SIX MONTHS AGO, a holy man, and a member of the Ecclesiarch, a small-time preacher called Nabu-Amin, had a vision.
In the Holy Temple of the Immaculate Birth in the capital city of Nabulûs, an angel had visited him whilst he prayed. The angel showed him the future and the future was bleak and full of death, destruction and untold misery. The Emperor, whose light guides us through the void, was going to be struck down by a daemon God of Chaos, so powerful that the very foundations of the great palaces of Terra, would crumble to dust and trillions would die in the internecine war that followed. The Emperor would fall amongst his loyal servants and the ruinous powers would finally devour the dynasty of Mankind.
With his dying breath, the God-Emperor ordered ’The Enlightened Ones’ to save his people and hide them away until the Emperor‘s second coming. These chosen people would lead the way to a new beginning. He, Nabu-Amin had been selected. He would be one of the Emperor’s elite cadre, a chosen leader, and he would save Humanity.
Blessed by the Emperor, and with the guidance of his angels, the Holy man persuaded his fellow believers to join him on this great journey across the stars.
The people, mainly poor serfs, ignorant but forever hopeful, followed him, and believed in his tales of foreboding. He would be the one who would lead them from the coming darkness and into the dawn of a new era.
He named himself; Nabu-Handshaar-Usar, The King of Handshaar and his followers travelled far and wide to spread his holy words.
Imperial interests, the finite tools of government were brushed aside in a wave of religious zeal and euphoria.
For he had been chosen….
But the Emperor was not going to fall… at least not yet. The skies did not blacken, and the suns snuff out. The dread Gods of Chaos did not venture forth to regurgitate their foulness and corruption. The Emperor of Mankind was safe on Holy Terra, controlling the Imperium from his vast palace, and surrounded by thousands of loyal space marines with the most powerful defence systems in the history of the galaxy.
The Emperor blinked and the High Lords of Terra studied their charts to find this planet on the outer reaches. They did not share the king’s visions, nor were they impressed by his disloyalty to their God.
So they sent forth emissaries with orders to bring the king’s head back to Terra, but when the corpses of the emissaries returned instead of the Kings head, all notions of a peaceful settlement were over. The rebellion would be dealt with as it is always dealt with.
The Imperial Guard came….
THE SCOUT STOPPED and began moving his head slowly, cocking it to one side and making sniffing sounds. He was almost invisible, clad in the traditional sand-coloured Throbe
the Beddo’s wore, which covered the upper part of his body, secured at the waist with a crimson cumber band made of silk. His legs were covered in lose-fitting desert-style combat trousers, tucked into heavy-duty boots. As a desert dweller, he also wore the white cloth Shemag
over his head, a traditional covering used by desert-types to protect them from the heat. He wore black eye-protectors, which made him look almost machine-like. A curved dagger with an ornately decorated sheath and a water canteen finished him off.
The only thing that I recognised on the scout, was a standard-issue Imperial Guard Lasgun, and that was pointing in my direction. The Beddo had wrapped a piece of white cloth around its barrel, which was a rudimentary attempt at camouflage.
The scout stood upright, placed the palm of his right hand against his chest, and began murmuring a prayer or chant.
Three things now happened simultaneously, catching me completely by surprise…
There was a snap, like the sound of a dry twig, which caused the Beddo to swing around to his left, bringing his Lasgun up into his shoulder in one swift movement…
My right eye exploded in a stab of white-hot pain…
The rebel scout crashed forward into the Flyfax with a low grunt, stirring up a great cloud of dust and flies…
A second or two of complete silence and then a sudden movement.
“Fic, Fic, and Fic to the heavens’, came a gruff voice ’I cannot bloody believe it! I knew it, I bloody knew it. Stand up you bog-trotting Jüngen
, or by the God Emperor himself, I’ll kick you ‘til you bleed”.
I found myself on my knees, with my knife laying in the dust a couple of metres in front of me. I was holding my face, which had exploded in a crescendo of white-hot pain.
A shadow passed over me, momentarily blocking out the planet’s twin suns. It was another Kopftjäger
, a short man with the bold numerals ‘111
’ on his left shoulder guard. The three ‘one’s’ of first squad, first platoon, first company… my squad. The man was not wearing a standard helmet but wore a tatty, grey forage cap instead.
I dared to glance up, and then realised who it was. I was numb, speechless and could do nothing but clutch at my face, which throbbed with waves of stabbing pain.
