The sun was just disappearing over the horizon when the battlewagon reached the southern edge of the city, the regular shapes of its buildings standing out against the skyline. The driver had held a reasonably straight course and the orks were within sight of one of the Death Skull camps. It was dark, the fire was not lit and none of the vehicles appeared to be running.
“Right, stop now,” said Hazug to the driver and then turned to face the other orks, “We walk from ‘ere. Choppas only, I don’t want anyone shootin’ each other in da dark.”
“You ‘eard ‘im lads,” Two Heads shouted, “Put away dem shootas and lets see dem choppas.”
None of the orks complained about having to keep their guns slung, they had an instinctive desire to get up close to an enemy in any case and using their one handed blades and axes let them carry burning torches in the other to see better.
“’Ang on you lot, I wants ya to stay where ya is,” Two Heads said to the driver and gunners as they began to climb out of their seats, ”I wants ya ready to move if I says so.”
“Ratish stay in the wagon too master?”
Hazug didn’t really care what Ratish did, the gretchin wouldn’t be much use if there was any trouble and there were enough orks to search the immediate area.
“Yes grot, ya can stay ‘ere out of da way.”
The first ork to get out of the battlewagon lit his torch from the heat of the exhaust pipe and held it out so that each of the others could light their torches from his as they exited the vehicle and with torches raised the orks ran towards the silent camp. Their torches forming a line of glowing flames that bobbed up and down in the darkness as they moved.
“Dare’s no-one ‘ere boss,” one the orks said as they all stood around the scorched pile of wood that had been the fire at the centre of the Death Skulls camp. Around them were abandoned carts and trucks, one of which had clearly been looted for some of the supplies it contained. Water flasks and food packets were scattered around the open back ramp. Tents and other improvised shelters were all empty, their occupants long gone, while around the edges of the camp were piles of scrap metal and random pieces of technology plundered from the remains of the city. Hazug almost noticed that there was a significant amount human built furniture scattered about the camp, apparently the Death Skulls had preferred to use decades old furniture looted fom the city rather than build their own.
“Yeah, dey is all gone,” another ork added.
“I sees dat,” one of Two Heads responded as the other just frowned, “anyone anything to say that aint bleedin’ obvious?”
The ork soldiers looked at one another and then shook their heads.
“Keep lookin’” Hazug ordered, “We needs to know where dey went, and grab anything that looks useful while ya is at it.”
The orks did not need any further encouragement to begin looting the camp, the idea of ‘finders keepers’ was far too ingrained in greenskin culture. Mek Batrug headed directly for the piles of scrap, while the boys instead headed for the shelters and trucks that looked like the may contain valuables left behind by the Death Skulls when they left. To maximise the speed of the search the battlewagon crew was summoned to join the others, only Ratish remained in the battlewagon, unwilling to wander about in the dark where it appeared hardened ork fighters had met their deaths, along with Drazzok who refused to do any searching even with the promise of a share of the loot.
“Dat counts as lost property,” he said, “I already said I don’t do lost property,” and he instead closed his eyes and went to sleep.
Gorrid was the youngest of Two Heads’ boys, and he was proud to have been allowed to join his battlewagon-riding mob at an age when most were lucky to be able to rid in any sort of vehicle, let alone one as powerful as Two Heads’. This was his first time out of the city since he had first entered it as a newly born ork half a year earlier. Aware that there were not only two nobs, but also a mek boy watching him he was eager to make a good impression, and he got his chance when he decided to see if there was anything worth taking from a cart near the centre of the camp.
The cart itself held little of interest, it appeared to be used to store the blue paint that meant so much to Death Skulls orks, but before he could move onto another potential source of loot he heard something move underneath it. He jumped off the cart and bent down to take a look, it was too dark underneath the cart to see anything so he lowered his torch to let the flame illuminate the ground beneath it. As he stared under cart he saw a trembling human staring back at him.
“Git!” Gorrid yelled, as he took a step backwards so to enable him to kick the cart over.
The human uttered a high pitch scream as the cart was tipped over and Gorrid raised his blade to strike a killing blow.
“Stop ya squig brain,” Hazug yelled as he barged into Gorrid to spoil his strike, knocking him to the ground before he could bring down his axe and kill the human.
“Watcha think you is doin’?” Two Heads bellowed at Hazug as Gorrid was getting back to his feet, “its just a git.”
The simple garment that the human wore left most of its arms exposed, and a tattoo was visible near its left shoulder. The design was of an ork skull in blue ink, the symbol of the Death Skulls clan. Clearly they ahd wanted to mark their ownership of this human. The ink appeared faded, suggesting that the tattoo had been applied some time ago, when the human was even smaller than it was now, and that it had spread out as the human grew larger.
