"Let me see if I have this straight..." The Commissar said, pulling his oculars off and rubbing the bridge of his nose. "You want to buy an Emperor's Day present from one of the local vendors?"
Gav nodded enthusiastically. He liked this new Commissar. This Commissar was old and wise. Gav never learned his name. He couldn't remember much, and what he could remember about Commissars was all about Arry.
Ten years. It had been ten years since Arry and...Bob had died. If Gav had been a normal human, he would have been thrown by how quickly such a time had passed. As an Ogryn, he simply accepted it with the same simple, child-like worldview with which he accepted everything.
"This wouldn't be a present for that Sororitas I see you hanging around with every now and again, would it, Sergeant Gav?" The Commissar smirked a bit, his voice barely containing the amusement he felt.
Gav shuffled his big, booted feet. "Yarp, suh." He nervously gripped the edge of the Commissar's large desk, crimping the smooth metal. The Commissar didn't yell at him. He was a nice Commissar. Not Arry, but nice.
The Commissar sighed and leaned forward. "You know, I could have you punished for asking something like this. I could construe it as insubordination... I could be angry, Gav." The Commissar always had to make things simpler for Gav. Arry never had to do that. He had always talked simple.
The Commissar hadn't been angry, and had even decided to accompany Gav on his trip to the town. It was a great day, and Gav was happy.
The planet they were on was near a lot of other planets taken by the Chaos men. Gav was happy to have another chance to hurt the Chaos men. They were the men who killed Bob. He'd killed that blue-and-gold godling, but he knew that there were more. Thanks to the metal parts in his head, he knew what that meant now.
The planet was a great place. It was a place people went to have a good time. The town was all lit up for Emperor's Day, and the lights made Gav happy. He and the Commissar walked along the main street, weapons held at ease before them.
The Commissar had told Gav that there might be Chaos men on this planet, so they had to be prepared. Gav didn't mind. He liked his big gun. Having it around reminded him of the big guns Bob used to use. And besides, if there were Chaos men around, Gav wanted to hurt them good before they could hurt him.
"Would you get that filthy thing out of my shop!? He's frightening away all the business and breaking everything!" The shop owner was mean. Gav didn't want to break things, but the shop was just so tiny! Every time he moved, his elbow or the tip of his gun would touch something and send it clattering to the ground.
The shop was full of statues. Little ones, big ones, some even bigger than Gav. Statues of the Emperor, of the Emperor's godlings, of his fellow Guardsmen. There were even a few statues of Ogryn.
Gav turned when he heard the shopowner begin to yell again. The Commissar was standing by the shopowner's counter, leaning against it. He smiled and nodded as the man continued to berate his big friend, before reaching down and unholstering his laspistol. He set the gun on the counter with a small clatter, never saying a word.
Gav was glad the shopowner stopped talking. He was mean.
It took Gav only a few minutes to find the right one. The simple-minded abhuman didn't know why, but the small statuette seemed much more beautiful than the rest.
"How much fer this'un?" He gingerly picked up the tiny statue, turning and knocking over three more on his way to the counter.
The shopowner harrumphed and looked down at the little statue. "Twenty thrones."
"You'll take five." The Commissar set the large, gleaming gold coins on the counter and picked up his lapistol. "Come now, Sergeant Gav. We have to wrap that before you give it to her."
"Now, see here, you.--" The shopowner began, blanching when he found himself staring down the barrel of that standard-issue Cadian pattern laspistol.
"My friend Gav is very set on giving this to a special someone. Think of this as... an Emperor's Day sale..." The Commissar smiled and holstered his pistol. Gav liked the Commissar. He was a nice man. Not like Arry, but nice.
They were barely out of the shop when the explosions started.
Gav turned his large, bald head towards the center of town, his one fleshy eye going wide. A large corona was spreading up and up into the sky, turning the post-dusk sky into early dawn. He winced and held up a large meaty hand as the flash became blinding, sending everything into stark relief.
The Commissar was yelling into nothing, a hand on his ear. Gav looked down at the little statue, before opening one of the pouches on his belt and slipping it inside. He patted the leather pouch before readying his gun.
"Follow me, Gav. We'll meet up with your tribesman two kiloms to the east." Gav nodded, acting as if he understood what the Commissar was saying, before taking off after the man, big booted feet stomping on the rockrete below him.
