suit only picking up the flash of spinning lights inside the Manta Hangar Bay. “Shas’la, my most trusted friends out of all of the fire caste! What we accomplish this night will determine the final fate of a colony!”

The Manta Gunship trembled with enough force to throw the fire caste commander from his chair had his harness not been set in place. Over the channels, the screams of the ground infantry overwhelmed everything save the personal communications as the hangar quickly filled with stoked flames. The ship was going down, but to fall from the atmosphere of a world took a long time. Time enough for Y’Suam to gather his surviving warriors, his bond mates and most trusted elite of the Crisis Suit teams, and then finish what had been started.

Y’Suam continued. “My brothers, the alien race of the Necrontyr have called you to battle in a fortnight. They arise from their underground tombs for one purpose and one only: the purge of our Ya’noi! These Necrons – they give a good show of overwhelming firepower and intimidation through their silence. Do not be dissuaded from your purpose, Shas’la, because I assure you, when they meet our guns, they will cry out in silence, and crawl back into the hell that spat them out.

“I have led you through approximately fifty nine aerial deployments.” He earned a few laughs at that. “Half of those were inside enemy territory. Place your faith in me, my warriors of fire and we shall see this through. Jump!”

The pod bay holding Y’Suam’s Crisis Suit popped open, revealing a violet hewed night sky and a planet under siege. The unforeseen moon, a terraformed colony perilously close to making planet fall on her neighbor. Her wilderness were untamed boreal forests and her settlements were writhing with sickly green flames. One such city directly beneath him was overran with a marching phalanx of warriors crafted from living metal, supported by all kinds of monstrosities that killed with abandon.

“Follow my lead, warriors of Sa’cea!” He called again before he drove his XV8 Suit off of the flame wreathed wreck.

The inertia drove him into a momentary limbo as the jet pack thrusters slowed his rapid descent. Y’Suam pulled on his controls so that he stared upward toward the destroyed Manta gunship and the dozens of small lights following him out of it. Massive, whip-like gauss blasts immediately beset them by the dozen. There were no screams, but a handful of small explosions streaked across the stary sky.

The blue hexagonal grid of his suit’s shield generator flashed on and off again as gauss fire grazed against the surface. Y’Suam erected his suit and instantly half a dozen targets blipped onto his image feed. A small red icon flashed again and again in the corner of his screen. He veered the XV8 to the left in a strafe, avoiding fire from a Triach Stalker crawling over the a shattered ruin.

Y’Suam’s connected nervous system and brain link instantly picked up the desired target, the crosshairs of his two fusion guns and missile pod instantly flashed green. “Team Shadow Sword, engage my target!”

Y’Saum slammed feet first into the earth, creating a charred crater on impact, and then launched through the air again through a storm of small arms fire. He checked the life signatures of his teammates, they were following close behind. His missile pod unleashed a salvo on a dense formation of Necron machines that he swept over. Living metal and alien energies blossomed in a sapphire tinted storm of fire, the rest of his team followed, ensuring their devastation.

As Team Shadow Sword flew towards the Triach Stalker, Y’Saum caught images of Shas’la and civilians either fleeing or fighting. In either case, he could not help but flinch as they wore atomized in the blink of an eye. If the Tau were to succeed here, the end results of this battle would be anything but satisfactory. There were thousands of half atomized corpses intermingled with shattered Necron husks. It was shameful that the Tau were forced to bleed this much to repel their enemy.

Y’Suam’s teeth glinted in a knife cut grin, the Stalker rapidly coming into sight, blind sighted. The payload from the fusion blasters instantly vaporized against the quantum shielding, leaving a white hot trail from where the attack connected. As he glided past the Stalker, the fire trails left by the other teams made a mark against the approaching phalanx. Plasma rifles cut through individual infantry by the score. Missiles rained down and plunged their formations into further disorder. Flamethrowers rushed into the thick of their disorganized ranks, wreathing the remainder of the enemy in a torrent of fire.

