TROOPER RUDOLPH KERN, another member of the Kopftjägers, was an even uglier-looking beast than Dormagen and that was saying something. He was kneeling next to the dead scout, going through the mans pockets. He shook his head with disappointment when he realised that Dormagen had already beaten him to it. Kern was a dull-eyed bruiser who had lost both his ears during some long-forgotten battle. When Schaeffer appeared, he waved the senior sergeant over and nodded at the corpse.
“Rolph, look at that”.
The Handshaari’s sand-coloured cloak had fallen open to reveal flak armour underneath. On the man’s right shoulder pad was an embossed Imperial eagle. Schaeffer looked at the headless corpse for a few seconds and then prodded it with the toe of his boot. A swarm of insects angrily took to the air and buzzed his face. The Spiess shook his head and then looked up at the men gathering around him.
“Remember this‘, he said in a low, uncompromising voice ‘and remember this good. If any of you are having any doubts about who we are fighting here, I’ll remind you.
As soon as this man decided to follow his deluded leaders, and break away from the Imperium, he lost the right to wear our uniform. He is not Imperial Guard; he is just an enemy wearing an Imperial Guard uniform. He is no better than a Greenskin or a Grübeln.
We are the power around here, the legitimate power and authority. We are the word of the Emperor.
We will show these rebels no mercy, and we will give them no quarter. Is that understood?’ there was some low muttering from those that had gathered. ‘Rest assured Kameraden, he will show you none. He has everything to lose right now, and he will take as many of you with him as he can”.
I remember that I stared long and hard at the Spiess and for the first time since joining the regiment, I saw the hidden light within that crusty veteran, and I saw total loyalty to the cause and the God-Emperor of Mankind. I also sensed a tremendous strength and a hidden might and rage, which lay just beneath the surface of the senior sergeant, and I knew why the men revered him so much. I was glad that I would never have to meet him face-to-face on the field of battle. I also pitied those who did.
We were at the tip of a long valley that ran up a seam of tall ragged teeth-like rocks. To our right stretched the endless desert, disappearing into a heat haze in the distance.
To our left stood a tall wall of smooth granite, two hundred metres high. On top of that, and barely visible in the half-light, were the outer walls of the city. We knew that sentries were patrolling above us and servitor-guns lined its rim. One mistake and the whole city would come down on us.
The valley had been carved out by a long dead river and the constant wind and cut it into almost complete tube. We were hidden from above by the walls of the riverbed, which formed a roof above us.
Dormagen had discovered the valley two days ago, and we had been watching it carefully for any signs of the enemy.
It became obvious after a while, that the Beddo’s used it to get in and out of the city to attack our convoys, without the need of emerging from the main gate.
Now we would use it to our advantage and break in. It was an audacious plan, the way would be heavily defended, but the stakes were high. That was why the Deathshead Regiment were chosen, one; because we were good at infiltration techniques and two; because we were expendable.
“Where’s the entrance?” Schaeffer asked quietly, turning his back on the cadaver. Dormagen nodded towards a rocky outcrop about one hundred metres further on. A sea of Flyfax surrounded its base.
“The other side of that grass. There are a couple of trenches covered by a camouflaged bunker. There’s a heavy weapon inside the bunker and maybe half a dozen rebels manning the trenches. A camouflaged ladder leads up to the tunnel in the city wall”.
“The secret way in eh?”, smirked Kern ‘I like that”. Him and Dormagen exchanged grins.
“Communications?” queried Schaeffer.
“This was the last of their scouts‘, said Dormagen . ‘We’ve mopped up the rest and cut any power lines in and out. We’ve got our very own Adept jamming all their vox traffic. They are on their own, and don’t even know it yet”. The corporal grinned, revealing his brown-stained teeth.
MORE OF THE first platoon began to form up around me, appearing out of the haze like shimmering spectres.
Being Jirmanic, they were invariably tall, well built and fair. They all sported beards in one form or another. Some had been dyed different colours, some were braided, and some were even forked. All were immaculately cared for (except Dormagen’s!). Most of them had silver or gold rings intertwined into them, signifying personal kills. A few broad, swarthy types, had blue spiral tattoos on their faces, these were the tribal markings of the Berl tribe, hardened Hive dwellers, tough and uncompromising street fighters…
All of the men wore desert camouflage fatigues with olive green equipment and webbing. They all sported the black silk cuff-title on the bottom of their left sleeves, bearing the word Kopftjäger
in silver gothic script.
