The Fields of Herdias Prime
Word Count: 1099 including title
He fekking hated
Then again, each world seemed like a shithole just a little bit worse than the last. The grass is greener on the other side of my arse,
Shaking off the rain collecting on his matte black helm, Derik Vigo grimaced. The humidity, the heat, and the mud were the great triumvirate of Herdias Prime, and he doubted he would be done with it any time soon. The cultists on the other side of No Man’s Land seemed more than happy to sit out the long coming months of the rainy season in their bunkers while the Guardsmen of the Larillan 41st wallowed in filth.
As if reading his glum mood, Cranson chuckled beside him. Glancing over, Derik noticed his squadmate watching him from the autocannon’s mount. ‘Well look at the bright side mate,’ Cranson said, ‘it could be raining the drips!’
Derik sniggered; Cranson, the never-ending optimist, had contracted a venereal disease the last time he had visited the whores on ‘furlough.’ Despite the man’s discomfort while urinating, he still found the whole episode hilarious, and brought attention to it whenever he could.
‘Just keep it in your pants, Cranson,’ he responded, ‘I have no need to have your crotch-contagion spreading, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the commissar would consider you spreading it treason.’ Derik sighted back down his sniper scope, trying to find any movement in the deluge. ‘”Corrupting the holy masses of the Emperor’s Guard,” he’d say. “hampering the ’
‘True, true,’ his friend replied, ‘he’s just jealous I’ve gotten tail.’
Derik resisted bait and kept focusing on No Man’s Land. Truth be told, as much as he liked Cranson’s amiable banter, sometimes he just wanted the man to shut the hell
up. It was hotter than a whorehouse on discount days, and Cranson’d know
, the mud was deep enough to suck the boots from his feet each time he tried to move, and the meteorological team with the 41st reported no end to the rainstorms in the near future.
The damned rainstorms were the reason he was stuck in the trench in the first place. The sodden terrain was too soft for high amounts of armoured traffic, and the tanks and artillery pieces from the rest of the battlegroup had been deemed more important than the 41st’s troop transports. Therefore, Derik and the other four thousand riflemen had to spend a solid week digging trenches. He scowled and stretched his still-sore fingers, feeling the raw skin rub painfully against his flak gloves.
Well, too late for that synth-skin now,
he thought. The skin was at least starting to heal, and despite his complete inability to keep the torn blisters dry, at least the pain had receded to a constant ache radiating up his arms instead of the biting stabs it had been.
‘Enjoying the rain, fekkers?’ a voice said behind them. Derik turned to see the Sergeant-of-the-Guard, Lenitto, leaning bareheaded in the shoddily-constructed wooden fighting position. ‘Just making sure you weren’t grabbing a bit o’ shuteye, la-’ He abruptly cut off as a fit of vicious coughing seized his body.
‘Get in uniform before you try calling us out, eh?’ Cranson called back, ‘And announce yourself ahead of time, I can’t hear shite in this rain.’
Sergeant Lenitto could not respond, his body just kept convulsing with coughs. ‘So-cough
-at the fek...’ his words died off as he collapsed against the frame of the entryway, clenching his throat.
‘Is he fekking choking?’ Cranson’s voice had risen noticeably, ‘Keep watching, I’ll help him.’ Cranson rushed over to kneel by the hacking sergeant, tossing his kit carelessly to the ground.
Derik tried to focus on No Man’s Land, but there was something about Lenitto’s coughing that made him queasy. It was not the same dry hack or wet wheeze that normally accompanied the ague. He heard the man retching behind him, the heaves and solid splashes into the puddles distinctive over the rain. He felt a wave of nausea rush over him, raising the hairs on his neck. The incessant hacking continued, and he could hear it being echoed down the line.
Glancing back, he saw the sergeant sprawled face down in the mud, a bloody, black ichor spreading from his head. Cranson grasped futilely at his throat from his knees, reaching out to Derik for help. On the man’s pale skin, Derik could see a black stain creeping, corrupting.
He was frozen, not with fear, but with disgust. These men were plagued, and he knew he could do nothing for them. Helplessness welled in his chest as Cranson’s outstretched hand began trembling. The dark rot ate through the fingers, and each fell in a grotesque splash in the water. The taint spread in the water, rancid tendrils shooting out in all directions feeling for a new host.
Pushing himself back into the corner of the fighting position, Derik could do nothing but watch in utter horror as the seeking fingers of decay spread towards him, searching for an opening in his uniform. It found a seam, and he felt his leg ignite. Something was burning him from the inside, a fiery agony that he had never known exploded up his leg as his body consumed itself.
‘God Emperor, preserve us!’ he cried, ripping his flak jacket off and exposing his chest to the rain. The blackness was spreading, filling his veins with decay. So focused was he, staring in abject horror at the stain that he did not notice Cranson collapse limply in the trench, with his rotting stump still stretched to his friend, nor that his boots had fallen freely from feet that had rotted to mush, nor did he see the massive, bloated armoured figure approach his position and gaze inside. He could feel nothing below his waist, only a burn and the sweet odour of his own festering flesh as his chest cavity collapsed.
‘Nothing here, Lord,’ a metallic, gurgling voice said from behind him. He tried to turn and look, but his spine had long since liquefied, and his head swung freely from his neck. As his head lolled back and forth and his brain was consumed, he thought he saw the outline of an angel of death.
‘All are dead,’ Nosfer reported, ‘None resisted.’
Flegmus nodded, unsurprised. These hosts were too mature to adapt to survive the Cleansing. No new souls would be garnered in the Grandfather’s army this day. ‘To the next world, then,’ his voice bubbled, thick with mucus. ‘The Wrathful demands more.’