’ I managed to groan pathetically, ’I don’t know what happened”.
The blow came from nowhere, hitting the left side of my head, and knocking me sideways into the sand. I momentarily blacked out. A legion of small crickets descended upon me as soon as he hit the hard ground, and invaded every nook and cranny of my uniform.
“Shut your stinking hole boy, especially when I am in full flow’ reproved my attacker, who actually wore the two white chevrons of a junior Non-com, ’Verdammpt!
(common curse)’ he cursed, ‘what have I done to deserve this?”.
With stars and slivers of white light bouncing in front of my eyes and my face, throbbing like a bastard, I struggled into the sitting position and sat there, forlorn, like a dejected child, with my legs splayed out in front of me. I did not know what else to do, I felt useless.
Now I became aware of other figures moving up and around me. There were sets of dusty boots, kicking up small
clouds as they passed by. I could hear sniggering and the odd low curse. A small globule of spittle landed on the toe of one of my boots.
I looked up and met the corporal’s glare. The mans eyes were wide, almost manic, and his mouth was closed tightly. Long furrows creased his tanned brow. There was a dribble of white spittle at the corner of his mouth and his left cheek twitched uncontrollably.
He was an ugly brute with a flat, broken nose. His slim face had the texture of leather and was criss-crossed
with scars. A particularly long slash ran from his left ear to
the corner of his mouth.
His chin was covered with a long shaggy, unkempt beard, which was dark-brown in colour. Grey had begun to invade its edges. What stood out most were the rings. The beard was interlaced with dozens of them and some of them were magnificently crafted. A lot of the Emperor’s enemies had died to produce such a magnificent display.
He leant down, looked into my face, and then let out a great sigh, slowly shaking his head. I could smell liquor on the mans breath and the faint smell of smoke on his uniform.
Now the tell-tale battered field cap , with its grinning skull on the front, hove into view and realised who it was….
Corporal Dormagen, my section commander and Dormagen was not a happy man.
The corporal had slung his own Lasgun across his back, and was leaning on his Schlactaxe*
like a walking stick. The blade was stained with fresh blood.
“He could have given the whole game away boy, and the smelly brown stuff would have been flying through the air, thick and fast’. The old veteran frowned at me, a last minute addition to the platoon. He could see the look of utter despair and helplessness on my face.
“What am I to do with you?’ he muttered to himself ‘what am I to do? Why me? What have I done to deserve this?”
I was beaten. I dropped my head, and tried to avoid the mans piercing stare. The corporal lifted my head back up with an extended finger.
“It’s Deeze, isn’t it?” he asked in a curiously high-pitched voice, with a heavy accent.
“T.t.t.trooper Dietz, Herr Unteroffizier, Sir”, I replied solemnly, using the civilian title of ‘Herr’ and the even grander title of ‘Sir’, though I did not know why. I suddenly felt very stupid. Dormagen grinned, revealing a row of dirty brown teeth.
“Less of the ‘Sir’, boy, I’m no officer, I work for a living. Plain Unteroffizier will do fine”.
The grizzled corporal held out his hand, and with surprising gentleness, helped me get slowly to my feet. He held my gaze for a while longer and then shook his head. He then placed what I believed to be, a reassuring hand on my shoulder.
“You have not got the makings of a scout lad, that’s for sure’, he said, in a much calmer voice, ‘you are far too slow and lack combat experience… I told them that, but they wouldn‘t listen. The leutnant insisted that you take point. I told them you would Fic it all up, and you did not let me down. You hesitated at the point of attack, and utterly failed. If you don’t catch on very quickly, you’ll be dead before you ever become a warrior. You will remain a Beardless one*
and dishonour your family”.
I tried to brush some of the dust off my uniform and then gingerly felt my right cheek. I could feel a large swelling and knew that my face was probably bright red.
Although I had tried to hide it, I knew that there were the telltale signs of juvenile tears.
The flat-headed fly, my pesky nemesis, had actually stung me in the end. To this day, I believed that the creature had done it out of spite.
“I’m sorry…” I muttered and lowered my head again.
Dormagen suddenly grabbed me by the scruff of my collar and shook me hard several times. It was vicious and unprovoked and took me completely by surprise.
“Shut the Fic up and listen to me if you want to survive all this Shisse
(common curse). Shut the fic up and listen.
I am here today because I watched and listened to men who knew what it was all about. I watched, listened, and kept my ficking hole shut, and I learnt.