They were heavily armed and looked ready for action. Those of them who still wore the standard-issue Tri-dome helmets, were struggling with the heat. I noticed immediately that the Imperial eagle insignia on the front of their helmets had been altered.. The Imperial wings had been removed leaving only the skull. This was the unique, and totally unofficial badge of the 3rd Jirmania. It smacked of heresy and had been noted by the Commissars. This blatant vandalism was tolerated…. Just.
I also studied their quiet confident swagger, born about from years of campaigning. This was one of things that drew me to the regiment. As I watched them, my stomach knotted and found that I was jealous of these veterans, and knew that I desperately wanted to be one of them.
The vast majority of them filed by and did not give me a second glance. A couple sneered at me and one even directed a boot towards my head, but for the most part, I was invisible to them.
I retreated back into myself, tried to disappear and hide from their accusing gazes. Just as I did so, a crusty old Guardsman winked at me and gave a slight nod. I suddenly felt a flush of relief welling inside and realised that I was not entirely alone within the regiment. Suddenly my spirits lifted.
Glowna, my section number two, punched me on the arm and pointed in the direction ahead. He left me no doubt that he was in charge here, and from his rough look, I could tell he was not happy with me. He cradled a wicked-looking non-standard chain gun in his arms. The weapon was heavy and cumbersome, but looked like a Jungen‘s toy in his large, muscled arms.
“Move it you little Shisse
. You made the Zug look bad today, you ficking amateur. I won’t forget it in a hurry, believe me. Now shift your arse”.
I clambered slowly to my feet, retrieved my knife and tagged on behind.
It would seem that I was back in the real world again…
A YOUNG OFFICER wearing a crumpled peaked hat strode past me, barely noticing my presence or choosing to ignore me. He had a strikingly fair beard that had been plated into two spikes. The officer sought out Schaeffer and when he found him, he placed a friendly arm around his shoulders.
It was First Lieutenant Meyer, my platoon commander, and about the only officer in the entire Imperial Guard, that Schaeffer had any time for.
I saw him look down at the corpse, shrug a shoulder and turn away without a second thought. The officer had probably seen it a thousand times before… human, Ork, Eldar, they were probably all the same to him. He waved a couple of Kopftjägers over and ordered them to dispose of the body.
“And if he’s got identity tags‘ he said casually ‘bring them to me. When we take the city, the Arbites can pay his family a visit”.
The unmistakable shapes of three Commissar’s followed up the rear of the group. Their leader was a tall, dark-skinned, grim-faced man with a face that looked as if it had been carved out of granite. He was in a deep conversation with another Kopftjäger, a Feldwebel*,
Sergeant Fisher, my platoon leader. Fisher used to be a regimental pugilist and had a face that had seen countless bouts in the ring. His nose was completely flattened, and the cartilage almost non-existent. His large nostrils became his prominent feature, and were almost comical to look at… but you would never say that to his face, not if you valued your life!
The leading commissar was carrying an ornately decorated power sword over his right shoulder, and gripped the guard of an equally impressive sheath, with a gold-plated power glove. He was sweating heavily, and every so often, he would curse out loud, and look up to the sky, his white teeth standing out against his dark features. At one point he let out a string of curses and looked about him like a predatory animal. The Kopftjäger’s around him gave him a wide birth. One of the men did not move quick enough and was smacked over the head with the flat of the Commissar’s sword for his trouble.
The pair of Commissar’s to his rear looked young and smelt of barracks and training fields. Their long blue Commissar coats and tall-visored hats, were immaculate and did not bear the signs of hard campaigning. Their leader looked positively ragged alongside them. They were cadet Commissar’s and fresh out of Schola Progenium
They moved with a quiet confidence, knowing that they were virtually untouchable. They glanced cautiously about, watching everything, but saying nothing.
The veteran Commissar saw Meyer, Schaeffer and the small group of NCOs gathered in conference. They were standing in the shade of a large overhanging boulder. The Commissar‘s face broke from the sneer and into a smile.