Nothing stopped the inevitable from coming true. Hordes of scarabs latched onto suit after suit that landed but for a moment. The Necron Elite easily dashed apart those reckless enough to fly into range of their ranks. The remaining Broadsides continued to pound the opposition with their missile salvos wherever Y’Suam’s warriors left their marks. Not even the Triach lasted long under the XV88’s attention, blasted apart by distant rail gun attacks.

In less than an hour, the tide had turned momentarily in the favor of the Tau. But Aun’Kais’ reports of the diminished population left any thought of victory hollow. The inevitable had happened, there was no longer a population worth defending on this planet anymore.
Y’Suam landed his suit a top a catacomb spider, placed his fusion gun onto the head, and obliterated the brain of the machine in one blinding flash of light. As the carcass skidded into the earth, a massive vessel, weapons alight from all directions, fired a blast that landed just behind his suit. His own team’s life signatures abruptly went dead, before the fallout of the blast crumpled his suit like toy. The last thing he ever heard was his own defiant scream.

“Shas’O’Y’Suam. He won a pyrrhic victory against the Necrontyr protecting one of Sa’cea’s second sphere colonies. Eighty percent of the colony’s population were killed in action. An awkward achievement to say the least.”

“Though the Empire is shamed by his lack of preservation for the common civilian. A victory against the Necrontyr isn’t something we can just disregard. End the simulation. Revive him from Cryostasis, now that he is up to speed. We can use a Commander like him. A disgraced general can go far to find redemption.”
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Myen'Tal - The Sacrifice for Victory


“Heed the words of the fallen, sons and daughters of Khaine! The blood of the exiles shall weep from grotesque and crude altars, the shrines of worship dedicated to a corpse of a God!”

Landrun answered the animalistic brute with two imperceptive shakes of his head. He looked out over the shrine of Uppsala, a labyrinth of ferrocrete adorned with gold and silver. The Outcast Ranger swept his long rifle back and forth, no matter which angle he chose next, the inexorable legions of chaos were present. Unaware, perhaps, but present. “Perhaps your Emperor does indeed look after your kind, Brynjar. It’s a miracle that our presence hasn’t been detected yet.”

The Wolf Guard Brynjar White—Beard snorted as any predatory creature would when eluded by its prey. The Space Wolf towered over Landrun, his massive bulk laid down upon the ruins of Gotland Hive beside a dozen handpicked Eldar Rangers, also observing the temple with discerning eyes. He flexed that massive claw interconnected to his gauntlet in unbridled anticipation. The aged monstrosity of a mon—keigh sniggered under his breath, the pure hate in his gaze channeling into the alien beside him.

The Wolf Guard growled, a primitive and crude gesture. “What do your witches say? They can see the future, can they not? Shall my lads fall to bloody ruin this day?”

Landrun sighed. “If we mount an assault without much more of a plan than ‘shred our foes with claw and fang’ than yes, the assault will not go as planned. The enemy can surround us easily if they were aware of our presence. In my opinion, waiting for your other ‘lads’ to arrive will probably be our greatest chance of success. I am signaling kin to withdraw.”

Brynjar snapped his jaws in disapproval, a frightening reaction that made the Eldar around him flinch. “Retreat!? I will never take a step back from the enemy, less our foes overrun us with their heathen armies.” He cast his gaze back down the slope of the ruined building. The White—Beard’s strike force of Space Wolves awaited his command eagerly. “I despise the thought of retreat! Sons of Russ and the All—Father! Attack!”

The distinct bellows of an artillery barrage disturbed the still air of the temple. Sirens wailed the very moment that portions of the ancient shrine collapsed in the wake of the barrage. Hundreds of cultists and dozens of Chaos Marines were buried beneath the rubble. The Sons of Russ hollered over the screams of the dying, charging over the lip of the ruins and into a no man’s land just beyond the Uppsala Shrine. Squadrons of sky blue and bright yellow Predators and Vindicators emerged from the rubble strewn roads of the Hive City, answering the blockading formations of enemy armor with precise barrages. Massive aerial craft that resembled flying buildings swept through the skies, shattering enemies with cannons that turned the lands around them into frozen hells.