The lights of the city flickered and then went dark, making what was once a joyous city dark and scary to Gav. But he was with the Commissar, so that was all right. The Commissar would know what to do.
Gav was panting by the time they ran up to the frantic Guard column heading into the center of the city. Groups of PDF, hastily drawn conscripts, and grizzled veterans ran about the towering Ogryn in a frenzy. Orders were barked, weapons were ready, and oaths were reaffirmed. Somewhere in the distance, another explosion ripped through the town.
Gav found his tribesmen milling about near the entrance to a Chimera. Chelt, a small man even by human standards, stood at the top of the mud-caked ramp with a bucket full of potatoes, calling to the shuffling Ogryn.
"C'mon! We got a ton more in here! Get on in!" Gav came up behind his...three, four FIVE, five tribesmates and prodded one in the back.
"You 'eard Chelt! Git in! We got Chaos men t' smash! First one t' smash a Chaos man gets a lotta potatoes!" His tribesmen grinned and whooped and hollered, clambering up on-ramp and unknowingly dragging a rather unwilling Chelt into the Chimera with them.
Gav didn't fear the dark, enclosed space like he used to. Maybe it was the metal bits in his head. Gav thought it might be because he knew he was going to be killing Chaos men today. His anger was bigger than his fear today.
The noise outside was getting louder and louder. Gav could make out men yelling, lasguns firing, and some sort of singing. Well, it didn't really sound like singing, but it was the only word the hulking Ogryn could give to the strange trilling sound that grew inside the cab.
Suddenly the Chimera lurched around, pulling a quick one-hundred and eighty degree turn. It kicked up a billowing cloud of dust and debris as its tracks worked to keep the squat metal box turning. The lights began to flash as his squad readied their guns.
"FER DA EMPERAH!" "CHARGE!" "SMASH DA LITTLE'UNS!" Booted feet stomped down the hatch, followed swiftly by the more light tone of Chelt's boots. Gav swiftly assessed the situation- the Chaos men were over there, right in front of him. He pointed at them and yelled.
"Dere dey are! Smash 'em! Smash 'em fur Bob!" None of his tribesmen now remembered Bob. They were all replacements for other losses they'd had in the ten years since Bob's death. Gav still used that line every time they charged. It felt right.
The Chaos men were hiding behind broken cars and overturned boxes. They dressed funny, in a bunch of flashy colors and dresses. As he came closer to the line of Chaos men, he realized that the singing was coming from them; they were laughing and giggling even as they were shot down, writhing in their own pools of blood as if they were having fun.
Gav hit the line of Chaos men like an oncoming train, barreling through them and sending the bad men flying. He'd forgotten to even fire his gun, he realized as he splattered a woman's head with the butt of that gigantic weapon. Oh, well. Maybe he'd get to fire it next time.
The melee continued unabated, the bad Chaos men rushing at Gav and his tribesmen, eager to get blown to bits by close-quarter blasted or smashed apart by the slab-like muscles of the Ogryn.
Gav was slick with blood and other bodily fluids, his gun empty from how many of the bad men he'd shot. He killed with enjoyment, knowing that he was doing the work of the Emperor as he clubbed a young boy to death. Or was it a girl? It was hard to tell with normal humans, much less these Chaos men.
Gav grunted as he felt bullets slap into his back muscle, digging in slightly before that tightly corded musculature and hard bone stopped it from hitting anything vital. He turned and found himself staring down a great, hulking Chaos man wielding a heavy stubber. The man was almost completely naked, and Gav found himself laughing as he saw the man had a great big breast on the right side of his chest.
"Experience the kiss of death, blunted thing!" The bad Chaos man spat, pulling down on the trigger. He fired three shots- two missed, and one ricocheted off Gav's thick forehead- before he screamed out in surprised ecstasy.
From shoulder to hipbone, a great chainsword swathed through the Chaos man, sending a great spray of arterial blood in almost every direction. The two halves separated and flopped to the ground, leaving Gav smiling as he straightened up.
Standing there, heaving her monstrous chainsword onto her shoulder, was Tarla, her blood-stained parchment clothing wafting in the breeze.