“Look at da tattoo. It belonged to da Deaf Skulls,” Hazug said, ”we should ‘ang on to it just in case.”
Hazug studied the human as the other orks surrounded it. It was producing a strange sound that Hazug knew had something to do with displeasure and tears were coming from its eyes though it wasn’t making any movements that would suggest there was anything caught in them. By human standards it was of only modest size, a little larger than most gretchin but nowhere near the size Hazug would expect of a human fighter. Two round growths stuck out from the front of its chest, the shape just visible through its clothing and its hair was long, common features in many of the smaller humans that Hazug had seen before. Like most humans, its hair appeared to be growing directly from its scalp rather than having being applied using hair squigs as an ork would do, or an artifical woven object as Hazug had once witnessed on an older human which appeared to be worn purely for the purpose of amusing its underlings. He believed that humans used the words ‘female’ or ‘woman’ to describe members of their species that were like this. These were often quite small and Hazug believed that this particular human was fully grown. The distinction between these females and the larger ‘males’ who made up the majority of humanities fighting forces was lost on even a Blood Axe like Hazug who had encountered undomesticated humans far more than most greenskins ever would, though he did know that humans considered all orks to be male.
“Lets stick it in da back of da wagon,” one of Two Heads suggested before the other added, “Yeah, we aint done searchin’ yet.”
The human didn’t resist as a pair of Two Heads’ orks lifted her to her feet and bound her wrists tightly behind her back, after this they tied her ankles together. Satisfied that her limbs were securely bound the two orks began to drag her towards the battlewagon, the only protest that the human gave out was a scream as its hair was grabbed.
“I’ll take it,” Hazug said, returning his blade to its scabbard and wrapping arm about the woman’s waist before he effortlessly lifted her over his shoulder, “Ratish!” he yelled as he returned to the battlewagon with his captive, “Got a job for ya.” He placed the woman in a seat by the open door at the side of the battlewagon and wrapped rope around her waist to secure her to it.
“Just watch dis,” he told Ratish, “but don’t touch it, I needs it to answer some question yet,” then he turned to the woman tied to the seat and put some of his language skills into practice.
“What are you called?” he asked slowly in the human language.
“Don’t do anything So-sophie, I will be back soon. Understand?”
“Yes sir, and its just Sophie,” Sophie replied in the ork language.
That should make things easier if I’m not the only one who can talk to it, Hazug thought to himself as he returned to join the other orks in the search of the camp leaving Sophie being watched by Ratish.
Tied to the chair inside the battlewagon, Sophie looked at Ratish sat on the other side of the interior compartment. His finger was inserted in his nose, wriggling around. Even though he was the smallest of the greenskins that had found her, he was the one that worried her most. Though they could be violent and cruel at times, orks considered themselves better than humans and attacking an unarmed one was not considered challenging enough to be worth the effort unless they were very bored. Many gretchin, on the other hand, saw the humans on the planet as competitors for their masters’ affection and would often attack out of sheer spite. Sophie hoped that the order given by Hazug to watch her would keep her safe from Ratish. The ork sitting at the back of the compartment had closed his eyes and was beginning to snore.
Ratish removed his finger from his nose and stared at what was stuck to the end of it. After a few moments of careful study he rolled it between his thumb and forefinger before flicking it towards Sophie, missing her by a fraction.
“Hey, stop it,” she said, using the ork language once again as she squirmed against the ropes tying her to the chair, “you were told not to touch me.”
“I’m not touchin’ ya,” Ratish replied as he stuck his finger back up his nose to search for more ammunition.
“I’ll scream, and then you’ll be in trouble,” Sophie warned him.
Ratish paused in his search while he thought about this.
“Screamin’ is doin’ somethin’, and ya was told to do nothin’,” he told her eventually and produced more mucus from his nostril. Sophie took as deep breath a breath as the rope around her would allow, and as Ratish flicked another sticky ball towards her she screamed as loud as she could manage.
Outside in the camp the orks stopped their searching when they heard the noise coming from the battlewagon, but it was cut short abruptly so they ignored it and got back to the task at hand. Only Hazug paused a little longer, staring back at the battlewagon before he shook his head and turned away again.
Meanwhile inside the battlewagon Ratish still sat opposite Sophie, now giggling at the green ooze dribbling down her face over the rag that Drazzok had pushed into her mouth and tied in place when her screaming had interrupted his nap.
“Don’t know where ya came from ya bleedin git,” Drazzok said as he went back to his seat, “but that’ll stop ya from disturbin’ me bleedin' sleep again,” and with a blast of flatulence from each end as he sat down he fell asleep and began snoring once more.