Landrun realized that his fate had been sealed. “Rangers of Alatoic! To battle!”

Landrun picked out a dozen skull faced helmets within a minute, placing a charged bolt through each ceramite surface with a precision that would put even the marksmen of the young Tau to shame. He heard the distinct discharges of a hundred long rifles supporting his efforts. Everywhere around the charging Space Wolves, Champions of Chaos and the leaders of the hordes were put down like rabid dogs from afar. Chaos Space Marines noticed their brethren falling over wordlessly, but the bravado of the Space Wolves’ onslaught distracted them from responding altogether.

A Long Rifle fired just over the veteran Ranger’s head. Something on his other flank grunted in pain before collapsing in a heap. Ulreath called out from mere feet away. “Landrun, watch out!”

The Jump Pack wielding Chaos Marines known simply as Raptors soared through the air from unknown positions. They had been waiting for this moment for a long time, judging by their close proximity to the Eldar. Chainswords whirled and Eldar blood spilled freely as six of the Marines fell upon the unsuspecting Outcasts. The Rangers instantly shifted their fire from the outlying towers or were on their feet, blades in hand.

“Damn Mon-Keigh!” Landrun shouted, rolling away from the overhead strike of a whirring chainsword. He managed to leap to his feet, ducking beneath another arced sweep through the air around his head. A kindred Ranger leapt from behind his assailant, but the bark of a bolt pistol tore through his chest, leaving him sprawled amongst the rubble. Landrun fired his Long Rifle, the bolt knocked back the Chaos Marine’s right arm.

The Champion of Chaos roared in fury, unleashing saliva and heated air through the torn gaps in the grill of his helmet. His blade worked back and forth, cutting off each escape route Landrun attempted to take around the bellowing monstrosity. He continued his toying manner until the Eldar was pinned against a half collapsed wall.

“Oh, Bloody Handed Khaine…” Landrun murmured as the Raptor Champion retracted his sword arm for the killing blow. “Forgive me for working with these stupid, lumpen creatures, whom have sealed the fate of me and my kin.” He closed his eyes.

Bright light flashed inside of Landrun’s eyelids, he cried out as a shower sparks touched against his face. There was a wet growling in the air and the sound of blades crackling and clashing. He opened his eyes to reveal Brynjar’s bulk towering in front of him, the massive claw in on his gauntlet cleaving through the Raptor’s chainsword without effort. The Wolf Guard’s axe hand flexed and came down on the Raptor’s skull with all the thunder of a lightning strike. The Aspiring Champion fell, cleaved from skull to chest.

Brynjar’s younger warriors, the ‘Blood Claws’ came storming back towards the Eldar, charging into their foes with an unholy frenzy that made even Landrun pale with fear. Chainswords whirred back and forth, splitting through ceramite and flesh, Blood Claws fell before the expertise of the Raptors. Yet in the end, the Space Wolves were too numerous and tore apart the remaining enemy.

Brynjar smiled and snarled simultaneously. “Bleed your kind may, but that is the price of a victory worth attaining. Come, join the Space Wolves as they revel in the glory of battle! There are many yet that need killing!”

Landrun smiled, relieved. “Yes, we shall see what destiny entails for us, what vision that fate is guiding us toward.”
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Warhawk - Those Who Count


“Do… do you know what it means..?”

Macharis could just barely hear it; Just a pained whisper amid a din of crumbling earthworks, bellowing explosions and the chatter of guns and lasers alike.

He looked down over his shoulder with a kind of horror and disgust, suddenly aware that the body at his feet had not yet met peace.

It… he looked up at him, cracked lips in the barest of smiles, eyelids hanging as if about to pass into sleep. The impression was beatific, the scene almost picturesque, all a startling contrast next to the trailing gore that stemmed from what was once the man’s lower half.

“What?” Macharis yelled. He could not keep the wince from his face now that his mind registered just where that stench was coming from…

“Do…”

The fallen soldier seemed to lapse into the abyss for but a moment. Then, with a groan, he heaved his torso up against the shattered remnants of the wall nearby.