“How goes it Schaeffer?”, he asked in a deep baritone voice as he moved in close behind the group. Schaeffer looked up and nodded and then narrowed his eyes, at the two Commissars hovering to the rear.
“Commissar Rabe, what an unexpected pleasure‘, he smiled ‘I did not expect to see you out here in the heat and flies”.
Rabe raised his sword’s pommel to his chin in mock salute.
“I got fed up hanging around up at headquarters‘ he shrugged ‘the air-conditioning was giving me a head ache. Besides, sometimes I like to rough it with the minions, and get my hands dirty, especially when I get to administer the last rites to traitors. I trust your boys are up to the task?”
Schaeffer’s face broke into a broad smile. Him and Rabe went back a long way and had fought side by side on many battlefields. They had a grudging respect for one another, a respect born in the hot crucible of war.
Schaeffer tilted his head at Rabe’s companions. The Commissar shrugged his shoulders and turned slightly towards the two men.
“Sorry, my apologies’, he coughed ‘may I introduce Cadet Commissar Xafinity and Nectaar. They are here to replace the other unfortunates that got fried during your last scrap on Utruv Two”.
The taller of the two Commissar’s stepped forward and gave a curt bow towards Schaeffer. He was no more than twenty years old with a fresh olive face ,with piercing blue eyes. A duelling scar ran down the left side of his face, which split the corner of his mouth. Schaeffer wondered how he had achieved such a wound at his tender age, as duelling was expressly forbidden in the Commissariat.
“Sergeant-major Schaeffer I presume?. I have heard so much about you. It will be a pleasure’, he paused for a second, thinking about his words ‘it will be a pleasure to serve with you”.
Schaeffer did not move, and did not make any sign or a signal that he had heard the young Commissar or even acknowledged his existence. Xafinity was about to say something else but Rabe stepped in and placed his gloved hand on the young Commissar’s shoulder.
“The Spiess is rather busy at the moment…. Xafinity, the pleasantries can wait until after this is all over”.
Nectaar, the second Commissar, a thickset man with grey, cloudy eyes and a cropped head, gave Schaeffer a nod and a barely hidden smile. Schaeffer nodded back.
“Well, Feldwebel Fisher‘ asked Meyer ‘are the boys ready?”.
Fisher placed the butt of his Lasgun onto the ground and then proceeded to vigorously scratch the remains of his nose. Several Kopftjägers sniggered at the sight but turned away when Fisher looked for the culprits.
“Aren’t they always, Leutnant?”, he said slowly.
“Right then’, said Schaeffer, turning back to the group, ‘the entrance we have been looking for is just over there. It looks like some sort of ventilation shaft or maybe a sewerage outlet that leads directly into the city. Its been bored through solid rock and the actual walls are a further fifty or so metres up. We should be hidden from the sentry’s above it by a series of overhangs and local brush wood’, he pointed to a line in the sand ‘There is a ladder leading up to the pipe which is camouflaged from the air”.
“It’s very pretty”, added Dormagen.
Schaffer looked up “Either way, it’s our way in to the city. It is guarded of course, but the rebels are few and, Emperor Protect Us, they are still oblivious to our presence”.
Meyer gave the senior sergeants shoulder a light slap.
“Just like Lippestadt Wanderattes*
caught in a barrel, eh Rolph? Rows of rebels ripe for the slaughter. Shall we get this show on the road then?”
Schaeffer nodded and then unsung his Lasgun. He checked its power cell carefully and adjusted the fire output switch to FULL.
“For the Emperor, sir?”, he said in a firm voice, and then winked at Rabe near by.
“Yes of course Spiess,’ replied Meyer ‘For the Emperor’, and he smiled and then wiped his brow with the back of his hand, ‘..And also to get out of this Verdammpt heat and into some decent shade. I should not be here, I’m a temperate, fair-skinned person and not used to this kind of heat”. He nodded at Schaeffer, who brought himself rigidly to attention.
“Abteilung!“, “Attention!”, he hissed ‘Bluteid!“. The assault group, numbering about fifty, roughly half of the First Company, immediately went down onto one knee, heads bowed and removed their helmets and caps. The men placed their weapons out in front of them at arms length.