The search of the camp revealed little more, the orks were able to find only a small quantity of cash, trinkets and ammunition for their weapons, nothing to give any indication of what had happened to the Death Skulls. Only Mek Batrug, who had restricted his searching to the piles of scrap gathered by the Death Skulls seemed happy with the return on his effort.
The orks, apart from Drazzok who was still asleep in the battlewagon and no one could be bothered waking up, gathered in the centre of camp where they relit the fire. Hazug took Two Heads off to one side to talk to him.
“I don’t fink anything happened ‘ere,” he said, “Dare’s no damage to da camp, and all of da weapons is gone. Da Death Skulls went off somewhere, but den dey never came back again. I don’t fink we’ll be needin dat ‘ead after all.”
Two Heads considered this for a moment; he couldn’t find anything wrong with Hazug’s explanation.
“Where’d they go?” one of him asked, “Yeah, where?” added the other.
“Dunno, but the git might. Da Death Skulls brought it ‘ere with ‘em so it could ‘ave been ‘ere when dey left. Get da lads away from the fire, and keep an eye out while go talk to the git. No torches.”
Some of the Evil Suns resented being ordered away from the camp fire they had relit, and Two Heads had to bang some skulls together to get the order carried out while Hazug returned to the battlewagon, taking some food and a water flask with him. As he neared the open doorway he heard three things. First was a snort, then the sound of someone spitting. Nothing unusual about those, there were two greenskins inside after all and none of the orkinoid species were shy about expelling bodily fluids. But the third sound was more unusual; it was a sort of muffled cry that suggested that someone inside the battlewagon was being prevented from calling out. The battlewagon was outside the area illuminated by the campfire and Hazug knew that it was possible someone could have crept into it while most of the orks were occupied with the search, and then he remembered the scream. Drawing his blade he ran the final few paces to the battlewagon and entered it ready for a fight. What he saw inside was Drazzok still sound asleep in his seat, Ratish giggling as though he had just seen someone he didn’t like get hurt and Sophie now gagged and squirming with globs of spit and mucus on her face and in her hair. Hazug was furious.
“Watcha fink ya’s doin?” he yelled, dropping the food and his blade as before lifting Ratish off his seat.
“Ratish didn’t touch it master, da weirdo gagged it when it screamed,” the gretchin protested as his legs kicked randomly in the air.
“I said just watch it grot, now get out while I talks to it,” and Hazug hurled the gretchin out through the open door.
Picking up his blade Hazug cut through the rope tying Sophie to the chair and that binding her wrists. As soon as her hands were free she pulled the gag from her mouth and used her sleeves to wipe her face and hair.
“’Ere,” said Hazug, picking up the food package, “eat dis, and ‘ere’s somethin’ to drink,” and he gave her the flask from his belt.
“Thank you sire,” Sophie replied as she took the food and water and tucked in. She felt the rope around her ankles fall as Hazug sliced it away.
Hazug returned his blade to its scabbard and sat down opposite Sophie.
“I’m a Blood Axe,” he said to her, “d’ya know wot dat means?”
Sophie swallowed the mouthful of food she was eating.
“It means you’re an ork that likes humans.”
”Squig crap, likin’ you humans ‘as nothin’ to do with it. All orks like da idea of humans when dey wants someone to do some fightin’ against. Wot it means is dat I know dat you humans sometimes ‘as stuff we can get without killin’ ya for it first. We is still better than ya.”
Sophie nodded, “I see,” and drank some more of the water.
“Ya belonged to da Death Skulls didn’t ya?” Hazug asked.
“Yes, ever since I was very little, to an ork called Akrad. He was in charge of this camp.”
“And wot I think ya ‘as is information. Tell me where dis Akrad and all da other Death Skull boys went.”
“Some of the humans that served the orks were visited by another human who told us he came from another world.”
“He talked about an empire, he said that it owned this planet and that it was coming to take it. He wanted to get us to help them and in return we would be allowed to live in and work for his empire, that things would be better that way.”
“So why didn’t ya join ‘im?”
“Some asked questions that he wouldn’t answer like why should we risk dying for an empire that had never done anything for us but he just kept telling them that his way was for the best, and when they tried to leave his meetings the others who came with him killed them before they could warn the orks. I was lucky enough to escape in the panic and make it back here.”
“Wot about dese other others?”
“Soldiers, they wore armour made of thick plates and hid their faces and they carried guns that shot light rather than bullets like ork guns. I know there was a large battle because I heard the sounds of fighting.”