There are people and things out there who desperately want to kill you. They want to rip your heart out, drink your blood, and even take your soul. They want to rid this universe of Mankind’s existence, exterminate us all. Million’s of deaf bastards are lying dead all over the cosmos because they did not listen, and if you do not shake up, you’ll be just another statistic’. The corporal let me go, and then, surprisingly, he attempted to smooth the creases he had made in my jacket. His face became calmer and brightened a little. He stared directly into my eyes.
“Look’, he said calmly ‘Make sure that you DO learn something from this experience, even if it’s just to remember my shagging rank”.
He then glanced over to the corpse of the dead Beddo and grimaced. He turned back to me, his face serious again “The job of a scout is simple; you must see every thing but not be seen yourself. You must be silent and deadly. You must kill quick and quietly, and move like the wind, like a shadow. Eliminate the opposition, and show us the way”.
He rummaged around inside one of his many pockets and produced an old rag. Slowly, and with reverence, he wiped the blood away from the blade of his axe. He then looked at me and smiled.
“Sort yourself out lad, straighten up. You’ll be fine. Now, let’s find the rest of this rebels mates’, he continued matter-of-factly ‘and line them up beside him. Then we’ll clear up the rest of this Emperor-forsaken planet and bring its rebellious population back into the fold”.
DORMAGEN SHRUGGED AND then pushed me roughly to one side. He squatted down next to the dead Beddo and stared at the corpse for a few seconds. He looked up suddenly and scanned the Flyfax around him. Him seemed to satisfy himself that everything was alright before he leant forward and rifled the dead Beddo’s pockets and canvas food bag.
Looting the dead was a flogging offence and could even land you in a penal battalion if you were caught. However, looting was a particular skill that the Deathshead Regiment excelled in, after all, it was all part of the warrior culture. The fact that no man had actually been caught and disciplined for such a crime, was a testament to their skill and expertise.
Dormagen had discovered some old coins, a jewelled ring, a lump of local brown bread, and a small green bottle, which he eyed suspiciously. He looked around him one more time, just for safety’s sake, before putting the loot into his own haversack. He would study his stash later and then work out what it was worth. A man could get rich in the Guard, if you knew the ways. He held up the rebels jewelled dagger and smiled before tucking it into his utility belt. He would trade it later with some of the rear-echelon troops, something like that could get him quite a few credits. He sensed me watching him and shot me a smile.
“Spoils of war’, he grinned and then added almost matter-of-factly ‘he, after all, had no further use for the stuff”, he guffawed loudly.
The grizzled corporal then sat astride the body and pulled out his own boot knife. Then, and much to my revulsion, and after several grunts and groans, the corporal cut off the scouts head with a series of expert strokes.
I found myself stepping forward to watch, though I do not know why. I had never seen a dead man up close like this. Something inside was telling me to get in and study the unfortunate rebel. Study it and learn from the act of death. Dormagen seemed oblivious to my presence at his shoulder, or did not care. He unravelled the Beddo’s Shemag, a local wrapping that covered the head, to reveal a dark, handsome man, about twenty years of age. The corporal held the head up by its long oiled black hair and gazed into its clouded eyes. The boy looked back, his face still locked in shock and surprise, a small trickle of blood meandering down his face from the scalp to his cheekbone.
I studied the rebel’s features and searched myself for some sort of feeling, some sort of emotion, but I felt nothing, nothing at all. It was if a switch in my head had been turned off and my normal emotions had been locked away.
Dormagen broke my concentration.
“Hansom' chap, don’t you think?”. I looked at his grizzled face and then down at the Beddo’s corpse. Swarms of sand flies began gathering around it and had in vast legions, onto and the pool of sticky, congealed blood, that had formed around it. A real scrum had formed between the flies and crickets, and all of them vying for the best feeding spots.
“I-I-I don’t know what to say….”, I stuttered.
“Verdammpt traitor’, Dormagen suddenly hissed, and then, as if it was the most natural thing to do in the world, and using the scouts long hair, he tied the bloody head to his belt, and let the grisly trophy hang on his left hip.
He turned to me, “He would have skinned you alive if he had got hold of you. Tough Bastards these Beddo’s’, he winked at me and smiled again ‘learn from this Jungen, learn and live”.
“Heads up!’ came a warning from one of the other troopers, ‘the Spiess* is coming”.
* * *Unteroffizier*….
Jirmanian War axe
Only warriors are permitted to wear beards. To not have a beard is a great dishonour to the Jirmanic's