"Hello, Gav." She said. "Doing the Emperor proud, I see." She smiled. Gav smiled, too. It was going to be a good day.
Fighting alongside Tarla was a lesson in humility for Gav. She almost scared him.
"In the Name of the Holy Father!" She'd yell as she and her squad of similarly-clothed sisters charged through torrents of lasfire, Gav and his tribesman following in their wake. Watching her sisters torn apart by heavy bolter fire or instantly incinerated by lascannons didn't seem to matter to Tarla. If anything, she just ran harder, holding that large chainsword over her head and whooping like she was a demon, herself.
The Chaos men were fighting to protect some sort of ritual in the center of town. Gav had heard some of the men yelling about it as they continued their frantic race towards the center of the city. Gav knew that whatever they were planning, it was definitely nothing good.
Two of his tribesmen had died, one with a hole punched through him by a lascannon, the other swallowed up by scores of gibbering, giggling Chaos men. Tarla's squad was doing even worse, half of her original twenty members cut down before they'd reached the edge of ground zero.
Gav had never seen such destruction before. It seemed as if everything in the center of town had simply ceased to be, replaced with scorched and blackened earth. The Chaos men formed a tight ring around the center, fighting like the madmen they were to keep the Guard from derailing their plans.
The fighting began to bog down when the Guardsmen smashed against the ring of those Chaos men. Gav could see men and women in the uniform of the local police among the Chaos men, as well as the peedef, or what the Commissar called "Retard Guard." Gav never really knew what that meant. He didn't thing the Commissar would tell him even if he'd asked.
A Leman Russ tank barked its commanding voice not feet from Gav, deafening him momentarily as it spat death towards the men who'd stopped loving the Emperor. Gave raised his empty gun and yelled out as he saw a score of Chaos men shredded by the gigantic impact, only to grimace as the gap was quickly plugged.
"Gav!" He turned his head towards that feminine voice, seeing Tarla standing atop the ruined, smoldering chassis of a Chimera. He waved.
"I see more of your tribesmen to the west! Let's join them for a final charge! By the Emperor, it is a good day to die!" She raised her chainsword and ululated at the Chaos men before hopping off the chassis and disappearing into the smog-choked night.
Gav took off after her, wondering what she was so happy about.
Tarla hadn't been joking when she said she'd seen more of his tribesmen. If Gav could count that high, he'd have been able to count himself among thirty of his own tribesmen, as well as ten Sisters Repentia and twenty Sororitas.
"This is where we shall make the breach!" A tall, scar-ridden woman in a suit of golden armor yelled at the gathered flock, raising her crackling power sword high. "Repentia! Ogryn! Lead the charge and force a gap! We shall follow you into the breach!"
Gav was one of only two Bone 'eads left among the Ogryn auxilia, so he and his counterpart — a happy-go-lucky sod named Jim — split the rest of his tribesmen into what amounted to two equal squads, give or take a couple confused in-betweeners.
Tarla and her fellow Repentia sent up a great cry. Gav and his fellow Ogryn raised the guns into the air and fired - well, except Gav, though he yelled really loud - stomping towards the tightly packed line with Tarla's screaming, whooping sisters in tow. The armored sisters hung back, moving forward slowly, a few shooting grenades over the gaggle of berzerkers and into the line of Chaos men.
Gav and Tarla ran side-by-side, the Ogryn's loping, flat-footed gait matching Tarla's swift, agile grace. She revved her chainsword and whooped, grinning ferally, her aquamarine eyes burning with purpose.
The charge was only halfway through when a great boom sounded throughout the battlefield. Another explosion sounded from the center of town, though there was no bright flash accompanying.
Then the entire Chaos line fell down dead, grins of insane ecstasy locked on their rictus-frozen faces.
The stink of burning flesh made Gav cough, slapping a paw-like hand over his nose.
The sisters had taken immediate action, burning the bodies of the fallen Chaos men in the tense silence following their sudden deaths.
Nobody ventured past the circle of dead heretics, Guards and Sororitas alike frozen in confusion. Only the woman in the golden armor seemed to know what was going on, barking at the General and his friends to 'make ready a defense' and 'secure the perimeter'. What that meant to Gav was walking back away from what had looked like a fun scrap, that gun held over his shoulder and a look of confusion and mild fear crossing his face.