Hazug had the answers he wanted, there were aliens in the city and they had probably killed the ork found in the river. But this meant that all the Death Skulls were dead and fewer than twenty orks were left facing a force strong enough to destroy many times that number.
“Ah crap,” he said to no one in particular.
Before he could think of anything further to ask Sophie he was interrupted by Drazzok who awoke and sat up suddenly.
“Dey’s ‘ere!” he said.
Leaving Sophie alone in the back of the battlewagon Hazug and Drazzok rushed to meet up with the other orks, Drazzok’s bells and trinkets jingling loudly in the otherwise quiet night.
“Wot’s ‘appenin' master?” Ratish asked as the pair ran past him.
“Just stay dare,” Hazug replied.
Two Heads had positioned his orks along a low rise just beyond the limit of the light cast by the fire.
“Drazzok says dare is aliens about,” Hazug said.
“Well we aint seen anything.”
“Just keep watchin’ da camp, I fink dey’ll ‘ead for da fire.”
“Cause dat’s where dey fink we will be. Den we ambush ‘em.”
“Just like a Blood Axe,” one of Two Heads boys commented, “let’s just go down dare and ‘it ‘em.”
“Shut ya gob,” Two Heads ordered, “ or I’ll be the one doin’ some ‘ittin’ right ‘ere,” and with that his boys became silent.
“Dis better work,” the other Two Heads whispered to Hazug, “cause me lads is getting’ impatient.”
“Trust me,” Hazug replied, also in a whisper, “dare’s somethin’ out dare alright, we just aint seen it yet.”
Moments later there was a noise from the camp as something was knocked over. All of the orks stared ahead of them, searching for an enemy. Hazug thought he caught just a brief glimpse of something moving near the fire, but he couldn’t see anything clearly enough to attack. Whatwever was now moving about the camp was somehow able to hide it self from being seen.
Then an idea hit him; he pulled one of his grenades from his belt and removed the pin. Judging the distance carefully he hurled the grenade into the fire.
Seconds later the grenade detonated and burning wood and ashes were scattered around the camp. The flames and debris in the air suddenly revealed three large and vaguely humanoid shapes that sparkled as their stealth technology struggled to adapt and conceal them amongst the spreading flames and debris. The blast from the grenade knocked the figure nearest to the fire to the ground, while the others staggered away from the explosion, stunned briefly. Even when they were revealed by the blast, Hazug was unable to identify his enemies, all he could tell was that they were wearing heavily armoured suits, and carrying bulky weapons in one hand. But identification of the enemy could wait; what was more important was that there was now something here for the orks to fight.
With targets revealed the orks opened fire without an order, spraying bullets across the campsite. One of their targets was struck repeatedly, sparks flying as bullets were deflected off its armoured suit before several lucky shots found weak spots and the alien fell to the ground and died without a cry, blood pouring from a the holes punched through its armour.
Recovering from the shock of the grenade detonation, a second figure turned and fired in the direction of the orks, guided by the noise and flashes from the muzzles of the orks’ firearms. Rapid pulses of light illuminated the night as their energy heated up the air as they passed through it and the shots tore into two of Two Heads boys who had made the mistake of standing on top of the rise that gave the rest cover. They both died screaming as the energy bolts seared their clothing and the flesh beneath it. The alien weapons were clearly able to penetrate the lightweight armoured jackets worn by the orks without trouble.
Undisturbed by the deaths of their comrades the rest of the orks continued shooting as the two surviving targets moved rapidly away from the centre of the camp. Passing into the darkness they both disappeared again and the orks stopped firing when they realised that they could see nothing to shoot at. Desperately they began to search for their targets.
“Where are dey?” Hazug yelled as he looked around for a target, “Drazzok, find ‘em quick.”
Drazzok lifted his staff from the ground, closed his eyes and reached out with his free hand, but before the weirdboy could attempt to divine their enemy’s position one of them gave his position away by firing his energy weapon again, the muzzle flash and stream of energy botls lighting up the darkness, and another of the orks was hit and fell.
“Over dare!” both of Two Heads yelled simultaneously as he spun around and emptied his rifle towards the alien.
The remaining orks all turned to face the direction of the attack and as their attacker vanished back into the darkness they fired at random but hit nothing. A further burst of fire came from behind the orks, killing two more of them, but before the orks could turn around to face this latest attack the alien’s technology had allowed it to disappear once more.
“Scatter!” Hazug yelled, “Stop bunchin’ up like a mob of grots!”
“Dat way!” Drazzok yelled, pointing into the darkness, and the orks poured fire into the night. There were sparks as some of the bullets hit armour plate and bounced off but the target escaped injury.