I tucked down behind two large Kopftjäger’s hoping to disappear from view from the men around me. I had never been privy to this before, I‘d only heard about it from Grandpa Willi. Meyer had called for a blood-oath.
Used by the famed Space Marines, the oath or the ’Oath of Moment’ was a sacred vow, sworn in the Emperor‘s name. Each Astartes warrior would vow to succeed in the task set before him, and would swear before Holy and significant banners to fulfil this oath. His comrades or commander would stand in the place of the Emperor and it would bond him. To fail the Oath of Moment, was to fail as a warrior.
When the original Jirmanic tribes had seen the exalted Astartes swear their Oaths before battle, it greatly impressed them, and sat well with the cult of the warrior. From that point forward, Jirmanic warriors emulated the mighty Space marines, and also swore their own oaths. To a warrior, to fail to fulfil a blood-oath was tantamount to utter failure as a warrior, and with it came shame and the contempt of your brethren.
Blood Oaths were not taken lightly. Entire Jirmanic regiments had been utterly destroyed on the battlefield after swearing an oath, rather than give in to failure. Commanders had to use it wisely. The fact that Meyer had called an oath, showed the importance and brevity of our mission. We would break open the city, or die trying.
The Company colour of 1st Kompanie was brought forward by a massive Kopftjäger with bare arms covered in hive-gang tattoos. He still wore his Tri-dome helmet with a black visor pulled down over the upper half of his face. A bright red beard hung down to the man’s chest, which was intertwined with warrior rings and gold lace.
The banner, a black rectangle of unknown material, bore a silver grinning skull in its centre. Around this was a green laurel leaf, entwined with gold and silver thread. The word Kopftjäger was sewn in black gothic letters on a silver banner below the skull. Faded Names and distant battlefields were painted in white on either side, places where the Company had fought and died, names that were forever etched in the minds of the men around it.
The colour was an unassuming thing, a hanging that was discoloured and worn, ripped at the edges and stained with dark blood and ochre.
Meyer drew his own power sword and drove its tip into the sandy ground. With an almost theatrical reverence, he delicately took a hand full of the standard with his left hand and held up the palm of his right.
“For the Emperor‘ he began in a sombre voice, ‘who sits upon the Golden Throne on Terra.
Today we renew our allegiance to you and make our sacred oath‘, he paused, letting the words fade away ‘We will not fail in the task that is before us, and we shall carry forth victory whatever the cost.
If we do not succeed, then our lives are forfeit, if we run, our names will be stricken from the records.
To those of us who are about to die, have no fear. The path that lies before you has already been foreseen and the Emperor has willed it”
The gathered men responded quietly,
“Imperator mos is”
“….and I will hold you to your oath.
Today we will cleave a path to victory and destroy our enemies utterly.
Failure is not an option.
Give Death, Take Death!“
And we replied quietly, resisting the urge to shout out our battle cry and make our enemies quiver with terror.
“Give Death, Take Death!“
We all began to bang our weapons against our chests and punch our fists into the air.
I watched some of the older men embrace each other and smile, and then overheard Schaeffer and Dormagen talking in low voices.
“I’ll see on the other side, you old war-hound”, smiled Schaeffer.
“Across the Bridge of Swords*
”, replied Dormagen almost like a chant.
“And to the Hall of our Ancestors”
“ Where we can drink and make merry until the light in the sky dims and the Emperor himself, sits by our sides”.
I then realised that they were both looking at me, staring at me, almost daring me to say something. I made a hasty retreat.
What the two old soldiers said confused me. I could not put my finger on it, but knew that something they whispered did not seem quite right. I put my thoughts away, when the company began to form up.
Dormagen smiled as if nothing was untoward. Sergeant Fisher gave me a slight nudge and I moved into position.
I nodded at my squad leader and tried to smile back, but trepidation had crept in and I realised that there was not much to smile at. I was about to go to war…….
* * *
… Lance Corporal
… A native rodent in the space docks on Jirmania Prime. When attacked, the rodents form a protective circle, and all die en masse!
Bridge of Swords*…
A mythical bridge that the warriors must cross to find peace in death