"Take heart, Gav" The Ogryn turned and smiled as Tarla appeared beside him, chainsword held over her shoulder in a similar fashion. "The fight is not yet done. The enemy is up to something behind the flames. I can feel it." She still had that almost scary smile on her face, despite bleeding from several places across her scarred form.
"Ya al'right, sistuh?" Gav spoke, leaning against the same Chimera chassis she'd launched from minutes before. He pulled his water canteen from his belt and popped the top, swigging the warm liquid with great, wet gulps before wiping his mouth with his arm.
"Pain is weakness being purged from the body." She spoke, before her features softened somewhat. "I'm fine, Gav." She smiled and took the water bottle when he offered it, finding the liquid remarkably refreshing. She'd hardly known she'd been thirsty until the water had hit her lips, and now she almost drained the large canteen. Licking her lips, she handed it back.
A moment of silence passed between them, abhuman and fallen battle sister standing across from each other. Tarla's mind was reeling, thinking of the possibilities of what was going on behind that curtain of fire.
Gav was trying to remember something. He had something to tell Tarla...no, something to give her...what was it?
"This is one fine Emperor's Day..." Tarla commented, staring off into the roiling smoke rising from the burning cadavers.
"No'snot..." Gav responded, sarcasm failing to translate for him. "We got attacked an'..." His fleshy eye widened for the second time that day as he clumsily reached for that pouch.
"I got ya somethin' fer Emperah's Day, sis--" Gav had to clamp his hands over his ears, bending over double.
A shrill call struck across the battlefield, wavering and ululating in ways that made men soil their undershorts accidentally. Gave stumbled and almost knocked Tarla down, the Repentia also covering her ears and hissing as blood seeped from her nose.
"They come!" "Contact!" "All over us!" "Emperor help us!" Gav looked up to see figures leaping over the bodies of the dead Chaos men.
Skinny demons. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. They danced and hopped towards the panicking Guardsman line. Some rode two-legged things with long noses and even longer tongues. Others rode chariots or even flew with wings of their own. Gav furrowed his brow and hefted his gun, suddenly remembering that he had an extra clip of ammo clamped round his arse. Grabbing it and slamming it into place, he turned to Tarla.
"S'good day t'die, right?" He fired off a round towards one of those skinny demons, the spreading cone of shrapnel shredding the leering, lecherous thing. It vaporized as if had never existed, a whispered sigh following in its wake.
"IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER! DIE! DIE! DIE!" Tarla swung her chainsword at one of the skinny demons, who just twirled out of range, giggling and smiling. The demon clicked its massive claws and danced forward, meaning to take Tarla's head off. The Repentia was fast, raising the whirring teeth of her weapon to take off the hissing creature's claw with one deft stroke.
Gav held one of the creatures by its neck, grinning at it clawed fruitlessly at his slab-muscled arm. Raising his arm up, he slammed the thin, delicate thing against the ground again and again and again, until slick, blue-black ichor covered the front of his uniform, hissing and steaming the cool of the night air.
"S'good day..." He mused as he backhanded a trilling demon atop a mount, sending the silly thing flying over the burnt-out Chimera chassis. He didn't notice the several cuts across his body that the skinny demons had been making. He did start to feel a might dizzy, though it certainly wasn't from blood loss. His skin felt a bit too hot, and for some reason the colors in the world seemed too... hot.
He winced as he felt a claw dig deep into his back, turning 'round to get at the demon but grabbing onto thin air as it danced away, giggling at him. He hated that laughter. It reminded him of...
"SMASH 'EM!" He reached down and grabbed a big chunk of rockrete that had once been part of a building. Hefting it above his head, he hurled it into a mob of the demon things, crushing a good five or six of the tittering, hateful things. "FER BOB!" He added as he picked up another slab and hurled it, getting only one as the dexterous mob flitted away as one.
"Settle down, blunted one..." Gav reeled as that voice hit him, stumbling back to see something taller than him moving out from the smoke.
It was thin and lithe, taller than the two-legged machines some of his Guardsmen friends drove. Two pairs of thin arms moved with unnatural grace around a chest festooned with swollen, pierced udders. Its androgynous, horned face grinned down at the two beings, long tongue sliding out to taste the air.