“Do you know what it means to be alive...?”

Somewhere across the next block of habs there was an explosion and a series of screams. Macharis flinched despite himself; the sound of shrapnel ricochet echoed around him.

“You’re… You’re alive,” the fallen one said, gaining volume with his conviction, “Don’t you understand…?”

The smell was getting worse. Or maybe it was simply his imagination. Or maybe the animated corpse at his feet was possessed, seeking to toy with his mind. Or perhaps… perhaps…

A three-story domicile across the street caved in with a deafening roar. A mouth of burnt gold punched through the nearest end, followed by a cannon’s barrel, and finally the hulk of a glacis plate adorned by spikes and wire.

Macharis’ eyes were bulging now, the prayer to his God-Emperor caught in a dry throat caked with dust and debris. He had heard stories of daemons and creatures of all kinds on this campaign, but the sight of this contorted and blasphemous image of a once blessed fighting vehicle gnawed at his innards…

“You think… think that it’s all hopeless and you’ve lost…”

A kind of claustrophobia set in, his mind running wild at what seemed like creeping death from all directions. Knees buckled and knuckles turned white around the stock of his rifle, both without his awareness. All that remained was that stench…

“No idea what… you have…”

He almost heard his nerves as they shattered, mixed in with the clattering of treads against tortured earth.

“What do you want from me?!” Macharis screamed, half at the approaching tank, half at the bloody pulp at his knee, “What do you want?! For God-Emperor’s sake!”

“Live…”

He finally looked down at the man, wild-eyed and on the verge of frenzy. Shades of green and khaki mixed with the brown earth and caked blood, and it was only then, when the image of this broken man filled his whole sight, that Macharis saw the offering in his hand.

It hung there from a limp and shredded arm, held up by the last vestiges of this man’s strength.

As Macharis grabbed it, abruptly and by instinct, the man’s arm fell for the last time.

“Live.”

A terrible howl drowned out all thought as the tank’s engines gunned. It powered through the remains of rockcrete and twisted beams, pitch and volume increasing from within a shroud of black exhaust. Its turret leveled in his direction and stabilized on the way up the small embankment.

Die.

Macharis’ took a step back and found that his balance had left him. Tumbling backwards over a legless table, he rolled into the crater at the center of the rubble and looked up in time to see the window frame ruthlessly crushed between a dozen tons of unholy iron.

Time seemed to wait, to drag out this scene just for him. His heartbeat slowed despite his adrenaline, and for a moment he felt his own life leave him where he lay.

He looked to the item in his hand, the gift of a corpse now thoroughly churned into oblivion.

A krak grenade.

He screamed.

It wasn’t the scream of an animal, or of a man being tortured. It wasn’t a scream of desperation, or of horror. He couldn’t describe what the scream was about, but it no longer mattered, because he had already gone over the top of the crater, grenade primed.

In mere meters he had reached the front of a tank which could not depress its cannon enough to hit him from such close range. Its sloped glacis plate seemed to beckon him onwards. And so he went, sliding between the spikes and cutting his body through the wire.

The cannon was at his feet, the commander’s cupola before him, and an instrument of righteousness firmly in his hand.

Yes, he was alive. And so long as he was alive he could fight.

And that was the greatest gift of all.

He saw to it that such a gift was not wasted.

-----

Somewhere behind the front lines, a Munitorum servitor sorted a pile of twisted and bloodied identification tags. Many had been charred beyond legibility. Others came clutched in dismembered hands, as if those who returned them for sorting were reluctant to defy the wishes of the dead.

It picked one up with a pincer apparatus and examined it with the calculating stare of an algorithm. The tag was still caked with burnt flesh, atomized in the explosion of some such mechanical device.

The servitor detected only the word “Macharis” and deftly tossed into an adjacent pile for unknown and irretrievable data.

In another age, the one doing this work would have cared. But what did a machine care for the labors of the living?
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