Inside the battlewagon Sophie could hear the sounds of battle. She pulled her legs up against her chest, closed her eyes and put her hands over her ears to try and block them out without success. She heard screams as orks died and feared that soon the off worlders would come for her and kill her just as they had killed everyone else. She opened her eyes again and saw the gun. It was an old pistol lying on the chair where Ratish had sat, typical of the cast off weapons that orks gave to their smaller cousins. She picked it up.
Outside another ork died as a burst of energy bolts ripped through his head and chest, but this time his killer had miscalculated how quickly the orks would be able to react and was not able to move aside quickly enough to avoid the return fire and it too fell, critically injured, as the air about it was filled with bullets. One of the orks ran forwards, screaming, and finished it off with a swing of his axe that split open the armoured suit as the alien tried unsuccessfully to raise its weapon and defend itself from the ork standing over it.
For a moment there was silence as the orks searched for their final assailant, but it was holding its fire and they could not find it.
A crackling sound attracted Hazug’s attention and for a brief moment he saw the shape of the target sparkling in the darkness before it disappeared again.
“We ‘urt it,” he called out, “it can’t stay hidden. Look for it sparklin’.”
The orks looked around them, watching for the tell tale sparkling of a failing electronic camouflage system. Whenever one of the orks though he saw it he would yell and open fire, prompting the other to shoot in the same direction whether or not they could see anything themselves.
Hazug’s pistol was empty, and the magazine was stuck, and as he tried to force it loose by banging it on a rock he didn’t notice the air sparkling behind him.
Sophie looked out of the battlewagon into the night. She could make out the shapes of several orks lying dead on the ground, but most of them appeared to still be standing. She watched as one of the largest orks, the one who had stopped the others from killing her and spoken to her, the one the others called Hazug, hitting his gun against a rock. Then she noticed something strange, the air between her and Hazug shimmered and for a moment she saw the shape of one of the off world soldiers. She raised the gun and took aim, but the shape had vanished.
Hazug hit his pistol against the rock again but the magazine was stuck fast so he threw it to the ground in disgust. Instead he gripped he blade tightly and looked for something to hit with it.
There it was again Sophie saw, the shape appeared between her and Hazug but closer to Hazug this time, it was slowly getting closer to him. At the same time it raised its weapon Sophie raised hers. The gun trembled in her hands; despite having served orks for so long she had never actually fired a gun before and the weapon felt heavy and clumsy. The sparkling shape was very close to Hazug now and the large weapon it carried beneath one arm was now pointing at the base of his neck.
Then her gun went off. The noise was loud, and Sophie almost dropped the weapon in in surprise. Wherever her shot actually went, she couldn’t tell, but it definitely didn’t hit her intended target.
Hazug spun around as he heard the sound of the shot and found himself face to face with the last of the alien soldiers, its weapon was pointing straight at his face. Rather than try and push the alien’s weapon aside Hazug struck, head butting the alien before it could fire. Fortunately his skull was thick enough to withstand the impact with the alien’s armoured helmet and it was the alien who staggered back from the blow. Hazug swung his blade and it made contact with the alien’s neck. The blade kept moving across and the alien’s head fell from its shoulders to the ground, followed closely by its lifeless body.
For a few moments the orks just stood still, looking around themselves. The grenade explosion had illuminated only three figures, but that was no guarantee that there were not more aliens around.
“Drazzok,” Hazug spoke, “can ya sense any more of ‘em?”
The weirdboy closed his eyes for a moment then answered.
“If dare was any more dey’ve sodded off,” he said.
Hazug relaxed at this, then he saw Sophie standing in the doorway of the battlewagon still holding the pistol that had been given to Ratish the previous night. He strode up to Sophie and took the gun away from her.
“Watch where ya’s pointin’ dat,” he said and then he added, “and well done ya long ‘aired git. Now get back in da wagon until I says otherwise.”
While Two Heads remaining boys attended to picking over the bodies of the fallen orks and pulling out their teeth Hazug, Two Heads, Drazzok and Mek Batrug took a look at the bodies of their assailants. They were clad in armoured powered exoskeletons that covered their entire bodies and featured a built in multi barrelled weapons system. Hazug could see that they walked on cloven hoofs rather than on feet like an ork or human. One their backs were mounted anti-gravity propulsion systems.
“Maybe dey aint too stuck up to come ‘ere after all,” Hazug said out loud.
“Who’s dat den?” asked Drazzok as he came over for a closer look, pushing younger orks out of his way.
Hazug bent crouched down and removed the helmet from one of the powered suits, revealed a blue-grey head with a flat noseless face.
“Da Tau,” he said.
Nolite Id Cogere, Cape Maleum Majorem