"Step back, handmaidens." The tall thing lifted a finely-crafted broadsword as big as Gav, twirling it around with practiced ease as the smaller demons flitted away to seek new victims. "I wish to see how hard this thing shall fight in the name of Bob."
"He shan't be fighting alone, foul thing." Tarla fell in beside Gav, revving her gigantic chainsword. She was bleeding even worse than before, her parchment sprinkling little droplets of her precious life fluid across the blasted hellscape with every lazy wave in the soft breeze.
The laughter of the Keeper of Secrets made Gav wince and Tarla growl. "Ohhohohohohoo... how cute..."
Gav was amazed at how fast such a big thing could be. He'd seen the Emperor's godlings move fast, and had thought he'd seen the fastest things in them. But this gigantic creature put them all to shame. Claws and sword came down towards Gav and Tarla.
Had it been a one-on-one fight, Gav would have been shredded within seconds. But having to split its attentions between two foes meant that Gav only had to block half a flurry of blows, most of which glanced off his strong skeleton when they pierced his flesh. He began to grow confident, raising up his gun to blast away at the tall, spiteful creature, whooping and hollering as he went.
He wouldn't have noticed his arm missing had it not been for his gun. It had stopped firing, so he looked down to find that the entirety of his arm from below the shoulder had been ripped off, neat as if it had been sheared off with a cutting laser.
Gav fell onto his arse and looked down at his bleeding stump of an arm. As an Ogryn, his physiology was markedly different from humans. Harsher gravity on his homeworld meant that his veins were markedly more contracted than normal, meaning he could suffer loss of a limb without the immediate threat of bleeding out. Shock, however, was still a threat. In that state, Gav forgot the melee and began to search for his missing arm.
"Enough!" The Keeper of Secrets threw aside the Repentia's feeble efforts, the blood loss finally slowing Tarla's reflexes. With one great cry, she threw herself at that thing which had dared to hurt Gav, tears rolling down her face. Gav, who had been nothing but kind to her...
The cursed thing's tail whipped about, disarming Tarla before impaling the Repentia upon its barbed tip with ease. The Keeper's grin growing all the wider. It could taste the woman's despair as she realized her death was imminent, tossing her aside to turn on the Ogryn.
"Your little friend is dead, blunted one. Well... close enough..." It went to one knee, leaning down to put its face level with the Ogryn's. Ugly, vile thing. Killing it would be a kindness.
"I'll take my time with you... you deserve a modicum of experience... such a blunted thing is bound to have had so little..." That jaw hung open in a feral grin, tongue sliding out.
Ogryn rarely move quickly, or have good ideas. If they have one, they usually don't have it while having another. Sometimes, though, in the great galaxy, an Ogryn might have a moment of clarity.
Grabbing one of his grenades from his belt, he popped the simple trigger mechanism off and shoved the weapon into the gloating thing's hateful, toothy mouth.
The Keeper of Secrets Ak'fth'laasth had only seconds left in the Empyrean to realize its error in judgement before its head exploded in a shower of gore.
Where was that voice coming from? Gav stood above the broken and twitching body of the Keeper of Secrets, his arm momentarily forgotten as he heard the feeble voice calling to him.
"Tarla!" He remembered! A vague image of that horrible thing impaling the Repentia on its tail flashed through the Ogryn's head. He looked down at the hissing, dissembling corpse, fighting back the urge to punch it.
Gav's booted feet grew louder in Tarla's hearing. Her sight was all but gone, the blood loss and trauma rendering her blind. She felt big, sweaty hands taking hold of her body, lifting her into a sitting position and almost crushing her into a sweating, stinking chest. She closed her eyes and lay her head on that chest.
"Tarla... Tarla, dun't go t'sleep... don't sleep, Tarla..." He shook her until her eyes popped open again, tears rolling freely down his cheeks.
"It's over, Gav... I gave my life for... nn... the Father... now I can... d-die... in peace...." Tarla smiled and reached up, finding Gav's bumpy, stubble-covered face and caressing gently.
"No!" He shook his head. "Not now! I haven't evun given ya yer present yet!" He reached down into that pouch and pulled that statuette out, taking one of her hands and slipping the angelic figurine into it.
Tarla grinned. "Gav...it's beautiful..." She wouldn't tell the Ogryn she couldn't see it. It would be too cruel.
"Thank ya, sistuh..." Gav's voice had taken on a grave tone. Tarla noticed it and her face became set. She could hear them, encircling the two. Giggling, trilling. Gav was staring down a slowly tightening circle of Daemonettes. They watched and waited, drinking in the last dying feelings of the Sister Repentia.
Despair was a foreign feeling to an Ogryn. They usually died too quick to feel anything except quiet disappointment that they could no longer serve their Emperor.
As the circle began to close, Gav began to feel the tendrils of despair choking his heart. Everyone he loved died. Arry first... then Bob. And now Tarla, one of the few humans who'd ever treated him really good. Not just decent, but really good!
With nothing left to do, the Ogryn bowed his head in prayer.
"Emperah... if y'can hear me... I dun't care if'n I live... I dun good... but Tarla... forgive her... for whatever she dun..." The words came slow, blood loss and his own ignorance fighting against the feelings that wanted to be voiced.
"Save 'er... In the Emperah's name...amen..."
The Daemonette cackled and moved in closer. Gav curled himself around Tarla's motionless corpse, unwilling to stop protecting her, even in the face of death.
A bright, white beam of light pierced the space between Gav and Tarla. The Daemonettes hissed and hopped back, their flesh burning and popping and peeling. Gav was launched back by a shockwave that was heard across the battlefield, banging against that burnt-out Chimera chassis and sliding down onto his arse.
"Follow me, my sisters! The grenade has disoriented them!" Bolts ripped through the bodies of the shrieking daemonettes, the buzzing of eviscerators cutting swathes through the horrible creatures.
Sororitas marched in calm lines, bolters held at their chests, firing on full auto into the screaming melee. Repentia and Daemonette were taken down with impunity, the area scoured of daemonic taint within short order.
Gav saw none of this, of course. The blast from the blessed grenade had knocked him against the burnt-out Chimera chassis, the blunt trauma combined with blood loss finally knocking him unconscious.
Tarla had received minimal damage from the grenade, thanks in part to Gav's protective nature - his body had shielded her from the worst of the holy blast, though what little she did receive only exacerbated her condition.
Gav awoke in a medicae facility days later. He would need extensive grafts, a bionic arm, and perhaps even debriefing by the Inquisition about what he had been witness to.
Gav didn't care about any of that. His first question, when he could croak it out, was:
"Is Tarla okay?"
"It was the only way to be sure, Gav. She had already been tainted once! Prolonged exposure to the Slaaneshi demons might have--" The Sororitas didn't get the rest of it out. A bedpan flew at her head, crumpling into the wall right where her head had been.
Despair had once again taken hold of Gav's heart. They said it was standard procedure for one twice-cursed as Tarla. She would have turned back eventually. At least this way she would be useful, they said.
Gav's anger was tempered only by his inability to move. They'd doped him up something fierce, a compromise between the General and the Canoness. The Canoness would've rather not told the abhuman, simply let him assume that Tarla died. The General said that the least Gav deserved was the truth. So they'd doped him so he wouldn't be able to hurt anyone. They hoped.
Gav was crying again, his one arm flailing as the emotions fought to come forth. He'd hardly understood a thing the Sororitas had said, but the gist of it was clear. Tarla was alive, but...
He felt a gentle hand press against his shoulder. He calmed down almost immediately, looking up into the one aquamarine eye Tarla had left.
She'd been mind-scrubbed and turned into a servitor. It was said that small parts of her still remained in her living brain, but to Gav, this was somehow worse than just letting her die. The entire left half of her face had been replaced with metal bits, a mesh grille in place of where her mouth had been. That one aquamarine eye stared down at him in bovine complacency, that single good, human, fleshy hand gently stroking at Gav's shoulder. The rest of her body had been left to rot, replaced with a humanoid chassis built to be the greeter of some hospice somewhere, eternally signing people in and making recorded, polite conversation.
Gav let that one human hand continue to stroke his shoulder. Maybe it was just the metal brain working, trying to calm him down. Gav liked to think some part of Tarla was still in there. Tarla had been a great friend, just like Bob.
Two days later a Leman Russ tank crushed the statuette left out on the battlefield. Nobody noticed.